Frame—that is, one’s frame of mind going into a Magic tournament—is a concept I’m having a hard time getting a handle on. In an effort to place the blame anywhere but on myself, I’ll say that the reason it’s hard to analyze what makes one player’s frame good and another’s bad is that mindsets are unique to people. What works for Brian might not work so great for Steve. Maybe Steve needs to always be told to take it easy, relax, and take the tournament one game at a time. Maybe Brian needs to be reminded that he deserves to be 4–0 in this PTQ. Despite having considerably fewer free wins against shitty players, he has the play skill to win out and clinch that
Top 8 pin Top 8 box. If Brian hears the advice that would be better suited to Steve, it might not end so well.
The players with the best frames usually don’t depend on any outside encouragement at all; they’ve played and performed well in so many tournaments that they know what they need to hear, and more important, they believe it.
In fifteen weeks, I’m still not quite there yet.
I don’t travel a lot for Magic. I can blame that on lots of things—school, money, other shit—but the result is that I don’t quite have as much experience taking control of a big tournament as I think I’d have if I made Magic a bigger chunk of my life. I don’t regret making school a priority over Magic (especially now that high-level Magic play has something of an indeterminate future), but the fact remains that I don’t really have a lot of experience playing against total strangers. That’s an important thing to have. Having the confidence to go head-to-head against an unknown opponent and know you’re the favorite to come out victorious is crucial to bettering your frame. Whether you’re actually the favorite in a game is irrelevant; if you think you’re always the favorite, you’re 100% more likely to try to look for lines to play out of losing situations instead of accepting your fate. Most players lack this confidence—it’s those who don’t who have the best chance to pull out games in which both players experience comparable luck and have a reasonably close matchup between decks.
As it stands, I’m just above a fifty-fifty win ratio against total strangers. That’s not good enough for me to be able to go into every tournament with a positive frame.
Jun’ya Iyanaga’s deck really inspired a lot of confidence, though. Despite the fact that it was public knowledge going into FNM, and probably among the higher-profile lists to come out of Worlds (I mean, he won the fucking thing), I had a lot of confidence in the deck’s game plan. It looked consistent, and it did powerful things in relation to what other decks in the format were doing. Here’s the list again, for reference:
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Inferno Titan
4 Primeval Titan
4 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Galvanic Blast
2 Devil's Play
2 Green Sun's Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
4 Sphere of the Suns
3 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Copperline Gorge
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Rootbound Crag
1 Viridian Corrupter
2 Tree of Redemption
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Beast Within
2 Ancient Grudge
4 Autumn's Veil
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
I don’t mind saying that I went into this tournament as confident as possible. I fully planned on rattling off a quick 4–0 and taking my winnings to the bar; all my friends from high school were in our hometown for Thanksgiving (about a half an hour south of where I was playing FNM), and I was all about getting there as soon as possible and getting all Hasselhoffed out with a bunch of guys I only see about four times a year.
I get to the shop and notice a lot of new people tonight—all of whom are small children. I resolve to win my first round and never have to play any of them, because playing against small children requires patience, kindness, and the self-discipline to stop fucking cursing. I possess none of these things.
Round 1 – Joe Easton
Joe is another Bills fan, so while we shuffle, we commiserate about the status of our team—the fall from grace, how only the best players on the team ever get injured, how shitty it is that Buffalo made the Dolphins look like an actual football team, and so on. We decide that there is a silver lining to Fred Jackson being put on the IR, though: Since it’s a contract year for him, the Bills can resign him on the cheap since he’s coming off an injury. Isn’t football great?
Joe starts with a U/R mana base and plays cards like Gitaxian Probe. He sees a lot of lands and Shocks. He keeps playing things like Ponder, Desperate Ravings, Forbidden Alchemy, and an Arc Trail (while neither of us has creatures in play), while I keep killing his Inkmoth Nexuses and Chandra's Phoenix. Somewhere in this mess of a game, he sticks a Runechanter's Pike, which I have no way of interacting with in Game 1, to go with his freshly rebought Chandra's Phoenix. Instead of suiting up his Chandra's Phoenix, he leaves 2 mana up and just attacks for 2, putting me to 14.
I’ve drawn lots and lots of lands in a row thanks to a lack of early Rampant Growths or Solemn Simulacrums, so despite my wealth of land, not all of them are in play. I know Joe has the Mana Leak, but I have to cast my Inferno Titan anyway and just hope he doesn’t have it; I have no other outs to his Runechanter's Pike and his graveyard full of spells. I cast Inferno Titan, he shows me the Mana Leak, and next turn, he cast and equips another Runechanter's Pike and hits me for exactly 14.
Game 2 starts off with a mulligan from me, which turns into five lands and a Birds of Paradise. I don’t want to keep this hand. I also don’t want to mulligan to five on the play. I try to convince myself that I have a better chance of winning by drawing into a lot of action with this hand than I do mulling to five. This turned out to be quite false. With ramp decks like this one, mulling aggressively into spells is an important part of playing the deck because it’s just too easy to draw all lands all game. The spell I should’ve been looking for in this particular matchup was Ancient Grudge; without his Runechanter's Pikes, all he has are 1/1’s and 2/2’s against my Titans, and even with a couple of little guys beating on me, this gives me more than enough time to piece together an Autumn's Veil/Primeval Titan turn.
After I do nothing on my second turn with 3 mana at my disposal, he has a turn-two Invisible Stalker. Somewhere in the time it takes for me to untap my lands for my turn, it hits me like a game-winning touchdown catch falling safely out of Stevie Johnson’s hands and onto the ground . . . I boarded out my Slagstorms. And like Stevie Johnson, I fully intended to blame God for this one.
I didn’t see any Invisible Stalkers Game 1, and I wasn’t able to scout the sick Runechanter's Pike deck on the Worlds coverage page or anything, but I definitely should’ve anticipated Invisible Stalker and kept in at least two Slagstorms. As much as I’d like to blame the Almighty, this one was all on me.
The game goes the way you’d expect a game to go after one player makes many mistakes and the other player makes considerably fewer, if any. I don’t draw into much action, further punishing my poor choice of keeping five lands and a Birds of Paradise, and Joe soon has a Runechanter's Pike to go with his Invisible Stalker. He slow-rolls a Flashfreeze on my Viridian Corrupter, assures me that he’s not slow-rolling me, and follows it up with a second Runechanter's Pike to hit me for more than my life total, which, at that point, is 11.
I see that all of the small children have lost in the first round, but some adults have, too. I hope to be paired against one of them.
Round 2 – Ryan “Steve” Nguyen
Ryan Nguyen is a small child. His name is Ryan, but he replies to Steve. I’m still not sure why, but it’s a funny thing, and he’s a good sport about it.
If I had to guess, I’d say Steve is about seven years old. My only experience with him happened Innistrad Game Day, when my final-round opponent searched for a Balefire Dragon in his deck with a Genesis Wave but couldn’t find it. He announced this, and people started looking everywhere for it. It was soon found among Steve’s things. He had just seen it on the table and nabbed it.
I don’t know if that reflects on Steve so much; he’s really young and has time to grow out of stuff like that. I know that I have a tough time recognizing the difference between when kids do things because they’re young and don’t know better and when they do things while cognizant of the ethical ramifications of what they’re doing. This is why I would make a shitty parent. It’s probably important to remember that I’m twenty-two years old and twenty-two-year-olds don’t know shit.
I keep a one-lander on the play Game 1, but the hand also contained a Slagstorm, two Sphere of the Suns, and a Rampant Growth. I don’t know if I’d keep this hand against anyone who isn’t a small child, but I’m bailed out when I top-deck a land and start ramping. He gets some little guys—an Elite Vanguard, a Leonin Skyhunter, and a Gideon's Lawkeeper—and they all die to a Slagstorm. Steve follows up my Slagstorm with an Elspeth Tirel, but he doesn’t activate it. I can understand him not wanting to −2 Elspeth Tirel against me, but I think him not using the +2 is a mistake, and I make a note to chat with him about that after the game. Either way, it doesn’t really matter; he passes the turn back to me and his Elspeth Tirel dies to a combination of Galvanic Blast and Inferno Titan, which would’ve happened if he’d used the −2. Even if he used the +2, he’d have an Elspeth Tirel with 3 counters, and I’d still have a Galvanic Blast in my hand. Inferno Titan sealed the deal from there.
While we shuffle between games, Steve watches the game going on next to us, which is a mirror match between two U/R tempo decks. Two Snapcaster Mages attacked on one side, and the defending player cast a Snapcaster Mage of his own and targeted a Shock in his graveyard, and he traded with both attacking Snapcaster Mages. Steve let out a very loud, “WHHOOOOAAAA!,” because Steve is very enthusiastic about everything going on around him. At that point, I remind Steve that you’re not supposed to talk about other people’s matches while they’re going on, and we get on with our game.
After resolving Primeval Titan’s enters-the-battlefield trigger, I present my deck to Steve, who ignores it at first.
“Do you want to cut?”
“Why do I cut your deck?”
“You’re supposed to offer your deck to your opponent every time after you shuffle so that he can cut.”
Round 3 – Doug McKay
I’m pretty surprised to see Doug in the 1–1 bracket; he’s a local and among the better players I’ve ever played against, and I just hadn’t expected him to drop a round tonight. He’s playing a Naya homebrew because Doug has a love affair with Forests.
Doug weathers a lot of beats Game 1, and he slowly advances his board position with a couple copies of Viridian Emissary and a Batterskull. I didn’t care about any of this because I resolve two Primeval Titans, and when one draws an Oblivion Ring, I decide I’m going to win the game on the back of Inkmoth Nexuses. In doing so, I play right into the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite that was waiting for me at the top of his curve, and I get rocked.
We trade blows for a while in Game 2; I have Thrun, the Last Troll and a Sword of Feast and Famine while he buys time with a pair of Gideon Juras—just trying to buy enough time to find an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. I eventually outlast his Gideon Juras and start applying real pressure by backing up my already formidable board presence with an Inferno Titan. I can’t remember what happened after that, but he played a Mimic Vat in the main phase after my Inferno Titan died, and that ended up costing him the game . . . because I was at 6.
Game 3 was another one I don’t really remember that well since the match went pretty long, but I remember resolving a Primeval Titan that Doug didn’t have any answers for, and it got a lot of lands from my deck onto my battlefield. I also recall casting a fully charged Galvanic Blast on a Germ token wearing a Batterskull that game and feeling really great about it.
Round 4 – Phil Blechman
Game 1, I start with three Rampant Growths. Meanwhile, all his lands enter the battlefield tapped except for his first three, which were all Darkslick Shores. His lands betray the mana base of some kind of Esper homebrew. We don’t interact much—I play around Mana Leak and he draws a lot of Mana Leaks.
Our second game is a bummer. He plays an early Torpor Orb and just makes a lot of mistakes, including plopping down a Viridian Corrupter onto it and playing a Thrun, the Last Troll while he’s tapped out instead of an Inferno Titan. At this point, I just want to get out of Syracuse so I can have too many drinks with all the people who hate my Twitter account because all I talk about is stupid Magic.
I feel bad for the people I went to high school with who follow me on Twitter. None of them play Magic, but they all have to put up with me talking in this weird, stupid foreign language. To their credit, they don’t complain about it (okay, one girl did, but she’s the worst), but I still can’t help but feel bad. It’s because these guys I actually like don’t complain that I get annoyed whenever some rando who follows me (it’s always one I don’t follow back . . . always) becomes annoyed that I happen to talk about football a lot on Sundays. Seriously, just unfollow me. I couldn’t give a shit. People I actually like put up with far worse; and besides, my life isn’t just goddamn Magic. Jesus Christ, it’s one day a week during the fall. I don’t give a shit about the percentage of my followers who are following me because of Magic—I’m not bound to talk about just Magic 24/7. Every time I get one of these messages, it drives me to wonder: Is there a group of people more entitled than Magic players?
I feel that I lost the match to Phil for the same reason I lost the match to Joe: I didn’t mulligan aggressively enough to find Ancient Grudge. It can’t be understated how much Torpor Orb absolutely hoses this deck. Our third game, Phil went Spellskite, Sword of Feast and Famine, and Torpor Orb, in that order. Because those crippling early plays were backed up by countermagic, I just couldn’t simultaneously fight through it and also build up my own board presence.
A lot of people asked me how I liked the deck that night. I didn’t really have any concrete thoughts on it, but now I feel that I’m able to make some calls on the deck.
It’s obviously very good and has a lot of raw power. The most skill-intensive part of playing the deck is definitely mulliganing decisions; without any deck manipulation, you’re definitely at the mercy of your deck, and decks that run as many lands as this one are not forgiving. Keeping a mana-light hand usually works out because you’ll naturally draw a lot of lands as the game wears on, and games usually hinge not on how many lands you have (because with so much mana-ramp, they are pretty much guaranteed), but how many big spells you draw. So, mulligan aggressively into spells. As far as the deck itself, I’d consider swapping the Shock for a third Green Sun's Zenith, but nothing too extreme. I’d definitely want the full set of Ancient Grudges; in the matches you bring it in, you always want to draw it, and you’ll never be mad about drawing multiples because it’s so powerful. When it’s good, it’s really good.
I wish I could’ve identified how aggressively I’d have to mulligan, but I’m also not that great at Magic. However, I am grateful I was able to take away the lesson this week.