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2021 Through the Eyes of the Rivals League, Part 1

Hey there, my name is Jakub Tóth and while you have probably never heard of me, I’ve been playing some form of professional Magic since I was 14 when I highrolled a PTQ for Pro Tour Honolulu and kept grinding Pro Tours from that point. I had a few year hiatus as a full-time poker player, then started working as an equity trader in the Czech company Quantlane, which somehow brought me back to Magic. A few incredible hot runs in qualifiers later I found myself in the Rivals League, so here we are. To celebrate the end of the year, I’ll be breaking 2021 in this four-part series. I’ll be overviewing the changes to Magic, the pro scene and every major tournament from the past year. Let’s get started!

 

 

Header - January

It’s time to start the year with the third out of six tournament weeks for MPL and Rivals. The format is Historic and there’s consensus that Uro is too strong, half of the decks will be Sultai and the other half will be gunning for it. My teammates correctly identify that there won’t be almost any Yasharns running around as people are tuning their Sultai decks for mirror which makes Jund a great choice.

Uro, Titan of Nature's WrathYasharn, Implacable EarthKorvold, Fae-Cursed King

First day I started 0-3 after losing an unlosable match against Numot. I definitely had around a 99 percent chance in that match at some point, but his runner-runner-runner and me missing scry against Robber of the Rich that could have secured me 100 percent lead to a devastating loss that will very likely still be painful for a long time. I also fizzled with Collected Company against Corey Burkhart, who later won the match with one life, but after rewatching VODs from this day, I found out I played horribly. I’m actually thrilled with my final 3-3 score for the day.

Second day went much better, I played a bit more solid Magic (still a ton of mistakes) which actually earned me my first compliment from Ondřej Stráský, and that is huge. I went 5-1, losing only to LSV who needed to hit double Devil from CoCo against my topd-ecked Korvold in game two, and then had to have his only Act of Treason in game three.

The newest set, Kaldheim is getting released just a while after this tournament, giving us some nice cards such as Goldspan Dragon, Alrund’s Epiphany, Showdown of the Skalds and Doomskar.

Goldspan DragonAlrund's EpiphanyShowdown of the SkaldsDoomskar

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is completely crushing MPL to the surprise of literally no one. 

 

Header - February

Crokeyz and Ondřej Stráský started a pretty sweet challenge consisting of a best-of 21-duel, where they played 21 different matches of Magic during several days. Each day, they both presented five decks, banned two opposing decks and played three matches with decks randomly selected.

Personally, I loved this challenge. Timing was perfect as Standard was new and another Rivals League Weekend was coming soon, so it was like a presentation of tons of different decks and matchups. “Stračísek” is my good friend and Crokeyz made some pretty crazy claims lately that he plays as good or even better than most Rival players (spoiler alert: he does not), so obviously I rooted for Ondřej, who showed us some misclicks and chump attacks on camera but overall played solid Magic even though he was distracted by chat. I was trash talking him there the whole time. In the end, Ondřej came on top with an 11-8 score, so Crokeyz definitely put up a good fight.

It’s the very end of February and that means fourth Rivals Week for us. We surprisingly quickly settled for Sultai Ultimatum, which was pretty lucky as that is the only deck I’ve been playing a bit during my normal work. It turned out to be an okay-ish selection but nothing special, and felt really bad after my 1-5 Saturday, but managed to win all three of my matches on Sunday to turn a nightmare scenario into a mediocre finish (I actually had three predetermined “byes” this weekend because of missing players, super weird they got stacked into one day).

Our team as a whole, Stancifka, Ivan Floch, Ondrej Strasky, Brad Nelson and Seth Manfield, went 35-29 together, which is fine but not impressive. Mono-Red got completely demolished as it posted only 29 percent win rate, while Temur and Naya Adventures were the best decks with something like 65 percent.

Emergent UltimatumReidane, God of the Worthy // Valkmira, Protector's ShieldEmbercleave

Quite a bit of players had horrible weekends, especially Martin Juza, who mulliganed to five almost every game, Seth Manfield and Jean Emanuel Depraz starting 0-5 or LSV who also wasn’t super thrilled with the 3-8 session. This shows that big losing streaks happen to the best of us and to play on this level, you need to have mental fortitude to withstand this. Well, unless you’re literally the best, as PV crushed it again and had first place in MPL secured for this week like three rounds before it even ended.

 

Header - March

I started off March by rewatching my VODs from Rivals Week together with Ivan and Ondrej. As expected, I made a ton of minor mistakes and some major ones. It’s crazy that something so small as choosing wrong land to put into play with Cultivate can just straight up lead to a loss.

I had an interesting match against John Rolf, where I was really curious about the math behind the correct decision, so now that I have time, I went ahead, rewatched some videos about combinatorics to refresh my memory and calculated. After Ultimatum, I got Vorinclex and Kiora Bests the Sea God (no Alrund’s Epiphany). The question is if I should attack here.

I assume his 2+1 cards in hand are random, so things get very complicated otherwise.

After doing the math on Twitter, I should have an 89 percent win rate if I send Vorinclex to the red zone and 83.5 percent win rate if I decide to not attack here. So in the end, attacking should be correct here, even though I wasn’t really sure after he drew his card and killed me with Fervent Champion, Rimrock Knight and a land (classic). This can change drastically from previous gameplay like I mentioned, as if you think your opponent was thinking about Rimrock Knight a couple turns ago (and he probably was after rewatching the match), attacking here gets a lot worse.

Speaking of Mono-Red, Martin had some time to contemplate his 0-11 weekend and in the end decided to make some minor changes to his recommended deck list.

There are a lot of pictures of old school design on newer cards popping out of nowhere and based on my Twitter feed, everybody likes it to some extent, but I have no idea what’s going on.

People are also going nuts over someone picking Elspeth, Sun’s Champion over Mana Crypt in the third pack in the most high stakes Vintage Cube Draft you can get. I personally hold no opinion on the matter, I’m just glad I had enough context to understand this Tweet:

It’s the middle of March right now and we’re getting ready to submit decks for the Kaldheim Championship. We’re super set for Sultai Ultimatum in  Standard, the guys made just a few minor changes, mainly cutting Tangled Florahedron from main deck as it was basically just a tapped Forest.

In Historic we’re a little bit divided. Nothing stands out and it looks like some form of Jund will have to do. Stan and Ivan are working a bit on UW and they keep winning with it even though there’s no win condition in the deck – you just hope the opponent concedes out of boredom. Slowly but surely opinions start changing from “I’m definitely not playing UW” to “Oh yeah, UW is the best deck ever.” Even Seth Manfield and Brad Nelson jump on board. 

However, Ondřej is still having nightmares from the World Championship, where he didn’t deal a single point of damage in any of his games with the UW, even though PV went on and became World Champion with the same deck (no surprise there). Stan explains to Ondřej that you need to counter spells while they’re on the stack, not after, but even that’s not enough to put Ondřej on board and he sticks with Jund Food, which is nice for me because I don’t feel like playing UW Control either. I also have a powerful game plan in mind if I play against UW with Jund – just don’t concede, no matter what, and they’ll probably time out in the first game.

Data from SCG satellites came in and Jund Food posted a 58 percent win rate while UW had 48 percent win rate, which gets Ondřej excited, but we all know that UW is super hard to play and their piloting will probably be a lot more precise. Which one of us made the right choice? Stay tuned to find out!

Right after submitting, I checked Kaldheim Championship official Discord, and the first meme that I see there (from player Poggchamp) is this, so I have a feeling people won’t be caught off guard by my deck choices.

As it turns out, neither part of the team had really great decks. Stan and I got smashed on the first day and Ivan, Seth and Brad all had pretty average 8-7 score. Only Ondřej, who was part of Jund Food branch, got to 10-5 finish thanks to his genius, but overall this tournament did not go well for us.

The other noteworthy decks in Historic are Jund, Orzhov Auras or Gruul Aggro. We also saw a pretty sweet brew from Americans who showed up with Abzan Control, decks tuned to beat Jund and to get wrecked by everything else. It turned out the other matchups were also winnable, so with a 67 percent win rate against Jund, it was a deck with one of the best win rates, and even managed to put Shahar Shenhar to the Top 8.

In the end, Arne Huschenbeth took it all down, showing us an awesome play where he wanted to counter Ox of Agonas with his Rogues and exile it with Cling to Dust before Javier Dominguez can bring it back, so he first played removal on random creature and did all of the above in response, getting the priority back while that removal was still chilling on the stack.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part two next week!

 

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