Confidence is important.
It sounds a bit silly, right? But I'm a firm believer in that it's a critical part of the game that doesn't get enough conversation. While the majority of this article will loosely be storm-based, I think there's something everyone can take away from this. The main point would be, be confident in your decisions.
I'm not saying to be cocky, arrogant, or too proud to admit your choices may not have been correct.
What I am saying is don't play things if you're not confident in them. Play what you trust. This could be taken several different ways and that's intended.
Don't register a deck or cards for a Grand Prix if you aren't confident in your ability to win. When I sit down across from an opponent at any event I have one goal in mind, to crush them. I think a very important step in this is to trust your ability to win matches and to think, "I'm going to win this." Over the last month or two I've played in four Grand Prix and I've beaten a handful of gold to platinum level pros, while I am not better than them, I think the confidence in yourself needs to be there in order to do so. I've seen too many people work themselves up, make mistakes, and throw matches because they were facing a named player. Then when they lost, claimed, "Yeah, well... it was Huey Jensen."
That isn't an excuse.
You are capable of defeating anyone in any match and the reversal of this is also true. I've lost to just as many nameless faces (no disrespect to anyone that might have defeated me – but also, you're a jerk) in the last four Grand Prix as I have defeated those that are better than me. But that shouldn't change how you approach each match.
When you are confident in yourself, your deck, your card selections you will have better success than those who don't.
Deck List (v4.2)
Deck List (v4.4)
Preparing for Grand Prix: Birmingham
In the month leading up to Birmingham I had played in Grand Prix: Seattle and found a list I really liked in deck version 4.2 (v4.2). I had a very high win percentage with it over the course of 150 matches or so, but decided to shelf it in the interest of trying new things. Hindsight says this is a mistake, but we'll return to this. At the time I was hyper-focused on beating Grixis Delver/4c Pile as they were essentially my only losses at Seattle. I tried some things and essentially came to the realization that I wanted to be pre-boarded for the Delver match-up if I'm beating everything else.
Well, my win percentage was even higher for the first 75 matches compared to v4.2. I continued to test and test, after awhile my win percentage slowly went down. At the time I contributed this to Xantid Swarm being bad in the metagame and unused (which is still true).
I began to look very closely at my stats around this time as I wanted to address more weakness, as someone who's very interested in fantasy sports, my spreadsheet acts as an analytics point for myself. I noticed my mulligans were drastically down (5% less), which was terrific. This is when I had a few 5-0 lists published with some wonky cards I was trying in the Xantid Swarm slots such as Goblin War Strike and Diminishing Returns.
At this point, I had convinced myself I was going to play something very similar to v4.4 at Birmingham. Except, with the rise of Reanimator online as well as the storm mirror, I wanted to play Surgical Extraction.
My travel plans to Europe had myself along with a large group heading across the pond a week and a half before the Grand Prix. Figuring out travel, expenses, planning, hotels, and everything else was slightly stressful. On top of that, I was planning a proposal to my then girlfriend (she said yes) who would be traveling through Europe with me.
Over the course of the trip we had limited good internet connection through our Airbnbs and hotels. When I was able to play after a week or so away, I noticed something – I was mulliganing a lot and when I wasn't, I was keeping more sketchy hands out of fear of mulliganing.
I lost my confidence in this strategy, I went back to looking at numbers and quickly realized the mulligan percentages don't mean anything if they're skewed based on keeping hands out of fear. I also had tracked how many times I had to win with Empty the Warrens post-Ad Nauseam because I couldn't reveal more cards due to dying and it was higher than desired. I noticed myself not wanting to cast Ad Nauseam because of the additional Empty the Warrens and wanting to find other lines, which messes with your play. I want to know when I cast Ad Nauseam that I am going to win.
I only brought a few cards with me, so I had to make due. I accidentally left my Scalding Tarns back in New York with my Modern deck. Which meant sticking with twelve lands, but I could put the Empty the Warrens back in the sideboard.
"I guess this is what we're doing..."
Grand Prix Birmingham
To say this event was a success would be a lie. I wasn't confident in my card selection and the results were indicative of that.
While I played some great matches versus 4c Pile and beat them, I also lost to some favorable match-ups due to an improperly built deck. I lost my round four to actual five-color Shardless BUG because I couldn't draw a red source for five-plus turns and I also lost a match to Vial Goblins where I mulliganed to five twice (my opponent told me after that his only disruption was Red Elemental Blasts). In the final round, I had a loss that was tough but understandable. My opponent had played a turn one Trinisphere backed by Goblin Rabblemaster two games in a row. What bothered me about the second game was I had the answer in hand but couldn't draw a land to cast it.
In general, everything I was concerned about showed it's face.
I wasn't confident in my card selection and I thought of it every round when I was shuffling. I didn't want to mulligan because of the number of lands, which lead to worse keeps, and bad decision making. This was the first event in a long-time where I felt out of my element. While I didn't lose the "you can beat anyone" mantra, the thought of it being less likely lingered in the back of my head knowing I was paying a sub-optimal list and it did bother me.
Since Birmingham I've returned to playing v4.2 and have found lots of success online with the win percentage being higher than expected as well.
I think something I should work on is not forgetting about lists or things that work because I decided to try something else. While trying new things is important, so is returning to things that work.
Fortunately, I regained my confidence last weekend when playing Modern in Grand Prix: Toronto with a top 16 finish. After Grand Prix: Hartford (top 64) the month before I was eager to try my list with Abrade added in the sideboard. This was the reason for the delay of this article, I had to test a lot in a short period of time to not disappoint my teammates.
Until next time, keep storming!