Just over a week ago, I competed in Mythic Championship VI (MCVI) in Richmond, Virginia. I had hoped to get my thoughts on my experience out a bit earlier (last week) but my flight schedule combined with some ensuing jetlag caused some delay. In this article, I’ll reflect on the before, during, and after of the trip to provide some insight into playing Magic at the highest level. Hopefully, this will provide people who aspire to qualify for these high-level tournaments some perspective from the point of view of someone making their first attempt.
Preparing for MCVI
I qualified for this event in September, but between then and the event both the limited and constructed formats were going to change. This meant that I didn’t really begin any preparation until October. This was going to be my biggest Magic event in terms of profile, so I wanted to make sure I did my homework – most of my opponents would have!
On Throne of Eldraine’s release, many were talking about why Field of the Dead was going to get banned in Standard. I, therefore, decided to start preparing for Limited first while the Standard format resolved itself. I don’t attend a lot of Competitive Limited events, mainly drafting infrequently online and at FNM. To obtain my Limited format knowledge, I often rely on reading articles or listening to the Limited Resources (LR) podcast and try out some of the things they suggest when I draft. This time I wanted my actual drafting to be informed by theory rather than relying on the theory – so I jumped straight into the world of ELD Limited before I even absorbed any content on the subject.
I believe MTGArena (MTGA) is the cheapest way to draft, and it also provides the most fun digital experience – I certainly enjoy it more than Magic Online (MTGO). However, after doing only a few drafts on MTGA, I started to notice a few pitfalls of drafting against the bots (as opposed to other humans). I’ve summarised these in the bullet points below:
- Black commons, particularly Reave Soul, are undervalued and stay in packs a lot later than they normally would.
- Merfolk Secretkeeper and So Tiny are undervalued and wheel more than they normally would.
- As a result of the above, I built and faced a disproportionate number of blue and/or black decks with multiple copies of either Merfolk Secretkeeper or Reave Soul (or both!). This made blue and black stronger and more popular colours right off the bat.
I decided that these factors alone were probably giving me a distorted perception of the format and that it was worth making sure that I wasn’t going into the drafts at MCVI with this affecting me either consciously or subconsciously, so I started to instead draft on MTGO.
MTGO drafting opened my eyes a lot more to the possibilities of drafting decks that were mono-coloured (or mono with a slight splash). As I expected, the Reave Souls and Merfolk Secretkeepers didn’t come round as much as they had on MTGA and there was no pressure to lean towards blue or black as a result. I had some successes and failures with almost every archetype and colour combination.
I also wrote two articles on Limited, one in the form of some hand-picked cards that I thought were worse or better than they appear (I now think Bloodhaze Wolverine is just bad, and Oakhame Ranger is a lot worse than it looks) and a breakdown of each two colour archetype from a synergy point of view. Writing these articles helped me stabilise my thoughts and sense check my views on the format.
Comparing the views I had developed to those of prominent content creators provided some assurances of and some challenges to my thinking. I listened to LR and tuned into some Twitch channels to expand on my horizons – I’ve linked the relevant LR episodes and the channels I tuned into most frequently below.
In the end, I decided that despite there being some synergy-driven strategies in the format, there’s a lot of value to staying open during the draft (rather than trying to get into a lane early and stick to it). This is a heuristic for drafting in general, but I think it’s particularly important for this set as compared to others. I found that the games played out better when my secondary colour was a small portion of the deck rather than when it was almost half the deck. I also wanted to avoid the temptation to splash a third colour unless I was splashing a 10/10 like Garruk, Cursed Hunter, Lochmere Serpent, or Sundering Stroke.
Preparing for Limited the way I did provided me with an inner confidence to make pick decisions and understand game plans across colour pairs or card combinations. Not every draft works out the way the theory says it will, and in those cases, it felt good making decisions assertively rather than like a deer in the headlights!
After Field of the Dead got banned and I knew what cards would be legal, I started to play some Standard. Again, a lot of this was done online and I was happy just doing this on MTGA, mostly for convenience.
It was hotly anticipated that Oko, Thief of Crowns would take over Standard once Field of the Dead was gone, and the card was everywhere! I started out by playing some of the Simic food decks from Mythic Championship V but with alterations considering that Field of the Dead decks weren’t really in the format anymore. This meant cutting the maindeck Disdainful Strokes for proactive cards like Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and Brazen Borrower.
Sooner or later, the black splash for maindeck Noxious Grasp fell onto my radar. The Sultai version played a less aggressive strategy but included more answers to the opponent’s Planeswalkers. While it might have been more exciting to try out a range of decks, the popularity of the food deck spoke for itself. I decided that I was going to put all my eggs into one basket by assuming that this type of deck was going to be very popular at MC VI and put my efforts into learning how to play the deck, particularly the mirror match, and make sure I could assemble all the cards. This was in spite of rumblings that people would play decks that tried to go over the top of food decks – for example Temur Reclamation, Esper Doom, or Jeskai Fires. This didn’t deter me that much because when I faced these decks with my build, it felt like playing Temur Energy again. Game one felt unfavoured, but if I drew my sideboard cards in games two or three they felt very manageable. One thing that kept me on Sultai was the ability to play both Duress AND Negate. The matchup that surprised me the most in testing was Gruul Aggro. I had first thought that this matchup would be quite favourable. Between Kraul Harpooners slaying my Geese and Once Upon a Time helping opponents either curve out smoothly or topdeck more haste creatures mid to late in the game I found it even at best.
It was a bit daunting knowing that many of my opponents would be playing the same deck as me, and likely with a higher proficiency. I tried quite hard, particularly in the week leading up to the tournament, to harness whatever edges I could. Fortunately, I stumbled across the following (SCG Premium) article written by Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica Champion Andrew Elenbogen. I found it offered very useful perspectives and ended up playing the same list in the article as I felt it was going further with a lot of points that I agreed with fundamentally.
The Mythic Championship was part of Magic Fest Richmond which was taking place from Thursday to Sunday. I travelled and stayed with Tom Duffy, who won a modern PTQ with his trusty (foil) Tron deck. We arrived in Richmond on Wednesday afternoon ahead of registration on Thursday, though decklist submission was due that day. Tom was also on the same 75 for the constructed portion and we played a bit of the mirror match together before submitting our final lists.
We registered and picked up our goodies on the Thursday, which featured a certain Magic poster-child on sleeves and a t-shirt. We also played in a Mystery Booster sealed event, which I found very fun. The boosters contained ‘almost any magic card’ including a playtest card in each pack – something crazy that was legal only for this event. I ended up with a slightly aggressive blue-white flyers deck topped off by Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. I went 2-1 losing to Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar champion Kazuyuki Takimura in the finals. His deck was a very strong Jund build with Tireless Tracker and heaps of removal.
MCVI started on Friday and was attended by 496 players. For those not in the know, the format of the event was fixed at three rounds of draft followed by five rounds of constructed on both Friday and Saturday followed by a cut to Top 8 to play on Sunday. In addition, all players needed at least a 4-4 record to make the cut from Friday to Saturday. I went into the event without any expectations. Over the years of watching coverage of these events, I’ve seen players who have made Top 8 also fail to make day two sometimes, so I thought if I could make the second day of competition that would be a great achievement.
I opened a Murderous Rider in pack one but danced around in the Sultai colours quite a bit, as it wasn’t clear if I would end up in black – plenty of cards in that colour came to me, but they weren’t good ones. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that I probably wasted some picks on some 5/10 black cards when I should have been picking up 5/10 cards in blue or green. By the end of pack two I felt like I could still be in any of Simic, Dimir or Golgari, with Dimir being the frontrunner on the merit of the two Merfolk Secretkeepers and a Didn’t Say Please I had picked up, as well as the Murderous Rider – however this is more a testament to my other green and blue cards being quite average. Maybe it was luck or a just reward for ‘staying open’ for this long, but I was passed The Great Henge, Vantress Gargoyle, and multiple Maraleaf Pixies and Hypnotic Sprites, which left me with a playable, yet confused, Simic deck. Its gameplan was no clearer than grind the game to a halt, draw into The Great Henge and win with Moonlit Scavengers, flyers, or mill – whichever lined up better!
You could say I was extremely fortunate to go 2-1 with this deck, and luck was involved. It doesn’t have a curve and relies quite a bit on its ‘value cards’, particularly The Great Henge. However, I think the deck did a great job of ramping into 4/5. In round one I managed to grind a Boros Knights deck to a bit of a halt and steal game three with a Merfolk Secretkeeper plus Lucky Clover. I had kept the Clover in hand for a long time because of Embereth Shieldbreaker. With us both having five cards left in our decks, it looked like my opponent was going to close the game, but on what was effectively my last turn, I topdecked one of my two 0/4s left to mill my opponent in one go before they could finish the job next turn. In round two I got utterly crushed by an aggressive Orzhov deck that had not one, but two The Circle of Loyalty (just in case one got milled, destroyed or countered, I guess). In round three my opponent was also playing Simic and had a real curve and better interaction but I was able to leverage Moonlit Scavengers ahead of curve and cast The Great Henge in both games.
- R4 vs Sultai Food 2-0 WIN
- R5 vs Sultai Food 1-2 LOSS
- R6 vs Golgari Adventures 2-1 WIN
- R7 vs Sultai Food 0-2 LOSS
- R8 vs Sultai Food 1-2 LOSS
I went 1-3 in the mirrors, but I managed to go 4-4 overall, which meant I had made day two! The match against Golgari Adventures was quite close, and game three was fairly tense, but with both of us in topdeck mode, I started chaining one Hydroid Krasis into the next while my opponent was drawing 1/1s. Maybe I let the euphoria of advancement to Saturday’s play affect me in my last round (I got nut drawn twice in round seven, it was over in 10 minutes!).
The draft went very well, other than that I think I could have ended up mono-blue instead of ‘splashing’ black for Clackbridge Troll and Reave Soul. I took two So Tiny‘s in pack three over Thunderous Snapper and Archanist’s Owl. At that point, I had convinced myself I was Dimir and instinctively took the So Tiny’s (because running the hybrid cards and black cards wouldn’t make as much sense). I ended up running black creature cards worse than these blue ‘unsplashables’ in my deck but maybe this was a blessing in disguise as my deck’s gameplan played much better being able to hold up So Tiny and didn’t miss a 4/4 or 3/3 flyer much.
I won round one in a Dimir mirror. My opponent had Fae of Wishes and used it twice in one game. He also had Midnight Clock and, although the judge allowed him to play with the revealed ‘wished for’ cards unsleeved, it was pointed out that they definitely needed sleeving up when Clock went off! I ended up winning that game anyway, but it was certainly interesting. In round two I played against a red-black knights deck which contested me well in the first two games, but some poor draw steps from my opponent in game three allowed me to stabilise and win rather anti-climactically. In round three I played against Kazuyuki Takimura (again – and he remembered me from Thursday) but in this match I failed to hit my fourth land drop after keeping three lands four spells, and in another game I fired off a Reave Soul to save damage from a Maraleaf Pixie only to have a lot more damage forced through thanks to Gadwick, the Wizened. I had hoped to 3-0 with this deck, so it was disappointing to lose round three. Yet with the draws I had and facing a PT champion, I think 2-1 was a fair result.
- R12 vs Sultai Food 1-2 LOSS
- R13 vs Jeskai Fires 2-1 WIN
- R14 vs Sultai Food 1-2 LOSS
- R15 vs Gruul Aggro 1-2 LOSS
- R16 vs Simic Food 1-2 LOSS
I think the rails came off by the time I was playing round 15. I made a terrible mistake in that round by allowing my opponent to attack before Noxious Grasping their Questing Beast. For some reason, I thought my opponent would be able to play another new 4/4 hasty monster if I acted before they declared attacks, but if I had been focussing I would have realised this isn’t possible and used my spell! The consequence was that my opponent was able to flash in Embercleave in response to the attacking 4/4 dying and forced through extra damage, which ended up mattering. In the final round I was very ahead in game two (having won game one) but my opponent played two Aether Gusts and I must have made some poor decisions, either choosing to keep my spell on top, using the wrong mode on Oko, or mis-sequencing my other spells. I was simultaneously impressed and embarrassed how my opponent managed to turn that game around! I then lost game three to a mixture of missed land drops and a strong draw from my opponent.
I finished 7-9 in 235th place going 4-2 in draft and 3-7 in constructed! I’m actually really happy with this record and particularly pleased to have been rewarded for my draft preparation (or lucky enough to make it look like it paid off!). Isolating the constructed portion, my record wasn’t great and I’m very aware that the last two rounds I did not play my best – they felt like very winnable games that I let slip away from me and I’m trying not to let them stick in my mind as reminders of the 9-7 or 8-8 that could have been. Huge congrats to Ondrej Strasky who was apparently supposed to retire from Magic some time ago – he took down the Top 8 on Sunday with his Simic deck!
Having had time after the event to further reflect, perhaps my sideboarding was not as tight as it could have been, and I was perhaps a bit inconsistent when I had to improvise. While I’m aware it’s important to adjust on the fly when things don’t fit my main plan, I think I panicked and guessed what to do rather than having any sense of knowing what to do. For example – some (but not all) mirror-match opponents brought in Massacre Girl in postboard games, which I didn’t expect. On the fly, I sideboarded out one Nissa bringing in an extra Negate (not to counter Massacre Girl but to make up for the fact that I maybe had less Nissa’s than my opponent while reducing the probability of being ‘Armageddon‘d’ by their Massacre Girl), but I only did this on the draw as I thought that the potential for a turn three Nissa on the play should be maximised regardless. I have no idea if this was a good call or if I just made my deck weaker when I was on the draw.
Things I also did on the trip
- I found a nearby gym and exercised in the mornings before each day of competition. My motive for doing this was to clear my head before the day’s play (and to compensate for the increased number of pancakes that I would inevitably have for breakfast, I rarely eat them at home). It did involve starting the day a bit earlier, but I came to the tournament hall feeling good. I am glad I did this and would recommend finding a way to clear your head if you can when going to an event where you feel pressured to perform. Tom thought I was crazy for doing this!
- On the Sunday, I played in the Magic Fest Command Zone and it was fun meeting new people and playing some casual games. I had only brought my ‘Mono-red’ Golos deck with me but fortunately it’s suited to playing against anything from more casual decks to more serious decks – for instance, Zealous Conscripts scales depending how impactful the opponents’ cards are. I think it’s a good move by Wizards to have a catered zone for this format. While people are capable of just finding people to play games, being in a zone where you know everyone has come to play some games gives people increased confidence to just join or invite others into games, meet others, and possibly make new friends, which I think is a net positive overall. Then again, this is coming from me, someone who’ll play against anything and doesn’t mind risking getting combo’d on turn four or someone actually casting mass land destruction (I just assume it’s quite unlikely to happen, and if it happens, I move on to the next game when appropriate). If you’re averse to the risk of this, you may want to come to the Command Zone with a group of trusted friends (who you know won’t combo you on turn four or kill all your lands).
- Our flight back from Richmond was on Monday evening, so after a late rise and breakfast we hunted down a local game store in Richmond. There, I managed to trade all the cards I had obtained via random prize boosters for some obscure foil commons (and 4 Veil of Summer at $3.50 each!) and we bumped into some people I had met playing Commander the previous day.
Notes about playing at the highest level
- I’m pretty sure every mistake I noticed myself making was punished, which doesn’t always happen when I play in local events, but the players at the MC are still human and capable of mistakes too! They may have edges over an ‘average’ player, but those advantages are smaller than you’d think (there are just usually a lot more of them – a hundred tiny edges rather than being way better at 2 or 3 things). Magic is a game of skill AND luck and I was able to leverage both in the event to get my wins. I’ll admit that, going in, I was very aware of a perceived skill discrepancy between me and my opponent, but this experience has taught me that this is perhaps less material than I first thought.
- Pretty much every opponent was very nice to me. I did have some opponents who weren’t fully confident speaking English, which I understand, but they were still polite even though we didn’t chat as much. Nobody I played against made me feel unwelcome at my first MC/PT. I think there’s a perception that strong competitive magic players can be unwelcoming to less-experienced players. However, I can confirm that it certainly wasn’t the case at this event!
I can’t thank the following people enough. They helped make the trip as successful and enjoyable as it was:
- Danny Stacey, Chris Templeman, Ben Atkinson, Matt Duggan and Stephen Keenan for lending me various bits of cardboard for my Standard deck
- Alfie Bennett for talking through a couple of drafts with me and sense-checking some of my ideas about ELD Limited
- The UK players at the event for keeping the encouragement going during the tournament rounds
- Friends and followers who kept me encouraged via social media
- Everyone I met in the Command Zone on Sunday, it was great to play against you!
- Tom Duffy for being a great travelling companion and comrade throughout!
Now that half the cards in it are banned, I’ll have to abandon my current choice for any remaining Standard WNPQs. I’m also now excited to start playing some Pioneer now that MC VI is in the books.