We celebrated Magic's twentieth anniversary this year. That week, I took a look at the 2013 World Championship. We learned a lot while watching the World Championship, this column identifies twenty lessons to be learned from this momentous occasion, one for every year of Magic.
1. A cut above the rest
Jund has already been putting up some impressive stats recently, but the World Championship solidified it and Red-White-Blue as Standard's most dominant archetypes. Thirteen of sixteen players at the World Championship armed themselves with Jund or Red-White-Blue. The only three players in dissent were Brian Kibler with an aggressive Red-Green deck, Willy Edel with his signature Naya leanings, and Craig Wescoe with an interesting White Weenie deck. The high density of Red-White-Blue and Jund have established a top tier for the Standard metagame.
Previously, Standard was too diverse to confidently declare any deck or decks dominant. Even now, Standard events on Magic Online are constantly being won by myriad different archetypes. We can split hairs and debate forever about Standard's composition and the most powerful strategies therein. The fact remains, though, that sixteen of the best players in world were invited to play in the highest-value Magic tournament of all time, and thirteen of these masters showed up with Jund or Red-White-Blue. Standard's tier one has been firmly established.
2. Olivia and the new legendary rules
Olivia Voldaren is one of the most powerful cards in Standard. Magic 2014's new rules mean that Olivia Voldaren is no longer an answer to Olivia Voldaren. If one player sticks Olivia Voldaren, the other player can't cast his or her own because the first player can just untap, steal it, and sacrifice that copy. This means that the Jund decks need to be playing removal that successfully deals with Olivia Voldaren. No more Pillar of Flame, and a smaller number of Tragic Slip, ensure that Jund players will always have a way to kill the legend before playing their own. Lee Shi Tian chose to play four copies of Olivia in his main deck, hoping to cast another Olivia Voldaren each turn the opponent had a removal spell, keeping his opponents from being able to tap out for their own legendary Vampire.
3. Lifebane Zombie
Lifebane Zombie has live targets in just about every Standard deck. The 3-power evasive body applies pressure on Planeswalkers and presents a formidable clock that might be able to force a Bonfire of the Damned all by itself. Lifebane Zombie had a huge main-deck presence at the World Championship and I expect it to continue making the main deck of Jund lists until Theros.
4. Flash in the pan
The Red-White-Blue decks at the World Championship were of two varieties. Some versions, like those played by Stanislav Cifka, Martin Juza, and Ben Stark, has Ætherling and a much higher curve in general. Others, like the version played by eventual champion Shahar Shenhar, played a lower curve with more Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage. These less-expensive versions of the deck far outperformed their more expensive cousins. We can expect Red-White-Blue players to play versions with Restoration Angel, Augur of Bolas, and Snapcaster Mage as their only main-deck creatures with some number of Thundermaw Hellkite—usually three—somewhere between the main deck and sideboard.
5. Falkenrath Aristocrat
The prominence of Jund and Red-White-Blue at the World Championship has prompted a lot of players to add red to their White-Black Humans decks. Falkenrath Aristocrat is great at assassinating Planeswalkers, applying pressure, fearlessly bashing into Restoration Angel mana, and giving the deck another way to turn on morbid. We can expect Falkenrath Aristocrat to pick up a lot of steam going forward. So much so that I expect White-Black-Red aggressive strategies to have an exceptional week on Magic Online.
6. Be innovative
When I perused the decklists from the World Championship I felt like the players could have taken more risks in deck construction. The composition of the tournament was very much what most people expected. I'm surprised we didn't see more things like Appetite for Brains in Standard or Chalice of the Void in Modern. Playing the known best deck may be a solid way to consistently post strong finishes on Magic Online, but deck choice is a lot different when you're entering an event with few players, where you have a great deal of knowledge regarding their preferred deck choices. It's like going to an FNM where you know all the other players. There might be an awesome new Standard deck that's just unplayable at your local FNM because three people always play its worst matchup. In the same spirit, you can attack small metagames accordingly when you have a great deal of information. For example, in the Standard portion of the World Championship, anyone could have played Junk Rites in Standard and he would have been better positioned to secure 3–0 than anyone else in the room.
7. Dragons Shapeshifters
Ætherling is a flashy card that can take over the game once it's in play, but Thundermaw Hellkite hits the clouds running and applies great pressure right away. A lot of players want to lean on their Planeswalkers in the control matchups and they quickly find themselves with no Planeswalker and a 5/5 body on the other side of the table. I would have main decked the Dragon had I been playing in the World Championship; I don't think I would expect a Naya Blitz deck anywhere.
8. Crispy Elves
Lee Shi Tian's Jund deck was well equipped for the mirror match with Primeval Bounty in the main, but the two copies of Arbor Elf in his deck were a huge liability against opposing Bonfire of the Damned. It's hard to justify one-mana creatures unless you're planning on a very aggressive game plan these days. We can expect cards like Arbor Elf and Elvish Mystic to continue thriving in aggressive strategies while players with more midrangey decks will likely be cutting them and keeping their Farseeks.
9. Transcend your bad matchups
In the finals of the World Championship, Shahar Shenhar was down two games to nil in a terrible matchup. Most players might seem dejected or aloof at the prospect of winning three games in a row in that spot. Shenhar never faltered. Each turn of each game was thoughtfully engineered to maximize his chances. Reid stumbled a bit with awkward draws and Shahar was able to create a winning race three times in a row to be crowned the 2013 Magic: The Gathering World Champion.
10. Keep your eye on the prize
Josh Utter-Leyton came into the second day of competition in 10th place. With his back against the wall, the 2013 Player of the Year rattled off a 5–1 to secure a spot in the Top 4. Always remember, you're in it until you're not.
11. Always be a dreamer
I'm a sucker for a good comeback story. Just a few years ago, Brian Kibler was PTQing on the West coast and Ben Stark was on a hiatus from competitive Magic. In a very short time frame, both Stark and Kibler have reestablished themselves as truly incredible Magic players. Stark's upcoming induction into the Hall of Fame is well deserved. One day you're losing at FNM and the next you're winning a Pro Tour.
12. Surround yourself with greatness
One of my favorite coverage moments from the weekend was an interview with Ben Stark after the first draft. Stark, widely considered the best Limited player in the world, was asked why he's so free with information about Limited formats. Stark went on a rant about Magic only being fun when you're playing against someone who knows what he or she is doing. By sharing the lessons you learn with friends and listening when they share their own lessons, instead of waiting for your turn to speak, you gain a tremendous advantage over time. You have the ability to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of your friends—take advantage of it!
13. Know yourself
Craig Wescoe and Brian Kibler showed up to Standard last week with exactly the decks you would expect. When asked if he felt disadvantaged by giving his opponents knowledge of what he would always play, Craig Wescoe said that the advantage he gets from playing a deck he's comfortable with outweighs any hindrance from giving his opponents information.
14. Always know your role
It's important to remember who is the aggressor and the defender in a specific game. You may be accustomed to always attacking, but every game is different. It's important to always be aware of which player has inevitability. If it's you, then you can play safe and just hold on. If it's your opponent, then you need to close as fast as you can. This was most apparent in a feature match between Willy Edel and Reid Duke, where Willy Edel stole a game under tremendous Rebel pressure by doing the math and winning a tight race.
15. Learn from your mistakes
Last year, Reid Duke came in last place at the Player Championship. After twelve rounds of competition, Duke had an abysmal 2–10 record. This year, Duke showed up with a new confidence and found himself at the top of the field right from the get-go. A few less-than-optimal draws in the finals were enough for him to lose his grip of the Championship, but going from dead last to 2nd place is a pretty nice turnaround.
16. Always commit to a plan
There's a common theme in the way the players at the World Championship drafted. These players weren't just taking good cards, they were sculpting mana curves, assembling synergies, and forcing the players around them to cooperate with their plan. Mastering Limited is very difficult, but recognizing your role in a draft early and committing hard and fast is a quick recipe for success.
17. Be the future
Don't wait around for others to be playing the best new decks. There were a lot of missed opportunities in terms of deck choice this last week. Is everyone playing Red-White-Blue and Jund? Then play Junk Rites, and you'll probably be winning a lot. Be the change that keeps the cogs moving.
18. The new era of Modern
It's a bad time to be playing a pile of creatures that don't generate card advantage. Brian Kibler showed up to Modern playing an Æther Vial deck and quickly found himself without the ability to win a match. Removal in the current Modern format is very good and, when combined with Snapcaster Mage, you really need to accrue value off the creatures you play if you want to have a chance.
19. Six pool
There is no gentleman's agreement! Reid Duke isn't above playing Green-White Hexproof in the Modern portion of the World Championship and riding it all the way to the finals. Don't hesitate to play the deck that you believe is the best for the given tournament.
20. Be courageous
It's hard to quantify the awesomeness of Shahar Shenhar's victory. Sure, Shenhar has had his share of tournament Magic success before this, but facing off against one of the greatest players in the game round after round is an entirely different ballgame. At nineteen years old, you need to overcome the fear of self-doubt. You need to let yourself deserve to win. You need to be courageous and focused the whole way through. Be sure to watch and read Shenhar's incredible road to victory on the coverage page.