On 17th August 2019, I got the opportunity to attend MagicFest Birmingham, my first paper MTG event in many years and it was an addictive experience. There’s something uniquely special about stepping away from your PC and looking your opponent in the eyes as you battle it out to try and claw those valuable wins in.
Over the course of the day, I played in two standard events and had a roller coaster of emotions during my experiences. In the first event of the day, I found a good deal of success and got my entry cost back in prize boosters. The second and main event gave me 3 games that I was inches away from winning. In this article, I’ll cover each event’s match-ups and plays with some history of the match-up from my Arena laddering experiences and give you my perspective/insight into what turned out to be a very fun day.
All matches are Bo3 rounds using the current Standard format at the time of writing and my deck was put together on the night before the tournament. I tried out some new cards that I hadn’t played in Arena yet and managed to successfully execute at least one lengthy sequence using them.
The decklist I built for the event was missing some newer M20 pieces that I was a bit unsure about, so instead, I added Bolas’s Citadel at the top end still risking having not played with it yet. The remainder of the build revolved around cards that I’ve got plenty of experience with. Ashiok was brought into the sideboard and Deputy of Detention to the main deck to deal with Scapeshift. Narset was moved to the sideboard to make space for more removal in the main to deal with the surge of Vampire builds taking over the meta.
Standard Event 1 – 11am
Going into this event I have to say I was pretty nervous. I haven’t attended an event of this level with practice in about 6 years, my last being Grand Prix Manchester in roughly the 2012 – 2014 time period at which time I was playing paper Magic nearly every week. I was pretty confident in the capability of the cards in my deck with the core strategy largely being the same, the real challenge was whether I could still mechanically perform in professional-level events without accidentally picking up game losses.
Match 1 vs Grixis Control
Grixis Control has fallen out of the meta somewhat as it struggles to keep up with the pace of the aggressive leaning nature of the meta but, when it pops off it really fires on all cylinders. Grixis is a notoriously difficult matchup for me with lots of planeswalker removal in the mainboard it can deal with Teferi very effectively and can board in Cry of the Carnarium to handle Hero of Precinct One whilst weaving various flavours of Bolas onto the board.
Round 1 almost played out for my opponent like a Red / Black Vampires aggro build. Lots of early creatures smashing through tonnes of damage, fortunately, this played right into my pre-sideboard state and I had a tonne of removal playing out the match just like a Vamps matchup and taking the win.
Round 2 had me mulligan to 6 and saw my opponent deploy a very efficient build path. Because of the first game I sideboarded incorrectly here and added all 3 Kaya’s Wrath to keep the board state under control. I took a land heavy 6 in the hope that I’d build into a board presence, this worked but was too slow and I made my first mistake forgetting to drop a land on-turn which would have allowed me to put down an Elite Guardmage on-curve. Turn 4 and 5 Bolas for my opponent backed up by early creatures effectively shut me out of the game before it had even really started handing me my first loss.
Round 3 was make or break and my opponent takes a mulligan while I take an efficient opener with Hero of Precinct, Teferi, Time Raveler and lots of multi-coloured spells to build a board presence. My sideboard strategy changed here adding Despark, Duress and Dovin’s veto to try and affect the absurd amount of planeswalkers on the field. The strategy worked and my build-up play was effective and I managed to gain so much life I put the game out of reach pretty quickly, leaving up blockers and slamming an on curve Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, GG.
Match 2 vs Red Deck Wins
Another bogey matchup for me but fortunately my mainboard strat played against aggro pretty well so I wasn’t too worried, I just had to make sure I didn’t accidentally slip into death.
Round 1 I had a very strong opener and my opponent built up pretty well too so it felt like both decks were at full force, that is until a Light up the Stage from my opponent whiffed and hit two mountains… This gave me a huge opportunity to launch a counteroffensive with Bolas’s Citadel, usually a risk against RDW but I had plenty of life left, so I went for it. Boy did that payoff, removal and Teferi’s off the top allowed me to create enough tokens and clear the board to shoot for 10 at the end of their turn before pushing through the final 5 points of damage for a well-sequenced win.
Round 2 played out very similarly to the first, both decks hitting all the correct cards to make for a very exciting matchup. It wasn’t to be for RDW however, as the sun began to shine in Birmingham so too did the RNG Gods on me. Light up the Stage decided it wanted a reload and the Gods were all too happy to oblige with two more mountains! This was my opportunity to take the game, I was well above 20 life and started to take control of the board despite a nervy moment where two Runaway Steam-Kin managed to hit the board but it wasn’t enough to affect my board state. GG.
Match 3 vs Boros Feather
This was the matchup I’d had a tonne of success against on the ladder and felt very confident against. The strategy against this deck is to effectively disrupt either the recursive creatures like Feather, the Redeemed and Dreadhorde Arcanist or get Gods Willing out of their hand as quickly as possible. Everything else is relatively linear and can be handled pretty easily.
Round 1 I actually opened reasonably well managing to build a board presence and strip the Feather from my opponent’s opening hand with Thought Erasure. I sequenced three Tyrant’s Scorn back to back and cleaned up the round swiftly. Lots of typical plays from both sides nothing overly exciting and exactly what I was expecting.
Round 2 is an easy one to tell you guys about, I brought in my Kaya’s Wraths and took out Bolas’s Citadel to put a heavy focus on creature removal. A mulligan to 5 by me and a Dreadhorde Arcanist, a Gods Willing and Reckless Rage along with some other tech on my opponent’s side of the field, handily crushed my hopes of going 3-0 in this round at least.
Round 3 was intense, an explosive start from Feather and a controlled build-up from Esper. Back and forth all game but 2x Tenth District Legionnaire and Gideon Blackblade enabled my opponent to keep a board presence very effectively. Gideon was the first indication that I was missing some key sideboard tech. Completely removing him was essentially the job of the two copies of Deputy of Detention, Tyrant’s Scorn to bounce him back to hand or burning a -3 on Teferi and tucking him 3 from the top, not ideal. With Gideon out I worked extremely hard to keep him off the field, using every method at my disposal but it just wasn’t enough and I took knee very late on. GG.
Final Result: 2-1, 200 Tix which got me my entry fee’s worth of boosters.
Mythic Championship Qualifier – 3pm
I had around an hour for lunch and then the main event rolled around. I was feeling pretty confident at this point, the mechanics of paper play had come back to me but, even though I wouldn’t know it yet, I was getting ahead of myself.
Match 1 vs Vampires
Round 1 and it hits me, I hadn’t played Vampires or Scapeshift yet… this was my first real test and the first round proved a huge blowout for Vampires. My sideboard provided no real answers with Adanto Vanguard and Legion Lieutenant working extremely hard to push tonnes of early damage through and proving very difficult to deal with. My life quickly slipped away and I took the L.
Round 2 I brought in my Kaya’s Wraths and my Lyra Dawnbringers to try and give me time to build into the top end. Neither came out but I managed to sequence some very strong early removal into open board Teferi’s to take control and picked up a resounding win.
Round 3 time, this was it for me and in my head would decide my games going forward. Vampires are rampant in the meta, it’s an efficient, strong and effective deck and boy did that show on the tables. This game turned out to be one of the closest, lengthiest rounds on the day with creatures vs spells back and forth. The judges and players were crowded around our table making sure that our plays were correct and by the book but then, it hit me. My landlord curse began to set it, with the board at a stalemate I began to draw lands off the top and flood out while my opponent continued to push through damage, remove planeswalkers and creatures. I inevitably eventually conceded. On another day this could have been my victory but yet again Gideon played a large role in my demise along with a bit of bad luck. There are some sideboard changes that need to be made to accommodate vampires, I’m just not sure what they are yet. GG.
Match 2 vs Esper Tempo (Mirror)
Round 1 was odd. Myself and my opponent were chatting and about to cut decks when a judge jumped in and took both of our decks for inspection. On his return, my deck passed the check but my opponent was missing a Glacial Fortress from his deck declaration sheet and took a game loss.
Round 2 I was feeling quietly confident that I could sneak a round here to get back on track. My opponent was more active in the current scene than I was but hadn’t been playing anywhere near as long so I felt I could use my experience to pick up a quick win as we weren’t allowed to sideboard yet post deck check. Karma made sure this didn’t happen, gave me a backhand and forced me mulligan to 5, this meant the game was over before it started as having options in the mirror matchup makes all the difference.
Round 3 we sideboarded and I brought Duress, Dovin’s Veto, Narset and Despark in as I found out he was running Ugin and Teferi. I mulliganed to a land heavy 6 not wanting to go to 5 again and proceeded to flood out with more lands and no options. I put up a really strong fight with the cards that I had but with lack of options again my opponent took over and managed to clear a Bolas’s Citadel leaving the path clear to victory. GG.
Result: 1-2, a gutting loss that I felt I had very little control over.
Match 3 vs Temur Elementals
Round 1 I was at the point of exhaustion, I’d been sat here all day and the MCQ was just not falling in my favour. I took a 4 land opening 7 with Hero of Precinct 1 but my opponent managed to swiftly remove it and proceeded to slam Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Nissa, Who Shakes the World to provide a swift beat down. A tough loss but my opponent sequenced perfectly and deserved the win.
Round 2 I boarded in Kaya’s Wrath, Despark and Duress to try and disrupt a lot more and it worked. I built a board with Hero and 2 Teferi’s, he flooded out and I just needed one more attack to take this round. My opponent draws off the top and nails a Chandra, Awakened Inferno, -3’s and wipes the whole board, I had a gut feeling here that this was his game and I never really had a chance. On my next turn, I hit the Chandra with a Despark and keep ticking up my planeswalkers, I draw land with 2 left in hand. The flooded out opponent draws Hydroid Krasis taps out, draws a full hand and gains a chunk of life back, still not out of reach, even a Tyrant’s Scorn would help me keep this in check. I draw for the turn, Land, I tick Teferi up, Land and I’m now sat with five in hand. My opponent attacks Teferi and removes my draw engine. My turn, I think to myself this could be it, I’ve got through a stack of dead cards and the card on top could be anything. I untap, draw and it is of course, a land. GG.
Result: 0-2, most days I would have wiped the floor with this build but flooding out lands put this match down as my weakest loss of the day.
Overall I had a tonne of fun at this event, paper Magic just delivers an experience that Arena doesn’t. The people I met were welcoming and polite, the events run by ChannelFireball were slick, the prizes were fair and wide-ranging and the stalls had more expensive cardboard in one place than I’ve ever seen my life. Black Lotus’ and Power Nine’s all the way down to the latest commons coupled with accessories and merch that gave MagicFest just that slight exhibition touch as a side attraction to the events going on around it, take notes Insomnia.
I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t have the funds to get a hotel and stay for the weekend but I’ll plan around this accordingly. Rotation is soon and I may not be playing Esper during the next period of standard Magic but one thing is guaranteed, I’ll be back competing again as soon as I can.