It has been a while since I got around to writing, mostly because I was busy studying, working and playing paper Magic: the Gathering once or twice a week, but also because I had no notable results. That changed this past weekend when I happen to cruise into the Top8 of MKM Series Milan 2017, where 117 eager Magic players gathered on Saturday for some Modern action.
Before we dive into the tournament itself I have a confession to make: a few months ago, I was facing a MTG crisis due to sub-optimal plays and lack of results. I know I am no way near professional (I also play only Modern), yet I think of myself as a relatively competent above average player (as every competitive Magic enthusiast should). However, for a longer period, I was just plain bad at various tournaments, no matter what deck I played or who my opponent was. My win rate was dropping and I lost quite a bit of motivation. Sure, slumps happen, but we have to get over it. It all started at GP Lille and PPTQ Ljubljana in the Fall of 2016, and our trip to Prague did not help as I kept getting owned to say the least. My last “notable” finish was Top8 at PPTQ Koper in August 2016, but I had this feeling of bad luck ever since that I couldn’t shake. Of course it was nothing related to luck, and it was all about the perspective. One thing lead to another. Experience is indeed a hard teacher because she gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards. I’m not really a fan of quoting but this one hits the mark. Then came a local MKM Series Trial for Milan and I managed to Top8 with a borrowed deck that I played for the first time (Eldrazi Tron). Soon after I got into the Top8 of MKM Series Milan. How is that possible? I believe it’s the mindset. I entered both competitions without any expectations despite knowing that the decks were (kinda) good.
I’m writing all this personal non-sense because I believe I’m not the only one ever to hit the slump, and maybe some of my readers are in the same position. This is my lesson to you.
Biggest problems I faced were that I felt either unlucky, screwed, flooded, or was looking for excuses when losing or playing sub-optimally. I frequently thought “How lucky!” without saying it out loud, and it was not helpful at all. In fact it was counter-productive. You start to believe in bad luck and take it for granted, and all that was because I thought I deserved to win in certain match-up’s or against newer, less experienced players without giving my best, and in Magic that is not the case. Floods and screws happen, but so does topdecking the only out. Another reason was that I thought I learned a lot and became a better player, which was true but not in a sense I imagined. You always have to be on top of your game, no matter how good or how experienced you are. Some things are automatic, but Magic requires your attention and decision-making if you want to be at your best.
Results started to come again after I let it all go and went back to the roots: being relaxed and having fun while playing.
I am also very lucky to have an amazing group of friends that play Magic as well as a great albeit small community in our country of Slovenia. My friends let me rant about Magic and read my endless spam of Sowing Salt in group chats, which helps me reflect on the reality of my plays and misplays. Their success is my success, and I only hope my success is theirs as well.
My biggest achievements (few and far between) came when I had little to no expectations playing fringe and/or unknown decks. I won a PPTQ with Atarka Goblins, followed by a Top4 at Nebraska’s War with Skred Red, and now I made a Top8 of a relatively big tournament with Black Moon.
This means that anyone can do it in Modern with almost any decent deck. I hope this motivates you to brew, try and go for it. Compete! This is what I brought to Milan:
Black Moon, Top8 MKM Series Milan 2017
The idea of Black Moon is an old one and I was constantly brewing a playable deck yet I couldn’t fine the recipe. That was until I stumbled upon a list by Logan Pressely. It was before one of the Modern Mondays as I was just sleeving UW Spirits, but after finding this deck I decided to go for it and instantly sleeved Black Moon instead. I went on to win three local Modern events in a row with it before taking it to MKM Series.
MTG Goldfish and SCG named the deck after Pack Rat but believe me when I say this is a Blood Moon deck. It was also Goblin Rabblemaster that did most of the heavy lifting for me. In addition to the infamous enchantment, it’s all about discard and spot removal. Frankly, it’s a midrange grindy deck that has a fast clock in Rats and Rabblemaster. It has game against every archetype and can win against any Modern deck because of the combination of Blood Moon, discard and spot removal, including big mana decks that are usually the bane of midrange decks. It may not be the best deck, sure, but it is a wonder to pilot when clicking on all cylinders. And it’s not even that inconsistent. It’s Jund that exchanges Tarmogoyfs for Blood Moons.
My first opponent was on Eldrazi Tron and I grinded my way to a 2 – 1 victory. I was lucky in Game 3 when he turn 2 Thought-Knot Seered me and I killed it in response, drawing another Blood Moon so he couldn’t get rid of the one I already had in my hand. He took my only creature but it’s not a challenge when he can’t play anything, so it was just draw-go until I got a threat that I rode to victory.
I faced Elves in the secound round and after being down 0 – 1 I managed to come back from behind to take the series. My opponent mulled to five with no lands in Game 2, and in Game 3 he was flooded, but that is just the way of life (Magic). After sideboard this match-up becomes better and I was ready for it, but didn’t even need any sweepers to seal the deal.
Round 3 was against a friendly guy playing Merfolk, and he made it look easy for fish as I lost 0 – 2. I did mulligan in both games and didn’t draw what I needed, but nothing to complain since he won fair and square. In game 2 I fought through a topdeck Kira only to fold against Master of the Waves of the top. I could have killed my Dark Confidant during the second game when I was at four life (and drawing Kalitas ended the game right there), but if I didn’t get a black creature or Mutavault that turn I was dead anyways (odds were not great either way), so I went with the risky play that got me dead.
Next up it was Bushwhacker Zoo and again I was kinda lucky in Game 1 as I was on 3 HP and my opponent didn’t get the reach he needed while I drew a bunch of removal, but I was short on mana for a few turns as well so my spot removal was late to the action. Game 2 I made a crucial mistake trying to Bolt Swiftspear despite having Fatal Push at the ready, and he responded with Ghor-Clan Rampager, ouch. Game 3 was one-sided as I took it with ease. MVP was Rabble who did its work in all games. After games my opponent made a remark that I drew a lot of removal spells, but truth to be told my deck is packed with removal, so it’s not really a surprise.
My opponent for Round 5 was on Grixis Control and I have to say that it took a lot of grinding from both of us but I prevailed thanks to Blood Moon in Game 2 (he didn’t see it in Game 1). I decided to side out Moons for Game 3 and it paid off as my opponent went to fetch basics and feared the enchantment, which hindered him enough for me to take it 2 to 1.
UB Mill was the deck standing in my way in Round 6 and after losing the first game I made a quick work of it on the back of discard, Pack Rat in Game 2 and Rabblemaster in Game 3. I made a mistake in the first game as I went for a basic swamp with my fetch instead of grabbing Blood Crypt, unable to cast my Bolts and Rabbles. I had Blood Moon in hand and my opponent had no basics so it made sense at that time to try the lock. But who in his right mind would be careful when fetching against Mill decks (excluding the trap)? I guess me.
So there I was with a score of 5-1 and my goal became to reach Top16 (get into the prizes). It wasn’t looking good after Game 1 of the next round as Abzan Company stomped me to the ground. However, thanks to Grafdigger’s Cage and Grim Lavamancer I managed to win both remaining games to seal the deal and advance to 6-1. Top16 was almost inevitable and Top8 became the dream. After checking out the standings I was the only one with 18 points that had to play as I got down-paired.
Win-and-in’s are always super exciting, emotional and players are usually on the edge, tired from the long Swiss rounds but eager to make it. I was relaxed going in but it hit me after Game 1 when my opponent just had everything, he answered every threat and countered every answer I presented (two Spell Snares to counter my Terminates one after the other). I also made a stupid mistake of +1 Liliana without any cards in hand into a Cryptic bounce. I was on three lands with Lili on the board and played Blood Moon before activating the +1 ability, not thinking straight. I thought Blood Moon could help me make a comeback despite my opponent having basics on the board instead of just trying to ride Liliana. That might have came out wrong but you know what I meant! Game 2 was discard to clear the way for Blood Moon into turn 2 threat that my opponent had to removed (don’t remember but I believe it was Bob). After resolving Blood Moon with my opponent on two non-basic lands was enough to take the game. Game 3 I sided out Blood Moons again but it didn’t really matter as he was short on lands and couldn’t answer my threats one after another.
I was happy (and lucky) enough to make Top16 that Top8 didn’t really matter as much as it should have, because I let my guard down and played sloppy in quarter-finals, losing to GB Tron despite having the tools (and cards) to win. I was impatient after landing a second Blood Moon in Game 1 (first one got exiled by World Breaker) and made two mistakes altogether. I discarded one Bolt to Liliana’s +1 just to keep Terminate ready for World Breaker as I knew it was coming after playing an Inquisition, instead of just letting go of Terminate and using Lili to remove the creature. After landing the second Blood Moon and even -6 Liliana I didn’t draw any creatures. My opponent was left with only one piece of Tron after Liliana’s ulti but managed to draw both to assemble Tron while we played draw-go for a few turns. Second mistake was that I threw Kolaghan’s Command prematurely and got punished by a topdeck Oblivion Stone that I could have destroyed if I played conservatively. In the end my opponent won with 1 remaining hit point (well, it was 4, but I had a Bolt in hand and a draw step with two red mana and another Bolt left in the deck). Sure, I didn’t draw a Rat or Rabblemaster for many turns, but that is just an excuse for my impatient play. Game 2 I won on the back of discard, Fulminator and so on, but Game 3 I again made a few questionable plays, highlighter by forgetting that World Breaker has reach and attacking into it with Stormbreath Dragon. However, I did use Molten Rain on turn 3 to interrupt the assembly of Tron but Noxious Revival was there to bring the piece back. I could argue that my opponent just had what and when he needed, yet I can clearly see that I made mistakes as well, so there is that lesson after test once again. My mistakes led to my opponents outs, especially in Game 1. Yet he also played really well, congrats.
I learned all that only after talking with friends during dinner later that day, so it was not like I made a mistake knowingly when playing. Maybe I was tired, or maybe I’m just not there yet, but either way I’m very glad for making Top8 and had my share of luck during Swiss rounds, so I didn’t drop a Rain of Salt on my friends this time around. Instead of Rain of Tears, I rather look at it in this way: all those little mistakes are lessons that add up and made me even better, it gave me a new level to think about and I feel I can “see more” in the terms of Modern Magic and its match-ups. Without my friends, I might not even come to those conclusions. Next goal is to tighten my play when the stakes are high and not to be satisfied after reaching my primary goal if I can advance even further. And keep having fun playing awesome decks!
As I said, it’s all about perspective. Keep questioning, keep evolving and above all, keep playing!
Most images courtesy of WotC.