How to Become Bronze in One Month

by Simon Nielsen on 18 October 2017, Wednesday

Simon Nielsen


How to Become Bronze in One Month

Okay, in spite of what the title reads, this won't be an actual guarantee!

But I did kill it this August, earning 10 Pro Points with just 3 Grand Prix. And while I can't teach you how to duplicate my performance, I can tell you about how I went from what was basically a lucky Grand Prix grinder to Top 8'ing two Grand Prix (plus a close call) in just one month, and what I felt had changed.

Also, I would like to apologize for the delay on this article, for personal reasons I have not gotten around to write anything in August and September. But with an evergreen article like this one, better late than never I guess! 

Exactsies… Again!

My month actually started off with the Pro Tour in Kyoto, where I not only got to experience a breathtaking culture but also managed to clinch my goals. I needed a 10-6 performance to receive the 6 Pro Points necessary for me to reach the 35 Point threshold for Gold. 

It was a bit of a weird experience, because after just scraping by Day 1 at 4-4 and not feeling great about my play I was far from confident that I would succeed, even more so when I took my 6th loss in round 12.

But with a fortunate combination of some good match-ups for my Ramunap Red deck and some very kind concessions, I actually got there. And for the 2nd year in a row I hit Gold by the exact amount required!

Beating Birmingham 

I made it home from Kyoto despite all odds, as I arrived at Kansai airport 40 minutes before my international flight left, but with some insane customer service from my airline, I was in my seat on the plane only 20 minutes after arriving!

My focus had to change, though, as I had a Modern Grand Prix coming up. During the summer I had laid my eyes on Green-Red Valakut as the potential best deck in the format. I had played it in some online PTQ's (luckily didn't need those anyway), and if you build it in a way where it's slightly favoured against Grixis Shadow - which you can - it's actually quite good against most of the decks that are good against Grixis Shadow.

This is what I ran:


Primeval Titan Scapeshift

The tournament went super smoothly, and I battled my dumb ramp deck all the way to the top 8, eventually losing the quarterfinals to fellow Dane and friend Oscar Christensen! 

This was also the first tournament in a while where I've actually felt satisfied with how I played. Part of that is just because of how simple this deck is. I was joking "simple deck for a simple player", but I think it's actually a fairly big boon to choose a deck that isn't too complicated so that you will have the brainpower to focus on the important decisions instead of making multiple blunders each match.

And it wasn't like my matches were boring, either, almost all my matches were insane, razor-sharp, exciting and close, just great Magic all around.
I haven't played with the deck since, so things might have changed enough for the list to be outdated, but I liked every choice in here at the tournament and wouldn't change a thing if I were to play Modern tomorrow. 

More Magic in Metz

About a week before Grand Prix I decided to road trip with some friends for 12 hours instead of flying. And after Sleeping on the floor because we arrived so late it wasn't feasible to try and find the hotel I was supposed to stay at, I was ready for Sealed deck at yet another French summer GP where the air conditioning didn't work.

I 7-2'ed day 1 as usual, and drafted a fine (but not great) Green-White deck with lots of tricks in the first draft. To my big surprise, I curved out most games and that was good enough for a 3-0.


Bloodwater Entity

My next draft was a pretty good version of the Blue-Red tempo deck with double Bloodwater Entity. I squeezed out a win in the first round against a pretty bad match-up of a hyper-aggressive Red-White deck, and all of a sudden I was 2 wins away from yet another top 8!
But my level of play fell off, I underestimated my opponents and made some sub-optimal decisions to finish out my draft at 1-2.

I got decimated. It didn't really make sense though because I still made top 64 for prize money and 2 more pro points, and I can't really expect to top 8 everything.

After a while, I realised that this was actually the first time I still was in contention after round 12 at a Grand Prix and not made top 8. I suppose that is why it stung so hard, I never really got used to near-misses.

But I learnt that if I want to top 8 a ton of Grand Prix I have to get used to losing win-and-ins. It's simply just a part of the game, and you will statistically narrowly miss your goal at least as often as you get there. 

Top 8 in Turin Too

Since Metz and Turin were on back-to-back weekends and geographically close, we decided to drive from one to the other, spending the week in the beautiful French Alpine city of Annecy.

Honestly, we didn't do much testing here. It was after all part vacation, and also our AirBNB had no wifi, so I didn't really keep up with the newest trends. With the limited amounts of testing that we did do, I just couldn't figure out what to play. Everything seemed bad for one reason or another. 

I ended up just going with Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift the day before the tournament, because even though I thought it wouldn't be very well positioned, at least I knew the deck well, and I enjoyed it. I expected to just be eliminated from the tournament early and get to enjoy Turin.

This is the list I played:


Gate to the Afterlife God-Pharaoh's Gift

And while I did start off 1-2 after byes, I won the rest of my rounds. My travel mates didn't make day 2, which of course led us to go out the night between Day 1 and 2. And when we finally got back, we were basically 3 people sleeping on a couch, and I didn't fall asleep until the alarm clock finally rang.

I guess I was playing Day 2 with an ill-positioned deck on no sleep!


Chandra Ablaze
Not this Chandra.

I do remember having a lot of 6/6 Angels attacking on turn 4, and all of a sudden I was 5-0 and could draw into the top 8. I finally succumbed in the quarters due to Game Loss for decklist error, when the judges discovered that I had just written "2 Chandra" in my sideboard but not specified which one. 

Remember to double-check your decklists, kids! (but you probably already know that).

So What Changed?

And that is how it all went down.

How I turbocharged my season start by earning 10 Pro Points in just a single month. Now, this sort of insane results streak is something that is quite new to me. I'm not exactly a Martin Juza or Yuuya Watanabe who top 8's Grand Prix left and right, yet it seems to me like something has changed inside of me that made me go from above average Grand Prix grinder to somebody who regularly Top 8s.

So what has changed? And what can you work towards to help you improve your own Grand Prix results?

  • The primary change I've noticed is that I now focus much more on both me and my opponents enjoyment of the game. My mindset has shifted to a point where I don't care that much about the result of the match, and just want to make sure that we have a great match where I can try to play the best Magic I can.
  • I don't try to angle shoot or be intimidating, I just want both of us to enjoy what we came here for. And boy have I had some amazing and intense games in this month! 

  • My win rate in Standard last season across all premier events was abysmal, only slightly better than 50/50. I was wondering how that could be, since I do view myself as more of a constructed player. I came to the conclusion that I haven't felt very comfortable with most of the decks I played last season, committing many mistakes as a result of that.

    But both Green-Red Valakut and Jeskai Gift are decks that I had played a lot with leading up to the event, and I felt comfortable shufFling up these cards. Not only did my experience with the decks make sure that I made fewer blunders, but also the confidence that I would be able to navigate close to optimally led me to not having to worry if I would make a mistake. This freed up my mind to just Concentrate on making the best possible plays.

  • I have now played 47 Grand Prixs. That's a mouthful. But it does help me see the bigger picture. I've now played in so many tournaments that I care less about my performance at any individua one, because I know there will be another one around the corner. 

  • This leads me to approach Grand Prixs in a more relaxed way. I think that just a year ago, I wouldn't have joined my roommates for a drink between Saturday and Sunday, risking my sleep. But now I made sure to just also have some fun, which leaves me more relaxed and prepared to fight. (Not that I can recommend foregoing sleep entirely!)

  • Another thing about playing this many tournaments is that you will inevitably get winning streaks. I know that my performance this August doesn't mean that I'm all of a sudden a master who Top 8's every second Grand Prix. It was a lucky streak, they're bound to happen. But what it does do is boost my confidence and thus fueling my fire. 

  • It's no secret that your mental game is one of the most important aspects of being able to succeed. There is a reason that sports psychologists exists. A lot of the points I made above are about how being more comfortable, confident and relaxed allowed me to make better plays. I wasn't trying to rush anything, I wasn't trying to prove anything, I just sat calmly and thought about my decisions in spots where an earlier incarnation of me might not even have recognized there was a decision to make. 
  • Now confidence isn't something I can just tell you to get, and you'll go out and buy some. But with a change in mindset you might be able to get there in time. The best advice I can give you is to not worry about the result of any specific tournament. If you don't win that PPTQ it's okay. If you don't win any of these 5, that's also okay. Focus on what you enjoy about the game and these trips, and focus on trying to play the best you can. It's not a big deal to make mistakes, but pat yourself on the back when you feel like you've outdone yourself in a match. 

Often it's only you holding yourself back. 

Hopefully, you will also hit Bronze in no time!

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