The Season Finale

Ari shoots straight about his Gold run in 2014, his Grand Prix and Pro Tour team-testing takeaways, and of course, the implications of all the latest changes to Magic’s organized play system.

The Tournament:

For the fourth Pro Tour in a row I finished between 101st and 200th place. Fortunately, my Grand Prix results are still the nut high
and I managed to hit Gold the “hard” way of accumulating 23 points in five Grand Prix finishes.

I finished dead even in both Constructed and Limited. I played G/W Aggro in Constructed based on the deck’s positive matchups against control and Black
Devotion while still being able to board into a good matchup against Blue Devotion.

The changes from Scott Lipp’s Starcity Open winning list were about
a push and mostly targeted at Monsters and the mirror. Soldier of the Pantheon overperformed, and I would likely play the full set of those before any
Sunblade Elf in the future. The slight push towards value lands was also great, and I would likely play the same 23 lands again. On the flip side, Banisher
Priest was questionable over the fourth Loxodon Smiter, and Imposing Sovereign was trash as I played against zero copies of Stormbreath Dragon. Celestial
Flare was also a giant trap, and your better plan is just crush them before the Protection from White matters. It’s also very possible that Gods Willing is
similarly terrible.

As I mentioned above, I went 5-5 with the deck, defeating two traditional Red Aggro decks, a splash-Red Reverent Hunter aggro deck, Mono-Blue Devotion, and
Mono-Black Devotion while losing to Raph Levy’s Goblins, two B/W Midrange decks, splash-Black Reverent Hunter aggro, and Soldiers. My metagame sample was
certainly odd.

My known Constructed punt count for retroactive shaming:

  • I kept a hand that was too token-heavy game 1 against Raph Levy and proceeded to lose to multiple Legion Loyalist. I had Banishing Light so maybe I was
    wrong to expect the second, but a Fleecemane Lion hand is much better against him.

  • I tried to Selesnya Charm a Soldier of the Pantheon in the aforementioned game. I was likely dead regardless, but it was real dumb.

  • I missed an evolve trigger due to a difficult scry decision with a temple and general distraction. This cost me a game as the +1 power would lead to
    exactly lethal with Ajani, Caller of the Pride plus Boon Satyr.

  • I tapped out to Advent of the Wurm and block against Reverent Hunter aggro while at fifteen life. I lost my 5/5 to Aspect of Hydra and couldn’t trump his
    board when I could have just taken that hit and blocked with Selesnya Charm up the next turn.

  • Not sure if this was incorrect, but facing down a Kalonian Tusker and a 2/2 Experiment One against the Black splash Reverent Hunter deck, I played
    Fleecemane Lion and Experiment One over a Loxodon Smiter on turn 3 trying to maximize my board against Abrupt Decay. I ended up getting the Setessan
    Tactics. He was on double Llanowar Wastes and low life as a result so I felt a board that left me with an attacker was better, but Tactics certainly should
    have been factored into the decision.
  • If I could run the event back I might switch to B/W Midrange (see further down for more reasons why), but honestly the difference is quite small. To
    paraphrase various team members:

    “No one had a good deck for this Pro Tour, but no one had a bad deck. The people who won had slightly better tuned versions and got the right matchups and
    hands slightly more than the rest of the field.”

    “I hated playing B/W Midrange, but I couldn’t imagine playing anything else if I ran it back.”

    The cards in this format were just too oppressive from the start. The same two drop, four drop power jump I mentioned in the spring combined
    with the extremely broad answers made new cards only marginally impactful. There
    wasn’t room to break it, you just played the deck you would play best among the known good ones and hoped your punts, draws, and matchups lined up well.

    As for Limited, I went 3-3 but felt really good about it. I read the signals very well both drafts, built very cohesive decks, and played reasonably well.
    I did punt a match by forgetting to play around a Mass Calcify I passed, but I was in every game of every match. Well, besides the one where I got Garruked
    on turn 6 after a mulligan.

    The Grand Prix:

    During the 2013-2014 season I played in twelve Grand Prix. Here are the condensed takeways from each:

    Grand Prix Washington DC (Legacy), Grand Prix Detroit, Grand Prix Richmond:

    I definitely have deck biases in formats and I’m working hard to fix it.

    Usually these opinions are based on reality. Sometimes my biases end up being a bit outdated due to a hard to register shift or just because I’m comparing
    decks I’ve put twelve matches into against decks I’ve worked on for twelve months.
    I’ve admitted I was wrong to play Storm at Grand Prix DC last winter
    , and while I wouldn’t have changed what I played at either Modern event, I can’t honestly say my choices ofKiki Pod in Detroit and Affinity in Richmond weren’t biased by my past
    attachment to those decks. I worked hard to cast a broader net when preparing for Grand Prix Boston,
    and I feel like catching the Scapeshift deck is something I could have easily missed if I wasn’t actively looking for ways to improve options outside my
    pet decks.

    Grand Prix Montreal, Grand Prix Toronto:

    Testing for Sealed events means something.My Toronto results speak for themselves, while at Montreal I punted away what should have been a stellar pool because I made
    incorrect assumptions about newer cards. Understanding the focal points and sideboarding in Sealed is just as important as in Constructed, and without
    practice you likely won’t know what to do.

    Grand Prix Providence, Grand Prix Toronto (again):

    I have an insane Limited network to rely on. I’m not the world’s worst at figuring out things at Limited, but if I let the people around me correct me when
    I’m wrong and explain themselves, I am very good at integrating that information into a cohesive view and plan for the format. When I have this plan
    cemented, things tend to cascade into place.

    Also, I should keep finding people better than me to team with at Team Limited Grand Prix. Providence was a cake walk because I basically was given the
    easy jobs of “Get two byes” and “Don’t lose with Mythic rares”, and I can only assume this weekend’s Grand Prix Portland will be similar as I am teaming
    with Alex Hayne and Craig Wescoe. I’m not actually certain whether that is a better team than Alex John and Matt Mccullough,
    but two PT champions can’t be wrong.

    Grand Prix Philadelphia, Grand Prix Atlanta:

    On the flip side, some of what they say is true. More so in Theros Block than in other formats, but Sealed is Sealed. You can’t win them all, and
    sometimes, like Grand Prix Philadelphia, you really can’t win any of them. I did my best to get there and accepted that it just couldn’t happen. All in
    all, I’ll pat myself on the back for effort and attitude here.

    Grand Prix Chicago, Grand Prix Washington DC (Sealed):

    There are a lot of perks to being a reasonably trustworthy and respected member of the community. A lot of the time Magic is a zero sum game, but in a
    decent number of scenarios there is net value to be gained from specific outcomes. To put it in simple terms: if you act like a jackass, the person across
    the table really has no reason to adjust their potential value to help yours.

    Grand Prix Cincinnati, Grand Prix Kansas City:

    Given the time to execute, my testing methodology is pretty good. Of course, I already knew that, but it’s good to be reminded every so often both for
    pride and because Grand Prix top 8s do come with prizes.

    As for the four Pro Tours…

    Pro Tour Theros:

    Focus and structure are required in testing. I often miss this when testing for Grand Prix as I’m typically the sole contributor, but at Pro Tours there
    really aren’t hours in the day to fix this.

    This Pro Tour was a logistical disaster, and there’s not much else to say beyond that.

    Pro Tour Born of the Gods:

    We did this one right
    . Work early, delegate, get everyone invested and involved. Do this again and everyone will profit.

    Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx
    , Pro Tour Magic 2015:

    I need to be more of a Craig Wescoe.

    Even as his teammates, we like to give Craig a hard time about his deck choices. For example, he demonstrated his range this year by playing a different
    color with his basic Plains at each Pro Tour.

    But it works, and he knows it works. He plays best with flexible White aggressive decks, and he keeps playing them until he hits with one. Some of this is
    self-fulfilling as he gets more and more practice with the decks each tournament, but again, it works.

    My range is not nearly as constricting, but it’s not as broad as I have lead myself to believe lately.

    The 2012-2013 season went so well because I got to play familiar archetypes at events. I was able to pick up a deck the night before the Pro Tour twice and
    crush with it. This season I faltered at two events because I was underprepared for decks I was less comfortable with.

    If I’m ever light on testing, I should default to one of the following and theory/instinct my way through:

    -The Red creature deck (other colors may apply if they get haste or burn)

    -The Cruel Control deck (Grave Titan or Sphinx’s Revelation is also a Cruel Ultimatum)

    -The flexible Combo deck (able to play through or around interaction like Legacy Storm or Pod)

    -The Aggro-Control deck (both Fish/Madness style decks and hybrid-control like Faeries, Black Devotion, and Caw-Blade)

    -The Ponza deck (Magnivore, Death and Taxes, Vintage Stax)

    If I have time to get in a few full matches of testing against the gauntlet and develop some experiential knowledge (approximately two days of Pro Tour
    testing), the following get added to the playbook:

    -The Kithkin deck (creature decks that lean on threat power and rationing over interaction or reach to win)

    Gut Shot combo (decks like Modern Storm that lack some of the tactical brute force of other combo)

    Barring a massive shift in my play experience or preparation time, I should not touch the following:

    -Pure grind decks (The Rock, Control that lacks massive equalizers, Stoneblade in Legacy)

    -Solution Decks (Narrow, low power attackers that require perfectly lined up answers for backup)

    The Organized Play Changes:

    First of all, point payout by record at Pro Tours and Grand Prix is great. Obviously you need to make a cut somewhere and tiebreaks still have to matter
    for top 8, but for lower finishes you really don’t need to make that distinction. Better pre-match point expectations leads to less heartbreak. The only
    issue I have is how terrible a draw is at a team tournament, especially when those rounds tend to drag longer due to the nature of the format and the fact
    that you are simply waiting on the longest of three matches every round. It punishes the team interaction part of the event, and that is a bit of a feel
    bad to me.

    All Standard Pro Tours….. I’m likely biased, but I really don’t care. Standard is typically a fine format, and I’ll play whatever. If anything, as
    someone who benefits greatly from extended preparation, I will likely perform better as there is more consistency from event to event and an easier to
    predict metagame.

    The PTQ changes are coming from a good place, but as expected a few things aren’t spot on from day one. The big one I’ve received multiple comments on is
    that the system doesn’t hold up well in rural areas. Finding a level two judge can be rough, and the RPTQ might require Grand Prix levels of travel. I
    don’t know if there is a fix to the later, but the former seems easy enough to negotiate.

    My other concern is that we may see a decline in format diversity as Limited and Standard are more accessible than Modern. The fact that a whole PTQ season
    was forced to be Modern really helped the format gain momentum, and I would hate to see the format fizzle out. This is likely unfounded as stores do run
    Modern Grand Prix Trials and other large events unprompted, but there’s still that tiny fear it could be a disaster.

    Finally, giving Gold Pros flights instead of appearance fees (or the previous nothing) is great. Not only does it help people in less central locations,
    but I enjoy not having to worry about booking anything myself quite a bit.

    The Goals and the Future:

    Checking in on my annual goals I set in December.

    7. Write my Momir Basic Primer.

    The dream is dead. The format is irrelevant now that Daily Events are removed. I may have a theory article that applies to Magic in general that uses the
    format as a stepping stool, but that’s about it for now.

    6. Run back a team event with Alex and Matt.

    Nashville is a virtual lock, and odds are looking good for 2015 too given that the hometown Detroit Grand Prix is a team event.

    5. Keep at least six or seven team members around for the 2014-2015 season.

    If you count adding Christian Calcano, we have five members who will be returning: myself, Chris Fennell, Seth Manfield, Craig Wescoe, and Calcano. We also
    have a number of Silver members who will be around for Hawaii.

    The easy solution is add more Gold Pros. The hard solution is make all of us better. I’m going to work on both.

    4. Get two more Grand Prix Top 16’s to hit Gold.

    Bare minimum check mark acquired.

    3. 3-0 a Pro Tour Draft

    Blew my shot in Pod One at this last Pro Tour. One more shot to go.

    2. Do Something New and Notable

    Hitting Gold on the bare minimum Pro Tour points doesn’t count. Skipping a hometown Grand Prix doesn’t either. Failing miserably here. To quote a friend:
    “Stop sucking, start winning.”

    1. Maintain and improve on the quality of content I’ve been producing over the past year.

    That is to be determined. As I mentioned, my big niche tends to be as a highly technical writer, and I’ve simply played less Magic I can talk about over
    the last year. Some of it is less time due to a full-time job, but realistically, I’ve just felt less incentivized to hop on Magic Online or over to a
    local event and jam. The first ties a bit into the locked in Daily Event schedule getting stale, and the second I really have no excuses on.

    Despite my relatively mediocre finishes since January, I feel like this year is going fine. The most important thing is that I’m learning from my failures
    and successes.

    As I’ve said before, I know I’ve played events where I have achieved the levels of play and preparation I am looking for. At this point it’s all about
    refining the process so this becomes the norm instead of just a semi-frequent occurrence.