A Dream Comes True

Tom has been talking about his Standard deck in his column for a while, which didn’t seem to stop him from winning the Season Two Invitational last weekend! Catch his thoughts on that tournament, and how he’d update the deck for #SCGVEGAS!

After the Columbus Invitational was over, I had an unnatural fear about myself. It’s that fear you get when you know something is too good to be true. A defense mechanism telling you not to get too emotionally invested into something that can break your heart.

Sometimes I dream of winning a big tournament like a Grand Prix, or of drawing into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, only to wake up disappointed. The night after I won, I couldn’t sleep. Subconsciously, I feared that I wouldn’t wake up the champion.

I’ve gotten pretty good at making Top 8 and coming up short. I had started to wonder if I’d ever actually win a big tournament in my Magic career. It hasn’t hit me. The Players’ Championship invite, the prize, and most importantly my own token… it’s overwhelming. I’m not used to it.

Well, it’s in the books that I won, so that’s what I’m going with.

It can never be overestimated how important it is to play deck(s) that you know well at big tournaments. The Invitational is no time to be going outside of your comfort zone and play the new flavor of the week. The Opens, PTQs, and FNMs of the world are there for you to hone your skills. The Invitational is the place to test your knowledge of the deck you practiced with.

People also say “drink a lot of water.” I don’t know if you want to drink as much water as I do, which is a full bottle or more each round, but for those that know me personally me drinking water is as much a part of my persona as my leather jacket. I probably drink two gallons a day at tournaments. I don’t know how significant it actually is, but it seems to help – although it may be more of a routine thing. Brian Kibler advocates listening to the same song before each round to kind of reset your mindset. My water pattern helps me treat every round with the same amount of attention, regardless of facts like “hey, I just need to go X and Y in the remaining Z rounds to Top 8.”

It was no surprise to anyone that I brought Infect to Legacy. I personally feel like it’s the best deck because it’s capable of playing well and winning at all stages of the game. It can combo on turn two or three, win in the middle turns of four through six after playing some Dazes and Brainstorms, or win in the endgame by grinding them down with repeated bonuses from Noble Hierarch’s Exalted trigger and tapping Pendelhaven.

I wouldn’t change anything about the list going forward.

I knew that Infect would pull its weight for the tournament and it did by giving me a 6-1-1 record in Legacy. I had been having a lot of trouble with Delver variants in past tournaments. Michael Majors dispatched me in the Top 4 of the Atlanta Legacy Open, and Jessy Hefner gave me a quick exit in the Top 8 of the Season One Invitational in Charlotte. I wasn’t sure why I was losing to Delver, something about the mix of permission and cheap threats I thought. The truth was they were just better with their decks than I was with mine. Sequencing tighter and Brainstorming better than I was.

I played five different Delver of Secrets variants, one Merfolk, and one Esper Deathblade. All-around fair decks. Infect really likes to play against control decks like Miracles or combo decks like Sneak and Show, but it’s nice to see the deck perform well through the matchup path I took.

The Piracy Charms were as sweet as I’d imagined, killing everything from Delver of Secrets to Grim Lavamancer. You really can’t afford to dilute your deck too much by sideboarding in answers to what your opponents are doing. I had Swords to Plowshares along with Tundra and Savannah once upon a time in Legacy Infect. With the lifegain being largely irrelevant it felt like a freeroll, but in fact very few opposing creatures actually matter. Tarmogoyf can be raced or blocked, ditto for the creatures from Death and Taxes.

I played R/g Aggro at the Invitationals in Las Vegas and Charlotte and was almost certain that I would be playing the hyper-aggressive strategy again in Columbus. Control is everywhere at Invitationals. People play the safe decks, which in this case were Mono-Black Devotion, Jund Monsters, and UW/x Sphinx’s Revelation Control.

I can’t tell you how many people consider my deck as their worst matchup. If a deck is the worst matchup of the top decks, then why aren’t people playing it?

It doesn’t fit everyone’s playstyle. It takes a brave soul to register Boss Sligh. I’m not talking about myself, it’s like clockwork for me. You have to give up a certain amount of control when playing the deck. The wins you have might not be satisfying, as they came so quickly. Your losses will be slow and painful. People are capable of sideboarding against you if they want to; Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods are real cards. It feels like rolling a die.

But it’s really not. Boss Sligh is complex and feels like a Legacy deck. Your cards are generally less powerful than your opponents’ – yours are commons and theirs are mythics. But you have more of them. Which means that there are many more branches of sequencing available to you. A Jund Monsters player might have Sylvan Caryatid into Polukranos, World Eater on turn three. That’s the only real play for them to make. By turn three with Boss Sligh you might have thirty different lines of play you could’ve taken.

Blinding Flare was cute. I targeted my own Akroan Crusader exactly once in the tournament among the ten Game Ones that I played. It got sideboarded out in basically every match. A cool idea and OK as a finisher, but it didn’t quite have the punch that I wanted. That said, it’s really good in draft and is certainly not a 14th pick like SOME people think.

What performed really well were the Rubblebelt Maakas. Effectively Titan’s Strength numbers five and six, I now want the seventh in the deck. It’s also sweet to not trigger Eidolon of the Great Revel after sideboard, which over-performed in its own right. I underestimated a bit how much decks like Jund Monsters lower their curve to match Boss Sligh, forcing to them taking a significant amount of damage from the Eidolon.

The one-drops all function well with each other. Akroan Crusader makes creatures, which pumps Foundry Street Denizen and triggers Legion Loyalist’s battalion. There’s little need to remove opposing blockers when blocking is unfavorable for them in the first place. I still like Seismic Stomp against Master of Waves and Boros Reckoner, but for the most part I’m cool with them blocking whatever with whatever. This is what I’d run now:

Right when I thought I knew everything about my deck, I watched Patrick Sullivan play a game. He was losing a game with two Legion Loyalists and two Mountains in play facing down a fresh Polukranos, World Eater with the opponent at fourteen life. Rakdos Cackler, Shock, Lightning Strike, Seismic Stomp, and Harness by Force was his hand. Our team was dying to the Polukranos monstrosity, which would also put it outside of range of Shock + Lightning Strike.

So he slammed the Seismic Stomp and attacked for two, putting the opponent to twelve. I would’ve just cast a hopeless Rakdos Cackler instead and lost. It was an insanely aggressive line that I didn’t see. It requires the opponent to kill our Legion Loyalists and attack with Polukranos for us to have a chance… but a chance is better than no chance. A Mountain to cast Harness by Force puts them to five and then they’re dead to the burn in hand. While the Mountain wasn’t on top on the deck this time, it was amazing to see a great red player doing the math to figure out how to win in a seemingly-unwinnable situation.

So now what? The Invitational has been a great milestone for me. Being on my own card has been something I’ve wanted for nearly a decade. Gerry Thompson’s two Invitational wins is a record to aim for. The Players’ Championship is something to look forward to, and I would like to do well in it of course. It’s an unprecedented event, perhaps similar in structure to what the World Championship is now, but overall new ground to me and I’m not sure what to expect. It will only be sixteen players and I imagine that nearly half of the invitees will be tight-knit friends from StarCityGames which will make playtesting and metagaming different that it would be for larger-scale tournaments like Invitationals.

Or I could get back on the Pro Tour. I swear it’s way harder than before. PTQs are bigger. Grand Prix are much bigger. I miss the DCI system and having a high rating. I wish I could qualify by simply winning at Magic. But that’s not the case.

Before every Pro Tour, I get at least a few messages by people on Facebook wishing me good luck. They assume I’m invited when I’m not. When I go to Opens, I hear whispers of people calling me a pro. I haven’t felt like a pro in a while. I really don’t like the term in general. It’s a status label that means “better than others,” but not just in a Magic sense. I’m just a dude playing a game I love.

The Community Cup is something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. To have the privilege of representing the players and impacting enough people positively to deserve the spot is a dream for me. I like to play and write about what I like, which are usually underplayed creature decks. I still have pride in what I produce and aim for those decks to be competitive, from FNM all the way to the Invitational. I try to shake up stagnant formats and provide cost-efficient decks that are competitive; Magic is way more expensive than it was when I first started playing nearly 20 years ago. The cost as barrier to entry is real, and hopefully I’ve influenced people to play that otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t. If you guys think I’m a good candidate, I’d appreciate a nomination!