Caught in Agony Part 2: On Losing with ANT
There are plenty of deck techs on the internet which provide valuable insight. Yet, there is much more to a deck than card choice and lines of play. So, join me on this multi-part story of dedication, challenge, and friendship as we explore my experiences with one of Magic's most iconic decks: Legacy ANT.
A Faithful Companion
One significant aspect about playing Legacy ANT comes from the deck's resistance to change. Its spells are often the most powerful in Legacy, such as Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, and Lion’s Eye Diamond. Therefore, there is very little hope that Wizards of the Coast will ever print a better card for the deck than the ones that are already present. But, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. To the contrary, it is a positive aspect of the deck because players picking up ANT can play it in different eras of the meta game without changing the deck too much. It really becomes a faithful companion – something like an old sword that was used to slay dragons but is now up against laser swords and machine guns.
Sometimes though, the weight of the deck's history becomes a heavy burden, which means learning to deal with defeat becomes an important factor in approaching Legacy ANT.
Trying Too Hard
Losing is probably the toughest part of playing any game. Typically, one prepares for several weeks or even months before an important event and puts in extra practice sessions online or with friends at the local game store. Especially with a deck like ANT and in a format like Legacy, one can face a wide variety of decks during a full day of Magic. Usually there are many decks in a packed room trying to beat combo decks with either a powerful combination of counter spells and cantrips, a backbreaking interplay between discard and graveyard hate or by simply playing problematic permanents the combo player cannot deal with. Preparation, therefore, is only one aspect of successful Magic - the other one is luck.
A couple of years ago, Maverick was the reigning midrange deck in Legacy that was able to search for Gaddock Teeg in order to shut down ANT’s engine and kill spells. Another extremely popular deck was Canadian Threshold, which still sees play today but took a big hit by the printing of Deathrite Shaman. Canadian decks held ANT at bay with the help of Stifle, Force of Will, Daze, and a fast clock. The other big player in the room was Dragon Stompy, which tried to cast Gathan Raiders, Rakdos Pit Dragon, or Arc-Slogger alongside Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, and Trinisphere. Now, Legacy has become an even wider format and, while some old strategies like the Enchantress deck disappeared, many powerful new decks appeared creating new challenges for Legacy ANT to beat. The best example of this is Eldrazi Aggro decks, which are functionally similar to old MUD decks, in that the mana base really helps to support the Eldrazi tribe immensely.
Either way, preparing for bigger tournaments like Legacy GPs or the MKM Series comes down to compromise and agreeing to make concessions - something I was not able to understand for quite a while. In 2015, I had a rather rough year regarding my achievements with Storm in important tournaments. I traveled to some of the MKM Series stops, to GP Lille, and played in all Prague Eternal events without any success. And honestly, I did not know why. I played decently, I was prepared for many decks, I knew the matchups, I knew the lines I had to take, I knew which cards I should expect. And the lack of a good result, of another Top 8 really dragged me down quite a bit. But at that point, I did not realize that I was simply trying too hard. I felt dazed.
Affecting the Chances
When I left the main hall in 2016 after round nine of the Legacy GP in Prague, I ran through different scenarios in my head. I tried to find technical mistakes and deciding plays, rewind them in my head, and go from there. Admittedly, I could have played better, but it was not a bad performance. I did not have any blow-out matches where I had two easy kills in a row and my opponents weren't putting to much pressure on me. Beating Sneak Show, a fairly even match up, then losing to Grixis Delver, I could almost see myself playing on day two. After the sixth round my score was 5-1 and I only needed to win one round to make it to day two.
Unfortunately, things went downhill. I lost a close match to Burn – or lets just say that I lost a match to Eidolon of the Great Revel, then got destroyed by Sneak and Show and had to face Shardless BUG in the last round on day one. He won the first game due to multiple Deathrite Shamans and Hymn to Tourachs, whereas I managed to accumulate a lethal Past in Flames loop in game 2. The match itself was not interesting at all and in the third and deciding game, I had to take a mulligan to six mediocre cards; still with some potential for a quick kill via Empty the Warrens. When I checked his hand, he had Toxic Deluge and Maelstrom Pulse at the ready. Understandably, my plan B, to play Ad Nauseam as fast as possible, was not good enough and I did not find anything relevant in the next couple of turns leaving him too much time to develop his board.
I am sure that many players know the feeling of having lost, but still holding onto the match for another turn or two. There was no way out, but I tried to postpone the final realization for just a couple of moments, in which I found out once again that Magic: The Gathering is so much more than a card game and I strained myself too much playing Storm competitively in such an environment.
I was well-prepared coming to Prague and I thought that this preparation would successfully affect my chances of success. In the end, though, I was hurting my chances thinking about every little mistake I made or being too stressed out during the matches, and having the ultimate desire to perform well and reach a high score didn't help me either. I should have known better, but in the heat of the moment, I could not stop myself from over analyzing and overthinking everything.
Legacy ANT can beat every other Legacy deck consistently; at least that has been common knowledge among Storm players for a long time. While it's not true anymore – the meta has changed significantly – this statement still echoes in the minds of veteran players. Consequently, one must adapt to changes in order to stay competitive and the adjustment I had to make was not related to playstyle but instead toward the game in general.
Everything Seems Different over Coffee and Cake
In the summer of 2014, our team from Berlin consisting of Daniel H. also known as BigD, Matteo D., Kai Sawatari., Carsten Kötter., and myself went to the very first Prague Eternal. It was a blast, I reached the Top 8 in both - the big Legacy trial and the Main Event. Carsten and Matteo also had decent results, and Kai was even able to win the main event with Storm. It was a great weekend for everyone and even though I played rather poorly and made mistakes almost during every round of the tournaments, I was lucky enough to get great results. I have lots of fond memories of that particular trip; from driving to Prague with the guys in a fairly old Saab, rooting for Kai in the finals with Matteo, walking through the city with Kai on Sunday, meeting Martin V. for the first time during the main event, and just hanging out with my friends at hotel Jana in the Vinohrady district of Prague.
I remember meeting Sebastian W., a fellow Legacy player from Berlin and great friend, in a typical Berlin café at some point in late 2015. It had small tables for two and handwritten menu cards. Sebastian usually also travels to most of the bigger events but never had any greater achievements. He has a chill, low pressure attitude toward Magic and it shows. It was already late in the evening, but I ordered a coffee and a nice little piece of a homemade cheesecake. We sat down and talked about Magic, about my studies, about how to approach our hobby. And at the end of the day, it all seemed so easy. There is only a thin line between winning and losing and one can barely choose sides, but we can determine how we want to spend our time during those magical trips. I realized that there is more to it than playing one of the hardest decks and claiming a right to win every tournament. That's not how it works. It is difficult to lose, to drop out of a tournament, but being able to spend the afternoon and evening with like-minded people is much more valuable than any tournament result. Especially in a format like Legacy, where one sees the same faces over and over again. “Just relax, play the game, do your best and if it doesn’t pan out, try again. You shouldn’t take it too seriously,” he said to me. And while it sounds obvious in retrospect, it seemed like I had forgotten how to have fun and be relaxed playing the game since my casual times in the local game store over ten years ago.
I went home and I even though I admit that I did not change my attitude towards playing Storm and trying to win, I was able to understand another perspective on the game itself. I felt freer.
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