Mythic Championship I, Cleveland Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on February 19, 2019

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

Seriously, how did that happen? Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was, what? A week-ish before American Thanksgiving, like, three weeks ago? And now you're telling me that 2019 Mythic Championship I in Cleveland is this week? That's months away, surely? Well, apparently not, sports fans, so here we are having survived the winter doldrums (hopefully), and with spring tantalizingly in the air (hopefully), at least if you live in the same hemisphere as me.

Right, pull yourself together, Rich, and tell the lovely readers what they need to know. First off, if you know how Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica worked, you already know how Mythic Championship Cleveland is going to work. The words have changed, but the epic tournament challenge remains the same. Here's how it pans out:

The Basics

Friday morning – There are almost 600 players qualified to play MC Cleveland. Not everyone will do so, especially players with a single "pick one event" invite (known as Silver players), members of the Hall of Fame who aren't currently active in the game, and inevitably some calendar clashes. Best guess? Somewhere between 450 and 500 will show up to compete. However, many making their way to Cleveland will be randomly assigned a Draft table, which (apart from the mathematical inconveniences at the very end) will all feature eight players. For the whole of Friday morning, which includes drafting then playing three rounds, players can only face opponents from within their table—or Draft "pod," as we tend to call them. This sounds obvious, but not only are you only playing players within your pod, you're also only playing cards that are within your pod, and that's why we do this; if one table happens to open a ton of insanely powerful packs and another is full of cards you wouldn't want anywhere near your decks, at least it's the same for everyone at the table. Ravnica Allegiance is the format, which means plenty of drafting options above and beyond the conventions of "draft one of the guild-color pairs featured in the set," which is my default option.

Friday afternoon – With three matches down, you can now play anyone on the same record as yourself, which inherently makes each match win harder to come by. At 6-0, you can expect to face outstanding opponents with outstanding decks. At 2-4, not so much. The format for Rounds 4–8 on Friday is Standard. At Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, red decks were all over the Top 8, with only two non-aggro decks on show (Izzet Drakes and Jeskai Control). What will Standard look like at MC Cleveland? Well, the simple version is me saying that Izzet Drakes is still around, and so is Mono-Red Aggro. I then go on to mention multiple versions of decks featuring Nexus of Fate, give a nod to aggro fans by acknowledging Mono-Blue Tempo and Azorius Aggro, and allay Control player concerns by saying that Jeskai is currently replaced by Esper Control as the colors of choice for the discerning mage. And, to make sure my credibility isn't immediately all shot to hell, I remind you all that Sultai Midrange is currently the most played/most successful/most "known" deck out there at the moment. That's the simple version. Since I can't do complicated, I'm leaving that to my coverage colleague Simon Görtzen, who can go much, much deeper (and will do so in his metagame breakdown on Thursday).

Saturday morning –  What's that? Oh, great news! A voice in my ear has just explained that MagicFest Cleveland will be taking place in the very next room to MC Cleveland! Yes! This means that, even if you go 0-8 on Day One of the MC, you can play in the Grand Prix that starts on Saturday! Phew! All that worrying about things to do in Cleveland, and it turns out there's something right there when you need it. Good job, whoever thought of that.

Anyway, back to Saturday morning, where hopefully you've manufactured those four Friday wins you need to continue. It's back to Draft, and again you'll be seated at a table of eight, but this time it's based on your Friday record. So, Pod 1 will feature the one or two players with a perfect 8-0 record overnight, plus six players with a single loss. More 7-1s make up Pod 2, and so on, with the bottom tables being where the "just scraped in" 4-4s play. Once again, there are three rounds of Draft within your pod, and then Limited is done for the weekend.

Saturday afternoon – Rounds 12–16 are where the Top 8 gets settled, and you use the same deck as you did in Constructed on Friday, card for card; there's no opportunity to call an audible for a different deck based on what you learned on Day One. Depending on the exact size of the field, any record above 36 points is usually good enough to secure a Top 8 slot. Since you get 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw (which doesn't happen often, when players run out of time to complete their match), and 0 for a loss, that means a record of 12 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw (we just shorten this to 12-3-1) is enough. What's also true, at least at recent Pro Tours, is that someone—and it is someone—makes it in by the skin of their teeth at 12-4. If you've watched past broadcasts, you know that we tend to say that the fourth loss is the crucial one, because then things are largely out of your hands, and the earlier you have that fourth loss, the less likely it is your tiebreaker is going to be the one that stands up to snap that final spot in the Top 8.

Sunday – Just the eight players left, and again it's Standard, and again with the same decks they've been playing all weekend long. Remember, six rounds of play involve Draft, so a 6-0 drafter might make it in with a 6-4 record in Standard, or 7-3. For a 4-2 drafter, it's likely that only a single Standard loss will do. Although the gameplay is the same, the tournament structure is a little different in the Top 8. There's a bracket, similar to what you'd see in any other sport tournament, and that bracket has two "halves," meaning that you know on Saturday night who you'll be playing in the quarterfinals and which two players you could face in the semis. Beyond that, you know that one of the four in the other half of the bracket will reach the finals. That bracket is filled out by rank, so No. 1 faces No. 8, No. 2 faces No. 7, No. 3 faces No. 6, and No. 4 faces No. 5. Knowing this, friends and teammates will often stay up deep into Saturday night trying to "solve" the quarterfinal matchup.

Only one person can do the playing, though, and for each round on Sunday, games will be played best three out of five. In a normal two-out-of-three matchup, you'd be able to sideboard after Game 1. Here, the first two games play out with the original 60-card deck, before sideboards can help or hinder the matchup in Games 3–5. Repeat four times for the quarterfinals, twice for the semis, and then the last match of the weekend determines who becomes 2019 Mythic Championship I Champion, claiming $50,000 out of a total prize pool of $500,000. Not bad for a weekend of playing your favorite game.

The Magic Pro League

It's no secret that the landscape of competitive Magic at the highest levels is changing. As we discover more about this brave new world, we're going to discover which are the cosmetic changes, which have unintended consequences, which are going to bring the game to a wider audience, and which are going to profoundly alter the way we think about, consume, and participate in this glorious institution of gaming. It's also no secret that the MPL—the Magic Pro League—is absolutely at the heart of the "profoundly altered" part of the equation. Since I'm certain that there is precisely one person reading this who hasn't heard about the MPL yet, for you, yes, for you, I'm going to run down who's in this thing. You're—sorry—you're welcome.

The MPL features 32 of the best players in the game right now. Based largely on performances during the 2017–18 season that ended with Luis Salvatto's Player of the Year playoff victory over Seth Manfield, the MPL stacks up, by region, like this:

North America – Brian Braun-Duin, Andrew Cuneo, Reid Duke, Eric Froehlich, Alexander Hayne, William Jensen, Seth Manfield, Matthew Nass, Brad Nelson, John Rolf, Mike Sigrist, Ben Stark, Gerry Thompson, and Owen Turtenwald.

Europe – Márcio Carvalho, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Javier Dominguez, Piotr Głogowski, Christian Hauck, Martin Jůza, Grzegorz Kowalski, Andrea Mengucci, and Shahar Shenhar.

Latin America – Lucas Esper Berthoud, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Carlos Romão, and Luis Salvatto.

Asia-Pacific – Rei Sato, Lee Shi Tian, Yuuya Watanabe, Shota Yasooka, and Ken Yukuhiro.

At times, as many as seven places in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour have been filled by current members of the MPL; they are truly the elite of the modern game. Ironically, PT Guilds of Ravnica wasn't such a great show for the MPL, with only Yuuya Watanabe reaching Sunday, piloting his Izzet Drakes list, in a Top 8 won by Andrew Elenbogen, who defeated Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas in the finals. Nonetheless, you can expect to see plenty of them on the leaderboard in Cleveland, and we'll certainly be taking the time to introduce many of them to you on the live coverage of the event.

The Coverage Team

Speaking of coverage, yes, we'll be there in Cleveland. I'll be at the news desk, trying not to look too handsome, while Brian David-Marshall and Maria Bartholdi do all the hard work out on the floor, finding all the best stories and bringing them to air. In the commentary booth, you'll hear the play-by-play sounds of Marshall Sutcliffe, Tim Willoughby, and Riley Knight, plus expert analysis from Pro Tour Champion Simon Görtzen, and Paul Cheon, who joins us for the weekend away from his day job, working on making Magic awesome as part of the Play Design team. On the text and community sides of things, allowing you to peruse at your leisure will be Adam Styborski, Corbin Hosler, and Meghan Wolff, going deep into the evolving Standard metagame and bringing you three of your favorite things: decklists, decklists, and decklists.

Team Series

Mythic Championship Cleveland marks the second event of this season's Team Series competition. At each event, the top five final placements out of each squad of six contribute their Pro Points total to the team. At the end of the season, the Top 2 teams will go head to head to determine the overall Team Series Champions. Here's the Top 8 after Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica:

8th Place with 32 Points – Final Last Samurai

Atsuki Kihara, Yuki Matsumoto, Makihito Mihara, Takuma Morofuji, Kazutaka Naide, and Ryoichi Tamada.

2006 World Champion Mihara was their best in Atlanta, going 12-4 for a 12th-place finish and 15 Pro Points. Atsuki Kihara backed him up with a decent 10-6 for 6 Points, while Matsumoto and Morofuji both went 9-7, good enough for 4 Points. This isn't one of the standout Asia-Pacific Teams, so this was a good start.

7th Place with 33 Points – Baguette

Julien Berteaux, Davy Loeb, Guillaume Matignon, Antoine Ruel, Florian Trotte, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.

Hall of Famer Wafo-Tapa finished 11th on 12-4, with both 2010 World Champion Guillaume Matignon and Florian Trotte contributing 6 Points via 10-6 finishes. With two of the big three delivering, they'll be hoping for more from Antoine Ruel, who took the minimum 3 Points last time.

6th Place with 35 Points – Legion

Ben Friedman, Gerry Thompson, Oliver Tiu, Oliver Tomajko, Noah Walker, and Jacob Wilson.

Solid consistency here, with both Tiu and Friedman going 11-5 in Atlanta, and Wilson and Tomajko both earning 6 Points via 10-6. Both Gerry Thompson and Noah Walker will both have better weekends, and all six could make a Top 8 this season—and Top 8s are very much where the Team Series is won and lost.

5th Place with 40 Points – Grey Ogre Games

Thirawat Chaovarindr, Tay Jun Hao, Ernest Lim, Christian Wijaya, Yam Wing Chun, and Lim Zhong Yi.

A fantastic start to the Series for one of the smaller Asia-Pacific teams, headlined by the outstanding 3rd place from Tay Jun Hao of Singapore. His countryman Lim Zhong Li went 9-7, and Thailand's Thirawat Chaovarindr went 10-6. The challenge, of course, is to replicate that Top 8 performance. Their most likely direction is down, not up, but it only takes one Saturday run to change that narrative.

4th Place with 43 Points – ChannelFireball

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Martin Jůza, Luis Scott-Vargas, Mike Sigrist, Ben Stark, and Josh Utter-Leyton.

They were only one match away from the Team Series finals last time round, and this is an excellent start for one of the pre-Series favorites. There's every reason to suppose that Mike Sigrist (10-6) and Ben Stark and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (both 9-7) can spike a Top 8, and the same is obviously true of Martin Jůza and Josh Utter-Leyton, who had disappointing weekends in Atlanta. Not so Luis Scott-Vargas, who majestically powered his way to yet another Top 8, where only Andrew Elenbogen prevented him from taking the title. 26 Pro Points is a hefty step in the right direction, and when the whole Team is this good, watch out.

3rd Place with 50 Points – Musashi

Yuuki Ichikawa, Teruya Kakumae, Yuuya Watanabe, Kentaro Yamamoto, Shota Yasooka, and Ken Yukuhiro.

The 2016-17 Team Series Champions put themselves in trouble early in the 2017-18 Team Series and never recovered. That's not a problem this time. Yuuya Watanabe was their representative in the Top 8 in Atlanta, but Teruya Kakumae finished 17th on 12-4 and Shota Yasooka went 11-5, with useful support from Yamamoto and Ichikawa. All in all, a tremendous start, and not good news for anyone trying to actually overtake what was always going to be one of the best lineups in the field.

2nd Place with 51 Points – Hareruya Sword

Kelvin Chew, Jérémy Dezani, Javier Dominguez, Grzegorz Kowalski, Andrea Mengucci, and Lee Shi Tian.

The most consistent Team of all in Atlanta. Their player not scoring, Grzegorz Kowalski, went 8-8, which really does say something. Lee Shi Tian and Andrea Mengucci went 10-6, Kelvin Chew was 10-5-1, Javier Dominguez went 11-5, and Jérémy Dezani was still battling into the semifinals, finishing 4th. Thing is, none of those finishes are remotely implausible, and nor is the possibility that, in some combination, they'll do it all over again in Cleveland.

1st Place with 55 Points – Cardboard Live

Andrew Elenbogen, Marcus Luong, Maxwell Mick, Rob Pisano, Vidianto Wijaya, and Bradley Yoo.

Pro Tours are firmly stacked in favor of "spiking"—one Champion, scoring 30 Points, scores more for their team than any entire team lower than 12th in the competition so far. Yep, that's Andrew Elenbogen, outscoring 27 of the 39 teams. Now the trick is to do it all again, which is a monumental task. There are positive signs, however. Rob Pisano went 11-5, and both Max Mick and Vidianto Wijaya went 10-6. Still, more Top 8s will be needed if Cardboard Live is going to claim one of the two berths in the Team Series finals.

So that's the Top 8 as things stand, but a brief word on three teams that are missing from that list:

10th Place with 31 Points – Ultimate Guard Pro Team
Andrew Cuneo, Reid Duke, Jon Finkel, William Jensen, Paul Rietzl, and Owen Turtenwald.

12th Place with 30 Points – KMC-Genesis
Corey Baumeister, Brian Braun-Duin, Seth Manfield, Brad Nelson, Logan Nettles, and Shahar Shenhar.

28th Place with 19 Points – Hareruya Latin
Lucas Esper Berthoud, Márcio Carvalho, Sebastian Pozzo, Carlos Romão, Luis Salvatto, and Thiago Saporito.

Both the reigning Champions, Team Ultimate Guard and the finalists from 2016-17, Team KMC-Genesis, are basically doing fine. Not outstanding, but fine. While the hole they've dug themselves into beneath the leaders is significant, they really aren't that far behind the bulk of the teams in contention. To see them suddenly in one of the Top 2 spots by the end of MC Cleveland is asking a lot, but there's every reason to imagine both of them working up the table. For Hareruya Latin, last season's finalists, things don't look so rosy. They had a horrible weekend in Atlanta, with Márcio Carvalho at 10-6 the best of a disappointing set of results. That they won't stay down there for long is certain. What's less clear is whether they've already left themselves too much to do.

See You on Ravnica

It's no secret that I love Ravnica as a setting for Magic. For me, it's one of the best flavor wins in all of the storied history this game has. Even if I'm never going to be a member of the Collective, I get Selesnya. I may not be ruthless enough for Dimir, crazy enough for Izzet, or have enough inner barbarian to be truly Gruul. But I know what they are, and what they do, and why they need to be a part of that incredible place. As a true control fan, I've waited patiently for Ravnica Allegiance to bring my beautiful Azorius back to center stage, and nothing is going to make me happier than seeing Absorb being Absorb at the highest levels of play once again.

But whichever guild lights your spark (and there's a little bit of Rakdos in everyone, wouldn't you say?), 2019 Mythic Championship I in Cleveland is going to be quite the show. And even if you can't be with us in person in Cleveland to say hi—and I always love it when people do exactly that—the coverage team will be with you to chronicle all the action, every step of the way.

See you there.

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