104 FNMs - The Luckiest
Jon Corpora

"Competitive Magic, for the numbers to work, has to factor in fun."
-Jeff Cunningham

Last week, I made this video:

It was pretty fun to make. Our pitch session (read: our videographer Jazon and I sitting in our unattended studio) was literally just us looking at the card and wondering what the hell we were going to do.

Like... what the hell? The cat makes rats and brings them to people and gives itself and all your cats protection from them, going so far as to grow as each rat dies. The card feels like two parts diplomacy experiment, one part ill-fated gambit, and seven parts blatant fan service. I spent quite a bit of time running those numbers.

Depending on just how Online you happen to be, you may have heard that Stephen Spielberg, director of 1941, is directing a film adaptation of the book Ready Player One, which my #content-addled brain keeps misspeaking as Loading Ready Run. This development has invited some rousing discussion on the merit of Ready Player One, its author—Ernest Cline—and his entire oeuvre. Take this Ready Player One passage that's been passed around The Blogs like a hot potato made of garbage:

I also watched every single film he referenced in the Almanac. If it was one of Halliday's favorites, like WarGames, Ghostbusters, Real Genius, Better Off Dead, or Revenge of the Nerds, I rewatched it until I knew every scene by heart.

I devoured each of what Halliday referred to as “The Holy Trilogies”: Star Wars (original and prequel trilogies, in that order), Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mad Max, Back to the Future, and Indiana Jones...

I also absorbed the complete filmographies of each of his favorite directors. Cameron, Gilliam, Jackson, Fincher, Kubrick, Lucas, Spielberg, Del Toro, Tarantino. And, of course, Kevin Smith.

I spent three months studying every John Hughes teen movie and memorizing all the key lines of dialogue.

Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.

You could say I covered all the bases.

“I studied Monty Python. And not just Holy Grail, either. Every single one of their films, albums, and books, and every episode of the original BBC series. (Including those two “lost” episodes they did for German television.)

I wasn't going to cut any corners.

Don't worry too much about the context—it only serves to give the author an excuse to rattle off a bunch of references from the '80s. To some, this passage is cringeworthy, but to others (lots of others—the book sold well enough to justify a film adaptation, after all) it reads as recognition or even an outright endorsement of the things they like. It doesn't criticize or question. It's this easygoing quality of Ready Player One that can make it feel so silly to examine under a lens. Any fan service enjoys this incidental insulation from criticism as well.

Attacking Hungry Lynx because it's fan service is a little like criticizing candy because it tastes good but will rot your teeth out if not eaten in moderation. There's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying Starburst or Hungry Lynx. Neither are the Cream of the Crop in their respective fields, but as the good book says: let he who has never impulsively bought Skittles in line at the grocery store cast the first stone.

* * *

Losing the last round of the Syracuse Open to miss day two was a fun experience. Here's my deck:

I'm playing Lantern Control; they're playing W/U Control. It's a great matchup for me, one that I'd already won twice that afternoon. In play, I have two Lantern of Insight, two Codex Shredder, two Ensnaring Bridge, and plenty of land. My opponent casts Serum Visions; while there's nothing in their hand of consequence, the top card of their library is Cryptic Command, so I mill it.

The new top card: Cryptic Command. I mill it.

The new top card after that: Detention Sphere. HM.

I shuffle their deck with a Lantern of Insight.

Their top card after that: Detention Sphere.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

I have one Lantern of Insight left here. At this point I'm trying to figure out if which is better: leaving my Lantern of Insight and digging for an Abrupt Decay to destroy his Detention Sphere, surely removing my pair of Ensnaring Bridge. My opponent's got a Celestial Colonnade to go with six 1/1 Soldier Tokens from an errant Secure the Wastes. I determine keeping my Ensnaring Bridge and ditching my last Lantern of Insight gives me the best win expectancy going forward.

To be clear, both options suck.

I make them shuffle again. Serum Visions resolves.

My opponent casts Detention Sphere and wins shortly after.

My friend Ryan assures me that's a pretty common bug, and that I can file for reimbursement.

I mulligan to five in game two, and while I had been able to win on plenty of mulligans to five that weekend, getting to compete on day two was not to be. I'm not complaining, though! I felt like I got insanely lucky all day to even be in a position to play for day two. The decks I got paired against and the quality of their draws compared against the quality of mine left me feeling very lucky after all was said and done.

Here's how my matchups went:

Round 1: W/U Control W
Round 2: Merfolk W
Round 3: Esper Control W
Round 4: Merfolk W
Round 5: Eldrazi Tron L
Round 6: Bant Eldrazi W
Round 7: Abzan L
Round 8: Affinity W
Round 9: W/U Control L

Playing against Lantern is a lot like playing against Dredge—it feels more like you're playing something adjacent to Magic than actual Magic, like Magic reimagined through the eyes of a masochist. Being locked out of a game of Magic by Lantern of Insight, Ensnaring Bridge, and a trio of different Codex Shredders is a unique brand of misery. Despite this, each and every one of my opponents were pleasant, and although my bad beat story suggests otherwise, I had a fun time at the event.

My pairings were very fortunate, given the deck I was playing. On paper, I think I lost to the decks I was supposed to lose to and beat the decks I was supposed to beat. Eldrazi Tron had turn-two Chalice of the Void for one both games, sure, but I had ample chances to beat Abzan and didn't; I was unable to beat a mulligan to five in game one and sideboarded like a buffoon game two, siding out Pithing Needles and getting subsequently crushed by Liliana of the Veil, as I deserve.

I still don't love Modern, philosophically speaking, but in hindsight, they are a nice reprieve from endless Standard PPTQ seasons. If card availability isn't a concern, you get to do whatever you want and it doesn't impact your win expectancy too badly. And if you just want to win at all costs, you can just play Grixis Death's Shadow.

It seems like a shame to have a Modern Pro Tour that will inevitably break the format, but we'll see what happens. See you next week.

Jon Corpora
pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st