Can I Defend The Title?

“The Boss” has a title to defend, and that carries a lot of weight when it comes to preparing for an event and choosing the right deck not just to make Top Eight but to win once you’re there. Check out where Tom’s testing has led him for the Season Two Invitational this weekend!

I can’t believe it’s been a year.

One year ago, I had a dream come true when I was immortalized as an Infect counter. Pro Player cards and the Invitational tokens played a big part in relighting my fire to play my best competitive Magic. That meant more to me than anything else in my Magic career. What did I do to get myself into shape where I was capable of winning? It’s the question I’m trying to recollect the answer to now.

I remember coming off of a heartbreaking quarterfinals loss in the 2014 Season One Invitational. I was the camera match in the Top Eight and it looked like I was the favorite going in. I didn’t expect to lose. The wind was taken out of my sails in one brief moment.

I went 8-0 in the Swiss Legacy portion with my pet Infect deck and felt unbeatable with it. However, I hadn’t played against any Delver decks yet and didn’t know how to play against them. Tannon Grace and I played the Infect versus Temur Delver matchup the night before, but the matchup was far too complex to learn in a few short hours. I still had a lot to learn.

For Standard in the 2014 Season One Invitational, I played a R/G Aggro brew that was built to beat up on Mono-Blue Devotion and Esper Control. It was fine. It went 4-2-2. Standard felt like it was very difficult to gain an edge at the time. I basically played the same deck in the 2013 Season Four Invitational in Las Vegas, where I went approximately 66% as well. But that’s what I wanted: a 66% Standard deck.

For the 2014 Season Two Invitational, the Top Eight would be Standard. A 66% Standard deck against the field would be very unlikely to win the tournament. I had two Standard decks that I wanted to play: Boss Sligh and a “Sheep” deck. Boss Sligh really needed to dodge a lot of decks, including two big ones in Mono-Blue Devotion and Burn. Sheep had decent matchups across the board.

I went up to Brad Nelson the day of the tournament and asked, “What do you think? Boss Sligh or the Sheep deck?”

Maybe he just hadn’t attacked with as many innocent looking 0/5s as I had but he took the question as some kind of joke, and that I obviously should just be jamming Boss Sligh.

The downside was that I could catch the wrong pairings and be out of the tournament. The upside was that if I could make it to the Top Eight, it was a deck that had a great chance of beating what I expected others to make Top Eight with.

Things started off poorly with a round-two pairing against Burn, exactly what I wanted to avoid. I lost game one, and won game two. I then decided to try something that I thought was interesting. I asked my opponent to intentionally draw with me.

Boss Sligh was great against decks that tended to drag the match out to time. Burn had reasonably good pairings against them as well. I’d never had the opportunity to get myself into the draw bracket early into a tournament like a sixteen-round Invitational and preached the upsides that a draw would bring to both of us in the long run to my opponent. My opponent, being on the play for game three, in a good matchup, and a bit confused as to why someone would want to choose to draw in the first place, declined my offer and crushed me. The tournament was off to a poor start.

Fortunately I caught some better matchups in Standard and only picked up one more loss in the format. Infect once again pulled its weight, posting a 6-1-1 record. I was getting better with Infect while most players were still unfamiliar with its capabilities, both in terms of how fast it could kill and how much countermagic it actually ran. All of the pieces of the puzzle were falling together perfectly and I landed myself into a Top Eight that was soft to Mono-Red, especially the swarm-style build that Boss Sligh was.

Boss Sligh was a deck built out of necessity. On the one hand, it was created as a tool to beat the Mono-Black Devotion menace that eventually had the crown of official “best deck.” On the other, it was also built out of necessity: it’s no coincidence that the deck is super-budget, an effectively blunt pile of commons akin to a sockful of pennies. Let’s just say I wasn’t “Magic Rich” with a full playset of every Standard card at my fingertips.

The hyper-hyper-hyper aggressive strategy wasn’t popular at the time, but I personally was having great success in my Louisiana tournaments and a little bit on Magic Online. Even though I’d put up a finish here and there or write an article about Mono-Red, it was what it was: a fringe tier 3-ish deck that would fold to anyone packing the requisite amount of hate.

For the 2014 Season Two Invitational, I had two great off-the-radar decks that I was highly familiar with while the rest of the field wasn’t. I also took a calculated risk in playing a deck that I could spike the tournament with and got there.

Is this a formula that I can repeat?

At this point in time, I was writing for this website once every two weeks. I had plenty of time to test “my way.” Now, my testing from an outside perspective might seem like I’m not testing at all. I like to solitaire out hundreds of hands while imagining the opponent putting up varying degrees of resistance. I’d pile out my 75 cards and stare at them for a while, often leaving it laid out all day and/or night. The morning of a tournament, I look at it again; and sometimes I have thought out a change overnight and sometimes not. Sometimes I have a better perspective after digesting all the information.

It’s going to be tough. Now I write weekly, make Versus videos, play the Standard Super League, and travel more. I got really good at using my free time to focus on the details of my deck choices, which is an aspect I’ve had to do less of.

What I’ve gained is a (slightly) larger range in my deck choices and access to some of Roanoke’s finest Magic players to bounce ideas off of. Let’s see if it balances out.

This is what we’re looking at this time around, and this time I have a feeling that (unfortunately) people are better prepared for my deck choices.

For Bant Heroic, there haven’t been really any revolutionary techy updates to the list since Ross Merriam won SCG Cleveland earlier this year. It’s a deck that I haven’t solitaired much with lately, nor have laid it out to glare at intensely for hours on end. Still, it’s a deck that I’m familiar with and like for the Season Two Invitational. If the metagame goes as planned, people will show up with more controlling decks and more Devotion-based strategies, which Bant Heroic preys on.

I think it’s time to shove the once maindeck Spellskite(s), Wild Defiance, and Distortion Strikes to the sideboard and go some oldies but goodies in Ichorclaw Myr and Rancor. While the numbers of Lightning Bolts hasn’t dropped, the numbers of Lightning Helix and Electrolyze has, meaning that a defensive Wild Defiance occurs less often. With Become Immense being such a one-shot win condition, the multiple pumps what Wild Defiance gave was generally overkill.

These are the two decks that I have as number one on my list to play in Standard and Modern. There still remains a full day to play today in the Last Chance Qualifiers that pay out in Open Series Points, boosters packs, and – most importantly – playtesting experience. I’ve brought a few decks in both formats to run through the grinders.

Listen, I don’t recommend audibling onto something completely unfamiliar the day of the tournament, but having a second or even third option that you can fall back on is always a good call. I wouldn’t be surprised if the metagame changed overnight between Thursday and Friday.

I didn’t really know which Standard deck to play until the morning of the Season Two Invitational this time last year and I can only imagine that I’ll be racking my brain and second-guessing minute choices up until the last possible moment again.

Here’s to hoping that what worked last time works again.