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Making Mythic

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I made Mythic earlier this week while streaming to my largest audience yet.*

By the next day, I peaked at #81, but I've been floating between 200th and 50th, for the most part.

By some standards, I have a pretty small list of accomplishments; by others, they are pretty high. For me, making Mythic on Magic Arena felt really good.

One part of why it felt so good is that I don't generally like to grind.

Way back in the day, before the US Nationals, back when it was at Origins in Columbus, Ohio, there were a number of last chance qualifiers for Nationals that were nicknamed The Meatgrinders. These are not the last chance qualifiers that we know of today, with small little pods competing for a single slot. These were many hundred player events in single elimination, with the Top 4 of each qualifying. Playing seven or eight rounds and not qualifying, then hopping into another seven round event was something many people did in the attempt to Q. It was grueling, and that concept - meatgrinders - just felt so apt. Like everyone else who wasn't Q'ed, I played in them too, but I have always hated the feel of "the grind".

Since I don't like to grind, what I typically do is I play what I'm enjoying. Since this also means that the decks I'm tinkering with are in the mix, this doesn't always mean a lot of winning. I'm a huge fan of experimentation, and climbing the Magic Arena ladder successfully isn't a priority.

That doesn't mean when it happened so rapidly, I didn't love it.

On reflection, though, it feels worth asking, "How did that happen?"

Beginnings

I was sitting smack dab at the bottom of Platinum when things started picking up. I was thinking in large part about Best of One (simply, Ranked Constructed on Arena) in preparation for the Mythic Invitational. I wasn't at all invited - nowhere even close! - but I had a few people asking my thoughts, and so I spent some time contemplating what it means to do well in Best of One, especially after Nexus of Fate was banned in the format.

The obvious thing is that very powerful, linear strategies seem very worth exploring since there won't be an opportunity to respond to them. As a simple corollary, purely reactive strategies take a big hit since you won't necessarily have the tools to fight the right opponent, and you won't get the opportunity to alter your approach.

My friend Matt Severa sparked much of my work on one of my decks for Best of One when he mentioned to me in chat that Niv-Mizzet, Parun might be quite good in Best of One, since most of the best ways to handle the card are most likely to be found in sideboards.

All of this made a lot of sense to me, and I started work on Niv-Mizzet, Parun decks. As I mentioned in the article on Niv from last week, I'd already abandoned my GP Milwaukee-winning deck. It just doesn't feel like it is the best way to use Niv-Mizzet, Parun, any more, and while I felt fairly solid about it when I selected it for Mythic Championship Cleveland, I've become more confident that the choice was a mistake. Simply put, the Jeskai version is just too reactive, and there are too many good active cards you could be using to take more advantage of Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

As I wrote about last week, my first deck that felt like it "got there" was Temur Reclamation. Since that article, I slightly updated the list:


This deck is only a gentle nudge away from what I was doing previously.

The more traditional versions of this build tend to run four Shivan Fire, and my older version had gone to three Shivan Fire, replacing one with a Shock. In my experience in the Jeskai Hybrid Control deck, I'd discovered that there was a lot of value in just a single Shock in a deck with Niv-Mizzet; you could facilitate a surprising number of kills, and oftentimes the ability to just do two damage to the opponent was relevant. Even without Niv-Mizzet, Parun, killing a Planeswalker was relevant.

Well, after playing the deck for a bit, I moved up to two Shocks, replacing another Shivan Fire. Yes, sometimes I kick a Shivan Fire, but more often, I Shock a Planeswalker (or a face).

The other switch was cutting one of my two Opt and moving toward a more traditional higher count of Chemister's Insight. It is just simply the case that sometimes, it is the only card you really want. At the same time, this is still a three Niv-Mizzet, Parun deck, and I want to have enough cards that work really well with Niv-Mizzet to feel like I can pay it off. I don't know that I want another Chemister's Insight, but I do sometime contemplate that second Opt.

Now, both of these changes are very minor, but they also leave some people contemplating the "weirdness" of the numbers, especially on Opt. I have some sympathy for that, but what I'm looking for in the deck is really a question of real estate: I want a certain number of cards that do certain roles. Opt is a card that I want, but it is certainly the least important one. If I could run three, I would, but I didn't have room before, so I ran two. Then, when I discovered I needed an extra Chemister's Insight, the card that was doing that kind of work was Opt. Now, I wish I had two Opt, and if there were room, I'd play that second copy, but there simply isn't room.

Playing this deck gave me a big bump, but I was still in the realm of Platinum, though on an upward trajectory. Depending on which parts of the deck were drawn, it would sometimes crush an aggressive deck, and sometimes flounder. It felt pretty great otherwise, just overpowering most decks that were slower.

I ended my stream that night, but ended up unable to sleep, and I re-opened up TedPanic's build of Grixis Control. This pushed me up nearly to Diamond, to the lower end of Platinum 1.

Best of One, Best of Three

I wrote about it a few weeks ago, but haven't changed a card of TedPanic's list:


I was only playing this in Best of One, but it put things on a nice tear.

To be clear, this is not a great Best of One deck. This deck is at its best when it gets to use some of the horrifying cards in the sideboard. More counterspells is critical in the control wars, Cry of the Carnarium is a gigantic slaughterhouse against White Aggro, and a card like Unmoored Ego does a real number on narrow decks (like Temur Reclamation, for example).

Best of One is more suited to decks like the Temur Reclamation deck that can 'steal' a victory or otherwise benefit from an opponent who can't find an easy solution. Grixis Control didn't at all take advantage of this environment.

But, I was playing Bolas in Best of One anyway.

Perhaps because I got a bit lucky, I climbed up a bit. The next day things weren't so great.

On stream, I was sticking to the two above decks, essentially just playing again and again in Best of One, largely because I was thinking about people I knew in the Mythic Invitational. I'd fallen to Platinum 3, largely on the back of losses with Grixis, but switching back to Temur raised me up a tiny bit.

Gaby Spartz sent a huge number of viewers my way, and by way of democracy, they all voted for me to return to playing around with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. I got in a fair number of losses until a change happened.

At some point, a viewer - from Gaby's stream, I think - said, "Hey, can we get some real Magic and play Best of Three?"

Well, with that, I leapt up immensely, almost immediately making Diamond. This included a couple of crazy wins, one versus Niv-Mizzet, Parun bricking for several (!!!) turns giving me the opportunity to steal it twice with Angrath, the Flame-Chained to take them from 18 down to exactly 0, and another versus Teferi, Hero of Dominaria where I was able to beat their emblem in a long, protracted game with well-placed combinations of Carnival and Vraska's Contempt keeping them from winning the 'tuck it back in' game, thanks to heavy backing of Duress, Thought Erasure, and Negate.

Here, the value of that sideboard was really showing, especially versus the aggressive decks. I would still occasionally get torn up by the power of the Gruul Aggro decks - in large part because of the sheer level of threat that each creature represented - but, mostly I was taking the aggressive decks down.

My stream was really wanting me to keep playing Legendary Dragons, so I stuck with this deck until I got over the top. I hit Mythic, said thank you to my crowd, sent them over to Caleb "DMTG" Durward, and went to bed.

But who sleeps, amiright?

Just Best of Three

With the debacle of playing a deck that was strongest in Best of Three in Best of One behind me, I was thinking about the clarity of sideboarding and realized I wanted to play some more Magic. I'd set the stream aside since I'd started making pretty heavy gaffes somewhere in the sixth hour, but now I was awake anyway, and I thought I'd go back to one of my favorite decks, good ol' George.


Like the Bolas Control deck, I'd written about 'George' a few weeks ago, and I hadn't changed a card.

This list is an amalgamation of a lot of the Mono-Blue Aggro lists, but primarily those of Autumn Burchett and Reid Duke, though peppered with my own ideas (go to hell, Chart a Course!), and merging some of the sideboard from Autumn with those of the inimitable Alexander Hayne.

I still don't have the sideboarding deep in my guts like I do with the Grixis deck, where I can just start sideboarding by feel, but I built my own version of a sideboard guide, and largely stuck to it, though I did find myself occasionally diverging from its theoretical orthodoxy.

One reason you rarely see sideboard guides from me is that I subscribe to the Brian Kowal theory of sideboarding: you sideboard to a player, not a deck.

Let's take a great example of this. Autumn Burchett, in talking about their sideboarding plans for Mythic Championship Cleveland, discussed how they would leave out Tempest Djinn versus Esper Control. This was not a very commonly held idea of how to board for this matchup, but frankly it strikes me as rather brilliant. If you were playing against Autumn, this is information you would need to consider when contemplating how you want to sideboard.

When I think about one of Magic's legends, Gabriel Nassif, one of the things that I view as perhaps the biggest strength of Nassif is his sideboarding. I've play-tested with Nassif in preparation for events and found him making choices for Game two or three that were surprising and powerful in ways that I hadn't seen from anyone else. It wasn't necessarily even running exciting cards (though sometimes that was the case), but it was sometimes determining that the role I was likely to play in a matchup after board meant that a wildly different move could be effective - a kind of Magic jiu-jutsu if you will.

All that being said, here is my (very rough) sideboard guide

Mon-Blue

Nexus

Gruul/Red

Sultai

Esper

Cut two more based on the make-up of their deck, potentially Mist-Cloaked Herald, Mefolk Trickster, Island when on the draw, or shaving a sideboarded in card.

White

Is this sideboarding plan 100% correct? I am still tinkering with it, and I know that I definitely feel like once I have the concepts of why I'm doing everything better in hand, I plan on deleting my sideboard guide from the sticky on my screen so that I don't accidentally use it instead of boarding toward what my opponent has been doing.

Back to Best of One

After hitting Mythic, I've been playing a ton more Best of One. It isn't because I prefer Best of One; truth be told, I love sideboarding.

What it really is, is I love Temur Reclamation. The deck is a total joy to play in Game 1s, and feels a bit unfair, almost like playing Nexus of Fate in Best of One, but without the cruelty of such a slow kill (even though I never did mind that).

As it stands, I don't even have a sideboard for my Temur Reclamation deck. Yet.

I do have some thoughts about where I might proceed with it, though. Here is the alternate build I think I might try out:


The change I'm least sure about is cutting a Syncopate for another Sinister Sabotage, but I think it could have a lot of merit.

Aside from a third Fiery Cannonade (which when combined with Expansion has been responsible for so many wins), I've also considered Star of Extinction, Lightning Strike, and a third Shock.

What might this deck look like with a sideboard? I'll leave that to you, as an exercise to the reader. As for me, I'm just going to keep feeling like I'm being unfair in Best of One.

Make sure to check me out on Twitch and see how it goes - whatever it is I'm playing at the time...

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan

Follow me and subscribe on Twitch! /AdrianLSullivan


*A big shout-out to Gaby Spartz, Tiffany Calandro, and Brian Kibler for bringing a few members of your loyal audience my way - the Viper Brood were especially lively and really brought it!