This week I am going to talk about the decks I played at PT Origins (Naya Midrange) and Grand Prix San Diego (Monowhite Tokens), along with updates. Then I will offer five tips for improving your play.
Pro Tour Magic Origins
I tested again with Team UltraPRO for this Pro Tour. Last time I finished in 10th place with Ojutai Bant but this time I did not do nearly as well, finishing 3-5, and going 1-2 in Draft and 2-3 in Standard with Naya Midrange. Here was my list:
The deck was solid in general but terrible for that particular tournament for a couple of reasons. First off, it was soft to UR Ensoul Artifact which proved way more prevalent than expected. Secondly, it was hurt by the scry mulligan rule. Eight green fetch lands trying to cast first turn Elvish Mystic means that we frequently have to shuffle away our scry when on the play. Post-tournament I would fit at least three copies of Dromoka's Command in the maindeck and probably add Mastery of the Unseen back into the deck. Dromoka's Command is great against UR Ensoul Artifact and against Red Aggro - two of the most popular decks in Standard right now. There are also a lot more enchantments now than there were prior to the Pro Tour and also fewer control decks without targets for any of the modes. The most popular control deck in the format (Sultai) even runs Jace.
Despite not doing well myself, the team overall did quite well. Pat Cox made Top 8 with our version of Red Aggro while Matt Sperling made Top 4 with our version of Abzan Control. Rich Hoaen also finished in ninth place on tie-breakers with the Red Aggro deck.
The way things shook out, I would have needed a Top 16 finish to qualify for Worlds. Of course I didn't finish anywhere close, but it was nice to be in legitimate contention going into the final tournament of the season. Hopefully next season I'll do a little better and make it in.
The week following Pro Tour Magic Origins was Grand Prix San Diego, which was also Standard.
Grand Prix San Diego
I wrote about Monowhite Tokens last week including videos. I modified it slightly and played it to a 9-6 finish at Grand Prix San Diego. Here is the list I played, in collaboration with Jared Sherman:
Knight of the White Orchid would have been much better than Consul's Lieutenant. I got stuck on three lands multiple times where the knight would have found me the fourth land to cast my Archangel of Tithes or Ajani Steadfast to get back into the game. The Lieutenant was good a few times, especially when on the play, but not so much better than knight would have been to justify having it in the deck over the knight. I also want to cut one of the colorless lands for another Plains.
The sideboard was mostly good but I think I would change a couple cards based on how the GP went. I would replace the two copies of Vryn Wingmare with the fourth Surge of Righteousness and the fourth Banishing Light. Banishing Light is a good all-purpose removal spell that can also hit enchantments, which are fairly prevalent at this point. Meanwhile Vryn Wingmare is not generally enough of a difference maker in the matchups where we want it (essentially anything running Languish). It's fine but it's the lowest impact card in our board. So here is the updated list I would recommend for this weekend:
Ryan Bemrose made Top 32 in GP SD playing an updated version of the Naya Mastery deck I played at GP Buenos Aires and Pro Tour Origins. Here is his list:
The maindeck is mostly the same but he made some big changes to the sideboard. My plan against red was to board into four Wild Slash and two Magma Spray. Ryan opted to go with Arashin Cleric over Wild Slash. He also has Revoke Existence which is likely a concession to the increased popularity of UR Ensoul Artifact. Revoke can kill Ensoul Artifact no matter what it enchants. It can also kill Chief of the Foundry efficiently. In addition, it kills Sphinx's Tutelage against Andrew Cuneo's mill deck. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a way to clean up an out of control board, which can sometimes happen against Green Devotion. Evolutionary Leap improves the Abzan matchup and any other matchup that aims to kill all our creatures. Tragic Arrogance also shines against Green Devotion and can clean up a board. Overall Bemrose's version of the deck looks well-suited for the current metagame.
The three decks I was deciding between were Naya, Monowhite, and Kibler's GW Megamorph deck. I think all three decks are close in power level and are reasonable choices.
Now let's switch gears a bit. The most common question I get asked by readers is advice on improving as a player. So here are five tips that can help you play better in tournaments.
Five Tips for Improving Your Play
1. Think before playing your land for the turn
I often see people draw a land and immediately play it. It's the obvious part of their decision, so "let's get the easy part of the decision-making process out of the way first." This is wrong and you should get out of the habit of doing this. It gives away free information to the opponent that it's your only land in hand and sometimes it's better to sequence your plays in such a way where playing the land is better to be done later in the turn rather than at the beginning. For instance, if your play for the turn is Abbot of Keral Keep or Courser of Kruphix then playing the land first can be disastrous. Less disastrous but still bad if your plan is to cast Brainstorm or Tormenting Voices, it would be better to think about what to do with that land instead of just playing it and taking away your option to discard it or put it on top of your library. There is basically no reason to speed through this part of your turn. Take your time and think about your whole play before you play your land.
2. Stop blaming bad luck for your losses
Not everyone is guilty of this, but if you aren't being honest with yourself, then there is nothing anyone can do to help you improve as a player. I have watched countless games of Magic where a player makes mistake after mistake, giving away an easily winnable game in nearly every way possible, and then finding a way to blame bad luck for the loss. I've tried hard to understand what must be going through such a player's mind and the only thing that makes sense to me is that they are so focused on seeing themselves as a victim that they create opportunities to feel victimized by luck. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, then by all means continue in your ways. But if instead you want to improve and win more at Magic, then I suggest adopting the opposite attitude. When you lose a game, think "there was probably a way I could have won by playing differently" and then reflect on what you could have done to give yourself a better chance at victory. And humbly ask others if they saw anything you could have done. Even if an opponent or spectator is not as strong a player as you are, they will often be able to point out things that surprised them about one or more of your decisions in a game.
3. Play a practice game to warm up before a tournament
I noticed earlier this year that I lose the first round of a tournament more often than I lose other rounds when I don't warm up. You want to be mentally sharp for each round and Magic is a mental competition. Just as you would want to stretch and warm up your body before a tennis match, basketball game, or marathon, you should likewise stretch and warm up your mind before starting a tournament. Find anyone and play a game with your deck. It doesn't have to be a full match and you don't even have to finish the game if there is not enough time. It's still better than diving in cold. I tend to have better results in round one whenever I play a warmup game. Give it a try and make a note of how it affects your first round of play.
4. Bring a food bag to tournaments
My tournament staples include: a bag of mixed nuts (preferably unsalted, raw, without added oil), multiple different kinds of fruit (fresh bananas, fresh apple, dried mango, preferably organic), something grain-based (usually a multi-seed whole grain bread or cracker), and at least 32 ounces of water (preferably with a lemon squeezed into it). Eat sparingly throughout the day but do not overeat at any one time because that will hinder your mental sharpness. Also avoid heavy foods that will require your body to expend extra energy on digestion (meat, dairy, rotten or stale foods). I also avoid caffeine, alcohol, or spicy foods as those will overstimulate the mind and make it harder to stay focused. I've tested this regiment extensively and I recommend it to anyone attending an all-day tournament, especially a Grand Prix or Pro Tour Qualifier. Also get adequate sleep in the days leading up to the tournament.
5. Have fun
This advice may seem strange. After all, how can having fun improve my play? Well, think about it. Why do you play Magic? You play because you enjoy playing the game. Why do you play in tournaments? Because you enjoy playing competitively. Why do you read strategy articles offering tips for improving your play? Because you enjoy winning. So no matter what level tournament you are playing in, you should remember to have fun. I've played in more than a thousand tournaments over the past 20 years, enough to amass over 55,000 planeswalker points (16th most ever) and I still look forward to playing in tournaments each weekend. It's impossible to play your best for any sustainable amount of time unless you're having fun. Don't trivialize your enjoyment for the game. It's indispensable at every level. Good luck and have fun!
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter