A Tale Of Two Tournaments

Mark Nestico got run over last weekend. There’s no better way of putting it. So why is he in such good…Spirits? Because he’s got a deck for the #SCGDFW Standard Classic that’s so well-positioned…it’s scary!

I hate deck guides.

I hate tournament reports.

I feel like people read them, quote them at the next FNM, and then quickly forget them. They don’t give you any greater sense of self or insight into something spectacular, you know, unless you do really well at them. This weekend I ventured to #SCGORL with glory in mind and finally getting myself on track to start smashing tournaments again.

But then that didn’t happen! In fact, this weekend was the worst I’ve done in a tournament ever. Why would you want to read something that someone who performed so poorly wrote? Well, here you are. And here I am.

So let’s just give this a shot, shall we?

After all, I did have a really, really good deck.

And some really good stories.

Without a doubt, this tournament was one of the best times I’ve had playing Magic in years. Years. More than Pro Tours or deep GP runs.

I was alive.

What Did You Play?

A few weeks ago, Bae, as I affectionately call him, sent me a deck list that he was going to play at a PPTQ. It seemed pretty similar to one he sent me a few weeks back that ended up getting ninth at #SCGBALT, so I was interested. After winning a PPTQ pretty handily, defeating SCG Tour® standout Brad Carpenter twice on the path to victory, the deck seemed to have legs and I went about testing with him and online in order to see just how good it was.

About two weeks of testing went into this deck, and it was very, very clear that we had something special on our hands. Brennan is extremely good at understanding formats before they are defined, and even better at working out the small details of them once they are. In the last few years we’ve both found that we work extremely well together and have similar principles when attacking metagames. Independently we both touted Master of Waves before its breakout performance that led to our inclusion on excellent Pro Tour testing teams.

Brennan is also responsible for iterations of G/R Devotion being huge tournament hits, B/W Midrange from the days of Mono-Black Devotion’s reign, and plenty of other accomplishments you might not know could partially be accredited to him. In short, he’s an all-around excellent player and Magic theorist.

I got to battling games with U/W Spirts, or Spooky Ghosts as we called it, online, and the results were extremely promising.

Reasons to Play Spooky Ghosts

Right off the bat, Brennan explained to me how good the G/W Tokens matchup is. Initially I was hesitant to believe that, given how ironclad it has been since Shadows over Innistrad made its debut, but about ten matches where the games weren’t close made me a believer.

Spooky Ghosts plays a plethora of fliers that, through built-in synergies, are able to work in concert with each other to generate multiple forms of synergy and battlefield advantage. G/W showed a glaring weakness a few weeks ago in Atlanta when Hugo Terra made a Top 8 run with essentially a U/W Flash deck. While his counterspells were very good, we found them completely unnecessary and occasionally just not good in the deck.

Archangel Avacyn and Knight of the White Orchid were easy inclusions. Avacyn has an uncanny ability to steal games along with being an incredible threat at multiple points in the game. Knight, while seemingly innocuous, helps to catch up and reassert battlefield advantage when you’re on the draw along with being a credible threat once you create a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar Emblem.

Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is a Game 1 delight along with standouts Hanweir Militia Captain and Thraben Inspector. In over 50% of Game 2s they are sideboarded out, but in Game 1 they add a dimension players aren’t prepared for due to the high turnout of G/W/x-based decks. Not only does Anafenza bolster your team, Rattlechains protects her or sometimes lets you play her and another Spirit in the end step for a surprise burst of damage. Most players never see this coming.

Aside from the surprise factor, Spooky Ghosts plays very smoothly. Being two colors gives it good, solid mana, and most hands with quality lands are not only keepable but threatening right out of the gate. It’s a complicated deck that rewards sequencing, decision-making, and understanding play lines that have consequences and rewards several turns away from when you make them. It also has excellent matchups against G/W Tokens, R/W Humans, Bant Company, and Bant Humans, and it’s also around 50/50 against Ramp or U/R Eldrazi Ramp.

Reasons Not to Play Spooky Ghosts

Welp. The cat is out of the bag.

Over the last few weeks, people had absolutely no idea what was going on. Most games they figured you were playing Hugo’s list, so they played around Clash of Wills or other counterspells. Now, with Brennan’s finish, they’re probably going to be far wiser to what you’re doing, which takes away a lot of the X-factor the deck had going into this tournament.

Along with not being able to catch more players off-guard, this deck has trouble with multiple sweepers. In his semifinals match against David Bollenbeck’s Naya Midrange concoction of awesomeness, the combination of Radiant Flames; Dragonlord Atarka; Oath of Chandra; Chandra, Flamecaller; and other powerful spells was just too much to overcome.

Then…then there were my losses.


When building our sideboard, we talked about multiple matchups. At the core, Spooky Ghosts is a metagame deck that happened to be very, very good this weekend.

There are, however, nightmare matchups.

Anything with ten or more sweepers is miserable. Jeff Hoogland’s Abzan deck is slightly manageable because it doesn’t play Radiant Flames, so getting under them and then achieving tempo with Negates and Archangel Avacyn or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is extremely doable. One deck, though, seemed nearly hopeless.


We talked about it, and my response was usually along the lines of: “I doubt we’ll have to worry about it. It’s not a good deck right now. Way too many bad matchups, and I don’t think players want to auto-concede to 50% of the field.” I then went about my day.

Round 1? Grixis that cast seven or eight sweepers on me each game.

Round 2? “Hey, you played my friend last round! We’re on the same deck!”

Right. So this is what hell must feel like.

A quick 0-2 start taught me a few lessons in humility and preparation. Meanwhile, Brennan was able to slice through G/W Tokens and Human decks left and right while securing a spot in the Top 8 by preying on exactly what we drew up the tournament would look like.

Without a doubt, I’ve never done this badly at a tournament. It was humbling, but it also gave me some pretty important insight into what I want out of Magic in the future. Dropping from the tournament to obliterate a Two-Headed Giant Sealed Spectacular with my good friend Taylor was just what the doctor ordered.

The Future

I won my third round but opted to drop instead of continuing to play. I wasn’t on tilt or upset. As a matter of fact, I felt fantastic.

Each round I was able to just be a teammate for Brennan to make sure he had everything he needed, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was slinging spells, winning Prize Wall tickets, and enjoying the company of friends.

Over the last year, all of my friends that play Magic locally have either moved or quit. This leaves me with only a couple of pals to battle with in my city and almost no one to travel with on those long, tough drives. This weekend, not only did Brennan come out, but I was able to talk my friends Sean and GP Lincoln champ Bronson Magnan into joining me. The band was back together, and we had a blast.

In recent weeks, I’ve mostly been writing about fundamentals because, I guess, I’m trying to find myself again. I love Magic, but it felt harder and harder to justify playing when I wasn’t having as much fun as I used to. Work has disallowed the travel that I’m used to. Thankfully, this weekend, that all changed.

I was finally able to meet and hug my Facebook friend Emma Handy, talk with Kevin Jones, joke with Gerry Thompson, and watch my friends do so well. Steve Mann and Mike Reilly flung a never-ending supply of daggers at me about being “casual” because I play so much 2HG. We laughed. Everyone was smiling.

There was a wonderful sense of community this weekend, in part because of the tragedy that struck Orlando last week. We appreciated each other a little more, showed a little more respect, and gave each other a little more love.

I’ve been running on empty for so long that this weekend was like a supercharge of why this game is the best thing on Earth. I’m looking up flights for more SCG Tour® dates, because now I can’t stop.

Spooky Ghosts 2016

The question I’ll end up getting asked the most is probably “Do you think this deck is still good?”

The short answer is yes, but the long answer is more complicated. Luckily for U/W Spirits, people won’t look at it, then look at their G/W Tokens deck, sigh longingly, and then put G/W Tokens away forever. It is still the best deck in the format, but Standard has wizened up to it.

G/W Tokens is extremely beatable and has multiple avenues to approach when taking it down. It’s efficient and versatile, but aggressive decks can get under it with relative ease. U/W Spirits can achieve both dimensions against it, which makes the matchup quite favorable. As you saw, Brennan was able to win in the quarter finals on a mulligan to five. Of course Gerry had mana troubles (an inability to reach his second white for many turns), but I don’t think you can understate that U/W is a favorite, which makes it attractive.

If you plan on picking up this deck, I’d recommend playtesting it a fair bit first. It has tons of nuances that aren’t obvious right off the bat, so there’s no substitute for experience. The rewards are huge, though, as being favored against the bulk of the format is an awesome feeling.

Just try to dodge Grixis as much as possible.

Personal experience talking here.

At any rate, this weekend was a ridiculous success and I can’t wait to replicate it. This was a tale of my worst performance and, simultaneously, my best experience.

Columbus or Baltimore in July?

Decisions, decisions…