Why I failed at the World Championship
Title says it all. I’m writing another introspective piece. Insert some laments about the death of good writing, sideboard guides taking over the world, etc. Anyway, I hope you learn something today.
The life motto “we learn through our mistakes” is especially true, when it comes to Magic tournaments. I think it’s quite helpful to sit down and figure out what went wrong when you do poorly at a tournament. When you fail at the biggest event of your life, it’s even more interesting. I strongly believe that I had all the tools to do well at the World Championship, I had the best deck, the best testing team surrounding me, and yet I was eliminated on the first day of competition. One day of Magic, 2 wins, 4 losses, that’s all it took. In the first half of the article, I’m going to break down what went wrong in both stages of play. This is going to include a short tournament report, my favorite type of content. Secondly, I’ll write down the things I’d like to start doing moving forward, to try and improve at this game. I’d like to start by saying that every player is different. We’re human beings, we’re wired in many ways. Therefore, you might not take much from this, but if there’s even one little thing that you read and be like, “I should do that, that would help me improve”, then I think I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to do. If not, then I hope you will enjoy the read anyway.
For this tournament, I decided to try a new approach to testing. I knew I could rely on PV, Stan and Ivan when it came to deckbuilding. From the experience I’ve had with these players in the past, I knew they were better at crafting decks than myself. Personally, I don’t really enjoy brewing and deck tuning very much. I like playing games and I love competing, but trying to pick a deck is a chore for me, and extremely stressful as well. I think this comes mostly from my low self-confidence. I don’t think I'm very good at this, and I know there is someone who will do it for me, therefore I’m not even trying to get better. I’ve gone into detail in my year-summary article on how I’ve felt pretty burned out after the last season. I don’t enjoy playing Magic as much as I used to in the earlier days of my career. So, for this event I made a conscious choice to just make whatever makes me the happiest in order to be in the best mindset possible for the event. This meant I didn’t grind endlessly all day long, didn’t stress out at all about my deck choice and spent a lot of time relaxing playing different games like tennis and Witcher 3. I still put in like 4-5 hours a day into playing Arena every day, but that was basically it. When it came to deck submission, I just listened to Stan and Paulo.
I had this luxury, because my testing team is amazing, but I don’t think it’s worked out very well. Now, I believe this strategy could be valid for some tournaments. It would be completely fine, if I played a deck that was inside my comfort zone, which are decks that involve a lot of combat. I like those games, because I believe I excel in short term planning. I can see pretty clearly how the game is going to develop in the next couple turns, and what are the important breaking points that will either make the game go your way, or not. However, this UW deck is a different animal. This deck is incredibly hard to play and you need to plan many turns ahead. When I talked about it with Paulo, he said something like this: “Usually, when I play a deck, there's a couple of big decisions that either make or break the game. But with this deck, you have to make a small decision on every turn, and every single one of those could make you lose the game, or don’t matter at all.” There was also the constraint of time. Our deck had very little in terms of ways to actually win the game, you routinely won by running your opponent out of win conditions. This meant you had to play fast, like really fast, so you wouldn’t time out. I believe I could have learnt to play this deck well. After all, I had access to Ivan, who won a PT with a deck, which win condition was shuffling your library with an Elixir of Immortality over and over again, until your opponent ran out of cards. This would mean, I’d have to sit down and grind all day long, till I’ve finally learned how to do it myself. This kind of thing comes naturally to Ivan, but it’s rough for me, for me this meant I’d have to sit down with him and play games all day long, till he finally taught me how to do it myself. Instead, I played very little, I think I had like 15-20 hours of gameplay under my belt, most of those playing alone. I believe that for Paulo it also wasn't a completely natural experience, but he put like twice the time into playing the deck compared to me.
Drafting this set was a weird experience. We had a draft bootcamp in our house, which I was woefully unprepared for. I played only two drafts going in, thinking that I would learn everything, because the quality of drafters in our house was high. Every draft had 4 PT winners after all. However, I think I’d benefit from drafting online first, making initial assumptions there, and then applying learned lessons in our preparation to see what works and what does not in a tough field. This way, I felt like our testing got a little inbred, people had differing (and strong) opinions and I wasn’t really sure what was good, and what wasn’t. Going 3-3 at the PT was a bit of a warning sign, and even though I managed to practice draft more after that, I still wasn’t super comfortable going in. My personal ranking of colors was red, blue, green, black and white in that order. That’s quite different from what most people have. Sometimes this is a good thing, because if you’re right it can lead to busted decks full of undervalued cards. However, this time I’m not sure I got it right. I’ll dive more into this topic in the draft recap.
Boring tournament report starts here, ctrl + f for “I’m not going to lie” to skip it.
We started with the draft and given the tournament structure it was important to finish 2-1 or better. I was in a strong pod with Marcio and Seth, who I believe are the best drafters in the field. I was passing to Marcio, and being passed from Thoralf.
I opened a pretty empty pack with Shadowspear, which was a great start. Then, I got passed Anax in a strong pack missing a rare, I passed a black card to Marcio. Third pick, I pick up Storm Herald, which is another strong card. Then, I got passed two Incendiary Oracles and at this point I’m really happy with my draft. I feel like red is really open, and I just need to pick another color. I’m also inclined to be heavy Red, because of Anax. However, my opinions were based on the fact that we thought Oracle was one of the better commons. It’s an unassuming red common, but we liked red decks a lot, and this was a pillar of that strategy in my mind. While, I was quite happy with what was going on, Thoralf felt like his first pack was quite weak, even though he was red/black. In the end this didn’t end up hurting me because he switched colors, but it easily could have derailed my draft. This is the charm of draft, with people having differing opinions, and why draft is incredibly hard to nail down.
Anyway, my draft continues well. After the first 10 picks, I’m fairly sure Marcio is black, and his second color is either green or white. I’m red and trying to figure out my second color, which is a nice place to be in. I have an interesting pick late in the pack, around 10th pick or so. Revoke Existence or Hero of the Games. I’ve already seen some white cards, and feel like it could be open. Revoke is also a stronger card. On the other hand Hero would mean cutting red a bit more. In the end, I pick Revoke, reasoning that it’s great against my best cards (Anax and Shadowspear). I see some other late white cards, even more confirming my assumption that white is open. Going into the second pack, I need to find out my second color, but I’m leaning towards white. I opened Taranika, Akroan Veteran. The pack was pretty weak, so I picked it up, but I’m not super excited about it. The card is okay, don’t get me wrong, but I’m already locked into being heavy red so 1WW cost can be really awkward. The rest of the pack goes pretty poorly with the exception of picking up 3rd pick Phoenix of Ash. This makes me feel great about my spot at the table, because it means my left-hand neighbours aren’t drafting red. Unfortunately, after that I don’t get much more, just some fillers for the curve and two more Oracles.
Pack 3 is where it gets interesting. I open no good red cards, so my pick is either Thryx, the Sudden Storm or Commanding Presence. I saw no blue in the first pack, and I was fairly confident white was open, so I went with the uncommon. Second pick, I got passed no red cards, Mantle of the Wolf and Hero of the Pride. Here, I again reason with white is open, I’ll play white. I get passed blanks again, and then get fourth pick Phoenix of the Ash, which makes me super happy and sad at the same time. This means that literally no one is drafting red (Kanister opposite of me is the exception), yet I’ve been getting blank packs. Unfortunately, white cards never show, because Thoralf switched into UW after opening Dream Trawler, so I’m getting passed by two white drafters. I round the draft up with filling my curve and some tricks.
In the deck build, I realize I don’t have enough white cards to justify the splash, so I end up playing Mono Red. In the end I’m happy with my deck, but I think it’s possible I was overrating the red cards a little bit. I could have picked up more green cards early on, and ended up having a better deck. I’m also upset I wasted the first two picks in the second pack. I think I’d end up playing the Mantle, and I could have taken the flier from Nassif. I’m not sure if it was wrong though, because I expected to get white cards from Thoralf, and I was a little blindsided by that Dream Trawler switch. Anyway, my deck was still great, with 2 Phoenix, Anax, Shadowspear and a good curve with some solid tricks. I had very little removal and also misbuilt my deck slightly, because I underrated Final Flare. At the PT, I’d expect to go 2-1 or better with this. Unfortunately, the draft broke down in a weird way, where the most played common was Final Death, which was great against all my good cards. After beating Pozzo, I was paired against Marcio, who had a BG deck that was well positioned against me. After splitting the first two games, he went Caryatid into 4/4 into 4/4 fight your guy into Mantle, while being on the play. I didn’t win that one. I then knew I would have to play against Autumn, Nassif or Kanister. Autumn was my worst matchup, because they had 2 Staggering Insight, which I had a hard time beating. I was paired against them, which put me on a tilt. I was flustered, played poorly and boarded even worse. I made an error not bringing in Revoke and some plains, because they could only win with the Aura. I lost 1-2, and was dropped into the lower bracket.
The Standard rounds went even worse. I got paired against Depraz on Reclamation. Quite a good matchup for our version. I won game one easily, but in both postboard games, I made a lot of blunders, because I had to play fast and wasn’t super experienced with the format. I may have lost game two anyway, but I believe the third should have gone my way. I was shook and discouraged at this point. I managed to beat Javier, but then I lost to Thoralf in the mirror. I got a little unlucky in the first game, but made a poor call in the second, where I went with a greedy play that was punished by exactly Teferi + Dispute. He had it, and I eventually lost to decking. Like that, I was out.
I’m not going to lie, it hurt. Losing always hurts, and this was the biggest opportunity ever, so it hurt even more. I was sulking for a couple days, which was unfortunate, because I was still in sunny Hawaii with my girlfriend, who flew there to support me. Luckily, Paulo took the whole tournament, which raised my spirits a lot. I’ve seen PV put an insane amount of work into Magic this past year, and it’s amazing to see how much it has paid off. I believe this tournament might just be the motivation I’ve needed. Even though I did really well in the past season, I never felt this driven to succeed. It was mostly a combination of luck and having great decks that put me into the MPL. I guess I played alright in some spots too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think I’m a world class player. The problem with the world class is there are like 50 “good” players. Magic is a complicated game and those 50 people are really, really good. They do make mistakes constantly though. However, there is a group of like 5-10 people, who are way above the rest of the field, they don’t make mistakes that often. It might be unnoticeable to most people and coverage always has this narrative of “all the players are amazing.” The fact is, there is a big difference between someone like me and someone like Marcio, Seth or PV. I’ve been at the “good” level for a couple years now, but I want to get to the “amazing” level now. It’s not going to be easy, and maybe it’s strictly impossible, but I want to give it my best. I’m also luckier than most, because I’m already surrounded by some of the people on the higher level. I just need to copycat them basically. I think the last time I felt like this was when I entered the competitive scene. Back then I wanted to prove I’m good, now I want to prove I’m great. The timing is ironic, but honestly better late than never. MPL is just getting started and there is so much to play for. So how do I do it? Here’s some things I jotted down while hiking in beautiful Hawaii.
Study the tape I used to do a lot of this back in the day. Everytime, I’d come back from a PT, I’d rewatch the whole coverage. Lately, I’ve stopped doing this, because I’ve been either busy with streaming or just not in the mood for it. I think this was a pretty big oversight from me. Especially now, with the Arena tournaments and the MPL, we got to see the best players play more games of Magic than we were used to. I could also watch these games with Ivan or Stan at home and discuss potential lines. Stan already offered that we could do something similar like that in the past, and now I think I’ll take him up on his offer. I’m still not completely used to having my roommates play Magic with me, and I should be trying to take more advantage of it.
This one is kind of obvious, but I want to start playing more Magic. Like I already said, I don’t enjoy playing that much anymore, so this might mean I come back to streaming. I stopped streaming, because I thought playing while streaming actually made me play worse. However, I’ve noticed that I have trouble keeping concentrated even if I don’t stream. I think I might have some minor issues with focusing on one task. Anway, streaming is enjoyable, and could help me improve in deckbuilding, which is another thing I want to work on. Streaming incentivizes playing unique decks, which in turn incentivizes deck building and tuning instead of picking up a stock list and jamming with it. Like I said, I have the luxury of not having to build my decks, but I’d still like to get better at it, because it might also make me a better player. Starting with March, you’ll probably see me stream more often. Hopefully, that makes Magic fresh enough for me, and will keep me more interested in the game. This might lead to a burnout, but with the way this year’s schedule is set, I can work really hard for the next three months and then take a prolonged break in June.
This is mostly an Arena issue, and one I’m fairly confident I’ll solve. The thing is, I had a problem with this in real life Magic too. In practice games you tend to play fast, and then at tournaments you’re in the habit of doing so and end up rushing things and making mistakes because of it. I’ve learned how to slow down in real life, but now I need to do it in Arena. Arena is unique, because of the rope, which makes managing the time much different than tabletop Magic. I need to master the rope. I might watch some Nassif stream to get better at this. I’m sure with more experience this will get fixed. These are my plans for world domination. I’m playing the Mythic Point Challenge next week, but after that it will be two months before the next event. Time to put my nose to the grindstone and become a better player. It’s about time. Thanks for reading, Ondrej.