Today’s article will be a little different, I will be looking back on my run in the World Championship, starting with the preparation, but also discussing all the games I’ve played. I’ll try to analyze my regrets and what I did well.
So let’s start with the preparation! We knew the formats would be Dominaria United Limited, Standard, and Explorer for a while, but it didn’t seem very useful to start before the release of Dominaria United for obvious reasons – Standard because with rotation it was impossible to predict what the format would look like, and Explorer because there was a good shot they would add another anthology (they didn’t).
I decided early on I would be testing with Zach Dunn, we had prepared together for the Set Championships and work well together. There were also a bunch of other teammates that helped us out, but they obviously weren’t as committed as we were. At the start, Zach was very busy with school and I had to do a lot of the legwork myself, looking back at it, I do regret not reaching out to more people to form a bigger team, being able to find matches with good players whenever you need is such a big advantage. I believe one of the most important things when testing for a real tournament is to not limit yourself to testing on ladder (or mtgo leagues/prelims/…). While ladder is great to pick up a new deck and get a lot of reps in, it is also quite terrible if you want to know what the metagame will look like or whether or not a matchup is good or bad. I remember testing Alchemy for the championship and beating Runes over and over with Rakdos sacrifice on ladder, but as it turned out, the matchup is probably 70-30 in favor of runes if the runes player is competent. This is just one example of many and if you only play ladder you will never have good preparation for a big tournament.
When Dominaria United finally released, I was very excited to dive into things, and it made the most sense for me to start with draft. In the early weeks of a format, Standard changes so fast that its probably better to have other people figure out the basics and we still weren’t sure whether there would be another anthology for explorer.
Honestly, I was not very excited about limited being a part of the World Championship, not because I don’t enjoy Limited (I do!), but because I’m just not that good at it. All of the big online events over the last years have been Constructed with the small exception of some sealed events on MTGO. I knew I was very far behind compared to my competition. Knowing this, I decided I was going to practice very, very hard to compensate, and I did. I played hundreds of drafts on both Arena and MTGO, I drafted every single possible archetype, and I can probably name every card of the set, and honestly, I had a ton of fun doing so! I talked earlier about how its important to not just play ladder and well, I failed in this aspect. It is quite hard to schedule drafts with 8 players and I kind of gave up trying to do so after a certain point. This is a big regret of mine – I should have tried harder and reached out to more people to get better practice. One of the problems I ran into is that in premier draft you can kinda just force whatever you like most and it will usually work out, making it very hard to evaluate how contested certain strategies are.
Because of this, the biggest issue was that even after doing so many drafts, I still wasn’t feeling very confident – my win rate wasn’t anything insane, I still had no experience with in-pod drafting, and I felt like all the decks and colors were so close to each other in strength that I didn’t have a strong direction for what to draft either. I also got lots of different directions from different people, one of my teammates was forcing Boros and doing very well, another one said that he just plays Dimir Control all the time. Zach told me he just wanted to force Gruul tricks because its always open and I saw other people claiming Izzet was the best deck. Personally I had the most success with GBx midrange piles revolving around Urborg Repossession.
Ultimately, I decided I’d just try and draft the hard way, but if I would open a bomb I would force the color/archetype that bomb fits into.
At the World Championship, we had to be on site at 8 in the morning for the drafts. We would only draft that day and play out the matches on the next day for coverage purposes. The day started with some technical issues and they could only have 1 pod draft on at a time. I was obviously in the fourth and last pod and I had been waiting for hours at that point. I was very nervous and didn’t feel good going into it.
Anyway when I finally sat down and the draft started this was my P1P1:
The obvious pick here is Drag to the Bottom, and I immediately highlighted that one, however I promised myself I would let the rope time out in every single pick to force myself to think everything through as I have a habit of trying to be too fast. I started looking at all the other cards in the pack and started to consider the other options, I think the easy second best pick is Yavimaya Iconoclast and I noticed it was very good with some of the other cards in the pack: Gaea's Might, Meria's Outrider, Flowstone Infusion, and Molten Monstrosity all fit into the same archetype. Then I remembered Zach’s words “Gruul tricks is always open” and honestly Drag to the Bottom hadn’t been THAT good for me and its obviously a lot worse with open deck lists. I also felt like a lot of other players would be very interested in the multicolor midrange strategies making a Domain pickup a little riskier. I ended up changing my pick from Drag to Iconoclast in the last 2 seconds. I got rewarded by a Lightning Strike pick 2 and honestly the whole draft was smooth sailing from there, I wheeled the Gaea's Might and got everything I wanted in pack one. I even second and third picked a land in pack 2 because I was convinced the other cards I wanted would probably wheel anyway (and they did!) Here is what I ended up with:
I was very happy after the draft and felt good about my chances.
Round 1 vs Nathan Steuer (L-L)
I started the tournament by losing against the eventual world champion – his deck was absolutely insane with two copies of Wingmantle Chaplain. In the first game, I made a pretty bad attack on turn 3 and got my Ivy, Gleeful Spellthief killed by Artillery Blast. I don’t think it would have mattered in the end, but it was a mistake regardless. Game 2 I got Nathan to 2 at some point, but he stabilized and healed back up with Elas Il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim and a bunch of bird tokens.
Round 2 vs Yhi Zhmin (L-W-W)
The second round I played against Yhi Zhmin on a somewhat clunky 5 color deck. I lost an extremely long first game, won an extremely long second game, and steamrolled the third one when Yhi missed his third land drop. At this point, I wasn’t feeling too good about my deck anymore, as when I looked at the lists I felt like I should’ve just rolled Yhi over, but that just didn’t happen. I wasn’t sure whether my deck wasn’t as good as I thought it was or that I was just getting unlucky (I did lose both die rolls and mulliganed almost every game so far), so it was hard to say.
Round 3 vs Hisamichi Yoshigoe (W-W)
The third round went a lot better, we played a very fun first game where I eventually survived on 1 and top decked the seventh land to cast Mossbeard Ancient. The second game I had a very good draw and won in 2 minutes.
I ended the draft portion 2-1, only losing to Nathan on a very broken defenders deck. I was extremely happy to go 2-1 in my worst format.
After the draft I chatted with some of the other competitors about my P1P1 and they all said I was insane. And honestly maybe I am, but I’m also very certain my draft would nog have gone as well if I had picked the Drag to the Bottom.
Now onto Standard! Preparation for Standard was quite the adventure as well, I had put a lot of time into Standard and was about to lock in Jund Reanimator and move on to Explorer when we got an e-mail that there would be potential bans in Standard. This was a big surprise as we were expecting another Anthology in Explorer, but not Standard bans, yet here we are. We started preparing Explorer, waiting for the ban announcement, but I assumed the only possible ban was The Meathook Massacre. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker made no sense to me because it would make Esper way too good.
It turned out I was right, but I wasn’t happy about it. I believe banning Meathook made the format a lot worse because it was the best way to catch up when you were on the draw. Jund Reanimator became a no-go for me really quickly after the ban – Jund was just too clunky and you needed The Meathook Massacre to stabilize really often. We tried to make Jund work with Topiary Stomper and Reckoner Bankbuster, and while it felt somewhat good, at the end, we ultimately decided the deck was too clunky.
One of the big challenges in testing Standard was that all the decks are very close and that whoever wins the die-roll is favoured in almost every matchup, regardless of what you were playing. At some point I looked at my stats and had almost 90% winrate on the play and less than 50% on the draw, I have honestly never played a format where the difference was this big. The most important question to answer was ‘How do I win games on the draw?’ To answer this question we tried a lot of things – you could either play Make Disappear and Spell Pierce to counter your opponents three-drop, you could pack a whole lot of removal, or you could rely on sweepers. None of these strategies really worked out for us, your answers had to line up perfectly against a very different set of threats.
I’m not entirely sure how, but at some point we did manage to answer the question, the card that won the most unwinnable games was Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. We decided that Sheoldred was how we were going to win games on the draw so we had to play a lot of those.
At this point, we were still considering three different decks: Esper, Grixis and Rakdos. Rakdos felt like the weaker version of the three and I was also somewhat scared of other people bringing Titan of Industry or Invoke Justice where you really wanted access to counterspells. This left us Grixis and Esper – in our testing Grixis was slightly ahead against Esper, but felt worse against basically everything else compared to Esper.
So our decision was made, now we had to figure out a list and honestly this was probably the most interesting and important part of our whole process. There were tons of different ways to build Esper and while I will share my vision on the archetype here I’m still not sure it is the right one. The first thing we identified is that Esper felt very broken when you could curve 2-drop into 3-drop, especially on the play. This meant that we really wanted to play a lot of 2 and 3 drops. Then we decided to build our list in a way to really maximize the use of Sheoldred – we decided you really wanted four copies, a way to find more in Ao, the Dawn Sky, and we even registered a copy of Shore Up to help protect Sheoldred. While Shore Up may seem ambitious, honestly, if I knew the field would be 70% Esper, I would’ve registered a second!
Round 4 against Eli-Kassis on Esper Midrange (L-L)
I lost 2-0 fairly quickly in the first round. I was on the draw and Eli played very well, their 2-drop Ludevic, Necrogenius seemed very impressive (how did we and everyone else miss that one?!)
Round 5 against Drew Baker on Bant Tokens (W-L-L)
Drew Baker had a very sweet Bant tokens list in this tournament. The first game went quite long, but I eventually won it on the back of Sheoldred. In the second game, I mulled to a mediocre 6 and didn’t really get anything going, his tokens with countermagic backup seemed impressive. In game three, I had a good start where I resolved a Raffine on an empty board turn 3, but I ended up flooding out quite badly and got ran over.
Round 6 against Yuuki Ichikawa on Esper Midrange (W-L-W)
While I still haven’t won a die roll the entire tournament, I did manage to pick up my first win in Standard! I don’t remember exactly how the games played out, but all of them were fairly long and grindy, and a lot of these games were about who had a Sheoldred in play.
Round 7 against Yuma Koizumi on Esper Midrange (W-L-W)
At this point, all the games look so much like each other that I can’t recall what happened at all, but I remember some very close and grindy games and being quite happy to come out ahead. Yuma and Yuuki had the same Esper list and I felt like our list had a solid advantage over them.
Round 8 against Karl Sarap on Esper Midrange (L-L)
Finally won my first die roll! Sadly it wasn’t enough as I couldn’t answer Karl’s Raffine in game 1. I had a The Wandering Emperor in my hand, but never found the fifth land to pay for the ward cost. In game 2, Karl played extremely well and my hands didn’t come together at all.
Ended the standard portion 2-3 which puts me at 4-4 total record after the first day of games. Honestly, I felt pretty good about it. My opponents were all great players and I found winning half of my games to be an accomplishment in its own.
Looking back at Standard, I’m kind of mad at myself for not finding Ludevic, Necrogenius because it seems so obviously good in hindsight, that said, I think our list made a lot of sense and is fairly well built.
We started Explorer testing fairly late because we were convinced there would be another Anthology. When we finally got notice that wasn’t the case, we dove straight in. It was very hard to get an idea of the Explorer metagame, there was very few data and the few tournaments there were had over 40% Rakdos Midrange. We identified very quickly we did not want to play Rakdos, there were tons of decks that beat it and it felt like one of the most overrated decks I have ever seen. At the same time, we also didn’t want to register a deck that had a bad Rakdos matchup, that just seemed too risky. I started with building all kinds of decks that were good against Rakdos: Engimatic Incarnation, 4c Omnath ramp, and 4C adventures were the big ones, all of them were very good against Rakdos and I was ready to register all of them at some point. I also tried Gruul Transmogrify, Goblins, and Spirits, but none of them seemed very good against Rakdos so I dismissed them fairly quickly.
The 4 and 5 colour decks had two things in common: One, they beat Rakdos and two, they lost to Greasefang. One of the first things I said in our Siscord about Explorer was that I hated Greasefang. I think the deck is not enjoyable to play and not enjoyable to play against because the range of good and bad draws is so incredibly large.
At the start I assumed Greasefang would have a bad matchup against Rakdos as well, it made sense to me because of how disruptive the Rakdos deck is. Turns out, it is actually quite hard to disrupt the Greasefang deck and the matchup actually seemed quite favored for Greasefang. This is where I started thinking Greasefang might just be broken. Spirits seemed like a bad matchup, but I didn’t think anyone would want to register that in a field expected to be mostly Rakdos and every other matchup seemed even to favored.
After a while, I gave in (this took longer then it should have but I really did not want to play Greasefang!) and actually started testing Greasefang, made a bunch of changes to the stock list (the list I copied somehow had 4 too few white sources to cast Raffine's Informant for example), and found the deck to be VERY good. It was also way better at beating hate than I anticipated – Witherbloom Command dealt with most of it and between Tear Asunder, Thoughtseize, and Knight of Autumn, it was very hard to actually shut the deck down. This led us to the following list:
Round 9 against Toru Saito on Abzan Greasefang (L-W-W)
First round of the day against a mirror and I’m on the draw again… Toru mulls to five and I keep a 6 with Greasefang, Thoughtseize, and Parhelion, but no way to get a vehicle in the yard (beyond Thoughtseizing myself, which is obviously not a great line). I Thoughtseize away his Greasefang and the game goes on for a couple of turns while we both try to assemble our combo, but in the end, he is one turn faster than I am and I lose. Post board, I felt like I would have the advantage because we registered 4 Leyline of the Void, and in game two, I got rewarded with having one in my opener. Toru has the Tear Asunder, but him taking turn two off gives me an extra turn to set up my combo and win the game. Game three, I don’t have the Leyline, but my hand is good and I end up comboing faster.
Round 10 against Reid Duke on Spirits (L-W-W)
My only bad matchup and I’m on the draw again, really don’t feel good about this one. Game 1 is over fast and I feel quite defeated already. Luckily, I manage to assemble my combo in game 2 while he doesn’t have any counterspells. In game 3, I keep a 1-lander, find the second land off the top, and manage to win an extremely close game. Game 2 and 3 were shown on coverage and I recommend checking them out, they are pretty great games (starts at 2:21:21)!
Round 11 against Jim Davis on Spirits (L-W-L)
A bad matchup again, unfortunately. Game 1 is quite close and unlucky where I dig 30 cards deep, but cannot find a Vehicle. I combo off in game 2 pretty easily, and in G3 I have a very good hand, but so does Jim and he is on the play so I do not get there.
Round 12 against David Inglis on Rakdos Sacrifice (L-L)
A good matchup this time but a combination of poor luck and incredible play from my opponent make me lose the games anyway. Really though, I think 99% of players would have lost both games from my opponents side, but that’s why its so much fun to play at a World Championship.
Round 13 against Simon Nielsen on Temur Transmogify (W-W)
Smooth sailing all round, I had good draws in a good matchup.
Round 14 against Logan Nettles on Rakdos Sacrifice (L-W-W)
A good matchup, but I kept a sketchy 7 and milled 30 cards without finding a vehicle in game 1. Game 2, the matchup is a lot more even because they bring graveyard hate, but my hands were great in both postboard games and I got there fairly easily.
That leads me to a 4-2 record in explorer! The biggest lesson here is that I somehow ended up underestimating my competition in a World Championship, I thought there would still a bunch of people on Rakdos Midrange even though I was convinced the deck was terrible. I should have known that 32 of the worlds best players would come to the conclusion that Rakdos was not actually a good deck. That said, I’m very happy with our deck and I think it was very well build as well, expect a guide on Abzan Greasefang soon!
This whole World Championship was just an incredible experience, the travel, the people, the venue, everything was great and it was just amazing to be part of it. In general, I’m quite happy with my preparation and play, but it was also humbling to get absolutely outplayed sometimes. In the future I will probably be looking to test with a slightly bigger team and try to get 8 people together for draft practice, but I don’t have any big regrets!