A year in a review.
Hello guys! Today’s article will be a bit different than usual. Normally I’d be trying to write some sort of strategy piece; however, Standard is in a lull, and I’ve yet to play any Pioneer. I’ve recently tweeted about how much I dislike the current trend in article writing when it comes to Magic. Players mostly spit out sideboard guides or clickbait articles. Now, I don’t have anything against sideboard guides. I understand someone has a 9 to 5 job, comes back from work, and just wants to pick up a new deck. They’d rather know how to sideboard right away than trying to figure it out for hours. Hell, I even use sideboard guides when I pick up a new deck. I also understand that’s what the big websites want - content that generates traffic. I’m not shocked that SCG and CFB are shying away from the content that we used to have as readers. It gets more clicks than tournament reports, once one of the most popular types of articles, and yet is nowhere to be seen these days. And I miss that. I used to love the week after the PT, where I would read about my favorite pros and how their tournament went. We still get a recap of these tournaments, but it’s less about the games and feelings of an individual, and more about the deck they’ve played, cool decks they didn’t play, and how to move forward. I felt that I was closer to the players as a fan. Anyway, we’ve got this brand new website, and guess what, I can write about anything I want. My favorite article I’ve ever written for CFB was called “My Story” and it was about how my career started. I’ve had great feedback on that one, so today I’m going to try and write something similar. Welcome to Ondrej’s 2019 in review! 2019 was the best year of my career. I made more than 100,000 dollars in tournament winnings, managed to qualify for the World Championship, and locked up a spot in the prestigious Magic Pro League. It has also been a weird year full of change and new experiences.
Let’s start from the beginning, or actually the end of 2018, when the MPL was announced. I was super excited to hear this news. Players in the pro club long complained about Magic not being a feasible profession. You simply couldn’t make a lot of money. This changed with the MPL. 75k a year is an insane amount of money, especially for someone from the Czech Republic, where the average monthly salary is around 1500 USD. I know there was a lot of skepticism coming from the Gold and Silver players, who viewed this news as the end of the PT as we knew it. I was fairly confident that WOTC would come up with something like the Rivals league or the fractional invites, so I wasn’t that worried. Instead I decided to do everything in my power to get into the MPL, even though at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure what the qualifying metric was. My approach to Magic has always been the same - as long as I’m invited to events and in a financial position to be able to attend them, I will do so. And I figured playing events is the way into the MPL. I also liked the “cancellation” of GPs. With no pro points, and no GP coverage, there was really no reason to attend them. I participated in two GPs in 2019, while in the past couple of years, I competed in like fifteen a year. I’ve never loved going to GPs. I don’t enjoy playing Magic against strangers. That particular social aspect of Magic never appealed to me. I wish I was different, but the whole interacting with people I don’t know thing makes me really anxious. I also dislike big crowds. For example, GP Prague this year was UMA limited and it had 2500 players. The venue was packed and I felt like I couldn’t breathe in such a small space. I much prefer playing tournaments like the PT with fewer people. Don’t get me wrong, I like hanging out with friends, but it’s kind of hard to find your buddies in a GP hall, and I’ve also made more Magic friends overseas than in Europe. Personally, I was happy with the change, and I preferred streaming to GP weekends, but more on streaming later.
2019 has been the year of Arena, and that’s how it started for me too. I actually got into Arena very late in 2018, spending my whole December trying to get double Mythic and build my collection, with the expectation of using Arena as a testing tool for the upcoming MC. I do love Arena. The actual gameplay experience is very smooth, the only downside is that there are very few premier events, and not much to play for. I’ve turned on MTGO sporadically this year. I don’t think that will change in 2020. The first event I prepared for was MC 1 in February. Actually, I prepared for two events that month, because Wizards announced that the top 8 players on Arena ladder at the end of the month would qualify for the Mythic Invitational. The Invitational was meant to be the first tournament on Arena and the biggest one in the history of the game, with a prize pool of one million dollars. Given the fact that the MC was scheduled for the last week of February, the plan was clear. Practice on Arena and maintain a playable rank, and then try and spike the top 8. I didn’t think it was very realistic to make it because I saw Stan struggle with the Hearthstone ladder in the past. The prize is huge, there weren’t many slots, and all the good competitors will try their best. My goal going into the month was to try and do well at the MC and keep a healthy mindset when it came to the grinding.
The MC didn’t go well. I tested with the usual suspects of the OG F2F team. The remnants of that team are; Sam Pardee, Matt Nass, PV, Mike Sigrist, Alexander Hayne, Ivan, and myself, but we had a larger group this time around. In preparation I was keeping myself in the top 50 on the ladder while trying various decks. I think there was one day where I did poorly and went to become a percentage gamer, but I quickly bounced back. In the end we settled for UR Phoenix. We felt it had a good matchup against Sultai and Mono U, which we thought would be the most played decks. The deck turned out to be very mediocre. We all did poorly, except for Luis, who obviously top 8’d. Personally, I snuck into day 2 at 4-4, won the second draft, and then went 0-5 in constructed. I tried to play until the end to break my streak of losing the last round of a PT. Instead, I lost again, and made it nine losses in a row. Pretty depressing. It used to be quite easy for me to do well at the PT back in the day, but I’ve struggled with my day two performances in the last couple of years. I mostly blame the rest of the world for catching up, and us for not having the best deck for every tournament. I was never the strongest player in the room, but I usually had better preparation than most. I needed to figure out how to fix that. Luckily, the solution arrived early, but more on that later. I got back home determined to try and do well at the ladder. I knew it was going to come down to the last day, and the previous days didn’t matter much. On the second to last day, I went to bed at number 4. I think I was even playing pretty bad decks to get there, but I just kept winning. Anyway, I woke up, and I was like 15th. Lots of work had to be done, but I had this strange mindset in order to not go crazy. I was very skeptical, always reassuring myself that I’m likely to miss, and not to get my hopes up. I was switching between Sultai and Esper, both of which were two pretty skill intensive decks. It also helped me that both Ivan and Stan were trying to get the slot as well, so I had games to watch, even though I didn’t play much. I played seven matches that day, winning all of them and finishing in 7th place. Lucky sevens. The ending was kind of stressful, because I had to wait, refresh, and hope someone would not knock me out, but overall I enjoyed the high stakes. There were a lot of debates on Twitter about the system, and I previously said that I liked it. I think the stakes may have been a bit too high, and the slots a little too few, but I liked that there was some competition. Getting into the top 1200 is quite trivial for me. I thrive for competition, and this was a good one. I do think it was crucial for me to have the defeatist mindset, because otherwise I would probably stress too much, and punt a match at some point.
As for the Invitational, I don’t think I’ve ever prepared for a tournament as much as for this. I had the help of our third roommate, Jan Kotrla aka KK aka the spotter from the tabletop MC aka our webmaster. KK basically takes care of us, and we either call him servant or babysitter based on our mood. Testing went like this: I would wake up, play a bunch of ladder, and then playtest with either Ivan or Hayne. KK and I would discuss lines and potential line-ups, consult the others, and go to bed. We repeated this process for two weeks. In the end I felt like we had a great understanding of the format, but couldn’t find anything special. Luckily it wasn’t a breakable format, and I felt we didn’t miss anything. I believe I had like a 1% edge in every single matchup because our lists were clean. The lineup didn’t have any flaws, but also no truly great matchups. The format was mostly about luck, which is something that suits me. The event itself was super interesting. Like I said, this was the first non-tabletop competition, and it felt weird not having to bring a deck of cards. I was literally walking around the venue with just a water bottle. No backpack, nothing. The venue was also something else. The tournament took place at PAX EAST in Boston and the Magic booth was kind of in the middle of the whole thing. The whole building was full of energy and it was cool being surrounded by gamers. The tournament structure was double elimination and I was drawn into a very strong group. After losing the first round against Matt Nass, I had my back against the wall and needed to win out to advance to day two. These were my opponents - Yuuya Watanabe, Autumn Burchett, Ken Yukuhiro and finally my teammate Alexander Hayne. No slouches there. All matches were pretty intense, but the last one against Hayne, which was a 135 card mirror, was pretty stressful. I won both Esper mirrors, but after getting extremely ahead in the deciding game, I almost managed to throw it all away by making some mistakes and getting tricked by Hayne with an Arena interaction I didn’t know existed. You can watch the match here. After day one WOTC threw a big party for us. It was a great night, full of laughter, chats and dancing. It was also fun interacting with people who were yet to play a match of Magic because the tournament was a four day affair with group A and B playing on Thursday, while C and D played on Friday. It was nice watching some other competitors sipping their water, while I could relax with a beer in my hand. My favorite memory was watching Carlos Romao getting funky on the dance floor. A true master, not just in Magic. And also 4AM hotel room pizza with Wyatt Darby. Good times!
After a day of break, the second day of competition for myself arrived. I got paired against Kanister, who was the only person playing Mono Blue in the tournament. I remember messing up with Mono Red against his Mono Blue, and losing because of that error. Again I went into the losing bracket needing to win four in a row to make the top 4. In the second round I faced Jess Estephan. I managed to win on the back of my busted draws, but I noticed I was making some errors. I was actually super nervous. Normally the nerves don’t get to me much, but I really wanted to do well in this event and prove to myself that I still have what it takes. The stress was taking its toll. I reached out to Stan, who said something that resonated with me. He told me not to worry, because I’ll be playing a lot of high-level tournaments in my career. Even if I get eliminated I will have another shot next time. This advice helped me out, as I didn’t stress as much about playing poorly. In the third round, I had a super cool deciding game against Greg Kowalski. We both ran the other out of all win conditions, and I managed to deck him while I had just one card in my library left. The last round against TheAsianAvenger was also insane. I won a game where I thought I had less than 1% of winning, but my opponent just drew land after land, and eventually I won. In the next game, I managed to get lucky in the Esper mirror. I made it into the top 4!
What followed was kind of crazy. I had a short on-air interview with Becca Scott, and then was whisked away to a dark room for another round of interviews and a photoshoot. It was kinda surreal, as it felt like we’re finally an esport. I spent like an hour there, starving, and excited for dinner. For the final day I was paired against Kanister and I was kind of bummed that our match wasn’t featured. Before we even started we got to watch the premiere of the WAR trailer, which was simply amazing. I even shed a tear. After doing makeup we were up on the big stage with an actual audience in front of us. Unfortunately, I got crushed by both Kanister and Savjz. Oh well, it was still a great tournament. I had a lot of fun and the afterparty was the cherry on top of it all. We went to karaoke, drank some Japanese beer and it was an all-around amazing experience.
After coming back home I decided to pick up streaming. I used to stream in the past, but I’ve always stopped for one reason - people weren’t watching. For me, streaming is fun when I get to interact with the chat. If the chat is silent, it just feels like work. I have to play Magic, talk out loud, while seemingly no one watches. It doesn’t matter to me if I get 20 or 100 or 1000 views, but obviously the bigger you get, the livelier the chat is. That’s just simple math. So with my newly earned fame, I decided to give it a shot. People watched, and I still stream to this day. My stream is doing relatively well. I got sponsored by an esports team, got a couple of hundred subs, and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re reading this and watch my stream on a regular basis, thank you, I wouldn’t be doing it without you! There was also another reason for me to start streaming. With Savjz and Jess getting invited into the MPL, and WOTC announcing discretionary invites for the Arena MC, I felt like it was a clear sign that Wizards wanted to promote streamers. Being a streamer could give me a better chance in getting into the MPL. Another upside of streaming was that I finally got a daily routine. Magic isn’t like other jobs where you’re forced to show up at a certain time. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. And I’m quite bad at keeping a strict regime. Streaming changed that. Now I get up, eat, make myself a coffee, and start streaming. When I’m done, I either work on more MTG related things, or relax watching Netflix, or playing different games. This change was nice, and I believe it had a positive effect on my mental health.
After picking up streaming I also kind of neglected the tabletop MCs. This was because the format for MC2 and 4 was Modern. And as you know, you can’t play Modern on Arena. I simply didn’t want to stream much off-Arena, because I believe people prefer watching that. Especially with the WAR Standard format being pretty deep, and nowadays with all the bannings, I didn’t feel Standard was boring. This might change next month, because I don’t enjoy this Standard format very much. Anyway, back to the MCs. In MC II, in London, I decided to test very little constructed and concentrate on limited. This being a prerelease MC also helped. KK was very kind and helped us print out quality proxies so our testing group could practice drafts. This was a lot of fun. We were holed up in a conference room trying to figure out the draft format. As for constructed, I didn’t play much and just picked up Tron, hoping to win some die rolls and get lucky. Well, I won a lot of die rolls, 10 out of 10 to be precise, but I went 5-5. I made some mistakes, and got kinda unlucky in draft, going only 4-2, which was a disappointment because I felt we had a big edge in limited. I wasn’t super unhappy though, because I managed to break my last round loss streak, after beating Shota Yasooka no less. Hayne also managed to top 8, which was great, because a) he’s my good friend, and I wish good things for him and b), he was in my team series and locked us a free flight to Barcelona. A highlight of this tournament was getting paired against Shahar on Tron. I won the die roll and had turn three Tron + Karn in my opening hand. The game went as follows. Me: Mine, go. Shahar: Mine, go. Me: draws second Mine for my turn, plays Tower, go. Shahar: Ghost Quarter, blows up my Tower. I never get Tron and die on turn 4. They don’t call him little kid luck for nothing. Still 9-7 was good enough for 5 Mythic points, even though I had no real use for them at the time. They, however, were still the first Mythic points I’ve earned, and I was proud of them. This thing is getting pretty long, and I’m halfway done, so I’ll make a break here. I should have the second part up sometime next week. Thanks for reading!