I haven't played Magic very much lately.
While on the surface that may sound like a bad thing, I don't see it that way. For one, I haven't really wanted to. I've found myself enjoying pursuits other than Magic more, and my quality of life has gone up quite a bit once I chose to occupy some of my time this way. One thing inherent to the nature of being a professional at Magic, and I assume other fields as well, is that there is a level of guilt associated with it.
Time spent doing things for fun that aren't Magic will sometimes come with the guilt that the time could, and should, be better spent playing Magic and testing for the next event. There's no clear picture of how much time is the right amount to spend testing Magic. Should I spend 40 hours a week on Magic like a normal job? Fewer hours testing once I factor in things like time spent writing this article or time spent on my podcast? Am I obligated to put in even more time because my job is something that I like and that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do, and thus it's not as odious to work as the jobs that many other people get up to do every day?
Do I need to spend even more time because that's what it takes to stay on top and compete effectively with my peers who are also pouring huge chunks of their time into it? It gets amplified once you take the testing team aspect into it. Now I'm working with other like-minded people toward a goal and there's pressure to not be the person dragging down the group. If they are dedicating a huge amount of hours into it and I'm doing far less, that sparks feelings of guilt that I'm not pulling my weight and that I'm letting them down and am a parasite on the team process.
In the past, this guilt has won out, and I've often gotten stuck in cycles where nearly every waking moment has been singularly dedicated to Magic. While that sounds awesome, and is awesome to some extent, it's also exhausting. And over a long enough period of time, it took its toll on me.
I think what eventually broke me from this cycle is that competitive Magic lost its enchantment. I realized at the last Players Tour that I just no longer enjoy the competition of the game and that it is not something I see myself doing in the long term. Once that shattered away, I lost all feelings of guilt associated with spending my time doing other things. I no longer feel like moments spent outside of Magic will hurt my future and career. If my future and career aren't tied to Magic competition, then there is nothing to hurt.
The other factor is that I recently started a temporary one-month consultant position at Wizards of the Coast. While I'm not allowed to discuss the nature of what I'm working on, it's a 40-hour-a-week position that I'm almost three weeks into. Living the double life of doing an actual 40-hour-a-week job plus my normal tasks has been exhausting, and left little time to spend playing Magic.
So when it came time for the MTG Arena Mythic Point Challenge last weekend, I found myself mostly unprepared. The Mythic Point Challenge is an event on MTG Arena that you qualify for by being a top Mythic rank finisher at the end of one of the ranking cycles. It's a free-form event where you can join a match whenever you want during the allotted time period with the structure that you play until you amass either 10 wins or 3 losses. You then earn Mythic Points and MTG Arena gems for how well you do in the event. Those Mythic Points can help qualify players for events down the line.
This happened to be one of the few events for the Magic Pro League this season. I bombed out of the first MPL event, Players Tour Phoenix in February. I also had low hopes for myself in this one, having barely tested for it.
I decided to play Temur Clover for the event. While I haven't been playing much, I've still been trying to keep up to date on the format as much as possible by reading about it and seeing what people are saying on social media, and I watched a good portion of Dreamhack Anaheim the prior weekend. That event was dominated and won by Aaron Gertler playing Temur Clover, a deck mostly unchanged from the list that briefly flared up last season, but one that had been seemingly forgotten.
Coming into the Mythic Point Challenge, Temur Clover was public enemy #1. It had a target on its head after the Dreamhack event, and my competitors would be presumably playing strategies tuned to beat Clover or chosen with Clover in mind. That made me nervous. Going into a tournament playing the deck that everyone knows about without the level of format knowledge and testing it takes to sidestep their attempts to beat it was a dangerous proposition.
For that reason, I wanted to play Jeskai Fires. Jeskai Fires is an incredibly powerful proactive strategy that was less likely to be specifically targeted like Temur would be. Jeskai Fires was a more comfortable selection for me. However, Brad Nelson and William Jensen were both playing Temur Clover in this event, and coming down on the wrong side of those two players is a bold choice. In the past year I've been punished for picking the comfortable deck over better players' advice enough times that I finally decided I wasn't going to let myself get burned that way again.
"Temur Clover it is." The list I played was mostly stock, only cutting Chandra, Awakened Inferno from the sideboard for an Expansion // Explosion on the suggestion of William Jensen. That also matched what I personally wanted to do, as I've wanted an Expansion in the sideboard of the deck since I originally saw it.
I did not think I would perform well in the event. I assumed that my opponents would be more prepared than me, would be coming into the event with strategies built to beat me, and I was nervous playing mirror matches. The mirror match looked like a grind, difficult to navigate, and I had never played any. I was really hoping to avoid these.
My guess was that I'd go somewhere between 2-3 and 4-3.
I went 10-2.
Took my opponents to 10 wins Cloverfield Lane in this Mythic Point Challenge. I'm officially on the board for the MPL this year. pic.twitter.com/50dYUSmmm6— Brian Braun-Duin (@BraunDuinIt) March 1, 2020
One thing that became quickly apparent to me was that I was uniquely suited to playing this kind of strategy. I've been playing Magic for 14 years now, and that builds an level of experience that can't be replicated or faked by people who haven't been playing as long. I used my massive wealth of knowledge and experience as well as my rugged charm and individualism to identify the most important card in the deck and then singularly abuse the power of that card in ways that other people didn't seem able to pull off.
That card was Lucky Clover, and I abused its power by being incredibly lucky. Yeah, I know, it was genius. When you think about it, I'm just following the flavor and intended play pattern of the card. What do you want from me? To play Lucky Clover and then not also get super lucky in an event? As if I would ever…
In all seriousness, I did run pretty well in this event. Some of that was just good luck, but decks like this with loads of card advantage and a wealth of options for any situation are just naturally going to draw well in most games of Magic. Sometimes drawing well is a factor of being lucky, and sometimes drawing well is a factor of playing a deck that draws well. In this case, I think both factors were on my side.
My low expectations about how I would perform in the event quickly wore off. I was still really hoping every round to not get paired against the mirror match, but I got into a rhythm with the deck and started to really tune in on it as the event progressed.
I mostly played against aggressive strategies, which I was really happy about. Playing against a deck like Mono-Red is way more straightforward for me than playing other matchups. I've been playing against Mono-Red my entire life, and while the cards change, the gameplay typically remains very similar. Preserve your life total, gain value whenever it is safe to do so without being severely punished, and then try to turn the corner quickly once you establish control so you don't lose to their reach.
From my matches, I felt favored with Temur against aggressive red decks. The one-two punch of Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast stymies the early rush, and then timely Brazen Borrowers insulate you against their big Embercleave turns. Eventually you can safely reach into your sideboard with Fae of Wishes and then go on the aggressive to close out the game.
I went 5-0 in the event against Red Aggro, Rakdos Sacrifice and Black Aggro. A lot of these matches were very close, and I won some sick games that I didn't think I was going to win. I'd hate to draw sweeping conclusions off of small sample sizes, but from the way those games played out, I do think Temur is the favorite here, although probably not by too much. It felt to me that Temur has a lot of good, consistent draws, and Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast do quite a bit of work cleaning up the early game.
One of my losses was to Jeskai Fires. In the deciding game three of that match, I had a lot of interaction over the course of the game, but I still eventually just lost. That loss stressed to me the importance of establishing your engine every game. I had interaction, but I didn't draw card advantage, I didn't have a Lucky Clover, and my cards were just weaker than my opponent's. I wasn't going to win many games that way. I really needed Edgewall Innkeeper or Lucky Clover to actually gain traction in those matchups.
Establishing the card advantage engines of this deck was one of the most important things to do in every single matchup, including against aggressive decks. I was told to cut most of my copies of Escape to the Wilds in some of the aggressive matchups, but I stopped doing that midway through the event—too often I found myself in games where I had stabilized the board but lacked a way to close the game or pull further ahead. It may seem counterintuitive to keep a clunky five-mana card advantage spell against a deck trying to kill you quickly, but the cards in this deck are so good at buying time and trading off resources that eventually, even in those matchups, the game will come down to just finding card advantage to close things out.
I went 3-0 in the mirror. Mostly, I felt like I just had better draws than my opponents here. Most games were won by the player who did the Lucky Clover + Beanstalk Giant thing better to just bury the opponent in mana and card advantage. I did, however, win a few games by playing very aggressively and using Fae of Wishes to search up Domri's Ambush and Fling. Domri's Ambush would clear a key blocker on a turn to push damage through, and then Fling was there to hopefully finish the job on a later turn. This felt like a good Hail Mary to win games when your card advantage engine can't match your opponent's.
At some point I found myself at 9-1, with my only loss having been to Jeskai Control. This sparked a series of matches against Azorius Control. The first was one of the best games of Magic I've had the pleasure of playing.
In game one of the match, I had all the pieces of card advantage I could dream of, but my opponent was limiting it with Narset, Parter of Veils and they kept finding timely countermagic to stymie me on big turns. I had Expansion // Explosion, Fling and Negate in my hand, and my opponent was at 3 life, but Teferi, Time Raveler prevented me from executing on this combo and they began to creep out of it.
They were also surviving my board thanks to a Archon of Sun's Grace that I kept trying, and failing, to remove. The Archon was also buffering their life total out of range of Expansion // Explosion. Eventually I managed to kill the Archon, and I also decided to spend a Fae of Wishes to get Return to Nature to exile it from their graveyard, preventing two Elspeth Conquers Deaths that were in play from being able to ever return it.
Eventually my opponent's life total was well above 20 and I gave up on the plan of Flinging them to do death, especially because my Expansion // Explosion had been used earlier in the game to bait out countermagic. The new plan became to mill them out naturally. They had fewer cards in their deck than I did. I would stay ahead on cards in library and wait for them to just run out. Toward this end, I used every part of the buffalo. Fae of Wishes plus Lucky Clover allowed me to get every card out of my sideboard, including Aether Gusts. Those Aether Gusts were actually instrumental in winning me the game because they reset Bonecrusher Giants from play to back on top of my deck. I used those Bonecrusher Giants alongside Lucky Clover (to copy them) and Shadowspear (to remove hexproof) to kill numerous Dream Trawlers. That Fling that had been in my hand all game served the same role.
Eventually my opponent died from decking themselves naturally. I can proudly state that I beat Azorius Control with Aether Gust: not something that I ever expected to be able to claim. However, I lost the match because game one used up so much time that I timed out in game 2, a game I believe I would have won with a longer clock.
This dropped me to 9-2 with one match to decide my fate. That match was also against Azorius Control. A redemption tour, if you will. This time I won 2-0 and it was way more straightforward. I ended up achieving 10 wins and the maximum points earned. I did not go into the event expecting it, I felt quite fortunate to achieve it, but dang it still felt good.
To echo what I said before about maximizing on your engine, the only change that I'd consider making to the maindeck is to just include the fourth copy of Escape to the Wilds over the miser's Incubation // Incongruity. That freed-up sideboard slot could just become some other card advantage spell to tutor for if you want it, but could also just be another piece of interaction. I found that I didn't tutor that often for Escape to the Wilds because generally when I'm tutoring, I'm looking for a specific card that is tailored to beat my opponent's strategy, not just generic card advantage. Once and Future is different, because Once and Future allows you to double down on cards that you've already drawn that are good in the matchup—a valuable effect.
With wish sideboards, it's important to have cheap and versatile options. Jelger Wiegersma suggested playing an Unsummon in the sideboard. While Unsummon is a weak card in general, it provides value as a sideboard card because there are times where you have five mana, a Fae of Wishes in hand, and you just need something that can buy you a turn. You probably won't tutor for it often, but having the option of a cheap piece of interaction is valuable.
Domri's Ambush was probably the card I searched up the most for a similar reason. Sometimes I just needed to kill a problem card and that was my cheapest option to accomplish it. Ultimately I don't think I would change much about the deck, and it's (Escape to the) wild to me that what is essentially a Throne of Eldraine Block Constructed deck is arguably the best deck in Standard and also resilient to a week of people trying to beat it. Throne was a powerful set, is what I'm just now learning.
Even though Temur was a known quantity with a target on it, I still felt like what I was doing was more powerful than what my opponents were doing. Even though my opponents played cards that seemed chosen to beat Temur, I didn't feel like those cards actually did enough toward accomplishing those goals. Beating the best deck is not easy, and judging from how well a lot of other Temur Clover players did, it seems that many came at the best, but missed. And I've heard that's not what you should do.