Me: So, I thought I'd do something a little different for the preview.
Editor: Sure, that sounds good. Your articles never have anything weird in them. In fact, we have a saying in the office, "It's Rich Hagon, what could go wrong?"
Me: Right, exactly.
Editor: So what's the plan?
Me: I thought I'd start off by talking about Larry Adler.
Me: Larry Adler. World's most famous harmonica player? Known for playing works by major 20th century composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Benjamin? Principal soloist on the soundtrack of the 1953 hit movie Genevieve about the London to Brighton car rally?
Editor: I have an idea.
Editor: How about you keep the basic idea, but talk about Frank Adler instead?
Editor: You know, German Magic player Frank Adler, who won Pro Tour Atlanta 1996, beating future Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle in the Finals.
Me: I could do that.
Editor: And, you could point out that Frank Adler is, to date, the only person in the game's history to win a Pro Tour that was also a Prerelease, because that Pro Tour was exactly that! Mirage was the set, and it was Sealed Deck, before that set was even available to buy in stores!
Me: I knew that.
Editor: And then you could seamlessly transition to MC London, because someone is going to become the first Champion since Frank Adler to win a Prerelease Mythic Championship.
Me: Cool. And you'll leave the Larry Adler stuff in?
Editor: Of course. Because that won't be even a little bit weird.
Here's the thing: Mythic Championship II in London is going to be a little bit weird. Actually, it's going to be very weird indeed. As my editor points out, it has been more than 20 years since a Prerelease has been part of a Mythic Championship–level event, and we have an extraordinary event in store as a result. On the surface, the flow of things is business as usual:
- Friday morning – Three rounds of Draft
- Friday afternoon – Five rounds of Constructed
- Saturday morning – Three rounds of Draft
- Saturday afternoon – Five rounds of Constructed
- Sunday – The Top 8
Sounds simple, but lurking behind those words "Draft" and "Constructed" is enough weirdness to satisfy even the most anarchic customer. Let's start with Draft:
On Friday morning, close to 500 players will be seated into tables of eight. They will draft using three packs of War of the Spark, and then play three matches against other players from their table, based on matching records (the four 1-0 players face each other in Round 2, and the two 2-0 players play for the perfect 3-0 record in Round 3). But this MC really is different. While it's impossible to know with certainty an accurate number, anecdotally I'd suggest that just about every player in the room would typically arrive at an MC having drafted the relevant set at least ten times. For many, that number is closer to 50, and there are plenty of players who start Round 1 at an MC with close to 100 drafts under their belt.
That's a lot of "institutional knowledge."
For MC London, all that institutional knowledge is gone. As players come from around the world to one of the great capital cities, the War of the Spark Prerelease weekend will still be in the future. The first time that they'll see a genuine WAR booster will be at Player Registration on Thursday, with less than 24 hours to go before they play one of the most important drafts of their lives. So what does that mean for an extraordinary morning of action on Friday, with more chaos coming for those who survive at four wins or better, on Saturday? Here are a few pointers:
Planeswalkers – In case you missed it, there's a planeswalker in every WAR pack. Every one. That's going to make for some very different gameplay than we've ever seen before. To what extent will planeswalkers be some version of "virtual life gain"? In other words, how many planeswalkers will opponents feel the need to attack, leaving the player themselves not taking damage? That equation is going to change once many planeswalkers have "'run out of" loyalty counters. Many have been designed for a couple of activations of their minus ability, and then to hang around the battlefield, potentially being useful with their static ability. Do you kill these planeswalkers because the static ability is annoying? Are you scared of your opponents somehow getting extra loyalty back on to their "dormant" planeswalkers? (Ahem, proliferate.) All of this is going to play in to understanding the format and achieving success—although those two things don't always go together.
Interlocking Pieces – I believe it is well known to regular readers that I'm a Frank Karsten fan. Reading what Frank has to say on almost any topic is always worthwhile, whether it's the statistical probabilities of certain combinations occurring in-game, an analysis of the history of a particular archetype, a Draft pick order, or—my favorite—a list of weird and wacky combos within a set.
For our purposes, it's that last one that's really important. Part of the reason I like those articles so much is that I a) don't play enough to discover all the weird interactions on my own, and b) don't have a mind that naturally links things together in that way. When Frank says something like, "With the static ability of Planeswalker A, we can combine it with the ability on Creature B, which allows us to cast Sorcery C three times for no mana, choosing different targets each time," that's not what he's actually thinking. It's the result of what he's thinking, which actually looks more like this:
"Static ability #19 works with creature ability #68 on creature #153, which is common, so reasonable to acquire. Are there any sorceries that would be good to exploit? Yes, #47 would work well with this."
Once you see the combo laid out with the actual cards, it (mostly) makes sense. But understanding that those interactions are lying there, waiting to be exploited? That's something that you can generally find in three ways. The first is to brute force it by drafting dozens and dozens of times and hoping you spot interactions along the way, either yours or your opponents. The second is to have a mind like Frank's that just naturally sees the way the pieces lock together.
And then there's this:
The Importance of Team – Whether your team is in the Team Series and features multiple Hall of Famers or your team is four friends from your local game store, looking to support you en route to your first MC start in London, there just isn't time to learn everything about the format ahead of the tournament—especially as you can't just sit and play it every day and night until you fall asleep. That could go two ways. In the first, the results of the Limited rounds in London are going to be highly anarchic, because the best players won't have had time to separate themselves from the rest. I don't believe that's how it's going to happen. When Theory is at a premium over Experience (because you don't have any), putting the biggest number of outstanding minds into one room is going to be a path to success. To me, that means that a room of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Martin Jůza, Luis Scott-Vargas, Mike Sigrist, Ben Stark, and Josh Utter-Leyton has a potentially enormous edge over many competitors at this event.
And that brings us rather neatly to the Team Series, because
That group I just mentioned is Team ChannelFireball, and they currently lead the Team Series. They've always been one of the top teams in the Series, but with KMC-Genesis, Musashi, Ultimate Guard Pro Team, and Hareruya Latin being the four finalists so far, time is running out for the ever-popular CFB crew to make it to the finals. They were so nearly there last season, ending up one agonizing match win away at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary on the final day from making it to the Las Vegas showdown. Ultimate Guard Pro Team dodged that particular bullet and went on to win the whole thing. Now, the Champions sit in second place, just 2 points behind CFB. That's a tremendous place to be, and there's every likelihood that the rest of the season is going to be at least as good for the defending champs.
Third in the table is Hareruya Sword. With four members of the Magic Pro League, they're headlined by 2018 World Champion Javier Dominguez and recent Mythic Invitational winner Andrea Mengucci, who, thanks to that win, is now close to the Top 10 all-time money winners. $250,000 will make a difference that way. Fourth place belongs to Legion, a squad that includes a Pro Tour Champion in Gerry Thompson and a former Rookie of the Year in Oliver Tiu. Also watch out for Jacob Wilson, who has been a finalist in Modern, at Pro Tour Born of the Gods in Valencia 2014.
If you told Cardboard Live that they'd be fifth in the table at this stage, they would have bitten your hand off. Add a Champion in Andrew Elenbogen, and you have a breathtaking degree of success. And yet they might be disappointed. Why? Because Rob Pisano paced the Day One field at MC Cleveland at 8-0, before falling away on Day Two. Nonetheless, don't be surprised to find the purple and white at the top tables once again in London. Sixth place, meanwhile, belongs to the all-Dane crew over at Snapcardster X MTGMintcard. The team name may not exactly roll off the tongue, but there's so much talent on this team, filled with some of the nicest guys, and bestest times, available on the pro circuit—collectively, they really do make competitive Magic better. Whether we knew we needed a Michael Bonde salsa during the Top 8 announcement in Cleveland or not, it's a good example of the joie de vivre (as they don't say in Denmark) that encapsulates this team.
The current Top 8 in the Team Series rounds out with former Champions Musashi in seventh and Axion Now in eighth. While the 2017 Champions will be looking to make a move up the leaderboard—it has to be a concern that CFB and Ultimate Guard are the ones at the top of the table, with only two going forward to the finals showdown—Axion Now will be on home turf. Their headline act is, of course, Autumn Burchett, who so famously and emotionally won MC Cleveland with their trusty mono-blue deck. And, with plenty more of the extended team taking part in MagicFest London right next door, the iconic purple and yellow will be much in evidence in London.
We've already talked about the weirdness of Friday and Saturday morning, but if ever there's a format where that word applies, it's Modern. Here's a bunch of decks that we might see in the Constructed Rounds in London:
- Eldrazi Taxes
- Mardu Pyromancer
- Hollow One
- Living End
- As Foretold
- Martyr Proclamation
- Lantern Control
Many of those decks are incredibly powerful. Many of them do their very best to break the fundamental rules of Magic. They are, by their nature, extreme. Storm can kill you in a single turn with a charming little Grapeshot and its nineteen (or more) friends. Infect looks to make "ten" the Magic number through poison. Bogles goes all-in with a single stupidly big and stupidly unstoppable creature. Lantern Control is the control freak's control deck, while 8-rack wants you to have no cards, and die because of it.
And guess what? Not a single one of these, powerful though they are, are currently among the top five most-played archetypes in Modern. Not even the top ten. Not even the top 20. And yet someone will almost certainly think that Hollow One, or As Foretold, or Grishoalbrand, is the path to a Mythic Championship.
So what are the most-played decks? You can be confident of seeing plenty of these around:
- Izzet Phoenix
- Grixis Death's Shadow
- The Rock
- Amulet Titan
- Azorius Control
- Hardened Scales
That's a good guide to what decks are being sleeved up the most right now. But something else that's weird is coming to MC London, and it could utterly turn the Modern metagame on its head.
The London Mulligan
Things are going to get a bit strategic here, but first, an important message. The "London Mulligan" is called that because it's going to happen in London. But the actual tournament is at the ExCel Centre (that's "centre," because it's England, and we speak English here). When Wizards of the Coast assembles all the data on the London mulligan, they'll be using an Excel spreadsheet. Or, as I like to think of it, an ExCel spreadsheet. This thought pleases me mightily.
Plenty of articles have already been written about the consequences of this new approach to the start of the game, and I don't plan on getting into the math behind the change—that's what Frank Karsten is for. However, some of you may be unfamiliar with this change, so let's lay it out:
When you mulligan for the Nth time, you draw seven cards, then put N cards on the bottom of your library in any order.
So, for example, let's say you're taking your second mulligan of a game, what we often call a mulligan to five. You would draw seven cards, select two, and place those two on the bottom of your library in any order. Then you would decide whether to keep or mulligan again.
The plan here, like any mulligan rule, is to minimize the number of games that fizzle into nothingness because one player doesn't have a reasonable hand of cards to work with. Scrying, for example, reduces the impact of having one less card, because you've at least had the opportunity to potentially improve your first draw. With the London Mulligan, by always drawing seven cards each time, you decrease the chances of drawing so little land that you more or less have to throw the hand back.
There is a catch, of course. This is Magic, and one of the few universal truths about the community is that Gamers Gonna Game. Modern is littered with high-power strategies that don't always work out, because the right combinations can't always be found, or found reliably, and in time. A straightforward example of this is a Tron deck, where assembling an Urza's Power Plant and an Urza's Mine achieves very little, but adding an Urza's Tower suddenly "turns on" all three, and makes otherwise hideously expensive spells arrive very much faster. At the other end of the spectrum, a deck like Burn has many, many spells that deal 3 damage. If you mulligan repeatedly, you might find many different card names in your opening hand, but the "deal 3 damage" bit is going to be largely unchanged. Fundamentally, decks that want to find specific cards to "do their thing" are going to be advantaged by the London Mulligan.
So, the big question is "How much?" With Modern so mature as a format, and so varied, it seems improbable that any player or team could "break" the format for London. But with the London Mulligan in place, it's just possible that someone could exploit a hitherto-unseen deck and utterly dominate. That's exciting, a little bit terrifying, and undoubtedly weird.
And so, the stage is set. Since I live here in England, I thought I might pop down to London for a few days and hang out at the news desk. I'll be joined by Maria Bartholdi, Marshall Sutcliffe, Paul Cheon, Riley Knight, Simon Görtzen, Tim Willoughby, Adam Styborski, Corbin Hosler, Meghan Wolff, and Frank Karsten (yes, that Frank Karsten). Together, we'll burrow our way into every crevice we can find in the new, amazing War of the Spark set. We'll delve under the hood of the London Mulligan, bring you every shift in the Modern metagame, keep an eye on the Team Series, and showcase another incredible Top 8 on Sunday. 23 years after Frank Adler won the Mirage Prerelease at Pro Tour Atlanta, the richest ever Prerelease is about to unfold.
Prerelease Draft format? Weird.
Modern? Definitely weird.
Spellkeeper and Spellgorger? Yep, they're Weird, too.
Let battle commence!