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The Best of 2015

Today I’m going to be handing out my 2015 awards! These are all categories that were suggested by readers, and I picked all the winners. If you disagree with one of my selections, tell me why or who you think should have been the right winner in the comments.

Best Player of the Year: Owen Turtenwald

turtenwald

Owen didn’t win any tournaments in 2015, but I think he had the best overall results. He started the year strong, but eventually stumbled and sort of plateaued once he was already locked for everything.

Then, once the season ended, he came back with a vengeance. He led the Top 25 rankings for a good portion of the year, and he’s leading the Player of the Year race right now with 45 points (just 5 shy of Platinum and we’ve only had one PT!). His finishes are highlighted by his Worlds finals and Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Top 8, but he also had two GP Top 8s in that time. Owen is a solid player at all aspects of the game and is widely regarded by his peers as one of the best players in the world right now. There are others who could realistically get the “Best Player of the Year” award, but I think Owen was the best of them all.

Most Dominant Tournament Performance of the Year: Seth Manfield at Worlds

seth manfield

Worlds is supposed to be a tight tournament, with the best players in the world fighting neck and neck and trying to gain small edges over each other. Apparently not for Seth, though, who cruised through the tournament as if it were an FNM. In 16 rounds (14 + Top 4) Seth only lost once. He finished the Swiss with 39 points—his closest competitor, Owen, had 27. This means Seth had four more wins than anyone else before he reached the Top 4, which he also won—or, to put it another way, Seth had 1 loss on the weekend, and the second-best result of the tournament had 6. It was truly a dominating performance that I don’t think we’re ever going to see again at this level of competition. Seth was my runner-up for Best Player of the Year largely because of this performance (but his other PT Top 8 is not bad either!).

Best Card of 2015: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

It took a while for Jace to pick up, but once it did, it dominated everything. Not since the Dark Confidant times have I felt like I lost the game on turn 2 to a creature, but the new Jace replicates that feeling. It doesn’t matter what your opponent is playing—Esper, Jeskai, Rally—if they have a turn-2 Jace and you can’t kill it or them very quickly, you know you’re very unlikely to win. Jace changes the dynamic of many matchups, going under counterspells and dodging some removal that people normally play.

The thing about Jace is that he scales with the power level of the instants and sorceries in your deck, so he’s never going to be obsolete—in fact, he will just get better and better as more cards are released. He’s already a player in some Modern decks and you can also see him in Vintage, Magic’s most powerful format where the barrier to entry is super high.

Some might ask, “what about Siege Rhino?” I think Siege Rhino is certainly a good card, but Jace is better. Siege Rhino was played in a couple decks, but I feel like it was part of a single archetype (Abzan), whereas Jace is a bright star shining on its own.

Come on—it sees play in Vintage.

Best New Player of the Year: Martin Müller

martin muller

While Martin Müller was technically not a new player in 2015 (he played his first PT in 2014, and he was part of the team that won the 2014 World Magic Cup), I feel like 2015 was the year he rose to prominence and the year people took note of his accomplishments. In 2015, Martin Müller Top 8’d two GPs (Krakow and Brussels), Top 8’d a PT (Battle for Zendikar), finished 6th at Worlds, and Top 8’d the World Magic Cup. He’s currently third in the Player of the Year race with 39 points, and needs only 2 more to lock in Platinum. For an 18-year-old who played his first PT last year, this is a very impressive accomplishment.

Tournament of the Year: GP Vegas

vegas

There were many worthy contenders, but the title of best tournament of the year could only go to the biggest event ever. The combination of an attractive location and Modern Masters brought around 10,000 players to the GP and shattered all attendance records, which will likely remain this way until there is another GP Vegas with a similarly appealing set. More than a tournament, GP Vegas was a true convention, with dozens of dealer booths, artists, and an almost neverending number of side events.

Best Trip of the Year: GP Buenos Aires

gp buenos aires 1

This is not really an “award,” since it’s very personal, but my favorite trip of the year was GP Buenos Aires. Not because of the GP—it wasn’t well organized, the location was very hard to get to, and we were literally left in the rain for 40 minutes because they were late opening the site. And not because of my result, I finished 9th—but because my girlfriend went with me and took me to a place where I could do this:gp buenos aires 2

Best City for a Tournament of the Year: Vancouver

vancouver

I’ve been to Canada before, and I always enjoy it, but Vancouver was something else. The weather was fantastic, the city was gorgeous, the food was awesome, and everything cost less than I expected because the Canadian dollar is worth less than the US dollar. And we also went to a Taylor Swift concert:

vancouver 2

I’m very excited to go back to Vancouver in February for the GP—it’ll be a bit colder, but I think I’ll manage.

Deck of the Year: Abzan

abzan

Abzan occupies a very weird spot in my mind, because I never felt like it was the best deck—merely always a solid deck—yet it kept winning everything. We went through Abzan Aggro, Abzan Control, and Abzan Megamorph, but in the end those were all just Siege RhinoAbzan Charm decks with other tools thrown in. For many months Abzan was the most popular deck in any tournament, to a point where Sam Pardee saw that painting and said it described Standard. (Because it’s a Rhino mirror. Get it, get it?) Abzan won a PT, and it was 3/4ths of the World Championship Top 4, and, as much as I don’t like it, I think it’s undeniable that it was the deck of 2015.

On top of everything, I made a Twitter poll, and over 55% of the people voted Abzan as Deck of the Year.

Runner-Up for Deck of the Year: Mono-Red/Atarka Red

mono-red

Mono-Red is the kind of deck that has always been there since I started playing. It was usually labeled as a “low-budget” deck for people who didn’t really know how to play anything more complicated, and it was always easily hated out by anyone who wanted to beat it. 2015 saw many flavors of red decks, which included two Standard PT wins and a high win percentage in the Modern PT, and it was the year that made people realize it was actually a real deck and not just a “little kid” deck. Many people underestimated mono-red at big tournaments, including myself, and those people will not do so again. Despite having two wins, I think Abzan is still the Deck of the Year because it placed well more consistently (and it also had two wins).

Favorite Deck of the Year: Esper Dragons

esper dragons

While I begrudgingly accept that Abzan was a larger contender for “Deck of the Year” than Esper Dragons, my favorite is definitely the latter. Debuting at PT Dragons of Tarkir, Esper Dragons was type of control deck that we hadn’t seen in a while—one that was capable of taking back the initiative and pressuring the opponent, closing the game before having to establish total control. Since it was so different, it took a very long time for people to understand how to play against it (and some people still don’t), and to realize that normal ways of beating control would often not work on Esper Dragons.

This style of deck is also right up my alley, and plays to my strength of knowing when to be aggressive and when to be defensive—not unlike Faeries. I played Esper for the better part of the year (and often regretted it when I didn’t), and my combined record with it in matches played was 58-17-1, or roughly 76%. Not too shabby, eh?

Innovative Deck of the Year: Lantern, by Zac Elsik

lantern control

I don’t know whether Zac Elsik actually built the Lantern deck or if he was just the person who had the first big result with it (a Top 16 at GP Charlotte), but regardless of that I consider this deck to be by far the most innovative deck of 2015. Not only is this deck different from anything we’ve seen this decade, it actually operates on a completely different axis than what we’re used to. Is it control? Is it combo? Kind of—but not really? It’s a throwback to the days of cards like Zur’s Weirding and Stasis, and combos like Island Sanctuary plus Mystic Decree or Propaganda plus Winter Orb, a piece of 1995 MTG inserted into Modern times. I don’t like that, mind you—those decks are awful to play against—but there’s no denying that it’s different and effective.

Best New Rule of the Year: The New Mulligan Rule

mulligan

Easy winner here. We didn’t have a whole lot of rules changes (there was the controversy about using cameras to make decisions, as well as some other stuff that only judges truly understand), but this was one of the few changes that was immediately accepted as a complete improvement by basically every single player. The new rule made sure fewer non-games happened, both because you got to scry in search of land and because you were less incentivized to keep sketchy 7s, and I look forward to the day we don’t even remember what it’s like to play without it.

Overrated Card of the Year: Drana, Liberator of Malakir

When Drana was released, everyone thought she would be great—how could she not be, a 2/3 for 3 with three very synergistic abilities that dodged both Wild Slash and Abzan Charm? She commanded a hefty price tag as soon as she was released, often rivaling the likes of Gideon, and I remember fighting to get as many of her as I could in our early drafts.

And then, the world kind of forgot about her, with the exception of Tomoharo Saito, who seems to splash for Drana in all of his Mono-Red decks (but he also maindecks 4 Painful Truths, so take that with a grain of salt). Whether that is a circumstance of the environment (too many powerful 3-drops, too hard to get BB) or simply that Drana is not as good as we thought she was remains to be seen. As for me, I expect we’ll see a bit of her in the future, but for now she’s definitely a big bust.

Underrated Card of the Year: Painful Truths

When Painful Truths was released, most people dismissed it as a “worse Read the Bones.” I remember writing a set review and saying how I thought it was a worse main-deck card than Read the Bones but a better sideboard card. That already felt pretty bold and people yelled at me for trying to over-hype it.

Now it turns out that the card is considerably better than Read the Bones, that it’s an important piece of Standard, and that it’s actually good enough for Modern and even Legacy (Owen Turtenwald described it as “Shardless Agent into Ancestral Visions except you don’t have to get lucky”). Apparently, people don’t care much about 3 life, and drawing an extra card is much better than scry 2. Lots of people might have liked the card originally, but I don’t think anyone predicted it being as important as it currently is and it making waves in older formats. For what it’s worth, I think people corrected a bit in the other direction and it’s now slightly overrated, but time will tell.

Runner-Up for Underrated Card of the Year: Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Pia and Kiran Nalaar is also another card that turned out much better than we originally thought it would be. It hasn’t seen much Standard play, but that is largely because there are no decks that support it (though it’s been showing up in Mardu decks here and there), but it sees Modern play and most cards that are good enough for Modern on power level alone (i.e.: are not part of a combo) are good enough for Standard. Unlike Painful Truths, I think Pia and Kiran is underrated, and we still have to do some exploration with it.

Worst Tournament-Winning Deck of the Year: Tom Martell’s Draft Deck at GP Atlanta

martell deck

When someone suggested this category, I thought I had a winner in Michael Major’s Mill deck from GP San Diego, but then I remembered Martell’s Top 8 deck…

Usually, when you have bad cards, that’s because you’ve stuck to 2 colors. When you have multiple colors, that’s because you have many good cards you want to play. This is the old “4 colors, no good cards” strategy, which is the worst of both worlds—it can’t cast a spell and then, when it finally draws the lands to cast it, it turns out it’s a turn-9 Grove Rumbler that doesn’t do anything.

The result is exacerbated by the fact that Martell didn’t drop a game in the Top 8, and some of his opponents actually had very good decks! Brian Eason had a normal-looking BW deck with multiple Healers, Drana’s Emissary, and March from the Tomb; Aryeh Witnitzer had a UB devoid deck with 2 Complete Disregards, 2 Ulamog Nullifiers, and 2 Benthic Infiltrators, and Owen Turtenwald had a UR devoid deck with Guardian of Tazeem, 2 Clutch of the Undercity, Akoum Hellkite, Serpentine Spike and a great curve. Yet Martell’s deck, splashing for Grove Rumbler, beat all those people 2-0. It was another truly astonishing feat and easily the worst deck to win an event compared to the decks it had to face to get there.

Best Draft Format of the Year: Battle for Zendikar

bfz draft format deck

This year saw five different competitive draft formats: BFZ, Magic Origins, Dragons of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Modern Masters 2015. Origins, Dragons, and Fate Reforged were full of hard-to-deal-with bombs that completely dominated games, so those weren’t that interesting for me. Modern Masters 2 and Battle for Zendikar were much better in this regard, and both were formats that revolved around synergy rather than absolute power level, which I like.

I chose Battle for Zendikar because the synergy is more subtle and less “in your face”—in Modern Masters, it’s obvious when a card belonged in your deck and when it didn’t, and if you wanted it, generally no one else wanted it, so it just becomes a game of trying to put yourself in an archetype and then picking all the cards for that archetype. With Battle for Zendikar, I feel like there is a lot more variance in what cards are good, even within the same archetype, and the power levels aren’t so extreme (i.e. something is good or great depending on what you have and not great or unplayable), which I like. The one downside is that the colors are very lopsided (green is the worst by a lot), but I still like it anyway.

Discussion

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