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Players Tour Online 1 Day One Highlights

June 13, 2020
Tobi Henke

195 players signed up to compete in the first Players Tour event run on MTG Arena, and fought through nine rounds of Standard. Along the way we saw huge haymakers and the navigating of nifty intricacies—both equally relevant to win. Some games were nail biters, some were rollercoasters, and some players simply steamrolled the opposition. There were some narrow escapes, mostly thanks to Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and some explosions.

These are the top stories of the day.

Reclaiming the Wilderness

Every major change to a format always leads to period of brewing, a time when everything seems possible and nothing seems settled. Following the most recent bannings and rules change, however, the era of exploration didn't last very long. The wilderness was tamed quickly, and the new number one deck was already out in full force at this tournament. Claiming a metagame share of 40.5%, Temur Reclamation dominated the field.

It was a known quantity going into the weekend—if not exactly how large of a quantity one had to expect—and many players specifically tuned their lists to beat the deck-to-beat. For example, the card Wilt found its way into main decks, and not just to destroy Wilderness Reclamation: It also proved a valuable asset in the battle against Witch's Oven, Trail of Crumbs, and Bolas's Citadel, wth Jund Sacrifice being the second most popular strategy in today's Standard.

Magic Rivals League player Stanislav Cifka

One particular development concerned players updating their own versions of Reclamation to eke out an advantage in the mirror. Stanislav Cifka and Ivan Floch, both Pro Tour champions, had arrived at a configuration without any main-deck copies of Scorching Dragonfire. Instead they, as well as the Czech MPL members Martin Jůza and Ondřej Stráský who picked up their list, ran a full set of Aether Gust. Cifka had tweeted about a 15-0 run in matches on MTG Arena in the days leading up to the event—and about getting stuck at Mythic ranking #2. If you saw that post and were wondering what mysterious deck he'd been using, it was indeed this:

The quartet didn't end up with stellar records on Day One, averaging just five match wins. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a good idea, as we’ll soon see.

So Many Famous Players

One effect of the Players Tour moving online was an increased opportunity for players all over the world to participate. In no respect was this more pronounced than with the members of Magic's Hall of Fame. No less than twelve Hall of Famers joined the first such event, including old-timers Nicolai Herzog and Anton Jonsson. Some sources tell that Jonsson hadn't played a Pro Tour since energy had been a thing in Standard, although he himself couldn't quite remember. "Probably correct, it's been a while."

Magic Hall of Fame member Anton Jonsson

"For me it is basically all upside with a [Players Tour] online, since I just can't justify the time and money to fly out to one. Pretty cool to play high level tournaments like this," he gave as his personal perspective. But he made it a point to acknowledge the views of others as well. "At the same time it obviously cannot replace the experience of going to a live event."

Big Numbers from Japan

Another curious detail about the attendance list concerned the country breakdown. This event had been scheduled to fall into proper daytime hours for Europeans, starting at 9 a.m. Central European Summer Time. And indeed, the majority of the field hailed from the continent, with nineteen English, eighteen German, seventeen Italian, and fourteen French players, among others. However, the single biggest national contingent came from Japan: a total of 35 players. As the tournament was going to finish way past Japanese midnight, I was interested to learn why and how it attracted so many competitors from that country, among them notable luminaries such as Hall of Famers Shuhei Nakamura, Kenji Tsumura, and Makihito Mihara.

I asked Yuuki Ichikawa as he had reached the Top 4 at the first online qualifier of this year's Red Bull Untapped series. In fact, he had been one of three Japanese players in that Top 4.

Magic streamer Yuuki Ichikawa

"Of course, the Asian time zone is better," admitted Ichikawa. "European time zones are the next best because the start time is in the evening. In PDT, it starts at midnight. That's really hard to do here."

But why pick either of these at all, when another, more conveniently timed Players Tour was scheduled for the very next weekend? Ichikawa could only speak for himself. "I practice with a team. I chose the first week to take advantage of the deck."

As the hands on his clock were closing in on midnight, I asked him how he managed to stay awake.

"I watch movies and listen to music. I also exercise a little," Ichikawa listed his in-between-matches regimen. "But two more rounds are very hard! I'm sleepy."

Metagame and Match Fun

It wasn't all Temur Reclamation all the time. In fact, it was precisely the minor archetypes that created the most memorable scenes and interactions. For example, early in the day, Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy had taken to Twitter to announce that he probably would be out of the tournament soon because he had picked Simic Mutate, a deck on which only one other player had pinned their hopes. But then, right away in the first feature match, he did awesome stuff with Auspicious Starrix:

Even earlier, another archetype led an interesting exchange:

It probably had been ill-advised to list Boros Cycling as an option in the poll. After all, the metagame share and win rate of Flourishing Fox hadn't exactly flourished recently. But, for a while, it seemed that it was Boros Cycling who would have the last laugh.

Indeed, one of the Cycling pilots finished the day with a record of 6-2.

Finally, one of the smallest blips on the metagame radar was partly responsible for the biggest stack:

The Undefeated Players

Well, there were none. The end. Check back tomorrow for—

Wait, just kidding! While it is true that no one managed to win all nine rounds, that doesn't mean we don't use this space to highlight the longest winning streak in the tournament. Elias Watsfeldt delivered an impressive 8-0 performance before falling in the last round. Previously, Watsfeldt had earned a bit of a reputation as a Limited master, having drafted his way into the Top 8 of three Limited Grand Prix events and two Limited Grand Prix event finals. Actually, it wasn't just a bit of a reputation and these weren't his only achievements: His biggest claim to fame to date was going 16-1-1 across Pro Tour drafts in 2017–18, which earned him that season's Draft Master title and a slot at the World Championship that year.

2017–18 Draft Master Elias Watsfeldt

His 8-0 run now proved that his mastery of the game wasn't limited to Limited. "I do enjoy current Standard. It is very tricky!"

His deck was a remarkable case of parallel evolution; it mirrored the Temur Reclamation build listed all the way at the beginning of this article in so many ways. However, he had tested for the event together with Players Tour Brussels champion Joel Larsson. Like the Czech MPL and Rivals players, Watsfeldt had chosen not to run Scorching Dragonfire main, and he had also arrived at the full number of Aether Gust. Even his rationale sounded familiar: "Aether Gust was a way of adding additional cards for the mirror, without losing answers to Mayhem Devil and such."

When asked about the story of his tournament so far, after Round 8, Watsfeldt listed playing against Mono-Green and Boros Cycling, and hazarded a guess that the rest must have been six mirror matches. He added one memorable situation, summed as "casting Ashiok's Erasure on Commence the Endgame while swinging with the Wolf pack!"

Ashiok's Erasure Commence the Endgame

In Round 9, he was paired down against Joonas Eloranta and finally lost a mirror match. In the end, three additional players joined Eloranta and Watsfeldt at 8-1: Kenji Tsumura and Sergio Garcia Gonzalez, both also on Temur Reclamation, and Rivals League player Louis-Samuel Deltour running Bant Ramp.

And that was the actual end of the story of the first day of Players Tour Online 1. All of their stories, as well as the stories of 91 other competitors, would continue on Day Two.

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