Don’t Draw Into 9th, Kids: SCG Seattle Standard Open Report

Adam Prosak made a whoopsie by drawing into 9th place in Seattle with his Pyromancer Ascension deck. Don’t make the same mistake, kids! Read his report and his decklist.

Pyromancer Ascension and I have a bit of a history. As I’ve written before, I have the fairly bad habit of playing terrible decks. For the past two years that Pyromancer Ascension has been a Magic card, I have tried to play the card whenever possible—generally to my detriment. What I’ve lacked in good deck decision skills I’ve been able to make up for in a more complete understanding of the card, and what it takes for a deck to be good.

I hope that someone, somewhere, can take my understanding of Pyromancer Ascension and apply it to other cards, both present and future.

The card Pyromancer Ascension is easily one of the most powerful things you can do in recent Magic history. An active Ascension is almost always game over in combination with something as simple as a Preordain or a Ponder. Although a second copy of Ascension won’t help you get your first one active, the engine is otherwise self-sustaining—the cards you use to get the Ascension active are the same cards that that benefit from an active Ascension. All of your cards are equally good pre-flip and post-flip.

On the other hand, a card like Bloodchief Ascension requires you to do things in an awkward order. Generally you want to kill creatures as they come into play, but Bloodchief Ascension wants you to wait. Splinter Twin combos work because it curves a three-drop with flash into a four-drop enchantment. It would be far worse if the Twin itself needed to be played first, perhaps to the point of unplayable.

The downside of a card like Pyromancer Ascension is that it requires you to build decks poorly. In general, a deck with a large amount of cheap cantrips like Ponder and Preordain would benefit greatly from playing one or two copies of a wide variety of cards, so that the correct card for the situation or matchup can be found easily. However, Ascension requires the full four copies as often as possible. There is nothing worse than playing six different spells and not having a counter on your Ascension.

So when is Pyromancer Ascension a reasonable deck to play? An Ascension deck needs a few other things in order to be a reasonable choice.

1) A critical mass of cantrips. Without both Ponder and Preordain, it is actually quite difficult to get an Ascension active—See Beyond simply isn’t good enough. Two cards for two mana is unacceptable. Being forced to play suboptimal cards is especially bad for an Ascension deck, as you need to play as many copies of your cards as possible.

2) It is important to avoid diminishing returns on the spells you do play. There are certain cards where the first copy is very good, but subsequent copies are fairly ineffective. A good example of this is a card like Deprive. I love Deprive, but it is generally not a card you can afford to play early in the game. Therefore having a bunch of copies in your deck is not feasible, which eliminates it from consideration for an Ascension deck.

3) You need to be able to get everything done in only a few card slots. Into the Roil is probably the best card possible for this deck, as it does everything. It can draw a card, which is obviously crucial when you’re trying to play a large quantity of spells. It’s your answer to practically everything on the board, and combos particularly well with burn spells to allow the deck to function as a very reasonable control deck. Find your burn spells against cheap creatures and your Into the Roils against every other permanent. Mana Leak serves a similar purpose, answering everything the burn spells cannot. In addition, Mana Leak becomes fairly close to a hard counter with a flipped Ascension, making Mana Leak yet another card you want to draw at all points of the game.

4) A quality Plan B. If your opponent focuses on taking out your Ascensions, you need to be able to power through that. Jace’s Ingenuity is basically your Plan B. In some situations, it allows you to pull ahead on cards and win a legitimate control game. While Foresee and Tezzeret’s Gambit also draw you extra cards, you really want the instant speed and the extra card that Jace’s Ingenuity provides. The instant speed part is important because Splinter Twin is in the format—both our Twins and our opponent’s Twins. Tapping mana on your main phase can lead to you getting killed very easily, and it takes away the threat of you killing your opponent as well. As for sideboarding in Splinter Twin, it is much better at fighting off cards that destroy enchantments, as you only need to have Twin in play for an attack step as opposed to multiple turns.

Here is the list that I played in the StarCityGames.com Seattle Standard Open.

The Mental Missteps were a mistake. With as many burn spells as I have, I don’t really need to be countering Goblin Guides. This basically left them to counter discard spells (not that popular) and Nature’s Claim. With seven non-combo spots in the sideboard, dedicating three of them to this narrow an answer was just wrong.

Most of the rounds played out in a similar fashion. All of my opponents were from the great state of Washington, and most of them played reasonably well. I won nearly every game 1, as there isn’t much to interact with Pyromancer Ascension in game 1 and I didn’t have any of those rare but miserable games where I would tread water because I couldn’t find Ascension.

Once we went to sideboarding, the power of the deck showed. In some games, my opponent would predict what I was sideboarding, and then we would play a real game. For example, my Valakut opponent correctly identified that I would be on Splinter Twin. However, he can’t do anything profitable against the combo so I won anyway. Then there were the games that my opponent would just guess wrong, and he would have multiple dead cards. For example, my Mono Red opponent lost a game as a result of having dead Dismembers and Act of Aggressions in his deck; I didn’t have any creatures in my deck.

I dropped a match to eventual Top 8 competitor Greg Peloquin, playing mono-red in the first game and getting beat down in game 2 by Obstinate Baloth and Wurmcoil Engine as I failed to do anything of relevance. However, the other matches went well and I sat at 7-1 when the fateful Round 9 happened.

I intentionally drew out of the Top 8.

Here are the standings after Round 8.

For those of you that don’t know how tiebreakers and the pairings system work, in every round of Swiss but the last you are paired randomly among your point group. Getting paired up/down means that there were an odd number of people at your point group, and the person who gets paired up/down has nothing to do with tiebreakers—they are randomly selected.

However, in the last round of Swiss the algorithm changes. Instead, you are paired in order of current standings. First plays second, third plays fourth, and so on—unless they have already played, in which case the next available person is chosen.

I could see that if I drew with my opponent, the third place Charles Wong, a draw between Edgar Flores and Nick Spagnolo would create three people with 23 points and myself with 22. That’s four players. In addition, there were nine other people at 21 points, meaning they play five matches and potentially five more players reach 24 points. That leaves nine—of course, since the other eight people have either 23 or 24 points, that leaves me out of the tournament on 22 points. I don’t know what happened, but I did the math wrong and finished in 9th place as a result.

So take a look at your standings, figure out how many people can pass you, and then choose to play or draw based on that. If you want to get tiebreakers involved, my recommendation is that you are 2-3% clear of the people that you are trying to beat out for a spot, at least for a seven to ten round tournament. Fewer rounds means that tiebreakers go through bigger changes each round, as each opponent counts for a larger percentage of your tiebreakers.

As for Legacy, I will repeat something I said on camera: my mother always told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

At least I learned never to play Hymn to Tourach again!

The actual bright side to the Legacy tournament was that I had the opportunity to do some coverage on SCGLive for a few rounds. I really enjoy doing coverage, and I hope that I am able to do so in the future.

Overall, the entire weekend was a blast. Patrick Sullivan, Kyle Boddy, and Cedric Phillips are three of my favorite people and there were plenty of other people that I truly enjoyed seeing. I’m also very happy for Alex Amato, a Phoenix local who was able to make the Top 8 of the Legacy tournament.

Thanks for reading,
Adam Prosak