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Tournament Report – My 3rd Place Finish at the MTG World Championship

A few days ago, I finished third in the Magic World Championship. As we wait for an airplane that will take us from North America to Europe, I’m finally starting to fully realize what just happened. This is the story on how we prepared and how the tournament itself went.

Our team, Three Dads and a Baby, crushed this event. While I don’t know who is supposed to be the baby in this team, I have a rough idea on how we managed to this well.

 

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There were four competitors on our team. Eli Kassis finished second, I finished third, Jim Davis finished fifth and Mike Sigrist 18th. We were 12.5 percent of the tournament and represented 50 percent of the Top 4.

First things first, how did we end up with a team like this? Before coming to Vegas, I haven’t personally met either of those players. 

After qualifying for the event, I knew I wanted as much help as I could get from our Czech house. Ivan Floch helped a lot in all three PTs, so I was really hoping he would be the one building my decks. Ondrej Strasky was also part of the deal, but he wasn’t sure what his timetable looked like, so officially he joined my Ferrari pit only as a part-time contractor.

A small side note, Wizards wrote about me that I’m a “master deck builder behind most Czech Magic house decks.” Unless they were referring to my two copies of Doran I put into my stock Extended Zoo list before winning a PTQ with it 15 years ago, this couldn’t be further from the truth and made me chuckle every time somebody mentioned that.

On July 1, I wrote Mike Sigrist this message:

“Hello Siggy! I am currently exploring options of grouping up with someone for Worlds, and I have heard from Ondrej you will be testing with Kassis and Davis. Three is already quite a lot, so I am mostly wondering if you guys are set in stone with this group or might considering adding someone else. My main sales pitch would be the fact that I hired Ivan Floch full time and Ondrej Strasky ‘part time’ (he will see how his schedule looks like and it will be quite random) so you would be getting 2.5 firepower for the price of one competitor. So let me know how you guys feel about this, thanks!”

And just like that, our final team was formed.

Settling on Mono-Blue

We started testing quite early with Ivan, playing sets of three matches of Explorer with random decks. I mostly just copy pasted from MTGGoldfish, just to get an idea of the format. Saying Ivan was demolishing me would be understatement. Here and there, I would win a game, but very rarely the match. Ivan had Mono-Blue as one of his decks and I thought the deck was a meme, but then just kept losing to it all the time.

Looking back through our Discord history, there is actually a long note about Mono-Blue on June 16 with a deck list only like eight cards different in the main deck (12 cards different in the sideboard though).

After a long pause, on the September 19, Ivan posted a list with only three cards different in the main deck, but there’s still no red Leyline in sight. At this point, Siggy also can’t believe that lands can sometimes act as spells as we discuss pros and cons of Otawara, Soaring City.

On the October 8, Eli mentions Leyline of Combustion for the first time and a few moments later, we have our (almost) final version of Spirits.

Mono-Blue has been performing very well in our internal testing so we feel like this might be our deck. However, I wanted a mathematical confirmation, so I made a matrix and we all put the variables in it together. Results for Mono-Blue looked suspiciously good, but even if we made a few mistakes, it would still have the highest rating.

 

Settling on Esper

After we figured out Explorer and got the news that The Meathook Massacre was banned, we started working on Standard. This turned out to be a much harder task than anticipated, and meeting after meeting, it felt like we were moving in circles. Our frontrunners were Esper, Invoke Jund (where you don’t play any of the reanimator nonsense) and Grixis. We also tried Selesnya Enchantments and a sweet Slogurk, the Overslime deck, but ultimately it looked like no sweet brew was available in standard.

Funnily enough, our matrix thought that Grixis is the best, but differences were small and Ivan didn’t like our version very much.

I told the team I want to have fake submission 48 hours before actual submission as I hate the final panic and hassle 30 minutes before deadline, and while I knew it wont fully eliminate it, it should give us more time for final touches. As the fake submission approached, we weren’t even sure that we were playing Esper, let alone what our version would look like.

Once we decided to just accept our fate and submit Esper, we needed to fix the deck list. We wanted to find a playable two-drop as Cathar Commando wasn’t very good, and we also considered cutting Wedding Announcement as it seemed worse and worse the more we played.

Selfless SamuraiLudevic, Necrogenius // Olag, Ludevic's Hubris

When I entered the plane to Vegas, Selfless Samurai was our frontrunner for an extra two-drop as it protects both Raffine and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse very well. When I landed in Vegas, Ludevic was in my final deck list.

I was the first one in Vegas and had some important things to do. On our fourth anniversary, I asked Natálka to marry me while walking around in Wynn’s Gardens. She did let it resolve and as such, the most important part of the trip was a huge success.

Anyway, back to Magic. Once the team assembled in Circa, an amazing hotel courtesy of Wizards of the Coast (we were on the 35th floor and the elevator got there in eight seconds!), we did two big things that I would recommend to any team trying to improve.

First, battling Sparky in a mulligan battle. I do this every tournament and was surprised that my American testing partners don’t do anything similar. I streamlined this process by writing down these rules:

Challenge Sparky and take a look at your opening hand. Assume you’re playing against the most popular deck in the format (Esper in Standard and Rakdos in Explorer).

  1. Do you keep this hand on seven cards?
  2. Do you keep this hand on six cards?
  3. What do you put on the bottom on six cards if on play and if on draw?
  4. If relevant, discuss your most likely play pattern during the first two turns.
  5. After answering all questions above, press mulligan and do this again. Once you mulligan to zero, concede and get trash talked by Sparky.

We did tons of those mulligans against Sparky and it generated roughly 20 very interesting hands. Here I chose two that I think produced the longest debate, if you want to run this exercise, let me know in the comments.

 

Limited Testing

Next up, Limited meetings. Led by the Limited specialist Mike Sigrist, it was quite a ride, especially as Eli has quite a different approach to drafting than the rest of us. We went through every card we would consider taking over common dual lands and then sorted all those into tiers. Final results can be seen below. The more to the left the card is, the better we think it is. Cards in the same pile are mostly unsorted and considered to be on the same level.

Longest debate was about the Wingmantle Chaplain and I would assume we were not the only one. I felt like first picking the Chaplain was a huge trap, especially at Worlds where everyone goes nuts with hate drafting. I was really considering just taking Sunbathing Rootwalla over it, although I had no idea what I would do if actually presented with this choice.

The Draft

My draft started very well, with two mythic uncommons of Tatyova, Steward of Tides into Bortuk Bonerattle… and that was actually the whole draft, as I just picked 21 fillers from that point. 

My hopes of opening Sheoldred couldn’t be further from reality as I opened double Thran Portal and The World Spell, and I actually found myself first picking Crystal Grotto in pack three.

Tatyova, Steward of TidesBortuk BonerattleCrystal Grotto

This was one of the unique tournaments where we got to test Limited, as we drafted on Thursday, but our first round would be played on Friday. I went back to our hotel room, discussed sideboarding with Ondrej and played a few test matches with Jim Davis, who was in my pod as well. To my surprise, I beat Jim twice and found out I’m playing some sort of midrange-combo which tries to reanimate Bortuk into Tatyova several times per game.

Ondrej was hyping up my deck quite a bit, which seemed weird as I had a hard time imagining the EV of my pile is higher than 1.5 match wins. It turned out he was bluffing and just wanted to keep my spirit high, which actually worked.

After obviously playing Jim in the first round and winning an extremely close match with Tayova, I got to celebrate my 100 percent win rate in the World Championship. After that, I lost another super close nail biter against Simon Nielsen, who played roughly five Drag to the Bottoms in three games against me.

Actually, now that I think about it, every single match in Day 1 went into decider and every game was an absolute sweat, so you can assume “super close game” unless told otherwise.

After winning Match 3 against a very aggressive RB deck, mainly thanks to boarding in around seven cards, I found myself escaping draft with a positive record. I would have happily paid a thousand dollars for guaranteed 2-1 before the tournament, so I was thrilled at this point.

Playing Standard

Second part of the tournament was to play some Esper mirrors in Standard. After getting immediate revenge against Simon Nielsen, I got to play a preview of my last match of the tournament, Nathan Steuer on Grixis, who convincingly demolished me here.

Next was Eli Kassis. In the deciding game, I had a very complicated turn to figure out. I realized I’d have to use all my timebanks and wanted to think with my hands on the table. By doing this, I scratched the space button very slightly, and suddenly it was Eli’s turn. I managed to at least partially keep my composure and did not start tilting, which helped me barely come back with a few timely top decks. I was extremely happy that I did not lose this match to a misclick as otherwise it would be haunting my dreams forever.

Sitting at 4-2, I was about to play probably the most epic match against David Inglis. There were so many epic moments in this match that I have a hard time choosing which ones to include here.

First game, I won on the play and second game is a 20+ turn grindy fiesta that takes forever. David turns around a spot where I thought I’m something like 70+ percent to win the game, and we get to this complicated position:

GAME POSITION START

David has 11 tapped lands including Plaza of Heroes, a tapped 4/4 unblockable and 2/2 unblockable token, an untapped 2/5 Raffine, flipped Wedding Announcement and Kaito Shizuki with two loyalty. He has eight life and roughly 15 cards in the library, which I roughly counted are mostly lands. He has four (unknown) cards in hand. He also has around three minutes on the clock.

It’s my first main phase. I have 11 lands including two Plaza of Heroes, an untapped 3/2 flying flipped Denick and untapped Ludevic. I have five life and my hand is something like five lands, including cycling land and The Wandering Emperor. I have two Tenacious Underdogs and Dennick as my only creatures in a graveyard. I also have only five minutes on the clock.

GAME POSITION END

Alright, I know this is quite complicated so let me simplify this. I’m forced to activate Ludevic for seven mana, exiling all my three creatures and turning it into a lifelinking Dennick. This will leave me with four mana untapped for Emperor or Plaza depending on the situation. Suddenly, flipped Ludevic is a lethal attacker if unblocked.

So here’s my main question: how do you attack here? I did the “obvious” attack and have been thinking about this equilibrium since. Ludevic attacks face and flying Dennick attacks Kaito.

Once I had a few hours to think about this, I really started considering attacking with just 7/7 Ludevic to the face. Against a good player, which David definitely is, it tells him I don’t have the Emperor, so then I actually kill him once I have the Emperor. As played, he took 40 seconds to think about it, then blocked Ludevic, played double removal to get through Plaza and won two turns later when I had six draws to find Destroy Evil for lethal and bricked.

Ooof. Anyway, we’re heading to the third game with me on the play and David with two minutes on the clock and me with three. I mulligan into mediocre hand and don’t have much time to think, we both spend roughly one second on each play and there are 10 judges around us since nobody else is playing at this moment. 

I suddenly find myself facing a Dennick, Raffine and Sheoldred draw backed with removal on my Sheoldred and it starts looking bleak. With 28 life, David attacks with six creatures, taking me down to six and costing him 12 life thanks to my Sheoldred and his Raffine. I draw a card, look at the board and finally think for five seconds, before blitzing two Underdogs and attacking for exactly lethal with 30 seconds on the clock against David’s 20 seconds. It was an insane match that worked out in my favor by the smallest of all margins possible. 

After this a tough match against, Logan Nettles felt like a walk in the park and suddenly I found myself sitting at 6-2 and fourth place before even getting to the part of the tournament where I think I have an edge.

Playing Explorer

We finally got to Explorer. I was hoping we would do well as I felt we did a good job there, but never did I imagine in a field this tough we would post a 14-3 score for an 82 percent win rate with this deck (excluding team kills).

I started out by a very quick win against Karl Sarap in what feels like a great matchup as he played Temur Transmogrify. We were quite prepared against Jeskai Lukka, which is a similar enough deck, only with Supreme Verdict and Deafening Clarion, which are the best cards against us.

Next up was Nathan Steuer, who was in first place at this point. I was hoping to calm him down a bit, although he was playing Rakdos Sacrifice, which we thought was one of our worst matchups (but still reasonable thanks to Leyline). I think I played horribly in the first game and got destroyed as a reward, but luckily Leyline showed up in the third game and 10 damage from it was too much for Nathan to overcome.

Snippets from the Stream

Magic is hard. Like really hard. I think I played one of my best Magic tournaments in my life and it still translated to hundreds of small mistakes and some major ones. Unfortunately, I don’t have a replay of every match I played, but I do have some replays from the stream that I could watch. Here are some tough decisions, mistakes, misplays and misclicks that I was able to identify on my own.

Round 11 against Julian Wellman, both of us sitting at 8-2

Here I am in my second main phase, which shouldn’t have even occurred as I should have just animated my land and attacked for lethal. There were a lot of things going on in my head that led to this.

First, after his first Hornet Queen resolved right before he died, I thought I was going to lose this game and my main goal at that point was to go to Game 3 while leading on the clock. I kept playing slowly and lost my two minute advantage, which I wasn’t happy about, and didn’t allow myself to think for 30 seconds here.

Second, I was afraid of something like a double Shark Typhoon, him trading away all the creatures (especially Sailors) and me suddenly being on the back foot.

Third, I thought I just simply cannot ever die here, which is not correct as I lose to the double Shark Typhoon I was “playing around” by not attacking.

Overall, I think this was a minor mistake in terms of giving up EV, as I went from 100 percent to something like 98 percent. In terms of obviousness and how easy it was to fix, this was a bigger mistake for sure, and once I got back to players’ lounge with a big smile on my face, I was welcomed by Siggy with “You missed lethal, don’t ever do that again!”

At this point, I found myself in first place in the World Championship leaderboard, which was honestly hard to believe.

Round 12 against my teammate Eli Kassis, me at 9-2 and Eli at 8-3

Alright, so I think I actually played this game pretty well, navigating a tough spot after being stuck on two lands. After drawing third land on turn five, I main phased the Brazen Borrower bounce as if he wants to fight over it, I can at least attack through Faceless Haven. I still think I’m in a losing spot, as Eli will just counter Borrower and counter my Snare, and I’m very much on the back foot.

And then I timed out instead of playing the counterspell… I thought it was pretty obvious from the replay, but plenty of people were like “Bro, you should probably read the card,” which I found hilarious, especially since it was sometimes followed by comments that made it clear they never read the card.

I was a little bit tilted, I didn’t know I timed out but assumed that is what happened. I thought I’m pretty dead here to two interaction spells anyway, which I assumed Eli has, but looking at the replay, I think I would actually be a favorite to win this game. After the timeout, I think I’m basically dead, but it was probably incorrect to concede from game state perspective (five percent to win, I guess?). Honestly, I think it might be correct from a mental state perspective.

This seems like a good time to plug in a few debates I had before the tournament, which might help someone to become a better player. Two focal points I got from Ondřej Stráský before the tournament:

  • Stop complaining about bad luck, it makes you a much worse player. This one was tough for me to accept, my plan was to follow this 80 percent of the time and 20 percent of the time to ignore it.
  • Think for longer. I actually had several long debates over the last few years with Stanislav Cífka about how to use time in card games, and the end result was that you should actually rope out one or two percent of your critical turns. Sure, the actual roping out is horrible, but it should be balanced in your favor by a slightly better decision in the rest of the situations. I fully followed this in the tournament and think it enhanced my win rate quite a bit.

After this round, I ran into Nathan and we talked about what score can make it into Top 4. He said he thinks there’s a chance that one player with a 9-5 score might make it in. I was thrilled to hear this as I already had nine wins and my tiebreakers were through the roof as I just played twice against everyone at the top at this point. Little did we know that it was actually Nathan who will be gifted this gift he calculated for himself.

Round 14 against my teammate Jim Davis, both of us sitting at 9-4

This was a very weird round in many ways. I was much more nervous in the previous two rounds than I thought I would be, and really wanted to get rid of that feeling, so I “decided” I’m in the Top 4, no matter what happens here. I thought it was actually correct, but turns out we miscalculated a bit and if Eli lost against Nathan, nobody with a 9-5 record would make it and I would be in fifth place.

Anyway, if things went right, there was a reasonable chance that Eli Kassis, Jim Davis and I were in the Top 4. I was obviously going to do everything to win my match, but this possibility was running back in my mind and actually helped me to get rid of my nervousness. 

As for the match, it was a pure headache. I was obviously getting Shacklegeisted into oblivion by both Eli and Jim, even though they insisted they will play just one (while I was running two and never had it and it was the best card in the mirror by far).

In the screenshot, I was dead to any Spirit, which I didn’t realize as I was once again maximizing my time usage for the third game if needed, and attacked with one creature too many, but Jim just drew two Ledger Shredders in a row for maximum slap in the face.

We both started the tournament the same way we ended it; Jakub won against Jim 2-1. It was a bittersweet moment for the team and Jim actually finished fifth on tiebreakers, although the difference between him and Nathan was quite big.

If I lost this match, all three of us would be in and there would be no Grixis in the Top 4 to farm us all. Funny how the atoms of the universe sometimes line up.

And just like that, the swiss part of the tournament was over, and there were only four players left standing. I was one of them. It was hard to grasp that reality at that moment, and we did plenty of photos and interviews. It was just so much fun. 

We finished the night with an awesome dinner with casters, singing “10 percent luck, 20 percent skill, 70 percent Esper Midrange” on our way back to the hotel in a weird karaoke minivan Uber.

 

The Top 4

My Top 4 journey started with an Esper mirror versus Karl Sarap, although our versions were quite different. I think I realistically had only one big decision against him and it was right during the first second of the match.

I actually surprised myself by mulliganing this, but I think it was correct. I can’t cast Underdog on turn two and I don’t have any follow up after that. If I could cast the Underdog, then I’m just keeping this. I won 2-0 against Karl and was about to meet Eli in the top of the bracket.

Our match against Eli was not particularly interesting. He was on the play thanks to finishing first in the swiss, drew well and played very well as always. The most interesting part I found on replay is this turn, although the turn before was complicated as well (I had both two-drops in hand and Takenuma, Abandoned Mire on top of my deck, and decided to play double two-drops. He also didn’t have the Emperor in hand and drew it in a perfect moment – must be nice). 

In the screenshot, I decided to attack and pass without playing Takenuma, which I didn’t even really consider at that point, but I think it might be correct. Both two-drops in play can cost four mana in the very near future, and if I draw a land (which I did) I can mainly replay Denbick (which I did) and hold up Disdainful Stroke for his Ao, the Dawn Sky (which I couldn’t and which he had, must be nice). I lost 0-2 against Eli and was about to play Nathan for a spot in the Finals.

Funnily enough, I think I once again had only one real decision against Nathan, and it was once again during the first second of the match.

I thought I was going to mulligan this when I saw the hand, but more I thought about it and it seemed somewhat reasonable. I think the expected win rate would be very close no matter the decision. Eiganjo can be considered as a bad spell here (although a bit awkward with Void Rend) and Plazas do add some value as well.

Looking at the replay, I drew quite badly (four lands, Sheoldred and removal), Nathan didn’t stumble even a little bit (hit his third land on turn three and had basically the nuts at that point) and the game was still reasonably competitive. I think I would just keep again given the choice, but not exactly thrilled about it.

In Game 2, I basically got a game loss, as I kept an obvious six-card hand and ended up the game on turn eight with two lands still in play. Weirdly enough, others were more sad than me, and while I could feel the pain of my tournament ending right before the finish line, I was also happy and proud of my run.

Do I wish I owned one of the biggest, greatest Magic trophies there is? Sure, but Eli has been crushing it for longer than I’ve been alive, and listening to Nathan talk about Magic, it was clear he is in a different league than me. No matter what happened in the finals, it was guaranteed that Magic would have a worthy World Champion, and all that was left for me to do now was to cheer.

Eli won the first match out of three and at this point, he was on an 11 match win streak in this tournament, which is absolutely unreal. What are the odds that he loses two matches in a row now, right?

Well, we all know the answer to that, and in the end it was Nathan lifting up the trophy. Huge congratulations to him; it was an incredible performance and I’m sure we will hear from him a lot more in the future.

After the tournament I asked Eli how he felt and told him that I’m feeling both very happy and sad. He told me he feels similarly and being a mental health professional, he dropped this banger:

We crave simplicity but life is more complex than that.” – Eli Kassis

Special Thanks

There are a lot of people I would like to thank here, as this was anything but a solo run for me. 

My fiancée Natálka, who was a huge mental support for me during both testing and the tournament. I couldn’t have chosen a better person to share this experience with.

My family, mainly my dad, who always believed in me and did everything he could to help me pursue my dreams.

My coaches Ivan and Ondřej, who prepared me for this tournament much better than I could have imagined. Ivan was staying up until 5 a.m. Prague time in critical moments, testing matchups and writing notes. Congratulations for becoming one of the best paid coaches in Magic history, you deserve it.

To Stanislav Cifka, who tremendously improved my thinking process as we worked together on many different projects over the last six years.

My teammates Mike Sigrist, Eli Kassis and Jim Davis, who worked really hard and mainly turned me from someone who picks cards randomly to a reasonable drafter. You guys were more like family than random Magic gamers from the other side of the world.

To everyone else who had anything to do with this tournament. Every single competitor was super nice, and the atmosphere was very friendly. Judges were awesome and, together with organizers, went out of their way to help us with anything we needed. 

To everyone who was cheering for me during the tournament, I got so many nice messages from people I haven’t heard from for a long time, and it made me enjoy this tournament a lot more.

To haters for keeping the world in balance.

To the universe for making it so that my biggest life problems are not drawing a land rather than worrying if my apartment is going to explode today.

And to you, my fellow reader, for getting through this wall of text.

 

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