2013 Year in Review: Competitive Play

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Magic is a fickle beast and it’s easy to get your mind tangled up into a loop of blaming your losses on things outside your control. Everyone loses because they drew too many lands or not enough. Players lose games all the time because their opponent drew two of their best cards against them. Variance is part of the game, but your goal should be to try and keep that out of focus the majority of the time.

If you hone in on how much variance you are experiencing, it’s much easier to fall prey to the tilt monster than if you try to move on after it happens. Even if it does seem to happen more to me or you than other players, trust me, it happens to everyone. Here’s the perspective I try to have that has helped me the most.

Fact: There will be games in which you don’t have the correct number of lands. Whether it be too few or too many, it will cost you.

Fact: You will have to mulligan.

Over the past year, developing better mulligan skills has been a priority for me. After the game, I try to analyze what might have happened if I would have mulliganned or not to decipher whether I made the right decision. Many times the second fact, is connected to the first so if it seems like you are having too many issues with the number of lands in play, consider your mulligans more carefully.

Getting back to keeping the right perspective, since you won’t always have the right number of lands and you will have to mulligan, you need to deal with that. When things don’t go exactly your way, you need to find a way to make the best plays you can in the situation.

Sure you might have won easily if you had just hit your fifth land drop, but you didn’t. Make the best attacks, sequence your spells well, and try to outplay your opponent even if you have limited resources.

When players lose to variance, often it’s because of their attitude. Myself included, it’s so much easier to give up on a game where you miss a couple land drops even if the board state isn’t getting out of control. I’m not talking about the games where your opponent just kills you. I’m talking about the ones where they aren’t doing much while you are missing your land drops.

There are opportunities to win games even when variance shows up during the game. Sometimes you need to make more risky plays or hope your opponent makes a mistake, but do your best to win every game and you will win more than you are now.

As 2013 comes to a close, I find myself looking back on how I performed throughout the year. Analyzing not only your play, but your tournament performance is an important part of improving.

After 2012 was over, I started looking back to see how I had done as a whole over the year. The main outcome from that procedure was that I determined I succeed more when I am playing a deck of my own construction rather than a pre-existing deck. Even if I am playing a known quantity, adding my own tweaks to the deck increases my win percentage significantly.

If you analyzed your play from last year, what would your conclusions be? Maybe you are more successful if you play the same deck the whole season. It’s possible that you are the most successful when you play the best tier-one deck for the particular event. There is even a chance that you are like me and do better with your own tested home brew that attacks the metagame from just the right angle. Whatever it is, figure it out by assessing your play from the last year.

After looking over my tournament results, my year did not start well at all. For this process, I only looked at bigger events. There were plenty of FNM’s and local events where I did well, but what I really want to see is how I did on a bigger stage than just a local shop’s events. Here is how 2013 began.

January & February

The Modern PTQ was an absolute disaster. It’s the only event I was glad to 0-2 drop from. We were squeezed well over the fire code and playing there was a nightmare. Not only did we end up starting over an hour late, we had hardly any play space. I was disgruntled to drop so quickly, but everyone has some events like that.

As far as the SCG event, I think I picked exactly the right deck for the event. I started out the brand-new Gatecrash Standard event 4-0 with my Naya Zoo deck featuring the combo of Ghor-Clan Rampager and Boros Charm.

Round five I lost an extremely close match to Caleb Durward and round 6 I lost due to a couple play mistakes as well as my opponent’s deck being extremely well built to combat mine. I remember feeling like I squandered a great opportunity because I loved my deck so much.

March and April were much better though and I capitalized on some opportunities.

March & April

  • Modern PTQ - 4-2 w/ Grixis Delver
  • Modern PTQ - Lost win-and-in w/ Grixis Delver
  • GP Pittsburgh Sealed - Day 2’d, but missed cash on breakers.
  • Standard PTQ - Lost win-and-in

The Spring, as well as many other times this year, were “oh so close” and “almost got there” moments. I would have to say that these were some of my best months of the year. I was on top of my game in three different formats. I played at the top of my game in every format and made good deck choices for those events as well. If I could replicate this, I would definitely find more success.

Day 2 of Limited GP’s is the actual best in my opinion. Not only do you get to play sealed on day 1, which I love, but you also get to draft twice on day 2.

The first draft is a great example of making the best of a bad situation. The deck I drafted, at one of the lowest tables in the room, was not just awful but also one of the worst draft decks in my playing career. Even though my deck was terrible, I still managed to go 2-1 in my pod.

I still was not able to cash this event though. Because there were so many players that attended, we had a special bonus round after the cut to day 2. Losing that round crushed me for day 2. Starting with a 7-3 record instead of 7-2 proved to be too big a hole to climb out of.

May & June

  • SCG Classic Pittsburgh - 4-2 w/ Aristocrats 2.0

The beginning of the summer was a bit of a downturn but after taking a break to attend three friends' weddings in June, I was ready to rock the rest of the summer.

July & August

Over the summer I couldn’t find enough events to go to. Honestly, I was winning so much with my BWR Humans deck, I went to every bigger Standard event I could fit into my schedule. It was the first time in the twelve years I’ve been playing that I didn’t want the format to rotate. I loved that deck and it loved me back.

I almost made it in the top eight of the last PTQ also. Sadly the final round knocked me out. Here’s the craziness of what happened. My opponent cast not one or two, but all four Thragtusks on consecutive turns.

But that did not excuse my play mistake in game two. Instead of winning the second game and taking the match, I gave him a chance to win game three. Even though it was so long ago, the mistake stuck with me.

First of all, I misjudged my opponents deck and therefore sideboarded incorrectly, but based on the information I had from game one, I think I would have swapped the same cards again.

The main question was what order to play Oblivion Ring and Fiend Hunter in. The short answer is that yes it matters which order you play your spells. There is always a difference even if it’s slight.

My choice of Fiend Hunter the Thragtusk and O-ring the token was wrong and I lost the game because of it. Both of my cards die to Abrupt Decay so I can’t play around that but only one of them dies to other removal spells.

He had one card in hand and it seemed like it was a land that he was trying to bluff. As it turns out, it was Putrefy, and I got severely punished for my misplay. Instead of swinging for lethal, I allowed him to stabilize.

Sometimes you play a match extremely well, but make one wrong move and lose the game because of it. At least I can learn from it and move on.


Detroit taught me an extremely important lesson that’s hard to learn. There is a drastic difference between a good deck to make Day 2 and one that is capable of winning the event.

As much as I love the Grixis Delver deck and as good as it is, I don’t think it is capable of top-eighting a fifteen round event. So much has to go right for the deck to win that many rounds. Even if it does not have many bad matchups, Modern is so diverse that eventually you will run into a few decks you don’t want to see.

Day 2 of this event turned into a disaster. There were misplays, bizarre matchups, mana issues, and many other strange occurrences.

October & November

Once Theros Standard was off to the races and trying to create as much devotion as possible, I tried my hand at amassing lots of red permanents. I liked my list, but it may have been too mana-intensive and clunky. Despite some issues hitting my fourth land way too many games in a row, I tried to play my best.

Though the event did not go well, I learned a lot about the format. The main goal of this road trip was to gain some experience in the format so preparation for a more important event would be easier.

The TCG Player Invitational had been a recurring focus for months. Not only was it a huge event that I was qualified for, it was multiformatted in structure. Adding Modern was a drastic change to the Invitational, but one I was really looking forward to. I enjoy playing Modern quite a bit and there are many decks I am comfortable with.

For this event I chose to run Kiki Pod because I felt it would be extremely well positioned in a field of Affinity, Burn, and Jund, which would be the easiest decks to build for those who don’t play much Modern. My assumption about the Modern field at the event was mostly correct, but I underestimated the diversity of the decks players brought to battle.

Many players I spoke with had little to no experience playing this format which surprised me greatly. This Invitational gives out a ridiculous amount of money and to see so many players unprepared was disconcerting.

Regardless of what everyone else was playing, I loved my deck and my crazy Gifts Ungiven sideboard plan. Standard also went better than expected as I crushed many players with Mono-Blue Devotion. Playing that deck seemed natural to me and I think I played it extremely well.

Going into the last round of the TCG Player event my record was 10-3 and I was in great position to Top 16 or possibly squeak into the Top 8 on tiebreakers. Unfortunately it was not to be and my arch-nemesis in Modern, UWR Control, ended another event for me.

Every deck that I enjoy and play well appears to have a weakness to this deck. This final match of the event was very winnable and after I won game one, I thought I had it in the bag.

I still think through this match occasionally trying to decipher if differing plays on my part would have changed the outcome. Though I may never know what might have happened I should try to be satisfied with my 21st place in a rather prestigious event. Instead of being content in a solid finish, I find myself striving to do better and improve my game. I am not satisfied with 21st place; I want more.


  • 2x Sealed PTQ - 3-2 & 4-2

After a grueling year of endless travel all across the east coast, it’s no surprise that I found myself somewhat burned out and yearning for a break. Despite having a lower mental fortitude, I still got out to two sealed PTQ’s. In both I thought my pools were decent but not amazing and in both I had decent but not amazing results.

Even though many players think that Theros Limited is not about bombs, I found my tournament ended both times by my opponents' mythic rares and my inabilty to deal with them. Lots of players may say they defeat Elspeth, Suns Champion all the time, but that is not the case for me.

I’m looking forward to Standard PTQ season but I still wish I could have made it to more sealed PTQs.

Summing It Up

2013 for me was a conformation of how to be successful. My moderate amount of tournament success has shown me that I need to be playing my own decks as much as possible. The more I play a deck of my own design that I am confident in playing, the more successful I will be.

I am looking forward to Born of the Gods because I really don’t have a deck I am confident with right now. Mono-Blue has been great for me, but there is no room to change the deck for the metagame. That is its biggest weakness in my opinion.

I was able to meet my goals of top-eighting a bigger event (TCG Platinum) as well as being more successful at professional level events (Day 2 at GPs I attended as well as 21st place at the TCG Invitational).

My 2014 goal is to truly break through for a big finish at a GP and win a PTQ. Based on 2013, I feel those are attainable goals for the upcoming year. Stay tuned to see what happens.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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