An Epic Journey To The Invitational

Max Tietze tells you how he made his third SCG Invitational Top 8 with U/W Control in Standard and U/W/R Delver in Legacy in Indianapolis.

“Be careful with your travel this weekend. Mercury is in retrograde, and it might throw a wrench in your plans.”

Yeah, whatever. I can’t imagine that a wrench thrown from Mercury would even get to Earth in time to disrupt my travel. The only sort of divination I was
really thinking about going into the Invitational was a three-mana sorcery that would not be catching anyone off guard seeing as how I had cut Quicken from
my deck.

The tournament in Indianapolis marked my third Invitational Top 8 and I would say the stiffest competition of the three. The road leading there was strewn
with boulders ranging in size from Duke (barely clove him in twain) to Huey (narrowly escaped death) to Nelson (crushed me like a merciless Buddha). My
first hurdle however was simply getting to Indianapolis.

10/25/13 6:30 AM Westchester County Airport

“*Radio static* We’re sorry for the delay, but it appears that (insert technical nonsense that pilots seem to enjoy elaborating on) has malfunctioned and
we’ll have to wait for maintenance to come check it out.”

Fifteen minutes later . . .

“Have to apologize again; it looks like it’s too early for maintenance to be at the airport. We should have the whole ordeal figured out within an hour and
a half.”

Another fifteen and the business executives around me are going nuts on their cell phones . . .

“Sorry for the wait, it looks like maintenance has decided to go back to sleep. Everyone head on inside so we can put you on other flights.”

So I found myself crammed into a van en route to LaGuardia and a direct flight to Indy. Woohoo, no layover! When’s that you say I’ll be arriving? 12:35?
Good thing I have a round 1 bye.

This was the first time I had ever flown to a tournament on the same day I was playing in it, and fortunately I had prepared a contingency plan. Good
friend Jim Davis had my decklist for Legacy and managed to get me signed up without a hitch. Well, let’s say with minimal hitches.

My plane landed a half hour early, and I had time to go drop my stuff off at the hotel and pick up some final cards from the SCG table. Ten minutes before
round 2 I thought to myself, “What was actually in that decklist I sent Jim?” Oh no. I told him four Flooded Strands, but I had brought Scalding Tarns. Was
I really going to have to find Flooded Strands in ten minutes? Fortunately the head judge was sympathetic to my predicament and allowed me to swap out the
fetches, which were absolutely identical in my deck anyway.

I played U/W/R Delver in Legacy after Erik Smith sent me his current list and gave me some pointers on it. I had no time to test, but I had delved many a
secret in the past and figured my general Legacy knowledge would help get me through. A lot of people asked me why I bailed on the Goblins.

♪♫ What would you do if you got Sneak and Showed?

Every damn day on the tournament floor

And your only hope

Was to play Mountain Lackey and

Get Brad Nelson an unfortunate game loss and a mulligan to four ♪♫

I want to focus more on Standard than Legacy, but I will say a few things about the Delver deck.

I chose it specifically to be able to interact favorably with combo decks, as it seems like they have gotten more prevalent at the top of the standings in
recent Opens. Despite this, my record against Sneak and Show was a lowly 1-3. My lone match win came against William Jensen, where in game 1 he cast all of
his Ponders and miraculously died with a hand full of Force of Wills and no way to go off. In game 2, I had a turn 1 Delver, and he went for the Blood Moon
gambit. Essentially my entire deck was now blank, but he was failing to find blue mana or a Sneak Attack. Finally, at four life he Pondered into a Red
Elemental Blast, but I drew my fifth land right on cue to cast Batterskull, the only card left in my deck that did anything.

Going forward, we might want to add some more hate for Sneak and Show. Good options include:

Karakas – An on-color land that makes it much harder for them to just resolve a Show and Tell and win. Even the mighty Griselbrand can be Stifled, so just
getting him into play isn’t necessarily enough.

Meddling Mage – While he doesn’t shut the deck down, this guy disrupts Sneak and Show quite well. You already have a ton of counters, so you don’t need a
hard lock on their combo, just a way to slow them down. Adding more increases our chances of drawing two, at which point you just need to worry about
keeping Pyroclasm from resolving.

Humility – We saw this one out of Reid Duke sideboard in his winning Bant deck. It’s certainly castable, but more than likely it will be entering play
for free. If you lose to a fifteen-mana 1/1, then you might want to reevaluate your choice of hobby.

I also played against U/W/R Miracles twice, managing to squeak out a win both times. I learned an important lesson about this matchup. Stifle is a very
good card, countering miracle triggers, fetch lands, Jace activations, and more. When you are under a Counterbalance-Top lock though, Stifle is not going
to help much in resolving anything. The best thing you can do is Stifle their attempt to draw with Sensei’s Divining Top and sneak in a one-drop when they
have none in their top three cards. Another thing to be wary of is maindeck Flusterstorm. Joe Lossett got me pretty good by fetching in response to my
Brainstorm, baiting out my Stifle, and then flustering me pretty hard. All of my time playing Goblins had made me forget that Flusterstorm is a card to
watch out for.

Now let’s talk about Standard.

I received a lot of Facebook messages from people asking about the U/W Control deck I played, which is what gave me the idea to write this article. Here’s
the list that I brought to the battlefield:

Is it better than Esper? Why aren’t you just playing Esper? But scrying is so valuable! Have you considered splashing black for Thoughtseize?

To be honest, I’m still not sure if Esper is just better than this deck. I played it partially because I anticipated (incorrectly) that people might switch
to Mono-Red Aggro to combat the rise of Mono-Black Devotion and Esper, as this deck is much better positioned against Burning Earth and fast creatures. The
other reason I played it was that it was the only deck I had experience with in Standard, having lost in the finals of #SCGWOR with a similar list. My
testing online proved that the deck was capable of winning most matches but not very forgiving of mistakes. A lot of times I could narrow the game down to
one suboptimal play I made that entirely changed the outcome.

When a deck is not very forgiving, what can we do? Add more big bombs that give you easy wins!

All joking aside, I increased the amount of finishers in the deck to fight against all the Thoughtseizes I expected to encounter and to hopefully give me
more game against Esper.

Here are my thoughts about some of the common matchups.

Esper Control: I believe you are actually favored game 1 against Esper due to you having more counters and more Aetherlings. They will hopefully have
minimal Thoughtseizes maindeck, and you both have a bunch of dead removal cards. After board Dispel is an amazing tool that helps you stay ahead in the
counter wars. Hero’s Downfall still gets your Jaces, but you’re generally only going to get one activation before it gets hit by Detention Sphere anyway.
It is not uncommon for these two decks to only finish one game in a match, so if you pulled it out congratulations, just don’t lose quickly! That means
don’t tap out and let Aetherling resolve.

+2 Dispel

+3 Negate

+1 Aetherling

+1 Pithing Needle

-4 Supreme Verdict

-1 Celestial Flare

-2 Azorius Charm

I frequently alter the numbers of what I’m taking out here. It depends a lot on your opponent’s decklist and play style. Some people will max out on Blood
Barons, assuming you will take out your removal. If your opponent does not have Jace, Memory Adept, you can safely leave Pithing Needle in the board.

Going forward, the third Aetherling slot in the board might be better as another counterspell, either a Negate or Gainsay. If one player has a lot of
counters and the other is just trying to jam Aetherlings, the player with counters is probably ahead.

Mono-Black Devotion: I went 4-0 against this deck in the tournament, with two wins coming against the B/G version, which is actually a much harder matchup.
These games will all come down to Underworld Connections, as without it their deck is a pile of mediocre black midrange cards. Detention Spheres should be
saved if possible even if it means taking some hits from a Nightveil Specter. You have a lot more ways to deal with creatures than you do enchantments. As
with most midrange matchups, Sphinx’s Revelation will be your key to victory. If you can’t stop Underworld Connections consider, the Aggroling plan.

Your opponent is losing lots of life; why not make it a race?

Against Joe Bernal, he had Underworld Connections and Erebos going, so after he body slammed my Elspeth with a Vraska I was faced with a choice. Play my
Azorius Guildgate as my seventh land and pass the turn or run out an Aetherling and pray that my hero would live for a single day. Joe was down to a few
cards, but with the potential to draw a bunch the following turn, I decided it was better to not let him Thoughtseize my dreams away and rode the
Aetherling to victory.

+3 Pithing Needle

+1 Aetherling

-1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

-2 Azorius Charm

-1 Syncopate

Once again, I changed my boarding strategy many times throughout the tournament. I think Syncopate is better than a Dissolve on the draw to catch
Underworld Connections, so I’d make that adjustment. I don’t really know about the third Aetherling and Elspeth; sometimes I swapped them, sometimes I went
up to four big cards, and sometimes I just left an Aetherling in the board. If Elspeth could kill Erebos, there would be no question about her staying in,
but alas there are many a question to be asked about this board plan.

One important thing that I’d like to point out is do not run out your Pithing Needles blindly. I see people do this in so many matchups, and it is usually
wrong. Giving them one activation on something is less risky than naming one card and then losing to the activated ability of another. Yes, they can
Thoughtseize your Needle, but if you play it preemptively on Swamp, how will you feel when their Mutavaults can now draw cards and attack you? Needle is
primarily for Underworld Connections, but it can stop Pack Rats, Whip of Erebos, Mutavault, or Erebos himself in a pinch.

The extra Celestial Flares are primarily for matchups that max out on Stormbreath Dragons and Mistcutter Hydras. They also do a fine job of killing Gods
and slowing down aggro decks. Last Breath makes Master of the Waves seem like a joke and generally causes Mono-Blue Devotion players to reconsider which
God they are devoted to.

How about some anecdotes from the tournament?

In round 2, something truly special happened. Let me preface this with a quote from my opponent for the round, Justin Geary.

“I saw that I was playing against Max Tietze this round, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh well, looks like I’m gonna draw.'”

Between games 2 and 3, the judge standing next to our match uttered the following words:

“Max, I wish I could get you to come to Chicago and teach our players how to pile shuffle so fast.”

A judge had just told me I was doing something rapidly. I cried a single tear, which I saved in an Aether Vial to be used as an elixir for haste in any
upcoming control mirrors.

In round 6, the time had come. I was up against Reid Duke, who I assumed would be on Esper Control. I knew I would have to play carefully or he would mop
the floor with me, but I also did not want to be in the draw bracket in either format. On the upkeep of our match, I put that magical vial trigger on the
stack and let it resolve right back into my eye as I felt the salty sensation of pure speed coursing through my body.

I managed to resolve an Aetherling game 1, which he responded to with his own. I narrowly won the race by using my third Dissolve on the removal spell that
would have done me in. Game 2 we played draw go for a long time, during which I discarded three Sphinx’s Revelations with a handful of counters. This might
have been poor judgment on my part, as his mana advantage won the game for him, and even though I didn’t have any bad cards in hand, I should have been
casting the Revelations to make my land drops. The game almost came down to decking, but Reid’s resolved Jace, Memory Adept made it an unfair race to the
last card.

In game 3, I mulliganed to five on the play, and Reid, ever the gentleman, said, “Sorry man.” I reminded him of our match in the last round of GP Toronto,
where he beat me playing U/W with his Jund deck on a mulligan to four. And it so happened that fortune was with me, as I drew Divinations (one of which he
Negated!), made all my land drops, and countered his Sphinx’s Revelations while resolving my own.

Fast forward to round 16. I’m playing against Mono-Blue Devotion, possibly my best matchup, and the same deck I had just beaten the previous round to
clinch my Top 8 spot . . . or so I thought. I wound up being paired down in the final round and having to play while all the other 36 pointers drew in. It
looked like my breakers would get me in either way, but you can never be too sure. I won an easy game 1, as my opponent tried to beat me down with such
all-stars as Tidebinder Mage. Little did I know that this particular opponent, Evan West, had a much more effective transformational sideboard than the
average list. He went up to seven Jaces and four Gainsays, which led to much more of a match than I expected.

In game 3, I thought I had it all but locked up when I resolved an Elspeth and shut off his creature assault. He had a pesky Jace, Architect of Thought
though, which negated my attempts at actually winning. The turning point this game was when I decided to Detention Sphere his Jace rather than his Thassa.
If I took Thassa, I could go ultimate on Elspeth and win through the Jace, but I was afraid of losing all my tokens to Cyclonic Rift and didn’t know how
many copies he had of any of the aforementioned cards. I killed Jace, thinking it would be more useful for him in the long run. Then he had another Jace .
. . Okay, Detention Sphere that one too. Finally, his third Jace, Architect of Thought came down, to which I could not draw an answer. As time ran out with
exactly enough turns remaining, he went ultimate on Jace, using my Supreme Verdict to kill my army of tokens, and casting his own Jace, Memory Adept with
counter backup. I died to decking on turn 5 of extra turns. If only I had reduced my blazing pace of play!!

I was ecstatic to hear my name called for Top 8 despite being rattled by my unexpected loss in the last round. In the hotel room that night I faced my
final conundrum of the weekend.

I was looking over the decks and mulling over how I would sideboard against Sneak and Show. Look at this funny decklist that Jim Davis wrote for me.
“Swords of Plowshare” Haha silly Goblins player. I’ll bring in Meddling Mages, Force of Will, Pyroblast . . . wait, what??? I had played my entire
tournament with Red Elemental Blast in my sideboard.

I asked my room what they thought I should do.

“Just make the swap. No one will know, and it’s basically the same card”

“Maybe you should just tell them. I doubt they’ll give you a penalty.”

“Will someone turn that Reid Duke token facedown for the love of god?!”

When I woke up the answer was pretty obvious. There was no way I wanted to risk my integrity as a player even if it was a total accident that had no
bearing on the tournament (I didn’t encounter any Misdirection shenanigans or whatever the other corner cases are where it matters). I told head judge
Jason Reedy and was relieved to hear that the offense would be downgraded to a warning due to minimal potential for abuse.

I went on to lose a quick quarterfinals to Brad Nelson, including an anticlimactic game 4 where I mulliganed three no-land hands and he mulliganed two of
them. Congratulations to Brad; I was happy to see him win the event. Overall I had a great time at the Invitational, and you can bet I’ll be back for more
now that I’ve virtually locked up two byes for next season.

Max Tietze