The #SCGINVI in Las Vegas last weekend was the best of weekends. It was the worst of weekends.
How is that possible? That’s a good question. It seems like an oxymoron. An impossibility. But try as I might to explain it otherwise, I can’t seem to find a way. I loved it. I despised it. I had fun. I wanted it to be over. I laughed. I got mad. It was the first law of Vegas-dynamics. For every reaction, there was an equal and opposite reaction. For every win, a loss. For every moment of frustration, a shout of joy. Some of my least favorite moments were when I was winning, and my most favorite during times of loss. I was exhausted. I was energized. Nothing made sense.
For weeks, Las Vegas and the #SCGINVI was on my radar. Yet, I simply couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to actually attend this event. Las Vegas would happen after the tail end of a marathon. During the months of October and November, I took part in a true grind. Eight straight weeks of nonstop Magic. Fourteen-hour drives, two-stop flights. Week in, week out. After the grind finally ended, I had a week off, and then there was Vegas.
While I had a really long time to think about it, I ended up not making my final decision on whether or not to go to Vegas until the week of the event. I wanted to wait until my eight-week long grind was over to decide. Only then would I know whether I was too burned out on Magic to make the trip, or whether I had enough time to recharge to where I could enjoy it again.
I eventually decided to go. Tuesday I booked a ticket. Believe it or not, it was a tough decision for me. I wanted to play in the tournaments, but the thought of traveling across country was filling me with a sense of dread. I hate traveling more than most people, I assume. I’m an extremely introverted person, and I get anxious from being in crowds of people or forced social interactions. Being in crowded public places is kind of a nightmare scenario for me. Airports and airplanes are therefore not really my cup of tea. Long security lines, busy hallways, being smushed into an airplane with no leg room with hundreds of other people crammed nearby…the only thing worse than this is the same exact scenario, but in a country where I don’t speak the language. I have to basically pump myself up to go on these trips, but once I am there I typically enjoy myself.
I knew I would regret it too much if I skipped it. It was my last chance to qualify for the #SCGPC, and it was the first event of the new 2016 SCG Tour®™ season. I am excited about the new changes to what used to be the Open Series, and so I was itching to get a head start on that. Really, there was too much on the line to skip it. I knew that, but whether I could overcome my hatred toward the travel it would take to get there was another thing.
My preparation for Vegas was interesting. In my week off, I had to move apartments. That meant finding a new place to live and then physically making the move. In my new apartment, I didn’t get the internet working for a week, though not for lack of effort. Getting things set up and working with Cox was as much of a hassle as one would expect. Or in my case, way more than I expected. I’ve set up internet with other companies before and had it be a relatively simple and painless process, and my naivety was my downfall. Long story short, it took me a week and a lot of what would normally be hair pulling, but in my case was just forehead scrunching.
During the seven days of drought, where I was left without a connection to the internet, I was forced to rely on my instincts and wiles to survive. And by that, I mean I had to go over to friends’ houses and literally bum internet off them. It was the only way. The alternative was not a life worth living. It’s 2015. Taking the internet away from me would be akin to throwing me back into the Dark Ages. I’d be lost, in a world I didn’t understand, with no sense of direction. Others would revel in their connection to the World Wide Web, while I would wage war on nearby warlords for Feudal dominance. It wouldn’t have been pretty.
Sitting on couches in living rooms at other people’s houses is where my testing took place.
I was locked in on Twin for Modern. I assumed I would just play U/R Twin, but I actually ended up playing Grixis Twin instead. I wasn’t winning as much as I wanted with straight U/R, and I figured with Grixis I could improve my matchup against some of the fair decks like Jund or Abzan. Burn and Zoo seemed like they were dying down some in popularity, so I was willing to take the hit against them in terms of deck edge to improve my fair matchups.
For Standard, I knew pretty early on that I wanted to play Jeskai Black. I tested a bunch with and without Mantis Riders. I never really came to a conclusion whether I wanted to play them or not, but I ended up deciding to leave them out of my list. The deck is simply more cohesive without Mantis Riders. It’s a very powerful card, but it doesn’t really fit what the deck is looking to do.
I ended up playing this list. It turned out to just be an amalgamation of the ideas of everyone I talked to about the deck. S. Daryl Ayers was also playing the deck and we had the same flight to Las Vegas, and were staying in the same room. That gave us a lot of time to discuss the deck. I ended up just adopting a lot of his ideas on the deck, including playing three maindeck Painful Truths. It’s possible it should have just been four. The card is simply nutso.
I also cut down to 25 land on his behest, and I believe that to also be correct. Games go long, and an easy way to lose is to simply flood out. While you draw a lot of cards with this deck, you also only have Jace for filtering, and a lot of cards have marginal utility at various stages of the game. 25 land is more than enough to ensure you hit your third land to start casting cards like Painful Truths, which is going to find you even more land. I was scared about playing less than 26 land, but having now played two tournaments with the deck, I’m fully on board with 25 (although nobody I talk to about the deck agrees with me). You really don’t need 26.
When I showed up to the tournament, I also spent a good while talking to Todd Anderson about the deck. He convinced me to play Monastery Mentor. It was a card I had originally in my list, and had cut after testing with it on Magic Online. It turns out that I was just dumb for cutting it. Mentor is the truth, and the best way you have to win a variety of matchups, like Eldrazi
Ramp and Rally the Ancestors. Mentor is absurd. Thanks, Todd.
Todd also convinced me to jam four copies of Roast in my 75. This was a decision I was also happy with. Soulfire Grand Master + Roast is a nice wombo combo against aggressive decks, and Roast is simply the best card against decks like Abzan. Papa Roast killed a lot of Anafenzas, Siege Rhinos, and Tasigurs. It did its job, and did it well. All I could think about when casting Roast was the Hearthstone card SI:7 Agent. All the Hearthstone cards have animations/sounds when they get played. When SI:7 Agent comes into play, he says “Ha, this guy’s toast,” and his ability often kills a creature at the same time. Every time I Roasted something I thought to myself: “Ha, this guy’s Roast.”
Anyway, the long and short of it is that this deck is absurd, and I think you’re making a mistake by playing anything else. I don’t really say that too often, but this deck is simply just the best deck in Standard, and I don’t think it’s a particularly close call. It’s consistent, powerful, and resilient. It’s explosive and it goes over the top. It’s a Modern deck in Standard.
The Vegas Experience
My trip to Vegas started like any other good trips begin. With no sleep. I was under-tested and underprepared for the tournament. I only had a few days to really prepare for Vegas, and only via some quality internet-stealing couch-testing. I had posted on Twitter that I was just playing the most powerful cards in both formats, and that was no lie. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Standard and Modern. What more do you need? Sleep? Nah.
Thanks to my last minute decision to book, I saved $500 on my plane ticket by flying out of Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s about a three hour drive from Roanoke to Raleigh. I was going to need to drive to Raleigh on Thursday morning, park my car at a friend’s house, and then get a ride from him to the airport.
There was one catch. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable driving my car without first getting some new tires and an oil change. I tried to get that done on Wednesday, but all these car places were booked solid through the day. That left me just one option. Hitting up Firestone at 7 am Thursday, getting my car stuff taken care of, and then high tailing it to Raleigh to get there in time to fly out.
Firestone set up an appointment with me for 7 am Thursday morning, and they assured me it would only take an hour or maybe an hour and a half to get everything done. That would be plenty of time for me to get to Raleigh.
Wednesday night, I only got an hour and a half of sleep. I had a bunch of stuff to get done, and thanks to my move and a lot of my stuff being yet unpacked, it took me quite a while to find all of the Magic cards I needed for the tournament. I figured I would just be able to sleep on the plane and it would be alright.
I woke up tired on Thursday morning and went over to Firestone to get my car stuff done. Like any other time I’ve ever tried to fly out of North Carolina to save money, somehow things didn’t work out right. It took them three hours to get my car done, despite assurances it would only take an hour and a half. The guy that was working on my car took his sweet, sweet time. I’m fairly certain he could have replaced my tires, and changed my oil in less than three hours, but that’s not what happened.
No sleep. Running late. Off to a great start. Raleigh ended up being a closer drive than expected and I managed to make it in time. I didn’t sleep particularly well on either flight and eventually made it to Vegas around 7 PM Vegas time.
Unfortunately, I was staying with Shaheen the degenerate Soorani. His flight didn’t arrive in Vegas until 11 PM, and he made the classic blunder of taking the shuttle to the hotel we were staying at instead of just taking a cab. He didn’t make it to the hotel until 12:30 AM. Daryl Ayers and I were forced to gamble to pass the time while we waited on Shaheen. We ended up plus a few hundred dollars each. Then Shaheen took so long to get there that we were forced yet again to gamble even more, losing everything we had won and more. The classic Vegas experience. You never stop when you’re ahead and eventually the house always wins.
When Shaheen arrived, we decided that we were “forced” to gamble again, you know, because Shaheen hadn’t had a chance to throw his money away on Craps yet. You don’t have to sell me on another opportunity to part me with my money. What can I say? I’m an idiot.
By the time I got to bed on Thursday night, it was about 2 AM Vegas time, which is 5 AM my time. After a night of no sleep, I got to basically run it back with less than a full night’s sleep leading into the #SCGINVI.
It’s a miracle I didn’t scrub out.
Oh wait. I did. Totally and completely. I went 1-3 in Standard and then 1-1 in Modern until I died: eliminated from day 2 at 2-4. Obviously I played on anyway for no value, and finished with a respectable 3-5 record. I went full Shambling Attendants on that Invitational. No delve. Full cast, please.
Despite that, I still liked my decks. I posted that I thought I still had made good deck choices despite failing to win much in either format. It turned out that I was 100% correct, as Grixis Twin won the Modern Classic in Andrew Tenjum’s hands (his list was quite a bit different though), and, well…spoiler alert…Jeskai Black won the Standard Open. Also Snape killed Dumbledore. You know, for good measure. I’d spoil The Force Awakens here as well, but I haven’t seen it yet. Lucky you. Also, I’d never do that. I’m not that much of an ass.
Friday was the start of a dynamic that lasted through the weekend. The tournament and Magic aspect of the weekend sucked. The gambling and after hours aspect of the weekend was awesome.
I did horribly in the #SCGINVI. More than just that, I was exhausted and hungry. After breaking from my diet and gaining a bunch of weight back, I’ve decided to go strong again. I started on December 1st and I’m not stopping until I hit my goal, however long that takes. I’m already down about ten pounds, which is a good start and motivation to keep going. I can’t say 100% whether dieting affects my performance in tournaments, but this is yet another tournament that I’ve won right after I’ve started the diet up again. Maybe I should just keep stopping dieting and then starting again right before big events.
The convention center in Las Vegas wasn’t exactly brimming with playable food options. My only option for food was to order a chicken sandwich without bread. That chicken sandwich was so bare anyway, that I had essentially just ordered a piece of chicken for $6.50. It was awful and I ended up going through the tournament day on Friday through Sunday without eating a whole lot.
Playing Magic was also miserable. This Standard format has a lot of ups and downs to it. I actually really enjoy playing Jeskai Black. It’s a fun deck with a lot of decisions. However, the mirror match is absolutely miserable. It’s one of the least fun matches one can play. It’s not because the games aren’t interactive. Far from it. There is a lot of interaction and play to it. However, the games take forever. Both players just two-for-one each other about 40 times per game in an effort to finally stick an advantage big enough to win. Even if both players play at a very fast rate of play, a full three game match can still easily take the full 50 minutes.
On Saturday, I signed up for the Standard Open, having missed day two of the Invitational. I had a bye in round 1. In round 2, I was paired against the Jeskai Black mirror and we drew. After round 2, I was stuck in the draw bracket. I had another thirteen rounds of this tournament to play, and I was in the draw bracket.
I seriously wanted to just drop right then and there. I could conceivably have just conceded to my opponent to avoid having a draw, but from a tournament equity perspective, that wasn’t the right choice.
I spent the rest of the tournament playing Jeskai Black mirror after Jeskai Black mirror. Sprinkle in some Mardu and Four-Color Rally–two other absurdly grindy matches that also take up the full 50 minutes–and that was the entirety of my day one.
I was exhausted, hungry, and forced to play the full 50 minute round every single round in absurdly grindy matches. It was headache inducing, and my headache only grew throughout the day. I was winning, but Saturday was easily the least fun day of Magic I’ve ever played at a Magic tournament. I hated every round, win or lose. The worst part was that since most of my matches were taking up the full 50 minutes, a crowd would always gather to watch. I just wanted to finish matches in peace and spend some time by myself to recharge for the next round, but I was never afforded that. It was like living in a Magic purgatory. It was all I could do to hold in my frustration throughout the day. I’m not sure I succeeded.
I finished day one at 7-1-1, but I didn’t even want to come back for day 2. The inverse of my miserable tournament experience was going gambling with Shaheen and Daryl. We had a blast hitting up the various casinos and mostly losing our money, but it was a lot of fun. It was easily some of the most fun I’ve ever had going to a tournament.
I basically had the option of sleeping or gambling while I was in Vegas. I’m not much of a gambler by nature. I rarely take risks, and I tend to go for the sure option rather than the risky option most of the time. However, I figured I was only going to be in Vegas a few times in my life, so I might as well make the most of it. No gamble, no future. After Vegas, I can safely say that I have a future, but that future is short a few hundred dollars.
Sleep or gambling? I chose gambling. I barely slept the entire time I was in Vegas. It was so bad that I actually started dreaming about gambling. I also started sleepwalking. I used to sleepwalk when I was a kid, but it’s been years and years since I’ve done that. I really have no idea what was going on. I woke up in the middle of the night at one point and I was sitting in the hotel chair holding Magic cards in my hand. When I had gone to sleep hours prior, I was comfortably in the bed. I don’t know how I got into that chair or why. During the night, I slept fitfully, dreaming about losing hands of Blackjack and then throwing money at the Roulette wheel and winning it back. That wasn’t too much different than reality.
The entire weekend was really just one big haze. While I don’t drink much alcohol, and in fact I can’t really drink any while on my diet, suffering from sleep deprivation really isn’t that much different than being drunk. Everything that happened on the trip is one big blur. Even on my plane ride back home from Vegas, I had issues sleeping on the plane, falling into this kind of half-conscious state where I wasn’t really asleep but wasn’t really awake either. I wasn’t really capable of any kind of conscious thought, however, the entire time I was aware of this completely immersing feeling of being uncomfortable. My body itched, I was cramped in the middle seat between two people, it was either too hot or too cold. I don’t really know if I was asleep or not, but the plane ride both went by faster than normal yet felt like an eternity at the same time. It was Purgatoricious.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. By the time I came back on Sunday to play day 2 of the Standard Open, I had finally outpaced everyone else in the draw bracket. I had advanced to 7-1-1, and left the rest of the draw bracket behind. I would say that day 2 went a lot better for me, but in reality, it was mostly just as miserable. I got paired up and paired down a bunch, which meant that I wasn’t forced into the burning hell of playing endless Jeskai Black mirrors.
My exhaustion had hit its peak on Sunday. My zombie-like mental state, coupled with the difficulty of playing this deck and the requirement to play at a blistering fast pace in order to avoid draws, meant that I was playing really sloppy. I kept missing a ton of fetchland activation damage from both me and my opponent. I got a warning one round for casting Painful Truths for three, but I tapped Swamp, Plains, and Shambling Vent. I could have paid using other lands, I just was playing too fast. Thanks to the new drawing extra cards rule, my opponent simply got to steal a card out of my hand and shuffle it back into my library and the game continued instead of me receiving a game loss. I went on to win the game and match.
At 7-1-1, I figured I would likely need to go 4-2 on day two to make top 8. I won my first two rounds, but then lost round 12 to a kid playing Rally the Ancestors. Honestly, while I lost this round, it was actually pretty sweet. I looped Soulfire Grand Master and Utter End to remove three Zulaport Cutthroats, but he managed to kill me from 40 life with the fourth Cutthroat in his own upkeep, with zero cards in library, by casting multiple copies of Rally the Ancestors and draining me out in response to the draw a card triggers of Elvish Visionary and Grim Haruspex. He ended up going on to top 8 as well.
I then lost the next round to Josh Ravitz playing the mirror match, and found my back up against the wall. In round 14 I got paired down against an X-4.
This was arguably the worst match of Magic I have ever been a part of. SCG Open Las Vegas 2015. Round 14. Always Forget. I wish I could simply erase this match from memory.
My opponent was playing Abzan, and he completely steamrolled me in game 1. By the time game 2 rolled around a few people had started to watch the match. I was really far ahead in game 2, but it was going to take me a while to win the game. This is when things started to get bad.
The first thing that happened is that my opponent cast Gideon with only one white source. Neither of us noticed it and it wasn’t relevant to the game at all. He had no cards in hand, and nothing to do with his mana, and plenty of white sources that he could have used.
We both received a warning for failure to maintain gamestate. I still think it’s awful that I get a warning because my opponent cast a spell wrong, but that’s how it works apparently. I’m sure there is a reason for this, but in my opinion, this is the worst rule Magic has. Fairly early into game 2, he ultimated a Gideon. However, he never put anything onto the battefield to represent the emblem.
Many turns later, and I’m talking like ten turns at least, we both had forgotten about the emblem, as he hadn’t had a creature on the battlefield for quite a while, and there was no physical representation of the emblem on the battlefield. My opponent activates two Shambling Vents and attacks a Jace. I Fiery Impulse one with spell mastery and he puts it in the graveyard. Then I cast Crackling Doom and he puts the other one in the graveyard as well. He was about to pass the turn back to me when a spectator comes up and tells us to stop playing.
He tells us we both forgot about the Gideon emblem. A judge is called and a ten-minute judge call results from it. The end result is that the game is backed up to after I cast the Fiery Impulse. It doesn’t kill the Shambling Vent. I then cast the Crackling Doom, but my Jace died anyway to the other Vent. We both get a warning for failure to maintain gamestate.
The judge asks us “have either of you received a warning before?” I was like, “Yep. We got a warning already for this in this same game.” At this point there is a pretty big and growing crowd watching the match.
I end up going on to win this game, and we have about 10-15 minutes for game 3. At this point, my brain is basically completely fried. Game 3 is an extremely hard game where I’m really far behind but struggling to find a way to catch back up. At one point my opponent announces “go to combat.” I say okay, and he turns a Knight Ally token from Gideon sideways. I cast Crackling Doom and redirect the damage to Gideon, planning on using a second Crackling Doom in hand to finish off the Gideon on my turn. My intention was to cast Crackling Doom in combat before he attacked, and when my opponent said “go to combat” my assumption was that’s where we were.
It turns out that “go to combat” is really a shortcut for “move to attackers.” This is something that I knew, but I was just so drained from everything that I blanked on the right words to say. All I had to say was “inside combat, before attackers, cast Crackling Doom” and everything would have been fine. Anyway, I didn’t say that, and my opponent cast Wingmate Roc post combat with raid. I was totally surprised, thinking I had killed the token before attackers. It turns out I hadn’t. And thus I tell a story where I was literally thinking about casting the Crackling Doom before he attacked so he couldn’t raid Wingmate Roc the entirety of his turn, and yet I was so exhausted that I couldn’t manage to actually say and do what my brain was thinking the entire time. I had one job, and somehow I messed it up.
I lost to that token. If he hadn’t been able to raid the Roc I would have fairly easily won the game. At this point there was a reasonably large crowd watching the match. I was so mad and tilted that I had not cast the Crackling Doom at the right point that when I went to untap for my next turn, I accidentally grabbed two cards off the top of my deck instead of one.
And that’s how I got my third warning in the same match. It was one of the sloppiest matches I have ever played in my life, and it was embarrassing to have a crowd of people watching me literally self-destruct on the table in front of them. I ended up losing this match, which was enough to knock me out of top 8. However, my opponent, being dead for top 8, elected to concede to me so that I would have a chance to make it in. I barely had enough time to thank him before the next round started.
I played round 15 against R/G Landfall and was able to fairly easily win in two games thanks to the power of Soulfire Grand Master and removal spells.
Going into round 15, it seemed like I was in a good position to get eighth if I won my last round. However, because so many people at the top tables had already played against each other, there were weird pairings that I didn’t know about. Apparently table 2 had to play for top 8, but yet table 3 could safely draw. I’ve never seen that before.
Anyway, it turned out that I was actually supposed to get ninth place in the tournament, potentially even tenth place depending on results. However, Edgar Magalhaes was locked for top 8 and got paired down against Logan Mize. He ended up playing it out to avoid getting paired against the Rally the Ancestors deck in the first round of top 8. Edgar won, knocking out Logan, ensuring that I would get eighth. Or so I thought.
It turned out that there was actually another match between an X-2-1 and X-3 player, and if the X-3 player won, the X-2-1 player would have beaten me on tiebreakers and I would have still gotten ninth. Thankfully the X-2-1 player ended up winning the match and I ended up squeaking into exactly eighth place.
After a long history of frustrating ninth place finishes, I have to say that it felt damn good getting lucky to get into eighth place for a change. I should have gotten tenth place or even worse, but somehow the stars aligned and I snuck into eighth place.
I ended up sweeping the top 8, not losing a game in the process. I got pretty lucky along the way. In the semifinals, I was facing down lethal damage from Abzan on turn 4. My opponent had Rhino, Anafenza, and Shambling Vent with me at eleven life and only a Jace on the battlefield. My hand was Ojutai’s Command and Kolaghan’s Command, two cards that don’t really affect the game.
I drew Roast and got to play Roast + recast Roast and kill both Anafenza and Siege Rhino and went on to easily win the game. I won game 2 by locking out my opponent with Soulfire Grand Master + Exert Influence, which is exactly as fun as it looks.
I ended up beating Steve Rubin in the finals. It was the most relaxed finals I’ve ever played. Because the coverage that weekend was focused solely on the #SCGINVI, we just played on a random table with about four people watching the match. Steve and I are friends, and we had been playing the matchup earlier in the day. It felt like we were just playing a casual game of Magic with nothing on the line.
It was really weird. This weekend was a weekend of called shots, prophecies, and broken curses. Early on in the day Saturday, both Steve Rubin and Daryl Ayers told me “you’re going to get ninth place.” And then, after round 15, I was supposed to get ninth place. But I got eighth instead. Steve Rubin told me when I made top 8: “You’re going to lose in the finals of this Open to me.” That was before either of us even saw the bracket. We could have easily met in the semifinals. Instead we met in the finals. I was supposed to lose to Steve Rubin, but I won.
On Saturday, I was chatting with Shaheen and Daryl about how much money we were up or down at the casinos. They were both down a bunch of money. I told them: “I’m up $4,500.” They were incredulous. “No you’re not. There’s no way.” They demanded that I explain how I was up that much. I told them point blank. “I’m down $500 from gambling, but I’m up $5,000 from this Open I’m going to win tomorrow.” Then I went on and won the Open. It may seem weird to say something like that, but the deck was just that good.
I’ve played in about 120 SCG Opens in my life. This was my first win. It was weird to win my first Open without any coverage. No top 8 profiles. No pictures. No fanfare. After all of those disappointing and brutal losses on camera throughout the years, it was weird to have it all end on a positive note without anyone watching.
It felt differently than I thought it would. It was great to win, but I was happier about getting the monkey off my back than I actually was happy about winning the Open. For years, people have given me crap about never winning an Open. I get daggered intentionally and unintentionally all the time about it.
Hell, SCG even has a fairly aggressively trivia question they ask: “Who has never won an SCG Open before?” Obviously I am the correct answer. That’s honestly kind of a messed up question. They might as well have just asked the question:
“Who sucks the most?”
A. Brian Braun-Duin
B. Todd Anderson
C. Jeff Hoogland
D. Ross Merriam
After a few seconds for people to guess they can then show the answer: “A: Brian Braun-Duin. Brian Braun-Duin sucks the most out of these four players.”
No more. It’s time to retire that question. I shoved my trophy into a plastic WalMart bag and took an Uber with some friends back to the casinos. I spent the rest of my trip gambling my money away, hiding my trophy in a Walmart bag. I didn’t want people at the casino to ask about it. I just wanted a question-free relaxing night throwing my money away. And that’s what I got. I ended up only down $250.
Wanna know why Jeskai Black is so good? I played badly. I made countless mistakes, forgot triggers, missed things throughout the games I played. I got four warnings on day 2, yet still somehow managed to avoid a game loss, since they were all different categories. Yet I still won the tournament. The deck carried me. I messed up. I still won easily.
The entire weekend was a haze. I felt sick, hungry, and I had a headache for most of it. I loved it. I lost money gambling. Gambling was my favorite part of the trip. I loved my deck. I hated playing matches with it. I despised the tournament. I won the whole thing.
I still don’t really know what happened. I’m still trying to catch up on sleep. Vegas sucked.
I can’t wait to go back.