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November 9, 2015

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Adam Benn: Bombing the PT and finding out why.

I have been on the road for 3 of the past 4 weekends, so this article is going up a bit late. Sometime in the beginning of October, I flew out to Wisconsin to meet up with Team Hot Sauce and practice some sealed at GP Madison. I say practice because I had not played any sealed apart from 1 prerelease and zero drafts leading up to this Grand Prix, but I figured since I was heading to the PT in Milwaukee the next week I could use some practice. Long story short, I lost the sealed lottery, lost my win for day 2 in spite of my garbage deck (which I definitely built incorrectly), and went on to practice standard for the next week.
The team I was with rented a house on a lake that we all stayed at it. The place was gorgeous, and definitely the best part of my pro tour experience. As for testing, we often played standard during the day and drafted in the evening. Usually, we did one or two paper drafts and then used our laptops to draft online afterwards.

My team, along with many others, determined very early on that green, was by a large margin, the weakest color in BfZ limited. The grixis color pie is the best, although I hear white is playable as well.
As for standard, we tested a lot of different decks, but generally gravitated towards jeskai and atarka red. Unfortunately, our testing was a bit inbred, and I feel like we did not test a wide enough spectrum of decks. We felt that the dark jeskai manabases prior to the pro tour were too inconsistent, and failed to work at developing the correct manabase to make this deck work. I feel like this also led the team to dismiss abzan aggro, as well, simply by insisting that its mana base was inconsistent.

What we did agree on was the power level of Wingmate Roc. Unfortunately, people were still set on playing Jeskai, so what we ended up with was a Jeskai deck playing Thunderbreak Regent and Wingmate Roc. The strength of the Jeskai deck, in my opinion, is flexibility. It doesn’t necessarily want to curve into powerful creatures each turn. In fact, the most powerful creatures, apart from Wingmate Roc, are just not available in those colours. I felt an increasing sense of doubt as the PT approached, and thought that if we figured curving out with the most powerful creatures on the curve was the best approach then I might as well play the deck that does it best: Abzan aggro. I called – noted Siege Rhino – expert Phil Samms for a list the night before the PT, and trusted in him for a classic midnight audible.

Unfortunately, it didn’t matter because I train-wrecked my draft. I first picked a green card (From Beyond) on the completely idiotic notion that green would be open and I’d be able to take all the great green cards. I was right that I would be able to take all the green cards, but there are no great green cards so it didn’t matter. 4 Green rares later I couldn’t buy a win. As for standard, it didn’t really matter anymore, but the round I played magic the deck felt great. After all, Abzan aggro did win the tournament. It was pretty depressing knowing that I chose the right standard deck but completely blew it in draft, something I’ve felt I was strong at in the past.

On the flight back, I spent a fair amount of time talking with Samuel Tharmaratnam about the game. The tournament report doesn’t really matter. How I did doesn’t matter. The problem, I learned, was that I was thinking about results. I joked with some friends that if I didn’t do well at the PT I would rage quit and sell all my cards. I was joking, but not about wanting results. The problem is that it is a horribly toxic way of thinking. I wanted to do well, but I didn’t want to play well. I log several times more hours playing Counter-Strike: GO than I do playing MTG in an average week. I rarely played leading up to this PT (I was on tour with a friend’s band and doing school work instead). Despite all this, I expected to do well. Sadly, this outlook is common among many players, and results in the toxic attitudes that people have when they lose. As if they deserve to win. It felt awful losing, sure, but talking to Sammy made me realize that I was expecting to win instead of just trying to play the best magic I could and learning from each match.

I used to think the whole “take each match at a time” ethos was a crock, but I tried to put it into practice at GP Quebec City the week after the PT, and it helped me get over a round 5 loss pretty quickly. I ended up finishing well at the tournament, despite having a bad line in a game 3 of round 11 that cost me a lot. On day 1 I played some of the best magic I’ve played in a long time, and it was largely in part to forgetting my record, forgetting how many more wins I needed to make day 2, and just focusing on playing the best I could each round. I don’t think I knew what round it was during Day 1 at least half the time when people asked me what my record was. It felt great not to think about it.
I’m not really bothering with any reports, but there is one sweet play I cannot help but sharing. I was playing Dark Jeskai with Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and was paired against Bant Tokens in round 4 or 6, I can’t recall. Game 1 was not going well and the board was as follows: I had 6 lands in play, a 2/2 Hangarback Walker, and a Dragonmaster Outcast. My opponent had 2 2/2 Allies from a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar I had destroyed earlier. I had one card in hand (Draconic Roar), and my opponent had 4 cards in hand. I had yet to untap and create a Dragon with the Outcast. My opponent then played a Quarantine Field for two, targeting both my creatures. The Draconic Roar was essentially dead in the tokens matchup, and blasting my Hangarback did nothing, and destroying a 2/2 on his side seemed fairly anemic as well. My logic was that I had seen about 17 cards due to fetching and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and had yet to see an Ojutai’s Command. If the Outcast is in the graveyard, as opposed to exiled to Quarantine Field, my chance of winning is much higher than having a Draconic Roar for later. My opponent was quite confused when I roar’d my Outcast in response. I drew the Command the next turn. I easily won that game, and only because of that line. Sure, it was lucky, but it also increased my chance to win. Even if it was a razor thin margin it’s important to take those lines.

Hopefully the next time I’m at the PT I can do the same. In fact, I think it’s probably best to take that attitude into every event you play at, regardless of the level of play. You don’t deserve to win, but you can definitely try to learn how to win.

Thanks for reading,
Adam Benn