Championship Talk

Posted in The Week That Was on December 16, 2011

By Brian David-Marshall

As the 2011 season winds its way to the holiday break, we have been catching up with the various title and tournament winners from the last 12 months. The Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year winners led off and were followed last week by the three Pro Tour winners. To close out the original programming for the year, we caught up with Magic Online Championship Series winner Reid Duke and World Champion Jun'ya Iyanaga to find out a little more about them, their huge wins in San Francisco, and what their goals look like for the 2012 season.

Since he first popped up on our radar when he qualified for the MOCS last season, Reid Duke has been elevating his game with some independent tournament series success, two Grand Prix Top 8 appearances, the Magic Online Player of the Year title, and—of course—his MOCS title. According to Duke, the experience of playing against the best players in Magic has improved nearly every aspect of his game.

"There's simply no substitute for PT experience," said the player known as reiderrabbit on Magic Online. "Last MOCS, I had one PT worth of experience, and this year I had five. Playing with the best players in the world is eye-opening, and it's made me look for advantages in new places I never would have thought of."

While physical Magic played a large role in his evolution throughout 2011, Reid also pointed to winning the Magic Online Player of the Year title as a huge confidence boost heading into Worlds—not to mention qualifying him to play in the MOCS itself. Even though that event was smaller than the other eleven qualifying events, it was a field packed with the cream of Magic Online's digital crop and the win bolstered Duke for the last event of the 2011 season.

"Though small tournaments are easier than large ones, they're sometimes more satisfying," explained Duke when asked what the Player of the Year title meant to him. "Every single round, I had to play against a top Magic Online player, and there were no easy matches. The win gave me confidence that I can hang with the best, and not just that I can win when I have a good day."

An example of that confidence was on display when Reid "audibled" to a Jund-based deck for the Modern finals after playing Zoo during the Swiss rounds. When the players reached the finals of the event they were not under any obligation to play the same deck they had used in that format during the previous rounds of the event. Duke was pretty certain his finals opponent would play a deck based on creatures—even if he did not stick with the Zoo deck he had also played during the Swiss rounds of the Championship Series.

"Florian Pils didn't strike me as a loose cannon kind of guy," explained Duke when asked about the decision to switch decks. "I thought he would stand pat, or maybe switch back to Storm—which he had played in the main event—or to Jund—which his friend had put up good results with. If he had switched to something crazy like Affinity or Living End, I would have been toast, but I was willing to take that risk to have a more comfortable matchup against creature decks."

The decision paid off with a Game 3 win led by Grave Titan and his Zombie minions and the highlight of Reid Duke's career.

Reid Duke's Modern Jund

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"I'm more proud of the MOCS win than of any other achievement in my life," said Duke simply. "I don't know if I ever would have made it to the Pro Tour without Magic Online. I'm proud to be called one of the 'MTGO grinders' and I'm glad to keep the MOCS title among us rather than let it go to an outsider."

As for playing what his fellow MOCS competitor Bing Luke calls "Magic Offline," Reid looked to one of his two Grand Prix Top 8s as one of the things he will remember most about the 2011 season.

"Grand Prix Providence was the highlight of the year for offline Magic. Not only was it my first big finish, but the Natural Order RUG deck that I played was a giant step for me as a deck builder," said Duke of his strong finish in the Legacy format. "It didn't come from days or weeks of testing, but from a full year of examining Legacy as a format and myself as a player. It turned out to be the perfect deck for me. I felt unbeatable with it, but at the same time it didn't feel like another player would have done as well with the deck."

Reid Duke's Blue-Red-Green Natural Order

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Duke explained that there are things he takes from both the online and offline game that helps him to improve how he approaches each end of the spectrum:

"MTGO teaches discipline. If there's an obscure way to lose, I've lost that way ten times on MTGO because of the sheer number of games I play. Now, I never count myself safe in a game of Magic and I'm always looking for every way I can win or lose. A big difference between live play and online play is that in real life people fumble around with the cards in their hand, but on MTGO you either don't click on the card or you do and there's no looking back. I developed the helpful habit in real life of drawing my card and thinking through the whole turn before making any moves. It helps minimize mistakes and makes me a little harder to read. On the flip side, playing live gets me in the habit of thinking more about what my opponent is doing online. When are they pausing to think? What does that tell me?"

Duke was chomping at the bit to keep improving his game in 2012.

"By the end of the year I want to feel like I can compete against any player in the world. I feel I've proven that I can do well in large, open fields like Grand Prix, [] events, and Magic Online, but I want to do better on the Pro Tour. Specifically, I want a good overall win rate in Pro Tour matches next year—maybe 60%—and I want to 3–0 two or more PT drafts next year."

While Reid Duke and Florian Pils were determining the ownership of the MOCS trophy, another two of the dozen players who had competed in the Magic Online event were waiting on the sidelines to see if they could hoist the World Championship trophy, as David Caplan and Jun'ya Iyanaga were both vying for the title of Magic: The Gathering World Champion. The two players were even in opposite brackets, allowing for the possibility of an all-MOCS finals before Caplan fell to Richard Bland in the semifinals.

Everyone was talking about and their Tempered Steel deck coming into the Top 8 of Worlds, but when the dust settled the tiny robots were trampled beneath the barrage of Titans from World Champion Jun'ya Iyanaga: he defeated Josh Utter-Leyton and Conley Woods before sweeping Bland in the finals. (The unassuming player from Japan only lost one game throughout the entire Top 8.) With the aid of Japan Organized Play liaison Ron Foster I was able to sit down with the World Champion and find out some more about him and his approach to Magic.

BDM: How did you start playing Magic and what attracted you to the game?

Iyanaga: Around the time I was in fourth or fifth grade my friends and brother started playing, and I just went along with them. Magic was pretty popular when I was in primary and middle school, so I got into it pretty heavily. I think what I liked most about it was the joy and surprise of seeing new and different ways cards could be used, and then thinking of new ways to use them myself and then surprise my friends.

BDM: When did you pursue Magic competitively?

Iyanaga: I got into competitive Magic in October of 2003. That's when I first played in a big local tournament called "Lord of Magic Championship" (LOM). Until then, I was just playing in local tournaments against local guys, and people who had played in big events like the National Championship seemed like gods to me. This was around the time that Japan was really becoming a presence on the Pro Tour, and about a third of the field in the LOM was made up of players who were regulars on the Pro Tour circuit. Come to think of it, back then the LOM was maybe a tougher tournament than a Grand Prix or Nationals.

The LOM had a lot of rounds for a comparatively small number of players, so the results were always very skill-based. As most of the top players from the Kanto area played. I was able to see their playing up close. Seeing how some of the best played made me want to improve my play and close the gap I perceived between myself and them, so I started playing in PTQs.

BDM: What made you start playing Magic Online?

Iyanaga: I started in June of 2009, after my horrendous finish in Pro Tour Honolulu that year. It was my first Block Constructed Pro Tour, and I had no idea at the time how I should get ready for a PT. I was testing with Shouta Yasooka, but I think I was more of a hindrance than a help to him, and I was getting angry at myself and just started throwing everything I could into my test decks. It was around the same time that I began designing my own decks from scratch.

BDM: You were briefly the National Champion of Japan—something you alluded to in your profile. What was that experience like and why did you agree to replay the game?

Iyanaga: How did I feel then? Awful—the worst ever. Until I won, I was simply absorbed with playing each round, but once the event was over all the various feelings I had about Magic popped into my head. While it's true I felt satisfied and fulfilled with all the work I'd put into Magic, it's true that at the same time, no matter what results I might achieve, that work isn't seen by others as being as valuable as the study or sports achievements my peers at high school might earn. I was obsessed with the fear that if I'm doing something that doesn't matter to anyone, it's not only worse than doing nothing, it's something that I would be mocked for. At the same time, there was a part of me that hated myself for looking down on Magic that way. Since these thoughts were going through my head when the idea of a rematch was brought up, I was feeling like maybe I wasn't worthy of being a champion, so I agreed to re-do the game. Since I was still plagued by these doubts during the new game, I wasn't playing by best and lost.

BDM: What made you decide to play Wolf Run Ramp in the Standard portion of Worlds? It seemed like the perfect deck for that Top 8!

Iyanaga: While playtesting various decks for this environment, I got the strong impression that pretty much all of them had a tendency to get color-screwed. Unless it was a mono-colored Illusion deck or White Weenie deck, I remember feeling frustrated again and again staring at double-color-costing cards sitting in my hand that I couldn't play. By comparison, while Wolf Run Ramp is dual-colored, thanks to Sphere of the Suns it has a stable color base, and Rampant Growth allows you to easily get double-color cards out, so it's maybe even more stable than a monocolored deck. I liked that about it.

Iyanaga: Also, through playtesting, while there are certainly decks that do better against it than others, I felt that there wasn't really a bad match-up for it. When Shintarou Ishimura brought this deck in for playtesting, it was about 70% complete, and just needed minor tweaking, which we had the time to do. I was lucky to find such a good deck early on in the testing process, which I think is the main contributing factor to my win.

BDM: What was your goal for the World Championships coming in as a MOCS player?

Iyanaga: My goal was to win both.

BDM: What are your plans and expectations for next season both playing Magic Online and on the Pro Tour?

Iyanaga: I don't know if I'll be able to play in the Pro Tour next year. I wasn't able to play much Magic this year, and I don't think that situation will change much next year. However, if I am able to play, I want to try to achieve the goal I set for myself when I first started regularly playing on the Pro Tour. That goal? I don't want to just be a player who wins; I want to be a player who dominates. I want to have a flawless win, or take all three titles at Worlds, or win every Pro Tour in a year. I want to carve my name into the history of Magic forever.

A great big thank you to everyone who took the time for these interviews over the last three weeks and thank you to everyone at home who reads every week. Happy holidays and a healthy New Year to all of you! The Week That Was will be back with new content after the New Year and we will kick off the 2012 event schedule at Grand Prix Austin. Both Rich Hagon and I will be there doing coverage—hope to see you there.

    Your Guide to 2012 Grand Prix

Seeing as this is the last chance for us folks at to get you new information this year before we disappear into re-run weeks, I have a hot-off-the-presses scoop for you. The participation card for 2012 Grand Prix is Goblin Guide! Your first chance to pick up this little fella is at Grand Prix Austin on Jan. 7-8. I’ll be there as part of the new Wizards of the Coast/GGslive Grand Prix video coverage …. will you?

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