Flores Tuesday – Part One

Tuesday, March 8 – Mike Flores, acclaimed deckbuilder, Magic theorist, and human being, attended the StarCityGames.com Open in Edison last weekend – enjoy Part One (just Part One) of his adventures.

Part One of what? Nope. Just “Part One,” brah.

Isn’t it cryptic to call an article “Part One”?

Is it part one of a tournament report? I mean, I guess, kind of. But tournament reports are barely ever interesting even when they are insightfully
written by an innovative victor. How good can one be coming from the 1-x bracket? Scooping a game he had already won and assorted other fumbles?

Truth is my first day of the Star City Games Dot Com Open Series event in Edison, NJ, was an unmitigated disaster given my criteria for myself. I am
making an effort to completely divorce myself from emotional reactions — positive or negative — based on the outcome of a game [of Magic: The
Gathering, or, say, basketball]. Does it really make sense for me to be overjoyed because my opponent was mana-screwed? How about I screw up, he screws
up worse (as happened in a match in the Legacy portion), he gives back a game he shouldn’t have had to begin with? Am I supposed to be happy about

If we ever started off happy about that kind of stuff, none of us would have ever grown up to become tournament players. We would have gotten as much
engagement and enjoyment out of Magic as, say a monkey receiving electric shocks arbitrarily in laboratory studies on the development of schizophrenia.

Worse, for a player at my level, who can reliably qualify and play on the Pro Tour (but has never had significant success on the Pro Tour itself) given
effort, emotional reactions based on results are poisonous in terms of self-improvement. What should make me happy is making good decisions (on deck,
on game play, on who I hang out with) or achieving goals… and what should make me unhappy is stuff that I can control that is negative or
substantially falls short of the standards I set for myself, not whether or not I win a single game of Magic; whether it is in the 0-2 bracket or the
finals of a tournament.

Instead, I have decided to associate my satisfaction on a game of Magic only to whether or not I played to my ability. For example, on Sunday, I was
for the most part happy with how I played… for the first seven rounds (but we will get to that on Flores Friday); on Saturday though, I think the
term I used was “unmitigated disaster.”

Part One Point One – The Wrong Flores Deck

Before I get to the tournament itself, it is probably logical to start with the day before, Friday.

I get a call on Friday from one of my best friends, Brian David-Marshall.

BDM has been talking about wanting to play U/G Genesis Wave for a while, but I haven’t really been invested in that deck since Worlds. The initial rise
of Kuldotha Red scared me off recommending it for Paris, and then the dominance of CawBlade nudged me into putting my time and interest towards Legacy.

Josh Ravitz actually wanted to play the U/G deck in Paris, but we didn’t have a Mirrodin Besieged list. Brian thought he had found the answer.

“Adam Koska posted a deck list and I think it is really good. Last night at Katz’s a lot of the kids were talking about playing Wall of Tanglecord, and
that keeps the Sword off of you no matter what. What do you think of Koska’s list?”

I didn’t know what Brian was talking about so I told Brian to ship me a link.

He pointed me to a section on TCGPlayer that started “… the deck is not of my own design – the inspiration comes from various online sources, even
though I can’t precisely track it back to where I’ve first seen it…” which of course set me off (cue foreshadowing).

The deck list itself was basically atrocious.

No Primeval Titans.

But yes to Avenger of Zendikar. You can’t play Avenger of Zendikar in this kind of deck. The Waves are optimized for nine mana, and just playing an
Avenger in your deck screws up your Waves… Ludicrous, especially as there were no Primeval Titans to even set up the Waves.

Yes to Clone! Clone! What the!?! Apparently the thought is that you can run low x = 4 Genesis Waves for Clones (no targets?) and I don’t know, Birds of
Paradise in the hopes of in some future turn playing a real Genesis Wave? Forget about the fact that much of the time you will be milling Frost Titans
or goodness knows what else.

There were only 26 lands (too few), no Spreading Seas main (the only reason Conley could even get away with cutting lands, though I still think they
were also too few in his 2d place deck), but yes! to Green Sun’s Zenith to further ruin the Waves.

Three Birds of Paradise, no Joraga Treespeaker… It is really hard to imagine how any of these changes could have been considered improvements over
any deck, regardless of the original source.

Brian was all like “trust me this is good” in order to get a reaction out of me, followed by asking me specific questions starting with “how many…”
and “do you think that…” while scribbling down my changes.

We ended up with this:

Brian cheated on land by one to fit in the Wall of Tanglecord (miser’s) main, which to be fair humiliates Caw-Go and almost unconditionally contains a
Sword of Feast and Famine while powering up Overgrown Battlement; anyway with the full four Spreading Seas main (up from the one or two copies in the
Coimbra and Williams Worlds decks), the mana wasn’t too prickly.

The fundamental change from Conley’s changes was to move Acidic Slime back to the sideboard in favor of the fourth Primeval Titan, fourth Genesis Wave,
and so on. This steals some of the “land death” (TM Conley Woods) capability of the deck (which is, to be fair, still strong with all the Tectonic
Edges, Spreading Seas and Frost Titan) in favor of greater consistency and long-term power.

Brian ended up 8-2, leaving a win on the table after letting his opponent take a mistake back. It was late (more on that later), he was feeling mercy
(you never should), and he had the kill anyway. BDM just didn’t see that with the extra Hawk back he might not have been able to trample for the
kill, but his lowly Joraga Treespeaker had a point of power to contribute to the conversation.

One point, one life point, out of Top 8.

Awesome things about this deck:

If you still care about Valakut, U/G Genesis Wave in this configuration is a strong option. Basically a blowout with your Blue Titans sitting on their
Green Titans, your Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edges containing their Bella Flores VOLCANOES, and your Jace, the Mind Sculptor dominating their…
well.. They don’t really have anything on the order of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Caw-Go is also a very good matchup. They can actually get their good draw and fail to pierce your Tumble Magnets and Walls sideboarded. Game One you
have Joraga Treespeaker and Lotus Cobra that give them fits due to abridged Counterspell counts, and any of your Titans will force them to Day of
Judgment straight into a brutal Genesis Wave. Brian beat Caw-Go repeatedly on Saturday.

Where U/G Genesis Wave is lacking is against Red beatdown decks (though Brian burgled a win from Kuldotha Red), and the move from more Lightning Bolts
to more equipment out of Boros makes the matchup more palatable with the Acidic Slimes, Tumble Magnets, and Walls. Not the matchup you necessarily want
over Valakut or Caw-Go, but still very winnable.

RUG is like the mirror match except they have less land, less explosive draws, and fewer cards that matter; but on balance a worse mana base and
one-third the semi-soft locks. Ding!

More on this story later; for now, more Friday.

For months I had been looking forward to the Cavs versus the Knicks. I mean as a Cavs fan this year there is not much to look forward to, but the Cavs
were at the time 2-0 against the Knicks and anyway, I couldn’t think of a much better way to spend the evening than with BDM, Steve Sadin… and
Patrick Sullivan (!!!) at a basketball game.

In our group, there are exactly four teams that matter: The Cavs, the Clippers, the Hawks, and the Knicks. Two of those teams would be playing, and
Clips fan PSulli would be in the house to watch the first Cavs game by former Clippers All-Star Baron Davis.

My only memories of Baron are from the first round series when he buried the heavily favored Dallas Mavericks from the eighth seed, breaking a stack of
NBA records; Baron has had an erratic reputation despite undeniable talent, so I decided to go to Pat, whose basketball opinion I respect almost as
much as his Red Deck opinion, for my opinion:


Unfortunately on Thursday night, PSulli, an adult, went out carousing with Steve Sadin (a young’in) and was too ill to make the game (cue more

Our revised crew included visiting AJ Sacher and lifelong Knicks fan Seth Burn.

All in all a fantastic night, win or lose. I wasn’t sure what to make of the Baron Davis experiment, but what we got on Friday was the Baron Davis experience. The dude is certainly not shy about throwing up the three ball. This was the big beard’s first play as a Cleveland Cavalier:

JJ Hickson has been a Knicks-slayer all season, so it seems quite fitting the new point guard’s first play would have JJ as the finisher.

Baron has actually had a couple of good games for the Cavs, and I hope he will be a bright spot for what has otherwise been a season most fans would
prefer to forget… I mean LBJ leaving is one thing, but Varejao out for the season, too? 2010-2011 has been a bigger unmitigated disaster for my
favorite team than Saturday was for YT.

I get home kind of DI late after a post-game dinner at Bon Chon and decide to hunt through my cards. I had played some tune-up games with Pyromancer
Ascension and people just didn’t search against me. There would be a Lotus Cobra on the ‘field and the opponent would just literally never break his
Scalding Tarn or whatever. This happened a couple of different matches and BDM said the same thing happened to him. Osyp was going to play the deck
until PNaps just stopped searching. He would play a turn two Stoneforge Mystic and just not look for a Sword.

Once again I had done it to myself.

I know
, I maniacally thought.

I’ll get them back! No peeksies!

I stayed up until roughly umpteen o’clock to get cards for my altered deck list:

I no longer had an unbeatable opening hand capability, but if no one was ever going to search against me, it didn’t matter anyway. I wasn’t going to
get those auto-wins anyway, and instead would be paying a Trapmaker’s Snare tax.

I wanted to keep one Archive Trap in order to keep my opponents honest, and to mise. If I didn’t have any Archive Traps at all, I would lose a
significant potential edge; but if my opponents were playing around more Archive Traps than I actually had, it would be like infinite Time Walks, which
would be super-gas.

For example in my Round One feature match I turn-one Trapped my opponent for both his Swords, a Squadron Hawk, a Hero of Oxid Ridge, and Koth of the
Hammer. Mise!

Meanwhile doubling the burn instants in the deck was awesome against beatdown. After boards I would have three distinct different lines of attack –
Pyromancer Ascension + burn, Archive Trap + Jace, and Kiln Fiend. I could transform, semi-transform, or become a creature removal deck. All in all,
very exciting.

My deck acquitted itself very nicely in a first round feature match, though I missed one life point, which nagged at me due to what I already said is
what I care about (playing to the best of my ability). That match was featured here
(albeit without mention of that particular mistake).

But given our relative records, BDM’s choice was much more successful than mine; it is pretty clear I picked the wrong Flores deck.

Part One Point Two – Unmitigated Disaster

It turns out that my 1-0 Feature Match would be the only Open Series Standard match I would win on the day.

I missed one point against Boros in Round One and I won 2-0. I similarly missed one point in Round Two and it cost me the match. The fact that he
followed up with Kor Firewalker + Sword of Body and Mind in Game Two didn’t help, but I should have won the first, you grok?

If I tried to tell you all the different ways I lost on Day One, you simply wouldn’t believe me. No one can be that bad.

Here’s an attempt:

When I say I “missed a point” what I mean is that I was on 7 life against Boros when he had a freshly cast Cunning Sparkmage. At the end of his turn I
chose to send all six damage of a powered up Lightning Bolt at my opponent instead of splitting half to the Sparkmage, meanwhile powering up my second
Pyromancer Ascension. I was very unlucky on Preordains and multiple Foresees this game, ultimately losing the game with FIVE basic lands in my
hand. But the fact is, if I had split the Lightning Bolt, I would have had one more life point, and not lost to my opponent’s Lightning Bolt + Burst
Lightning, and won with the Foresee on top of my deck with the untap I was about to get. GerryT pointed out that my opponent was dead to whatever real
spell I drew, and I didn’t need to put three on him.

I MIS-CLICKED an opening hand. I saw Island, Mountain, Pyromancer Ascension, 2x Preordain, 2x See Beyond, which is an almost unconditional win on the
play, unless the opponent disrupts your Pyromancer Ascension. My opponent was Boros, meaning he had neither Inquisition of Kozilek nor Spell Pierce. It
turns out I had two Mountains and no Island, and only played one card the whole game.

I powered up multiple Ascensions and hard-cast Archive Trap for 39 cards after determining my opponent had only 29 cards. It turns out that he had 42
cards. The irony is that I powered up the Ascensions with a bunch of burn cards, he had only 11 life, and Archive Trap costs five mana. I had a Burst
Lightning in my hand at the time I was tapped out and lost. The further irony is that twenty minutes later I “realized” that even though I said
to Trap for 39, the rules of Magic: The Gathering would have asked for 52 cards.

It’s hard to imagine worse play, especially since I’ve experienced extended periods of such solid play (i.e. “the bar”).

The fact is, I’m not “that bad” per se. My strategic lines were excellent. For the most part my tactics were right. The problems were all based on
momentary lapses of concentration. In a recent interview with PV, one of the things that Kai Budde says sets him apart from other mages is that he does
not lose concentration… This is something that really resonated with me. I am not trying to make excuses — excuses are about as useful to your
improvement as a Magic player as bitching and bad beat stories — rather I am trying to figure out how to fix this particular problem in myself.

I noticed a trend about two or three years ago where I would play very good (though certainly not flawless) Magic for about six or seven hours in a
tournament, and then falter in the win-and-in round. I did it over and over and over again. The result was the accumulation of a lot of half-boxes of
product and Top 16 or Top 32 PTQ performances. It wasn’t that I was playing poorly “under pressure” … I don’t really get nervous, and my historical batting average playing for the Envelope is superb.

Instead, I could literally trace the entire failed course of a tournament where I made hundreds of excellent decisions down to one or two dramatic
blunders that wouldn’t have happened a few hours earlier. Things like sliding out a Vendilion Clique during combat when I had a Life from the Loam in
hand, or tapping out main phase for Angels with a Decree of Justice against The Rock when I had Rith’s Charm in hand, losing to the Fear + Fireball
effects of a Profane Command. Once when I made Top 8 of a PTQ I drew 8 cards in the quarterfinals — something I don’t think I had ever done before in
my life — and when I qualified for US Nationals last May, I nearly threw away the win-and-in round when I was up 1-0, taking it only because my
opponent mulled to five in Game Three and I had three Spreading Seas in my opener.

Saturday was filled with this kind of stuff. Right now I am on a quest to fix this one thing about my game, and we will talk more about that on Flores
Friday… I think a lot of the older players probably know what I am talking about.

I’m probably lying to myself if I say I don’t know what I could have done differently. PSulli saw the writing on the wall and bailed on the Knicks
game… Look at how he did. I didn’t really have to stay out until 2am knowing that I had to be up at 6am on Saturday. Even Brian, who did
almost-brilliantly with the same sleep, had a momentary mental lapse that cost him 9-1 and a possible Top 8.

I wrote about this on my blog in The Physical Reality of Magical Spells,
which was a main motivator in my switching from a lifetime of mid-range control decks to faster beatdown and combo decks for the most part in recent
years. You will be tickled by the players I cite in that blog post, based on recent events BTW.

Part One Point Three – Full-on Monkey Tilt + Aftermath

At the end of the day, I decided that the one thing that I wanted was to get enough sleep that I could preserve the EV I decided I had with my “secret”
Legacy deck. I have had the best deck at a number of tournaments in my life, but I don’t think I ever played a better deck for a day than I did on

What happened around that and the reasons behind it I will chronicle on Flores Friday. Suffice it to say, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to get there
as I left the site on Saturday. Josh Ravitz once again brilliantly made Top 8 with his CawBlade deck but even though he drew into Top 8 around 11pm, we
had to stick around the site through the last round and paperwork until it was official.

I wasn’t going to get home until about 2.30am, and Josh and I had to be on the road well before 7am. Not a good recipe for well-restedness, especially
considering my going out Friday night. On the way to the car, this was the exchange we had.

BDM: You know Mike, you’re famous… But you’re not that famous.

YT: I don’t think I’m the most famous, but I’m pretty famous.

BDM: I mean, you weren’t even the most famous player in that room.

YT: No? Who do you think is more famous than I am?

BDM: GerryT! He wins a tournament every week!

YT: I love Gerry. He’s great! He’s one of the best deck designers in the world… But I’ve been doing this for a long time and I just don’t think he is
more famous than I am.

BDM: Oh-kay. You keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better about yourself and the choices you’ve made with your life.

This seemed an odd Superman punch to me, and to be honest, I felt a little rankled. But whatever. I didn’t say anything… for a while.

An hour or so later I told Josh Ravitz and Chris Mascioli (who was getting a ride back to NYC from Josh) the story of how BDM called me about the Koska
deck, and how I rattled off changes to fix his deck before Saturday.

Per usual, as I got more and more into telling the details of the story, I got more and more excited, started to talk faster and faster, and came to
the stampeding roller coaster locomotive realization that…


BDM: Yeah… and you fixed my deck! 8-2! (high fives all around)

YT: You put me on tilt on purpose.

BDM: I think the term here is “thanks, barn.”

YT: You were trying to put me on tilt again by saying Gerry is more famous than I am.

BDM: Hey, it worked the first time. I was testing out a new technique in case I need it for the future.

Josh: I dunno Mike, Gerry does have a blog.

More Friday.