Cuttin’ A Rug In Atlanta *2nd*

Monday, April 25 – John Winters met face-to-face with Edgar Flores in the finals of the SCG Open in Atlanta with RUG. He did not take it down, but he recounts all the details up till the final moments. Take his knowledge to SCG Open: Charlotte.

Hello, my name is John Winters. You’ve never heard of me, and as this is my first article for StarCityGames.com, I’ll start off with a short
introduction of myself. I live in North Carolina and have played card games competitively for upwards of ten years. I got my gaming start playing
Yu-Gi-Oh, followed by VS System, and finally, Magic.

I’ve seen a small amount of local success and did well on the JSS circuit, as well as Top 8ing a handful of Pro Tour Qualifiers, but I never really
broke through to the big stage until last year. In October of 2009, I won a PTQ for San Diego and got to compete in my first Pro Tour. While my
performance was fairly lackluster, I had a blast and was hooked more than ever.

Unfortunately, just before San Diego, I began dating a girl. Although at first, my relationship didn’t interfere with playing Magic a whole bunch, I
certainly didn’t test half as much as I should have because I’d rather spend time with my girlfriend. After dating for a year and a half, my girlfriend
abruptly left me for another guy this March. While I was of course emotionally devastated, the upsides of our breakup quickly appeared—namely, I got
the fire back to play Magic competitively. And that’s where our story begins…

Atlanta was coming up fast, and I had no idea what to play. On one hand, I’d gotten 22nd at the SCG Open in DC with Sparkblade, but I also felt that I
couldn’t come up with a list that I felt comfortable playing. So, I did what I always do in these situations: roll dice. My friend Brad Sheppard had
been insisting that I play RUG, and after the dice chose RUG out of Caw-Blade, RUG, and Red Deck Wins, I had my deck. It also eased my mind that Brad
was telling me to play RUG because as a general rule, I perform well in events when I listen to Brad’s deck advice. The list I played was fairly
boring, but I suppose I should go through the few card choices Brad and I debated. For reference, here’s the list I played:

The only cards that we weren’t 100% set on were the one Garruk Wildspeaker, the one Avenger of Zendikar, and the one Frost Titan (in the sideboard). I
knew that the Avenger was a card that sometimes could win games where no other card in the deck would be good enough, including the mirror. Brad
agreed, so we decided to keep that one.

We weren’t sure about the Garruk, but we couldn’t really think of a particularly good replacement, so we left him in. Lastly, the Frost Titan slot
wavered between it, Volition Reins, the fourth Obstinate Baloth, and the fourth Pyroclasm. While I thought at first that Volition Reins was definitely
what I wanted, Brad convinced me that unless I was taking a planeswalker with it, Frost Titan was better. Additionally, the creatures in Caw-Blade are
awful targets for Reins. His argument seemed fairly sound, so I followed Brad’s advice.

After assembling our decks Friday night, we started the five-hour drive from High Point, NC, to our hotel. I was driving my car, with Brad, Neal, and
Slow riding, with our friend Zach and his girlfriend following in another car. The trip started with a good laugh, as we turned onto the highway, only
to watch Zach miss the turn and end up not having his phone on him. While laughing hysterically, we wondered whether he would figure out he wasn’t
following us and if he would ever catch us. After ten minutes or so, Zach flew past us at an ungodly speed, and everything was back on track.

At the hotel, Neal and I met up with our friends, Jack and Coke, before finally going to bed at around two. Before we fell asleep, we heard Brad and
Zach arguing. Brad called Zach stupid, and Zach retorted, “Hey shut up! I’m smart; I have a two-year degree in color matching!” This of course just
fueled the fire for many jokes on the weekend.

Saturday rolled around all too quickly. After stumbling out of bed and assembling something resembling an outfit, I wandered down to get breakfast and
headed to the tournament. I ran into Christian Valenti at our hotel, and he said he was also playing RUG, which made me feel much better about my
choice because Christian is a fairly strong player.

While waiting for the player meeting to start, I played about ten games against Ali Aintrazi and his Grand Architect deck. Ali crushed me the first two
games, but when I started playing Lotus Cobra, the games weren’t even close. After maybe four games in a row of Cobra into Jace, the Mind Sculptor into
Inferno Titan, Ali proclaimed he couldn’t possibly beat a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, which I definitely agree with. Ali is another player that I consider very
strong, and even though he plays decks that only he can win with, seeing how lopsided the games were when I drew Lotus Cobra was very encouraging.
After the player meeting, round one of our adventure finally began.

This is the first tournament in a long time that I cannot vividly remember all of my matches, so if I make some mistakes in describing the games,
please forgive me.

Round 1 vs. Nic Lanzo with Red Deck Wins

I won the first game on the back of Lightning Bolt for his turn 1 Guide, followed by Jace and Inferno Titan.

-1 Oracle of Mul Daya, -1 Jace, -1 Avenger of Zendikar, -2 Precursor Golem, -4 Mana Leak
+ 2 Flashfreeze, 3 Pyroclasm, 1 Burst Lightning, 3 Obstinate Baloth.

Games 2 and 3, I kept questionable hands, with two red removal spells and a Flashfreeze both times but no green mana. My greedy keeps came back to bite
me, and I died to Devastating Summons and Goblin Bushwhacker, one turn before I would stabilize and likely win both games.

After losing round one of a ten-round tournament, I was a little disheartened, especially considering I had been looking for something good to happen
to get my mind off of my ex. But I gave myself a pep talk and decided to approach this tournament like every other one and to just look for the right
play every turn and let the chips fall where they may. Win or lose, I was just going to try and play to the best of my ability.

Round 2 vs. Anthony Richardson with U/B Poison

Anthony took at least two mulligans in game one, maybe three, and I won with Jace and Titan again.

Game 2: he had a much better curve, involving an Inquisition, a Necropede, and three Duresses. At some point, I resolved a Precursor Golem, and he had
used Doom Blade the turn before on Lotus Cobra, leaving himself without a way to kill the one-man army. I don’t really remember how I sided for this
match. I had a feeling he was playing a U/B Control deck, so I brought in some cards that didn’t end up having much effect.

Round 3 vs. Christian Zuelke with U/W Caw-Blade

Christian was playing U/W Caw Blade and seemed like a very solid player. Fortunately for me, I had Lotus Cobra on turn 2, and he was quickly

-1 Avenger of Zendikar, 2 Lightning Bolts, 1 Inferno Titan
+1 Frost Titan, 2 Tumble Magnets, 1 Deprive.

Game 2: he had Squadron Hawk on turn 2 again, but he ended up missing a few land drops, and my draw was sick, so I rode Inferno Titan to victory.

Round 4 vs. Adam Lord with Goblins

Adam was playing Goblins, and he missed his third land drop for a few turns game one, which gave me the time to play Garruk Wildspeaker into an empty
board and untap lands with Mana Leak in hand. When he couldn’t kill Garruk the next turn, I was able to play Inferno Titan, and the game was over.

I sided the same as before against RDW, except I left in the fourth Inferno Titan and took out one Flashfreeze because he had more creatures in his

Game 2: I remember playing a Pyroclasm and at least one Lightning Bolt, which bought me all the time in the world. My expensive spells took over the
game from there without much difficulty.

Round 5 vs. Anthony Wilson with RDW

Anthony and I had sat across from each other at the player meeting and exchanged decklists to check each other for mistakes, so we both knew what the
other was playing. Anthony was traditional RDW, with notable sideboard cards being Mark of Mutiny and Molten-Tail Masticore (which I didn’t realize he
would bring in against me).

Game 1: he ran me over in traditional fashion for the matchup with Goblin Guide, Lightning Bolt for Lotus Cobra, and another dude.

I sided the same as I did for round one.

Game 2: I managed to kill most of his early plays, and then I ended up winning with an assortment of Raging Ravine and Lotus Cobras.

Game 3: I kept Pyroclasm, Flashfreeze, and two Obstinate Baloths, along with three lands. His first play was Plated Geopede, which died to my
Pyroclasm. He passed on turns 3 and 4, and after I played Obstinate Baloth, he played Molten-Tail Masticore, which was awkward because I had no way to
kill it in my deck. I attacked into his Masticore for four, then dropped my other Baloth, leaving my life total at 23 to his 14.

He paid for Masticore, then played Mark of Mutiny on the untapped Baloth, and rumbled in for nine, bringing me to fourteen. I wasn’t sure what to think
of my position because now that I could untap with Flashfreeze, I felt that I was fairly safe, but if he drew creatures, I was going to die if I
couldn’t find a way to race him.

He only had two cards in hand, but if they were dudes, I’d be in trouble. I attacked back to put him at six, played Raging Ravine, and passed the turn,
hopeful that he would try to Mark my Baloth again and go for the kill with Masticore’s ability, but he untapped and immediately reached for his deck,
and I celebrated inside, as I reminded him that his Masticore had to be sacrificed after he’d drawn. He conceded, upset at himself, but was cordial
about the result. Anthony was a really nice guy and interesting to talk to; hopefully I’ll see him at future events.

Round 6 vs. Justin Parnell with Grand Architect

Justin Parnell is a friend from NC whom I’ve played with quite a bit. I knew he was playing Ali’s Grand Architect deck, and he felt that the matchup
was miserable. Both games I had turn 2 Lotus Cobra, and when he couldn’t remove it, I vomited Precursor Golems and Inferno Titans into play, and they
made short work of him. That may seem like a very glazed over description, but he really wasn’t in either game, simply because untapping with Cobra in
play against his deck puts me in an almost unreachable position. It was unfortunate to have to beat a close friend, but that’s Magic. This match was
really enjoyable because Justin and I are always very casual and have fun when we play, and this time was no different.

Round 7 vs. Garrett Young with Valakut

Garrett was a friendly guy from Kentucky, and we had a few laughs before the match, but then I put my game face on. Game 1: he mulliganed once, and I
managed to resolve a Jace, thinking I was safe with Mana Leak up, but then he had Primeval Titan and Summoning Trap after I countered. As I bemoaned
the fact that Valakut players always have the two-card combination, the look on his face cut me off midsentence—he had clearly missed. I thanked my
lucky stars and untapped, played Inferno Titan, and killed him shortly after.

-4 Lightning Bolt, – 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, -2 Precursor Golem
+4 Flashfreeze, 1 Deprive, 1 Frost Titan, 1 Tumble Magnet

Game 2: he played Inferno Titan, which I had to counter, because I had no other way to deal with it in hand, and he then played Summoning Trap. As I
silently lamented the Magic gods for again delivering the two-card combo to a Valakut player (they ALWAYS have it!), he demurely put a Lotus Cobra in
play with the spell. I almost thought I was off the hook, but he didn’t seem to mind the Cobra at all, so I was sure he had another Trap, which he did.
The second one of course hit Primeval Titan, which, combined with the Harrow in his hand and the Act of Treason to give it haste, was enough to put me
at one life with Valakut activations.

When I couldn’t kill the Titan and Cobra on my turn, we headed to game three. My plays in the third game were Lotus Cobra, Explore, Mana Leak, a ramp
spell, and then turn 4 Avenger of Zendikar. When I followed it up with a fetchland, that was good enough for the win.

Round 8 vs. Chris Yarborough with U/W/B Caw-Blade

Game one was a fairly long game, with both of us throwing several haymakers. I killed a Gideon Jura with damage from Lotus Cobra, Lightning Bolt, and
an Inferno Titan. But he eventually stuck a replacement, and with two cards in my hand (including an Inferno Titan for lethal) and an Avenger on the
board, he drew his second Sword of Feast and Famine and had enough mana to equip both, putting me in a rough position.

I needed two turns to kill him, but I was going to die to his Creeping Tar Pit with Swords on it. He then played a Tumble Magnet, making my position
even worse, and I needed to come up with an answer quickly. On my turn, I drew Preordain and saw an Inferno Titan and a land. Unfortunately for me,
while the land would’ve made my Plant tokens enough to win, I had mentally removed Avenger of Zendikar from my board because of the Tumble Magnet. So I
put the land on the bottom, keeping the Titan.

I killed Gideon and put him to six, playing the Inferno Titan. On his turn, he drew his third Gideon, and after animating Tar Pit, he tapped my Titan,
forgetting that his Tar Pit was unblockable. So I went to five, but with his Tumble Magnet tapped, I was able to draw my third Inferno Titan, and since
the one in play could attack now, the conference of the Titans convened on his face. I don’t remember the other game in our match, but I did end up
defeating him, even though I certainly didn’t deserve to with that botched Preordain.

Round 9 vs. Brian Eason with U/W Caw-Blade

This round was a feature match, but it wasn’t covered. I won our die roll and had a Lotus Cobra on turn 2, which allowed me to play a Jace, the Mind
Sculptor. After bouncing his Stoneforge and brainstorming the following turn into an Inferno Titan, the game was over.

I sided the same as I did in round three.

Game 2: I attacked multiple Lotus Cobras into Condemns from Brian, although I didn’t have a lot of gas, so I’m not sure how much the Cobras would have
helped me. He made short work of me with a Sworded guy.

Game 3: I think Brian was a little land light, and I ended up overwhelming him with Jace and Inferno Titan because he couldn’t keep up counter mana and
progress his board state at the same time.

After winning the match, I was very excited because usually one loss in the last round means you can draw in. But after seeing myself in sixth place in
the standings before round ten, I knew I was going to have to play for my spot in Top 8. And then they called out pairings for round 10.

Round 10 vs. Auston Tramper

Auston was hoping to draw, but I had to give him the unfortunate news that I wasn’t able to draw. He was also playing RUG, and game one, we both killed
each other’s Lotus Cobras. After a few Precursors and Inferno Titans got Mana Leaked or Bolted, I managed to come out on top because he brainstormed
with a Jace, leaving it vulnerable to Inferno Titan. The Titan mopped up pretty quickly after that.

Game 2: I ended up being able to resolve a Frost Titan because he was a little land light, and together with Raging Ravine, the Titan was good enough
to finish him off. I felt bad that I had to crush Auston’s hopes for Top 8 because I’ve been in his spot before and know it sucks to lose the last
round when your tiebreaks are good enough to draw in.

And suddenly, I had done it! They announced my name as first place after the Swiss. All my friends congratulated me, and my friends and family back
home sent me a barrage of text messages. After losing round one, I’d sacked my way through the rest of the tournament, making a few good plays along
the way. Although I was ecstatic that I’d made Top 8, I still had to stay focused so that I wouldn’t play too terribly when it counted.

Quarters vs. David Sharfman with U/W Control

His list was very interesting, but I think I had a decent advantage in the matchup. The game was covered very well online, so I’ll
just throw out some of the interesting situations.

Game 1: I had out an Inferno Titan, a Jace, and Garruk on three. I decided to play Precursor Golem, rather than just holding it and playing around Day
of Judgment, because I valued both of my planeswalkers very highly. My reasoning was that if I didn’t play Precursor, he wouldn’t be under enough
pressure to be forced to play Day that turn and could kill one of my planeswalkers with Celestial Colonnade and then play Day the next turn, which
would leave us with similar board states, but he would still have Colonnade vs. my Garruk or Jace, which favors him generally. So, by playing
Precursor, I force him to have Day, or he dies, and if he does have it, it enables me to have another turn with both of my planeswalkers. I’m not
saying my play was correct by any means, but that was why I did what I did. Feel free to comment on this in the forums.

Game 2: David was land light, and I stuck a Cobra, leading to a swift victory.

I headed back to the hotel after we found some delicious burgers, and after another visit from our friends Jack and Coke, I decided how I was going to
sideboard in the morning and fell fast asleep. Too soon, I was woken up and drowsily made my way to the site with everyone at 8 sharp. Unfortunately
for us, other players were casually late, so I missed out on a few precious minutes of sleep. Korey McDuffie was my opponent in Top 4, and I knew he
was a high-caliber player. We got set up under the cameras, and after losing the roll, the game started.

Semis vs. Korey McDuffie with U/W Caw-Blade

I played fairly conservatively this whole match, which the commentators apparently disagreed with. I played around Condemn by not attacking with Lotus
Cobra for most of the match because the damage just isn’t a big enough reward to risk losing the card. My draw game one was fairly threat light, so I
wasn’t able to defeat his Baneslayer Angel with a Sword of Feast and Famine on it. I couldn’t kill it, and I couldn’t race it, so I died.

I brought in Burst Lightning in addition to my usual Caw-Blade board cards because I realized that killing Celestial Colonnade is impossible for my
deck otherwise.

Game 2: I played Lotus Cobra, which he answered with Squadron Hawk. I ended up not playing the Frost Titan in my hand because it was my only threat,
and if he had Mana Leak and Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Stoneforge Mystic, I would be in a very bad position.

Eventually, I reached nine mana, so I was able to force my Frost Titan through Mana Leak. I tapped his Squadron Hawk, leaving him with Stoneforge
Mystic and five lands untapped. Luckily, I think Korey made a mistake the next turn, equipping his Stoneforge with Sword of Feast and Famine, rather
than playing Day of Judgment. This let me get in a big attack for twelve damage with my Titan, Cobra, and Raging Ravine, while still representing Mana
Leak and Deprive, which I used to stop his Day, sealing up the game.

Game 3; I mulliganed into Preordain, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Deprive, Mana Leak, and a few lands. I Preordained, putting Mana Leak and Copperline
Gorge on the bottom, drawing Raging Ravine. Korey passed back to me, and I declined to run my newly drawn Explore into a counterspell because it would
still give me value on turn 4. After he Tectonic Edged both of my Raging Ravines, I held my Oracle of Mul Daya back from either Flashfreeze or Mana
Leak, which may or may not have been correct, but I felt that I wanted to fight a counter war on his turn, then put him on the back foot.

Korey played Stoneforge on three mana, and after I countered it, he played a tapped land, leaving himself with one mana up. I debated between playing
the Oracle and the Jace in my hand, but I was fairly certain he had sided out his Spell Pierces, so I went with Jace. Unfortunately for me, Korey had
not sided them all out, and he crushed my hopes of landing Jace. I decided to pass again on my next turn, just because I thought his landing a Jace or
Gideon Jura would be too much for me to come back from.

Korey played Jace into my Deprive, and then I attacked with Cobra—because if he had Condemn, I wanted him to Condemn my Cobra, rather than saving it
for my Inferno Titan. Then I played Oracle, hit a land off the top, and left Mountain showing on top. My hand was Inferno Titan, Tumble Magnet, and
land. Korey untapped and played Baneslayer Angel. Oracle revealed another Cobra after I drew the Mountain, but I was able to play both Tumble Magnet
and Titan before saying go.

I tapped Korey’s Baneslayer on his turn, then he played Gideon Jura and used the +2 ability. I drew the other Cobra, revealing Tumble Magnet on top,
and attacked Gideon, dealing three to Korey’s head. I decided to play my other Cobra; because with Korey at twelve, it left my non-Inferno Titan
creatures at 6 total power, and his life was twelve, so if he somehow dealt with my Titan, it would still only take two swings to kill him.

Korey played another Gideon, killing my Inferno Titan, and said go. After I drew the second Magnet, I revealed Preordain on top. I killed Gideon with
my team, played the other Magnet, and said go. On Korey’s turn, I tapped his Baneslayer with the fresh Tumble Magnet, and he said go.

My draw step gave me the revealed Preordain and then showed me a Misty Rainforest on top, which I played with Oracle, revealing an Inferno Titan on
top. I drew the Titan with Preordain, leaving Scalding Tarn on top, which I also played with Oracle, revealing Jace. I chose to play the Inferno Titan
main phase, so that he wouldn’t have mana to block with Celestial Colonnade if he countered it. I was 100% sure Korey had a Flashfreeze in hand, so
when he played Mana Leak on my Titan, I knew he wanted me to pay by shuffling away Jace with my fetchland, only for the Titan to still end up countered
anyways. With this in mind, I decided that keeping Jace would be more valuable than getting rid of a Flashfreeze. This decision proved very fruitful
because as soon as I cast Jace the next turn, Korey extended the hand.

I was through to the finals! I thought that I was actually going to win the whole thing, giving me a glimmer of hope after the two worst weeks of my
life. StarCityGames.com again covered the match, so
I’ll just touch up on the notable plays in my and Edgar’s match.

Finals vs. Edgar Flores with U/W Caw-Blade

In game one, he played Preordain turn 1, and I thought if he had Spell Pierce, he would have left the mana up to hopefully catch an Explore. I was 95%
that he had Mana Leak, however, so on turn 3, after having already resolved an Explore, I decided to play the second one in my hand before playing my
land, hoping he would use Mana Leak to counter. Unfortunately, he had Spell Pierce as well as the Mana Leak I read him for, but my play was clearly a
mistake because I gave his Spell Pierce value.

In game two, there was a turn where I could have killed Edgar by bouncing a Squadron Hawk with Jace (killing it) and playing another Jace and
brainstorming into a fetchland to animate Raging Ravine. I was scared of that play for some reason though. I thought that I would likely lose the game
if he had either Into the Roil or Mana Leak, although on further thought, I’m not sure if that’s true either.

I ended up brainstorming into Inferno Titan and lands and made another mistake by not leaving a land in hand and my second Jace on top of my deck. I
decided to go for the Titan because Edgar had already used one of his two Flashfreezes, but he had the second as well. Then on his turn, he used Sword
of Feast and Famine to get the other Jace from my hand, and I was quickly overwhelmed from there.

Congratulations to Edgar on his well-deserved victory!

While I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t win in the finals, I certainly didn’t deserve to with my play, and second place is a finish I can be
proud of. My rating also jumped a fair amount—enough that I am now qualified for US Nationals, so not having to grind in Regionals will be nice.

With 24 Open Series points, I think I’ll be heading to all of the events that are within a reasonable driving distance this year. If I happen to
stumble my way into the finals of another one, I’ll probably end up trying to hit all of the events on the schedule. I hope you all have enjoyed my
report, and any comments on my writing or plays are welcome!

Thanks for reading!
John Winters

P.S. I apologize for the extreme length of this article; there was just so much I wanted to say. I’ll try to cut it short next time.