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October 29, 2015

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Turning things around.

Where to start..?

So things have obviously turned around in the last week, and that couldn’t be any clearer than it is now, but did things go wrong in Milwaukee at the Pro Tour? Or did I bring it on myself? Was it just Magic? It’s easy to write off a poor result in a tournament as nothing other than bad luck. And believe me, I’ve fallen in that trap all too often. I don’t like to lose, as I imagine most people don’t, but if you blindly assume it was all out of your control and that you had no control over your losses then it’s going to be very difficult to improve as a player.

I prepared for the Pro Tour with local legend Adam Benn and a bunch of the guys from team Hot Sauce games. I’d never worked with them in any capacity previously but I’ve been looking for ways to improve my track record at Pro Tours recently, and a change of scenery, working with people I hadn’t worked with before seemed like a good opportunity to do that and I couldn’t pass up.

The ten of us rented a cottage off a lake in Southern Wisconsin about a week before the event, in hopes that it would give us sufficient time to play a bunch of Magic and talk a lot amongst each other so that we’d have a good enough grasp on the standard and draft formats do give ourselves the best chance to succeed at the event. We also did a reasonable amount of communication online in the weeks leading up to the event, but it’s my opinion that not a lot of ground was covered there to consider it worthy of something to build off of.

Overall, we got less done than I would have liked, but I’m not of the opinion that we failed, I just think we didn’t give it all the best of our abilities. We definitely adhered to the Star City metagame too strongly, and it narrowed our vision to a point that we weren’t generating enough new ideas to keep up with what the rest of the world was doing. Despite the negativity, I think we did a fine job of preparing together, and some of it lived up to its potential, we just got it wrong and there’s not a whole lot that you can do about it in hindsight. It happens. It’s the Pro Tour, they’re tough events to tackle and they’re very unforgiving.

The one deck that had me the most excited early on was a tokens list built around Abzan Ascendancy. Ascendancy never lived up to its potential in the previous format but I think that was more a product of the resources that it had available to it at the time. Now that it has a good following of both sacrifice outlets and token generators, I thought it might be its time to finally shine, but it never ended up panning out. I think that looking back at it now; it’s just a worse deck than the Bant Tokens list that has seen a good amount of play since the Pro Tour. The Abzan version showed a lot of resiliency and reach that I don’t think any other deck in the format can match. Unfortunately, I found it to just be too inconsistent despite tinkering around with many different color combinations and many different cards. That being said, the archetype is still on my watch list of decks that can break out in the future. Maybe Oat of the Gatewatch will bring with it some new tools that might breathe life into the archetype.

Another deck that I and the group focused on was Jeskai, various builds incorporating anything from Dragons, to Roc’s and anything in between. My initial opinion of all the Jeskai decks that kept popping up on the Starcitygames circuit was that there was just no reason for the deck to be warping its mana just to accommodate a card like Crackling Doom. There are tons of options in white when it comes to removal spells and even though the splash was essentially free so long as you tinkered with the mana base a little bit, it just seemed like a stretch to play something so clunky just because you could. As it turns out, only about half of that statement is true. I was too focused on making plain old Jeskai work, and completely disregarded the fact that there might be an opportunity to add more Black cards to shore up the decks other weaknesses, essentially killing two birds with one stone. This lazy approach directly hurt my chances at the Pro Tour, but thanks to a lot of smart deck builders out there on other teams, directly benefited the following weekend in Quebec City.

I think it’s really easy to look at any failure and immediately assume there is nothing to salvage from it. But that’s the wrong attitude to have and one that I too often see people stumble into. I lost because I failed to understand what this format was about. I lost because lady luck was not on my side that weekend. I lost because I wasn’t dialed in mentally to every match. I lost because I made several misplays and made poor judgement calls because I wasn’t playing at a high level. There were many factors, and I’m very aware of all of them. I didn’t do my best, I wasn’t mentally there and I got punished. This is something I looked to correct moving forward, and thanks to a lot of luck, I suppose I got what I wanted, though to be honest I may have settled for less!

I ended up playing Mono Red for the Pro Tour itself. Not an altogether exciting deck to play. It’s not like I was going to be surprising any of my opponents, or catch them unprepared for the matchup as Red has won the last two Pro Tours. But it was the deck that was performing the best in testing, and there’s a lot to be gained from doing what the stats are telling you. I think overall the red decks in standard right now are under powered compared to recent incarnations. A lot of the cards that rotated out of the format really hurt the deck and all of the decks recent success can mostly be attributed to the metagame working itself out. Moving forward, I would personally shy away from playing the deck as I think there are much better things out there. However I do think that it was the right call for me on that weekend, despite my finish.

The tournament itself was also quite unexciting as I performed average at best in limited and the constructed rounds were all blowouts one way or the other. I’ll save the actual tournament report since at this point I don’t think there is much worthy of sharing. There were a lot of close games, and I lost almost all of them because I either made poor decisions or because my opponents were very prepared and had the tools they needed to fight.

My initial ending for this article was going to be a spirited message about playing smart, staying focussed and using this event to learn something moving forward. And while often, a lot of that can just be nonsense and optimistic thinking, I truly did make an effort to steer the ship in the other direction and focus on making the most of this season. Sure enough, the next weekend I not only managed to top 8 a Grand Prix, but I picked up a second win.

I’ve never felt more focussed, and more determined to win every match in my entire career to date. That’s not just because I like to win, because who doesn’t? That’s not just because it was my birthday and I wanted to gift myself with the best gift I could get my hands on… Ok it kind of was. But it’s mainly because I felt I had something to prove to myself. I put myself in a good position coming into this Pro season to make a good year out of it, and I’m not about to let a poor Pro Tour appearance ruin that. I don’t think I was the best player in that event. Not even close. But I’m 100% sure I wanted it the most and I was determined to make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I will make mistakes next Pro Tour. I might even make more. But I’m going to continue learning from them and making sure they don’t happen again because that’s how you turn everything around.