Golf Course Splash

The Event

Competitive Magic brings with it a unique experience, as players travel across state lines to earn that coveted first prize. 186 players traveled to Fountain Valley for our first Mythic Championship Qualifier — a series of events across the globe that feed into the Mythic Championship in Barcelona. For this first season, stores were handpicked by Wizards of the Coast to deliver to players an exceptional tournament experience. Combining the difficulties of large tournament organization with a local play experience, the MCQ system is an attempt to solve the myriad of issues plaguing the now-defunct PPTQ/RPTQ system of the last few years.

In order to deliver a quality tournament experience, we consulted both the prize structure and venue layouts of numerous stores, before settling on a payout system balancing venue costs with player compensation. Paying down to Top 32 meant that many players had a reason to stay in the event, but offering side events and a full cafe experience meant providing a relaxing one-stop experience for many players. Choosing to run the event at the David L. Baker Golf Course gave us this full experience, with a beautiful exterior in the middle of the renowned Orange County destination — Mile Square Park.

With animals and easy parking, as well as comfortable seating, the venue was perfect for an upscale tournament experience. Side events fired consistently, with many players opting to Draft while supporting players still live for Top 8. Still, a tournament would be nothing without the exceptional support of the community, and to see friends traveling from across the Southwestern region to experience our take on an MCQ is an incredible experience. The constant feeling of being surrounded by friends, despite the chaos and heartbreak present at every tournament, is an indescribable motivation to continue on towards bigger and better tournaments.

 

Optics are an important aspect of any event, and while we lacked the oversized symbolic check of other tournaments, like Top Deck Keep’s MCQ, we chose to give a trophy to first place. A constant reminder of the good times in life, the keepsakes we keep with us at home will stay in our hearts forever. That smile you give as you see that crystalline monolith resting on its shelf, that hug you give family after years apart; these are what make the toils of life worth it. Whatever your reasons for playing, know that success is best when shared with friends.


Metagame Breakdown

A diverse metagame showed us all how innovative this Standard format is, with decks constantly rising to attack the popular decks. From Gruul of this weekend to Arclight of last, War of the Spark is proving itself to be one for the history books. For more than just posterity, Magic players love looking at metagame data, and we’ve gone ahead and reduced the nearly two hundred decklists into one single chart.

With a few main contenders in the metagame, it comes as little surprise that Mono Red is by far the most popular, at 44 copies. Next on the list are Gruul and Arclight at 17 copies each. Presumably, the popularity of Gruul is due to its favorable Mono Red matchup, while Arclight’s reasonable Mono Red matchup is compensated for by strong matchups against most other decks. Many flavors of Esper scattered among the 5-12 range, as Esper Walkers and Esper Midwalkers made up a combined 12 decklists — the same amount as 4 Color Dreadhorde.

Following the metagame breakdown is a storyboard of the Top 8 Standings, as well as matchup thoughts, victories, and decklists.

The Top 8 Players

Final rounds always prove daunting, especially at larger events. Tiebreaker sweats can affect other matches, as most players will choose to play their match rather than submit themselves to a breaker war outside of their control. For all the complicated tiebreaker math that drives many last round decisions, this tournament brought the tension from a boil to a simmer — a sigh of relief for those headed to the elimination rounds.

After eight rounds and a day spent among the grilled burger fumes of the attached cafe, we found ourselves with just the Top 8. Seldom are hopes and dreams laid bare for all to see, but here at an MCQ, we see just that. The hours of preparation, the toil of a journey across states lines, the smiles of friends we meet along the way. This endless seeking of the finish line seems noticeably reflective of a longstanding human condition. With the eyes of the Magic community drawn towards this inevitable conclusion, one of these players is on their way to becoming a Mythic Championship Barcelona Competitor.

Top 8 Pictures
From left: Samuel Vigna (4), Scott Li (7), Steven Haker (3), Steven Li (6), Miles Nossett (5), Joseph Riccardi (1), Paul Herr (2), and Christian Fagan (8)

As with all competitive Magic events, final standings would determine the player who goes first in each match as well as the Quarterfinals pairings.

Here are the standings going into Top 8, using the traditional pairing system (1st seed plays 8th seed, 2nd plays 7th, etc.)

Rank Name Deck Points Record
1 Joseph Riccardi Esper Walkers 22 7-0-1
2 Paul Herr Mono Red 21 7-1
3 Steven Haker Izzet Phoenix 21 7-1
4 Samuel Vigna Selesnya Tokens 21 7-1
5 Miles Nossett Mono Red 19 6-1-1
6 Steven Li Bant Mass Manip 19 6-1-1
7 Scott Li Mono Red 19 6-1-1
8 Christian Fagan Sultai Command 19 6-1-1

Quarterfinals

Match 1 | Joseph Riccardi (1) versus Christian Fagan (8)

Our first Quarterfinals match highlights the grindy elements that contribute to most late game affairs in War of the Spark Standard — planeswalker versus planeswalker action. Game 1 would revolve around managing the board, as Joseph wants to remove early threats before taking over the game with a single planeswalker. This strategy ultimately leaves an opening for Christian’s Sultai Command deck to resolve a planeswalker of its own or cast a Command the Dreadhorde. Joseph would not have access to a Command the Dreadhorde in his list, forcing his game plan to revolve around incremental advantages.

Ultimately, Christian Fagan would take down this match, as an aggressive game plan alongside a combo kill makes this matchup difficult for Riccardi’s Esper Control. Christian would find himself facing off against the winner of Samuel Vigna and Miles Nosset in the semifinals — either deck proving to be in a strong position against Command the Dreadhorde.

Match 2 | Paul Herr (2) vs Scott Li (7)

For as long as competitive Magic has existed, the concept of a mirror match has dominated many forms of theory — especially for aggressive strategies. With the prevailing thought involving a transformational strategy, winning Game 1 would be crucial, as post board games would revolve more around card advantage. In a battle between 2-for-1s, Scott had the edge, as his four copies of Dire Fleet Daredevil can pressure Paul’s four copies of Experimental Frenzy. This late-game focused strategy shows a marked shift from the racing oriented strategy in Game 1.

As with the first match, the lower seed player ultimately proved victorious, and Scott Li found himself thrust into the semifinals, where he would face off against the winner of the Steven Mirror.

Match 3 | The Steven Mirror — Steven Haker (3) vs Steven Li (6)

While not explicitly a mirror match, the quarterfinals between Steven Haker and Steven Li showcases a soon-to-be commonplace matchup in Standard — Bant Mass Manipulation against Izzet Phoenix. While solidly in favor of the Phoenix player, Lyra and Shalai can pose difficult hurdles for the spell heavy Izzet deck. With only Beacon Bolt as a solid answer for Lyra, Haker would have to manage Li’s board carefully. The matchup comes down to momentum, with Haker acting more like a control deck than a combo deck. Removal spells are the most important tool but after sideboard Legion Warboss can compensate for removal light draws.

Unlike the prior two matches, the higher seed here won, dropping Steven Haker in a battle against the Firebrand himself — Scott Li.

Match 4 | Samuel Vigna (4) vs Miles Nossett (5)

Our final match of the Quarterfinals featured the only remaining Selesnya Tokens player against a very positive matchup — Miles Nossett’s Mono Red. With the ability to build large board states due to Venerated Loxodon and Trostani, the ability of Goblin Chainwhirler to impact the board is limited to a narrow band of time. Sideboard games do little to alleviate this issue, as Tibalt’s life gain restriction requires board control. Additionally, Selesnya Tokens decks pack cheap removal spells like Prison Realm or Baffling End to mana early threats.

As with the Steven mirror, the higher seed won this match, putting Samuel Vigna into a very favorable semifinals matchup.

Semifinals

Match 1 | Steven Haker (3) vs Scott Li (7)

Lightning seldom strikes twice, but in this aptly named Lightning Strike heavy matchup it would indeed. While Mono Red is ordinarily favored against Izzet Phoenix, the matchup is close enough that even Game 1 could go either way. In the early turns, the onus is on the Phoenix player to control the board. Playing a removal spell or deploying a blocker is almost always better than discarding Arclight Phoenix, as running Mono Red out of threats is the most effective means at winning the game. With sideboards thrown into the mix, Phoenix trims back on expensive threats and broadens its game plan. Gone are the early plays of card draw spells, these often anemic enablers replaced by a more robust Augur of Bolas midrange plan.

On Scott’s side, a set of Lava Coil and Dire Fleet Daredevil are critical to success, as they can cleanly answer problematic threats like Crackling Drake while giving Mono Red the ability to pivot into a controlling game plan. Ultimately, this grindy sideboard plan would emerge victorious, propelling Scott Li into the finals.

Match 2 | Samuel Vigna (4) vs Christian Fagan (8)

Our final (or, well, semifinal) match brings with it the culmination of the non-Red decks. With no Mountains to be found in either player’s deck, a slower game plan would ordinarily ensue. Still, the Selesnya Tokens deck can put out brutally fast board states, while having main deck pieces of disruption like Trostani or The Immortal Sun to stunt Command the Dreadhorde. Game 1 is all about racing, as Christian’s best shot of fighting through a tokens player is with Wildgrowth Walker and Massacre Girl. Individual removal spells like Chupacabra or Exclusion Mage are ineffective against wide boards and the lack of answers against a resolve Immortal Sun forces the Command deck to be on the offensive — contrary to its overall game plan.

Sideboard games are drawn up differently, as Samuel has a pair of Remorseful Clerics to accompany more resilient threats like Gideon Blackblade and a third copy of The Immortal Sun. Christian’s Command deck has a pair of Cry of the Carnarium alongside Ritual of Soot and Thrashing Brontodon as critical sideboard cards, but Brontodon’s vulnerability makes it only a soft answer to The Immortal Sun. This ability to exploit Command the Dreadhorde’s weakness gave Samuel the necessary momentum to take down his semifinals match, putting him just a win away from a Mythic Championship invite. Facing him in the finals would be Scott Li, mirroring Samuel’s favorable quarterfinals match.

Finals — Scott Li (7) vs Samuel Vigna (4)

With the culmination of a day’s worth of Magic, we find ourselves caught in the midst of the final battle between Samuel Vigna’s Selesnya Tokens and Scott “The Firebrand” Li’s Mono Red. One of these players will prove triumphant and earn their spot at Mythic Championship Barcelona, as well as a shiny new trophy and a nice chunk of change to help them on their way.

This matchup would prove troublesome for Scott, as Selesnya Tokens is typically a poor matchup for Red, but Chainwhirler and Experimental Frenzy can manage many board states. As discussed above, the most important aspect of the matchup is removing the tokens, as Loxodon and Trostani are better the more creatures in play. Samuel being the higher seed would complicate this even further, as Scott is perpetually a turn behind.

Heading into postboard games, Lava Coil and Rekindling Phoenix are exceptional in the matchup, as there are limited answers to flyers and Lava Coil hits both Trostani and Loxodon. This important aspect carries most Red decks against tokens, combining with Chainwhirler to take down most boards. Ultimately this means that Selesnya tokens is forced into a slower game, which is it ill-equipped to fight in the same way that Chandra or Experimental Frenzy do.

While Mono Red is favored in longer games, March of the Multitudes and The Immortal Sun gives Samuel access to an unbeatable sequence of draws that additionally complicates combat math. This facet of the matchup encourages Scott to play a tempo game — sticking an early threat like Lavarunner or Runaway Steam-Kin and removing as many blockers as possible. If Samuel gets low enough, even a large March may leave him vulnerable to a backswing or a flurry of burn spells.

 

Trophy
1st Place Trophy

With a flurry of games, we had finally found our MCQ Champion, overcoming tough matchups and a hostile metagame, his prowess in the mirror matches earned him this coveted spot. Congratulations to Scott Li for winning our MCQ, and we wish you good luck at your upcoming Mythic Championship.

Winner picture
Congratulations to Scott Li on winning our MCQ with Mono Red!

Top 8 Decklists

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