Breaking Through – Lesson Learned

I suppose it is only fitting that this article follows one in which I wrote about the things that a loss can teach you. GP Toronto was a tale of two halves, and I managed to come out on the short end of the stick. It is easy to get caught up on the fact that some awkward things happened on day 2 to lead to an abysmal 2-4 record, but in reality, the burden falls on me here.

Day 1 was awesome, as I opened a slightly above average pool that probably should have ended up in the 7-2 or maybe 8-1 range, but somehow instead ended at 9-0 for “day 1” with its only loss coming in the 10th round (that was played on day 2). While it is not exactly important to the article, I will go ahead and post the list to assist the few that might be looking for additional Sealed pools to draw from.

The deck was really just all about its “Gray Ogres” and I embraced that by playing cards that maximized my damage throughout a game. Cards like Exsanguinate just barely got the cut because of this. Platinum Emperion and a pair of Ogre Geargrabbers sat on the sideline as they were just too slow. I did bring in a Nihil Spellbomb a lot though, for what its worth.

The wheels fell off during day 2 however. It is easy to look at the deck I drafted in pod 1 and assume I went 3-0. In fact, at the time, I thought it was the best deck I had drafted in this format, and from my vantage point, it was. For reference, here is what I drafted.

So to get this out of the way right off of the bat, I misbuilt my pool by 2 cards. One of those Forests should have been a Mountain, and the Darksteel Juggernaut should have been a Saberclaw Golem, Juggernaut is clearly a better card, but I needed a defensive creature which the Juggernaut just cannot be for more than a turn. Still, while those oversights hurt me, they were not the central issue I ended up having; I didn’t understand how other people were approaching the format.

Being in Colorado sometimes hurts my vision of a new format as a whole, typically Limited. Unlike those in New York or California, my access to other local pros and ringers is very limited. Sure I get to scour the web for articles, and even get some games in online, but sometimes, those paint a very different picture than what is really going on.

Sealed is easy enough, as you are given a pool of cards and asked to build a statue, but in draft, you need to collect your stones and chisels in order to even get to that point. It turns out that when you think one type of stone is the best but the world thinks differently, you can just show up with inadequate materials.

While I got a dozen or so drafts in before the GP, each of them were influenced by the fact that I was there. Players would ask for my help and opinion, and I would give it to them in return. This led to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy where my ideas on the format were being proven correct, because those around me were following my lead. This in turn, led to a format that was ultimately different from the format others were playing. Let me go through a few examples.

In my experience, poison had been the odd man out. There would always be one or two poison drafters per pod, and on average, there decks were better than the poison decks that emerged at the GP, as 4 or 5 people were fighting over it then. Higher card quality among decks led to the poison decks putting up fair fights against other “good decks.” Come the GP however, my good cards from the deck above were highly mismatched against the 3 poison decks I faced during the first pod.

Instead of stealing insane cards with my Volition Reins, I was forced to take Plague Stingers and Bladed Pinions, cards that should otherwise just not matter. You lose so much value when your 6 mana removal bomb is taking a 1/1 with the hopes of chump blocking a Contagious Nim. Even my other removal like Turn to Slag and Tumble Magnet really wanted to be finding big fatties to lock down, or at least a Grafted Exoskeleton in the case of Turn to Slag. Instead, I was taking out Neurok Invisimancers. Because there were so many players fighting for poison, the highest concentration of poison in any deck I faced was a total of 7 infect creatures.

One deck led off with Ezuri’s Archers into Vector Asp for example. Typically, I would be ecstatic to play against such piles, but instead, my higher card quality in a vacuum came back to bite me. In that same match, I resolved 7 Volition Reins across 3 games. Their targets: Bladed Pinions, Strider Harness, Moriok Reaver, Plague Stinger, Cystbearer, Trigon of Infection, and a Contagious Nim. Any single one of those cards would be a bit embarrassing to steal, let alone all 7.

If this were M11, my deck would have been the stones, but instead,, this was Scars and my deck just did not approach the format correctly. I had become so inbred with how I thought the format was going to look, that when the real face of it was shown, my deck quickly became outclassed despite being more powerful in a vacuum.

This is where my lack of talking with fellow good players really shined through. If I had been able to network better before the event, my opinion of cards like Volition Reins and Koth would have been made more realistic. I had not gotten enough high level drafts in to truly understand the format from others’ eyes. Part of this was my location, but more of it was from other factors.

For one thing, I never reached out to Luis or anyone beforehand to get their thoughts on the format as a whole. I asked about certain cards, but with one of the best players in the world at your disposal, especially with him coming off of another Grand Prix just weeks prior, I should have taken more time to study the format.

It did not help that my flight was poorly-timed, as I did not get in until 11pm the night before the tournament. This restricted my access to side drafts and last minute discussion, which, while not perfect, are a nice last minute crunch time look into the format. You are less likely to learn about rares during this time, but common and uncommon pick evaluations definitely become confirmed or changed.

At the tournament, after showing people my deck, they all brought up points that just didn’t make any sense to me at the time. I quickly learned to agree with both the Forest count and Juggernaut issue that other brought up, but the claims of the deck being OK at best fell on deaf ears. Did they not see the 3 Volition Reins in my deck? What about the 2 mythics? People were crazy and I was going to prove them wrong.

Two rounds later, I was begging to play against the double [card]Sunblast Angel[/card] and Hoard-Smelter Dragon deck that also ended up going 1-2 for the pod. At least in that match up, my good cards matched up nicely with his and probably favored me heavily. Instead, 3 straight decks with Vector Asp in them sealed my fate.

I was honestly not trying to be stubborn when those I respected offered their opinions, I just could not fathom that 3 Confiscates were bad. Of course you should take them highly and play them still when blue, but it turns out, they are not cards to bank your deck’s performance on. I would have rather had an Arc Trail or taken that Embersmith over the Koth that made my P1P1 choice. At least then my cards would have matched up better to what the format really had to offer.

Networking is so crucial to early format development and I have always known that, yet chose to be contempt with the skewed testing I was getting in. Had I just taken a few hours out of my day to utilize the resources I had available to me, all of that disaster could have been avoided. Instead, My 9-0 start was quickly tainted by the 2-5 that followed, leaving me to wonder what might have been.

My particular problem was not that I was unwilling to listen to others’ take on the format but simply that I did not do so. This does not mean that all issues are in the same boat. Some players simply refuse to listen to other people because they view themselves as better than that player. In reality, while your overall game may be higher than said individual, they may have an edge in some area that they can help you out with.

Being willing to network and at least take in the things you hear is quite easy in the grand scheme of things. Magic is insanely complex and all this exercise asks of you is to be humble and patient. It is easy to get caught up on what you think its right and wrong, but other players may disagree, which inevitably sends them in a different direction than you, altering the very thing you are critiquing, making your claims wrong a lot of the time.

I was sure that Volition Reins was a bomb, but so many other players were content with playing Vector Asp. This very situation made my Volition Reins that much worse and the Asp that much better. Because a Limited format is designated by the players playing in the tournament and the opinions they possess, there is never a universally “right” opinion. You must be fluid in your evaluations as they are heavily riding on the evaluations of others in determining just where along the spectrum they reside.

I tried to take the knowledge I had gained during the first draft and incorporate it into the second. Specifically, I wanted to make sure I did not lose to poison decks. Unfortunately, the card pool I was being passed was not cooperating with my vision. I ended up with some good removal like Arrest, Revoke Existence, Slice in Twain, and a splash for double Galvanic Blast and Arc Trail, but the cohesiveness that a deck thrives on was not there. As a result, I did not manage to improve on my record from the first draft and left the venue with only a single pro point and a lot of lessons in my bag.

Still, given that both GP Nashville and Worlds will feature Scars Limited, I cannot say that my lessons will leave me with nothing to show for it. Instead, I now feel that I have a better grasp on the format while still collecting a little bit of a reward for my troubles.

Utilize the community around you. There is a reason we all enjoy this game so much, and so much of that is the people we surround ourselves with. I can assure you I will not make the same mistake of taking my own developed knowledge of a format as the end all be all again. It is too easy to seek out other perspectives that failing to do so should never compromise your ability to win. Good luck as always, and thanks for reading.

Conley Woods
@Conley81 on Twitter

23 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Lesson Learned”

  1. Way to eat a slice of that delicious humble pie.

    That’s why we love magic. There are always unforeseen challenges we can’t anticipate and need help from other good players. I loved this article.

    By the way, your black/red sacrifice deck is somehow the only control deck I’ve found that has worked in the format. Yep, a fifteen land control deck.

  2. One of the things that has helped me over the relatively small amount of time I’ve been playing Magic competitively is to listen to everyone around me. I try to give advice when I can, but to be honest I really enjoy hearing the opinions of players that aren’t as skilled as I am tell me what they would pick and what their most impressive cards of a set are. I think it’s the Patrick Chapin mentality of: Learn from everyone. I’m sorry you didn’t do very well day two. You’re still one of my favorite (if not my #1 favorite) pro tour player.

  3. I think I’ve learned more about this format by reading CFB articles than I have in drafting it 15-20 times.

    I’m heading to Nashville next month, and I’d have approximately zero confidence playing SoM if it weren’t for you guys.

    Thanks for what you do. Please, don’t ever stop.

  4. Absolutely amazing insights and really a valuable lesson for all competitive players in this article Conley! Thanks so much for taking the time to write it, and being honest enough with yourself to admit to the problems you had rather than blaming the “bad beats” or the “terrible decks” your opponents played. Doing so allowed you to objectively critique your performance as well as your draft picks and overall take on the format.

    If more players would do the same, many would be able to overcome their own egos (for less of a better term) about their playskill, and really be able to critique themselves when they have problems like you faced.

    Great Article!! (seriously the best Ive read on any site in quite a while!)

    Keep up the great work at Nashville and Worlds! Even though the wheels fell off at Toronto you are still a complete sicko!!

  5. This may be the best article ever published on Channelfireball.com. I like how it ties in with your piece from last week on losing graciously. Well done.

  6. Love this series.
    Highly agree bout the ego thing.A lot of great players just can’t admit to themselves that they did something wrong.That’s why I love Conley’s articles so much

  7. “I would have rather had an Arc Trail or taken that Embersmith over the Koth that made my P1P1 choice.”

    No, I’m pretty sure that taking Koth P1p1 is almost always correct (although passing either of those two uncommons would still be painful in that situation). But I think he needs an aggressive deck built around him, not a controlling one. Preferably mono-red (or at least mono-mountains).

  8. In your draft deck i think there’s another mistake: the 3 riddlesmith with only 12 artifacts in the deck. I’ve played with one or two riddlesmith in draft and sometimes i found myself refusing to do the “i draw and discard” , what are you supposed to do with THREE of them? -1 riddlesmith +1 golem (or another cheap artifact, i dunno what you’ve lefted out) i’ts my opinion.

    And if i had 3 volition reins i would play them all, unless i’ve zero or one mana-myr, in that case probably i would play only two on them. In my opinion you we’re just unluckly to play against 3 infect decks, and that isn’t normal.

    Sorry for my bad english, very good article anyway.

  9. Thanks for writing this.

    I enjoyed it, and learned alot from it.

    While the videos and articles are great, I’d like to read y’alls (CFB) conclusions on the format explicitly.

    For example, your “best deck” was clearly flawed (aside from everything you said) by way too few artifacts. 12 is not nearly enough. Your metalcraft and smiths are extremely subpar with that metal count.

    I realize that you guys want to hide your tech / conclusions to your advantage at tournaments… but you want your readers to keep coming back too right?

  10. I came to think that Arc Trail is the best card that you can pick in SOM, so i would pick it instead of koth (of course, if koth were like a dollar or something… and that situation tells you something about how magic is today).

  11. Sorry to hear that Conley. I’ve noticed the same thing in scars drafts. I draft what I think to be a monster and then get crushed. Too much M11 draft mentality still instilled in my head.

  12. Ill give credit where its due. Nice job on acknowledging you didnt know a format as well as you had thought, and were willing to step forward and admit it instead of making excuses.

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  14. I’d totally take Koth P1P1.
    But then I’d either stick to a 10+ mountains deck or abandon my P1P1 entirely if given signals another way.
    Having forests in your deck just for Sylvok Replica as a third colour just isn’t worth if you want to maximise how powerful Koth is. The Sabreclaw Golem would be a fine replacement, and then you could play 8 mountains.

  15. Awesome article Conley, you gave a really honest look at card valuations with respect to their environment, as opposed to within a vacuum. This is a really hard concept to wrap one’s head around, and more people (myself included) are probably guilty of it than they’ll let themselves believe.

  16. It’s a very fast draft format, coulda happened to anyone. Thanks for the article, all my friends stopped laughing at me for avoiding blue from day 1 after reading this 🙂

  17. way to learn so much from what might just be an infuriating moment to someone else and reminding us all that there are always opportunities to learn. thanks! good read.

  18. I baulked when I saw the three Volition Reins. Not because it’s hot but because it’s greedy, and as you learned their true worth is what they can steal, not THAT you can steal. Still a good lesson learnt, I’ve had this happen to me like trying out Brozek deck wins in an Ext PTQ but not really discussing anything with anyone first [I would’ve started Searing Blaze in the side for starters…]

    Good articles, sorry about the beats.

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