Weird Modern Leagues and Cycling Adventures

Getting the Magic Bug means travailing and traversing a variety of formats and for once, I’ve actually brought some diversity to my decklists.

 

Standard has been freed from the shackles of Felidar Guardian, meaning I’ve (digitally) sleeved up a 75. With no intent of getting stuck into the free-for-all that the format entails before something comes up best, I’ve put on my old man slippers and gone for the comfortable feeling of a control deck:

UR

While I’ve not built it, this is just my jam to relax to. Ever since it was granted to us I’ve been jamming Torrential Gearhulk (or as I like to call it, ‘Sploosh’) everywhere I can find. I might have been tried it in Modern, once or twice. This feels like the best shell for it since it returned though – Censor and Essence Scatter have solved the issue of having too little to do early on and Pull from Tomorrow is the blue draw spell I’ve been waiting for since Dig Through Time rotated. I can’t emphasize enough how powerful this card is. I’m sure we’ve felt the satisfaction of a successful Glimmer. It’s nothing compared to drawing eight which honestly, isn’t even that uncommon an outcome.

So far, I’m unbeaten with the deck in random pick up games, covering everything form the bogeyman Mardu Vehicles to SaffronOlive Special Panharmonicon. 5-0 isn’t a bad start, but I’m sure leagues will drag that right down to average.

As for Modern, as all the big paper events I play are Modern, it’s got me with the old favourite, Merfolk. A week or so back I played in the world’s largest GPT (298 players) and piloted it to a 6-3 finish, with losses only to some unfavourable matchups (Scapeshift, Ad Nauseum, GW Prison). I have to admit, I didn’t even particularly play well despite getting a win over a former GP winner (in the Modern format) – it was one of those days where Merfolk just kind of does its thing. That’s the nature of the deck – you can always rely on it to keep ticking over and you just try and eek out every advantage you get.

Jamming a league tonight is peppered with some of the weird non-games with quirks you get in Modern sometimes – my somewhat infamous ‘One land + Aether Vial’ hand gets obliterated by a Turn 1 Ingot Chewer. A Dredge deck piloted by ‘davidbowie; completely folds to Cursecatcher in two games straight. A Storm player uses Past in Flames then realises they have no red mana to fire off rituals, pause for two minutes and pass the turn. Naturally, they still win. One opponent I beat 2-0 and when it is finished, I still have no idea if they were on Storm or a UR Control deck. I end the second turn of a game with three Cursecatchers in play. All this flies by with an end result of 2-3 in a haze of background streams and Chicken Soup as I desperately try not to get subsumed by missing my fiancee, who is back at University. I also lament the fact I didn’t switch back to main board Spell Pierce after facing off against combo in four of five rounds (Yes, Dredge counts.)

Constructed ends the night at 1669.

Amonkhet Draft is up next. In my constant pursuit of making Cycling work, I ended up with this, which felt pretty satisfying. Still not sure about 16 lands, though.

Draft1

I think our first opponent likely hates us. Both games they get off to a fast start involving Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and various low to the ground creatures, only to run into Rags to Riches. Edifice of Authority and a slew of removal/mind control effects lock up the game. Lay Claim on Champion of Rhonas was the final straw.

The second match goes much the same way, although our opponent has Hapatra’s Mask to nix our plans of stealing Archfiend of Ifnir. As you can imagine, the Archfiend then nixes our plan of winning the game. The third the plan works again. I’m not saying having Drake Haven and Faith of the Devoted out at once takes me to my happy place.

And then I realise I’ve played 10 games of Magic today.

Is that too many?

Nah. There’s GP Copenhagen to practice for!

Limited Rating: 1660.

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A Beginning: Not being mediocre Pizza.

The Goals:

Day Two another GP

Make 1300 Planeswalker Points for 1 Bye at GPs for 2017-2018

Qualify for an RPTQ

Next Event: PPTQ, Rugby, March 4th

Ever eat Pizza from the same place, over and over? Ever experience the feeling the first time, where it’s incredible and the toppings are just right and you love it? But then the more you order it, the more that special feeling wanes and while it’s still okay Pizza, it’s just not great?

 

My growth as a MTG player iws that mildly satisfying, oft-ordered-never-loved, Double Pepperoni Pizza. (Sorry Veggies.)

 

I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a plateau. Roughly six months or so, I finished 99th at Grand Prix Lille, in my favourite format and with a deck I know inside out, Merfolk. It’s a cherished personal achievement and by far the best result I’ve had in Magic, by quite a long way. When I left that tournament, I was full of vigour and optimism for the months ahead – maybe I could get two GP byes this year? Perhaps this was the spark I needed to finally secure an RPTQ berth? Was this finally me taking the step up?

 

Instead, I’ve stagnated. I’ve played (and won) less in the preceding months, much to my own frustration. I’ve declined immensely as a limited player. Most my MTGO league records involve a combination of the numbers 2 and 3, often in that order. I find myself less confident and wondering more and more if Lille was a fluke and that maybe, I’ve hit the peak already. Which is an uncomfortable truth to face down and possibly a fabrication of my own anxiety – I’m not the only one in my local group who’s felt a little listless after a big GP performance with little follow-up.

 

So, I find myself at a crossroads. I can keep doing what I am and hoping it works, or I could try to play smart, play more, learn more. There are two PPTQs coming up, both Standard. One at a store where I’ve made the Quarter-Final and Final before – so why not again? I have been preparing, but I find myself just going through the motions with a BG Energy deck that I like, but I feel I’m not getting the most out of – or that I’m struggling with mulligans and my opponents are always just getting that one card they needed but definitely haven’t had in hand the whole time. I probably need to address those and learn from them rather than blame fate.

 

So, it’s time to change things up. While my free time is never as much as I would hope, there’s still enough to make a concerted effort at improvement and giving myself the best shot of doing better. Hopefully, practicing smart for less time will reap more reward than just mindlessly grinding leagues for weeks on end. I’ve got 11 days until the first PPTQ, 18 for the second – also at my local store, for the added pride element. For both though, I’m going to try the mind-set of not going to win, but going to have fun – but to also make sure I play optimally throughout. Focus on the process and not the results.

 

There are three steps to this, which may have to adapt depending on how successful they are. The first is to set achievable goals – always three on the docket, of varying difficultly. This is to ensure there is always a focus and a goal to aim for – I always need a constant stream of motivation, so this seems ideal. For now, the easiest is securing the last 200 PWPs to get a bye to every GP next year – byes are gold dust at GPs, for the later start and free win when so many wins are needed. This should be doable, but the impetus is on me to get out and play enough to make sure it happens. The second is making an RPTQ. I’ve had some near misses at PPTQs and I do feel I’ve got the skill to get to one – part of it will be clearing that mental hurdle, but it’s the next logical goal in terms of progression. The last one is to Day 2 a GP again. Why? Because I need to prove to myself it wasn’t a fluke.

 

The second step is going to be about playing properly. I’m playing too many games zoned out with a stream taking the rest of my focus – not thinking about my actions and basically playing like a zombie and hoping the rest comes together. It’s not good enough and leads to so many pointless mistakes (Not cracking an Evolving Wilds end of turn, playing the wrong land, miscounting attack damage). Further to that, I never formulate a plan to win games – I just go turn by turn, not thinking further ahead. It’s not a winning recipe. The aim is to play at least two hours a day, with a sole focus on the game and trying to play with a plan in mind. Exceptions will be made for when I stream.

 

The third step is to learn. Writing more often and going over what I’ve done in the week as a recap is a start to this. Another is to start reviewing my games more often – seeing what mistakes I’m making, going back to difficult positions and figuring out what the correct decision should have been. The other is to tap into my voracious appetite for knowledge for once. I’m going to start going through all the great Magic theory and articles that have been written. One a week and then applying it throughout the week to try and embed that learning. For this first week, it’ll be the seminal Who’s the Beatdown? By Mike Flores (http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/fundamentals/3692_Whos_The_Beatdown.html) Not only is this an article that is often regarded as an essential piece of knowledge, knowing when I should be playing as a control deck, and when as an aggressive deck is going to be very handy when playing B/G Energy in a metagame full of fellow aggressive decks.

 

I can’t say this will work. I can’t even say if I’ll stick at it. All I can say is that it’s a start. You have to start somewhere.

 

Let’s see where we are in a few days.

-Sohnata

My Magic 2015

So, I started playing Magic again this year, after a long hiatus from the game that started in 2013, although I’d really dropped out of things towards the end of 2012. Looking back, deciding to go again was probably one of the best things to happen to me all year and I’m quite lucky that in it’s short-lived spell, the local game store managed to get me playing again, with a really cool playgroup full of people I’m glad to call friends. It’s also been nice as most the main issues I was having with the game having seemingly been solved this year.

One of those was a growing insecurity about actually ever being able to achieve anything. After this year, I think that’s largely going away. One of the bizzarest things was winning in the first prerelease weekend I did all year (Fate Reforged) and I was only a single win outside of making Day 2 of a GP for the first time in London, with a deck I’d hardly played beforehand that was outside of my usual comfort zone. I also managed respectable records in Liverpool and Utrecht. Two PPTQ Top 8’s were also nice, especially the one at my home store, partly for being on home ground, partly because it was a deck I’d largely built myself. I often wonder if I should do that more instead of resorting to stock lists.

I also managed to get rid of one of my bugbears from the 2010-2012 time, which was finally cracking 1700 Limited Rating on MTGO during Origins, a set I seemed to have a ton of fortune with. Generally, I feel my play has gotten better too, although I am still prone to a startling amount of basic mistakes I make and a tendency for my mind to just wander off occasionally, including the finals of a GPT where both me and my opponent spent the entire aftermath discussing the utter strangeness of the plays I was making. In hindsight, it’s quite hilarious to me how bad I played.

That said, the best thing about the year was having a game store that was within 15 minutes walk with a cool group of people, where I could go play two or three times a week, but still hang out with afterwards. I think having that community is what I’ve really missed out of MTG before, and one of my fondest memories of the entire year, magic or not, was the end of Day 1 at GP London, where about 10 of us hung out in some random London kebab shop for a couple hours, shooting the breeze. It was the best of times.

Conversely, the worst part of the year was that store closing a couple of months ago. While our group has rallied and has still managed to keep FNMs going locally with decent turnout, there’s certainly something lost and it’s hard not to worry about how things are likely to contract rather than expand from there on. I also miss having regular events that are more competitive than FNM, with no GPTs, PPTQs and what not to look forward to. I’ll have to travel a little further afield, although as it stands, I might end up doing six (!) GPs, so bouncing around the UK shouldn’t be that hard, right?

So, I can now look at 2016 feeling quite hopefully about the game. I’m not going to set myself any specific goals (because that way lies madness), but in general terms, I’m planning to write more about the game and would like to generally, see some progress in my game in some form, reflected by results. Also to resolve more Dragonlord Ojutai’s.

Should be a fun year regardless.