Archiv für den Monat: April 2015

Why I like the new PTQ system

After competing in the first round of Regional PTQs and getting 9th (boo) with my Den Protector Abzan Deck, I originally wanted to talk about my tournament and my deck, which I really liked. But I’m gonna postpone that for now since that whole tournament experience really got me thinking about the new Regional PTQ system, so I figured it might be more interesting to write about those thoughts first – where I stand on the new system and what measures I’d propose to improve it further.

Let me preface this entry by saying that everything that I’m about to write is solely applicable to my own, individual perspective. Based on where you live and how much you’re willing to commit to Magic, your opinion of the new system might be a completely different one, and that’s just as correct (or wrong) as my opinion. I’m just trying to explain why I feel that the new system is great for me and I’m certainly not gonna be able to speak for every Magic player out there. Though, if you do feel strongly about the new system one way or the other, I encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments (German or English) – I’m going to compile all of your feedback in a neat e-mail to Wizards should there be enough of it. And I’m certainly gonna try to get some of the WotC folks to read this post.

How it used to be

Explaining why I like the new PTQ system is probably easiest by explaining why I disliked the old one. Around 2011 or 2012 (I think?), the number of PTQ tournaments in my region (Southern Germany) dwindled from around six or seven down to three or four. A lot of these PTQs that got taken away from us were instead awarded to the United States, but also to emerging markets like Italy. That might have been justified, but it made PTQs a lot less enjoyable for me personally.

Part of the reason for that is that I simply had less tournaments to go to. It’s not like I actually played all seven PTQs of a given season before; I basically never did that. But having half a dozen PTQs in my vicinity gave me the luxury to skip some of them and only attend those where I had the time and desire to actually play in. I didn’t have to feel bad about skipping a PTQ in Nuremberg, knowing there’d be another one in Salzburg a week later.

That all changed when the number of PTQs in my area got sliced in half. Now I actually felt compelled to compete in every PTQ in my area, because skipping one had a much higher cost all of a sudden. If there was a PTQ in Nuremberg, I basically had to play in it, because there was no ersatz event I could attend in its place. I never was dead-serious about qualifying for the Pro Tour, but if I did want to give it kind of a shot, I couldn’t afford to skip events willy-nilly like I used to.

Of course, after one or two seasons, I did that anyway, hitting up more GP’s in their stead and marking the point where I simply didn’t pursuit PTQs anymore, at least not in a serious manner. I always attended my hometown PTQ in Munich if we had one, and I was still down for the occasional crazy roadtrip, but there were also seasons where I played no PTQ at all. Looking back in my DCI history, I realize that I played in only four Pro Tour Qualifiers in all of 2013, for instance.

The other reason is that by cutting the numbers of PTQs in half, the remaining PTQs got a lot bigger. The relocation of PTQs also came at a time when the Magic boom of ‘09 began to translate into the tournament scene, leading to higher attendance numbers in general. PTQs went from having 60 to 70 players to having 150 players in some cases, especially when it was Sealed season. The consequences being

  • You had a winner-takes-it-all style tournament where 149 players had nothing to show for except maybe some boosters and a playmat. I can accept a tournament structure like that with 60 to 70 players, but with double that number, I felt it was getting ridiculous. (I also greatly dislike WMCQ’s for that reason, fwiw.)
  • In some cases, tournament organizers were not prepared for that many players, leading to overcrowded venues and bad tournament experiences. Some TOs had to introduce a cap, which meant turning away players who actively wanted to give you money.
  • More players also meant longer tournaments, so you pretty much had to spend your whole Saturday on a PTQ, not even being able to make plans for the evening if you did reasonably well. (Plus, you obviously had longer overall travel times if you were starting to hit up more remote tournaments in response to the PTQ cuts.)

So to summarize: PTQs were getting sparse, and when there were any, they were grueling, crowded and creating a lot of feel-bad. I feel like the new RPTQ systems addresses all of those problems in very elegant ways.

How it’s now

First, you have a fair number of tournaments to choose from again. That might actually not be great for the stores themselves, because it means that their player base is travelling more in lieu of attending local store events, but it’s great for me as a player. I can solely attend the events I really want to play in, and I can also allow myself the luxury of neglecting more elaborate road trips, because I have enough events to play in that don’t require me to travel extensively for them. Where a PTQ in Nuremberg used to be one of the nearest-located PTQs I could have attended, I can now attend like six PPTQs that are more convenient for me, including two in my hometown.

Second, the tournaments themselves are much shorter. I really enjoy the fact that I basically never have to get up at some ungodly hour for Magic anymore. I also love that I get to make plans for the evening of a tournament again. PPTQs are so much smaller that they have the luxury to start at later hours than a PTQ and still be finished earlier. So instead of getting up at 6AM and being home at 10PM, I now have to get up at maybe 8AM and be home at 8PM, and that’s already for one of the more extensive trips. I mean, I have no problem with getting up early to do something I love, but I’m also reaching an age where you really learn to appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep. (I’m getting old, is what I’m saying.)

And third, the new system mitigates feel-bad moments. As I said, I think it sucks that in a 150 player tournament, only one player can reasonably call himself a winner. Instead of three 150 player tournaments around Southern Germany, you now have like twelve 40-player-tournaments, which creates a lot more winners. Of course, the award for your win is much less valuable now, but it still makes you feel kinda good about yourself. The Regional PTQ’s also solve this problem by awarding four to eight Pro Tour slots, leading to a structure where a good five to ten percent of attendants can call themselves winners.

Improving the RPTQ experience

I didn’t really know what to expect from the first RPTQ when we arrived at the Cerny Rytir in Prague Saturday morning, but I gotta say that this was one of the most fun non-Nationals tournaments I’ve ever played in. (Just wanted to make a very subtile plug that I really miss Nationals.) All the players were focused, competent and highly competitive, but still relaxed and just happy to be there, which I think is the perfect spot to be in when it comes to high-level Magic tournaments. In that sense, the RPTQ kinda felt like a GP Day 2, and I think that’s a very good thing.

With competitors from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slowakia, Croatia, Austria, Southern + Eastern Germany etc. in attendance, the tournament also kinda felt like some sort of Eastern European Championship, which I really liked. I wonder if we could play that aspect up a bit. What if we rebranded the RPTQs to something like the “Regional Championships”? Eight invitation-only tournaments all over Europe every quarter, and the four best players of each tournament can call themselves Regional Champion and gain a qualification to the Pro Tour. Wouldn’t that sound much cooler? (Maybe even with an end-of-the-year tournament for all the Regional Champions in a given region, if we’re already spitballing?)

A good indicator for how cool a tournament sounds is telling (non-Magic-playing) girls about what you’re doing this weekend. Grand Prix? Sure, sounds kinda exciting. Pro Tour? Oooh, I guess you have to be good in order to play in those. Regional PTQ? Meh, sounds boring. But a Regional Championship? People can probably grok what that is.

I feel like a rebranding is also important to make the RPTQs attractive for newer and/or more casual players. I’ve made the experience that a lot of those players enjoy playing in PPTQs, since they’re sweet local events, but have no desire whatsoever to play in an RPTQ. Maybe that is by design, but I doubt that the amount of RPTQ slots being straight-up sold in the finals of PPTQs is in WotC’s best interest. My finals opponent from the PPTQ I won didn’t care about playing “in another PTQ three hours away”, as he put it, so he happily conceded to me. But I bet he would’ve cared about playing in a Regional Championship.

The title “PTQ” is obviously good for indicating what the primary path to the Pro Tour is, so a rebranding effort certainly comes at a cost. But I honestly don’t think it matters that much. More enfranchised players already know about all the paths to the PT, and less enfranchised players either don’t care about the PT or can get that information elsewhere. Plus, GP’s seem to have become a better source for Pro Tour slots anyway.

Other than that, I really feel like Wizards were trying to make the tournament feel special, and they succeeded in a lot of areas. The prize payout was obviously great, for example. I also like the idea of making coverage mandatory for every TO, but I don’t know if the production of a video coverage is a realistic requirement, as a lot of people on social media suggested. For one, video coverage takes up a lot of resources, good video coverage at least. It also takes up a lot of physical space that many TO’s probably don’t have. I have no idea where Prague’s Cerny Rytir could’ve stored all the necessary equipment, and I’d be sad if they never received another RPTQ again. But I think it’s realistic to demand a text coverage at the very least. If a very dedicated TO wants to produce video coverage – great. But text coverage requires like one dude with a laptop, and that’s something every TO should be able to deliver. (And then you can link to all the coverages from the Wizards website.)

Oh, and one last thing: I feel like it was a gross oversight that the RPTQs didn’t get their own #RPTQ hashtag on Twitter. I was really excited to see what was going to happen at the other RPTQs all over the world, but the lack of a mutual hashtag made that a lot more difficult than it needed to be. Some people eventually made #RPTQ their own hashtag, but it kinda felt like a wasted opportunity.

So, in summary: I think the new PTQ system is awesome, and I can’t wait to compete in my next Regional PTQ. On that note, I think it would be great if the top 16 of every RPTQ automatically qualified for the next one, and I’m totally not biased on that, I swear.

See you guys around!

Flo

HOW DID YOU LIKE THE NEW SYSTEM? DISCUSS!

GP Krakow and Standard moving forward

GP Krakow is in the books, and since I attended that event and since I think that its results are really interesting, I thought I’d write a little bit about our preparation and my thoughts about the format in relation to the RPTQs taking place this weekend. Also, the group I prepared with produced one player who 9-0’d Day 1 (Andi Reling) and one who missed Top 8 by the narrowest of margins (Sascha Schwarz), so our view of the format seemed to be at least somewhat spot-on.

TESTING

I was fortunate enough to prepare with the following group of people: Mike Hofmann, Ashraf Abou Omar, Sascha Schwarz and Andi Reling. We’ve become a relatively close group over the last one, two years or so, largely introduced to one another by our sixth member Benny Paulmaier (who didn’t attend due to being the laziest person on earth).

Now, these are all very talented and accomplished players, and I have no doubt that I rank among the least-skilled players of that group. (Although I like to think that I’m still able to contribute by being good at discussing theory, figuring out logistics and being kind of a buffoon.) What is even more important, though, is that everyone of those guys is one of the friendliest and funniest people imaginable, which makes it actually desirable to attend GPs in the first place. Magic really is about the people, and having great friends to share it with is the most important thing.

Anyways, we quickly established the following assumptions about the format:

1.) Thunderbreak Regent is a giant trap.

I’m not saying the card is bad or anything, because it’s clearly not. But most of the decks playing the card are just atrocious right now. Thunderbreak Regent mostly sees play in green fattie decks with ramp elements or slower, control-ish Jeskai decks, and both these archetypes in their current form can’t beat Control in a million years. We actually tried a lot of Thunderbreak Regent decks, especially of the Jeskai variety, and the issue was always the same: You really needed to curve out perfectly from turns two until five to have a shot against Esper Control’s superior answers, and that simply doesn’t happen enough of the time. Not to mention the fact that you flat-out don’t have a good two-drop to apply pressure apart from maybe Stratus Dancer. And as soon as you try something different and play a longer game with Dig Through Time and stuff like that, you’re just playing right into Esper’s strengths.

The green decks can bridge the gaps in their curve by playing ramp creatures, but it’s just delusional to think you can beat Control with 4 Elvish Mystic and 4 Sylvan Caryatids in your deck. Especially if you also run garbage like Roast and Draconic Roar. The Thunderbreak Regent deck that impressed me the most was an aggressive RW deck I faced on Sunday, with a lot of burn and aggressive Two-Drops (Soulfire Grand Master, Seeker of the Way). That deck can also draw the most use out of the Regent’s triggered ability.

2.) Esper Control is the best deck in the format.

If it looks like im harping on the matchup against Esper Control a lot, that’s because I am. We quickly identified Esper as the best deck, closely followed by Abzan and Mono-Red. I guess that’s not so much an “assumption” as “stating the painfully obvious”.

3.) The field is going to be prepared for Mono-Red and Esper.

Aaaaaand here is where our predictions fell apart. Both strategies are very streamlined and eminently beatable if you’re just trying, and we expected most people to do so. We assumed that the metagame would become more adapted against Esper after the Pro Tour, and playing with Esper against a bunch of Mono-Red decks, Esper decks tuned for the mirror and green decks packing Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor didn’t seem very appealing to most of us.

The problem was that this didn’t happen. Flat-out nobody respected Esper and they got severely punished for that. I don’t know if it was laziness, insufficient time to prepare or just an incorrect assumption of Esper as an archetype, but people basically played last week’s decks and got crushed by a deck that was already crushing last week’s metagame. That really shouldn’t happen by this severity.

I don’t think that the issue is that the Esper deck is broken or anything, as the cards to beat it are definitely out there. People just didn’t play them. Not even the Esper player themselves respected the Esper matchup. For instance, Sascha, Mike and Ashraf quickly identified Stratus Dancer as a great card in an Esper-dominated metagame, and Sascha played three copies of it in his Esper sideboard (he actually regretted afterwards not running the fourth). Sascha exclusively played Esper mirrors on Day 2, and he went 3-1-2 against them, his one loss against Alexander Hayne being due to a mulligan to five in the decider. His wins were largely due to having actual sideboard cards for the matchup, in contrast to most of his opponents.

I think Dragonlord Ojutai is another reason why people underestimated Esper, because it made a lot of cards that are normally strong against Control worse than most people assumed. It’s easy to look at an Esper decklist and say “Oh, this deck can’t beat Mastery of the Unseen/my quick red start/random card I didn’t think of”, but Esper actually has a solution for all those problems. And that solution is “Just kill them with Ojutai.” If your plan B is a 5/4 Thieving Magpie on steroids that basically has hexproof … then yeah, your Plan B is good.

So here is what we ended up with, deck-wise:

Sascha definitely made the smartest choice and simply ran Esper, correctly assuming that people wouldn’t run as much hate as we feared. It also helped that Sascha had two weeks off before the event, allowing him to test endlessly on Magic Online and learn the deck inside out. I guess being in the army has its perks. We all had a hand in his decklist in some capacity, but we still didn’t have the foresight/the balls to just jump ship and do what he did. Sascha 8-1’ed Day 1, started 3-0 on day 2 and had to win one out of the next three matches to draw into the Top 8. Unfortunately, his opponents in rounds 13 and 14 each narrowly equalized the match score in the extra turns, and round 15 saw Sascha mulligan to five in the decider.

Andi simply ran CFB Pantheon’s Abzan Control decklist from the PT, since he knows his way around a Siege Rhino and didn’t find a deck he really liked. That approach paid off handsomely on Day 1, where Andi won a bunch of mirrors to find himself at 9-0 come Sunday. The problem is that by the Pantheon’s own admission, their decklist needed like one or two sideboard cards more against Esper to really have a good matchup against it… which Andi found out the hard way by losing the first three rounds of Day 2 against Esper. So yeah, it’s probably fair to say we underestimated it, too.

Ashraf, for the most time, was undecided on which deck to play, ultimately settling on Mono-Red in the end. I think Ashraf is a very emotional player who really needs to find a deck he loves to perform at his peak, and while Mono-Red was a smart choice in my opinion, it certainly wasn’t one he was happy with. It obviously helps that he is a strong technical player, but in the end he failed to make Day 2 after starting out 5-0.

Mike is kind of a Jeskai expert, living in the Mystic Monastery since the day Wizards began to force the clan names down our throats. If anybody can make this color combination work, it’s probably him, so Mike decided to go with what he knows best. Unfortunately, he crashed and burned at the GP, reinforcing my belief that the color combination is poorly positioned right now.

As for myself, I ran this monstrosity:

 Bant Heroic

4 Favored Hoplite
4 Hero Of Iroas
2 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
3 Seeker of the Way
1 Battlewise Hoplite
1 Abzan Falconer

2 Ordeal of Heliod
4 Ordeal of Thassa
1 Aqueous Form

2 Ajani’s Presence
4 Defiant Strike
4 Dromoka’s Command
4 Gods Willing

2 Treasure Cruise

1 Forest
1 Island
4 Plains
4 Flooded Strand
4 Mana Confluence
2 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Temple of Plenty
4 Windswept Heath
1 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard:
1 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
2 Aqueous Form
2 Encase in Ice
1 Ordeal of Heliod
2 Disdainful Stroke
3 Stubborn Denial
2 Treasure Cruise
1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
1 Island

Now this looks like a decklist only Tom Ross could love. While I normally tend to shy away from glass cannon decks like this, I really thought that this archetype had a lot going for it. I knew I wanted to play something proactive, because the format was looking very spread out with Mono Red and Esper as Decks to Beat on completely different sides on the spectrum. I also knew that I didn’t want to have a bad matchup against either of them.

Bant Heroic has a close matchup against Esper, but a good-to-great matchup against basically every creature deck out there, including Abzan Aggro and Mono-Red, both decks which I expected in great numbers because of their (perceived) good matchup against Esper. Also, this very likely is the best Dromoka’s Command deck in the format. The only really bad matchup is Abzan Control, but I didn’t expect the deck to perform very well this weekend.

Of course, while you might have a good matchup against lots of decks on paper, there is still another enemy to overcome with decks like these: Your own library. Sometimes you will just lose to your own draws with a deck like Bant Heroic, and there’s nothing you can do. And that’s probably something I didn’t put into account enough while testing and theorizing. I still think the deck is good, though: A slightly different, but interesting version of the deck got 9th, and another player from Munich Day 2’d with basically the same decklist as mine.

It might be that my decklist was just bad and the list that made T16 is the way to go. I changed some things from Tom Ross’ original list, like the two Monastery Mentors which I found to be atrocious. (It is true that your deck is very good at protecting them, but there basically never is a spot where you want to go wide.) Maybe I should have been more radical, though. Jan Ksandr’s list had some neat ideas, like the Heliod’s Pilgrims, which are slow but make the deck more consistent and can fetch Encase in Ice after sideboarding. I also hated Lagonna-Band Trailblazer against everything but Mono Red (which I never played), so maybe I should’ve just jammed more Battlewise Hoplites instead, even if that makes your manabase worse.

In the tournament, I went 6-3 (4-3 after byes), beating RG Devotion, RG Dragons and Abzan Control twice (my worst matchup!). My losses were to Temur Aggro, where I lost the die roll and mulliganed to five game 3; a heartbreaker against Esper Control where I managed to tap him out game 3 and needed to find one targeting spell with my drawstep or my Treasure Cruise, failing; and one against Abzan Control, where he had an early Thoughtseize and I just didn’t get anything going after that because I didn’t find another creature. That’s just how it is with this deck: Sometimes you steamroll them and sometimes they Thoughtseize your Favored Hoplite and you die with a bunch of Ordeals in hand.

I decided to copy Andi’s Abzan decklist for the Standard side event on Sunday, since I’m an avid Siege Rhino lover as well and wanted to get more experience about the holes in the deck and how I could fix them leading up to the Regional PTQ on Saturday. I was 3-1 before I mulliganed to oblivion twice in round 5 and dropped, but I still feel like I learned a lot.

  • Esper Control is definitely beatable, you just need a better plan for it. That plan could be hateful stuff like Nissa, Worldwaker, but I find that card to be very narrow and overrated.

  • Instead I’m more looking at the Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor interaction. They make the deck play out somewhat differently, but they do have the advantage that they are card advantage engines that are also serviceable blockers against MonoR, allowing you to drop stuff like Read the Bones from the maindeck. They aren’t very good at finding lands, though, which is definitely something that needs to be adressed in deckbuilding.

  • In the same vein, I really want to try out Sorin, Solemn Visitor again. Sorin is a card that is seldom great, but always serviceable against a wide array of matchups, and a card that is good against MonoR and Esper Control is something I am really interested in. It’s possible that Sorin just gets completely outclassed by Esper’s big, mean dragons, though.

  • Everything else is beatable by just jamming a bunch of Wraths. Also, everything is beatable by just drawing two Siege Rhinos.

This is where I’m at right now:

4 Den Protector
2 Deathmist Raptor
4 Siege Rhino
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Fleecemane Lion

1 Dromoka’s Command
4 Abzan Charm
2 Bile Blight
3 Hero’s Downfall
3 Thoughtseize

3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Windswept Heath
2 Plains
2 Forest
1 Caves of Koilos
3 Llanowar Wastes

Sideboard
1 Crux of Fate
2 End Hostilities
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
3 Drown in Sorrow
2 Read the Bones
1 Glare of Heresy
2 Ultimate Price
1 Thoughtseize
2 Duress

I took this list by Andrew Vaughn from the SCG Open T8 as a starting point. (As a side note, it’s really baffling how different this Top 8 looked from the one in Krakow.) Not too happy with the sideboard yet, but I really like where this is going. It’s possible that 4 Den Protectors is too much, and it’s actually also possible that Deathmist Raptor needs to go completely. I also might want a 26th land or a random Satyr Wayfinder, since this list has less raw card draw to hit its land drops. Time will tell, I suppose.

Best of luck to everybody competing in the RPTQs! Maybe I’ll see some of you in Prague.

Flo   

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