After eight weeks, season four of the Venus Mercury League has concluded, and Kabir Karamchandani, also known as Hogpog, claimed the season 4 VML title.
In doing so, Karamchandani won a hefty part of the $3,000.00 cash prize pool and a one year subscription to ChannelFireball Pro. This victory was particularly important, since this season of the VML was also sponsored by Wizards of the Coast, so Karamchandani will be heading to the Kaldheim Championship at the end of March.
The Venus Mercury League is a relatively new tournament series, open exclusively to marginalized genders in the Magic community. Its goal is to showcase the talents of these particular players and provide a positive environment. Karamchandani is no stranger to competitive Magic, and for a time was grinding her way towards the Pro Tour. However, being a part of the VML was an opportunity for her to connect with new people in the community.Karamchandani teaches an entire Magic The Gathering strategy course that is dedicated to bringing students to the “next level of competition,”
Although new to the VML, Karamchandani is by no means new to competitive Magic. Karamchandani was first introduced to Magic around 2012 at a math camp in middle school and was instantly hooked, but confronted with the lack of a Magic presence in India. “Unfortunately, Magic doesn’t really exist in India, so my ‘playgroup’ was restricted to me, my brother and a friend of ours,” she said. However, she soon discovered Magic Online and dove headfirst into the various formats available.
Between constructed and limited, “I’d consider myself rather good at most things to do with limited, particularly draft,” said Karamchandani. At her college, Karamchandani teaches an entire Magic The Gathering strategy course that is dedicated to bringing students to the “next level of competition,” according to the course description. Unsurprisingly, her course focuses on draft strategies and in-game decisions.
Karamchandani is confident in her “strategic understanding of the game, particularly an ability to analyze board states, matchups, and sometimes formats in-depth.” This ability to analyze the best route to victory is something that she uses to teach members of her Magic to others.
“To date, I consider my greatest success getting 5 out of the 8 students in my class to finish in mythic in a single month, 4 in top 1200, and that definitely came in part because of our breaking down and understanding that limited format together.”
She plays more than just limited however. “When it comes to constructed, I really have no preference [in terms of deck style]. I am quite good at picking the right deck to attack a particular metagame but I also have a tendency to get in my own head and next level myself into making terrible deck choices for an event.”
Being easily distracted is a definite weakness in her opinion. “This manifests both in terms of literally getting distracted by other things when playing a match, and also in sometimes getting so bogged down in the minutiae of technical plays that I miss more obvious aspects of how a game is playing out,” she said. That being said, it is by no means an insurmountable weakness as seen by the result of the VML.
During the VML, Karamchandani played an assortment of decks. “Since we were up against specific opponents, I tried to get a read on what they would be playing when I could, and when I couldn’t, I just brought what I thought was the best deck for the meta at the time,” she recalled.
Week one she beat her opponent with Gruul Midrange, before switching to a Mardu Doom strategy for weeks two through four. Week five she picked up a narrow 2-1 victory over Bekybell with rakdos sacrifice. Her first loss of the season came at week seven playing Sultai Ultimatum against TheSofties. However, her 6-1 record was enough to get her into the playoffs.
For the playoffs, Karamchandani brought Reid Duke’s Naya Adventures list to battle.
In her semi-finals match on the broadcast, Karamchandani went up against veteran Magic competitor MythicMikaela who brought a new version of Temur Adventures that featured Obosh, the Preypiercer and Alrund’s Epiphany. In game one, it seemed like Karamchandani would fall prey to Alrund’s birds. However, a combination of Showdown of the Skalds and The Great Henge pulled her back from the brink to deal lethal damage in one blow.
Karamchandani lost game two of that match after being short on mana and answers for MythicMikaela’s flying threats, game three centered around Karamchandani’s Drannith Magistrate. The commander all star brought MythicMikaela’s adventures deck to a halt.
Her final match was against Proven Combatants player Abby Rose Gibson, who also brought Naya Adventures. Unlike Karamchandani, Gibson’s version played the fury package, which uses Unleash Fury to double Goldspan Dragon or any other creature’s power for brutal attacks. Karamchandani fell to this package in the first game.
Much like the semi finals match against MythicMikaela, Karamchandani’s early Drannith Magistrate dominated game two. In game three, it was Gibson who landed the Magistrate. Karamchandani boarded in Yasharn, Implacable Earth, which shut off Wilson’s Kazuul’s Fury and her ability to sacrifice the treasure tokens created by Goldspan Dragon. Karamchandani hammered in the final nail in the coffin for Gibson after landing the Great Henge and obliterating the remaining board with Redcap Melee.
While the win was exciting for Karamchandani, qualifying for the Kaldheim championship was “definitely not something I had come into the tournament looking for or expecting,” she said. “There was definitely a period where I was actively trying to qualify for the pro tour, but I stopped caring as much about that a couple of years ago, and really just joined the VML to meet cool new people.”
In an interview for the VML top 8, Karamchandani goes into more detail about her favorite moments from season four of the league, and what being in the VML meant to her.
“That said, despite the invite itself not being as important to me as it once would have been, winning it has actually been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had playing magic, because of the support of the community in the days since.”
The joy and support she has received in the days since winning the invite has not only motivated Karamchandani to do well at the upcoming championship, but affirmed her connection with the Magic community. One of those connections is with Mythic Championship winner and Magic Pro League member, Autumn Burchett, who Karamchandani has looked up to for a long time, and will be testing with for the Kaldheim championship.Autumn was hugely inspirational to me when I was coming out as trans. They made me confident that I could proudly be myself in the Magic community.
“I used to watch Autumn’s stream way back when, and while I did because I admired their gameplay and loved their stream’s atmosphere, they were hugely inspirational to me when I was coming out as trans. They not only provided an example I would otherwise not have had, but also made me confident that I could proudly be myself in the Magic community.”
“Magic has vibrant and wonderful communities of women, trans folks, and queer folks (all labels which I identify as), but I always felt distanced from them,” explained Karamchandani. “In the days since winning the VML, there’s been this huge outpouring of support and joy for my victory, and it’s made me feel accepted and seen by this community in a way I never have before. It’s more than just feeling like a part of this group of wonderful people, it has also felt affirming of me and my identity in a way few things, in magic or otherwise, ever have.”
While winning the VML may have been unexpected, Karamchandani clearly has what it takes to head to the next level of competition. Qualified for both the Kaldheim and Strixhaven championships, expect to see more of this player in the future.