Earlier this year, when Wizards introduced discretionary invites to their Mythic Championships, I never would have imagined that I would one day be a beneficiary. I am eternally grateful that Wizards invited me to participate in Mythic Championship VII. Despite the controversy and the pain that came along with the invite, I made it there, but I didn’t do it alone. In lieu of a traditional tournament report, I offer the community a thank you letter of sorts, and a bit of insight into what my journey was like.
Let me just start by saying 2019 has been a heck of a year for me. Probably the most extreme peaks and valleys I’ve ever experienced, and I am not exaggerating when I say I am very fortunate to be alive and able to write this today. When I opened my email a month ago, I was in a clinic dealing with trauma I don’t think I’ll ever get over. Reading that I was invited to Mythic Championship VII made me ready to shout in the waiting room, unable to believe that this opportunity was being given to me.
Unfortunately, a huge sense of dread hit me right after. How was I going to afford it? Was I going to be harassed online like past invitees? How ON EARTH was I going to stand a chance against the best players in the world in a format that was certain to still be reeling from incoming changes. I’ll cover how I dealt with and overcame (or didn’t) these things one by one.
The first was the easiest but not the least stressful by any means. I live swimming in student loan and medical debt. Paycheck to paycheck is a euphemism in my case. If it wasn’t for my best friend, I wouldn’t have been able to participate. When I realized I couldn’t afford the flight, hotel, or the time off work, she didn’t hesitate to tell me she would buy my ticket. Not to mention everyone else who was gracious enough to send me funds for traveling. I was floored by their support, and am truly cognizant of how fortunate I am to have that. Some people may scoff at me and point out that I got $7500 just for showing up. While that’s true, it cost me easily over $1000 just to get there, and at the time I got the invite, I had maybe $50 in my account. Not to mention that all of my winnings are going towards debt just so I can finally get my head above water. Unfortunately, my situation is not unique, and despite the crowd’s love for the old (or even new) meritocratic system, finances have shut plenty of potential competitors out of OP.
There is a real cost to grinding tournaments that people seem to forget. This can be even more intense for non-North American players, who are forced to pay potentially thousands of dollars just to go to Grand Prix’s and Pro Tours and that’s not even for guaranteed money like it was in my case.
In the future, I hope Wizards reconsiders how they pay out prizes and allots a percentage of Mythic Invitational earnings to players before the event so that they can pay for travel expenses. While some people on the pro scene may be well enough off that it doesn’t affect them, it does put international and economically impoverished players under gigantic stress and a disadvantage. Naturally, expenses for those players will generally be more, either because it takes longer to gather funds (increasing the costs of travel), they have to travel farther (which is more expensive), or they have to borrow money to do it (which usually involves paying back with interest).
The second hurdle was the online response. I knew as soon as the invite was announced, people were going to reignite the discussion surrounding invites. I wasn’t let down. Magic players do so love to voice their displeasure. Luckily, although my name did come up on Reddit and some Twitter threads, my DMs and mentions stayed mostly clear of haters. However, the fact that I even have to say that I’m lucky the vitriol wasn’t that bad, should indicate there is a problem. Competitors should be focused on enjoying the opportunity and preparing to make the best of it, not fending off ridiculous statements “like you don’t deserve to be there.” As if anyone has the time to explain basic marketing decisions and the inherent flaws of meritocracies. OK well I do, but not right now. I will say that for as much negativity there was, I got a million times more support by people I care about a million times more. For those of you who did wish me well, thank you. It allowed me to insulate myself to some degree. Not to mention the people who freely donated their time so I could playtest, theory craft, and brainstorm deck choices.
As for the magic itself, I had a difficult time settling on what to play for the tournament and how best to prepare. Like I imagined most people did, I started by looking at what decks were successful in the post-banning Twitch Rivals tournament, which I also happened to participate in. While I played Jeskai Fires, I didn’t make day 2 of that tournament. However, it was clear that that was the best deck going into the MC. At that point I had to make a decision. Did I want to play the best deck? Or did I want to try and beat the best deck? After trying different food variations, RB knights/aggro, and Jeskai, I decided to try and have my cake and eat it too. What if I could combine fires with the thing that nerfed fires? In previous matches, I was getting blown out by GB food playing
Casualties of War. My desire to play this card first led me to a four color fires version that relied on planeswalkers and Fae of Wishes to fetch out Casualties when needed. However, this introduced mana issues so I scrapped that plan and thought of something else. I realized that I could just cut the blue altogether. Risky, as I would be losing
Teferi, Time Raveler and key creatures like
Kenrith, the Returned King and
Cavalier of Gales. However, being jund meant I could play Casualties main, not to mention have access to
Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps,
Assassin’s Trophy, and
Ultimately, this is the decklist I chose to register.
While the deck seemed to play well, it gave me very little wiggle room to recover from mistakes.
The higher curve also meant that my hands could be clunky, and I did have to mulligan often. The decrease in card draw I got by dropping blue ended up mattering a lot in the tournament. I was hellbent more often than not, which is a nonbo with
Cavalier of Flame. At the time I was not as concerned with that as I should’ve been. I highly doubted I would see control decks (ha), and mistakenly believed that there would be much less flash than there ended up being. As long as I could go Fires into Cavalier and
Biogenic Ooze, I was confident I could outmuscle food and had enough disruption to stop Fires.
Although it did not perform well, I don’t regret registering this deck. In reality, I think with a little more time and tuning experience, that I could have brought something really interesting to the table. Since the Mythic Championship, Jund Fires has shown up again in the top 8 of the NRG WPNQ. Mason Brode brought a very similar list to mine that performed well. Seeing my archetype pop up in an important tournament and also play against in on the Arena ladder has made me confident that I was moving in a viable direction.
I also had several level up moments creating and piloting a "rogue" deck and what that meant overall. The first, was to play with the resources I had. It's extremely difficult to come in as a challenger who does not have the time or human resources to test a format like the pros do. They will most likely be the ones coming in with the best version for the field and to beat the mirror. Regardless, the higher EV play would’ve been to pick up the best deck and spend as much time as I could perfecting my play. This can also be applied to when there is a definitive skill level delta between yourself and the field you will be playing in. In the words of my fellow competitor Jess Estephan, if your skills are not as high as your competitors, you need the cards to you are playing to be powerful enough to get you to the finish line.
The second lesson came from Emma Handy, who told me that it's better to pick your spots and be good against a few decks, rather than 55% against a field field good enough to get back the extra 5%. As someone who is wildly unfocused most of the time, this was a big lesson that I’ll be ingraining into myself. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to plan for all possibilities, and losing sight of the goal.
The most important lesson I learned was that if I am going to improve and do well, it's going to take setting my ego and my pride aside. This is not to say that I’m going to constantly doubt myself and expect other people to give me the answer. But what’s the point of asking people for advice if you aren’t going to consider it? Even the best players have teams of people they work with because there are weaknesses in their own game. This is also to say that cultivating a team you can actually work with is key too. One of my many Magic related goals for 2020 is to develop a constructive testing group.
As for the onsite experience, the tournament was amazing. It felt surreal to be in a room of players I had looked up to for so long and know I was going to play them. Wizards did an excellent job in making sure our onsite needs were met, and we were comfortable throughout the weekend. It was daunting to see the venue and all the production that was going into this event. The coverage and social media team did a great job the whole weekend, and it was great seeing that from up close. My nerves were hellishly high the day leading up to the event, especially once I saw my station. It felt very real and very terrifying.
Weirdly enough, my nerves settled the day of the event. My deck was what it was, my skill was where it was, and all I could do was make the best decisions I could and take it game by game. And I DID play well. I can say that confidently despite my record. Many of the matches were close, and where I did err, I was able to consciously recognize it without letting it get me upset and send me on tilt.
Even though I was out Day 1, I still played plenty of more Magic and got some more leveling up in too. I enjoyed some mate with the South American players, enjoyed Autumn Burchett’s cube, and made some new friends. Playing against people who were not only much better than me, but willing to talk to me about lines meant the world to me.
Speaking of cube, I have it on good authority (thanks Nassif) that I have some idea of what I’m doing. I am currently 1-1 against Mythic Championship winners in cube. Just saying.
All in all, my MC experience was pretty positive. I learned a lot, played my favorite game, and even got a sweet sponsorship deal (thanks Cardsphere!). Now I’m even more motivated to do what I need to do to get another crack at high level tournaments. Playing against the best made me want to be better. It was like looking across a canyon, but realizing there was a bridge that I could cross. So thank you again to Wizards for inviting me, and thank you to the people who were involved in making that weekend what it was.
I can’t wait to show you what I do in 2020.