I am the Magic: The Gathering 2015 World Champion!
That hasn't really sunk in yet. It is hard to fully comprehend the scale and the degree of what being World Champion actually means to me. I have been playing Magic for over fifteen years, seemingly playing all the time in the hopes of being able to compete at the highest level. Am I lucky that I was able to start qualifying for Pro Tours and finding success on the biggest stages the game has to offer? Doing well in an individual tournament does traditionally involve getting lucky, drawing the right cards, or even having your opponent misplay against you. It seemed like for this particular tournament everything was going my way.
It is a very rare experience to find yourself constantly winning, especially at a tournament like the World Championships. This was almost an out of body experience. Through the first two days of the tournament I went 13-1. At the time I didn't want to think about what I had done, because there were still two more rounds left to be played. One of the worst things a player can do is let winning go to their head. Traditionally I am a player that can get nervous during a Magic tournament. Even though I have known for a while that I have had the potential to be one of the best players in the world, I don't like to compare myself to other players. The reason is that if I go into a match thinking that another player's game is superior to my own I will let it get to my head and I won't play my best.
At a tournament like the World Championships the best thing I could possibly do for myself was not think about who was sitting across from me during a match. However there were definitely a couple times where I got caught up thinking about the moment and made a small mistake, because I thought I was going to win the game. After the start I had to the event it felt like it was my tournament to lose, but the buildup was absolutely brutal. In the end though I was extremely happy with my play, and I believe that I am more confident in my own abilities now than ever before. Still I couldn't have done this without my teammates, who helped me not only pick the decks that I won the tournament with, but also helped me elevate my game in playtesting.
I want to start by talking about my deck for Standard as, after all, it was the deck that I played in the Top 4 and helped me win $50,000. Here is the deck that Brad Nelson, Steve Rubin, Ari Lax, and I played at the World Championships:
Abzan Control of course isn't anything new, but there are a few card choices that make this list a bit different. For instance, when comparing this list to that of Owen Turtenwalds it is obvious that there is some room for variation in terms of configuring Abzan Control. If I were to play a major Standard tournament right now, I don't think I would change a card. It feels like this list has been being tuned ever since Ari Lax's win at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. The Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhinos remain staple creatures and you definitely want four of each. Between the two, Siege Rhino usually gets more attention than Courser of Kruphix, but I believe that this has been the deck that can best use Courser of Kruphix for quite some time. Courser of Kruphix is part of the reason why you can call this a control deck: it gains you an incredible advantage over the course of a game, by putting lands into play from the top of your deck, it makes it much more likely your actual draw steps will be gas.
During the finals there was a turn where I had a plethora of options, as I had Owen Turtenwald on the back foot. I had six lands in play and wanted to hit my seventh land. For anyone who hasn't watched the finals it was a great match, especially game five.
I opted to play Courser of Kruphix on the seventh turn of the game, rather than start running out Siege Rhinos to try and go for the kill, and in fact I had three Siege Rhinos in my hand at the end of the game because there was always another play I would rather make up until that point. Siege Rhino is a great card at putting pressure on your opponent and trying to quickly put the game away but Courser of Kruphix is the card that helps gain incremental value each turn, and I felt that my best way to win the game was to not try to put Owen away too quickly, but to do it turn by turn. There were multiple spots I could get him to a virtual one life but I wanted to advance my board as best as possible to prepare for the game lasting for a while.
Perhaps the single card that did the most work for me over the course of the weekend was Tasigur, the Golden Fang. I got in many activations with this guy, and without those activations I wouldn't have won those games. I believe that Tasigur, the Golden Fang is the best delve spell this deck can play, and I disagree with running something like Murderous Cut as your delve spell instead. As for the other creatures we decided to go with two Nissa, Vastwood Seer and three copies of Den Protector. There are some versions that opt to play more of these guys, but they can be slow, and we wanted to go with a split of three Forest and two Plains, so we liked our numbers on the creature base.
As for the spells in the maindeck, most are pretty typical of an Abzan Control deck. One that does stand out though is the Silence the Believers. We wanted another good way of exiling creatures, and Silence the Believers can be an absolute blowout later in the game. I really wanted to play against Abzan Aggro and draw this card. Not only does it exile annoying threats like Hangarback Walker, it can even take out something bestowed by Herald of Torment, along with the Herald of Torment itself. This deck wants access to a wide variety of removal spells. There is a two/one split between Languish and Tragic Arrogance because there are certain times when only Tragic Arrogance can get you out of a tight spot, but in a vacuum Languish is better as it is one less mana and much less conditional.
As for the sideboard there are definitely a number of one and two-ofs. Part of what makes Abzan Control such a strong deck, is the ability to reconfigure the deck after sideboarding. In fact I would go as far as to say that Abzan Control has access to the best sideboard cards in the format, and should be favored against almost everything after game one. Since the Top 4 of the World Championships are best of five games this was another reason I chose to play Abzan Control. Since with Abzan Control you go through a good portion of your deck in a lot of the games, it becomes that much more likely that you will see a sideboard card, even if it's just a one or two-of. This is part of what makes each card in the sideboard that much more impactful.
First of all there is only one creature in the sideboard, and that is Fleecemane Lion. This is a card that I like having access to as it is so versatile and gives you another angle of attack against a lot of decks. I certainly drew the Fleecemane Lions frequently in the post board games versus Owen Turtenwald. They allowed me to be the aggressor in the mirror match, which is exactly where I want to be. If he ended up using his third turn to Abzan Charm away my Fleecemane Lion it felt like a win. The reason why there are not a full set is that we wanted to fit other cards, and we didn't want the opponents to be able to configure their sideboard around our plan. What I mean by this is say we are bringing in four Fleecemane Lions, than the opponent can leave in their Bile Blights, whereas if we only have two copies of Fleecemane Lion in the deck, having Bile Blight after sideboard seems like a riskier proposition. Also drawing Fleecemane Lion in late game situations isn't necessarily where you want to be.
This deck wants to be able to be aggressive after sideboarding, but doesn't want all the threats to be creatures. There is a trio of planeswalkers in the sideboard, which come in against all the decks that aren't putting pressure on early. Playing a Sorin, Solemn Visitor or an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes onto an empty board can be a nightmare for your opponent. These are other reasons why, even in a mirror match, our version is advantaged as it is very hard to deal with these permanents that can't be dealt with on a one-for-one basis. The card that does trump the plan though is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon which can be the ultimate mirror breaker, if left unprepared for it.
There are some slots dedicated to small aggressive creature decks, and Drown in Sorrow is just necessary in case you ever play against red aggro. In a similar way the Bile Blight can deal with annoying creature tokens, versus decks that try to go wide against you. Many of the sideboard cards are already in the maindeck, as certain removal spells are better suited for certain matchups, and allow you to have the best possible removal suite after boarding. One removal spell that's here and was outstanding for me is Glare of Heresy. Of course, I wasn't expecting to play against Monowhite Devotion where this card is at its absolute best, but even against any type of Abzan deck Glare of Heresy is great. Being able to exile the opposing white permanent, like a Siege Rhino of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, is nice because it prevents the opponent from getting back the permanent with a Den Protector.
One thing to note about sideboarding with this deck is that Thoughtseize comes out in a ton of matchups. In the finals it definitely took some top decks in order for me to pull it out, but by shaving or completely taking out Thoughtseizes it makes your topdecking ability better. There are also matchups like versus Sam Black's Monowhite Devotion that I just had so many good cards in the matchup that Thoughtseize was just the easiest card to cut.
The Standard portion of the event is the part of the tournament that is freshest in my mind as it was the last four rounds of the event, including the Top 4. Still, next week I will be talking about other parts of the tournament, as there were four different formats. Honestly right now I am exhausted, overwhelmingly happy with my performance, and thankful for everyone who was rooting for me to take it down. Yes, I went 15-1 in the tournament, a record that I will always be very proud of. Still, there is always room for improvement, and I just want to continue to play the game that I love so much, along with so many others around the world.
Thanks for reading,