Hello Brian and thank you for taking time to sit down with me. For the readers who are not familiar with you as a Magic player, please share a few facts about yourself.
I work full time as a behavior analyst in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. I have been playing Magic since 1997. I have been a level 2 Magic judge since 2009. In the past 3-4 years I’ve hung up my judge uniform and started playing more tournaments. In that time I won the Star City Invitational, became a Vintage Champion, and just picked up my first GP win. I also produce Magic content on YouTube.
You recently took down Grand Prix Columbus, which was Modern, with your favorite deck Sultai Urza. Most players moved away from the Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo recently to be a bit more insulated against sideboard cards, so tell us how your replacement in Karn, the Great Creator performed and if sideboard space is an issue in your opinion.
Karn was incredible for the tournament. He is worse than Thopter/Sword against the fastest/most disruptive matchups like Death’s Shadow, Infect, Burn, and Zoo but he vastly improves every midrange or control matchup. The biggest payoffs for Karn are the mirror and Tron. Tron is one of traditional Urza’s natural predators but because of Karn I went 5-0 against it during the GP without losing a single game. Elzdrazi Tron is a lot harder because they clock you but I managed to beat Eldrazi Tron twice in the GP as well, both of those matches coming down to Karn + Ensnaring Bridge.
I don’t think sideboard space is an issue for the Karn builds. Some of the cards that take up maindeck space in the Whir of Invention lists get moved to the board, like Pithing Needle, Damping Sphere, Ensnaring Bridge and graveyard hate. That lets you play sideboard cards in the main deck in the form of Oko, Thief of Crowns and Counterspells. I do wish there was 1 more slot for a Veil of Summer in the sideboard, but that can be adjusted for your metagame. The deck probably doesn’t need all 3 Damping Spheres.
One could argue that the banning of Faithless Looting and unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic combined with the introduction of Pioneer as the new “professional eternal format” were all great changes for Modern as a format. What’s your take on that claim?
I agree with that. Faithless Looting was too good. I was worried about Stoneforge Mystic, but it has turned out to be fine. I love Pioneer and am excited that it exists, and it’s the first PT format in 2020. Modern is in a solid place right now where there are several tier 1 decks for a metagame to form around.
Speaking of Pioneer and bannings. Wizards started off with a very slim banlist and hinted that they would be more than willing to axe potential problematic cards in the format’s beginning. What do you think of this philosophy?
It’s a really cool philosophy change and I think the format will end up very healthy because of it in the long term.
In the short term it’s kind of annoying to have to wait until Monday night every week before I can start testing for a weekend tournament. It also sucks to buy into cards you know will get banned next week just to stay competitive this week. I hope they let the banlist settle for a while before they hold too many GP’s. I’m lucky that as an established “adult” with a career I can afford to eat the loss on cards sometimes. For the people out there trying to get one deck together, it can be devastating.
I’m fairly sure you enjoy all non-rotating Constructed formats (Modern, Pioneer, Legacy, Vintage, Pauper). Can you please rank them from 1-5 and give a few words on why you enjoy them respectively.
#1 Pauper – It has the card pool of Legacy and Vintage plus tremendous depth in in-game decision making without any of the nonsense. There’s no Black Lotus, Show and Tell, Chalice of the Void or Wasteland. It is the format where both players get to play their game most often.
#2 Legacy – There’s some nonsense in this format, but there are a lot of answers for the nonsense. You can try to win on turn 1 or plan to win on turn 35 and both plans are viable. The Wrenn and Six ban was great and I’m excited to watch Legacy get healthy again.
#3 Modern – I like Modern more than most people. That’s usually because I just play the best deck. It’s easy to get mad that a card is printed that “kills your deck,” I just stay ready to play those new cards. I’m also probably just lucky that I love KCI-style decks and Urza had a great Hogaak matchup, so it’s been a few good years for me. I’d also like to add that Modern tournaments run the smoothest. The decks are pretty fast on average, the player base are invested so they know their deck and the tournament rules. I love a smooth tournament experience and Modern tends to offer that.
#4 Vintage – This format is maximum nonsense. You have to be in the right head space to play Vintage. You’re in line for the roller coaster when you register a Vintage deck. You have to truly understand that this format exists for stupid cards to have somewhere to go. If you’re going to get upset that your opponent had turn 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Black Lotus, or you got covered in Zombies by dredge, or never played a spell because of turn 1 Trinisphere then you’re in the wrong place. The format is nonsense, sometimes you get to do it, sometimes it gets done to you. I love playing in a few big Vintage events every year. No other Magic feels like Vintage and getting to dust off those nonsense cards once in a while is awesome. If I had to play the format every week, or for any serious stakes, I’d probably hate it.
#5 Pioneer – This low ranking is just because it’s new. The format offers a lot to like. It’s deeper and more interesting than Standard, but not even close to Modern’s power level. Once the banlist settles down this will be a great gateway to Modern and beyond.
Your deep runs at tabletop tournaments are very impressive, and talking to you at Eternal Weekend North America I sensed a lot of calm in your personality. What is your secret formula, and do you have any advice for aspiring tournament spikes?
I work full time as a behavior analyst for children with profound cognitive disabilities who can demonstrate dangerous behavior. I analyze those behaviors and come up with both the short-term safety plans and the long-term plans to reduce and change those behaviors to something more functional. Another part of my job is being a crisis management trainer in my school. I have hundreds of hours of training and thousands of hours of experience managing crises, many of which involve imminent physical risk to myself. Playing Magic, even for high stakes, doesn’t shake me. My formula is to play the same in round 1 as I do in the finals.
I also make sure to find joy in the non-Magic aspects of my life. My job pays my bills, missing top 8 won’t mean missing rent. I’m not my last tournament, I’m not my next tournament. It’s OK to miss a GP for a close friend’s birthday party. Magic is a hobby and I do my best to have fun engaging in it. If I ever feel myself not having fun, I take a break for a couple weeks to recharge.
With the year coming to a close, it’s only natural to look a little ahead. What are your plans and goals for 2020?
With my GP win I’m qualified for the next 3 PT’s. This is the first time I’ve strung together multiple PT invites so I’m excited to see where I can take that. I’d like to keep pushing my YouTube channel, I’m learning video recording and editing along the way. And of course I’d like to add some more trophies to my wall.
Lastly, thanks again for this interview and please share your social media, Twitch or something else you would like to add.
Big shout out to my sponsor, Clubhouse Cards (Clubhouse Cards on Facebook and @cardsPGH on Twitter). They’re the best place to play in Pittsburgh and they keep me on the road so I can represent our awesome city.
If people ever want to talk about Magic, I have a big presence on Twitter and I respond to all my YouTube comments.