A year in a review. Part two.
This is part two of my year in a review article. Took me a bit longer than I expected, but I got sidetracked by holidays. Anyway, here’s part one, if you’ve missed it. The next tournament on the agenda was MC III, the first Arena PT. I wasn’t qualified, and neither were any of my roommates. I said in the first part that there was one key thing that made me succeed this year. I believe it was the involvement of my Czech friends. Stan is an incredible deckbuilder, and it was very helpful being able to bounce ideas off him. The value of sharing what you do with the whole house helps a lot. More work gets done, and everyone is more focused on the goal, whatever it may be. Anyway, for the first qualifier, we found a deck we liked pretty early on. It was the 4 color Dreadhorde deck. We spent lots of hours debating if we should try to keep it under the lid or share it with the community. We had it for about ten days before the tournament, and decided to run it instead of holding onto it. This was a very complicated decision. My stream was just getting off the ground, and I knew this deck was cool enough to get a lot of clicks. The downside is obvious, we might hurt our chances in the tournament. In the end, we figured we’d be able to find a better deck, and we also weren’t 100% sure how good the deck was. Well, it turned out to be quite good. It was a great content for the stream, but in the end I regret the decision a little bit. As for the tournament, Stan and I chose to play Jeskai Walkers while Ivan stuck to the Dreadhorde deck. In hindsight I wish I played the Dreadhorde deck too. I wasn’t piloting the Jeskai deck well, while I felt comfortable with Dreadhorde. The event was over quickly for me. I lost the first two rounds, and that was it. KK died shortly thereafter. Ivan and Stan made it to day two, but both failed to qualify. A mediocre showing for our household.
Not going to lie, I felt I had a small chance of getting the discretionary invite, thanks to me being a streamer and doing well at the Invitational. With two weeks until the tournament, I felt like the invites were probably already sent out, and I was out of luck. But one morning, twelve days before the tournament, I woke up, checked my email, and there it was. The invite! Amusingly enough, it was my birthday. Not bad as far as birthday gifts go. The tournament itself went badly. I won a grand total of one game in the whole thing before being eliminated. There were a bunch of reasons why I think I did poorly. First, I put too much pressure on myself. This was the highest stakes tournament I’ve ever played, because of the potential MPL implications. Requalifying would be a big deal, there was lots of prize money and a lot of exposure for my stream on the line. Second, I didn’t love my deck. It was kind of rough, because to this day I believe I had the best deck in the tournament. There really wasn’t much else to do, but play an Esper. It was by far the strongest thing in that format, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Not much I could have done there, except for settling for a worse deck, which I dislike doing. Third, and most importantly, there is variance in Magic. This took me a while to accept. I was having a bit of an impostor syndrome right after this tournament ended. I spent the next two days at the venue talking to my fellow competitors about skill and luck in Magic. In the end, I figured out that sometimes, there isn’t much you can do. Do I think I played super well in that tournament? No. Do I think I could have won more matches if I played better? Almost certainly. But the thing is, that I probably won’t ever play flawlessly. No one really does. You can look at any tournament Javier Dominguez played this year and find a match where he’s made a mistake. And he’s the guy who won everything. In summary, it sucked, but I was trying not to beat myself up too much. The next tabletop MC went badly too. Stan wasn’t qualified, and I decided to switch teams. I didn’t want to spend time with real life testing due to streaming, so I joined a squad that prepared entirely online. Overall, I mainly focused my efforts on the Arena PTs this year, they were better value and had more exposure. Growing my stream was also a big goal of mine in 2019, so the change made sense to me. Anyway, I tested with team Peppa Pig - a bunch of American kids, who I enjoy hanging out with, and who live and breathe Magic on a daily basis. We identified Hogaak as the best deck, and build a Dredge Hybrid version that was solid in the mirror due to Crippling Chill. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a maindeck Leyline, which was the true mirror breaker. I blame myself, because when Ben suggested it, I shut it down, because I thought the metagame would be too wide, and it wouldn’t be worth it. I underestimated both London mulligan and the Hogaak popularity. In the end, I think our deck was okay, because it was slightly better than the regular Gaak in the mirror, but we were behind in the main deck Leyline mirrors. Our team did great, I believe the deck had the best win percentage in the room. Personally, I did poorly yet again. This time it was all my fault. I felt like I was making some errors due to not playing any real life Magic. I forgot to note down a life loss multiple times in the tournament. I also had a headache, because I mismanaged my sleeping schedule before the tournament. I thought, I’d be fine, and I wasn’t. I played bad and missed day two for the second time in my twenty something tries. Fun fact, I played the last round against PV, which makes it two PTs in a row when that happened. Admittedly, last time it was a better circumstance. Coming next was another MCQW. Unfortunately, WOTC announced the date very late, and I’ve already planned a vacation to Croatia with my girlfriend. I had to settle for ruining our holiday by spending a day (or two) locked inside our AirBnB instead of hanging out at the beach. I left the house on Tuesday before the tournament, determined to play either Vampires or Nexus. On the last day Stan said he wants to play some games with this Kethis deck, I didn’t have much time so I played four games against him, not thinking about it much. I just assumed it was some Stan gimmick deck, and that he would smarten up and play a good deck. Well on Friday, Ivan messaged me saying Kethis was the real deal. Stan told me Nexus and Kethis were kinda equal, and to play whatever I want. I had no experience with Kethis, but Ivan seemed confident it was better than Nexus. So, I stayed up till 3AM trying to learn the ins and outs of this unique deck. The first couple matches, I had no idea what I was doing, just trying to figure out stuff as I was piloting the deck. My record wasn’t great, but in the end, I decided to trust Ivan, and play Kethis the next day. This was super unprecedented as the tournament was in an established format. The last set came out like a month and a half ago. Usually, at that point Standard is stable, and no new decks are popping up. So bringing something new for this tournament was a very unique experience. I felt like I had an immense edge, because my opponent had no idea how my deck worked. I don’t think Kethis was the best deck in Standard, but I believe it was the best one for this tournament.
Still I didn’t have all this information beforehand, and I felt like I was making a gamble. I definitely wasn’t playing well in that tournament, which isn’t surprising given my preparation. This also meant I didn’t expect much from myself. There are loads of people playing these, and only 16 people qualify. It helped a lot that my girlfriend was there. Chris Kvartek lately shared on twitter how he feels that the support from his partner helped immensely, and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s no coincidence that my girlfriend and I started dating around the time I announced my retirement, and I’ve been doing super well ever since. Having someone there for you no matter what happens is incredibly valuable, and helps my mental health immensely. My girlfriend is actually coming to Honolulu for support, and the beaches in Hawaii, so hopefully we can do well again. Anyway, Kethis was fire, we didn’t lose much, and Stan and I punched our ticket to Long Beach. For MC V preparation we had Greg and Martin stay at our house for a week or so. At the start of the testing, I went to pick up Greg at the train station. On our way back, I managed to crash the car while parking into the garage. Just Ondrej things, lol. Should have just let Greg Uber. It picked up from there, and I was incredibly happy with our preparation. I felt it was pretty clear that we had the best deck in the room, even though basically everyone said our deck was trash on social media. I found these things amusing, and decided to prove the haters wrong.
On the other hand, I’m not super happy with how I handled the tournament. I felt the stress yet again. At this point, WOTC announced the organized play for 2020, the top 4 challengers from the MC requalified, and it was clear that if I made it I would lock the Rivals league, a huge step towards making the MPL. Playing Magic with livelihoods, and hundred thousands dollars at stake isn’t that much fun. The client issues throughout the tournament didn’t help either. There were two situations that stood out to me. First, involved my good friend Mike Sigrist. After round four, I was hanging out with everyone in the player’s lounge, that was further away from the playing area. In walks Michael, and I can see he’s fuming. I’ve known Mike for the last five years, I’ve spent a lot of time with him, and I’d say we’re very good friends. I can safely say, I’ve never seen him this mad. Turns out, he had the win, but the client shut down, they had to replay the match, and he lost. It was a shitty situation. I’m sure I would throw a big tantrum if it happened to me and probably wouldn’t be able to continue playing the tournament. Obviously, the next match, I get paired against Siggy.
Throughout the match, I didn’t really care about the result, i had a lot of thoughts running through my head. I was thinking about how my friend got screwed out of day two, and how he might miss if I beat him. I was thinking that maybe, I don’t care about the competition that much, that I’d rather see my friend happy. I was thinking that Siggy probably needs the win more, given the fact, he has two kids at home, while I’m still a young lad. I wasn’t bothered with the match, I’d be content with both a win and a loss. These aren’t the things that should be going through your head in such an important match, but it isn’t easy to stop yourself from thinking them. In the end, I ended up winning anyway even though I played quite bad. Luckily Siggy made it in with a win in the last round, so it had a happy ending for the both of us.
The second situation again involved a friend of mine and client issues. I played against Hayne on the second round of the competition. In the first game, Hayne got into a commanding position. I’d say he was about 95% to win the game, if I knew the contents of his hand, probably even more. At that point the internet in the room went out. We all had to replay our games. This put me in a weird spot, because I felt like I was probably supposed to concede, but on the other hand I’d still had a tiny chance of winning the first game. In the end, I chose to play, and won the replayed game. In games two and three, I just kept thinking about if I’m screwing over my friend or not. I messed up both those games, and lost games I had no business losing.
Playing against friends is tough, especially when so much is on the line. It’s hard for me to just let go of the friendly feeling towards people and viewing your opponent as the enemy. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past, and is something I will have to improve on in the future. This is my profession, and if I want to excel at it, I need to be able to put my feelings aside. Stan has also mentioned that he’s purposely tried not to make many friends on the tour, but I think I’m past the point of return on that one. In Magic it always feels like there’s a lesson to take away after every tournament, and I knew I needed to get better at separating friends and business. In the words of Mike Sigrist: “It’s just business.”
Anyway, after losing to Hayne, I lost again in a pretty crazy game against Shahar, where I felt like I played super well to get back from being behind, but then punted in a crucial moment, and lost to his topdeck. I was eliminated, lost chance of requalifying, and lost any real chance of making the Rivals league.
At this point, I was super burned out. This year was crazy, I played in a lot of tournaments. I spent a lot of hours grinding, a lot of hours streaming, a lot of hours playing Magic. I kind of just wanted a break. There were still two tournaments to play though. The MCQW for MC VII, and MC VI. Oko would dominate in those, which was clear after the Field of the Dead ban. I did poorly in the MCQW, which was to be expected, because I didn’t prepare much. For the actual MC, I didn’t test much either. I challenged myself to stream with all the non-Oko decks from the MCQW fully knowing I’d play Oko at the MC. I just didn’t want to bore my audience with Oko all the time. It was fun, but didn’t help me much with the actual MC. As for drafts, I thought I’d do some offstream, but I was always super tired, and never actually drafted. I did two drafts, before flying to Richmond. Luckily, I went back to my old team, because I wanted to have a good time hanging out with my friends. We agreed to do some IRL drafts, but this was the least I was ever prepared for the Limited portion with the exception of my first PT. I did less than 10 drafts, while normally I do upwards of 20. To be fair, I feel like you could do zero drafts, and as long as you attended a team meeting, you’re going to be fine. My teammates are gas. As for Constructed, I was just playing Oko mirrors against Ben Weitz everyday, while consulting Stan, who was grinding Arena 24/7. I believe he played more of that format than anyone, who was actually playing the MC. It was interesting, because my teammates and him, had a very differing opinions, especially when it came down to the number of Wicked Wolf and Nissa maindeck. In the end, I mostly listened to Stan, but changed the list a little bit to fit my preference. In hindsight, those changes made the deck worse, but it didn’t matter. I was actually stressing out about this super much, but Ivan calmed me down, telling me the last couple slots don’t matter that much. It’s funny how many times throughout the year, I listened to Ivan, and it ended up working out.
My second draft went super well. I had an amazing UG Adventures with two Innkeepers, Folio and Lovestruck Beast. My deck was awesome, but so was everyone else's at the table. I won two close matches, before losing to a truly absurd Mono Green splashing blue for Oko. I then lost a match to Oscar Christensen, when I made a pretty dumb communication error. I played Wicked Wolf with one Food in play and went to fight his 3/3 creature. I then tried to figure out if I want to play around Noxious Grasp, by not sacrificing the Food. The issue was, I didn’t say that out loud. I pointed to the creature, and went into the tank. After like 10 seconds, I came to the conclusion to sac the food. Unfortunately, at the same time Oscar picked up his creature, because i made it look like I’m just passing a priority. We called a judge who confirmed that if I don’t announce holding priority it means I’m passing. Super reasonable, and super dumb from me. I believe I’d probably win the game, if I sacrificed it, but it was my fault, and I took the loss instead.
I needed to win out from that point, and I managed to after beating mono-Oko decks. I was lucky to get a concession after being paired down to a friend, but other than that all my matches were pretty uneventful. Some combination of good luck on my part, and bad luck on my opponent’s part. Soon my name was called for the top 8 announcement, and I could celebrate with my friends.
Obviously, I was ecstatic to be in the top 8, but I really felt like the job has only begun. I wanted to win badly, and I felt much differently than with my other top 8s. Back then, I was just happy to be there, but this time I was hungry for the win. I believe this has helped me a little in the first two matches against PT top 8 newcomers Louis-Samuel Deltour and Oscar Christensen, who are both phenomenal players. The experience of playing on this stage is so unique. Everything is so silent, you’re surrounded by judges, spotters and coverage people, but the rest of the room is mostly empty. The stakes are also enormous, I didn’t know this before, but Worlds is a 16 person tournament with one million dollars at stake. It’s crazy. Obviously I had even more on the line, with the MPL stuff. The worst part about the whole day was the wait for my semifinals. I swear the other quarters took like three hours. I was just nervously prancing around the hall, I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t talk to people, I just tried to listen to music to calm the nerves. I also had to distance myself from what was on the line. It was a rough couple of hours. I was super happy, when they told me I could play again. As for the finals, I was scared to play PV. Throughout the whole tournament Stan was raving about how great Paulo is, that everyone plays bad, but Paulo. In an almost identical mirror it wasn’t going to be easy, especially since I was on the draw. I recommend checking the finals out, especially the fourth game. I was kinda mad at myself for keeping a bad hand in game three, and I made an error in the fourth game, but other than that I think I played well. The fourth game was insane, and I’ll freely admit that I was thinking about how I’m going to concede. Do I go to hug Paulo, do I shake his hand? But then I kind of snapped out of it, and started to entertain scenarios in my head that could lead me to a victory. One of those involved him playing Mass Manipulation into my Veil of Summer, which is exactly what happened, and in the end I squeezed it out. I had no time to even wrap my head around the situation and Paulo was already going down to five in the deciding game. His draw was bad, mine was great, and even though I probably didn’t play perfect, I managed not to throw. All of a sudden, I was a PT champion.
It was an unreal feeling. This was a goal of mine for as long as I can remember. I recall waiting for my trophy shots, sitting down at the feature match area, and just trying to figure out what’s going on. Everything happened so fast. I went from not qualified to the next PT to making the MPL in a weekend. It’s so crazy. Honestly, I probably still don’t get what happened.
This year was wild. It was probably the most eventful year of my life. I managed to reach a bunch of personal milestones, started a somewhat popular stream, joined an esports team, while being in a loving relationship for the whole duration of it. It was also the hardest year of my life. I believe I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year. There were so many big events this year, and I played every single one with the exception of the last MC. I’m not going to lie this year was a huge strain on my mental health, and there were points where I was struggling a little bit. In the end, it all worked out, but I’d like this to be a bit of a cautionary tale. It easily could have gone the other way. A mana flood in one of the win and ins, and my whole year would be a disappointment instead of an incredible success. Professional Magic is a fucking hard work. It’s a dream job, and you won’t see me complaining about it very often, but it’s a challenge. The people in the MPL are some of the most hardworking folks I’ve met in my life. I’m not here to discourage you if playing Magic professionaly is your goal, but I’d like to warn you that the way to the top isn’t easy. I’ve literally hit the lowest point of my life in summer of 2018, both financially and emotionally. It was a struggle, and I had to get immensely lucky to bounce back. So consider yourself warned. As for next year, I’m trying to be cautious. I’ve seen the MPL take a huge toll on some players. I’ve spent a great amount of time towards the end of the year taking a break, recharging batteries and thinking about what my 2020 will look like. Obviously being in the MPL will change things. In 2019, I tried to build up my stream, because I felt like that was a reliable source of income. I’d say I split my productive time between stream and competing/practicing about evenly. In gaming the paychecks are very uncertain, so moving forward, my goal will be to stay in the MPL, because the rewards for being there are incredibly high. Also once you make the MPL, it’s much easier to stay in the MPL than getting into the MPL. Unfortunately this means, I will have to cut down on streaming in favor of tournament preparation. Burnout is a real thing in Magic, and I just can’t bring myself to stream games on Arena with no stakes for hours every day. I’ll still stream, because I enjoy doing it, but I think my stream content will be a bit different. I will try and use streaming more to prepare for tournaments. This might mean that I will have some more cool content, like game analysis with Stan or playtesting various matchups against Ivan, but it also means more Magic Online and less interacting with chat. While I think this will lower the entertainment value of my stream and therefore will lead to loss of some of my viewership, I simply feel like I need to do this for myself. I have an immense respect for people like Crokeyz, Bloody, Voxy and many others for grinding infinite Arena games just to entertain people. Streaming might look like an easy job, but I can assure you it’s ridiculously hard as well. I hope I will still reach some audience with this new type of content, because I believe that it will be interesting for the hyper-competitive types out there.
My goals for 2020: Win Worlds. Stay in the MPL.
Don’t beat myself up if I fail. Make people happy.
Holiday is over, time to dive into Pioneer.
Thanks for reading.