The World Championships of the World! Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.
Although not in this case, it went down about as bad as it could, but that’s a story for another day. Or it would be if this weren’t an article about Worlds… so yes, it’s a story for today, but it’s definitely a story for another paragraph.
Playing in this tournament was something I had dreamed about for so long—and it would have been even if this weren’t only the second year of its existence. When you’ve been playing the game for 20 years like I have, there become fewer and fewer items on the list of potential accomplishments. The big one for me, however, had always been to play in the 16-man Invitational tournament. I was one spot away the only year I really played Magic seriously during my younger years, but alas, I didn’t make the cut and it was abolished shortly thereafter. This tournament isn’t quite the same—the added pressure of it being so high profile adds to the challenge, which, in many ways, makes it that much better.
As was discussed last year, Team ChannelFireball can’t really work together for events like this. It just would make the tournament completely uninteresting (side note: this pretty much happened anyway—but whatever, we tried!). Last year, there were 8 members of our super team in the Players Championship, and try as we might, this year would be no different. It’s awesome to have that kind of dominance over a season, but it does create this little pitfall at the end.
In this case, myself, Wrapter, Web, and Kibler would be the 4-man team to try to tackle this puzzle of a tournament. The strange structure really makes this extra tricky for testing. Last year, the tournament was half Modern, with the Top 4 being Modern as well. How do you prepare for a tournament where you are essentially playing an 8-man tournament on Magic Online for each format that you play? Three rounds is such a small sample size, so going crazy and trying to metagame against a deck can be a huge mistake. The thing is, no matter how much you expect there to be Jund and UWR in Standard, you can still fully expect at least one quarter of the field to play their own decks. The odds of playing at least one of these players is going to be quite high, so metagaming can only go so far.
People have chastised some of us for “not being creative” or other, in my opinion, ridiculous claims about decks we chose for the event. The truth is that you are playing 3 rounds of Standard. Playing the best deck makes perfect sense. We tried tons of new stuff—it just wasn’t as good.
Coming into the tournament, I actually wanted to play Reanimator. I expected the Jund/UWR metagame that we got, and thought that people would be unlikely to be prepared for the deck because of the [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] reprint. I talked some with Gerry Thompson, who agreed that it was in a good position, and told me to talk to Brian Braun-Duin about his take on the deck and thoughts on changes. Brian was super helpful, and everything he said about the deck really showed just how much he understood the particulars of the matchups and just the game of Magic in general. I really appreciate the time he put in to try to help me and my team out, and garnered a lot of respect for someone I’ve never actually met before.
As of Monday before Worlds, I was set to play a Reanimator list that I had been slowly tweaking. [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] was as great as advertised, and the new [card shadowborn demon]Demon[/card] was testing well. Then I played a bunch of games against LSV playing [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]s in Jund. Sure, his draws on a scale from 1-10 were slightly above an 11 (a.k.a. average for him) and mine were slightly below a 2 (a.k.a. average for me), so he was winning every single solitary game we played, but beyond that the matchup just felt horrible.[draft]lifebane zombie[/draft]
It was already tough but good with the addition of [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. BBD was correct in that it was just a worse version of [card]Ground Seal[/card], since you can kill it, but [card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] was still super tough. A mediocre draw backed up by turn 5 Ooze was still quite good. Drawing [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], however, just made games I felt favored become virtually unwinnable. My backup for the event had always been Jund. It’s a deck I’ve played a lot with, feel super comfortable with, and is extremely powerful, so at this point I had no choice but to audible to plan B. This would have a ripple effect on the rest of the world for weeks to come now…
Kibler’s deck was having moderate success against the decks we expected, namely the same Jund and UWR, while not being amazing against either in my personal experience. [card]Burning Earth[/card] was definitely great in the sideboard against UWR, but I expected people would be prepared for that. The rest of the deck felt super underpowered, and I preferred something like the big mono-red deck that had been having success with maindeck Burning Earths to pair with [card]Hellrider[/card] and [card thundermaw hellkite]Thundermaw[/card]. Decks with Hellrider and Thundermaw being something I could get behind… hmm, who woulda thought that? (Writer’s note: I had a lot of success with my build of that deck in PT Montreal.)
Kibler had tested a ton with his deck—and considering it is the deck he plays in every tournament he can, it was certainly what we all knew he would play. After finalizing my own choice and working with LSV some on the sideboard, Wrapter showed up to my room and jammed a bunch of games with me, sideboarded, with Kibler’s RG deck. The Burning Earths were doing very little and I was winning almost all of the games. Kibler asked to tag in for Josh and the same thing kept happening. Lifebane was too powerful, not being able to cast a threat the turn Burning Earth came out often meant that it just didn’t do anything (or would sometimes get [card golgari charm]Charmed[/card]), and the matchup was pretty fantastic for Jund. I was pretty sure at this point that Kibler himself was going to play the same Jund list and Wrapter and Web seemed sold on it as well, so all was right in the world.
Or the plan B could happen that has completely shaken up Standard in every tournament since, especially the WMC. The details are actually posted on a series of video logs that Brian made about preparing for the event, but the short version is that Kibler tuned his deck to make it worse against the field but better against us. He made the assumption that other teams would come to the same conclusions that we did and play [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] Jund, which was true of exactly one other person in the tournament (Lee Shi Tian), but either way, it’s worth the gamble of changing your deck mostly untested if it is going to be much better against a guaranteed 20% of the field.
I must admit, it’s funny to think about how the WMC and the last few weeks of Standard tournaments had played out if we didn’t add Lifebane Zombie to our Jund deck and the RG deck from Worlds had never existed. I actually think there would have been more press given to Wescoe’s Boros deck, which appears to be pretty sweet and would definitely be more along the lines of a deck I would look to play. I may actually try to dust off a similar version of my Montreal Naya deck, as I think it has far more powerful options than the Gruul deck and may still be able to utilize [card]Burning Earth[/card] due to the aggressive nature of the deck itself.
So most of my preparation for the event came in Standard, as discussed. The rest of the team had met up in San Jose to test Modern, but I was in Maui for my good friend David Williams’ wedding, of which I had the honor of being Best Man, so I wasn’t able to make it. For Modern Masters, I felt quite prepared even though it had really been about a month since I last drafted it. Removing the format from Magic Online so far before such a huge event felt like a pretty big mistake, but what can you do? I felt confident I had done more drafts and had more understanding of the format than the vast majority of the non-BenS competitors, and the draft viewer certainly supported that case. It appeared that most people had very little to no understanding of the format and after getting the opinions on others’ drafts from those I greatly respect, they have confirmed my suspicions there.
I opened a [card]Mulldrifter[/card] in the draft and since my favorite archetypes (besides Rebels, which I strongly suspected Wrapter on my right had a preference for) are 5c green, Affinity, and Faeries, I was in a good spot. Five-color felt open, even though the packs opened around me ended up completely failing to support it, and I felt I drafted cleanly. There were a couple tough choices in pack one and at the time thought I may have made some small mistakes there, but in retrospect I’m pretty happy with my picks. I tried to send the clearest signals possible, but Willy drafted UG to my left behind my 90% UG deck, so his deck was just a complete trainwreck.
I unfortunately endured a bunch of mana problems to kick off the event against said Edel trainwreck and quickly lost in two, but bounced back winning the next 4 games against Butakov and Wrapter, putting me in the position I needed to be in with a 2-1 record going into Standard.
The rest of the event went very poorly for me. There were few to no interesting decisions or board states, and very little Magic was actually played.
My preparation for M14 draft, being prerelease queues on Magic Online, was awful. I had no idea how underprepared I was for the format until now, having put in a ton of drafts after the fact, and realize how badly I evaluated the format. I actually knew all the big, important things and changes from M13, but my card evaluation was still way off. I don’t know if I could have 3-0’d the draft from my seat, but it was certainly possible. After losing 3 matches TOTAL in draft on the Pro Tour for the entire season, going 0-3 in this M14 draft to completely destroy my already mediocre tournament was demoralizing.
24 hours after the tournament itself, after some time to reflect on what had happened and get out of my awful mindset I had and into a slightly below average mindset (c’mon, let’s get real here. It’s tough to be excited after this showing…), I started to write a little mini-article about my thoughts and feelings on the event. It was my intention to turn this into an article (a.k.a. what you’re seeing here), but I ended up posting it as a note on Facebook as I thought it was both interesting and useful for people I knew to see what I was thinking after a truly humbling performance.
As I read that back for the first time since the event now, it’s certainly negative, but that’s unsurprisingly how I felt. I know I’ll get slammed in the comments for that, but hey, it’s just me being honest. I think people are starting to learn that about me. Sure, there are plenty of things to not like about me or the attitude I may have, but I’m nothing if not real and honest about how I feel. I respect that there are plenty of people out there who dislike me for it or may not vote for me for the Hall of Fame because of it, and that’s something I’ve learned to live with because I have no plans to change who I am.
I’m sorry to the people I let down in this tournament. I know there are people who expect a lot from me, and nobody moreso than myself, and I know I feel let down. Trust me when I say if I am ever lucky enough to have an opportunity to play an amazing event like this again, I’m going to come at it the right way.
A congratulations to the Top 4 competitors really needs to be reiterated here. All four are incredibly talented players and even better people who I feel extremely grateful to say are four friends of mine. Also another thanks to my team for their help and carrying me in Modern. I wish I could have contributed more and done better for all of them. And a final shout-out to LSV for his contributions to our preparation, before five full days of giving us all some amazing content at home with his terrific analysis and commentary. Congratulations to him on making the Hall of Fame, nobody could possibly deserve it more, as well as William “Huey” Jensen and Ben Stark. It was the greatest possible way to end my week in Amsterdam by being interviewed for all three of their Hall of Fame inductions as three of my closest friends in life.
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