I mentioned on Twitter over the weekend that I think I might stop attending Limited Grand Prix entirely. Obviously that statement was made right after I’d been knocked out of the tournament, so it was fueled at least in part by frustration, but after several days to reflect, I still feel the same way.
A lot of Magic players spend their “recreational” Magic time drafting on Magic Online or at a local store. (here I’m defining “recreational” as time not directly tied to testing for an upcoming event) I don’t really do that. I don’t enjoy drafting as much as many pro players, or perhaps I just enjoy playing constructed more. For me, the most fun part of Magic is the puzzle – solving the riddle of the metagame to figure out what I should play in a constructed event. As a result, I tend to spend my recreational Magic time testing out new decks on Magic Online. The fact that I am very busy with work means that I also tend to have far more short blocks of time where I can jump into a few two player queues than I do big chunks of time that I can set aside to draft.
This means I’m typically much more prepared for constructed Grand Prix than I am for Limited events. I talked about this with Ben Stark, who has put up incredible numbers this season at Limited GPs – he feels like his edge in limited is huge because he drafts and plays a ton of sealed deck on MTGO all the time, while he doesn’t really test much for constructed.
I don’t really have a ton of time to play Magic these days. I’m incredibly busy with my game design work – I’m actually writing this while on a plane to Seattle to PAX, where I’ll be manning our booth to promote SolForge and Ascension. Except for the period immediately before a Pro Tour, I don’t really play more than a few hours a week.
If I’m going to maximize the time I do have to practice for tournaments, I feel like I’d be far better served getting a lot of focused testing in for a few events rather than trying to prepare for a bunch of different formats. The last Grand Prix I really spent a lot of time playtesting for was San Diego, where I was able to pilot my homebrewed Domri Naya deck to a Top 8 finish. Interestingly enough, I was able to spend so much time testing Modern for that tournament because I skipped GP Pittsburgh because it was the same weekend as PAX East, where I was committed to work. Maybe there’s something to this whole preparing more for fewer events thing after all.
You can see the same phenomenon in Brad Nelson’s Grand Prix performance over the past year or so. After his dominating season in 2010, Brad struggled to put up successful finishes and fell off the train. Rather than travel all over hitting up ever GP he could, Brad has carefully chosen the events he has attended, playing in almost exclusively Standard GPS and doing extremely well. He has put up three Top 8s in the four Standard GPs in which he’s played over the past year and a half or so. That is, simply put, remarkable. And he is able to do it because he focuses his testing and learns the ins and outs of every deck he plays – something that simply would not be possible if he were trying to compete in a premiere event in a different format every weeekend.
Those of you who read my “State of Pro Play” article from earlier in the year know that I’m already looking to cut down on my Grand Prix attendance, because I just can’t handle the travel schedule anymore. I’ve already done so this season – so far I’ve only actually played in three Grand Prix – Houston, Miami, and Oakland. I have thus far earned a grand total of zero points, which is a very different place than I was in around this time last year, when I had a Top 8 and several Top 16 performances under my belt already. I would still be skipping GP Oklahoma City no matter what format it was, and frankly it’s crazy to me that anyone serious about doing well in Dublin would attend. (seriously, who keeps scheduling GPs the weekend before Pro Tours in a location halfway across the world? I can’t wait until they implement my idea of “Magic Weeks” with GPs in the same location as the PT the week before or after)
Since there are more GPs than I want to attend already, it only makes sense for me to go to those where I’m likely to have the best chance of success – the constructed events. Historically, I’ve performed much better in constructed than in Limited. Of my thirteen GP Top 8s, eight are in constructed, as are two of my three wins, and out of my five PT Top 8s, one was in an all-constructed event, and in the others I only once had better than a 4-2 record in draft – I was always carried by my constructed deck. I certainly don’t think I’m bad at limited, but I have no illusions that I’m one of the very best with 40 card decks. With 60 cards, though – that’s where I’m at home.
So I apologize to anyone who was hoping to see me at an upcoming Limited GP – barring special circumstances, I’m not going to be there. I imagine I’ll make exceptions for events that are particularly close or coincide with trips I’m planning to make anyway (like if the aforementioned “Magic Weeks” end up happening), but I don’t think I’ll be flying across the country to play sealed deck much anymore. I only have so much time I can devote to playing Magic, and I want to make the best of it.