This week I wanted to do something a bit different. I decided to write an article where the sole purpose is to voice my opinion on anything and everything. You won’t learn how to properly sideboard Mono-Black Devotion in Standard with this article but you will get to know me a little better and I anticipate it will be quite fun. I’ll start with a bit of a softball list, as it’s one of the most common:
Top 10 American Players Currently
1. William Jensen
2. Reid Duke
3. Ben Stark
4. Sam Black
5/6. Eric Froehlich/Tom Martell
7. Josh Utter-Leyton
8. Luis Scott-Vargas
9. Paul Reitzl
10. Jon Finkel
I chose to only rank the top American players as I felt it would be unfair to rank players I have not seen play much due to proximity. Yuuya Watanabe would surely make any list I composed of active great players, but how do I compare his level of skill to someone like Reid or Ben Stark who I have watched play hundreds of games of Magic? The same goes for many other foreign players.
I also chose not to include myself in the list for obvious reasons, if I rank myself too low it will appear as if I’m fishing for compliments when people tell me I should be listed higher and if I list myself too high I come off as arrogant because !****#1OWENTURTENWALD#1****!
The rest of the list is fairly straightforward except for what I believe to be a dead even tie for 5th and 6th place between Tom Martell and Eric Froehlich. I racked my brain and it never felt right to just say flat-out one of these players is better than the other because they’re so closely matched in skill.
Rounding out the list is Jon Finkel who I chose to include despite it being a list of currently active Magic players only. He played in Grand Prix Philadelphia a few weeks ago and finished in the Top 16, as long as Jon makes the effort to go to big tournaments he is a favorite to put up a strong finish and with his current level of dedication to the Pro Tour it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the tip of everyone’s tongue for best player again sometime soon.
Top 10 cards from Journey to Nyx
7. Brain Maggot
I did not list Temple of Malady or Temple of Epiphany despite the fact that they are both important, because they’re just so unexciting to look at in a list. They matter and they’re great, but it’s known and part of the point of the list is to showcase a card or two that you did not expect to see. I did list Mana Confluence though because it really is the single best card in the set.
Next up is Prophetic Flamespeaker, and PV sums up my thoughts on this card quite well in a recent article. Extremely powerful but in need of a very specific home.
Banishing Light won’t be making any huge waves in Standard since everyone already has access to Detention Sphere, which does the same thing, but it’s cool that nonblue decks like Naya or White Weenie can have access to this effect. Orzhov Midrange may want to play it as well. I also like the interesting decision that comes up in deckbuilding now that you can have the more powerful Detention Sphere, or Banishing Light, the less powerful but more flexible option which can exile Detention Sphere.
Dictate of Kruphix is a very difficult card to evaluate but I think it’s pretty likely to pop up in a winning list or two.
With the exception of Kruphix’s Insight, it looks like green got the short end of the stick this time.
Top 5 Most Important Elements of a Successful Team
1. Mutual Respect
4. Emotional Investment
Mutual respect is a given, but it’s very important. If people on the team don’t respect other people on the team they aren’t going to work well together. If I’m on a Magic team with someone whose opinion I do not respect then there are going to be problems, if that person tells me that deck X beats deck Y then I personally would feel the need to test the matchup for myself, but if someone like Reid or Huey told me that, then I would simply believe them. Trusting in your teammates hard work and opinion is huge and it starts with respect.
Dedication is huge for me and it couples well with emotional investment. If I care a lot and am dedicated to doing everything in my power to succeed in the tournament, then that will rub off on my teammates and foster a great environment. If you have a team of two people who care a ton about how well they do in the tournament and one person who doesn’t care at all then you’re going to run into problems. This is also true for a Pro Tour testing team since someone who really wants to do well is going to work very hard and someone who just needs to show up to get those 3 Pro Points to lock up Gold may not care or try at all. When people have different incentives it affects their actions.
Talent is a pretty simple one to list, if you have two teams that are exactly equal in every facet of this list except that one is significantly more talented than the other they will be more successful on average. It takes many different things to be successful at Magic but even in a team environment talent is going to make things much easier.
I listed camaraderie last, but that may be a mistake since it wouldn’t surprise me if in reality this was the single most important aspect of a successful team. You have to enjoy the company of your teammates! There have been moments in the Team Pantheon testing house where members have stopped and shown appreciation for what a great group of human beings they are with. That doesn’t happen every day but when it does you know you’re doing something right and as much as I enjoy playing Magic with that team, I enjoy relaxing with them every bit as much.
Top 5 Favorite Magic Cards
1. Pack Rat
2. Wild Swing
3. Jace, The Mind Sculptor
5. Zhang Fei, Fierce Warrior
It’s a little sad for me to make a list like this because I realize how unorigional I am. I tried very hard to make it a list of cards that have sentimental value to me and not a list of cards that I like because they’re very, very good.
Pack Rat is #1 for me for many reasons, but primarily I won GP Albuquerque with 4 in my deck. I didn’t merely win the GP with four Pack Rats in my deck, but it was probably the most important reason why I did well in that tournament. It was the first time we saw Black Devotion do that and since then it has become a mandatory feature of the deck. Going in to that tournament I was supremely confident in my list and I knew the true power of Pack Rat, leading up to the event I tried to tell as many different people as I could about the deck and I really felt like the Pack Rats specifically were technology that other players didn’t have. Knowing this helped me be sure that 4 was the correct number to play as well as knowing to play with them very aggressively in games throughout the event.
Pack Rat also holds a special place in my heart for other reasons.
Pack Rat has been a great card to play with for me in Limited and Constructed, and on top of being super powerful has made me enormously happy.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor makes the list for similar yet less exciting reasons. The bulk of my success during the 2011 season where I won Player of the Year was in Constructed events where I played 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor and many of my opponents who I got paired against did not play with this card.
Wasteland is near and dear to my heart as well. To my knowledge I am the only person who has made Top 8 of three different Legacy Grand Prix tournaments and I did so with 4 Wasteland in my deck each time. I think Wasteland is totally broken and you should play with 4 almost always—I laugh at the decks I see where people play 2 Wasteland and say they don’t like to draw multiples. I love to draw multiples—my opponents usually call me a luck sack when I do, and in my UWR Delver deck the primary purpose of the Ponders is to find me additional Wastelands so I can get cheap wins.
Top 5 Changes I Would Make to Tournament Magic
1. Remove the GP Cap
2. Introduce Super Grand Prix
3. More Pro Tours
4. Increased Appearance Fee
5. Reintroduce the Invitational Cards
My stance is pretty public and clear on the GP cap—I dislike it. Last year if the cap existed I would not have gotten Platinum, and as a result of the cap existing this year, attending Grand Prix for the rest of the season is not economically viable.
#2 on this list may be the only valuable part about this list except that it’s written as a “do more things that are good for me and give me money,” but hey it’s my article and it’s a list of things I would change and that would make me happy. I understand that they can’t adjust the prize support for a tournament based on attendance and so a wise player would rather go to a 500-person Grand Prix than a 5,000 person Grand Prix. It’s in the best interest of a Pro player to never go to a tournament that will have the largest attendance and that’s kind of sad. Imagine Grand Prix Vegas last year and think about the fact that every Pro player who goes is making a mistake financially. The biggest, most fun tournaments are a bad idea to attend—that stinks.
My advice is to use all the market research that exists and decide in advance based on format and location which events will have the highest attendance and increase the prize for those before they are announced. Super Grand Prix would have more prize and more Pro Points handed out and draw a bigger crowd of professionals and amateur players alike. You can even hold all the Super Grand Prix at the end of the season when all the professional players have met their cap of finishes, but may still go because the added prize is attractive to them. You could even have these events cut to a Top 16 single elimination playoff and have the first round of Top 16 play 1 game only. Just a thought.
More Pro Tours? Teams? Yes please.
I was around when level 8 existed and the appearance fees for Grand Prix were $500 each, that was pretty amazing. When they doubled the amount of Grand Prix run over the year they cut the appearance fee in half to $250, and for me this made attending a Grand Prix go from 100% a good idea to a tough decision. If the cap existed as it stands and the appearance fee was $500, I would still go to as many Grand Prix as I could within reason, but now I skip Grand Prix pretty regularly given my circumstances.
I always loved the Invitational cards. Dark Confidant, Snapcaster Mage, and Meddling Mage are some of the most iconic cards in Magic history and I couldn’t imagine anything greater than having my own likeness depicted on a Magic card. This will never happen unless they bring it back, possibly for whoever wins Worlds. Why not? They already get $40,000, Platinum, and an invite to Worlds next year. I don’t see any harm in giving them something cool to immortalize themselves as World Champion on a Magic card.
Top 5 Ways To Improve As A Player
1. Practice makes perfect
2. Trust yourself
3. Tournament experience
4. Be thoughtful
5. Play the game and know the rules
Practice is incredibly important for anything you try to do in life, and for me doing well at a tournament starts by being adequately prepared. Any mistake I make can be explained away by, “well I wasn’t expecting that,” and the more I prepare the less I am caught by surprise.
The bulk of my successes have come from playing my own decks, and the bulk of my failures have come from trusting someone else’s work and copying a deck at the last minute. Not to say that other people are always wrong or that it’s wrong to play someone else’s deck, but for me I have only recently begun to realize that if I want something done well I have to do it myself. The more I play with my own decks these days the more confident I am, and it has been a huge step in the right direction beginning to believe in myself all over again.
Tournament experience is huge for any player who wants to improve. They train you to be ultra competative and each opponent you face is trying to defeat you, this is a change of pace for newer players and drive to win is paramount. The old “just happy to be here” isn’t going to cut it if you want to improve as a player and succeed at the highest level.
It’s an acquired skill to take a second in the moment and think about exactly what is going on and to do it as best you can. I can’t count the number of times I have rushed through a play and made a dumb mistake that I knew I wouldn’t have made if I had just given it that extra moment to consider my options. In high-stress situations, people—including myself—often just go through the motions or rely on muscle memory for each play. This is horrible. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but in general it’s good to just be in the moment and be thoughtful, every player can benefit from hearing this.
Lastly I think it’s huge to play every game to its natural conclusion and to know the rules. Knowing what all the cards do, how they interact, and knowing to not miss your triggers is big. I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t concede. Clearly you’re allowed to concede if you have a good reason to, like to conceal information or to manage the clock, but in general I see players concede far too early when the effort of playing out the rest of the game is so little and it can make such a big difference. I can’t count the number of games that I have won that I thought I could never win by playing hard and never giving up an inch. If you concede every time you think you are going to lose then your opponent knows you don’t think you’re going to lose when you haven’t conceded. This may sound silly but what I mean is if you’re at 2 life and I have two 2/2 creatures and you control a 3/3, and we play Magic every day together, I’ll know you have a trick the one time you don’t concede. You’ve become exploitable and putting your opponent to the test by not conceding means some of the time when you have a trick he attacks thinking you’re dead, and you get to 2-for-1 him, so now some of the time he doesn’t attack you when your hand is all lands. Also some of the time you just die, but whatever you were all but ready to concede anyways right? There are a number of professional players who I see concede some games at 20 life on turn six and I find it appalling.
Well I hope this was fun to read as I certainly had a fun time writing it. Is there a list that you wanted me to write that I didn’t? Feel free to let me know!
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