I planned out my “vacation” for this year so that I’d play in the Nationals event for Magic the Gathering in Romania. I wanted to win a spot on the national Romanian team and go to Worlds later this year. Things didn’t turn out how I expected them to, and for good reason, I would say. Here’s the bling deck that I played at the main event.

That’s all that this deck really is to me: Bling City. I pretty much bought this stuff for the sake of having it in full foil and I will most likely do the same with my next chosen deck, but with one main difference: I will actually know how to play that deck 😀 No joke. I chose this deck because I am a sucker for Bolas and also because it did put up good results in past event reaching finals of two Grand Prix and also making top 8 multiple times. But what’s that actually worth to a person who has not practiced enough? The results of different people from the great wide interweb have nothing to do with my lack of practice and pure preference for evil decks. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and The Scarab God seem like a good tag team for wrestling, always being booed by the crowd but with die-hard fans like me always being in the front row cheering on. I tend to gravitate towards such creatures with unbeatable late game hidden flavor texts: “Untap with The Scarab God in play to win the game”, “Resolve to flip Nicol Bolas to win the game”. But it didn’t help that much. Mostly because I hit a few matches that I wasn’t ready for. I was so busy tuning my sideboard vs BR Aggro that I just couldn’t play fast enough to close out games vs Sai, Master Thopterist and Grixis Energy. Here’s the lowdown on what went on in the first games.

Round 1 of Standard vs UG Stompy piloted by George.
Game 1 starts off with a mana screw on his side. I have a great matchup vs his deck and I close out asap. Game 2 I just go fast and end the game in a fast manner as well. Not much to talk about here. The Scarab God does what it should be doing in this matchup.

Round 2 of Standard vs Sai piloted by Zsolt.
Game 1 I start fast with double Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and the card advantage is there to bury my opponent fast enough before he can get on the board with significant replies.
Game 2 sees me holding a slower hand and I get split in half by the slow start and constant land draws. At 26 lands I get flooded and don’t scoop fast enough. I didn’t check the timer either so my bad there for sure.
Game 3 starts with us being immediately in time out. We both agree that a draw isn’t the worse and there is still time to right the ship for both of us.

Round 3 of Standard vs Grixis Midrange piloted by Alexandru.
Game 1 I get totally overvalued. His topdecks are just much better and his answer to my Scarab God followed by his own on the board just shut the door on any possible comeback that I could muster.
Game 2 he gets me down to 2, but my Temple of Aclazotz is already online and with the power combo of The Scarab God I get the comeback going. I turn the table around. Once Bolas flipped, the game was in the books.
Game 3 is a repeat of the previous round. We don’t have enough time to finish the game and we stay at a draw.

After round 2 I already felt like I didn’t have a good mastery of my deck. I didn’t “feel” it. I didn’t have that buzz that I have when I know what I should do without having to think twice about what should happen next. I don’t expect to always be like this, but maybe this time should have been like that? What’s the point of going with a deck that doesn’t give you a proper advantage when it’s an important tournament? It doesn’t have to be the best deck in the meta, and if it’s not, perhaps it should be the best deck for me. Having a feeling for a deck makes things go faster and smoother. You know when you are winning or when you can turn the game around. You can already see the next 2 turns unfold before your eyes before even drawing any cards. You. Just. Know. But I didn’t even grasp the hole I was in when that was the case or realized too late that I should have already given up so that time could be used for a 3rd game. I kept wishing for better draws and while I did get flooded at the worst possible times, I also didn’t play to the deck’s strength and my mulligans were just bad. Like really bad. I can easily say that in round 2 I should have mulliganed in game 2 and also in game 3. I overestimated the late game power of this deck. I didn’t manage to present a decent board by turn 5. What should happen? Come Bolas, save me? That’s not gonna happen without Red Mana scrub. The twist we put on the deck when I talked to my current teammates came back to haunt me. Bolas is a traitor. He rotted in my hands on multiple occasions. I found myself wishing for a Commit // Memory or Glimmer of Genius. Ironic since I felt like a total moron for not putting either in my deck. I committed to Bolas and I definitely lacked any sort of genius spark that could have turned the games I lost around.

In regards to the event, I did dislike the way that the tournament went on when it came to seatings. It was chaotic. The timer started before we even had a chance to sit down. It did add to the pressures of playing faster and in round 2 I wasn’t happy that there was some misunderstanding with the seatings and I lost about 3-4 minutes before finally sitting down. Could be that it might have changed something, but at this point I doubt it. I crashed hard and I knew it. I didn’t see the end of the tournament and when you can’t envision your win, you’re one step farther from hitting your goal. M19 Booster Draft was announced and we were split in pods. Again, trouble with seatings…Deck registration, trouble with seatings…Perhaps preparing for the tournament better to avoid such hangups is an idea here. It frustrates players for issues to come up every time a new round starts, especially ones who are prone to feeling stress at higher levels than others. A smooth tournament not only brings the best out of each competitor but influences the general mood of the entire event from players to judges. Calls are easily resolved, less time spent on meaningless issues which shouldn’t exist in the first place. You’d think I am quite critical and such, which is one of my trademarks, but props to keeping it cool and managing every issue though. This isn’t a huge scene like Germany or other countries have. And it’s not like Romania has the possibilities to blow tons of cash on the absolute best possible venues. We were about 45 people if I recall correctly for Nationals and if I heard it right at the beginning of the event, we broke the record from last year. Yes. 45. I might be critical, but only because I can see the level being higher next year.

Meanwhile, drafting started and I was already on the backfoot. I needed to 3-0 the draft. Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I drafted this pile of burning trash:

So I see that black is kind of winking at me. But I say nah…I can go blue-green and just stomp. By the end of the first booster, I had a good start with the Hydra being the first pick. I open the second booster and get Isareth the Awakener. I’m like ok, black was already kind of open so why not just go for it. I’d drop blue in favor of it. And then I get passed Tezzeret, Artifice Master. So what the fuck am I supposed to do here? Like…Blue is open a bit, but I am not sure if it’s enough. Clearly, the person on my left isn’t drafting blue, so I’d just get passed everything easy peasy. I regret my previous pick, but eh happens. Not that bad and the pack wasn’t that hot anyway. I get to put in some more blue cards but feel worse and worse by the minute as my deck didn’t really line up with any proper removal. I didn’t get to pick Rabid Bite so my removal was only a lonely Totally Lost. I definitely was exactly that. I knew already that my deck wasn’t good enough. I asked a friend to practice vs me a bit. I won vs him, although the second game I got totally smashed. I brushed it off, but I know very well the stench of an average deck. I have experienced average builds for quite some time early when I started playing Magic. So what happened that I had a subpar draft? Well, blame my lack of practice yet again. I don’t like the M19 format. I have terrible flashbacks from drafting all the other core sets. This wouldn’t be any different. My fear is that next year there will be another garbage core set that will be drafted instead of an actual good edition…*shivers*…What a damn nightmare if it happens again…Meanwhile:

Round 1 of M19 Booster Draft vs Zsolt (I played vs him in Round 2 of Standard)
Sooooo we meet again! We get right down to it and we both know that there will be no draw regardless of what happens since there is no way either of us can go forward if there is another undecided match. I’d love to tell you a story of how it was a great game and such, but really I just hoped Tezzeret would win me the game. He did the second game as the first I just got slammed to the ground. The decider came down to Tezzeret using his ulti. Oh wow! You’d think “damn! Slam dunk bro! gg ez!” Nope. I had not enough threats in my deck left. Of course going up to his ulti I managed to draw 16 of my 17 lands, but I can still point to a few bad plays that allowed him to win. Most notably having a garbage deck. No, that’s it. That’s actually the crude reality. I bit from it and and got drained over and over again by his vampires and died a deserved, yet unglorious death. At this point I am 1-1-2. I head to the stand where the beer is at and grab one. It’s already over so I should at least enjoy myself. Wrong you dumb fuck! There’s a modern pptq afterwards. One beer couldn’t hurt though…

Round 2 of M19 Booster Draft vs Tamas – Loss
Round 3 of M19 Booster Draft vs Iacob – Win

I just put this here as an honorable mention, but realistically there isn’t anything else to write here that I haven’t up to now. My deck couldn’t pull out a proper win if I didn’t have all the planets align and the eclipse would only shine on my cards. You might think that it’s not about that. But it is. At least half of a booster draft is made out of the actual card picks. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter since you’ll just lose no matter what. The dice can roll like that and you’re pretty much irrelevant to Lady Luck, no matter how good your deck is. But most of the time you’ll have a shot if you’re not trigger happy in the early stages of each booster. It’s a known fact that finding your color in a booster draft is key to a better performance. But I felt like I did, yet I lost. So what was it? I would say that my priorities were wrong. I picked some things earlier than I should have or missed them and never saw them again. I now believe that I should have forced black and just let Tezzeret go. But who says no to a Planeswalker in Limited? Like really? Who, why, what are we even talking about here? But once I did dedicate myself to blue I should have been much more aggressive with the color. I should have cut it almost no matter what. I should have cemented my position to shoot a freaking signal gun to the person to my right that I really want blue. But I didn’t. I prioritized green which was coming over to me by default. I didn’t have a proper read on the situation. I wanted to treat blue like a support color. Really? Yes…Shoot me now in both legs and break one if I can still walk afterward, just to make sure I don’t reach any booster drafting table in the next weeks. Harsh, yet true. I feel very bad about my results, but from a different perspective, I can’t be that upset since I didn’t practice as much as I should have. So it’s…OK? Ish? Kind of? *mumbles incoherently* I guess…

Modern PPTQ or how to raise the line of stupidity by leaving your modern deck behind

So I left Germany and I felt like there was something that I forgot. There was…something. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I literally opened my bag and was like, well what if I don’t make top 8 of the main event? Surprise: you play nothing. I won’t say that I was so confident that I’d reach top 8 that I didn’t bring a modern deck. I had my doubts about not doing too good in the Nationals so I wanted to have a good deck to play. I had a perfectly fine vomit Humans deck that I could take with me. Apparently, my brain said no to that and by default it said I couldn’t take another deck with me. I left my work in progress back at home because I think that’s how mentally labeled it. I currently want to build a Red based prison deck that I migrated from Legacy to Modern. I found a cute list online, that is terrible of course and now I plan on switching it up to work better with how I envision the deck should perform. We will see where it will actually lead to…I grabbed a Boros Burn deck from a friend and said, fuck it. Let’s just go. I am here to play Magic and enjoy myself. Let’s get another beer. Sounds like a good plan.

Round 1 vs CoCo Vizier piloted by Adrian
I managed to win both games by throwing all my cards at him. There wasn’t a moment where I felt I couldn’t win that match. It was quite easy since I could interrupt his combo effortlessly if I had to.

Round 2 vs Jund piloted by Tamas
We have landed in MisplayCentral ladies and gentlemen. To our right, you can see the Boros player sacrificing his Eidolon of the Great Revel to “push damage in” when there was actually no reason to do so. And to your left, you can also see the Boros player not topdecking a burn spell for 3 rounds in a row. But is that a misplay? Yes. Because I would have won in the first place if I had paid more attention. The deck gave me the answer, which was in front of me. I played it wrong. Took the loss and moved on. Learned from it. Felt bad. Exactly how a loss should hit a person.

Round 3 vs Death and Taxes by Cosmin
Really nice guy/bear I had to play against in the 3rd round. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I had a shot vs him. I did have a questionable attack vs him with a Swiftspear, but the double Thought-Knot Seer and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that I had to deal with wore me out and I didn’t have any more gas in the tank. Both games felt tilted in his favor. He could just Draw Step me with his Eldrazi Displacer and TK Seer combo…That was over before it even started. I knew what he played since playing Burn does give one the opportunity to surveil the scene. It wasn’t good enough. I also had little idea how to play vs him. If I wasn’t prepared with my Standard deck, how about being prepared with a just picked up modern deck? I basically never play Burn because the Alpha strike mentality doesn’t appeal to me. However this time it’s how the cookie crumbled.

Round 4 vs Mardu Pyromancer piloted by Lucian
Ok. This doesn’t even count. The guy didn’t even play the deck before that tournament. I won, but it was also close enough and I was depending on top decking a finisher, what a Shock (pun intended). What can one even learn from this? Perhaps prepare better? I sound like a broken record. He played for fun and so did I. I wanted to win, but come on…Remember the planets thing that should have happened for my draft deck? I needed that, the eclipse and world peace to happen at the same time. And I’ll throw in also meeting J. Cole and shaking hands with him for a random personal factor that would definitely have influenced my performance in the modern tournament. But none of those things happened. Math is simple though: 0+0+0+0 equals to git gud scrub.

Round 5 vs Mirror piloted by Jozsef
The final round found me at table 7 facing off against another burn deck. No shade to burn players, but that’s usually where they end up in a real tournament. People are just ready for this deck way too often. It sometimes has multiple explosive starts over the course of a tournament, but you’ll eventually just not be able to break fast enough or push the pedal to the metal to maintain the rollercoaster style of deck that you’re on. I played a variant with one Stomping Ground main deck for 3 Destructive Revelry, which I had in my sideboard, that I suspect were there to counter the everpresent Leyline of Sanctity. I saw 0 Leylines. Sometimes not actually preparing for your counter because everyone else is ready for something else, that maybe few people are playing, because we meta the meta and finally we end up with…what the fuck are people even playing in modern anyway right now?  Doesn’t matter. I lost the match. Funny how Eidolon rhymes with “my will to play this deck is totally and utterly gone”. Lesson learned. Don’t play this type of deck again.

It’s very possible that some of you read this from a very frustrated point of view. It’s half true. I was frustrated and writing about my feelings regarding the events did bring back some salty moments, but you’ll be pleased to know that I am actually treating this as a lesson in my ascent to higher playing levels. I am a firm believer of quality over quantity, so my practice sessions may not become more frequent, but they sure as hell will be much more intense and rich in information. I want to actually trust myself with the deck I will choose for the next GP, which is Lille in about a month. I am already set on going there with the small team I have assembled and I plan on having a better result than I had at my last GP which was in Barcelona for Modern. Lille is Standard post rotation and the playing field is not yet known. Magic Online can provide some sort of data to know which horse to bet on, but the element of surprise may be quite useful here. Brewing has always been fun and I need to get my hands dirty if I want the hit the holy grail of the upcoming format. High chance that I fall, but that’s another lesson that I can use going further. The path of excellence isn’t paved with flawless wins. One will most likely learn more from defeat than victory. And that’s the win I got from all of this. That’s what I learned: to win you need to lose. A lot. Then get up and give it another go.

P.S. Play the best deck in the format if you have little practice. I heard that helps…

See you in the Arena!