A Tale Of Two Formats *16th*

David McDarby, often seen walking around as Jace, almost made Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com Invitational with Wolf Run Ramp and RUG CounterTop. His amusing tournament report is enlightening and entertaining.

“Destiny, chance, fate, fortune—they’re all just ways of claiming your successes without claiming your failures”

Welcome to my first tournament report! If you’ve never heard of me, that’s understandable. I’ve yet to actually win any major tournament. If you’ve ever seen some guy at a Magic tournament or convention dressed up as Jace meandering around or playing Magic (oftentimes with Island), then you’ve seen me. I just recently moved to Roanoke, Virginia from Knoxville, Tennessee to work for StarCityGames.com, and I’m still adjusting to the switch. Knoxville had multiple Magic tournaments every single day of the week, and it’s been the main reason I’ve fallen in love with this game, since I started playing when Zendikar came out. I’d like to give you the skinny on my weekend at the Charlotte Invitational and what I played. I needed to not lose my last two rounds to make Top 8, and guess what happened? Anywho, let’s dig in!

For Standard I had a couple of choices. Play Illusions, Solar Flare, or something with Slagstorm in it. Once upon a time (two months ago), I would have championed Solar Flare for sure. It’s still a deck with extremely powerful cards in it but can sometimes lose to its own manabase or to a draw where you’re staring down multiple Isamaru, Hound of Konda (Phantasmal Bear). So after the Grand Master of Illusions himself Todd Anderson repeatedly destroyed me with his deck of choice, and Brian Braun-Duin also had something to say about my underperforming Isolated Chapels with U/W Humans, I decided to play the card I had maligned for an eternity: Primeval Titan.

This is a fairly stock Wolf Run Ramp list. I figured there would be tons of aggressive decks at the tournament (which is actually where I would want to be at this point), so I threw caution to the wind and played four Slagstorms. I had slowly started to phase out my Garruks, and my maindeck 60 cards eventually managed to resemble World Champion Jun’ya Iyanaga’s list from Worlds.

The only spice would be the one Swamp (which I’ll get to later) and the three Memoricide in the sideboard. It was mainly for the mirror, and although it isn’t the best idea for opposing ramp decks due to the multitude of threats (Primeval Titan, Wurmcoil Engine, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Inferno Titan), it can at least get Public Enemy #1 and slow them down.

I would say if you really want to win the mirror, play four Birds of Paradise, but that makes Slagstorms *ahem* less than stellar. The MVPs for my deck were my two Devil’s Plays, and I fully expect that card to become much more played than it is. It was the only reason why I won any of my control matchups, and it even kills two guys early on! What more could you ask for than a card that’s good in every matchup? Ken Adams even used two in his R/B Aggressive deck.

My Legacy choice was much simpler. I’ve only played in four StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens, and I’ve played Counterbalance in three of them (one was during the Evil Mental Misstep’s oppressive regime), so of course I wanted to run it back. They say Legacy is a pet deck format, wherein people will just play what they like to play over and over. I like to play the little Cold Snap enchantment that could, so I tried to mold my deck to beat the things I expected (Delver of Secrets, Knight of the Reliquary, Stoneforge Mystic).

The way I go about building decks, which I’ve learned from top players, is usually to take a list that has already been established and make some small adjustments for the very quickly shifting metagame we have thanks to the Open Series, and I suggest you do that too! I looked at Gerry Thompson RUG Countertop list from Kansas City and knew in a heartbeat I wanted to play something similar to that. I toyed with the four-color version he and Todd Anderson played in St. Louis, but I didn’t want to lose to my manabase THAT often.

To be fair Todd only lost to Armageddon, and it doesn’t matter what type of lands you play against that in the slightest. I wanted to play Blood Moon in some way or fashion, but I hear Grove of the Burnwillows doesn’t like becoming a boring ol’ Mountain. Can you blame it?

I had the Punishing Fires combo for not only Delver of Secrets but also as a way to close out the game, which is what these Counterbalance lists don’t have sometimes. Tarmogoyf is still a good, cheap threat that can hold off Goblin Guides or is able to just dumbly turn sideways and bonk your opponent into submission.

The one Thrun was amazing all day, but you can’t really play two of him maindeck in a deck like this. He is very slow, and there aren’t many four-drops in the format (besides himself and Jace), and in a Countertop deck you have to be even more mindful of your curve than normal.

My spice in this deck is the Commander Card: Chaos Warp! I needed a way to handle Knight of the Reliquary, and desperate times call for desperate measures, as I didn’t have access to colors that could easily deal with the Selesnya Superstar. The few times where I cast it, it was amazing, and all my opponents had to read it. I think it honestly should see more play in Legacy, as it is an instant-speed “Vindicate” in a color that has problems with many kinds of permanents, and it’s insanely fun to play! Of course you should always be careful with “pet” cards such as these and take a step back and make sure the card is fulfilling the role you need it to be and that you’re not trying to be cute with a do-nothing durdler.

The one Dismember was terrible all day. I never even faced a Knight of the Reliquary, and against Goblin Guide and Delver of Secrets, if Dismember isn’t in your opening hand, you rarely want to cast it. The full set of Red Elemental Blasts handled the Kafkaesque monster quite handily.

On to the matches!

The first Legacy portion, I saw Affinity (where I missed everybody’s favorite suicidal enchantment, Serenity), BUG, Mono Red, and Mono Blue. Against Affinity I was able to Chaos Warp a Tempered Steel *Ding!*, and Punishing Fire is pretty good at killing tiny robots. Thrun took home the Mono-Blue match (shocking, right?).

Game 1 against BUG was a travesty. T1 Delver go. T2 Delver, go. T3 MOMENTOUS NIGHT. Game 2 I blind flipped Counterbalance into a Sensei’s Divining Top to counter his Thoughtseize (just the beginning of my run goods for the tournament). Game 3 thought the highlight was being Hymn to Tourached, keeping one card in my hand. Naturally it was myself in card form, and I casually Brainstormed my way to victory.

The one match I lost was to ol’ Goblin Guide. The one interesting part was when I could either spin my Top at the end of his turn or keep Spell Snare mana up. I then asked him with a puzzled look, “Is Price of Progress an instant or a sorcery?” To which he quickly glanced at his hand, smiled, and said “instant.” But it didn’t matter; he had two of them…

I felt much better going into the Standard portion. It wasn’t that I like playing Standard more or that I don’t like playing blue spells. It’s just that with Counterbalance, you’re not only trying to figure out how the game is going to play out, but what you should Force of Will and what the converted mana cost is of the card you think the opponent is going to play next turn. Not to mention constantly keeping three cards on the forefront of your mind due to playing with a dreidel, so just casting two ramp spells into Prime Time was a good break.

I played against the mirror, U/W Control, and Solar Flare twice. I won the die roll in the mirror, and whoever was on the play won. “Nice format eh?”

I was matched against the master of Draw-Step-Vendilion-Clique-Force-Your-Force-Misdirect-Your-Force Kris Kronenberger! So naturally I expected a cornucopia of counterspells and was met with Mana Leaks, Dissipates, and Negate(!). I was able to take down his Karn Liberated and Elesh Norn, Lady Gaga, and ended up Fireballing him to death both games.

My first Solar Flare match was unexciting. He mulled to five Game 2, and he found a Beast Within his Isolated Chapel and Acidic Slime all over his Coasts of Seachrome.

The second Solar Flare match was much more exciting. I decided not to bring my Swords of Feast and Famine, as he would most likely kill every creature I had, and Inkmoth Nexuses usually get the job done on their own. I instead opted to bring in Memoricide, and I nabbed his Forbidden Alchemies, right before he hit his third land drop. I’m not saying that it’s a great idea against Solar Flare, but without their Alchemies, their deck is even MORE clunky. Knowing what answers he had in his hand was also a sweet bonus. I pulled out Game 3 on camera by once again burning my opponent to a crisp with my Fireballs.

Alright, 7-1! I was feeling good, but of course I finished ninth, so I didn’t get any good press (I never do!). I always try to just play match and after match, and try not to think things like, “Oh, I only have to go 4-2 today.” Don’t think that you are “allotted” two losses. Play every match to win! The more those kinds of things clog your mind, the more distracted during matches you are. At least it feels that way to me.

In the Standard portion I played against Adam Prosak Illusions build, Mono Red, and MOCS Champion Reid Duke Wolf Run White. Reid was a really cool guy, and after he beat me (he played a Titan—Wurmcoil Engine—both games, and as it turns out, deathtouch and trample have a really good interaction), he always checked up on me during the last few rounds to see how I was doing.

The Mono Red player mulled three times in both games, which made the match rather unexciting, but my match against Adam Prosak was one of the most exciting Magic I’ve ever played! Game 1 I mulled to six on the draw, and he Gitaxian Probed me. I revealed a hand of Rampant Growth, Rampant Growth, Primeval Titan, Slagstorm, Galvanic Blast, Birds of Paradise… and Swamp, to the bemusement of the small gaggle of players watching our match. That Swamp haunted my opening hand too! The first two lands I drew were obviously Inkmoth Nexus and Kessig Wolf Run. So needless to say I didn’t quite get there.

Games 2 and 3 were absolutely insane. My deck unconditionally refused to let me lose. I had to draw three very specific cards (Slagstorm, Autumn’s Veil, an untapped land) at three different times in the match, and I did! The two Autumn’s Veils were very good (one even countered his Vapor Snag!), but I still would only play two, as that’s a card you often only need to see once. I even resolved an Inferno Titan, but he was fighting through it by chumping with Midnight Haunting tokens.

I was looking good Game 3, but then my mind imploded (the second time yielded a much worse result). I attacked with my Titan, and he bounced it with Vapor Snag. For some reason I thought I still did damage, so I slammed down my Slagstorm and announced “players.” He casually repeated the new life totals, and I just felt sick staring at his three guys I could have killed. Even after doing that though, Punty McPunterson (I’m referring to me) just stuck with it and tried to forget the previous debacle, and after his draw step (and looting step) yielded lands, he extended his hand.

I can honestly say that was the happiest I’ve ever felt after winning a match. I don’t think I honestly deserved to win it, but that’s the role that variance plays in our game. The better players don’t ALWAYS win. If they did, the game would become stale, and hardly any new players would play the game.

In the final three rounds I beat R/U Delver (Chaos Warp your Sulfuric Vortex, revealing Snapcaster Mage “uh…”) and lost to RUG Tempo (my first Tarmogoyf got Spell Snared and Surgical Extracted, with only one being left in my library…) and U/W Stoneblade.

The last match of the Swiss was on camera. Game 1 he didn’t flash in his equipment during his turn, waiting until the end of mine, so I was able to play my third land and Vendilion Clique it away in response to the Stoneforge activation. If you’re not doing anything with your mana, you don’t have to be cute and always play your instant-speed spell/ability during your opponent’s turn. People learn that it is often correct to do it that way, but you need to think during your matches and not just do everything the textbook way.

Game 2’s keep was kind of loose with my only land being a Grove of the Burnwillows. But hey I was on the draw and had every spell I wanted against him. What could possibly go wrong? Well, brainstorming for land and seeing none is exactly what could and what did happen. This is one of the worst feelings in Legacy, and I was stupid for keeping that hand anyway. My Ignorance was indeed being Punished.

Game 3 I made the second big punt. When he said “try to equip my Batterskull to my 1/1 Soldier?” I just merely responded “OK” despite my Punishing Fires waiting to be recurred. I see people punt like this all the time on camera and always wonder how in the world they’re at the top tables and that I could do way better. The truth of the matter is that people are tired by that point, not to mention extremely nervous, and minds can implode from time to time. I also didn’t recur my Fires at the end of his turn, as when I announced I was going to, the Judge reminded me that our extension was up, and my mind got derailed (well, for the second time in a ten-second span). It was just an unfortunate series of events.

My final record was 10-4, barely missing Top 8 and finishing 16th. That was good enough for $1000 and locking up Level 4 for next year. I may have missed my mark, and my deck ran well for me all day, but I had a great time, met a lot of really cool people, and grew as a player, which is the main thing I want to do at these events. The other ones being having a good time and making enough money to continue playing this silly cardboard game we all love. And hey, the weekend wasn’t a complete wash. I got my foil Temporal Spring signed by David Thomas!


Thanks for reading,

David McDarby