Up and Down the Train – Part 4

Worlds is probably the most important tournament of the year, for many reasons.

It’s the last event, and almost everyone can hope to end the season with a higher level of the Pro Tour Player’s Club. Some guys can try to win the Player of the Year Race or the Rookie of the Year title. At the time I was in the first page of the Global Composite thanks to all the previous results. I was sitting at 12 Pro Points, which meant I would have needed an awesome finish to get level 3, and I to almost win the whole thing to get the Rookie of the Year title. I had never been to New York before, and I was so excited. The Italian Wizards of The Coast organized a 3-day long colony, everything was paid and we could play infinite drafts and test a bit of Standard. Legacy no one really cared about, we were too busy cracking all those boosters.

Lorwyn Draft

Lorwyn draft was kind of simple, as most of the better players considered it to be plain, complaining “Just choose your tribe and go for it”. I was posting decent results on MTGO, and I was ok with my real-life results there. I always drafted together with Giulio Barra; although he is mostly known for Top 8ing PT Valencia with that terrible Rock deck (12 Loxodon Hierarch, 12 Smother, 12 Duress, 24 lands – LSV), he made Top 16 at his first PT, which was Limited, and Top 8ed a Limited GP too. We were agreeing most of the time, and only Mario Pascoli stopped us from winning most of the drafts. Birding games is really important, and birding the draft process is more important, but I think that drafting together is great. Do that if you have the possibility, on MTGO or in real life. Not only you can discuss a pick order, but sometimes your partner can make you consider about some synergies between cards that you could be missing; of course that’s more relevant if the format is newer.

In Standard our testing wasn’t really deep. I had a fresh GP Top 8 so I felt like playing the same deck was my backup plan. Some Italians had a RG Snow decklist that seemed ok; Pascoli said he would have played MonoRed Snow, a deck that tried to control the board in some way, thanks to cards like Stuffy Doll, Molten Disaster, Skred. I was convinced that the deck was decent, and decided to join the Snow Team. We were playing Stalking Yeti too. Tarmogoyf was in the format. What was I thinking? At least we decided that we needed something to beat Spectral Force, and we found Shivan Meteor; that was a good sideboard tech. The downside was that the card came to our mind the night before Day 1, so we had to buy multiple copies on the following morning, as it wasn’t really a “hot card”.

We didn’t really care about Legacy. We just decided that Counterbalance + Sensei’s Divining Top was too good not to be played. Looks like it still is dominating nowadays.

The Wrong Deck

Well, we didn’t see Dragonstorm coming. That deck was perfect for that tournament, as we just didn’t think it could be a deck, didn’t know it existed and of course couldn’t beat it in any possible way.

I just put off a 3-2 in Constructed, which I couldn’t be really happy with. I was really confidant in the Limited part, which was surprisingly terrible to me. I couldn’t do better than a double 1-2. My first pod was kind of difficult, but I really felt like I was suffering the draft instead of dominating it. I drafted a deck I didn’t want to play, Treefolk, just because I was pushed there and adapted. In the second pod I forced the Faeries deck I wanted to play but that didn’t pay. So basically I made two different mistakes: in the first draft, I didn’t want to draft the archetype I HAD to play in that situation, and I tried to escape from there, just making different picks hoping I could go somewhere else but that was just making my final deck worse. In the second draft I wanted to force an archetype taking worse cards instead of the better ones.

It’s basic to know every archetype you could be drafting in a major event, you always have to be prepared to any situation that can happen to you. You can easily prefer some archetypes over some others, but you have to master every strategy.

In the end I managed to 3-2 the Legacy part, winning last round that put me in Top 200, earning 3 Pro Points for a total of 15, which gave me Level 3 for the upcoming season. Please note that we didn’t know about the levels changing prior to the event. That point literally would have qualified me to another Pro Tour (although I never had to use that bonus on the following year, as I qualified to all PTs in other ways); so avoiding dropping points is crucial. The point I dropped at GP Florence could have been really important if I lost my last match at Worlds. So you’ll never know how your season is going to finish, do not drop Pro Points away with no reason. Unless of course something really important is involved, as playing with a friend who’s going to Level 6 with that missing point or something similar.

The best advice I can give to you regarding Limited is to watch 3v3 drafts. There are plenty of those going on at every major event. Those are awesome chances to see the very best players in action without any barrier, as you can really see any pick and eventually how they build their deck and play it. On the final day of Worlds Antonino De Rosa and me wanted to play a 2HG event together, but we were late and couldn’t subscribe. So he teamed up with Gabe Walls and Mark Herberholz first, then Mike Hron subsituted in for Heezy. They were playing Kenji Tsumura, Shuhuei Nakamura and another Japanese guy I don’t remember. Well, that was really insane to watch. I just sat there and enojoyed some hours of the finest Magic. Since there, I watched more and more drafts and then started playing in them too. Now I always look for team partners at every event. The more people you know and play with, the better it is, because this lets you understand many more playstyles. Well, of course at the beginning playing in these kinds of drafts can be difficult. At your very first Pro Tour, you can find yourself teamed up with some friends and you are really likely to get crushed. Well, you learn a lot when you get crushed, probably more than when you’re winning. If you don’t have the chance to play, birding is fine too.

So I was starting the new season with different feelings. I was actually qualified for Kuala Lumpur thanks to Krakow, I had an insane Constructed rating that was putting me in a safe position for Hollywood and I could choose a Pro Tour to play in thanks to Level 3. I couldn’t play in any GP until summer, so I really had to focus on the Lorwyn-Morningtide draft. I felt okay about my tests; Mario Pascoli, Antonino De Rosa and me splitted 10% prior to the tournament, which in the end was insane considering that Pascoli lost in the finals to Finkel! My tournament was one of the most disappointing I ever played in. I was so confident and convinced of myself, I couldn’t really accept I didn’t make Day 2. I needed a 4-2, and managed to 2-1 my first pod with an ok deck, loosing to Christopher Greene at his first Pro Tour, who ended up with an awesome finish. My second pod was more difficult, featuring Shuhuei Nakamura and LSV. I had a good deck, and I was pretty sure I could easily go 2-1 unless I played both the sharks. On 3-1 I played Shuuei and quickly lost. His deck didn’t look great, but he played better than me Game 1 and I mulled to 5 Game 2, never hitting my third land drop. Last round I was playing a guy I never heard of, and I felt like my deck could get there. I had sort of a Ramp build, with multiple Fertile Ground, 2 Mulldrifter, 2 Aethersnipe, Primal Command, Shriekmaw and some other goodies I can’t really remember, featuring a really good manabase with some Vivid lands and a Secluded Glen. My opponent was playing an insane RB Goblins deck, featuring Countryside Crusher and Wort, Boggart Auntie, plus a solid bunch of dudes and spells. I recall I won Game 1, and lost Game 2 to both the rares. In Game 3 this happened. I put myself in a great board situation, with a Mulldrifter and an Aethersnipe in hand against his empty hand. Literally any spell was good enough for me to win that game, and any Blue source would have been great. I just had 6 Black or Green lands left, and managed to draw all of those in a row, while he drew Crusher which wasn’t a real deal itself but allowed him to just draw spells. My last useful round before dying gave me a Secluded Glen, which I ripped in a million pieces afterwards. That was probably one of my worst losses. It’s not that unusual to make unreal floods, but that one put me on tilt for a while. I just didn’t feel like it was right, I twas thinking I really deserved to play in that Day 2 and couldn’t.

Being on tilt can be one of the worst things for a player. It can influence not only your plays, but also the way you look at the game. It was my 4th Pro Tour, and I felt like there were so few major events that I couldn’t really afford to be unlucky that way. It’s not like losing an 8-4 on MODO mulliganing into oblivion, or drawing infinite lands for no reason. You just fire the following queue and win it out. It’s the huge difference between grinding online and not having a long term in real life.

Luckily enough Pascoli made the finals, earning me 2.000 $. The surprising thing was seeing him angry after the Top 8. In Italy we say that the 2nd is “the 1st of the losers”, but being runner-up at a Limited Pro Tour wasn’t something I could see someone complaining about. Well, he wanted to win the whole thing because people recall Pro Tour winners, not runner ups (Is that so? – LSV). And he was mad about people remembering him punting versus Finkel (he attacked with a Fire-Belly Changeling into a Preeminent Captain, having no combat tricks in his whole card pool). He never mentioned money in the process.

Well, we all play Magic with different purposes, and we all want to shine. Sometimes it’s really hard to be objective about ourselves, and although it’s really basic to have some goals, they should be reacheable. And even once we don’t get there, the first thing to look for is something to learn from. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, sometimes it was even hard not to get obsessed about some punts, but trying not to tilt is the only way to play your best Magic.

Especially when you’re playing in PTQs, where the only real goal is to win, it’s so easy to get mad if we don’t succeed. Just keep playing and try to focus on what’s lacking between your performance and a winning one. Sometimes it could be just an terrible matchup in Top 8, or a mulligan to 4 in game 3 of the finals. Well, most of the times there could be room for improvements in the testing methods, in the metagame predictions, in the understanding of some matchups or sideboard plans, or simply on some bad gameplay attitudes. As it’s really hard to be alone at a PTQ, just listen to what your friends are saying about your match. Having feedbacks from spectators is one of the keys. Recently, a friend of mine lost a PTQ final playing Faeries against Twinsanity. He was up 1-0 and then just threw away two easy games. I made him notice that he was probably mad for the semifinals in which he lost Game 2 to a pretty insane topdeck. Even if he won Game 3, that game made him nervous. He didn’t take any break between semifinals and finals, and he probably was too confident about the matchup. In the end he played terribly, taking too many risks, not considering what his opponent could have done during his turn, and definitely underestimating what it could have happened. He even missed a land drop having some lands in hand, which is awkward. Sincerely, I never saw him playing that bad, and that happened in a PTQ final. I think that next time he will probably take a break between matches, maybe talk with teammates about the matchup while drinking some water or eating sugar in some way, and generally relaxing. He just wanted everything to end as soon as possible, and that was proven even in his gameplay, while he was overextending with too many manlands, not keeping enough mana open to play around every single spell combination his opponent could go for, and losing because of that.

Don’t be ashamed to tell your friends their mistakes; when my mates told me my mistakes in top 8s I was quite disappointed and angry at the beginning, but in the long term it definitely helps.

Till next time

David Besso

6 thoughts on “Up and Down the Train – Part 4”

  1. Not to be rude, but this article seems to violate one of the tenets of good journalism, which is timeliness. It’s just an irrelevant personal memoir, not terrible, but why would anyone want to read it?

  2. Instead of focusing on the strategy of each tournament, like reports do, David is trying to impart the general lessons learned from each event. This whole series of articles does a really good job chronicling David’s advancement from casual player, to Vintage, to PTQs, to finally Top 8ing a GP and playing in a bunch of Pro Tours. I think it is worth a read, just don’t look at it as a tournament report exactly, since David really does know what it takes to go from PTQing to qualifying.

  3. Nice reading Dave. Maybe I’m in the same process, hoping to just not have had a ‘very good day’.

  4. I’m trying myself to get into a position where I can have a crack at some PTQ’s and making it into a PT event. I learned long ago that when people say it’s wise to learn from your elders and not make the same mistakes they aren’t kidding.
    Thanks for having the guts to share your mistakes and helping the new talent try their best to get where you guys are.



  5. thank you all for your feedbacks, I appreciate!
    @emeng: I could write strategy articles, but there are far better players/writers than me that do this. The difference between this series and a report is that I can think about the events with the benefit of the calm, trying to take out some lessons (for myself in first place) to share with the readers. Of course the downswing is that I’m talking about old formats and not recent events, so you don’t get any decklist, but I try to give you something different from from “Turn 1: xxx with yyy.dec 2-1”. I hope you get what I’m trying to do here. 🙂

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