In late August, a group of my friends and I started a sprint to prepare a pro level Magic event, the Mythic Invitational.
In the end, half of the team registered the deck I worked on, with my good friend Shoop finishing in Top 8 of the tournament. This was an outstanding success by any metric, it is incredibly hard to finish in Top 8 of a tournament of this caliber.
In this blog post, I am going to write about our testing process, and how we explored the fresh metagame. I will also explain how we organized ourselves and what testing techniques worked for us.
Magic Timeline and Breakdown
I mostly worked with Sam Rolfo for this event. We collaborated with other team members, but we have a long history of working together and were both mutually invested in the success of the group.
I will be giving a timeline of our 2 weeks of testing before deck submission and a short retrostpective.
The final ban annoucement before the tournament comes out. This ban was expected and the metagame is wide open.
After the field of the dead ban, we thought public enemy number one was UW Auras. We knew that Goblins was a very good deck as well, but we thought that UW Auras could maindeck Hushbringer and swing that matchup strongly in Auras favor.
In reality, UW Auras metagame position was extremely tenuous. Maindeck Hushbringer does not hold up in a metagame with a lot of Uro Titan of Nature’s Wrath. But at the time, there wasn’t a strong Uro deck.
UW Spirts is our frontrunner.
After trying several decks, the only deck that had a favorable matchup against Auras, was UW Spirits with Collected Company. It wasn’t just good against Auras it crushed Auras.
This was a big deal for us, UW Spirits was going to be very strong against any kind of creature deck, and we hadn’t found anything that was as good as Spirits was against Auras.
Other decks we were considering at the time:
Rakdos Arcanist: This deck has a lot going for it, it plays a lot of cheap powerful interactive cards like Thoughtseize and Claim the Firstborn with Dreadhorde Arcanist and Young Pyromancer to turn the corner. It even gets to play a companion in Lurrus! Unfortunately this deck is very weak to graveyard hate in postboard games which we flagged as a significant risk, it also felt like it was a touch too reliant on Stitcher’s Supplier.
Bant Control: There was a pretty popular bant control deck with Teferi, Uro, and Counterspells. It would pretty quickly fall out of favor as it had no good matchups.
Goblins: We knew this deck was solid, we were just waiting on other people to produce a good list.
Mono Red: I remember us testing a fair bit of a mono-red burn deck. It definitely had game against Auras. I think it dropped off because it wasn’t great against goblins and it was weak against Uro decks.
Sultai Midrange: This deck was less established, but we were waiting for one to pop up. There were suspiciously very few Thoughtseize decks so far in the metagame, so we expected people would find good builds of more Thoughtseize decks before the tournament.
Jund Food is our frontrunner. We decide to keep the deck secret.
After testing more UW Spirits, it just really struggled against any fair deck. We decided to table it, if we had a strong reason to believe UW Auras was going to be 30%+ of the tournament metagame, we would pick it back up and try to fix some of the fair matchups.
Shortly after tabling Spirits, Sam came up with the idea of playing Jund Food. We started pretty close to the standard version of the deck. After some testing, we trimmed on Priest of Forgotten Gods for Thoughtseize and a Vraska, Golgari Queen.
This deck had a reasonable matchup against UW Auras, a crushingly strong matchup against Bant Control, and we found that Cauldron’s Familiar+Mayhem Devil+Witch’s Oven was extremely good against Goblins.
We decided to keep the deck secret and kept tuning it. We really felt like we had hit gold, because no one else was playing a Cat+Oven deck and the deck was very strong in testing.
This sultai deck really changed our anchoring as a team. Sultai crushed UW Auras, it wasn’t close to being close. Auras, was no longer the deck to beat. Now every deck was tested against had to pass the Sultai test.
When we played Jund Food vs Sultai, we were firmly ahead with Jund Food. From this point on, Sam and I were locked into Jund Food, and decided to focus all our remaining time on playtesting and tuning the deck. The deck changed significantly overtime and you can see our final version here in an article Sam wrote.
August 30th - September 5th
While we tuned Jund Food, adjacent team members worked on other solid decks and we tested against them a great deal and tuned sideboard plans for those matchups accordingly. The primary decks we playtested against were Goblins, Sultai, Mono-Black God-Pharoah’s Gift, and after deck submission Jund Sacrifice Aggro.
This was also where we made one of our biggest mistakes as a team. While we were testing other decks, we didn’t produce tournament quality decklists. We would test Goblins then drop it, we’d test Mono-Black tune it a little, then drop it. I think if we had put the extra hours into tuning our decks along the way, we would have had more options come deck submission and improved the quality of our testing.
Four team members submit Jund Food.
At the end of the sprint four of my teammates submitted the Jund Food deck I worked on.
Sam plus the three others that were considering the Jund Sacrifice Aggro deck switched last minute.
I was very pleased with this result, I had a lot of faith in the deck we came up, and I was thrilled to positively impact my teammates testing by helping tune this jund food deck.
Tangrams wins the SCG Championship Qualifier with Jund Food.
Of the four teammates who registered the deck, half of them made day 2.
Shoop finishes 3rd after swiss of the tournament with the team Jund Food deck. Shoop is the only member of Top 8 to not be holding a prestigious pro status.
Retrospective // Where We Messed Up
We should have tested more Rakdos Arcanist.
- We knew for at least 5 days before submission that there wasn’t going to be a popular white midrange deck, so Rest in Peace wasn’t a threat to the deck.
- Further, Leyline of the Void was only being played by Goblins, where it would be a weak plan against Arcanist.
We also didn’t have a team Sultai Deck or Goblins Deck.
- While two of our team members did submit a Sultai deck, this deck wasn’t socialized with the team. The rest of the team didn’t benefit from this testing and the option to submit the deck.
- We knew Goblins was going to be the most played deck, the fact that we didn’t have a team version of it for people to submit as a fallback plan meant that last minute testing was a lot riskier.
Links for Reference
Lessons Learned – Working Better in Groups
This section has some quick takeaways from how to work in groups in Magic.
It is extremely important for everyone in the group to have the similar goals and committment levels.
If 50% of your group is moderately invested and 50% is playing as if their life depended on this, this will create tension and loose team cohesion.
If you just want to socialize with other players and play 1-2 hours of magic a day, that’s very valid.
If you want to work 60 hours a week finding the best deck for the tournament, more power to you.
Just make sure you group up with others who have the same goal as you.
Common Testing Strategies
This is one I didn’t see coming. The tournament format was best of three Historic Open Decklists. So all of my testing was done with Open Decklists against other team members. Some members of our team played on ladder instead, where decklists aren’t open.
This made it harder to exchange notes with teammates who only played ladder. For this reason, I think there should be an agreed upon way of testing that everyone agrees can produce valid results.
Common Testing Practices
Our team had a shared youtube channel where we would upload vods of our gameplay.
This was done in an ad hoc manner, there were no expectations for uploading, but it was good for amplifying interesting results.
I wish we had more structure around this practice. Like annotating videos with decklists from both sides, or dedicated vod review sessions to generate matchup insights.
Naturally, some people uploaded more than others, and some people watched more vods than others. We also generated more footage than we could all watch. There are definitely some kinks to work out here, but I think a shared vod repository was a very good idea.*
*I forgot whose idea this was, kudos to them.
Even though our playtesting group only had 7-10 players at a given time, we chose to work in groups of 2-4 at a time. This was mostly due to availability and already established personal relationships.
Magic testing also works naturally best in small groups, since you need 2 people to play magic. Once a group has 5 or 6 players, it might as well just split up into two smaller groups so more 1-on-1 magic can be played.
Small Problems and Small Deliverables
Small groups should try to focus on small problems. Problems should start broader the further you are from the tournament and get more specific as the tournament gets closer. Each problem should have a corresponding Deliverable that you can bring to the rest of the team to provide value and insight.
With 2 weeks remaining: Find out which decks are good against UW Auras.
With 1 week remaining: Produce a rough draft of the best Goblins deck to bring.
With 3 days remaining: Deduce detailed sideboard plans against the 2 most popular decks.
With 1 day remaining: Determine the last 2 sideboard slots in Jund Food.
Since we broke work up into small sub-problems, it was important to exchange information and new ideas frequently. We tried to have group meetings every 2-3 days. This seemed like a good cadence for us given a 2 week sprint and a highly invested team.
It worked well for us, we were able to keep a consistent understanding of the metagame and overall problem space across the entire 2 week preparation period.
Putting People Together
Even when I wasn’t able to play or review gameplay footage, I was still trying to help everyone be more productive.
One very effective technqiue I found, was to ask available people what their goals were for the next hour. Then match people up with eachother that had common goals. This worked for me over and over again, and I think led to stronger team connections and better sprint outcomes.
I had a ton of fun playing magic with my friends. I feel like Sam, Shoop, and I achieved a lifetime accomplishment of developing a Top 8 deck in a pro level magic event.