Jason Chung has long been considered one of New Zealand's better players, but his Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Dragon's of Tarkir, making him the first New Zealander to Top 8 a Pro Tour, firmly cemented him as the Island Nation's best.
When I got to the venue yesterday, I wandered around asking anyone I knew how much they'd prepared for this event, but none of them came close to matching the dedication of the New Zealanders.
"After the Prerelease, a bunch of us headed down to William Poor's bach on the Coromandel to practice and listen to Taylor Swift, sort of a beach house thing."
(Translator: The Coromandel Peninsula is a small idyllic holiday destination on New Zealand's North Island. Known for being sparsely populated, while still being relatively close to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city.)
(Translator: oh, and "bach" is pronounced "batch" and is a New Zealand colloquialism for a holiday home. The origin of the name is unclear, but a popular theory is that it's short for "bachelor pad" even though it isn't one.)
(Translator: although in this case, I guess it was kinda used as one.)
"There were 9 of us, which meant we could always draft with 1 person sitting out to observe. Alan Peng ran statistical analysis on our results, which was much better than just jamming drafts and hoping something stuck."
Alan Peng is part of the Judge staff here weekend, but I asked about the others:
"Matt Rodgers and Zen Takahashi, who are both really good Magic players, I expect them to do well this weekend. William Poor, of course, William Li and KaWing Lau, all of whom are here this weekend. The last two, Reuben Wilson and Yida Guo didn't make the trip."
New Zealand's Jason Chung is feeling lucky.
I asked about their preparations:
"We did around 25 drafts, because between Day 2 here and the Pro Tour next weekend, we figured that was more important, but we did in-depth study of several sealed pools as well.
"Draft is very archetype dependant, and by archetype I mean each of the 10 colour pair combinations. Each archetype isn't that deep, either, so you don't really want to end up sharing with someone else at the table. 6 of them are much better than the others, and Blue-Green was definitely the worst. In sealed, you pretty much have to go with your two best colours, and hope they match one of the better archetypes from draft.
"Anything that pairs with Red is probably good. Red-White Allies, Red-Green Landfall, Red Devoid with either Blue or Back. Green is probably either going Converge, or to ramp into Eldrazi. Blue-Black Ingest, too.
"I think through all of our drafts, Blue-Green ended up 0-15. Someone drafted it again a couple of days ago once we were in Sydney, and they started off 0-2, but finally won a match to give it a final record of 1-17.
I'd heard people talking about playing as much as 19 land in this format, and as few as 16, which didn't sound right to me, so I asked Chung to talk me through that:
"I think it's either 17 or 18, depending on what you're playing. I don't think you ever want 16. If you're playing Allies you want 17, Landfall can be 17 or 18, depending on how high your curve goes. Eldrazi you'd want 18, but 19 is definitely fine if you have some utility lands. They can definitely count as spells."
"Even Blighted Steppe is good, I think it's pretty underrated. You generally gain 6 to 8 life from it. I think I once gained as little as 4 life, but it was still enough to win me the game.
"The format is mostly about attacking. Things like Landfall, Ally triggers, and Ingest all work on your turn, so they favour attacking. This is not a format you want to be blocking in. Unless you know you're playing some slow match-up like Converge or Eldrazi on Eldrazi, I doubt you want to choose to draw."
I asked Chung about his sealed pool today.
"It's not very good, but I feel lucky," he replied with his customary smile, "but definitely watch Zen Takahashi, I think he understands this format better than anyone else."