(Metagame Archive) Interview: Mike Jacob

By David Spears

David Spears has been a Vs. System icon since the game started, stacking up $10K and Pro Circuit success along with credibility thanks to his heavy involvement in the Vs. community. Every large group has its one member who is outspoken, sincere, and known by everyone; in turn, that individual makes an effort to know each member of the community around him. When it comes to Vs. System, Dave Spears is that guy, making him perfect for these interview articles.  

   

I chose this Michael Jacob interview because it features one of the best players on the planet. Where some readers might perceive arrogance on his part, I see confidence and a desire to make other players better. When someone is at a level far removed from his or her peers in any field, the wrong ears will decipher advice as being somewhat condescending. In truth, the master is usually trying to bring the student to his or her level, struggling against the gap of knowledge and skill.  

   

Every Beatrix needs a Pai Mei, young grasshopper. – TW  

 
 

Traveling to all these high-level tournaments can really wear on a guy. And as much as I like the money I win from time to time, let’s face it . . . you have to win to justify the cost. Going to a $10K that isn’t in your backyard is a risk. It’s either your day and you walk away a winner, or you find something else to make the trip worth your time.  

What could that something else be? Hot Vs. groupies? Nope. Sightseeing and vacation type things? Well, sometimes, but mostly nope. What really makes the trip worth something is your friends. And if not your friends, certainly all the colorful people you get to meet while turning cards sideways. I can count on one hand the number of childhood acquaintances I still call friends. What I cannot do is count the number of friends I’ve made traveling for and playing this game. I get to hang out with some really cool people, and I thought it would be nice to open a window into high-level tournament life and let you meet some cool cats that you might have read about. So, from time to time, I’m going to sit down with some of the top pros and ask them a few questions. 

So, who’s on tap this week? None other than the #1 Sealed Pack player in the world, Mike Jacob. Mike is a very accomplished player who has three $10K Top 8’s and a Pro Circuit Top 8 to his credit. It’s funny that Mike was chosen for the very first community profile; he actually beat me in two of those $10K Top 8’s on his way to victory in both. 

I had no idea where this interview would take me when I sat down with Mike for the Q&A. I knew going in that Mike might be a little too arrogant for the average Metagame.com reader, but some of his insights into the game are invaluable to a new player and can help you succeed at your next PCQ. 

The first time I remember playing Mike was when he knocked me out of the Top 4 at $10K Chicago. He was playing Force, of course, and I felt totally outclassed sitting across from him in game three. He had nearly his entire deck in hand because I couldn’t keep Longshot off the board. He spent the first four or five turns replaying Longshot because I kept killing it with various dudes and Total Anarchy. Gary Wise watched, amused, as my situation became worse every turn. Mike and I have played several times since then, and while I’ve won a few, he certainly has come out on top more than I have. 

The thing I like about Mike is that he truly studies the game. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from talking to him about this game and having him watch me play. Whenever I screw something up, he tells me ever so bluntly what I did wrong. I challenge you to find someone better than you who is willing to take the time to help you see some things you overlook. You’ll be a better player for it. 

Here is Mike in all his brutal honesty. 

So, how’d you start playing Vs. System? 

I heard that a new game was coming out and that they would have a big money Pro Circuit. I’d done pretty well at other TCG events, winning several thousand by the time I started playing Vs. System, so I wanted to begin at a new game’s starting point. 

What’s your favorite part of playing Vs. System? 

Being more prepared and better than the people I face. It sounds simple, but in other TCGs, everyone had been playing for so much longer than me that there was no way I could possibly beat any of the regulars. So, I had never gotten wins from outplaying my opponents. In Vs. System, I do that almost every game. It is refreshing to be rewarded for practice. 

Most people know you for playing The Force. In fact, you have played it at nearly every high level Golden Age event. What’s that about? 

I think it’s one of the only decks that truly rewards you for being better than your opponent. Knowing what to Longshot for took me over a year to figure out. It also just runs good cards—it has a (nearly) unstoppable 8-drop kill condition, the best two-card combo in Lost City/Avalon, Wolverines, and Rogue to copy broken abilities. When every new set came out, people would play new decks with cards that never affected me, so there was never a reason to change the deck. Global Domination is such a beating; I have loved playing it for so long. 

Do you have any interesting Vs. stories? 

Not really, just all the bad beat ones. No one wants to hear those. Or the ones where I hit every time with Longshot; those aren’t fun to hear either. I guess the only interesting one was at the latest $10K Chicago. I killed on turn 4 with the odd initiative with Force against a fully curved Sentinels player. Three Longshot hits in four turns; two Pyros; and Avalon, Lost City, and Mutant Nation as the first three resources do that. 

Do you have a Vs. Arch-Nemesis? 

Just you. We need to face each other in more finals. Hopefully Orlando! 

Who do you think is the best Vs. player right now? 

Of course I think that I am. I Top 8’d with a mediocre deck at PC Indy by outplaying many opponents. I should have Top 8’d at New York (Force is absolutely retarded in a best of three format; I could have wrecked in the Top 8), but Antonio De Rosa knocked me out with his absolutely nuts MK/CL deck with quick kills. Ugh. 

(Mike is actually #1 in Sealed Pack and close to #1 in Constructed, so he may be the best, after all.)  

How do you prepare for high-level events? 

I practice playing all the decks against what my friends and playtest partners want to play. They need a quality playtest partner and it is key for me to know every good deck’s weaknesses. From all the practice sessions, I get a set pattern on what decks do in any given situation. An example being: say it is your initiative, and they set up with Boliver behind Mark II against my Wolverine/Longshot. I know from that scenario (because I have played the Sentinels deck infinitely and that scenario comes up often) that he either has Nasty/Anarchy or more likely Nasty/Finishing Move, so I play accordingly. I also find out what cards to look out for. I don’t send a cycled Red into G’Nort because that deck runs !Ole!, so I send a soldier instead. You attack Dr. Light with Red, because they can’t pump him except for power-ups (unlikely). You eventually come up with the same scenario over and over (three soldiers plus Red vs. Dr. Light, Kyle, and G’Nort) and you know what to do automatically because you’ve done it fifty times in the past. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring PCQ players? 

I suggest running the deck you are most comfortable playing. As long as you know the drill against the big decks, you will steal wins because you know what to do and they have no idea. For instance, you love your Arkham deck and you have a game plan against Sentinels. You take odds. You play Charaxes on turn 3, then use one of your exhaust effects and KO their 3-drop. Next turn you play Ivy and Nasty Surprise their 4-drop. On the turn after, you play Killer Croc, attack into Nimrod, and Crushing Blow Ivy into Nimrod on turn 5. You then play Puppet Master and Hush on turn 6 and Arkham lock him. You know what to do because you’ve done this scenario a dozen times, but your opponents don’t know that. They don’t know to attack Hounds into Ivy with a beatdown instead of Mark V because they’ve never played this matchup before. Any deck can do well if you know its ins and outs. Just remember that good decks have good cards. Don’t play cards that win games you’re already winning. 

What changes, if any, would you like to see to the tournament scene? 

They need to enforce slow play big time. That is by far my biggest problem with the game. I have been warned twice about slow play by judges I now greatly respect, and it forced me to make the decision that I knew was right from playtesting. I was going over a dozen different ways this situation could be different, but wasn’t. Basically, it forced me to make the right play, and I won both games in which the judge told me to make a play. My experience with this may be unique, but I think if you go to a tournament and you can’t figure out what to do because you haven’t practiced enough, you should pay the price. 

Tell us a little about you personally. What is life like outside of playing TCGs professionally? 

Well, I work at a game store, RIW Hobbies, in Livonia Michigan. I spend time teaching my little sister (eleven years old) how to play video games. She’s already beaten Kingdom Hearts, Breath of Fire, and Lunar: SS! I’m so proud . . . Watch out Scholarship Circuit in Michigan—soon my sister will be wrecking house! 

What’s the deal with the hat? Does it really give you superpowers? 

Absolutely. I’m a pretty thin person, so I do not hold in heat well, and we all know how much heat we lose from our heads. I do not eat the day of the tournament, either. It makes me very hungry . . . for victory. I never get full from that (stomachs usually don’t get full from such things), and that leads to a vicious cycle of winning. 

How often do you play the game? 

Three times a week, usually. I also talk about it online a lot and read all the articles on all the websites daily. 

Do you like the dual format system used at PCQs? 

Absolutely. It’s great idea because I am a Sealed Pack player and my friends are usually Constructed players, so we go first in both events. 

Do you like the dual format used at the PC? 

Absolutely. The people given good decks because they are on a good team fail Day 2 from inexperience with Draft. 

What do you think the metagame will look like come November? 

Dr. Doom has been mysteriously absent from the professional scene lately. This means that he has diabolical plans that include winning $40,000 . . . 

I love players like Mike. Obviously, he has a passion for the game, but more than that, he works his butt off to excel. It proves that hard work pays off. Knowing him outside the tournament scene, it’s interesting to see him when he puts on his tournament hat and starts talking about the game. The thing about Mike is that he will talk to anyone about the game. I have never seen someone so willing to discuss the ins and outs of a deck. He has helped me several times when I was stuck trying to figure out the last few cards for my latest list. So, next time you see him at a tournament (look for the hat!), stop by and say hi and show him your deck. I’m sure the two of you can make you a better player.

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