I’m travelling home from GP Birmingham as I type this, and whilst I didn’t finish particularly well in the main event I wanted to write about what I got out of the event and my aims going forward, along with a few words about my deck choice for the event. A lot of these are relevant to many people looking to improve in Magic, so hopefully it’ll be an interesting read!
The Little Fish in a Big Metagame
Going into the main event I’ll admit that I have not put a great deal of time into testing the Modern format over the past year, since the World Magic Cup really, and it’s changed a fair bit since then, but I like to think I have a strong knowledge of what most decks are trying to do. Based on this, I chose to play Merfolk, which is a proactive deck with a bit of disruption, and whilst there is some sequencing and some interesting lines, a number of the games will be fairly straightforward and predicated towards combat math.
A lot of decks rely on or have a limited manabase, whether it’s a core part of their gameplan (Tron, Scapeshift), they are multiple colours (GBx) or simply run very few mana-producing lands (Burn, Jund Shadow etc.). This opens up a lot of free wins where you remove the ability to cast spells with your 8 Spreading Seas effects after sideboard and beat them down with some Mutavaults and 2/2s. It’s almost like transforming into a prison deck!
The final reason I opted for Merfolk was that in such an open format it only has a couple of matchups that are genuinely awful – Affinity and Lantern – and while I did end up running into Lantern in round 9, the fact I played against 9 unique decks over the day spanning a wealth of different deck types just goes to illustrate how hard it is to strongly metagame for Modern. Despite my 5-4 finish (reaching 5-2 before losing rounds 8 and 9), I’d still make the same decision. Most of my losses were matches that could have gone either way, and I was able to make it very hard even in games where I had mulliganed or drawn very badly.
Now onto the meat of the post!
Coming off a year where outside of the WMC and a few PPTQ top 8s I’ve actually played very little competitive magic, I wanted to look at what I’ve started improving and what I’m looking to improve going into a year where I’m going to be playing a lot more.
Playing more and reflecting upon events in greater detail
The first part of this is a no-brainer – Magic rewards repetitions and practice. My first aim is to be testing and going to a lot more tournaments, but that’s only half of it. Going to loads of tournaments is only good for development if you can gather learning points from those experiences – sideboard choices, gameplay interactions or what made your deck choice a good/bad decision to name but a few. I used to fell like I was good at being analytical post-event and being able to replay game events in my head to expand my understanding, but it’s fallen off in recent years and is a characteristic I really want to bring back into my game.
Fighting back from early slumps
Those who know me well will know that I have a horrendous early round record, and learning how to deal with that is something that I’ve improved. It’s very easy for many Magic players to react emotionally to these kinds of starts and let it affect their play, and I’ve long advocated taking 5 after every round where possible to reset and center yourself. It’s again something I’ve been sloppy adhering to recently though and again a big goal is to take that time out, avoid the bad-beats stories and be ready for the next round. After a 1-2 start this weekend I managed to avoid spiralling and rattle off 4 wins to put myself in a decent spot to day 2, and it’s definitely a useful thing for many players to remember.
The other side of this coin is early round mentality, which is still something I’m trying to find a solution to. Getting into the right mindset for the beginning of play is definitely one of my goals for the next year.
Caffeine and hydration
I’ve spent years between university and Magic with a pretty significant caffeine dependence, which I’ve looked to tackle recently. The issue is that a can of energy drink or strong coffee will keep you going for a little while, but after that the crash comes in and you feel worse. At that point the only real solution is more caffeine and your attention and mental state degrades. This weekend I prepared with plenty of water and food I could regularly eat between every round to keep my concentration up and avoid energy crashes, and I was amazed at how awake I felt even after 8 or 9 matches and a 7am start. It also had the upside of avoiding the horribly overpriced convention centre food!
Playing the right deck
I have a history of solid results with off-meta or tier 2 decks, and when looking to take my game to the next level I think it’s a big deal to consider whether I’m really making the optimal choice. Card availability etc. are factors but realistically if my aim is to improve my results I really need to make that not a barrier, between investing more into the game, trading and playing more limited. A little caveat about Modern – there are so many Tier 1.5-2 decks and the margins are so small that I think it’s reasonable to prioritize decks you are familar with, but in order to do that my goal is to increase my experience with plenty of decks. With that experience it’s much easier to make an informed and complete choice about what to play.
One last aside – even if you personally aren’t having a great day, make sure you cheer on others who are! I had a great time following friends who were making a great run, whether they were a GP first timer or a veteran. It was even cool to see the guy who beat me in round 8 making a deep run at the top tables!
I hope some of this is interesting or useful to people in a similar boat as me, even if it isn’t a tournament report about how I crushed the GP. Check back for more next week!
Bonus decklist – 4 colour control (Unpowered graveyard cube)
1 Trinket Mage
1 Curator of Mysteries
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Torrential Gearhulk
1 Thought Scour
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Feeling of Dread
1 Unexpectedly Absent
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Soul Manipulation
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Crystal Shard
1 Day of Judgment
1 Ojutai’s Command
1 Murderous Cut
2 Celestial Colonnade
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Lumbering Falls
1 Concealed Courtyard
1 Scattered Grove
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Fetid Heath