Talking with PleasantKenobi on the Celebrity Cup, MTG Arena, and Legacy

PleasantKenobi on MTG Arena, Celebrity Cup, and Legacy

Daily Esports had the privilege to talk with PleasantKenobi (sometimes known as Vince), a “passionate, self-confessed nerd” with a popular Magic: The Gathering YouTube channel. We got to talk about the MTG Arena Celebrity Cup that he participated in, the direction of MTG‘s competitive scene, his love for Legacy, and his channel in general!

Daily Esports: What did you think about the Celebrity Cup? I caught the finals and the games you played but felt the advertising could be a bit better.

PleasantKenobi: I thought the idea of the event, almost like a kitchen table Magic-style thing with newer players, I thought that was a really cool idea. I wonder if perhaps they could have advertised it a bit better. The viewership was okay, but it was still on par with their weekly MPL streams so they probably could have had a bit of a better audience if they had advertised it a little more. We all had to do posts on social media and that helped pull in the viewership; I’m not sure beyond that, but the event itself was a lot of fun. They prompted us to play silly, almost kitchen table-type decks that you’d play with your mates when you were younger.

The whole thing was tribal! We had to pick one of the tribes for ourselves, and Twitter poll the other for our celebrity. My celebrity, PyrionFlax, put Pirates in his Twitter poll and then asked me after the fact. I asked them on Twitter not to pick Pirates, which was dumb because then everyone picked Pirates! So we ended up playing Pirates and Dinos!

Day 2 was meant to be, again, fun decks. There was a small amount of controversy on that because our players brought fun decks. For example, Autumn brought a UW Favorable Winds deck because they like playing with small flyers. And then our opponents, the German and French teams, brought powered up Standard decks. Like one of them had brought 8 Teferi Esper Hero, and I don’t know about you, but when someone says, “Bring a fun deck,” I don’t think “8 Teferis”! It didn’t really matter, but it was kind of funny that our interpretation of the brief on day 2 was very different than the interpretations of the German and the French teams.

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Pleasant Kenobi on MTG Arena, Celebrity Cup, and Legacy

PleasantKenobi and PyrionFlax at the Celebrity Cup

You’ve prepared for paper events and MTGO events before. How did that compare to preparing someone else for an event?

It was hugely different. I used to be a bit of a grinder before starting content, so I used to test decks for tournaments against friends with the same grinder mentality. You would play decks against an expected field or gauntlet or play Magic Online to get your reps in. You’d have data, like an Excel spreadsheet I used to do where you check what decks you’re losing to and whether it’s because you’re not playing correctly and blah blah blah. But for this, this was nothing like that! Pyrion had played some Magic like three years ago — he had done a single draft — so he was quite fresh to the whole thing. Arena is a whole different ball game for teaching someone how to play Magic because it makes it so easy. Really it was just teaching him the basics and then seeing how he took to it! Once I realized Pyrion was picking it up very fast, I just started showing him things he wanted to know!

He wasn’t too fussed about winning, so he said to me, “Can we play fun decks?” I asked him if he wanted to play a tier Standard deck in terms of Dinosaurs and he asked: “What’s the alternative?” I was like, “Well, we can try to play a combo deck where we can try to put 14 power worth of creatures into play on one turn,” so we played that! Same with the Pirates deck — he wanted to play a copy of Angrath. I told him if he wanted to play a copy of a pet card, then I wanted to play Fell Flagship. Our decks were terrible! Everyone else took it a lot more seriously, but yeah, it was very different than preparing for an actual tournament with prizes on the line because we were under no illusion of actually succeeding!

In my videos a lot of the time I rarely play competitive stuff anyway. I play a lot of memes and silly decks. So I was right at home with like, “Oh, you want to ramp into Vivien’s Longbow so we can try to cast Ghalta?” Sure, let’s do it!

I watched that game where you ripped that Gishath off the top!

Yeah, that was so sick! I did a video on that deck before so I was like, “I can rip this out of that video and change a few cards.” We had to have 20 cards that were the tribe or represented the tribe in your art. To be honest, you could really game that if you wanted. Pirates show up on the art of Opt, Lighting Strike, all these legit spells that make up the core of a red/blue Drakes deck. Or new Vivien from M20 allows you to search your sideboard, so you could run 15 Dinosaurs in your sideboard and only 5 in the main deck! To me, that was not in the spirit of the game. So I was like, no, we’re not going to do that. We’ll play some fun decks. Some derpy decks that I would play on my stream to just have fun with my chat and not really care if we win or lose. Backstage after the event, Pyrion said he had had a lot of fun but would have liked to have won just one more game. So if we did this again, he and I would probably bring slightly more competitive decks.

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A huge focus of the Celebrity Cup was how easy it is to teach people who haven’t played Magic before. Was there anything specific about the MTG Arena client that made teaching easier?

There’s no false illusion — the Magic Celebrity Cup was designed to show off MTG Arena as a fun version of Magic that is easy to get into. On the whole, as a new starter, Arena is so good. It explains everything clearly through its tutorial with that little wisp that’s like Na’vi from Legend of Zelda! It’s like, “Hey, listen! Let me teach you how to play Magic!”

There’s that, but also, you can’t make mistakes. We all know the story of someone thinking you can fetch a Forest with Llanowar Elves. You can’t do that on Arena; Arena hard teaches you it. The Interface is really good too. You can see there are more layers to it from just the basics, you can put stops in different phases. I think it’s just a very good UI and a very good front-facing user experience. Especially for the basics. Magic is a very complicated game, and Arena‘s only faults are a lot later down the line when you’re trying to take full control to tap mana the way you want it or hold priority to do tricksy stuff. From a base level, Arena is just really, really solid, and Magic‘s needed that for a long time.

Yeah, I have younger siblings that I’ve taught and it’s just so much to teach.

Another thing also! If they latch on to it and want to play more Magic, you can’t always be there to play in paper with them. They can’t learn more without another player in person. With Arena, you can just play infinite people in the unranked queue. You can learn as you play, like learning on the job! Teaching paper Magic is so time-consuming because it takes at least two people usually, but Arena fixes that.

PleasantKenobi on MTG Arena, Celebrity Cup, and Legacy

Playing against Sparky “Hey, Listen”

If Wizards were to do another event like the MTG Arena Celebrity Cup, is there anything you would change about it?

I think I would try to tighten up the brief so that all the countries are on the same page as to what kind of decks we’re expected to build and play. It’s tough — nothing really springs to mind, but I’m perhaps too close to it because I was there and I really enjoyed my time there. I didn’t get to watch it as a user experience as much.

I think, perhaps, this goes back to viewership in a way, but their positioning of the Magic audience. I don’t know if you’re aware, but at the moment there’s a bit of a kick-back around Organized Play. The MPL is a little messy, there’s no clear path into it, no one really knows how to be nominated to be in it, so people are a little bit frustrated already. So when they announce the Mythic Invitational or the Celebrity Cup, there’s pushback like, “Oh, look another tournament I can’t be involved in.” So Wizards probably needs to be more clear, but that’s more of an issue with Magic as a whole. I saw this issue affecting the Cup a little bit. People were asking, “Who are these people?” not understanding that a lot of these competitors are from other niches, not from Magic. Some people were like, “Where is Saffron Olive? Where is TolarianCommunityCollege?” thinking this event was supposed to be Magic celebrities because it wasn’t quite clearly communicated. It’s all part of the same issue where they could have gone about publicizing it in a slightly different way. I don’t think they did a bad job, but they could have done a better job.

It feels like Wizards needs to be a little more transparent with how they choose people, how to get into the MPL. There’s a lot they can do to improve community standings, but this is one of those issues that will continually poison events like this until they fix it.

Oh, one hundred percent. I think the backbone of Magic, or one of them, is competitive play. Without organized play, why would you buy expensive secondary market rares? Why would you crack all those packs to get the uncommon you need for your deck on FNM? Competitive play drives all that. Why would you bother reading articles about competitive strategy and buying cards from people’s decklists and videos if there wasn’t a tournament to go play them in, with some allure to winning a prize, awards, or the end goal of being a pro? The founder of Wizards of the Coast who was interviewed by TCC, when asked what the most important thing he did in the early days of Wizards, said it was incorporating Organized Play. Even when sets came out that weren’t popular with the audience, there was still something pushing people towards playing the game, innovating, learning, and engaging with the game. It’s just funny to see him say that, the guy who created the whole company, and then seeing how Organized Play is being fumbled at the moment.

But I think Wizards are aware of this. I have confidence, given time, that Wizards will admit the faults that they’ve had and fix things. Transparency is a great thing. There needs to be a point when they hold up their hands and say, “We’re aware that Organized Play is not where it should be, and we’re working on it.” And they are probably working on it. Even if the argument can be made that the MPL and Organized Play is the way it is because it was rushed due to the big explosion of popularity that MTG Arena got, they must now be looking ahead. Surely. It’s scary if they’re not.

Focusing more on your channel and content, where does the name “PleasantKenobi” come from?

Many, many moons ago, I used to play Warcraft III. Now, in Warcraft III, your profile shows your win rate clear as day and people would mock you because of your win rate. So a lot of people used to smurf a lot, meaning making a newer account and starting fresh. I had been through so many usernames using names of songs and bands I liked. I used the name PleasantBullet, which is the name of a song by a Floridian post-hardcore band called Poison the Wells. Well, that account didn’t last very long because I lost like 4 games immediately, so I thought, “Okay, ditch that account, let’s make a new once since it’s free!”

This is when you’re a bit younger and you aren’t prepared to handle all the heckling and banter in chat. So I was looking around my room for inspiration and I saw a copy of the original Knights of the Old Republic, and I thought, “Oh, I like Star Wars.” So I thought on Star Wars for a moment before thinking, “Hey, Kenobi is a cool guy!” That led to PleasantKenobi. I think that was my best start on any Warcraft III account, so I stuck with it. So that’s where it started, and then I used it for Xbox Live, Steam, and everything just became PleasantKenobi. I started the YouTube channel probably five years before I really started on it because I had wanted to do it earlier. So when I finally came around to doing YouTube content, the name on the account was still PleasantKenobi and I thought, “Eh, sure,” and stuck with it!

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You play lots of janky decks on your channel (Mono-Red Tron, Bee Combo, Minotaurs, etc). Of all the jank you’ve done, which of your decks would you say is your favorite?

Pleasant Kenobi: My favorite deck is Death and Taxes in both Modern and Legacy. However, it’s not really that janky. The janky deck that has the softest spot in my heart is probably Mono-Red Tron. For context, Tron is a competitive deck, but I call it “Pedestrian Tron.” Standardized Tron, either green or Eldrazi, it’s very boring. You just play big Planeswalkers — how exciting. But I play Mono-Red Tron that plays Banefires and Blasphemous Acts to shoot people for like 13 or 26 damage on an early turn! The reason that Mono-Red Tron is my favorite is that it’s the one that gave me the kickstart on my YouTube Channel. When I first posted the Mono-Red Tron video and I recorded over it with memes and video clips, it went “viral” in a very Magic sense. It was the moment I had to turn push notifications off on my phone for the YouTube app! So that’s why Mono-Red Tron kind of kickstarted my career. I owe a lot to that deck and that meme.

PleasantKenobi on MTG Arena, Celebrity Cup, and Legacy

There’s a belief going around that Legacy is the best, most well-balanced Magic format currently. Would you agree with that?

Yes, one hundred percent. On rare occasion, there are cards that “oppress” Legacy, but it normally self-adjusts. Even when they ban things like with Sensei’s Divining Top. Miracles was the best deck when it had Top, but it still had its counters, decks that could beat it. Death and Taxes had a great Miracles matchup then so those are the days I really enjoyed. I think because of things like Force of Will, Cabal Therapy, the decks that can play Chalice of the Void on turn one, and just the many avenues of attack… I think all these things, the quality of interaction, and a variety of different decks in Legacy allow the format to self-adjust.

Proactive threats again dominate Modern because the answers for the threats just aren’t good enough unless those answers are massive catch-all sideboard cards like Leyline of the Void. I really wanted them to go all-out and just put Force of Will into Modern. I know it would make the format Legacy-Lite, but I do genuinely believe it would fix a lot of the problems we’ve got. Before this call, I played a league with NeoBrand and went 4-1. The game I lost was probably because I punted since I’m still new to the deck. The whole point is that I’m doing it to show that if you want to play Modern right now, be prepared not to play much Modern. The deck just kills you on turn 1 or 2. Legacy has better interaction so degenerate nonsense can happen, but it can also be stopped.

I hate this suggestion that Legacy is a turn 1 or 2 format. I streamed Legacy on Monday, and every single game went to around turn 7 or 8. I think my combo kill went off on turn 5 in like one game. [Meanwhile], I’ve played a load of Modern all week and I’m dying on turns 1, 2, and 3.

Yeah in your Bee Combo video the other day, you just got run over.

Yeah, exactly! I played a league and got run over by Tron and Hogaak quite hard. The video was supposed to be just Modern gameplay, but it ended up being a video where the narrative was, “Look at how weird Modern is right now.” This is me trying to play a silly deck and I’m getting absolutely decimated. I’m not even getting a chance to cast spells; it’s crazy! So yeah, back to your original question, Legacy doesn’t have that issue. Mainly because of Force of Will, but also because of cards like Wasteland and Cabal Therapy.

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I play Turbo Depths in Legacy, and it’s kind of funny. In my head, I’m making a turn 2 20/20 indestructible flyer. What are they going to do? But the games still go so long because of the interaction.

That’s a really good example. On paper, your plan is to make a Marit Lage on turn 2 and kill them, and yeah, it works on rare occasion. But some of the things that keep Marit Lage manageable in Legacy are Wasteland and Karakas. Even the mana bases are interactive. The thing about Legacy is the games take place in so many zones. Sometimes it’s creature combat; sometimes it’s all about what’s in your hand like in a Storm vs. Miracles matchup. Or other times, it’s about how your lands interact, like with your deck. All these matchups take place in different zones. Where in Modern, it’s a different case. It’s all about the board, the stack, and how it kills you. You don’t get that back-and-forth because the interaction is pretty bad.

You could make the argument that the graveyard is the most important zone in Modern right now, but all it really does is make the battlefield more relevant.

Right, the graveyard is just an extension of the battlefield for most of these decks. All these decks that use the graveyard, sans Storm, use the combat step to kill you. Hogaak, Dredge, Phoenix, stuff like that. The biggest culprit is Faithless Looting, but they’re never banning that. People are pretending that it’s the Brainstorm of Modern, [but] the more we repeat that narrative to ourselves, the more we’re going to get Stockholm syndrome and let it go.

I think hyper-linear aggressive decks should exist. Legacy has Charbelcher and Oops! All Spells and even arguably some of the Storm decks. But Modern has that as a dominant force with a couple of outliers like UW Control and Jund. When Humans, a deck that just wants to play creatures and turn them sideways, is one of your predominantly interactive and fair decks, it just shows how linear your format is.

One of the things I love about Legacy right now is I’m playing a combo deck, but I still run 8-hand interaction spells.

Yeah, and your deck runs Pithing Needle, which has huge amounts of mind games and there’s so much back-and-forth over what to name and whatnot. I love Legacy. I really do. My plan this week is to do more Modern for these videos and then move on to playing Legacy next week.

Conclusion

The interview with Vince / PleasantKenobi was very enjoyable! He’s one of my favorite content creators, so it was an absolute treat to get to speak with him. If you’d like to check him out, you can do so on YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and Patreon! He makes content for MTG Arena, Modern, Legacy, and even Commander now and then. Until next time, thanks for reading!

[This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]


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