On March 1, 2019, Wizards of the Coast posted the usernames of the Top 100 Mythic Constructed players on MTG Arena from the February’s Preseason 2. While a player’s Mythic ranking didn’t have any significance in Preseason 1, Preseason 2 had a twist—the Top 8 Mythic Constructed players would be invited to the Mythic Invitational at PAX East and have a chance to win part of the tournament’s $1 million prize pool.

The Magic community quickly began to connect the usernames of the Top 8 Mythic Constructed players with real names. Thaigo Saporito (bolov0) and Ondrej Strasky (Honey), both with two Pro Tour Top 8s apiece, were in; Teruya Kakumae (witch), Zachary Kiihne (zkiihne), Lewk Faley (lewk), and Beatriz Grancha (AliaDeschain), all either known pros or community members, had made it; and adver was revealed to be an unknown Japanese player named Taiju Sugiyama.

But who was quicksort? Thanks to some digging by Italian Magic Pro League member Andrea Mengucci, quicksort was soon revealed to be Edoardo Annunziata, an unknown Italian player.

Annunziata is a 23 year-old graduate student studying for a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at the University of Udine. He started playing Magic during the Kamigawa block and has played on and off for the last 15 years, mostly as a casual player, and has never played in a Grand Prix, a Pro Tour, or even a PTQ—just a few PPTQs at his local game store, which he viewed mostly at Limited practice.

But that changed when MTG Arena came out. After downloading MTG Arena, “I started getting more serious about my game, reading theory and consciously trying to improve as a player,” Annunziata told Hipsters of the Coast. That eventually led him to enter the Ranked Competitive queues on MTG Arena during Preseason 2.

The Road to Top 8 Mythic

Annunziata didn’t start climbing the Preseason 2 ladder thinking that he would try and make Top 8. “I find [the ranked ladder] to be a good way to be matched against strong opponents,” he said, so he would have played Ranked Constructed anyway.

But as the season went on, he kept performing well. “I was often in the Top 50 players and I thought I had a good grasp of the metagame, so I decided to give it a try,” he told me. “I was playing anyway—and it costs nothing to dream.”

Annunziata said he didn’t grind the entire month of February. Instead, he played a lot early in the month, taking about 20 hours to reach Mythic. For the rest of the month he played a few matches a day until the last 36 hours before rankings were finalized, when he played “continuously, with a couple of breaks.”

As for format and deck choice, Annunziata exclusively played Best-of-3 and switched decks often. “I find it important to become proficient with decks that you expect to be popular,” he said. Additionally, “[T]rying out new things also has the beneficial side-effect of giving you at least a rough idea of how meta decks are performing in the setting of the ladder.”

Near the end of the month, Annunziata settled on two decks he thought were well-positioned: a stock Azorius Aggro deck and a burn-oriented Mono-Red deck, both built with the Esper Control and Mono-Blue matchups in mind. But as the season came to a close, “A sudden rise in popularity by Esper Control/UB Control lists pushed me towards Mono-Red as my choice for the final stretch.”

The Final Hours

After a month of playing just a few matches a day, Annunziata decided he would play continuously for the last 36 hours of the season until the seasonal rankings were finalized, allowing himself just a few breaks.

Two hours before the end of the season, he was Mythic #16, playing Mono-Red, and thinking he has a real shot to make the Top 8. He got paired for his next match and quickly lost, dropping his rank to Mythic #22, and crushing his Top 8 hopes.

Annunziata texted his friends, telling them about his loss and how he was out of Top 8 contention. “Their responses were a beautiful mix of vulgarities, insults, and encouragement,” he said. Eventually, “[T]hey convinced me to try once more. So I queued again.”

He won his next few matches, climbing to #20, #15, #12, #11. A loss dropped him to #16 once again, with only one hour left.

He won again. #13, 45 minutes left. And again. #9, 35 minutes left.

“At this point, I’ve been playing for more than 30 hours straight,” Annunziata told me. “I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. But I had to play once more, the entire Top 8 was [depending on the result].”

“At that point I’m literally the highest ranked player in the queue. I get matched against a player in 11th place. With less than 35 minutes until the end of the season, I came to the shocking realization that the match I’m playing is effectively a win-and-in.”

Annunziata draws his opening hand and mulligans, but keeps a strong six-card hand. His opponent’s first play is a Stomping Ground, “which I’m happy to see because it likely means I’m in a Mono-Red mirror, which my list is excellently equipped to face.” But then his opponent plays a Pelt Collector, meaning it’s not the mirror, it’s RG Stompy, his deck’s worst matchup. Fortunately for Annunziata, his opponent stumbles on lands and dies to a hand full of burn.

Game 2 is a short, brutal affair, in which Annunziata is run over without putting up much resistance. So a Top 8 ranking and an invite to the Mythic Invitational for either player would come down to a final Game 3.

Annunziata draws his opening hand for Game 3 and immediately mulligans. His six-card hand has no lands, so he mulligans again. But his five-card hand was good and he was on the play. “With a little bit of luck I could still be in the game,” he said.

“And boy, luck I had. I wasn’t drawing, I was Demonic Tutoring turn after turn.” Annunziata rode his good draws to victory, and with just over 25 minutes left, the victory screen showed Mythic #6.

But with enough time left in the season for at least another match, Annunziata faced a dilemma: if he didn’t play another match, two other players could play, win, and potentially leapfrog him in rank, pushing him out of the Top 8. “The correct strategy at that point, then, would be to queue again and see how the game goes,” he told me. “If you are winning, you simply finish the match and cash-in the [higher ranking]. If you’re losing you slow-play, making the game last longer than the time remaining in the season, so that your eventual loss will come after the deadline and it won’t count against your rating.”

“But, even leaving aside reasonable doubts about the legality of that strategy, I was too broken and tired to even think about doing that. I decided to stop playing. At 6th place, I should be reasonably safe.”

So, after 36 hours of continuous play, Edoardo Annunziata set aside his keyboard and mouse and waited. He sweated out the last 25 minutes and, when the season reset, his profile still said Mythic #6. A few days later, he received the email from Wizards, confirming his Mythic #6 ranking and inviting him to the Mythic Invitational.

The Aftermath

“Initially I was obviously ecstatic, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal,” Annunziata said. “But then I started looking at the reaction from the community—people really, genuinely care about this event, and that makes me extremely proud of this accomplishment.”

“While I can’t deny that to get there I got lucky,” he continued, “And there’s at least a hundred people that could (and maybe should!) be in my shoes right now, I like to think that everything that I learned since I started analyzing my play, the mindset that I acquired, the experiences I faced, managed at least to tip the scales in my favor.”

Annunziata acknowledged that he couldn’t have achieved this feat without the support and guidance of his playgroup. “I like to compare Magic to Cycling,” he said. “[T]hey’re both individual in nature, as just one person gets to cross the finish line, but without people willing to prepare and support you, you’re not going anywhere.”

“In my mind, we’re all tied for sixth place.”

The Mythic Invitational starts Thursday at 10am Eastern on twitch.tv/magic. Edoardo Annunziata will be playing in Group B where he will face Magic Pro League member Christian Hauck in the first round. Group B also features Hall of Famers Eric Froelich, Lee Shi Tian, and Ben Stark, as well as Pro Tour-winner and Player of the Year Luis Salvatto and his fellow countryman Andrea Mengucci.

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