What a year it has been.
2016 has been the busiest, most productive, and frankly best year of my life. This is the first year I’ve taken on playing Magic full time as my profession and it’s gone extremely well. Playing on the SCG Tour, streaming, writing articles here for the best Magic site on the planet, helping to put together Team MGG, coaching, finding sponsors… it’s been fantastic. The success I’ve experienced and the love and support I’ve gotten from the community is truly amazing.
The best part, though, is how much room there is for improvement!
Like any new business venture, Team MGG had its mixture of successes and mishaps in its first year. I failed to put up a good repeat showing at the Players’ Championship and had an okay year overall results-wise. Streaming has been going great, but I still have many ideas I want to incorporate. The year hasn’t been perfect by any means, and the fact it felt so successful is a testament to what a great year it was.
I can’t wait to expand and improve upon everything next year!
To wrap up the year I thought it would be nice to hear from you fine folks out there in Magic-Land and do a mailbag/ask-me-anything Q&A session. I asked for questions on Twitter and Facebook, and here’s what we got!
“How did you find the time to rack up all those SCG points and also get back on to the Pro Tour!?” – @mr_sparklez via Twitter
One of the most important choices I made a few years ago was to pick one thing and stick with it.
I spent most of 2006-2008 playing in Pro Tours, and while I did fine and got to travel to a bunch of awesome places, every year I would fall a few points short of Gold and I became increasingly frustrated. I was putting forth a ton of effort (although definitely working harder, not smarter) and seeing relatively little payoff. A few grand here, a cool flight there, but at the end of the day I was working part-time retail, not going to school, and not really advancing myself.
I hung up the sleeves in 2009 and went back to school. Occasionally I’d get dragged to an SCG Tour event and the allure of instant payoff of cash and no grind was great. I kept playing them more and more over the next few years, and it was clear that SCG was doing a fantastic job with coverage and branding their players. This organically led to a writing gig, which led to more tournaments, which led to me doing well and making a name for myself.
If I was going to take it to the next level, I needed to focus on one thing and push it all the way. The payoff was there even if I only did okay and the PTQ grind began to look like a joke. Trying to split time between the SCG Tour and the PTQ/GP/PT grind was a clear mistake, as you’d just end up falling short in both areas, a trap I watched some of my friends fall into. As I did better and better and the payoff got higher and higher, I got more entrenched in the SCG Tour, to the point we are now.
As such, I’ve put very little effort in trying to qualify for Pro Tours in the last few years. However, getting to travel abroad is something I miss very much, and Pro Tours are still great fun. I hit up a local PPTQ on an off weekend a while back, won it, and then went to my first RPTQ and lost in the Top 8, which doesn’t qualify you for the Pro Tour but qualifies you for the next RPTQ. I lost in the Top 8 of that one too, and finally was able to convert at the most recent one to earn me my first trip to Dublin, Ireland.
At this point in my Magic career, Magic is my career. Unless you’re Platinum (or maybe Gold), Pro Tours and Grand Prix don’t really provide the type of monetary compensation or exposure necessary to make it as a career Magic player. Furthermore, you run the risk of spending a whole year and a lot of money to try and make Gold or Platinum, only to fall short and be in debt.
With streaming, the SCG Tour, and everything that comes along with them, I can make Magic my job. The Pro Tour is essentially just for fun at this point.
The “SCG Tour vs. Pro Tour/GPs” question is one I get all the time on my stream, and hopefully this answers it clearly.
“Is Arcane Savant too strong for Cube?” – @cjthornton49 via Twitter
Ah, a simpler question.
The short answer is no. As a five-mana sorcery-speed creature that’s limited to the pool of instants and sorceries you can draft, I think Arcane Savant is high-variance but ultimately a very fair card that will often not really do anything fancy.
My concern with adding a card like Arcane Savant to a Cube is elegance. When you start to add up too many of these odd Conspiracy-type effects that have you putting cards aside, revealing cards at the start of games, and so on, it just starts to feel clunky and inelegant. It’s a ton of odd work for not a lot of payoff. As such, the only Conspiracy cards I include in my Cube are a few of the actual conspiracies, and then the cards that affect the draft in a simple and clear manner:
They’re all simple enough to understand without any bookkeeping and are fun additions to the draft experience.
“More and more good players are talking about Gemstone Caverns in Modern, thoughts?” – @Steffex2 via Twitter
Gemstone Caverns is a card with a lot of issues.
The upside is quite obviously great, as it’s essentially a Chrome Mox when you are on the draw— a card that is banned in Modern.
The downsides, however, often far outweigh the upsides. You need to have a deck that can use a colorless land effectively when you don’t get lucky without it messing up your mana, and because it is legendary, you can only really play one or two. In most decks, a colorless land operates as about half a land (or less) due to the presence of numerous double-color costs and one-mana spells.
Are there decks that want Gemstone Caverns? Sure, but it comes at a steep cost. If anything, I could see decks trying to sideboard it in for matchups where they need to steal the play, but that also comes at a steep cost.
The card just isn’t that good.
“What is my favorite deck that I’ve ever played and why?” – Alex Rubin via Facebook
Easy answer, Goblins.
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 1 Goblin King
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 3 Gempalm Incinerator
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 4 Skirk Prospector
- 3 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
The various forms of Goblins over the years have been most enjoyable for me, but I think this deck was my favorite. I never put so much work into a deck, and Goblins had been deemed dead with the rotation of Wasteland and Rishadan Port and the banning of Aether Vial. Being able to revitalize the archetype with great success was awesome, and after my success at the Grand Prix, a number of my friends went on to win PTQs with the deck.
“What is the worst deck you’ve ever shown up to a tournament with?” – Zak Kirby via Facebook
A logical next follow-up question.
I don’t remember the exact list, but I had built a Grixis Planeswalker deck for the Sunday Standard Open at SCG Worcester in 2013 that was quite embarrassing. It was the weekend of a Team Sealed event that my team lost in the finals, and because the finals took so long, we were allowed to enter the Sunday Standard Open with three (!) byes.
I promptly went 0-3 with my deck, dropped, and declared it the worst of all time. Three byes in a nine-round tournament and I went 3-3!
“Why can’t I get a puppy?” – Nicole Callahan via Facebook
“What’s the hardest obstacle you had to overcome when trying to move up in skill level and how did you overcome it?” – Rick Kivett via Facebook
I think the hardest thing for most people to overcome is that they’re bad at something they invest so much time and heart into. However, rather than admitting that they are bad, they lie to themselves that they are very good but just also very unlucky. Losses are due to luck, weird deck or card choices by their opponent, an opponent’s odd play, or just anything that is out of the level of their own personal accountability. These sorts of plateaus often happen after a player experiences some level of success and their ego becomes inflated.
I’d like to say I haven’t been there, but I most certainly have many times over my Magic career.
So to answer your question Rick, accountability, or lack thereof, is usually the most difficult obstacle when it comes to trying to get better at Magic. The simple fact is that everyone is pretty bad at Magic, and that’s okay.
Your goal as a Magic player who wants to improve is to hold yourself accountable for your development as a player, and to always have your focus lie in self-improvement. You’ve just gotta work hard to make sure you’re less bad than everyone else, and never become complacent with where you are. Even when you are doing well, always been looking to understand why and for ways you can improve even more.
“Have you ever considered giving out your band’s recordings at events?” – Andy Cole via Facebook
(To the unaware, I play bass and sing backups in a band called Teach Me Human.)
It’s a fun idea, but frankly printing CDs or other types of media is expensive. It may be feasible to print out some sort of download code and hand those out, but when I’m at events, I usually want to be focused on the event or whatever Team MGG stuff I’ve got going on. The band is definitely just a hobby, while Team MGG and big Magic events are business.
For now I’m just happy having my band’s stuff on my stream playlist and sneaking it into my articles occasionally. I’m much more shameless about promoting myself as a Magic player than I am promoting my music.
High noon, at the Stomping Ground.
No Equipment, no Lightning Bolts in your graveyard.
May the best duo win.
“On a team such as Team MGG, what does the captain do that others don’t? I struggle to see what the captain does that the other members don’t.” – Matthew Tones via Facebook
I can’t really speak for other teams, but on Team MGG I am essentially the liaison between management and the players. I’m much more involved with the inner workings of the team than the other players, and that role will be increasing next year when I’ll be taking on a more managerial role as well.
We are different from other “teams” because we operate Team MGG and MetagameGurus.com as a business. Aside from just playing Magic, there are partnerships with other companies to manage, a website to maintain, logistics such as travel and apparel, and so on. Most other teams are just groups of players that are working together for events, and we like to think we are doing something bigger.
Team MGG had a great first year, but like any new business, there were certainly growing pains. Managing the team proved to be more work than expected, and our two owners Frank and Rick both have 9-5 jobs, families, and kids to worry about. I’m excited to be taking on an expanded role of managing the team, and very excited for the new things we will have in store for 2017.
You should be excited too!
“What’s the best and worst part of being captain of a team?” – Kevin Jones via Facebook
You, Kevin, to both parts.
“What is your opinion on the Frontier format?” – @BeardedSeason18 via Twitter
Frontier is all the rage these days, but I’m just not seeing it.
Any new and unexplored format is going to look very exciting, as there is no established metagame so it feels like you can just build whatever deck you want and do well. This of course changes once the hive mind gets hold of the format, and it is likely to end up like all the other formats. There will be best decks and annoying cards and all the other baggage that comes along with being an established Constructed format. Standard isn’t in a great spot right now, so this push towards something new makes sense, but I don’t see it as a solution.
I personally have not played the format, so obviously any personal perception is just what I’ve observed, but it looks pretty durdly. Rally the Ancestors, four-color fetchland manabases, etc… I’ve already played that format; I’m not that interested in playing it again.
“What major Magic-related goal are you focusing on now that there’s no [Players’ Championship] in 2017?” – @PBrunswick via Twitter
Losing the Players’ Championship is certainly unfortunate and you are correct in realizing that it has been the end-game for many of us for the last few years.
Mostly my focus is going to continue on making Magic a viable career option for me while helping to expand Team MGG and hopefully grow Magic as a whole: lots of streaming, starting coaching services on MetagameGurus.com, writing more articles, and finding as many ways that I can keep doing something I love for a living. My perspective for Magic and the future is very big-picture and I expect it to continue that way; I’m much more concerned with these goals than spiking the next tournament I go to.
That seems like a good place to wrap up.
I’m very happy and thankful for how well 2016 has gone, and even more excited for all the things that 2017 will bring.
I’ll see everyone on the other side!