5 Lessons Learned from PT Guilds of Ravnica
- Thoralf Severin
Magic can be a tough game. There is a lot of uncertainty, and it's therefore hard to pinpoint the source of success or failure. Join Toffel for his journey leading up to PT Guilds of Ravnica and the events many ups and downs.
PT Guilds of Ravnica is in the books. As you probably know, I didn't win it. I didn't even make top 8. Ok, fine, I didn't even make day two and it wasn't even close. Sometimes things just don't run your way.
Was I unlucky? Definitely a little
Did I draw horribly? I guess so, but that is not the go-to excuse.
Was I unprepared? Well, to be honest, I could have been more prepared, but that's true of everyone.
So, what was the problem? Let's find out!
Looking at the qualified players in our team, it was obvious that we would have a very potent german-speaking squad of players. With one platinum, two gold and many silver pros, we were in a good spot to attack the new standard format. Moreover, we had Christian Hauck, Arne Huschenbeth, and Marc Tobiasch as outstanding standard masterminds.
Standard Prep and a Modern GP
Our group built a huge number of deck and some people played for hundreds of hours with them. We knew which decks were on top of the metagame and how to tune or beat them. All this effort was not only for the Pro Tour, but also for an upcoming Standard GP and that was one major step in between to get feedback on our vision of the metagame. Unfortunately for me, I was not able to play the GP and therefore I didn't play a lot of magic prior to that. I don't think was too detrimental though, as we were planning to test a full week ahead of the PT. I had some of the best Standard players on the planet in my corner and a whole week to learn from them. That's more than enough time. Spoiler alert: it wasn't.
Standard rotations bring many challenges, but our team was spot on with the decks online. We found some very different lists of B/G midrange, some with four Carnage Tyrant, some with Molderhulk and Stitcher's Apprentice, some with Golgari Findbroker or The Eldest Reborn. We knew that there were many different takes on B/G and we have to find the best one. This was one of the early lists, which actually performed very well.
|8Forest||2Golgari Findbroker||2Assassin's Trophy|
|4Memorial to Folly||2Izoni, Thousand-Eyed||3Find // Finality|
|4Overgrown Tomb||4Jadelight Ranger||2Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|4Woodland Cemetery||2Midnight Reaper|
|3Carnage Tyrant||2Cast Down||1Deathgorge Scavenger|
|4Duress||1Thrashing Brontodon||3Vraska's Contempt|
Some of us played a lot of Jeskai control, mainly because it was able to use Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. But besides that, nothing was really set in stone for the deck. Do we play Syncopate or Essence Scatter or both? Do we play more planeswalker with Ral, Izzet Viceroy or big beefy creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer? How good is Justice Strike or Cleansing Nova? The List we played a lot was very close to the list that won the other Standard GP in the USA.
I hope you see how hard it is to pick a deck when the metagame is so wide-open. Fortunately for me, the PT this time was not directly after the new set came out, but rather late. I was therefore able to watch the standard format evolve and then jump into the format with as much knowledge as the others from seeing different tournament results.
Anyway, our group was optimizing and inventing like crazy. Most people from our group that played GP Lyon finished well, primarily with Arne making Top 8 and Christian missing by one match win because he lost to Arne in the last round. At that point I was super confident. If you read my other articles over the last week, I was very confident with my drafting preparation and having discussions with so many good players can only make my chances better.
With the PT fast approaching, I got more and more excited. I had very good feeling about this PT. Our group was amazing. There was one thing I was a bit wary of though. A Modern GP one week before the PT. I felt like I had to prepare for that, since it's a GP after all, but getting into a new Modern era with Guilds of Ravnica providing so many format warping cards seems very work heavy. Creeping Chill, Arclight Phoenix and Assassins Trophy were making huge waves and I had no idea what was really going on anymore. I was playing Krark-Clan Ironworks up until now, but I was getting less and less confident about the deck. Everybody seemed to either go faster or go more interactive and every new deck didn't seem to make it better. Band Spirits is a pretty bad matchup. Dredge got much faster and Jund decks got more interaction. I was very close to not even playing the GP or just playing KCI with no idea of my opponents' interaction towards me.
This was when fellow Cardmarket team member Jasper Grimmer advised me to play his version of Devoted Druid. He recently cashed GP Stockholm with it and he was very confident. Not only that, he even advertised the deck with needing minimal modern environment knowledge. Sounds perfect, right? I was hooked.
|2Burrenton Forge-Tender||1Eidolon of Rhetoric||1Gideon, Ally of Zendikar|
|1Kataki, War's Wage||1Knight of Autumn||3Path to Exile|
|1Sin Collector||3Tireless Tracker||2Voice of Resurgence|
So honestly, I played only a handful of games right before the GP. All I was told were three simple steps:
- Combo as fast as you can
- Close your eyes and hope
It sounds pretty unbelievable, but this deck comes as close to a consistent turn 3 kill as it can get in Modern. In a format, where everybody is trying to goldfish as hard as possible, I was bringing a bazooka while others had clubs. I was successful in killing my opponents 10 times on turn three. Ten times. Many of them through removal, sometimes even through two. Two of them are on coverage here. And that doesn't even include the games I could have killed turn 3, but was stopped short by my opponent. To be fair, most of my opponents just didn't see it coming. The vast majority of them assumed that I could not win with no Devoted Druid on the battlefield, but they didn't meet my little friend Postmortem Lunge yet. Honestly, everybody who read that card wasn't happy, which is understandable. They were about to die. Having the Druid in the graveyard only needs three mana to kill your opponent, two for the Postmortem Lunge and one more white for the Vizier of Remedies, since the Druid gets haste. This also means, that the deck can win without starting the turn with a Druid in play or in the graveyard. Since the druid can kill itself right away, it is possible to play it, kill it and revive it again in the same turn to give it haste.
The deck was amazing and took me to a top 32 finish. I was stoked. I am very grateful for Jaspers devotion to the deck and for convincing me to play it. The whole decklist is the result of his hard testing. If you are interested in a more detailed article about the deck, let me know in the comments below.
I felt even more confident after cashing the GP. Now we only had to lock into our house and test every deck and every matchup. We just needed to evaluate what our opponents would bring and which adjustments they would take. There was a lot of work to be done, but I knew we were going to be really efficient and focused. Spoiler alert: We weren't.
Ok, let's look into what I, myself, and we, as a team, did well and what we did poorly.
1. We really underestimated the amount of work needed to create sufficient data and experience.
I really thought I would be fine after playing 4-6 days of Magic. I thought it'd be enough to understand the whole format and the format's decks. While indeed some matchups are rather easy and linear, other matchups are much more complicated. For example, we played B/G midrange about a million times against mono white, mono red, and even UR phoenix but we didn't connect the data we were all gathering. It is like in a big company where so many processes are just to document or access what the company actually knows. With so many people having so many different experiences and agendas, we desperately needed a way to put them all together.
I created a very neat google spreadsheet about our drafting experiences where people could enter their deck archetype, the record with it, and even upload winning decklists. This way, we could see which decks were winning the competitive draft events on magic online and which archetype performed well for everybody. Since I also included personal win percentages, we could ask those people if one of them had a significantly higher win percentage in one archetype than the others.
I learned that it's just as important to have this for constructed.
2. We really didn't use the small amount of data we actually had
Normally it went like this: Person X and Person Y played some hours of games and reported whether it felt good, even or bad. While this is generally helpful to know, it is not necessarily obvious why. I trusted my teammates to have experienced the match up like this, but it really didn't tell me or the group the reasons behind these feelings. Sometimes we did talk about it, sometimes only those two players talked about it, sometimes people changed lists before or during those matches, but there definitely wasn't a consolidated effort to translate the data into facts.
I learned that it's important to have a period of time dedicated to processing the data on what we played and learned that day. While we might not agree as to the reasons, it's definitely important to know what the potential reasons are.
3. We accurately predicted the Meta
So, around Monday, we did an expected metagame breakdown. We wrote down every major archetype we expected and how much of the meta we thought it'd make up. We also estimated how good one matchup was and were able to calculate what the best deck would be in our expected metagame. And we were very, very close. We nailed it. With hit every percentage right in a range of 3-5%.
I learned, that getting a metagame right isn't worth anything if you don't use the data correctly.
4. We totally ignored what improvements our opponents would make
So, we did all the calculations and the result was that the best deck is either B/G midrange or Mono Red. This was mainly due to the fact that those decks, in our view, were very favored against mono white or boros aggro and we expected a lot of them. We were so sure that those decks were very weak against Golden Demise and Goblin Chainwhirler. And while they definitely were weak to those cards, we just accepted the fact that people would play the Standard magic online lists. We didn't even improve their decks in the slightest, because we thought the average person wouldn't do that. We didn't expect people to bring Ajani Pridemate. If I remember correctly, we didn't even test with Venerated Loxodon, because we thought that Heroic Reinforcements was just way too busted to choose something else over it. We felt that any form of these decks would make for wonderful matchups. While I do think that our list is a favorite against those decks, it's much more marginal than we initially anticipated.
I learned that they will tune their decks against us as much as we tune against them. It only takes a week to turn a metagame upside down and, in our apartment, it shifted within multiple hours.
5. Standard is not an easy format
It is easy to fall into the mindset of standard being stale and plain. There are 3-5 decks and interesting interactions are very rare. That is what I thought. It is easy to get into the flow and it only takes a couple of games to understand the general dynamic of any given matchup. Well, I was horribly wrong. I probably misplayed every single standard match because I was not experienced enough. It was very humbling. It felt horrible. I actually felt like an underdog.
I learned that learning Standard takes time and Standard is not just a snapshot of one moment. Decks constantly change, and it is very vital to understand and experience those interactions yourself.
The deck that Team Phoenix: New Dawn ended up on was:
|8Forest||4Carnage Tyrant||1Assassin's Trophy|
|4Overgrown Tomb||4Druid of the Cowl||3Vraska's Contempt|
|6Swamp||4Jadelight Ranger||4Find // Finality|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Llanowar Elves||3Vivien Reid|
|1Memorial to Folly||4Merfolk Branchwalker||1Vraska, Golgari Queen|
|1Assassin's Trophy||2Cast Down||1Detection Tower|
|4Duress||3Golden Demise||1Karn, Scion of Urza|
|1Vraska's Contempt||2Wildgrowth Walker|
Our results were pretty underwhelming. We still think that the deck as a whole was a good decision and would have done much better with a few tweaks. Maybe putting the Wildgrowth Walker into the main deck is a must from now on, since they are so good against the various aggressive decks. Maybe playing at least one Ritual of Soot instead of a Golden Demise is necessary to kill the creatures that eventually grow bigger than two toughness.
I actually didn't feel good about the tournament. I would have loved to have more time, but there was nobody to blame but myself. It is not that our deck was bad, it was just that I wasn't feeling prepared enough. I was confident about drafting, though. Unfortunately, the booster packs didn't go my way at all. I first picked an Izzet Guildgate. Imagine the booster it takes to achieve that. But, a decent percent of first picks are not played so I wasn't really worried. I found it pretty funny overall. Well, the rest of the draft wasn't better. I was able to identify the right guild, but the boosters just weren't too strong, they also provided my left neighbor with cards in the same color. Because of this, both booster one and two were garbage. My deck was just miserable, one of the worst decks I have drafted. I only managed to win one round, fittingly against the person to my left.
After that, I played a very close match against Jeskai where I didn't make an Vraska emblem before casting Vraska's Contempt on my opponent's Rekindling Phoenix.This gave my opponent the chance to copy the contempt and exile my planeswalker. It certainly cost me the match. After that I played a BG mirror against The Eldest Reborn and Golgari Findbroker. I just was not sure about how to attack this matchup. I felt heavily outvalued, even though I had Detection Tower to exile three of my opponents Carnage Tyrants. Having the Detection Tower in our sideboard was actually a stroke of genius, since the whole matchup is about the Carnage Tyrants. Normally. I didn't unfortunately know this until they told and thus, my lack of preparation sank me again. After that, I just lost to some bad draws against mono white.
That was it. Almost two weeks of preparation down the drain in a couple of hours. That's definitely a part of Magic too though. It sucks. But you know what, it was alright. I had great team members. I've never been one to expect everything from my tournaments. I actually don't know whether this is a good or bad thing. Maybe it's the reason I end up underprepared, but it definitely makes the game more fun and it makes the travel a lot more entertaining.
That's it for today. Thank you for taking part in my journey about the PT. I do actually hope that I learned a lot for the next time and that I will be smarter about preparing properly.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.