Beijing 🇨🇳 | Two Weeks in China

Each year, one Chinese city is selected to host the prestigious “Orlov” Legacy tournament, gathering the country’s entire community for one big event with arguably the most profitable payout in the history of the format. In 2018, this honour would fall to the nation’s capital Beijing, where on December 15th & 16th 152 players gathered to battle it out for the first prize of over $3,000 USD! While previous installments of the Orlov events saw little international participation, this year the event also made waves in the global scene, attracting players from over 10 different countries to the Middle Kingdom. And I was one of them!

If you are looking for just the video coverage or Top16 decklists of the event, feel free to skip my tournament report. You can find those further down the post.

James treated Wilson & me to Beijing duck on our first night.

Tournament Format

The tournament itself followed an interesting format. On the first day, we would play 8 regular rounds of Swiss, followed by a cut to Top16. The next day, those players were placed in four groups of four where they played against each other in a round-robin format. The four winners of the respective groups would advance to the Best-of-Five Semifinals and Finals; potential ties the group stage would be broken by the higher Day1 Swiss ranking. I liked this format quite a bit because it allowed you to stay live for winning the tournament much longer than the traditional all-Swiss format we are so used to running our tournaments with. We tried something similar during the most recent season of the Legacy Premier League, where we implemented a double-elimination bracket, which is the default format of pretty much any esport these days.

One thing I think that can still be improved about this format was to make the Play/Draw decision in the actual group stage random, as opposed to decided by the higher Swiss ranking. While I like making it Swiss-dependant in the Top8 of regular tournament formats, the fact that ties in the group stage are broken by the higher Swiss ranking, already provides a huge advantage to the higher seed, which I think you don’t want to emphasize even more; especially since Legacy can often be heavily Play/Draw dependant. Another thing I want to suggest is to run the final round of the group without a time limit in order to avoid the inevitable situation where skewed incentives can lead to concessions following an unintentional draw. We saw that exact scenario happen in my group, whereby the way the matches had played out, the GWb Maverick player would have advanced to the Top4. I don’t put any blame on the two other involved parties though; they played to their best possible EV, one might say. Still, from a coverage point of view, it is incredibly unhype to have a match finish without knowing who actually won.

Especially with Magic finally getting a ton of traction as an actual esport in more than just name, I honestly believe we need to and will eventually see major improvements to the traditional tournament format we operate under. Both the Orlov event as well as the Legacy Premier League have explored new formats and I believe it is inevitable to leave behind our system of draws and concessions in order to be taken even more seriously and reach a new level of legitimacy and exposure.

My Tournament

I decided to run my most recent list with Archon of Valor’s Reach (or as we call him in the Elves community: Frank) instead of the second Craterhoof Behemoth. Unlike most other Natural Order targets, the Archon is actually amazing in the maindeck and provides a lot more strategic depths to the deck. It also helps a lot that he is also reasonable to cast when you draw him. You can find my exact list further down this post in the Top16 decklists.

152 players was a new Orlov record!

Swiss Rounds R1: *BYE*

R2: Canadian Threshold, 2-0 WIN A German and a Kiwi walk into a Chinese Magic tournament. Fortunately for me, Liam says he isn’t super experienced in the Elves matchup, which leads him to sometimes leave some of my creatures alive despite holding the removal spell for them, which often allowed me to have more mana and do more busted things than I would otherwise be able to. We talked about the matchup a bit afterwards and how challenging it is to make these calls from the Delver player’s side without any information on which kind of game the Elves player is looking to play: aggressive, combo or grindy. I believe this quality of Elves to be a major part of the deck’s success, as it constantly forces opponents’ into inconvenient decisions. Like Doyle Brunson once famously said: “The key to No-Limit is to put a man to a decision for all his chips.”

R3: ANT, 2-1 WIN My opponent wins the dice roll and sends a fine selection of Tendrils my way on his second turn. Good choice as I was ready to Natural Order into Archon of Valor’s Reach on my turn. In the second game, my Glimpse of Nature draws a Flusterstorm from my opponent which he somewhat clearly telegraphed. This clears the way for a Natural Order for Archon of Valor’s Reach, which I end up setting on Instant. In the sideboarded games it’s never quite clear whether you want to maybe name Sorcery instead. My opponent’s hand felt a little weak, so I wanted to play it safe and make him find several specific cards (Lion’s Eye Diamonds + Tutors) instead of just a single card (e.g. Echoing Truth/Chain of Vapor). Turns out his hand consisted of 3 Ponder and a Preordain, which allowed him to almost get there as I later learned.

In the third game my opponent mulligans to 6 and keeps Lotus Petal, LED, Flusterstorm, Thoughtseize and 2 Rituals. He scries a Land to the top and discard my Cabal Therapy on turn2. I flash it back on Infernal Tutor and miss. With no action but tons of mana we both play play/draw for a couple turns until I find Green Sun’s Zenith, which I am able to carefully resolve through the Flusterstorm I knew about and win with Craterhoof Behemoth.

Casting with the guys!

R4: OmniSneak, 1-2 LOSS This is where my luck ran out. My opponent tells me he doesn’t play a lot of Legacy, so I’m immediately thinking he might be on some kind of Show and Tell-strategy. A lost dice roll and a turn2 kill later, I find my initial suspicion confirmed as a giant tentacle monster and its Demon pal are sent my way.

I am able to fight back in the second game, as I discard Show and Tell early in the game. A couple turns later I am in a position where I know my opponent has a hardcast Force of Will up, which he is looking to connect with anything. I happily throw out my just drawn Surgical Extraction and trade for the 5 mana counterspell. This clears the way for a hardcasted Craterhoof Behemoth to take the game!

In the third game, I keep a 6 without lands but tons of potential. I end up missing my first two land drops, then finally find…Gaea’s Cradle. Fortunately, I finally find a land on the 4th turn, which allows me to make 2 creatures; one of them immediately dies to Abrade as my opponent seems to have kept a rather reactive hand. On his turn, he draws and slams a Sneak Attack, passing the turn back to me without any action twice. I summon a couple of Elves but don’t get to Natural Order immediately. Instead I Thoughtseize my opponent and see just lands. On my endstep my opponent fetches and untaps into Brainstorm…which finds Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. I bounce a land and survive, making Heritage Druid on my turn. My opponent untaps and this time it’s Mr Griselbrand, sneaking up on me to finish the game.

R5: BR Reanimator, 2-1 WIN Coming into this tournament, I was told the Chinese metagame was very predominantly fair and full of midrange decks. Like BR Reanimator! This match was a real rollercoaster ride. Here’s what my opponent presented in all three of our games, after he had won the dice roll: G1: Turn1 Griselbrand G2: Turn1 Chancellor of the Annex G3: Turn1 Griselbrand

Sounds pretty good, hu? Well not good enough to overcome the #ElvishEmpire! After dropping the first game, I actually end up racing my opponent’s Chancellor of the Annex in the second game, with the help of a timely Scavenging Ooze taking me to 21 life, which gave me the one extra turn I needed to get there.

Introducing Matthew to Legacy the night before the event.

In the third game, I keep a reasonable hand of a couple of Elves, lands and a Surgical Extraction. My opponent keeps on 7 and goes Land, Dark Ritual, Entomb, Exhume. As soon as the Dark Ritual was put on the stack, I dropped my cards to the table face down and started watching the game next to us, while reaching for my sideboard. Looking back, I was probably over-selling my feigned weakness, but part of me wants to believe it actually made my opponent not cast the Unmask (+pitch card) he was actually holding as my timely Surgical Extraction on his Griselbrand revealed to me. Honestly, though, my opponent had probably already decided against casting Unmask as soon as he played Dark Ritual (since you would certainly Unmask before Dark Ritual in the first place). I take the game a couple of turns later on the back of Progenitus.

R6: ANT, 1-2 LOSS As my stroll down Combo Lane continues, I quickly take the first game vs ANT as my opponent fails to find any business spells. In the second game, my opponent has to commit a Dark Ritual to hardcasting Massacre, which manages to take down a critical Scavenging Ooze. I can’t find any meaningful follow-up and roll over a couple of turns later. In the third game, I mulligan to 6 and whiff on a blind Cabal Therapy on Infernal Tutor. Wish I had had the guts to name Brainstorm, seeing my opponent was actually holding two of them. Over the next couple of turns, my opponent casts an end-of-turn Brainstorm, and taps out on his turn for Preordain and Thoughtseize, taking my Glimpse of Nature. I end up taking his second Brainstorm over a Thing in the Ice I also knew about. My reasoning was that even though it bounces all of my creatures, I’m generally not very scared of an otherwise Enormous(er) Baloth. My opponent summons TiTi, cantrips and passes. I put all my Elves to the board, which represent 6 damage/turn and hope to draw either Natural Order, Green Sun’s Zenith, Craterhoof Behemoth, Archon of Valor’s Reach, any discard spell or Surgical Extraction. I should be easily able to race Thing in the Ice here. On his turn, my opponent makes a second TiTi and casts Preordain. I whiff for my draw step. My opponent untaps and casts Dark Ritual, LED, Infernal Tutor and Tendrils of Agony. The Infernal Tutor flips the first TiTi into Awoken Horror, but misses his bounce trigger. It ends up not mattering though, as his value-Tendrils of Agony flips the second TiTi as well, this time remembering the bounce trigger. Pretty badass way to finish the match, I gotta say!

Master Reanimator Eric Landon, all-time trophy leader on MTGO.

R7: UR Delver, 2-0 WIN I’m up against a super nice guy. What makes him even nicer is that he mulligans to five, followed by some 1:1 trades for my Elves, which is always a great spot for Elves to be in as long as the opponent doesn’t present a clock. Eventually, my opponent runs out of interaction and I Natural Order for the win. Game 2 ends up being very long and drawn out, because of Young Pyromancer and Ensnarning Bridge holding the fort on his side.

At one point during the game, my opponent puts Preordain on the stack and just looks at me. He didn’t announce Young Pyromancer triggers, so I just sit there and wait. I have found that under the current trigger rules, it’s often beneficial to not say anything when the opponent is about to miss a trigger and just wait for them to clearly ask for their spell to resolve. So when after 10-15 seconds of silence and looking at each other, my opponent asks me what was going on, I confirm his Preordain was resolving. He then tells me to wait, as he tries to Flusterstorm it in order to stay under the Ensnaring Bridge. When I tell him that it was too late to Flusterstorm his spell now, he agrees and puts the Flusterstorm back in his hand.

Two turns later, I opt to Assassin’s Trophy his Young Pyromancer instead of the Ensnaring Bridge, feeling confident in eventually being able to just decay the artifact and attack for lethal. My opponent Flusterstorms my Trophy. I pay. He then cracks his Fetchland and Flusterstorms again. I pay again. He then picks up his Young Pyromancer and moves it to the graveyard, then puts two 1/1 Elemental tokens into play. I tell him I’m not sure he could do that and call over a judge. I explain the situation to the judge and my opponent agrees with my version of the events. The judge rules that my opponent only gets one token, which I think is a defensible call to make.

My opponent burns me a bit with Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning down to 4 life, until I find Scavenging Ooze and stabilize. Soon Choke joins the fun and my opponent concedes the game, with only 1-2 Lotus Petals as mana sources left in his deck. Off to the Win-and-In for Day2 in the last round!  

Wilson & I got so many presents!

R8: Death & Taxes, 2-1 WIN For the last round of the day, I am hoping for a good matchup to close out the day. My wish seems to be granted as my opponent leads with the Danish special of turn1 Plains into Mother of Runes. I quickly take the first game, as it often happens in this matchup. Their deck just lacks the resources to deal with creature-based go-wide combo strategies, whose card draw is tucked to Elves, not spells. The second game is more drawn out as my opponent lands a devastating Ethersworn Canonist on turn2, heavily restricting my development. The game still lasts for quite a while as my opponent looks for a way to actually get there, while I struggle to put together any meaningful board presence.

In the third game, my opponent once again assembles every hate bear in the book, and I am presented with a complicated choice of which pieces of his softlock to remove first. I eventually navigate the game into a heavily complicated position where I hardcast Craterhoof Behemoth and attack for potentially lethal. There are some complex blocks my opponent can make involving Batterskull, and it takes him quite a long while to get there. I inform my opponent that I think we are not playing at a pace that will allow us to finish the game, to which he agrees and apologizes. After eventually coming up with the correct blocks, my opponent survives at 1 life, which prompts him to happily raise his hands and celebrate; I know there are some butthurt people who would find that offensive, but I loved every bit of it. Like LSV said, Magic needs more showmanship, not less.

My opponent untaps for his turn and then considers his options. At this point the board is cluttered with 5+ creatures on both sides, various forms of evasion, an equiable Batterskull and both players at very low life. On top of that, I might also have Abrupt Decay. In a chess stream, the commentators would probably be looking towards the “engine evaluation” of the situation. As my opponent is trying to find the correct attack that either wins the game or at least lets him survive for one more turn, I once again inform him that he needs to make a play after a minute of no action. After more inaction, I call for the judge and ask him to watch our match for Slow Play since we haven’t done anything for 2 minutes. The judge was very nice and accommodating about my request, but like most judges in this kind of situation looked really uncomfortable. After almost 4 minutes have passed without any progress in the game state, you could tell he was finally getting ready to ask my opponent for a play; my opponent probably could sense the same and almost literally crumbled under the pressure: with 20+ people watching, he eventually just picked up his cards and conceded. A pretty antidramatic end to the match, but I am happy to likely have made Day2. I certainly felt sorry for my opponent, who seemed like he understood he was breaking the rules but still felt sad about it.

Great Wall keeping out Plainswalkers

Standings are posted and I sneak into the Top16 in 15th place and advance to day2. Group Stage: R9: Grixis Control, 0-2 LOSS R10: UB Shadow, 2-1 WIN R11: GWb Maverick, 1-2 LOSS

Being the lowest seed in the group, I would likely need to go 3-0 in order to advance from the group, unless there would be Unintentional Draws. Unfortunately I immediately lose the first round to Grixis Control in one of those matches where you feel you’re always on the verge of breaking through, but eventually, just get buried under an everlasting stream of Kolaghan’s Commands and Snapcaster Mages. I still almost manage to take game2 after trading a couple of early resources, I am ready to untap into Natural Order for Progenitus. Unless…you guessed it. #OverlyAttachedHydraAvatar

Even though my odds of cracking the Top4 are super low at this point, I’m still in it for some sweet cash prizes. For my next round I am up against UB Shadow, which generally feels like a good matchup to me. Check out our feature match video below!

In the last round, my opponent is on GWb Maverick. Because of the group constellation, should the other match between UB Shadow and Grixis Control end in a draw, the winner of our match would actually top the group. I quickly take the first game against little opposition, before my opponent completely blows me out of the second game with a turn2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar. That card is the stuff of nightmares, especially against a deck with Wasteland. Unable to develop my board, the game quickly ends once he gets a back-breaking Zealous Persection into Umezawa’s Jitte online. In the third game, I keep a grindy hand light on mana. My opponent starts the game with Ethersworn Canonist and Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Zealous Persecution into Umezawa’s Jitte. Miraculously, I’m still in a reasonable position, only looking to find a way to navigate my way around his hate bears, while Wirewood Symbiotes negate most of my opponent’s damage. I think the moment the game actually began swinging away from me was when my Sylvan Library only found 3 useless cards (which I kept, paying 8 life to see more cards next turn), only to see it die to my opponent’s Swiss-Army-Knight Knight of Autumn.

After my opponent added a Gaddock Teeg to his board, I was soon put in a position where I had to make a call between the conservative play of killing Jitte with Decay, or taking down one of the hate bears. I ended up killing the Jitte, because it technically was the most dangerous card should my opponent ever find a way through my Symbiotes…but looking back I feel my play was too scared and bad. I am often vocal about how conservative play will give you a ton of decent but little great finishes. And here I am, making the conservative over the potentially soon-game-winning play. It might not have mattered in the end, but let this serve as a reminder to myself, that even as I was making the play, I felt too comfortable about it. Because that’s the whole point of what I am arguing when discussing conservative vs risky play: the conservative play will usually feel good, while the risky play will feel uncomfortable.

But. You don’t win tournaments by staying in your comfort zone.

The TO Haobo treated us to dinner that night

The game goes on for quite a while, with my opponent constantly putting me on the backfoot, not allowing me to develop a reasonably playable board thanks to Thalia, Heretic Cathar. A couple of Mother-of-Runes-protected attacks later, my opponent takes the match. I walk over to the commentator booth only to see that the other match between UB Shadow and Grixis Control had actually ended in an Unintentional Draw, which meant my GWb Maverick had in fact made it to the Top4. However, after a couple more minutes of moving through the negotiating phase, the UB Shadow player who was heavily favoured on-board conceded to the Grixis Control player, sending him to the Top4 instead. I don’t mind the actual concession too much; I might have done the same in their position. But from a broadcasting/tournament integrity point of view, we need to create a framework that cuts that stuff out of the game.

Because of my low Swiss finish, I end the tournament in 16th place, which was still good enough for more than 100,- Euro. Not bad for a buy-in of only $40 USD. The tournament was an absolute blast to play in and I am so happy I was granted this opportunity. The Chinese Magic scene used to be this big black box to the “western” world, but I’m feeling we’re making huge progress in literally connecting the Magic/Legacy scenes from all around the world. Everyone in China was so friendly and helpful, even when they didn’t speak English. I can only encourage everyone to attend the 2019 Orlov event and experience this fascinating country together with the rest of us! We had such a great time not only during the actual event but also during the days leading up to it and the following week.

James taking us to his favourite bar

My China Experience

My ten days in China have been an absolute blast! I am so thankful I was given this opportunity to explore Beijing and its surroundings with James as our excellent host, guide and all-around great guy to hang out with! Most of the time it was Wilson, Matthew, James and me touring the city, exploring many of its culinary treats as well as taking advantage of the most excellent subway system I have ever seen. Bonus points for each ride only being about $0.40 USD to any place inside the city. Something that was incredibly convenient was China’s own version of Uber, called DiDi. The first time I experienced it was on our first morning, the exact moment we were walking out of our breakfast place, a black van pulled up right in front of us and automatically opened its door. “That’s us” James said as he was hopping into the vehicle. Damn, that felt cool 😎

 

Dinner with the Australian+Aussie delegation

We went to see the Forbidden City, the Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, the 789 art district, the Great Wall (near Mutianyu) and the Nanluoguxiang hutongs. I ended up skipping the street food market in the center on my last night, in order to hang out with the international crowd of players. If you’re interested in eating live scorpions, locusts and other insects fried in boiling oil, that’s your place to be. After learning that this was just a tourist attraction and not something actually consumed by the local population, my interest in it had diminished.

I also loved hanging out with the local Legacy crowd, consisting of Chinese players as well as expats and Legacy tourists from all over the world! We had a couple of dinners together and it was a ton of fun talking about our local Legacy scenes and backgrounds. As well as seeing Liam teach us that Honden of Infinite Rage has the potential to be an actual Legacy card.

Early Morning Recording

On my last morning in Beijing, James and I met at his apartment to record the latest podcast episode of The Dead Format podcast with their host Tom. It was a ton of fun and I definitely recommend checking them out; it should actually be released any day now. Oh and in speaking of podcasting: in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, check out James’ own podcast Humans of Magic where he interviews some of the most interesting personalities in Magic about their life outside the actual game.

Here’s a couple of things you should know before coming to Beijing:

  • The Beijing road traffic is Italy on steroids. Cars will outright ignore you, even when you have the right of way. I’ve seen more accidents, some of them horrible, than in my entire life before.
  • No, not everyone in China is a gangsta rapper. Mandarin uses a very common filler word that sounds like an English racial slur. You will hear it everywhere all the time. I never got used to it.
  • Bring your own toilet paper. Everywhere. Most places expect you to.
  • When haggling, aim for 10% of their initial asking price. Seriously.
  • Bring sparkling water. It’s already quite hard to get regular cold water at restaurants, but sparkling water is really hard to come by.

Are they still there?

Thoughts on China’s Future

China is undoubtedly one of the most interesting places in the world right now. More than maybe any other country it seems to be caught between its imperial legacy, communist past and capitalist present. Seeing these contradictions mix and play out in nowadays Chinese society was an invaluable experience that got me even more interested in the future of this country – both on domestic and international level. While it feels China itself is headed down some eventual social “crash” as future generations might push for more civil rights, on international level the country is looking to establish itself as possibly the future most influential country in the world. Through my job I am first-hand experiencing the influence China already exercise over many African and Asian countries through its Belt and Road Initiative, often being granted invaluable power in exchange; like Sri Lanka who recently handed over control of its second-largest port to the Middle Kingdom for 99 years.

Looking at this development from a European perspective, it feels like both the US and Europe (or should I say “the West”?) are bound to lose a lot of influence in the world as China, a country that for thousands of years never had any significant imperial ambitions outside of its direct neighbours, is making its economic presence felt in large parts of the Third World. In a way, this whole process almost feels like Colonization 2.0 – just without the physical cruelties, but certainly without all the economic abuse the first instalment in the series was known for. Just this time, it is disguised between short/mid-term support in exchange for long-term influence. To a certain degree it feels as if China was actually investing in “start-up countries”. And to be 100% honest, I have no black/white opinion on this process. In one way, I see what they are doing for countries like Kenya, but at the same time it’s not like China is doing this out of sheer altruism. At the very best, I hope this will encourage the US and Europe to become more economically involved in Africa in the future..even though the bad feeling of doing this primary out of self-interest prevails. Still, with “the West” (despite all its current shortcomings) being inherently built upon the idea of human rights, I’d still rather see the development of poor economies through Europe than through China.

Believe it or not: Peppa Pig used to be banned in China – and is now all the rage!

This thought leads me to wonder: what is China’s, specifically Xi Jinping’s endgame? With the recent change that allows him to practically lead the country indefinitely, Xi has all the tools at hand to implement his vision of a modern China. Part of that will be a solution to solve the inherent economic and social contradictions I mentioned earlier on. I sometimes do wonder, whether his approach is to first create an economically stable and successful society, before eventually starting to actually grant those human rights China has been so heavily abusing for decades now (after all, he and his family suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution.) Outside of the obvious moral problem of sacrificing human rights for an economic boost (a fancy way of saying ‘slavery’), another big issue is the threat of never actually getting to the point where you think you are ready to let the party/state take a step back and finally introduce the freedoms you had withheld from your people for so long. Even a benevolent dictator (which I doubt Xi classifies as) eventually faces this problem, as long as you assume that basic human rights are something inherently positive and desirable.

Postcard I picked up in Beijing.

Right now, China is one of the most authoritarian countries, that executed over 1,500 people in 2017. In the long run though, I have high hopes for future generations to eventually push for more civil freedoms. Compared to its past, China’s private sector has already come a long way (but still has a long one ahead of it) when it comes to economic freedom. And as the country opens itself up economically to its citizens, I have a strong belief that this will eventually also entail a general push for more human rights to be instated. It might sound too simple and probably a little bit naive, but I have this inherent belief that humanity itself is headed down an eventually ever-improving path with regards to both social and economic development. It doesn’t look like it will happen too soon, but as an ever-increasing % of the Chinese population achieves comfortable living conditions, I can only see the pressure on the party to grant more personal freedom improving. Like the famous German author Bertolt Brecht said: “Morality follows food.”

Video coverage

For this event, James Hsu, Wilson Hunter, Cheng Zhi and I cooperated to bring you bilingual coverage. I was initially sceptical about how that would work out, but looking back it was quite smooth and the videos are very easy to follow. I am commentating on the first round of Day1, as well as both Semifinals and the Final. The other matches are covered by James, Cheng and sometimes Wilson. Check them out here:

Post-Finals Interview

The first two interviews are in Chinese with the winner Xinrong Chen and runner-up Chuan Sun. The third interview is with Sean Brown of The Salt Mine, while the fourth interview is with Wilson Hunter and me.

Top 16 Decklists

Decklists are in order from #1 to #16. Click the list for player names and details.

Before I went to China, I had spent two weeks in Kenya with my girlfriend, with only a short stopover in Germany before flying to China. Finally back home after 1 month of travelling, I immediately caught the worst cold I’ve had in years. I thought I would get back to streaming pretty soon since you guys haven’t seen me in almost a month, but I’ve gotta put that on hold for now until I am feeling better; hopefully next week or maybe already this weekend. We will see! 🙂

So long,
Julian

PS: Beijing fashion trend, coming to an American hipster store near you soon:

Insert Coin

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