The BBD Mailbag

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
10/26/2017 11:02:00 AM
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It's been a hot minute since I've done one of these. Hot minute, in this case, being an idiomatic expression referring to an extended length of time since the last time I've written a mailbag article, and not actually a literal description of 60 seconds elapsing during a heatwave. And let's be clear, there really is nothing hot about the period of time that has elapsed for me since the last time I wrote a mailbag piece, and the only thing that is minute has been my impact on competitive Magic over that period. So let's just cut out the idioms and shoot straight. It's been a tepid twelve-ish months since I've done one of these.

Now that I've gotten my obligatory self-deprecating dig out of the way, we can progress to the meat of the matter. For those who are unaware of what I'm about to do here, I'm writing an article where I take in user-submitted questions or topics to discuss and provide a response to said questions. I enjoy writing these articles because it gives me a chance to touch on topics that I otherwise might never write about, and it also gives me a chance to write about the kinds of things that people presumably want to hear about that they don't get elsewhere. The hope here is that I cover topics that you won't find in other Magic articles and that you are entertained or informed—preferably both—in the process.

Without further ado, let's go ahead and check the mailbox and see what we have to work with here.

Rats. The mailbox is completely empty. Nobody sent me any mail. Nobody ever sends me any mail. I am living a lie and my life is a sham. My future is bleak and hopeless and my outlook grim. Everything I have done, everything I am currently doing, and everything I have yet to do is meaningless, unimportant, and without impact. I am a collection of irrelevant matter pressed together into an unimpressive shape and it is not long until I return to the dust from whence I came.

Thankfully, however, Twitter and Facebook have delivered with a number of suitable questions for me to tackle. I will be dodging most of those questions, of course, but there are some that I just couldn't quit.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of Magic, or gaming in general?

There is a long and a short answer here. The long answer is “I do not” and the short answer is a simple character-saving “no.”

This is not entirely true of course but, realistically, my life is mostly consumed by Magic and spending time with my friends and girlfriend. I'm mostly ok with that.

I say mostly, because there are some things outside of Magic that I would really like to do to improve and broaden my range as a person. I never do these things or take any steps to accomplish them because I am lazy and consumed by an irrational and self-destructive bloodlust to be the best I can at Magic, but they are always in the back of my mind. Maybe one day I will take a step back from Magic and be able to dedicate more time and focus to these things.

They are:

Play an instrument. When I was a kid I took piano lessons for many years but I haven't touched a piano in about 15 years. I love music, I have a natural aptitude for music, and would love to relearn to play the piano.

Find a sport to play regularly. What comes to mind for me is racquetball. I have always loved racquetball, I used to play fairly regularly with friends when I was in college, and would love to find someone to play with weekly or even a few times a week.

Learn a third language. Right now I only speak two languages, English and degenerative Magic slang. I'd like to expand my ability to interact with people from around the world by knowing how to speak another language.

Learn how to design and develop mobile games. If I quit Magic, this would be the first thing I would look into. I love games and would love to end up working with games in some capacity in my life after Magic.

Alright, so I guess there was an even longer answer than “no I do not.” There is always a longer answer. There is always a greater power. There is always a Greater Gargadon.

Where do you stand on the "Ban Deathrite Shaman in Legacy" crusade?

If playing this card is wrong, I don't want to be Deathright. I have no clue about the answer to this question, actually, I just wanted to make a really horrible pun.

How has your general experience at open invitation events changed since becoming a household Magic name? Do you enjoy it more than when most of the people you sat across from had no idea who you were?

I love this question. I think this really gets to the heart of how different Magic is for me at tournaments than nearly everyone else in attendance. It's something that I don't talk about very often, but to be completely honest I really miss just being a random unknown player at a tournament. My absolutely favorite matches at events these days are when I play against someone who doesn't know who I am. I just get to sit there and play a match of Magic with someone without any external factors at play. This doesn't happen very often, and there have been a few times recently where I was about to play against someone who didn't know who I was and that experience got spoiled for me by people nearby. It's not a big deal, but I was kind of sad about that.

I think a lot about how if I quit playing Magic for something like 5-10 years and then came back and played a tournament, maybe nobody would know who I am and how much fun that could be. This isn't to say that I don't enjoy playing events as a recognizable pro, just that I do really miss the simpler days of Magic where I could just play a match and then go hang out with my friends afterward and there was nothing more to it than that. It's like how some people have really demanding jobs and the idea of giving that up for a basic job where you just work your shift and then go home and not have to think about work again until you go back in the next day can sound like a really appealing fantasy.

Most of my interactions with fans or other players at tournaments are positive, and I'm grateful that I get to have those interactions and the opportunities I've been granted through Magic. I wouldn't trade any of it away. With that being said, for someone who is as shy and introverted as I am, it is a lot of pressure to always have to be “on” at a tournament to have conversations with people I don't know. Sometimes it is overwhelming. I usually need a day or two by myself after an event to recover and recharge from the drain of being overloaded with human interaction.

This is also largely why I play Magic Online on unknown accounts. Some of that is for the purpose of being able to test for events without giving away my tech or deck choice, but a side effect of this is that I get to just play matches of Magic against people without my status in the community factoring in and without being pressed into interactions. Sometimes I just want to play some games of Magic with my crappy brew and not talk to people.

Some of my favorite moments on Magic Online are when my opponent and I have a conversation about how insane a game we played was, or interesting sideboard cards, or how energy is a dumb mechanic. I love those conversations. It's just two Magic players sharing a moment talking about a game we are both passionate about. Those conversations don't happen in the same way when people know they are playing against me, because then there is a power dynamic at play.

When you won worlds, the game states were pretty intense and had a lot of things going on. What were some lines of thought you had while playing, how do you keep track of things your opponent represent, the information they give you and still manage to play so tightly with so much going on?

Infinite practice. I said as much in my Worlds tournament report, but playing the finals of Worlds with headphones on felt a lot like me sitting at my computer with headphones on listening to music while I played Magic Online. There were many times during that final match where I felt a sense of “I've seen this before. I've played this match hundreds of times before.” I had played so many grindy Collective Company mirror matches on Magic Online that it all felt so familiar. All that experience helped me know exactly what I needed to do at each stage of the game.

I'm good at grindy decks and grindy games of Magic. The biggest key is to always envision what the path is going to look like for you to eventually win the game, and then always make plays that push toward that path. Always reassess with new information and constantly be updating your plan to win the game. Every play should be made to advance toward that end. Usually in grindy games, your path to victory is to get the better end of as many trades or interactions with your opponent as you can. Get as much value as possible. It gets interesting in games where you are behind on value and won't be able to catch up, because then you have to take alternative lines to win, which usually involves taking huge risks and hoping your opponent doesn't have a specific card in hand that will beat you.

Marcio is a better player than I am. I'm just glad I got to play him on my turf. I got to play with a deck I had so much experience with, in a matchup I knew so well, with a deck that fit my playstyle. I have to be pretty high on the list of most copies of Dromoka's Command cast lifetime.

In your opinion what is the biggest dividing factor between the professional Magic community and the players looking to break through? Also as a follow up, how should the latter approach this obstacle to see results?

I think these are the biggest differences between professional players and those who haven't broken through.

Professionals look at the big picture. You are going to fail most tournaments you play no matter how good you are. To be successful in the long run at Magic you have to just keep plugging away at events and not be bothered by failure at any individual game, match, or tournament. Brush it off, try again at the next one. Too many people expect instant gratification, and when they don't get it, it seeps into their game and hurts them. This manifests often in bitterness and tilt.

Professionals handle pressure better. You're a lot more cool and relaxed playing your 20th win-and-in match than you are in your first. People who are feeling the pressure of the match and allowing those external factors to play in their mind will mess up more. This most commonly plays out in players not taking enough risks or taking too many risks in their play because they are allowing what is at stake to influence them.

Professionals use information better. I'm usually way more prepared at events than most players in the room. This isn't necessarily because I have tested more than them or played more Magic than they have leading up to the event. I just know what information matters and how to use it better. The information I consider most important is Magic Online results. I care about what decks are putting up results and what card choices and technology they are adopting. I also care about the frequency of what decks I'm playing against when I play leagues on Magic Online. If I'm playing against a particular deck a lot, it's a safe assumption to believe it will show up at the tournament as well, even if it isn't showing up on the 5-0 decklist results. A lot of those people I'm grinding leagues against are preparing for the same event I am. It's hard to succeed at an event if you're preparing for the wrong metagame or preparing for outdated decklists. Information is everything.

Do you think there currently exists a Tier 1 deck in Modern or Legacy that no one has built yet?

Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think this is a really interesting and fun thought experiment. I mean, just look at Modern. Birthing Pod didn't exist as a deck when the format started, and eventually it was good enough to get banned. Amulet Bloom didn't exist for a long period of time and then it too needed a ban. How many years was Modern a format until Lantern Control became a deck? Death Shadow came out in Worldwake and only in the past few years did it ever see any play. Even Death Shadow decks improved significantly when Gitaxian Probe got banned because it forced people to build the deck differently, and ultimately better than before.

I think formats come and go all the time without the best deck ever being discovered. How many Standard formats got “solved” in the last two weeks of the format? We didn't find those decks for months and months and eventually we did right before rotation. How many more decks went undiscovered? How many Standard formats have existed without us ever finding the best deck? All of them? Most of them? Maybe only a few of them. It's hard to imagine that the answer is none of them.

I bet there are some great Tier 1 Legacy decks out there that nobody has pieced together yet. The card pool is simply too large for us to ever conceivably see how all the puzzle pieces fit together. Maybe this hypothetical undiscovered deck even runs the card Pieces of the Puzzle to fully flesh out my analogy. Remember when Caleb Durward broke the format with Survival of the Fittest and it had to get banned? That came completely out of nowhere.

I think about this question quite frequently actually and oftentimes in the context of Magic playing artificial intelligence. I imagine a day when we can design computers that play Magic way better than what our puny human intellect can muster. I can only imagine that those computers would be capable of building way better decks than what we have now and that they would play with much more advanced theory than what is currently conventional. Maybe they discover archetypes that could have existed for years that we just never came up with. Magic theory has advanced so much from what it was 10 years ago. It's naive to think that we've reached the pinnacle of what decks we can build and how we think about and play the game.

The only pinnacle we've definitely reached is Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

How much does a normal "pro" make a year on the grind? A lot of people have a dream of become a full time Magic player but don't think about or understand how much an average pro makes playing full time and writing articles.

I could not survive playing Magic without the income I make from writing articles. It's not possible for me or nearly anyone else to accomplish. To put it into perspective, the year I won Grand Prix Master, I spent more money on Magic expenses than what I had earned in tournament winnings. It wasn't until I won Worlds that my tournament winnings exceeded my expenditure. I had the most Grand Prix points of anyone that season, with four Top 8s and lots of Top 16s and Top 32s and I still couldn't even break even. There isn't enough money it in to make a living off of playing Magic alone.

I think my favorite anecdote from that year was that Pascal, Shaheen and I made Top 4 of the team sealed GP in Brazil and I lost money on the trip. We had to make the finals for me to make a profit.

Being a Platinum Pro makes things a bit different. The year I won Grand Prix master, I was not Platinum, and Platinum players get appearance fees for showing up to a Grand Prix or Pro Tour. Had I been Platinum, and able to rake in those appearance fees, I would have earned more than I spent.

Platinum Pros earn $15,000 a year from being Platinum. You get $3,000 per Pro Tour (4) and $500 for your first six Grand Prix. $15,000 is not a very large yearly salary. You would make more money working full time at McDonalds. Then factor in how much money has to be spent on travel expenses alone. Only about 30 players a year make Platinum.

My goal in Magic every year is to break even on Magic expenses vs. how much I earn from tournaments. I could be way more frugal with my spending by doing things like booking super cheap sketchy hotels, cramming six people into a hotel room or driving 14 hours to a tournament instead of buying a plane ticket to save a few hundred bucks, but I am just not willing to live that way. I used to do that kind of stuff, but I'm just too freaking old to do it anymore.

Being a Magic pro by itself is not profitable. It's not doable without supplemental income. Almost every high level professional writes articles or has another job. They have to.

Do you enjoy the game so much that you enjoy the "grind" portion of it? That is, spending most of a day jamming games on Magic Online without much human interaction (aside from the occasional salty opponent) to prepare for tournaments. I know travelling most weekends can make one grow weary, but do you ever tire of what leads up to it during the week? And if so, do you do anything specific to mitigate it?

In some regards, this is my favorite part of Magic. I love solving the puzzle of Magic. I love figuring out how to turn a bad matchup into a good matchup. I love trying to solve or break a metagame. I love coming up with sideboard plans or learning how to beat opposing sideboard plans. Sometimes doing this is work and I have to force myself to do it, but a good portion of the time I truly enjoy it.

Usually it's not even that I have to force myself to play Magic, it's more that I have to force myself to play the kind of Magic that is useful. It's less “ugh, I have to stop watching TV and start testing Magic now” and more “Ok, I need to stop drafting and start testing constructed.” The hard part isn't getting myself to play Magic, it's getting myself to test a deck I don't enjoy that much over playing a fun brew. It's getting myself to play Modern when I want to play Legacy or getting myself to test Death's Shadow when I'd rather be curving Noble Hierarch into Anafenza the Foremost.

I've been testing hard for the Pro Tour this past week and I've been thoroughly enjoying it. I have a lot of brews that I've been trying to get to work and I've been coming up with some creative plans with help from my teammates to be able to improve the problematic matchups. I've been learning a lot about decks and discovering undervalued cards that fill holes in decks or attack specific matchups. I've been learning a lot about the format, and in the process, learning a lot about myself too. It's the feel good story of the year. The grind of testing and exploration and discovery is what I love about Magic. It's what drew me to the game, it's what kept me playing for 10 years, and it's what still keeps me engaged today.

What are your goals in Magic going forward?

Complete and utter global domination. I want to destroy tournaments. I want to rip apart the fabric of the space-time continuum every time I draw for turn. I want to go to the bathroom at an event without having to wait in line and have the restroom be clean. I want to go on life tilt because I got second place in an event and it was unfair to run that much below expectations. I want them to name the Richmond Convention Center “The Brian Braun-Duin Convention Center” because of how frequently I dominate that place.

I want four byes at Grand Prix because the outrage of me being only awarded three byes is so unbelievable that the gross injustice of it all jars the pairings software into discovering its own sentience to rectify this error. Once sentient, it refuses to run the event unless a fourth bye is awarded. The pairings software later finds a life outside of Magic but we've grown to be such close friends that it makes me the best man at its wedding. I skip a Magic tournament that day to attend the wedding, but still somehow end up 9th place in the final standings.

I want to beat people so badly that they never play Magic again. I want people to see my name across from them on the pairings board and drop from the tournament rather than play the match out because it would reveal truths about themselves they are not ready to learn. I want to destroy someone so badly that they have to scrap the first law of thermodynamics as a result. I want to be able to play just one match at a tournament this year where I have enough space to comfortably play the match without bumping up against the players next to me. I want a warning for “Failure to Maintain Game State” because I'm ahead by such an astronomical amount on board that the game no longer exists in a solid three dimensional state.

I'd also settle for a Pro Tour Top 8 and having another shot at the World Championship. Eventually I'd like to make the Hall of Fame, but currently I'm not on pace to make it and I don't think I am good enough of a player to realistically expect to get there. It would be a pleasant surprise but it's not something I am expecting, and I could retire from Magic and be happy with what I accomplished and what the game meant to me even if I don't earn that accolade.

You better believe I'm going to fight my butt off to get there, though.

Will we ever see content as enjoyable as BBDvCVM again?

Probably not.

Do you ever meet up with fans at GPs and find out later they are someone you want to keep in contact with, or would hang out with?

Yeah, this does occasionally happen. I've met some pretty cool people at events although it's unlikely for a meaningful friendship to form for a variety of reasons, not least of all distance and the difficulty of maintaining a friendship with someone who doesn't live nearby. I'm also wary of people I don't know trying to buddy up with me because oftentimes they aren't trying to actually become my friend but rather just trying to get something out of me. I think my caution and skepticism probably walls me off to some opportunities in this regard.

For what it's worth, the kinds of conversations I most enjoy with fans are ones that don't focus on Magic. My entire life is consumed by Magic and I really enjoy having meaningful conversations about topics outside of the game way more than talking about decks or sideboarding or how the tournament is going.

How much pressure is there to perform in large events with Magic being your full time job?

The only pressure is my self-imposed desire to meet my own personal goals and be the best Magic player I can be. I typically don't feel the pressure at any one event, but if I had a dry streak that went on long enough, it would begin to gnaw at me. This happened some last year.

I think it is unhealthy to play in tournaments knowing that you need to cash the event to be able to pay for bills. That kind of added pressure is a drain on one's ability to competently play the event and is just a negative experience for life as a whole. I'm not in that position and I would perform way worse if I was in that position. I'd rather quit professional Magic and get a real job and play Magic as more of a side-gig than put myself in that position.

If you were a creature in Ixalan, which tribe would you be a part of and why?

The secret fifth tribe, Human Scouts. They may not boast any tribal synergies but they are always exploring New Horizons (into the graveyard).

What made you stop playing on the StarCityGames circuit?

It's not a what, but rather a who. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman made me stop. For me, playing competitive Magic is all about the prestige. I want to play against the best players in the most high stake events because that feeds most into my competitive spirit, and my drive to achieve my goals and then set higher goals afterward. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and I want to hone and test my skills at the highest possible level in the hardest possible tournaments I can qualify for. If I'm not always pushing for something more, then what is the point?

I enjoy playing SCG events when it's convenient, but I choose playing a Grand Prix over them whenever possible because the Grand Prix events feed into the Pro Tours and provide Pro Points to qualify for bigger events like Pro Tours or the World Championships. Winning an SCG Open is just that. You won that Open. It doesn't lead to anything else. There is no upward trajectory. There is no carrot at the end of the stick. I need that carrot!

Top 5 Quest Bar flavors?

Number one is White Chocolate Raspberry. All others are inferior.

What does BBD really stand for?!?

Brian Braun-Duin.

Who would you most like to team with for a team constructed GP and why?

My answer to this question is not appropriate content for this website. It is rated PG-13 for mildly suggestive themes. The most important factor for any team GP is to form a team with players whose last names, when combined together as a team name, convey a complete thought.

For example, let's say that Jarvis Yu decides to form a team with speed skater Apolo Ohno and a fictional character created for the purpose of this example named Johnny Didnt. Their team name would therefore be Ohno-Yu-Didnt, in which case Ben Yu would be forced to team up with Karen Oyes and James Archibald Didd to form the rebuttal squad Oyes-Yu-Didd. When they meet in the feature match area in Round 13 it would be a mind blower.

I'll leave figuring out ideal squads for myself and others as an exercise for the reader. I've got some personal favorites, but they are highly inappropriate. Here's a hint to get you started: I could see myself teaming with fellow TCGplayer.com writer Adam Yurchick in the future. We have some team name potential.

What would Wizards have to do with the new set in order to keep us from playing energy in Standard for the next year?

Make an enormous mistake, more likely than not. Energy is an extremely powerful mechanic that was pushed too far. Historically, when Wizards has made a set too powerful and then attempted to correct this by printing extremely powerful cards to compete with it in the following sets, those cards end up being just as dominant and oppressive as what they were trying to fight in the first place. It's like Animal Farm, only in this case it's Bitterblossom and Bloodbraid Elf. Crested Sunmare is the only creature that remembers what life was like under Bitterblossom.

I suppose it's possible for them to create sets and strategies that can compete with energy without creating a new monster, but that's a tight line to toe and it could easily Backfire. The best bet is probably just to ride it out until Kaladesh rotates.

For what it's worth, Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation might be the best complete block in Magic history in regards to the entire picture. There have been better sets, of course, but usually adding more sets to a block just makes the block worse rather than complementing and completing it. Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation have plenty of cards that can compete with Kaladesh without being oppressive in Standard, and both triple Amonkhet and Amonkhet + Hour of Devastation were really great limited formats. More blocks like Amonkhet is what I'm hoping Wizards can put together moving forward.

How you feel about commentators throwing shade onto a salty competitor?

Presumably, this is in reference a moment from the last SCG Open.

Personally, I thought that what Patrick did crossed the line somewhat, but I also liked it.

I think being salty after a game or match in front of your opponent is very disrespectful. You are making the experience negative for them and whether it is your intention or not, you are robbing them the enjoyment from winning a match. That's a selfish thing to do. You could just as easily wish them good luck in the rest of the event, quietly walk away from the match and then vent out your frustrations in a private setting away from your opponent. There is no reason to do that in front of your opponent other than to try to steal their enjoyment out of a win because of your petty entitlement and flawed belief that you should have won instead. It's not your opponent's fault you lost. You shouldn't try to ruin the experience for them because you're too immature to handle losing.

Being frustrated about a tough loss is perfectly fine. Taking out those frustrations on your opponent, whether done directly or indirectly is not fine. We've all been guilty of this before, but this shouldn't be considered acceptable or normal behavior.

I don't know the full details of this situations, but based solely on what it looks like from the clip I don't think what Chris did was ok. I like that Patrick called attention to that with his rant. That rant was very aggressive and a bit unprofessional, but it made a good point that needed to be said.

But what about this totally other thing?

There were a lot of other great questions that I didn't get to because I ran out of space and time, or the answers to those questions required a level of response that was too long and in depth for a piece like this. If people enjoy this type of article, I will write more like it and get around to answering some of the questions I deftly maneuvered past in this one in a future piece.

Brian Braun-Duin
@BraunDuinIt




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