Combat Celebrants: Norbie and Anthony

One of the most satisfying feelings you will ever get playing Magic is when you beat a popular grinder and top-notch player while playing Janky decks. Today, I’d like to share with everyone my conversation with Norbie and Anthony talking about their experience playing in Singapore in the recently concluded Regional Qualifiers Cycle 1.

NORBIE MENDOZA

Did you know that Norbie was a medical professional before being an MTG pro? We call him Doc not because of his job but because he’s also quite the doctor when it comes to analyzing the meta and prescribing the right decks for the right matchups. I think that’s how he ended up winning an invite to RC Cycle 1 and reaching the top 8 with an underrepresented deck at that! If you look up Norbie in google, you’ll end up seeing a page like this where he shows up in high-profile games, grinds and tests his skills, and with enough attempts, would take home the top spots including the recent SEA championship.

What deck did you play and why did you choose that deck?

I played Yorion Enigmatic Incarnation. In the weeks leading up to the Regional Championship, I wasn’t testing as much, as I didn’t think the release of Brothers’ War would affect the metagame by much. The top decks all got tools (Green Devo got a lot of cards, including the scary Woodcaller Automaton; Rakdos got Brotherhood’s End and Misery’s Shadow; Phoenix got Third Path Iconoclast), and that would result in pretty much the same decks. At that point, I was 95% sure I would run Enigmatic Incarnation, having done well on in the October Manatraders tournament (9th on tiebreakers). The only other real options I had were Rakdos Midrange and Green Devo. I really like how the deck can find the perfect card for every board state, and having a near bye against the Rakdos Midrange made me confident in choosing the deck.

What was your most difficult matchup and how did you do?

The deck is weak to non-interactive combo decks (Lotus Field, Jeskai Ascendancy & Abzan Greasefang) as well as disruptive aggressive decks (White Humans & Blue Spirits). In the Swiss rounds, I was able to win against White Humans and Abzan Greasefang. The White Humans match was straightforward – control the board and try to stick an early Enigmatic Incarnation to get Tolsimir or Titan of Industry. The Abzan Greasefang match was trickier. We both mulligan to start the game (him to 5, me to 6), with me on the play. On Turn 3, I went deep in the tank for 5 minutes thinking how I could maneuver to a winnable board state despite my opponent likely having a turn 3 Greasefang + Parhelion. Since I didn’t have Leyline Binding in my hand to deal with Greasefang/Parhelion, I decided to cast Zur, Eternal Schemer as a chump blocker to minimize the damage I would take in that turn, planning to cast Fires of Invention + Enigmatic Incarnation on turn 4 to get Deputy of Detention (clearing Parhelion’s angels in the process). It played out exactly like that, and his follow thankfully was not a second Parhelion but an Esika’s Chariot. From that point on, Enigmatic Incarnation took over, getting a Tolsimir that was blinked by Yorion, and I was able to hold up a drawn Leyline Binding to close out the game (after going down to 1 life one more time in that game). The sideboarded games were a bit more comfortable thanks to Rending Volley and Radiant Flames for his Cat swarm.

What was one of your most memorable plays in the tournament?

Definitely, the “play Zur as a chump blocker” play, though another memorable play I had was in the Quarterfinals. I was against Eton on Keruga Fires, and on turn 4 of game 1, I blocked his Goblin Shaman token with my Knight of Autumn. That was such a huge mistake; had I kept that Knight of Autumn in play, I would have been able to blink it multiple times with Yorions and Glasspool Mimics copying the Yorion. I was mad at myself for a while for making such a mistake but thankfully I was able to play much tighter after that.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you change in your main and sideboard?

Honestly, I would not change a thing. The deck was well-built for the exact metagame I was expecting.

What preparation did you do before the event that you feel helped you play well?

First, I had been on the deck for a month and a half already prior to the tournament. I felt extremely comfortable with the deck on MTGO, but I knew I had to get some reps on paper prior to the RCQ. So I joined a Pioneer RCQ earlier in the month and played despite starting 0-2 (had to bring my cat to the vet). I also went to the venue the day prior to get a feel of the place and joined an LCQ to get some IRL reps. In terms of deck preparation, I spent about 2 days agonizing over the mana base and the toolbox options the deck had at its disposal (credit to NJAMTG and bobinchese for their work on the deck), as well as aligning my build to those builds that did well in other Regional Championships.

As for non-Magic preparation, I made a point to sleep early the night before. I also did some meditation exercises leading up to the event, and even in between rounds when the anxiety and the nerves started building up.

What lessons can you impart to aspiring magic players who want to get into these high-level tournaments?

I have several.

  1. Preparation is key, but that doesn’t just mean jamming meaningless test games before your events. Everything you do leading up to a tournament must have a purpose. If you’re testing a particular matchup, don’t stop playing the games. Have a specific goal in mind when you play your practice games. For example, I tested several mana bases for this deck to find what land sequences would allow me to cast two spells in one turn.
  2. Choose who you test with. Not everyone’s opinion matters, and having low-level reps will be detrimental to your performance. – Take care of your body (stay hydrated and have light snacks on hand during tournaments) and mind (I highly suggest meditation and deep breathing exercises). It’s a stressful game, and those who can maintain a level head longer will perform better in long tournaments.
  3. Play at a decent pace, and communicate clearly, especially in international tournaments.
  4. If you can, get some reps on MTG Online. The level of competition is generally higher than in your local game stores.
  5. It’s not just preparation, it’s not just skill and it’s not just luck. The best tournament runs occur at the intersection of all of the above.
  6. Corollary to that, mulligans are your friend. It’s not a coincidence that the tournament I had the most mulligans in turned out to be my first top 8 in an international tournament.

What is your opinion about people playing jank?

I started out as a brewer, but I conceded that in order to have a consistently high win rate you really need to prioritize competitive builds. Granted though, some janky decks (like Enigmatic Incarnation) can be the right choice in the right metagames. You can also choose to express yourself through tech cards and signature cards (I won my first PT invite off the back of a Fungal Infection).

ANTHONY CUELLO

Anthony, known more widely in the local community as ‘Ham’, is one of the friendliest players you’ll ever meet. But he’s not memorable solely because of his friendliness, but you’ll remember how you’ll lose to him because he does this very gracefully as if he already knew how the game will end. With this handy pen and notebook, you’ll see how each damage taken and dealt is orchestrated to lead to a deserving win. He’s known to consume a lot of MTG content, watch hundreds of hours of gameplay, and put in the work by testing his decks in small to large-scale tournaments regularly. He missed his win-and-in on the recent RC in Singapore but everyone knew he had a bigger chance of getting in than lucking out.

What deck did you play and why did you choose that deck?

Rakdos Midrange. The release of BRO barely changed the format, and coming from the last week’s results in the US/RC I felt that a tuned Rakdos list accounting for MonoGreen, Phoenix, and Humans would do well.

What was your most difficult matchup and how did you do?

The over-the-top decks (Lotus, Mono-Green, and Fires) can be rough, but not unmanageable, for Rakdos. Luckily I only faced Mono Green once in the tournament, where I beat it 2-0 thanks to multiple discard spells.

What was one of your most memorable plays in the tournament?

Getting to Extinction Event away a board of 4 Arclight Phoenix. Extinction Event was a card we normally didn’t bring in vs Izzet, but after talking about it some more in the testing discord we realized that Event was a way to catch up on cards since Phoenix goes through most of their deck fast.

If you knew then what you know now, what would you change in your main and sideboard?

Liliana of the Veil, a card that was cut in more recent Rakdos lists, would’ve been very good in my R8 win-and-in against Auras. It would’ve only been good that one round, but maybe it could’ve gotten me a PT invite? Hahaha.

What preparation did you do before the event that you feel helped you play well?

Nick Price set up an online testing Discord composed of PH/Thailand players/MTGO grinders and this was much, much better than our usual meet-up and test-in-paper routine. Getting to discuss lines of play card choices with people better at Magic than me helps a lot, and was not something I thought I could get mostly doing paper testing.

What lessons can you impart to aspiring magic players who want to get into these high-level tournaments?

2 things.

  1. Repeating above – play with people better than you. If you feel you can’t get that locally, network! Magic Twitter, Discord, etc. is full of people willing to share what they know.
  2. Get reps with your deck – lots of it. I think Pioneer rewards deck mastery more than finding the hot deck for the weekend, and unless you’re a full-time player the former should net more consistent results. Arena and MTGO are great ways to conveniently get reps to ensure you don’t get left behind by good players.

What is your opinion about people playing jank?

Mad respect for people who come up with cohesive decks out of the blue, especially when you get a Top 8 or good result with it. Having your opponents pick up your card to read it is a rush.

That’s it for today’s feature. Let me know if you want to see more people in this series! I love to interview and get to know people more and I hope you do, too!

Till next time,
Vanson

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