The StarCityGames.com Invitational this past weekend was the jewel in the crown of the 2010 StarCityGames.com Open Series, with $50,000 up for grabs. After thirteen rounds of Standard, my R/U/G deck and I found ourselves happily in the finals.
Before I recount the tales of the weekend, here’s the exact list I played.
I expected a lot of control decks and Valakut Ramp — but not too much beatdown at the Star City Games Invitational. So I decided to cut the Burst Lightnings and the Inferno Titan for a card that I thought would be better for control matchups, Avenger of Zendikar. He ended up being an MVP, and I’d definitely say he’s an auto-include going forward.
It turned out there were tons of Mono-Black and R/B Vampires swarming around the room, way more than I had anticipated, even though they were relatively popular in the grinders on Friday. This matchup isn’t easy for R/U/G because they burst out of the gates extremely fast and have removal for your Lotus Cobra and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and you have no way to deal with their Bloodghasts.
Another very popular deck was Valakut Ramp, which plays kind of like a combo deck and is another tricky matchup for R/U/G. They accelerate way faster than you can, kill you with an uncounterable land, and have Avenger of Zendikar and Primeval Titan, which normally provide them with way too much value to overcome if they resolve. Acidic Slime is better than Goblin Ruinblaster against them because it can kill Khalni Heart Expedition as well as basic Mountains.
So if my worst matchups make up a large portion of the field, why did I choose to play R/U/G?
Because I’m insane!
Not really, simply put, I think it’s unique in its ability to draw out of almost any situation and rewards good play and sideboarding. It has a lot of angles to attack from, and after sideboarding it has the ability to be at least even against most decks.
I believe that this deck has the ability to topdeck during the mid/late game better than any other deck in the format. Manlands, removal, counterspells, acceleration, bomby finishers, card advantage, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Sign me up. Not to mention most of these serve multiple purposes, and that’s something that you can’t overlook too quickly. The deck appears to be more fragile than it is, but it’s capable of pulling through much of the time. I’d play it again in a heartbeat. It’s such a sick toolbox!
Anyway, the long weekend started with an eight-hour road trip with a couple friends from Syracuse, New York. The plan was to meet up with my friend, Andrew Berke, in Virginia and crash at his place for a few days with a couple of other chill people. I didn’t want to bother with hotels if I could avoid it — after all I’m just a broke college kid. I got there Thursday night at about 11:00 pm, and we promptly cube-drafted until roughly 6:00 am with Drew Levin and some other hustlers. They were all going to play in the grinders the next day, and since they didn’t start until three, we decided that getting up in the afternoon was the play. Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have an unhealthy obsession with cube-drafting and that I practice cubing with the fury of an Olympian athlete.
Friday was pretty laidback. We left Berke’s place with Drew Levin to grab Sam Black from the Richmond airport. En route, we got a call from Sam saying that Craig Wescoe needed a ride from the airport as well. We were more than happy to pick him up for the potential hilarity of a reunion of Wescoe and Levin. However, when we showed up at the airport, Sheriff Wescoe was nowhere to be found. :( Wescoe check?
We drove from there to the event site, and I got to railbird a few of my buddies and just prance around and see friends I rarely see who traveled from all across the US for this epic tournament. As soon as I visited the front stage, I got my Player’s Club benefits: brand new sleeves for the event and free entry into the Legacy Open on Sunday (in case I didn’t Day 2 the Invitational).
Pretty good service if you ask me. I felt like relaxing that day, and there’s no better way to do so than friendly cube-drafting pretty much all day. I ended up staying at the site pretty late as Berke and the always loveable Gerard Fabiano were both still playing in the last grinder. Andrew only needed a finals appearance to qualify, while Gerard needed a win to qualify. After two intense matches where Andrew beat a Boros player in Top 4 and Gerard narrowly beat Christian (“So Pro”) Calcano, the grinder was over with Berke scooping to Fabiano in the finals. It was a great 3:00 am ending for the long day of grinding for the two of them.
Upon arriving home, it appeared as though the inflatable mattress that was to accommodate two players wouldn’t inflate. With Gerard insta-calling the couch, that left Drew Levin, Sam Black, Dan Jordan, and myself to cram ourselves onto
mattress on the floor. Talk about tight sleeping quarters. Alas, we somehow managed it and arrived Saturday morning ready to do battle in the most prestigious event held thus far by StarCityGames.com.
This was it; the event of the year for me. I haven’t yet qualified for the Pro Tour. As such, this was my stage to perform on. Going into the weekend as the StarCityGames.com Player of the Year, a strong finish here was exactly what I wanted to wrap up the amazing 2010 Open Series. Being one of roughly a dozen players with two byes, I felt fairly confident in my ability to grind through this incredibly strong field.
Round three: Shiloh Hertz with Valakut Ramp
For my first round of play, I sat across from a player I was unfamiliar with. He had a Top 4 in the StarCityGames.com Open: Denver and was a solid player. I took a quick 2-0 win over him due to his lack of threats game 1 and a super explosive draw game 2. Shiloh ended up finishing the tournament in eleventh place.
Round four: Kenny Adams with U/W Control
Kenny is one of my oldest friends in Magic, and we have a lot of fond memories of good times. Ken recently moved to upstate New York to work at the local card shop, so it’s awesome to be able to draft and hang out with him on such a constant basis. We got moved to the feature match area for this match, but it wasn’t recorded. He won the die roll and played a turn 2 Luminarch Ascension. I didn’t have a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, so I was just dead. Game 2 was more of a game, and we started the first few turns not casting anything. I countered a Jace Beleren late in the game with two Mana Leaks before casting my own Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He played his own Big Daddy Jace to cancel mine out and had the advantage later with the Scars of Mirrodin combo of Tumble Magnet and Contagion Clasp. The game was over shortly after.
Round five: Charles Gindy with Boros
Charles Gindy, a Pro Tour champion as well as a US Nationals champion, is a great player and overall entertaining guy. Game 1, he mulled to six and crushed me with Goblin Guide, Steppe Lynx, and Adventuring Gear. Zendikar Draft FTW! At this point, down a game, I’d actually lost more games in this tournament than I’d won. Game 2 I won with Avenger of Zendikar, after I Lightning Bolted his first two creatures. Apparently, he made a mistake this game where he could’ve killed my Avenger with a Burst Lightning and a Lightning Bolt but instead opted to play and equip a Sword of Body and Mind, which would’ve killed me had I not cast an Obstinate Baloth the turn after. Game 3 he led off with two Goblin Guides, but I had the Pyroclasm to deal with the little buggers. Gindy ended up making the semifinals.
On the draw:
Round six: Matt Elias with G/W Quest
This match was three quick games where he played Quest for the Holy Relic on turn 1 game 1, which I lost, and he didn’t cast it the next two games, which I won. He played the match well but didn’t have the best draws. I lost on my mull to five game 1 and won the next two despite his turn 2 Squadron Hawk doing the bird call and him ditching a Vengevine.
On the draw:
Round seven: Jim Davis with R/U/G
Jim is a great player from Long Island, New York, and I knew this would be a tough match. The R/U/G mirror match is pretty difficult, and there are many pivotal turns that need to be played well in order to pull out a win. Jim played exceedingly well in this match, and although we went to a tight game 3, he took the match. He was playing inferno Titan in his list.
On the draw:
Round eight: Dan Jordan with R/U/G
Well this was the final round of Day 1. I was guaranteed to Day 2 the Invitational, but 6-2 was leagues better than 5-3. I really needed a win to have the most realistic shot at Top 8. I knew it would be difficult because it was a mirror match against Dan Jordan who knew this deck inside and out and had probably played a hundred more games than me. However, I had the better draws, and it ended up being a rather uneventful match with me winning 2-0.
On the draw:
I entered Day 2 in twelfth place after the first eight grueling rounds of Swiss. Ideally I could go 3-0 tomorrow and double draw into Top 8. We left the tournament hall late again with Drew Levin and Sam Black and headed back to the house to get some sleep for our second day.
Waking up on Sunday, we scrambled to get ready, but showers and the works were making us run late. We walked out of the house to the parking lot at 9:30 am only to realize that Drew Levin car had gone missing in the middle of the night! After a few minutes of disorientation and confirmation that he had in fact parked there, Drew called to find out if his car had been towed while I had to find us an emergency ride. We dashed to the site and arrived just in time for round 9 pairings.
“Feature match for round 9: table fifteen, Jesse Butler and Alex Bertoncini.” I ran to the Feature Match Area to do battle, panting as I sat down and shook my opponent’s hand.
Round nine: Jessie Butler with Mono-Black control
We were featured on GGsLive.com, and it was a pretty tight match. I lost game 1 when I failed to draw my second green source for Avenger of Zendikar after I had two Raging Ravines destroyed by Tectonic Edge. I pulled out games 2 and 3, and just like that I was off to a good start.
I don’t believe I sideboarded correctly for this match, so this is what I’d do in the future.
On the draw:
Round ten: Chris Higashi with R/U/G
I met Chris Higashi this weekend by cube-drafting with him. It turns out he’s an outstanding player and a very nice fellow to boot. This was my third R/U/G mirror match, and it was extremely close as usual. He won game 1 with incremental advantage using Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Inferno Titan. Games 2 and 3 I pulled out with Avenger of Zendikar and Frost Titan respectively. Chris ended up in fourtheenth place.
On the draw:
Round eleven: Caleb Durward with R/B Vampires
I first met Caleb at Grand Prix Columbus earlier this year. I played him round 4 and got pummeled by the early version of Vengevine Survival he was piloting. He has become a good friend of mine since then. A win would allow either of us to intentionally draw twice into Top 8, so this was another big match. Despite the huge popularity of the
-themed critters this weekend, this was my first match against Vampires. It’s a bad matchup for R/U/G, especially game 1, and I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. I mulled to six game 1 and got demolished by turn 4 or 5.
Game 2 he said he made a sketchy keep and lost with a bit of mana flood. Game 3 he got severely mana flooded despite having a Dark Tutelage in play from turn 3 through infinite. It was an unfortunate ending for him as he drew literally all lands for a hundred turns and didn’t do much before I killed him with Frost Titan. Caleb ended up in tenth place in the end.
On the draw:
And there you have it — a Top 8 record at the StarCityGames.com Invitational. It wasn’t easy at all, and mostly every single match was a nail-biter. After some quick math about my tiebreakers and potential future opponents, I confirmed that I could indeed double draw into Top 8.
Final Swiss record: 9-2-2
We split the Top 8 prize between the eight of us for a healthy payday of $4,250 each. Like a boss. StarCityGames.com and GGsLive both did a great job with the coverage of the Top 8 matches, so I won’t go into detail about them here. The sideboarding strategies are the same from earlier. I beat Adam Cai playing R/U/G with Tumble Magnet in the Top 8, Andrew Steckley playing Valakut Ramp in the Top 4, and finally lost to the ever-loveable Gerry Thompson in the finals.
It was truly a rollercoaster-like tournament with many tight moments and critical decisions. I received lots of support and cheering throughout the whole weekend. I thought the finals were truly remarkable. Two of the three Level 5 mages from the Open Series battling it out.
Gerry and I, in my opinion, wanted that Invitational title more than anyone else in that Top 8. I wanted it to go along with the Player of the Year title I’d already earned, and Gerry wanted to finally close for once this year (Open Series-wise). It was Player of the Year versus the three-time bridesmaid. If I had to lose, I wouldn’t have had it any other way (maybe minus the mull to five game 3).
As for changes to R/U/G moving forward, I don’t have that many. The maindeck is spectacular and can overcome many bad matchups with tight play and persistence. The deck has many tools as well as some busted draws. Mulliganing aggressively is also important. Replacing the maindeck Acidic Slime for a singleton Inferno Titan would be a fine addition. I’d remove the Spell Pierces from the sideboard and probably make them a third Flashfreeze and a Burst Lightning. Other than that, there isn’t much to improve on. Valakut Ramp and R/B Vampires are also both incredibly powerful decks, and I’d advocate playing any of those at a future Open Series event as well.
After the finals had concluded, it was time to be presented with what I’d worked towards all year: a full playset of Power Nine! The feeling of holding the culmination of all my work for this year in my hands, along with the finalist plaque, was in a word: surreal. It was my biggest Magic accomplishment in all the years I’d been playing, and I believe I earned it. My goal is to always get better and better, and Magic is no exception. There’s no limit to what you can accomplish when you have the determination to push yourself forward.
Thanks for reading,
-All my friends who helped me and cheered me on.
-Christian Calcano, for being pro and winning the first Standard Open for next year.
-My car mates for driving me, and Andrew Berke for putting me up for the weekend.
–Gerry Thompson, for being a gracious and deserving opponent. I truly aspire to be as great and well-rounded a player as him one day.
–StarCityGames.com for hosting a great tournament series.
-Everyone who cube-drafted with me!