Plus Winners Tournament Report: Jeskai Nahiri at the Modern WMCQ
“Are you finished? You’re starting to sound finished.” — Red, Orange is the New Black
So, For the last few weeks David Inglis has been super positive about Modern, telling me that it’s much better than it’s been in years and that it’s going to be great playing with all the good cards. For my part, I have been trying really hard not to rain on the parade; I’ve always struggled with Modern since the very beginning of the format, and I’ve not even been winning at standard (which I am much better at) recently, so I’ve sort of been expecting to get kicked around for another three months.
Still, I did my best to be objective about it, and to be fair the Jeskai Nahiri deck is exactly the sort of thing I’d like to be doing in Modern, and the success I’ve had in that format has been largely with those sorts of decks. We began testing about ten days before the WMCQ, and the deck was preforming well against almost everything, with Infect being closer than expected and Suicide Zoo being pretty hit and miss. Still, the format seems relatively stable and Nahiri seems pretty decent against the most represented decks on Magic Online (those were Jund, Infect, Zooicide, Affinity, Burn, Jeskai Nahiri and Red Green Tron at the time. Dredge and Bant Eldrazi have risen in popularity since).
This is the deck I played.
4 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
3 Ancestral Vision
2 Serum Visions
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Snare
4 Path to Exile
3 Mana Leak
2 Lightning Helix
2 Cryptic Command
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Arid Mesa
3 Flooded Strand
1 Sacred Foundry
2 Steam Vents
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Celestial Colonnade
2 Sulfur Falls
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Desolate Lighthouse
2 Crumble to Dust
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Stony Silence
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Wear // Tear
1 Izzet Staticaster
2 Supreme Verdict
I didn’t sleep very well the night before, which seems to be a semi regular occurrence before big events for me at the moment. It’s hardly ideal either as, unsurprisingly, the older I get the more I feel it when I don’t get enough sleep. I also didn’t eat breakfast, which was a mistake because *that* is mattering more these days too.
I played really badly in my first round, but it was against Abzan where I think I am quite heavy favourite, my opponent didn’t draw well, and I did, so I got away with it. I continued to play badly in the second round, and lost to Abzan Company.
I messaged David with an update saying “I’m 1-1 but playing really badly so likely not long for this world”. Not exactly an auspicious beginning, but life is so strange sometimes. As many of you will know, I didn’t lose another match for ten rounds, and now I’m going to the Magic World Cup, but at the end of round two I had pretty much accepted that it was going to be a disappointing day.
Rounds 3-7 I just did my best to play good Magic, maybe learn a bit about the deck for the PPTQ season, but really thinking “at some point I’ll lose another one, and I’ll stop holding the rest of the car up from going home”.
Round 8 was a bit of a tipping point because it was a very close match against Zooicide, which is a match up I am generally concerned about for the deck, but I won, and I mentally shifted gears. Upon checking the standings it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to ID safely, so I didn’t even discuss it with my opponent who – it turns out – was on 19 points anyway, so certainly couldn’t ID.
After this round I went to a trader to discuss the relative prices of the prizes between 2nd-8th which we were essentially to draft in order of swiss standings – the idea of losing a match in the top 8, and taking the less valuable prize as a result of ignorance *really* bothered me.
I’m not sure I played my quarters especially well, and there was a one turn window in game three in which I could have been blown out by Become Immense, I think I played my semis pretty well, but it’s so hard to tell in a mirror where you have Cryptic Command and they don’t. The final was pretty tight, and I wish I had considered that he might have Molten Rain in his 75 as this might have meant I could win game two, instead of going to a relatively precarious game three.
Often it’s losing and hardship that teach us the most, but I think I’ve picked up a few gems from this experience which I’d like to pass on to you, too.
5 Important Lessons I Learn From Losing, And Winning
5. Always be objective, and be mindful of self-doubt.
When you’ve been losing for a while, it’s natural – and smart – to look for a cause. If you can work out what it is that’s causing you to lose, you can fix it; this is problem solving diagnostics 101. Magic: The Gathering is a very complicated game in this respect, as you could be losing for so many different reasons, and there is no way to isolate variables effectively to pinpoint the problem. This can lead to a situation where you begin to doubt everything you do, which undermines and compromises your play further, resulting in more losing. It’s a vicious cycle.
At various points I considered changing the way I was selecting decks and simply playing whatever was generally thought to be the best deck at the time, because I was no longer sure I could make effective judgements, and if a lot of people think something is correct, more often than not it will be at least a viable option.
It’s important to do your best to remain as objective as possible, and to apply critical analysis to the things you think, as well as the things other people say.
When the thought “maybe I can’t choose decks effectively in this format” occurs, you need to think “what good reason is there to think this, beyond my results? What could be causal factor in those results?”. Part of the problem for me is that Collected Company is extremely limiting in respect to some of my biggest strengths. I’m best with control, beatdown and higher end midrange decks, none of which are in a great place to make use of a card which really wants 28 or more creatures – with an emphasis on 3cc creatures, as they’re the best hits – to make sure it is consistent. I’m pretty good at developing/tweaking decks – but there is not a lot you can do when you cant really play any spells. I’m good at playing attrition games – collected company, especially combined with cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Dromoka’s Command do a lot to either make the game about tempo, or card quality, not attrition.
If I’d foreseen how dominant Collected Company and Tokens decks would be throughout this Standard season it might have been correct simply to sleeve them up and get loads of games in. I’m still not sure on this count, but the point is that I’m glad I kept my cool and kept thinking about it rationally, instead of just asking other people what to play until I was winning enough that I felt competent again.
4. Helpful advice isn’t always helpful. Always assess the source.
If you’re losing, people will have things to say about it, and for the most part it will genuinely be intended to be helpful. The issue is that the sources of this advice didn’t suddenly get better – they still know as much or as little as they did before you started losing, all things being equal. Combine this with the usual tendency for people to express opinions without substantiating arguments, and the value of the information becomes pretty opaque.
In the absence of a rational argument, the credibility of the source becomes increasingly relevant, and so critical analysis of the source is essential. For instance if they say “I think you’re letting >Player X< influence you to play control over midrange too much”, you should really ask yourself “why should I be listening to this guy, and not >Player X<?”, “is this person aware that I barely played a midrange deck in my life prior to the last few years – where they’ve been too good to pass up – and previously played control *all the time*?” and “how much does this person actually know about the dynamic between >Player X< and myself?”. In short, even when you have very little in the way of directly applicable evidence to evaluate a statement with, there are loads of other things you can take into account before you make a judgement about the extent to which you’re going to take their idea on board.
You’ll also likely end up in situations where people will use the fact that you’ve been losing as their rebuttal to your well-reasoned point (classic ad hominem fallacy). If they say “And how’s that been working out for you?” without immediately going on to explain how your losing (in general) has direct implications for the point you’ve made (in particular), you’ll be left in a situation where you can’t say much at the time, and they can pretty much say that any time you say anything, until you win again…
….But it’s not a real argument, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re correct. Ideally, you’ll win something pretty big shortly after, and think “it’s working out just fine, thanks!”, but even if that doesn’t happen, you oughtn’t let other people’s ego impact you in anyway.
3. Don’t tilt. Yes it’s cliched, and it’s always easier said than done.
This is the easiest thing to say, and one of the hardest to stop, but it was clearly instrumental in winning this event for me. At the end of round two if I had just allowed myself to become frustrated, I would have compromised my play even further and it seems exceedingly unlikely that I would have continued winning. As it happens I was lucky both in terms of the cards I drew and the match ups I faced, but any time you win a tournament – particularly in the case of big ones – you’re going to need to get lucky; by keeping your mental game strong you allow yourself to be able to take advantages of the precious changes you get to have a good run.
I think what made it easy for me to do this on this occasion was that I knew I wasn’t in great shape for the reasons I mentioned above, and so it seemed pretty reasonable that I might lose, but largely I think it was about the second point I’m going to make.
2. Winning and losing are transient states. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and that’s OK.
If you’re going to play Magic: The Gathering at a competitive level for a prolonged period of time, you will experience both good and bad runs. Sometimes this is because you’re playing well and winning, sometimes it’s because you’re onto a good thing in respect to the decks you’re drafting in limited or building for constructed, sometimes it’s because you’re practising a lot, sometimes it’s because you just care more about it than the other people so you try harder on the day (although, this is less of a thing than the other ones I mentioned – it’s not all about the “big heart”), or the inverse of these things.
Maybe it will be that you make an internal change, or an external factor like the format changes, and this allows for a change in how often you win or lose. But sometimes you’re just getting lucky or unlucky. There is a tendency to try to make winning and losing about internal factors, so that we can control what happens – e.g. stop losing – and while this is a better idea that simply calling it all luck, this can go the other way too, and have you beating yourself up over things you have no control over, which is of course, pointless and harmful.
Again, this is *really* hard to keep perspective on, and I was writing about just how awful some of this stuff feels the other week, because god knows I was on a bad, bad run. I didn’t *really* change anything – I played the sort of deck I like playing, and I took the first list I saw from the internet and made very marginal changes, because it had all the cards I’d like to play. The format changed, I suppose, and it might happen to be the case that Jeskai Nahiri is a better choice in modern than all the decks I’ve been playing in Standard have been in Standard.
All I really did was kept doing the best I could (for the most part) and tried not to let it bother me too much that I wasn’t getting anywhere. It’s certainly very comforting to get “paid off”, but even if I hadn’t been this weekend, I know I would have been in time. It’s definitely nice that it came in the form of winning a WMCQ instead of a PPTQ, which is more what I expected – a bad patch, then a return to normalcy, then perhaps winning an RPTQ in the next 18 months to 2 years. As it works out, me and Magic are buddies again – I even attended a Eldritch Moon prerelease, as I feel like I can be sufficiently pleasant now, while I’d skipped them for the last little while due to my increasingly short fuse.
1. People will be genuinely glad for you when you win something big, and that’s what special about our Magic community.
When I won a PTQ for Atlanta in 2014 it was the first time I had a Facebook account when I’d won something like that (I’m a bit of a Luddite, really), and the response from people then was really overwhelming – loads and loads of messages and posts on my wall. To an extent I think I’d forgotten what that was like, but some of the PMs from people this time were really thoughtful. It’s one thing when someone likes a post, or types “grats”, and that’s nice, but some of the PMs I thought “wow, this person is happier than I am!” It was nice to see that people were following my life enough to know I was having a bad time in cards and sort of stumbling to my feet with the rest of it, even if I don’t see those people regularly. I’m sure you know who you are!
Time for this week’s fable – The Forgetful Weasel
Once upon a time, there was a weasel that really enjoyed Variance Chess. The Weasel always wanted to go to every single event he could, and engaged in the game and with the people who played as much as weaslely possible. Over time this resulted in the Weasel developing a rich network of friends who he could get lifts from, go to events with, borrow stuff from and so on. This was terribly helpful to the Weasel because he didn’t have a car, or all the equipment to play variance chess, and was sometimes short of the cash to eat out or pay for petrol.
The problem was that Weasel was oh so forgetful. He would often forget to pay the driver, or forget to give equipment back, and would even forget how to do basic addition when it came to splitting the bill when he and his friends were eating out!
It wasn’t long before the Weasel found he got invited to things less, and people were less willing to help him out, because they thought he might be being dishonest about his memory.
And the moral of the story is, “If you have a crap memory, take notes and develop memory aids so you don’t forget, and if that’s not *really* the problem, stop trying to short change your mates!”
All the best,