Legacy and Vintage are my chosen formats in Magic, and I enjoy them far more than any other, and choose to not play anything else. Because of this, Eternal Weekend is basically my World Championships, so I decided to treat it like it was.
Eternal Weekend 2017 was the first tournament I have ever seriously prepared for, and the first major tournament I have ever had success at. I firmly believe that my preparation is why I did well, and it is the root cause of why I was able to ‘break through’ to the next level. At the end of the weekend I was rewarded with a Top 8 in both the Legacy and Vintage main events. I wanted to share with you how I prepared for these events in the hopes that it can help you prepare for tournaments better. For the purpose of this article I am going to focus on Vintage, as my preparation for that format was much deeper.
Have a Game Plan
The restriction of Monastery Mentor and Thorn of Amethyst significantly changed the format as well as how the shops deck was built. As a result, people were experimenting with the 10 or so flex slots that are available in the main deck of most of these Workshop Aggro builds. After trying many variations, it was clear that I would not be able to decide on what the perfect build was. The power level of the core cards in the deck was so much higher than the flex cards that comparisons between different builds became very difficult. I was not able to develop a method to parse out a signal from the flex slot cards, so I decided to take a different approach.
Ravager Shops, by Eric Vargo
I chose to build my deck with a very specific plan: be good against blue decks game one by playing additional lock pieces in the form of 3 Tangle Wires, and have a sideboard set up to be good against all of the other major archetypes in the format. This plan loses a few percentage points in the mirror and against Dredge game one. The plan for games two and three was to have a sideboard specifically dedicated to beating Oath of Druids, Dredge, and the Workshops mirror. I chose to build my deck this way for two reasons. First, Eternal Weekend notoriously has a very high percentage of blue decks. I wanted my deck to have a strong game one matchup against what I knew would be the majority of the field. Second, I had a bye in the first round of the tournament from winning a trial on the west coast. This meant that I was more unlikely to play against any of the fringe strategies in the format, allowing me to have a more focused sideboard. My confidence in this plan grew after winning a second bye in one of the Thursday trials. Starting the tournament 2-0 meant I was even less likely to play against a rogue strategy. After eight rounds of Swiss on Friday the plan paid off. I played 3 Workshop mirrors, 2 Oath decks, 2 Dredge decks, and one blue deck. I was prepared with a very specific sideboarding plan for each game, and did not have to do any on the fly thinking. Additionally, having a pre-determined sideboard allowed me to have a little mental break between each game. More on that later.
Mulligans Matter More Than You Think
More than any other deck I have ever played, Workshop decks have the tightest correlation between mulligan decisions and the outcome of the game. This is true for four reasons. One, because my build of Workshops aimed to disrupt the opponent with lock pieces and then present a quick clock, you needed a pretty specific mix of cards to execute that game plan. Vintage is such a powerful format that only doing one of these things is normally not strong enough. Two, many of the sideboard cards that Worksohps needs to play to beat Dredge and Oath are ‘must haves’ in the post sideboard games. There are almost no hands you can keep games two and three against Dredge without a piece of graveyard hate. Three, Workshop decks have a lot of hands that end up being traps. Because many of the lock pieces that the deck plays are symmetric, playing one early can actually lock you out of the game, especially if your opponent has a disruptive Wasteland or Strip Mine. Four, the deck plays no cantrips or tutors. This fact, combined with your game plan of trying to end the game quickly often means that the majority of cards you see are in a game are in the opening hand you decide to keep.
After I decided to play Workshops I chose to play test mostly on Magic Online. During that time I realized that I was keeping a lot of bad hands. When playing a match, it was difficult for me to contextualize why my keep was good or bad, and it took a lot of focused effort to analyze games and properly evaluate the hands I kept. After a lot of matches and replays, I had a decent idea of what hands I should keep and what hands I should mulligan. But I felt like my sample size was not large enough and there were still many hands that I was on the fence about. So I decided to develop a new training technique. I sleeved up my deck in paper and practiced mulligan decisions using the following workflow:
0. Decide if you are on the play or on the draw
1. Shuffle up and draw a hand of seven cards. Move to step 2.
2. If the hand is a clear keep or clear mulligan repeat step 1. If you’re on the fence about keeping the hand write it down and move to step 3.
3. Shuffle up all sixty cards and draw ten separate six card hands. Move to step 4.
4. Evaluate each six card hand and record the number that were better than the original seven card opener. Move to step 5.
5. If the split was 6-4, 5-5, or 4-6 and it was the first time evaluating 10 hands, shuffle and repeat steps 3 and 4. Otherwise move to step 6.
6. If seven or more of the six card hands were better than the seven card opener, it’s likely that mulliganing the seven card hand is the correct decision. If seven or more of the hands were worse than the seven card opener, you likely should have kept the original seven. If the split ended up 4-6, 5-5, or 6-4 twice that seven card hand requires a gut call.
This method is definitely not perfect and has a few assumptions baked in, but it’s a great way to help refine mulliganing skills with a deck. The biggest assumption baked into this method is that you are very unlikely to win a game if you mulligan to five. I think this is a realistic assumption for Workshops and many other decks, but may not be true for a lot of others. A+B combo decks like Legacy Reanimator can just ‘have it’ and should probably not assume that they can’t win on a five card hand. For a deck like Dredge in vintage, this method is completely irrelevant. There are also a couple of variations on this method that involve things like sideboarding your deck, knowing what your opponent is playing game one, and evaluating six card hands. I think it is a powerful framework and am excited to see what other people think about it.
Competitive Magic is a Marathon, and I Needed to Treat it Like One
Fatigue is real, and it is omnipresent at every large Magic tournament. If you walk around the event hall at the end of the day, nearly every magic player will say they are ‘fried’. I was one of those people for a long time. I also had a lot of Magic tournaments that ended with my run unraveling in the last few rounds. After some self reflection it became clear that those two things were related and I decided that I needed to fix it. Over the course of Eternal Weekend I played 25 matches of Magic, and at no point did I feel like I was drained or running out of steam. That was a novel experience for me, and was the result of the way I conducted myself both in and outside of the event hall.
I am not a morning person, not in the slightest. But, a little research online revealed to me that getting exercise in the morning gave people more energy throughout the day; so that’s what I did. For many tournaments in the past, my start to the day was to get up as late as possible, hog down breakfast, and get to the event hall with little time to spare. This usually meant I was still in ‘morning mode’ for the first round of the day and that put me at a disadvantage. All four mornings of Eternal Weekend started with me going to the gym and getting a mildly strenuous cardio workout followed by a carb heavy breakfast. This helped me get a jump-start on my day and removed the grogginess I would feel during the first few rounds. In addition to the lethargic feeling I would get at the beginning of the day, I would often feel stupefied throughout the day. I combatted this by doing two things. First, between every round I would make sure to take a few laps around the event hall. This keeps the blood flowing and has a nice benefit of letting you do some scouting. Second, I made sure I was well hydrated all day. I know it sounds a bit funny, but the truth is that it made a huge difference for me.
For other events like Grand Prixs or SCG 5K’s I would often fly out Friday night or drive out the morning of, which meant I got very little sleep the night before the event. This didn’t work for me and I knew I needed to make a change about how I traveled. I am based on the west coast of the US, and Eternal Weekend was on the east coast, which has a time difference of three hours. It may not seem like much, but exhaustion from a full day of travel plus a little jet lag is pretty killer. I decided to fly out to the tournament a day early and let myself adjust to the time zone while recovering from the journey. Spending an extra day at the event site is not a luxury everyone can afford, and I get that. But the older I become the more I realize that I need a full night’s sleep to function well, and I made sure that I got as much sleep as I needed every night while I was there. There was a near disaster on Thursday night when the dessert I ordered at dinner had espresso in it, unbeknownst to me. I ended up lying awake in bed for an extra hour or two, but was able to compensate for the slight lack of sleep with the morning workout, water, and staying active in the hall.
Magic is such a difficult game that everyone has room to improve. That means me, you, and every person in the Hall of Fame. Formats like Legacy and Vintage have such a high skill cap that even the masters of the format have room to grow. I want to be part of an environment where people make each other better and I think the Eternal community has the capacity to do that.
The next time I could do something better, let me know and I will return the favor.