Venturing Into First: An Interview with Neon Dynasty Championship Winner Eli Kassis


One of Magic's premier events wrapped up over the weekend in the form of the Neon Dynasty Championship. Essentially a Pro Tour event in today's competitive Magic landscape, the multi-day tournament played host to the world's top pros and everyday challengers alike.


Featuring matches in both Historic and Alchemy, Magic's new digital-only format, the tournament saw a number of unique decklists outperform their expectations.


Perhaps none were more surprising than the Orzhov Venture list piloted by Eli Kassis. He would later go on to win the entire tournament following several white-knuckle matches in the Top 8. Relying heavily on the venture mechanic from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (AFR), Kassis' Alchemy deck took many by surprise.



Thanks to a recent round of buffs from WotC, several cards performed much better than they ever did in Standard. That includes Triumphant Adventurer, Precipitous Drop, and Dungeon Descent. Kassis found himself venturing through dungeons with ease to grind out games with extra value over time.


Ultimately, the strategy paid off with a first-place finish and an invitation to the World Championship later this year.


I had a chance to chat with Eli Kassis and pick his brain about the tournament, Alchemy, and what comes next.


Check out the full interview below:


Q: Eli, you just took down the Neon Dynasty Championship. How does it feel to be at the top?


A: Feels surreal, but it’s catching up to me slowly and I’m over the moon.


Q: We all know that the highlight of your performance was in Alchemy with your Orzhov Venture deck. Before we expand on that, any thoughts on the Historic portion of the tournament?


A: I went 4-4 with Phoenix and it’s certainly as medium a record as it gets. I don't know if I would have changed decks to do it all over again. I think Historic is just kind of the Wild West and pairings/matchups are just so important there.


Q: Did you know you were running venture for Alchemy? How much did the recent round of buffs impact your decision?


A: Well it was our Team CFB deck, the whole team was convinced to play it. Would have been hubris to think I knew better. Also, I was on the Historic testing team, so I didn’t have any Alchemy experience to try and imply I knew any better. The squad is so full of talent and the style of deck was right up my alley anyway.


Q: What was going through your mind when you decided to go into Dungeon of the Mad Mage instead of the Lost Mine like you had been doing all day?


A: My thought process was simple. Well, that one didn’t work out last time, maybe I need to shoot for the moon in order to win?


Q: Alchemy has had a mixed reaction from players so far. As a pro, how do you feel it works as a tournament format compared to something like Standard? Are you a fan of nerfs/buffs to shake up the metagame rather than strict bannings?


A: To me, Alchemy is more skill-intensive because you cannot just get out powered by one card. So I much prefer Alchemy in that it gives experienced players more opportunities to flex their knowledge. I do think that’s a biased opinion, however, and maybe not the preference of the community as a whole.


Q: With your performance in this tournament, you’ve got yourself qualified for Worlds. What will you be doing to stay sharp in the meantime?


A: Well I always play online whenever possible but I’m also going to some SCG tournaments over the next couple of months.


Q: As a technically sound pro, do you have any advice for players that want to improve their game from a technical standpoint?


A: Replay your games. Identify your spots to improve. Try and remove ego from the equation. View the game in principles of game theory, rather than getting distracted by unimportant variables. Be imaginative with what your cards can do.


Picture the 1,000’s of corridors the game can go in while you’re playing and practice steering games down the corridors that work for you.


Recognize traps and don’t walk into them. Start learning to set your own traps. Don’t forget to have fun, your brain will do everything better if you have fun while doing these things.


Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the Magic community here at Bolt the Bird?


A: Be kind to each other. You never know what someone’s going through. Even if someone seems like a villain, that’s someone who needs even more help. Let’s make this hobby a nirvana for us all!

 

Well said, Eli. Congrats on your win!

 

What was your favorite part of the Neon Dynasty Championship? What deck did you love to see pop off? Got a Championship story of your own to tell? Let us know in the comments or on social media!

 

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