Red Bull Untapped: What JohnnyCroat Did Next
Unlike my Dominaria cousins Teferi and T3feri, time has been something in short supply in the JohnnyCroat household in the recent months. So you can imagine the panic, albeit welcomed, when the Red Bull Untapped selection emails went out. Here's a quick breakdown of how it all happened and what JohnnyCroat did next!
It's no secret that Magic: The Gathering is moving heavily towards the e-sports arena (ho ho ho) as Magic Arena is a more casual, user-friendly client that is aesthetically pleasing compared to the dowdier no-nonsense Magic Online. There is, of course, some debate within the community as to whether this is a good or bad thing, whether the paper game is sounding its death knell (Hint: It's not), and whether… well, look, you get the idea. The advent of the new client has boosted Magic's online presence to be equated with poker's money-maker effect. This move towards a more digital presence has contributed to some decline in paper events, but that slack has been taken up elsewhere.
While there are already several independent Magic circuits in place – our own fine Cardmarket Series here in Europe included – Magic tournaments no longer have the same frenetic pizzazz as you'd find at larger e-sports events, such as you might see at a DOTA event, GSL or WCS in Starcraft II, or the most recent Fortnite World Cup. This isn't a comment on paper Magic events, however. They're huge by and large, usually with dozens of things happening at once: the main event, an MCQ, twenty drafts or 8-player leagues. It's difficult, if not impossible, to generate the same level of on-camera hype that you have for real-time strategy games, which might only take 90 minutes for three games or which might be over in 10 minutes flat for two. The sort of blowouts that you get from a mis-micro or some accidental F2 can't really be predicted, whereas in Magic, more akin to chess than anything else, so much of the game is telegraphed or mapped out, at least to the viewers and casters, and is therefore less of a surprise. Many of the game's OMG! moments boil down to top-decks. Yes, the cards are in the deck to be drawn, but if I were to name Lightning Helix, Bonfire of the Damned, Duneblast, I think it's reasonable to assume that without naming names a great many readers will have mentally pictured these involved:
- Craig Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t0pzLnSWw0
- Cheng Tung-Yi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRMWnwyf2rE
- Simon Nielsen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XGOzitYq9E
So, these sort of plays aside, how does one go about driving hype, genuine hype? Well, that's thankfully already happening. The million-dollar Mythic Invitational, won by Andrea Mengucci, was a 4-day Magic Arena marathon held at PAX East in Boston this year. That sort of prize-pool was already certain to drive the hype.
But that's Wizards of the Coast for you. It's their game. There's an implied obligation to do something proactive, no matter what the naysayers tend to rinse and repeat online.
But, what else? Well, Red Bull Untapped happened. One of e-sports' most well-known sponsors dipped their winged feet into Magic: The Gathering with Red Bull Untapped. Launched out of nowhere (more or less), this was an invite-only event that ran over two weekends and four events with the first of them online and the latter ones in Florence and Brussels. Some slots were kept open for MPL players, some were for streamers, there was room for Mythic players on Arena, 100 slots for European players / players based in the host nation, and the remainder of the slots was divided randomly amongst those who applied. I got one of those slots. I'm not a streamer, so whether it was down to being European, a random pick, or pure pity, I got the email informing me I was invited! Cue in the pure panic trying to juggle work, my holidays, and the fact that Brussels was oddly difficult to reach that weekend. Oh, and the Tour de France was starting from the Belgian capital that weekend too.
Red Bull Untapped: $ 200,000.00 in prize money and a probable further $ 50,000.00 on flights, hotels, and staffing once the London finals and eventual Mythic Championship Richmond appearance were factored in. A cool quarter of a million dollars on the table for fewer than 1,000 players - Now THAT'S hype!
The Format, The Decisions
Eight rounds: Three of which were Modern Horizons Sealed and five of which were Modern. This was something of an issue. The differences between Sealed and Draft as a Limited format are evident: You can at least attempt to shape your final deck in one, while you're given what you're given and you've just got to make do with that in the other. In terms of actual practice, the price point of Modern Horizons is a touch too high to be arbitrarily cracking packs open and online pack generators don't really provide the same experience. For Modern itself, the format was already warping towards Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Aria of Flame decks and if graveyard decks were popular prior to the release of Modern Horizons, then they were a necessity afterwards. I believe that the last time I actively played a graveyard deck was Angry Hermit during the 2003 Extended season, although perhaps we can include Legacy Manaless Dredge in there, as I definitely played that one weekend in 2017. I did have access to a full Bridgevine deck, but I'm a Johnny, not a Spike. So, I turned to the only two Modern decks I remotely had ready. I did consider the #TwitterBuildsModern deck that we've been working on, but time was a factor and we're not close to a final 75 yet. I do hope to have it on display at CM Series Prague, so hang tight fellow Johnnys!
Anyway, what I did have was Norin Soul Sister, somewhat buffed with the printing of Ranger-Captain of Eos and Sunbaked Canyon. In some respects, it actually put on a good show. There was also a U/B Mill, which I had already been piecing together for MagicFest Ghent, a Team Modern weekend. This deck is well positioned within Unified Modern and has access to graveyard hate via Surgical Extraction and Leyline of the Void. Jason Chung actually took this deck to Top 4 at GP Liverpool and thinking that the 4-0 bracket likely had plenty of Dredges, Hogaaks, and Phoenices, I made my choice.
Red Bull Untapped, Brussels
All of the above was before the 1-2 in Modern Horizons and as soon as I registered my first loss in Modern (to a Phoenix deck where both of us made horrendous misplays), I was out. The end.
Well, not quite. Gerry Thompson was there, cosplaying as Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and having noticed my rather dismal appearance, he offered some sage advice: "Sometimes those make the best tournament reports."
I arrived in Brussels Friday evening and the plan was to do some work from my hotel room on Saturday and be fully rested on Sunday. Instead, I sat and watched almost the entirety of the coverage from Florence. No work done. But what a performance from Javier Dominguez!
Now to the Sealed event.
The Sealed pool looked promising at first glance: Urza, Tribute Mage, some Amorphous Axes, and even a Sword! But that was pretty much it. A paucity of flyers, a distinct lack of evasion and permission. In the end, 4C Slivers was the deck. Nothing amazing, but there were a number of Changelings, and naturally some Slivers: Bladeback Sliver, Cleaving Sliver, Lancer Sliver, Lavabelly Sliver, Spiteful Sliver, Tempered Sliver. Not too shabby. After some removal and some recursion, I was good to go. I lost in Round 1 to a disguised Stirring Address in what initially appeared as a fantastic attack for me, but it ultimately led to the loss of my whole board. I managed to win Round 2 though when my opponent passed to my five untapped Slivers. I lost again in Round 3 to another Sliver deck, only this one had First Sliver's Chosen AND The First Sliver. Short and sweet. Overall, I enjoyed the games with the exception of Round 3 Game 2, where I never found my third land.
Round 4 in Modern wasn't much better. I had control of the match against an opponent running Javier Dominguez's exact 75 when we both made a ludicrous error – I forgot that I had a Leyline in play for one turn, thus allowing my opponent to get 2 points out of Lava Dart. Had I not been such a scrub and had I caught it when it could have still been rewound, I would have had a number of extra Hedron Crab triggers and, I feel, that would have gotten me to the top.
However, c'est la vie. What's done is done.
I then entered the secondary event, the Leaderboard. Each entrant got one free Modern Horizons Draft or Core 2020 Sealed and up to two free Modern 8-man pods. Ultimately, no one managed to play more than one Limited event and one Constructed side event, so 6-0 was the ceiling.
On to the Modern Horizons Draft!
Serra the Benevolent was in my pod, the wonderful Nissa Cosplay whom I worked with at GP Lille a few year ago. I was far more prepared for this format, for sure. I'd drafted several times in paper and knew the pitfalls and traps as well as I could. P1P1 was Goblin Champion. I was going wide and as low to the ground as possible I wanted – and got – Changeling Outcast, Alpine Guide, and Bogardan Dragonheart in multiples. I picked up Mob, Magmatic Sinkhole, and a Smiting Helix for which I splashed a single Plains. There wasn't a single rare in my pile, which is no mean feat given my drafting history and weak will.
The deck played smoothly with two quick 2-0s. The final round was against Nissa Cosplay, who had a Snow deck with THREE Iceberg Cancrix. I lost game 1 quickly, but my Goblin Champions and some timely Umezama's Charms ended up giving me the match and a sweet 3-0. I couldn't have been happier going into a Constructed pod.
I managed to get to 4-0 against a 75-card Aria deck. This time, I played my cards well and ran away with the match, but my luck ended there. Double Hogaaks in rounds 5 and 6, both having nutty starts that put me to 12 points, instead of the 15 that would have gotten me the SDCC promo sets.
I did make it far enough for some prizes and, of course, I opened the Sealed pool, which gave me some trade fodder, so I could add to my collection.
If I had it all to do again, I would have reduced the Surgical Extraction and Extirpate count and would have moved four Leyline of the Voids to my main deck. If Hogaak thinks it's good enough to play for other Hogaak decks, then it's good enough for me.
Regarding the Modern Horizons Draft, Snow is of course the best deck, but only if you get the payoff cards. However, I think that Rakdos can offer a clean and linear option for players struggling to come to terms with the format. The archetype is quick with early beats that can put pressure on your opponent under pressure already during the first turns. This can lead to more hesitant attacks on their part that can buy you time to draw into removal and further evasion. Black also has a decent amount of recursion, meaning you can often sacrifice your Deathtouch creatures into a stacked board, turning that Unearth, Graveshifter, or Return from Extinction into Diabolic Edicts.
You can watch the Red Bull Untapped finals online, held at London's newly opened Red Bull Gaming Sphere. The finals featured the eight finalists from the four events. Here's some bonus footage from Brussels as well – an interview, though unfortunately cut short, with yours truly! You can also find me on Twitter.
Until next time!
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