Yes, if you are not Finnish, that is Poro Invitational. Poromagia is a Finnish game store, so the pun is just kind of obvious. Poro Tour itself consists of four tournaments. This year it was Standard, Sealed and Modern twice. There’s also a bunch of other tournaments, which grant you a few points.
I made it into the finals of the Standard and did fairly well in the Sealed. The Moderns… weell, not good. Don’t tell my team that I might not have taken those tournaments very seriously. Modern just isn’t my format. Based on this I wasn’t really expecting to be invited into the Invitational, but after some people above me in the rankings had to drop out, I made it in from the reserve spots.
So, what is this Invitational, anyhow? It’s a 16 person tournament, which is weirdly casual for a bunch of the best players in Finland (and myself). The tournament itself is a round-robin, meaning every player plays against every other player once in the rounds before the top 4. You know who you have to play against, but as there are five different formats, so you don’t know which format you are going to meet them in. As it’s 15 rounds, it’s over two days. Some of the formats also take a very long time.
The atmosphere was even more relaxed than in Finnish tournaments in general. Getting into the tournament is the goal in itself for many players, so once there the job is done. You can now just go with the flow. The prize pool? I don’t actually know. The winner gets an invitation for next year, but after that… didn’t really cross my mind during the weekend.
The Invitational formats have an art to them. As I understand this, since I’m not part of the process, it’s basically a few people brainstorming about them throughout the year. The idea is often to force the players to look at the game a little bit differently and pretty much take away the possibility of just relying on attacking an existing metagame, because there is none. There is a lot of theorycrafting involved.
This year the formats were Pioneer, Bandraft, Auction Sealed, Omnicube and Poro Brawl.
Pioneer is obviously just Pioneer, but even that has it’s problems from the metagame point of view. Cards were banned quite recently, so the format is still finding it’s form even in the bigger picture. At the same time, this would probably have been a fairly easy metagame to predict. I could have predicted the deck choices of quite a few of the players, at least on a surface level.
Bandraft is a format, which should have a larger audience, because it’s an interesting way to draft with two people. The idea is that you have a bunch of cards to draft with, but since there are two of you, obviously every decision you make is zero-sum. To make this interesting, but keep it more contained than Solomon drafting, you open “packs” of 10 cards and ban and pick cards from that in the following sequence:
Player A: ban
Player B: ban
Player A: pick
Player B: pick
Player B: pick
Player A: pick
Player A: ban
Player B: ban
Player A: pick
Player B: pick
Players A and B switch roles between packs.
Auction Sealed had 16 different sealed pools. They were mostly based on sets, with a couple of different collections. Mostly the pools were previously described to us as roughly “cards that aren’t really for constructed, but not quite on the level that you can just throw them out”. There was a “joker” pool of just stuff and a pool of various rares from throughout the history of the game. Each player would make three decks from their pools, so even the size of the pool was an important thing to consider. Also, while you are bidding with your starting hand size and life, you also get to start deck building immediately after winning a bid, so can also take that into account. The pools were available to us during the whole day, so you didn’t have to just blindly pay for something.
Omnicube is based on the Omniscience drafts on Arena. In short: you don’t have to pay mana to cast spells from your hand with the normal mana cost. You do have to pay alternate costs, which is enabled by giving you access to adding WUBRG once per turn. You also start with 3 cards. The cube has been a work of love of couple of Finnish players for some time now, but as I understand it, it has largely been theorycrafting at this point, especially as they had to come up with a bunch of cards at the last mintue.
Finally, there was Poro Brawl. Well, it’s Brawl, but without Planeswalkers as commanders, which is good, as they are horrible as something that are very difficult to get rid of. However, there’s other differences: you can play any legendary creature or land from any commander set. A couple have been banned, but I think adding the lands was a very good idea, as that actually enables all the three colored commanders WotC is has been trying to push with M20 and the Brawl product.
I got the information that I had the opportunity on Christmas Eve, which didn’t really give me a lot of time to prepare. Still, I though this would be fun and I agreed to participate without much thought. In the end, the timing was less than ideal, but I managed to juggle things around enough to not damage my private life too much.
I hadn’t played any Pioneer prior to Saturday. I was aware of it, obviously, and I have been keeping an eye on it, but just hadn’t had the opportunity to actually play it thus-far. Also, I’ve been hesitent to make purchases in an environment that’s changing all the time, so I didn’t have a deck prepared. I ended up just going on MtGTop8.com and choosing a deck largely based on what I knew I would have in my collection and something I would enjoy playing. I went with a Rakdos Midrange.
The problem was that I didn’t know what environment I was going into, so playing a midrange deck like this, which requires a lot of metagaming, is not a good idea… if your goal is to win the tournament. Gladly, mine really wasn’t. I just went into have fun. For that purpose, this was a fairly good choice. I did make a few changes based on expectatios, like playing Magma Spray in lieu of Wild Slash, because I knew Arclight Phoenix would be popular, but I basically used that list.
I went 1-2. I won against a Spirits deck, which I think was a very good matchup with all my interaction. I lost to a Phoenix deck and an UW deck. This left me feeling like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are too powerful, but I might be overconflating these losses into a larger picture. I’m going to play in a Pioneer GP in about a month and I need to come up with a deck for that as well, but I’m probably not going to use this one.
Achievement unlocked: Emptying the hand of a control player with Rakdos’s Return
This is an interesting format. As a zero-sum game you can have a strategy as you go in, but you need to adapt to what’s going on pretty much all the time. For example, there was a point in the third draft, where I was going for a blue-white fliers deck, but there was three cards that would be extremely good against those cards. How much should I put emphasis into getting rid of them? I couldn’t fight three that somehow happened to fall into the same pack, so I just decided to pivot into other kinds of evasion.
Here’s where memory also helps. You can’t look at your own picks (except once, when your opponent also gets a chance to look at their pool), so you have to keep your deck in mind. You also need to have an idea what your opponent is trying to do, but that’s not all. You also have to keep an eye on what your opponent thinks you are trying to do. I guess some players just gave up on all of this and either tried to build a great deck or focus on not letting their opponent build one.
For me, this was the most interesting of the formats, even if I didn’t do very well in the end at 1-2. I liked how I got to play many cards I usually wouldn’t, but there is a strategy here beyond normal drafting. You can’t just open the best mythic rare in the format and do well, because that will just get banned (I’m not even sure there are many mythics in the set of cards we used). Also, you need to evaluate cards on the fly, because the environment is quite dynamic. I saw another players deck from the same pool of cards being drafted and he was in the same colors as myself, but there were only six card overlap between our decks. That’s how much the unusual drafting process matters.
I did try to look into the pools, but that wasn’t very helpful. It’s hard to use the little time I had between rounds to get an actual picture of the pools, so I pretty much decided to go for a pool I felt I understood early in the process, so I would have plenty of time to build. In fact, I had plenty of time left over. The starting bid is always 8 cards and 25 life. I ended up paying 7 cards and 13 life for M20. I might have overpaid, but I think it was a fairly good pool.
I made a black deck with a small red splash for pinging and sacrificing synergies, an UR heavy elementals deck and a green ramp-ish deck with a few white cards to round it out. When building I felt the UR deck was the best, so basically I was hoping to randomly get the weaker decks from other players as well, as I don’t think anyone had a good enough pool to make three actually strong ones.
I went 2-1. I’m not sure about my first match, as my mana just wouldn’t cooperate in those two games, but the the other two matches went pretty well. I do think others underestimated M20, but I felt that it was quite a pushed set in the overall picture, even if it probably wasn’t on par with the Masters sets or Modern Horizons, but those pools were missing many of the more important cards, while M20 had pretty much all the commons available and many uncommons as well. I had teen Chandra and Murder, for example.
Achievement unlocked: Winning on stream from a mulligan to five (if you want to see it, it’s the third game in the first match of this video.
I didn’t really know what to expect here, but I felt that removal would probably be somewhat worse than usual. Removal is often good, because you can gain in tempo, if you can kill something with less mana than what they paid for it and thus potentially negating the opponents turn. Here, not so much, as the opponent just gets to play anything anyhow. This also makes bounce extremely poor, although I did use some.
My strategy, which I’m not that sure of, since I went 0-3, was to find cards which would enable me to maximize the use of the additional mana I had available to me each turn. At least that enabled me to use cards I have wanted to play previously, but haven’t been able to.
Despite the cube being still designed at last minute, it felt well designed. Each card felt like it was chosen to be there for a reason and things like card draw were quite limited. There were some cards that felt a little too cute (such as some cards that require two of a certian color of mana for activation, which means that you need to then find cards to give you that second mana, which you than might not have much use for otherwise).
All in all, the format seemed fun, but it wouldn’t be something I would like to do regularly. More fun in theory than in practice, but of course, the nature of MtG in a larger context is that the theory is a large part of the game. However, I don’t think you can take one of the pillars of the game (the mana system) out of the game without doing massive damage. This has been quite nicely mitigated by the card choices, but it still messes with important fundamentals of the game.
As with Pioneer, my deck choice was largely dictated by what I had at hand, so Torbran it was. Not much designing required. I just made a rule for myself not to have anything that cost four or more in the main deck, so that I could just curve nicely into Torbran every game. I did break this rule with Chandra, Fire Artisan, but in general I was just attacking.
I could have metagamed this better, as there was a lot of Torbran going around, as well as other aggressive decks (at least Tajic, Iroas and Judith). I just thought that many players would choose to play three-color decks with awkward manabases, which would give me enough time with my 1/1s to do their work.
Which they did to a 2-1 record. There were some points where I had to go deep into the aggro player well, but there were also situations where I was just winning throughout the game with not much tension from my point of view.
Achievement unlocked: Playing Varchild and making people read it. Always multiple times to check on some little piece of text.
If you counted, I went 6-9, which I’m actually kind of happy with. I think I was the weakest player in the field and I found out about my involvement very late, so I think I beat expectations. If there was some kind of betting going on somewhere, I probably would have been pretty low on the list. A 10th place finish in a field of 16 was actually overperforming on my part.
As I often do understand how I compare to other players around me, I try to either mitigate my weaknesses or play into my strengths. For example, I’ve often been in a situation where I’m drafting a set I’ve never drafted before in a GP, so I’ll either force an archetype or pick cards purely based on perceived powerlevel, since I’m not going to be able to win just based on understanding of the format. Here I tried to go for the more aggressive options, where possible, because playing aggressive decks pretty well is easy (mastering them is harder than mastering control decks, in my opinion).
I am kind of disappointed in my performance in the Bandraft, as I would have thought my understanding of economics and game theory would have served me well, but of course you still have to play the gmes. Also, many MtG players do develop an intuitive understanding of these concepts, even if they don’t have formal training in them. In the end, these are the ideas you try to balance around to gain those small edges within games and in deck design.
The theoritical discussions on how one should approach various formats were interesting. In that sense the formats are very well designed. There’s just so much to think about in each of the limited formats. With this little experience, we probably even collectively missed something.
I had fun, would do it again, not sure I’ll have to opportunity, as that would require spiking in formats I’m not comfortable in.