MOCS Finalists Roundtable

Posted in NEWS on April 4, 2014

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.
This past weekend, sixteen Magic Online players descended upon Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco to determine who would become the latest Magic Online Champion. After fourteen rounds of Swiss play across four different formats, the last four players standing were Tamás Glied, reigning Magic Online Champion Dmitry Butakov, Cory Lack, and eventual champion Lars Dam. Finalists Dam and Lack sat down with me for a roundtable about the tournament, playing at the next level, and what Magic Online players at home can take from their experiences.


BDM: What was your overall experience at the Magic Online Championship like?


Dam: Very positive overall experience. The tournament and everything (that was done) to make us feel welcome was just awesome.


Lack: It was a great experience, and I think a lot of it came down to how well the event was set up. The hotel itself was surrounded by places to eat, shop, or relax, and having my hotel room about 100 feet away from the tournament center allowed me to go grab a snack or something if necessary. Having a break for lunch was really great, too!


BDM: What was the non-playing highlight of the weekend?


Lack: Probably the dinner for all the players and crew the night before. It was at a really neat restaurant with pictures of celebrities everywhere. It gave me an idea to open my own restaurant and just put up pictures of random celebrities so people will assume it's prestigious.


Dam: Non-playing highlight was definitely seeing the sea lions in the harbor. I even went down and watched them for a second time just before the Top 4 was about to start, just to calm down a bit and clear my head. The dinner with everyone the night before was pretty sweet, too. Made it much more enjoyable playing in the tournament after, since you had already interacted with everyone.


BDM: Playing highlight?


Dam: I think the playing highlight was winning against Anssi in Standard, since the matchup felt really bad. All six of my games in Standard vs. Butakov were also pretty sweet since they had lots of decision points and from my seat were pretty interesting.


Lack: Casting my opponent's Rakdos's Return off his Stomping Ground and my Godless Shrine.



BDM: How did you prepare for this weekend? In hindsight, what worked well for you and what could you have done differently?


Lack: I practiced the various formats on Magic Online while chatting with friends on Google+ about various strategies. In hindsight, I'd have practiced BTT Draft a bit more. I went 3–0, but an insane deck basically fell into my lap, and I think it was my weakest format overall. Conversely, I think Modern was my best, even though I went 2–2. I think it's important to eschew how I did in one event vs. how I think I would do in many more iterations.


Dam: I played exclusively on the Beta the last two weeks before the tournament to learn how everything worked. I drafted a lot of Cube since it's something I normally don't do and it's a pretty skill-intensive format while playing the matches. You need to know what is going on with all the different decks. I knew I was playing Pod in Modern since it's just the best deck and I like playing it, too, so I just played like one Daily with it. I have played enough Theros Limited that I felt like I didn't need to draft a lot up to the tournament, which I actually think was a mistake, since drafts can easily be decided by very marginal decisions and it's easy to not make the right decisions if you are just a tiny bit rusty. For Standard, I was just told that Mono-Black was the best deck and it's also relatively easy to play, so I just played a couple of Dailies with it and went with a red splash because I anticipated a lot of Esper and mirror matches. The deck I ended up with wasn't exactly what I had been planning on but everything worked out. Overall, I would say I could have spent some more time testing Constructed, but I knew ahead of time that I just wouldn't have the time to test it enough for me to come up with something really cool, so I just went the safe route and chose the top decks in each format.


BDM: Even though you are still playing Magic Online, playing in this event was still very different in that you could hear/see your opponent somewhere in the room. Were there any times your opponent tipped you off to something based on his reaction?


Dam: Not anything that mattered. I think there were a couple of minor tells throughout the tournament, but they were all at times when the game was pretty much over anyway.


Lack: Simply seeing the looks of my opponents' faces gave me an idea as to their position in game. I didn't try to rely on that, though. In face-to-face Magic you're communicating verbally, so tells are far more useful. I didn't want to make decisions solely based on facial expression.


BDM: How about playing on the stream? Did knowing you were being watched while you played affect the way you played at all?


Lack: I basically forgot I was playing on stream. I'd look at the camera a couple times, but I treated it like shooting a movie rather than there being a couple thousand people behind it. It didn't really affect the way I played, either, other than when I forgot Bident of Thassa wasn't very good in multiples, and it made me laugh because I knew people at home were either laughing or confused.


Dam: No, there was enough pressure from the tournament itself that the added exposure did not affect me.


BDM: Have you used your MOCS invitation yet? If not, how will you prepare for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx?


Dam: I'm looking to team up with Paul Nemeth and Trey van Cleave and possibly others and I will fly to Atlanta the week before the tournament and test with them. Right now I will just focus on drafting when I can.


Lack: I still have my invitation to the Pro Tour in Atlanta, and I'm planning to go. I'd like to test with friends, but the small amount of time between the release of Journey into Nyx and the Pro Tour itself means I'll probably end up conversing with other competitors. Not that that's a bad thing, of course!


BDM: You guys seemed to really embrace the tournament experience at the Magic Online Championship, hanging out drafting, chatting late into the night, and seemed to have a great time. Will we start seeing more of you at Grand Prix—and maybe even a PTQ or two?


Lack: I've gotten some sponsorship offers, which is cool and definitely not something I expected. I enjoyed traveling, too, so I'm definitely thinking about going to Grand Prix depending on convenience and timing.


Dam: I'm afraid I can't devote too much time for GPs and PTQs. The problem is I have to take a 1.5-hour flight if I want to play in a PTQ. There aren't that many GPs in Asia and flying more than four hours for a GP is just too much I think. I wish it were different but that's the price I pay for living in paradise.


BDM: What advice do you have for other Magic Online players who find themselves in a tournament setting?


Dam: Try and have fun. The game is supposed to be fun, so don't let winning or losing be the only important thing. There is enough randomness that you just have to accept that sometimes you just can't win no matter what you do.


Lack: Not sure. Just behave like a human being, I guess? It's a tournament setting, but the games you play are still one-on-one on Magic Online, so I don't think there's too much you have to adjust in terms of how you actually play the game. You just have to put on pants.


March Player of the Month (#MTGPoM)

The March battle for the title of Player of the Month is easily the most crowded ballot we have seen since the creation of this award. There were EIGHT Grand Prix played out over the month, with a Magic Online Championship and a StarCityGames Invitational to boot. Throw in a team Grand Prix as one of the eight aforementioned events and you barely have room to pull the lever in the voting booth. I have never needed your help in determining a winner as much as I do this month.

What I need you to do is take to Twitter and, using the hashtag #MTGPoM, tell me who you think should win the award and why. You can address it to me at @Top8Games or @MagicProTour but I will find your thoughts if you just use the hashtag while discussing it with your friends and social network.

Nam Sung-Wook (39–23–1 with 6 byes) had two previous appearances on the Korean National team coming into Grand Prix Melbourne but had a chance to create a real resume for himself against a relatively unknown Top 8 field. The thirty-two-year-old student rode Mono-Black Devotion through the Top 8 to a Grand Prix title and an invitation to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. With more than 1,200 players showing up in Beijing at the end of the month, Sung-Wook's second GP Top 8 of the month with Mono-Black was good enough to hold up for an invitation to Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland.


How do you separate teammates for the Player of the Month title? Do you award them a co-award or do their individual other accomplishments create some distance between teammates? Had Pro Tour Born of the Gods taken place in the same month as Grand Prix Barcelona, you would have a clear frontrunner in Christian Siebold (23–6–0 with 2 byes), but without his Pro Tour Top 8 on his balance sheet he is neck and neck with his teammates, the brothers Daniel Gräfensteiner (21–9–0 with 1 bye) and Tobias Gräfensteiner (25–8–0 with 1 bye). If you can make the case to create some separation between the three Grand Prix Barcelona champions, I am eager to hear about it.


Christian Siebold
Daniel Gräfensteiner
Tobias Gräfensteiner

Coming into Grand Prix Richmond. twenty-two-year-old Toronto student Brian Liu (39–7–2 with 3 byes) cited a PTQ finals misplay as his most notable Magic accomplishment. Of course, that was before he completed his run to become the champion of the largest Constructed Grand Prix ever held in the two-decade history of tournament Magic. More than 4,300 players signed up to play in Richmond, but only Liu and his Modern Kiki Pod deck were left standing when the dust settled. How much does winning a historically large event factor into your vote for Player of the Month?

If you are going to vote strictly on postgame celebration, Grand Prix Buenos Aires Champion Philippe Monlevade (25–5–2 with 2 byes) with would get it hands down, for a post-game face that is only matched by Brad Nelson's from several seasons back. The format was Standard and the Brazilian restaurateur devoured the field with his Jund Monsters deck. Along the way, he had to get past Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa in the semis and hometown hero Demian Tejo in the finals—and having covered South American GPs, I know Tejo did not want to see a Brazilian flag flying after the finals.

Grand Prix Montreal Champion Gerard Fabiano (38–12–3 with 2 byes) was tremendously influential throughout triple-Theros drafting with his popular land-light Boros strategy that would often see him go down below sixteen lands in his decks. The addition of Born of the Gods may have made his favorite deck less viable, but Fabiano showed that he is at ease with all the colors of the new format, as his three draft decks on Day 2 of the GP covered all five wedges of the color wheel. The thirty-year-old New Jersey teacher outdueled another former GP winner in Dave Shiels in the finals to become a two-time GP champion in seven career Top 8s.

Indie game designer Aniol Alcaraz (25–5–0 with 0 byes) had a couple of Limited Grand Prix Top 8s in his native Spain about a decade ago—right around the same time he was winning the Spanish National Championship. He showed the kids he still knew his way around a draft table when he won Grand Prix Vienna with a very aggressive white-blue heroic deck that not even Pro Tour Champion Jérémy Dezani could derail in the finals.

Before ultimately winning Grand Prix Cincinnati, Kyle Boggemes (48–9–1 with 1 bye) was contemplating his cutlery drawer that was full of 2nd-place steak knives. Instead of another runner-up showing, Boggemes displayed his mastery of the Esper deck to dismantle former Player of the Year Brad Nelson and finally take home something that would not fit in that drawer—a Grand Prix trophy. In addition to that, he played and won the most Magic in the month of March out of anyone on this ballot.

In his not-very-long career, Japan's Yuuya Watanabe (36–11–5 with 3 byes) has been Rookie of the Year and won Player of the Year twice. This past weekend in China, he added his seventh Grand Prix title—tying him for the lead in that category with none other than Kai Budde—to what seems like a slam-dunk Hall of Fame career (when he becomes eligible several years from now). Not only did he win, but he did so in style, with four very relevant copies of Staff of the Death Magus giving him the turns his Mono-Black deck needed to deal with a Boros Burn opponent in the finals.

Denmark's Lars Dam (13–3–0 with 0 byes) has been living in Thailand and had a series of misadventures getting to the Magic Online Championship, but the only thing he has to worry about going home is how he is going to get his oversized novelty check into the overhead bins.

Twenty-eight-year-old Tennessean Derrick Sheets (18–4–1 with 0 byes) played Deathblade in Legacy and Mono-Black Devotion in Standard to take down the prestigious StarCityGames Invitational tournament this past weekend in Charlotte. In order to get into the Top 8, Sheets rattled off an undefeated day in Legacy and carried his streak all the way through the Top 8.(Photo courtesy of


I know that is a lot to sort through for March, but I am counting on you to help me reach a decision. You can let me know who you want to see crowned the champion for the month by using the hashtag #MTGPoM and, unlike actual elections, you are encouraged to vote early and vote often.