To the average person, flying twelve hours across the continent to play in a card game with zero guarantee of a return on investment and very low chance
that any return will fall painfully short of said investment would be grounds for a sanity check. Add in the fact that said tournament is in Las Vegas and
that almost all the time being spent there would be in a convention center, miles away from anything for which Sin City is renowned and…well, they’d be
prepping the padded cell.
Magic: The Gathering, ladies and gentlemen.
On a whim and needing a measly one segment to hit Star Alliance Gold for 2016, I decided to attend the #SCGINVI this past weekend. This much you knew. You
also know I was looking at http://www.starcitygames.com/article/32010_Modern-Selection.html>Grixis
Shoal for Modern because fair Magic is for chumps. Who wants to be a chump? I was still trying to settle on a Standard deck on my twelve-hour
odyssey to Vegas, but by the time I settled in at the hotel I had something in mind.
As you may have noticed, I did not win the #SCGINVI. Or the Open. Or the Classic. I did win a fair bit over the course of three days, but more important
was the staggering amount of food I ate. Wait, I did that wrong. The staggering amount of delicious food I ate. Dammit, one more try. The staggering amount
I learned even while losing. As much as I would love to bring you a winner’s tournament report, I will instead share with you the stories from three days
of wall-to-wall Magic and food. And, since you asked nicely, my decklists. Okay so I don’t know if you asked, but I am assuming here. Work with me.
Dream Come True
This meant everything to me. Getting on camera at all is hard to do, and our local community has been unable to crack that nut. Even when we had someone
top 8 a GP, it was the only one that year without video coverage. A nice long fun segment with the magnificent Ken Crocker (who plays a great straight man)
made my weekend. I could have lost everything from that point on and not cared.
I Invite You To Lose, Sir
We started the #SCGINVI with Standard, and I had settled on Esper Tokens. It was based on Vikram Kudva’s winning list with a few tweaks that I felt might
help against Atarka Red a little.
This deck…failed. A lot. I think over the course of four rounds I made a total of two Monk tokens, one of which got to attack. Ob Nixilis was Duressed
from my hand every time I had it. Treasure Cruise sat in my hand quite often and absolutely needs to be Painful Truths. Nothing ever worked.
That’s not to say the deck is bad, and aside from three misplays (one of which was in a game I won), I did not play badly to the best of my knowledge. I
just didn’t get draws that lined up with what my opponents were doing, and I played against two decks (Anderson Jeskai Black and Abzan Aggro) that have
solid matchups against everything. To compound things, I would play against this same deck in the Standard Open and get smashed by turn 2 Seeker, turn 3
Mentor, turn 4 discard and removal, turn 5 Gideon. Why couldn’t it do that for me?
The lesson here was that losing is not synonymous with making mistakes, nor with wasting time. I know I made some good plays and I am certain I learned a
lot about the format from the four rounds of Standard, despite going 1-3. I was technically still alive, though I would have had to win all twelve
remaining rounds to top 8, which seemed unlikely at best. That led to the second lesson: de-tilt, then make good decisions. There was a Sealed event firing
very soon, and a nice relaxing Regular REL 3-round event would be great to calm myself before playing the Open next day. Losing with a deck that you know
is capable of winning is very frustrating, and even moreso when you can’t point to mana screw or flood as a reason. Know when you are upset and avoid
making choices that matter until you can calm down.
Sealed With a Win
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this column that I love brewing, and as such I also love Constructed. Over the course of my time playing
Magic, several people have told me that I might actually be better at Limited, and I usually dismiss it as a result of small sample size for them. Having
played two Sealed events and a draft over the weekend with one loss to show for it, I am starting to wonder if there might be some truth to that.
Sealed is a format with which I have a varied relationship. The unavoidable variance of the contents of your pool is the biggest detraction, but when you
see the results of Limited GPs we almost always have known players at the top of the standings. That’s not a sign of some grand conspiracy to give them
better pools, it’s because Sealed tests skill like nothing else. What draws me to it I think is that we are always brewing when we build a Sealed deck. We
have an 84-card format and we need twenty or so of those cards to be good enough. What’s the best combination? How can I attack common archetypes in this
format? Do I sacrifice consistency for power? All these questions are asked when building a deck for any format, but with the added bonus (for a brewer)
that we don’t have such well-defined starting points.
My Draft deck was just a very solid B/W lifegain deck with double Drana’s Emissary, nothing remarkable really, but it ran very smoothly. Green was being
drafted to either side of me, so I got hooked up. The first Sealed pool looked miserable, with good white cards but only black and red to pair with them
and none of the synergies you really want from those two combinations. I ended up playing something like nine removal spells plus Planar Outburst and,
somehow, got there. I know I lost one match here, but I cannot remember what beat me.
The deck from Sunday’s Sealed Challenge (spoilers: I did poorly in the Modern Classic) was a masterpiece. My pool was absurd with Oblivion Sower, Conduit
of Ruin, and Bane of Bala Ged to ramp into, plus Eyeless Watcher, Brood Butcher, double Incubator Drone, and an Eldrazi Skyspawner. Natural Connection and
Pilgrim’s Eye enabled me to splash a pair of Vile Aggregate, and we also had Undergrowth Champion. I could not make white work despite Felidar Sovereign,
black was bad, and red was no better. I did in one match bring in a Swamp and a Swarm Surge to break ground stalls, but it never came up. This deck was
amazing, beating the best U/W deck I have ever seen (only lacking a Halimar Tidecaller really) on the way to splitting the first prize. What a way to
rebound from a miserable Modern Classic!
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but very few of us can accurately list our own. Sometimes it pays to listen to what others see as your strengths,
and use those as support for working on your weaknesses. If you hate Sealed because it’s all luck and totally reliant on your pool, I’d strongly urge you
to give it another look. There’s a lot of skill under the surface.
Quick On The Draw
I could easily have chalked up Friday’s losses to variance (probably largely accurate) and just run the 75 back the next day, but my good friends and
weekend roommates (and excellent judges for the event) Elliot Raff and Jeff Higgins talked me out of that. I didn’t really enjoy the deck, and I had been
testing a lot more with the more controlling versions of Esper. The advice boiled down to “Play what you know, will have fun with, and can win with.” So I
You can just look at this deck and tell it isn’t the fastest deck ever built. I knew that going in, but I have also never been accused of being a slow
player. I can literally count on one hand the unintentional draws I have had in tournaments, and never more than one in the same event. I was sure I would
be okay here.
Round 1 continued the streak of epic matches as I lost on turn 4 of extra turns with lethal on the battlefield to the nut perfect Ugin ultimate hitting two
Siege Rhinos, putting me in range of his only other permanent, a Gideon. How can you even be mad to lose a game 3 like that with a crowd watching and
losing their minds? Even in defeat, I am a showman.
Round 2 is where the learning points happened. My opponent was not playing quickly in the early stages of the match, but I was in a strong position and the
Jeskai Black vs Esper Control match is very complex so I didn’t say anything. I managed to lose game 1 as my opponent would hit four Mantis Riders in six
turns, and game 2 took even longer as I dominated the battlefield but could not get a win condition to stick. She would eventually concede with me having
Ob Nixilis and Narset close to ultimate in the interest of getting a third game in, which we would start with about four minutes left. I was convinced I
had no chance to win in that time but a mulligan and some good draws saw me able to attack her down to five on turn 5 with two counterspells in hand and
her unable to cast more than one spell a turn. In short, I was winning the match next turn. She declined to concede.
As a judge I often have to deal with this situation, where one player is dead without a doubt but wants to take the draw. The player in the ascendancy
usually gets upset and it’s my job to remind both players that nobody is under any obligation to concede, and applying pressure to do so is not allowed. It
was really hard to be on the other side of that conversation. I think the decision to take the draw was incorrect strategically as it doomed my
opponent to the draw bracket where she was unlikely to face her best matchup in Atarka Red, but she was perfectly within her rights to make it. However, it
did not augur well for the rest of my day either.
Draw Bracket Hell
It’s real, folks. For the rest of the day I didn’t get so much as a sniff of Atarka Red. I did win my next round fairly convincingly, but every single
match was going long and my brain was exploding. If it wasn’t Jeskai Black (with and without Mantis Rider) it was Five-Color Control or Abzan. I had chosen
a deck that was thought-intensive and thanks to the early draw I was facing decks that made me have to think even more.
I’m not usually a control player, but after this weekend I know two things: I will be going forward, and I need to up my mental game. I was not prepared
for the mental grind that decks like the above can put you through. With little to no chance of an Atarka Red match I wasn’t likely to get a break, and it
was only because one opponent had horrible draws that I was even able to eat something. Although the latter was due to my own poor planning, it was
nonetheless a contributing factor to the fatigue I was feeling by the end of the day. I’d be shocked if I didn’t make a couple of mistakes later in the day
because of this, which illustrates the importance of being properly prepared for long events.
On a lighter note, those of us stuck in the draw bracket were joking about the potential of two Atarka Red players getting paired in round 1 and taking the
ID so as to prey on Esper Control decks for the rest of the day. It’s a bold strategy, but it might just work out…
So Bad at This Game
A few times during the weekend I was approached by people who had seen me in judge blacks at events, pros and grinders alike. They were all surprised to
see me battling and asked how often we got to play when we became level 2 judges. The honest answer is “as often as we want” in case you were wondering.
Finances are the constraining factor, which is why this was only my third major event lifetime.
Nowhere was that rustiness more evident than in round 5 on Saturday in the Open. With three cards in my graveyard, my opponent cast Kolaghan’s Command to
kill my Jace and make me discard a card. I tried to get too cute and decided to loot, hold priority and then Murderous Cut my own Jace, momentarily
thinking the Cut would be in the graveyard when the loot resolved and so my Jace would flip. Well I was half-right: the Cut would be in the
graveyard, but so would the dead Jace. So, that happened. I four-for-oned myself while my opponent looked bemused and the spectating judge looked amused.
Fortunately, I managed to win that game.
Not only was this due to being rusty, but it’s one of those plays that most players wouldn’t even think to try and make. Having an in-depth knowledge of
the rules can sometimes make me (perhaps it applies to other judges too) make plays because they are cute and because I can. They don’t always fail
spectacularly like this, but they rarely result in a win. Style points count for so little in the final standings…
The Best Deck in Standard
Round 8 on Saturday, long after I should have dropped and gone back to the hotel, I got paired up to a Four-Color Rally deck that was still somewhat in
contention for day 2. I had neglected to include any Hallowed Moonlight in my sideboard because, as I understood it, the matchup was reasonable without
them. As it turns out, I don’t think any matchup is good against that deck with a competent pilot.
Between Jace and my three maindeck copies, I was able to rip my opponent’s hand to shreds in game 1 with Duresses. I took away all his copies of Rally and
two copies of Collected Company while keeping his board clear. Eventually he was able to stick a Jace, find two Cutthroats, and cast a Rally from the
graveyard to kill me.
Okay, game 2 would be better, right? I had Dispel and Negate to bring in, plus Infinite Obliteration to remove his Husks. I was even able to resolve
Obliteration, but he had a Husk in play so I named Cutthroat instead. Then Liliana happened and kept me hellbent and unable to find an answer. Even with
good draws on my part I never felt like I had a chance. The deck regularly beats Anafenza, the Foremost, which theoretically should ruin its whole plan.
With no real graveyard hate in the format, Rally is kept down only by the difficulty of playing it. We should probably be thankful for that.
All You Can Eat, Pack 1 Pick 1
Coming to the US is still something of a new experience for me. Here in Newfoundland we have basically one choice for buffets: Chinese. Now don’t get me
wrong, there are some top quality ones here. However, I usually go out of my way to hit up Fogo di Chao any time I am in the same city as the place we
judges affectionately call “Infinite Meat on a Sword.” Our esteemed editor Cedric has on more than one occasion attempted to explain to me the error of my
ways, saying that Fogo is “overrated garbage.” This proclamation is normally fired at high velocity from the barrel of the Hot Take Cannon.
While I may not agree that Fogo is any sort of garbage, my eyes have been opened to another wonder. A marvel, even. The pure, unbridled joy that is Korean
BBQ, also known as Infinite Meat on a Shield. After my dismal performance on Saturday (I believe I finished 3-3-3…) I needed to consume a large amount of
something. A bunch of judges had recommended this all-you-can-eat BBQ place which, to be honest, sounded awful. I like some smoked meats and cornbread
(ain’t nothin’ wrong with that) as much as the next guy (perhaps more), but it isn’t really conducive to gorging in my opinion. However, my dear friends
Brogan and Eric had left out the key word, that being “Korean.”
What followed was the best dining experience I had had in my life. Everything I put in my face was delicious. So much meat. I cannot thank Megan, Krystal,
Arthur, and Elliot enough for the hook-up on this front. Oh and Cedric…you’re welcome for the game assist.
I Didn’t Have Soul
Buoyed by my deck tech, I decided I would play Soul Sisters in the Modern Classic on Sunday. I could have played Shoal, I could have played Legacy, but I
wanted to do something wacky and have fun. I didn’t. I got Jund in round 1 and Kiki Chord in round 2, having taken out my Suture Priests from the sideboard
for Stony Silences. So smart, right? On the bright side I did get to assemble the combo against the Kiki player, who promptly assembled his combo. When I
am gaining four life per creature and he is making as many creatures as he wants (having copied one of my Sisters to keep himself alive), the game became
very silly. He drew the removal before I could, leaving me very dead. Oh well, I managed to get Norin, Purphoros, four Sisters, and Genesis Chamber all
online together. The day wasn’t a complete waste.
The biggest mistake here was not taking the rare opportunity to play Legacy, a format I dearly love and rarely get to play. There were only 90-odd players
on the event and I would have had a lot more fun playing that than Modern. Of course then I would not have been able to play Sealed, and I did still get to
run the Legacy Challenge later in the day. I was less successful there, going 2-2, but I played well and enjoyed the chance to bust out all my pretty Death
and Taxes foils. However, the best part of Sunday was yet to come.
But It’s Just A Burger, Right?
After the tournaments all ended on Sunday, a group of judges headed to the Strip to find Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR. As a Vegas virgin I had never been on the
Strip, and I was in full-on tourist mode taking photos left and right. It takes a lot to wow me, but all that glitz and sparkle really took my breath away.
And I didn’t even get to spend any time there.
I did spend time eating the best burger I have ever had though. Duck breast bacon, avocado, Fresno pepper relish, sharp English cheddar, butter
lettuce…out of this world. Then there were the sweet potato fries with powdered vanilla sugar and chipotle mayo, and the regular fries with parmesan and
truffle oil. As if that weren’t enough, we had a trio of desserts with spotted dick, sticky toffee pudding, and the most divine Oreo milkshake to ever
cross a human’s lips. I am by no means exaggerating.
When Can I Go Again?
Even with the win-challenged nature of my weekend, I had an absolute blast. I have never before been tempted to visit Vegas, but this weekend changed my
mind entirely. I just need to become rather rich before I go again.
Magic, for all the money up for grabs and all the pressure we put on ourselves to win, is still a game. For some, the enjoyment of the game has moved
beyond just the physical cards and interactions therewith. Community, friends, extracurricular activities, content production…Magic has brought all of
these and more into my life. As much as I love the game itself, I love everything around it even more. New York, Vancouver, Seattle, and now Las
Vegas…none of which I could have seen without this game I love. As always thanks for stopping by and until next time…Brew On!