Getting Hot In Hotlanta

In this week’s article, Mark Nestico tells you about his experience at SCG Open Series: Atlanta this past weekend, where he played B/W Midrange in Standard.

GP Richmond

The title is probably a bit misleading because it wasn’t very hot at all in Atlanta, but you can’t blame me for trying to make it sound sexier than it actually is.

As I write this, there’s snoring to the left of me and snoring to the right of me. My faculties are beginning to degrade, and I feel the subtle veil of sanity slipping away. You might want to stay tuned. What follows could be a manifesto of insanity.

Crazy is writing an entire article about why you hate Mono-Black Devotion and then turning around for a SCG Standard Open and playing B/W Midrange, a deck comprised of 90% of the cards you loath that only splashes for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Glare of Heresy, and Revoke Existence.

It’s essentially the black deck with a cherry upside of not feeling like a total tool for playing a deck you spend a lot of time making fun of.

Why, Mark?

Why did you did it?

You were supposed to play U/W Control like you said. Liiiiiiiiiiiies.

Let me tell you what happened. Gather ’round by the rocking chair and I’ll tell you a story.

I lost with U/W Control a lot on Magic Online.

That’s the end of the story.

Good friend and #SCGORL finalist Brennan DeCandio tested with me for a bit online (the magic of Skyping someone into your screen), and we came to the conclusion that while U/W Control is good, it’s too soft to G/R Monsters, which we expected to be out in droves.

I postulated that Esper Control would be much better since Hero’s Downfall is fantastic in this format and positioned very well, essentially giving you eight or nine ways to deal with planeswalkers while taking Stormbreath Dragon out of the equation entirely.

Brennan agreed but also thought that his old standby, B/W Midrange, was in a great spot again, especially since we expected a wealth of G/R decks in the field due to the favorable matchup it presents. Since I had all the cards, I decided to give it a whirl, and we began to steadily stomp every opponent we played, from fringe decks to decks we knew would be in the room. Maybe this was it?

For once, I just wanted to be the guy casting Thoughtseize and following it up with Pack Rat.

For once, I just wanted to be the guy getting free wins.

For once, I just wanted to be the bad guy.

It was then that I resolved to play B/W Midrange.

Sue me.

This list was Brennan’s brainchild. His original incarnation played Brimaz, King of Oreskos in place of the maindeck Lifebane Zombie, but I had a momentary lapse of faith and played the Zombie over the Prince of all Cats (who I affectionately refer to as “Kitty”).

Brennan’s logic proved to be sound, however, as he took down another Florida PTQ this past weekend with the same 75 he handed me, though my changes were minimal at best.

For those interested, here’s his list, which I highly recommend since it was what I tested online and yielded fantastic results.

As you can see, we both played a very similar configuration, but Brennan’s list is meant to maximize the potential of Brimaz, whereas mine was built to feast on the G/R decks in the format. In testing, Brimaz was always good, but there wasn’t a match that I specifically wanted him in or didn’t want him in.

It felt like he was vanilla ice cream: just okay.

On the advice of a few good friends, I made the switch, expecting to see a wealth of Domri Rade and Xenagos, God of Revels and figuring that Lifebane Zombie was just going to be better in more matches.

Then I promptly faced three straight Mono-Black Devotion decks.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

For me, SCG Open Series: Atlanta was an over ten-hour trek, which is usually much farther than I ever drive for Magic events because I’m a grown-ass man who has a wife, a home, and a cat who suffers from severe anxiety when I’m gone for more than a day at a time. However, the company for this trip was going to be spectacular, so I elected to take a four-day vacation from waiting tables, which as tough a decision as it sounds wasn’t really all that tough.

I met up with some very good friends, and we began our 600-mile trip to Georgia, which I spent listening to techno music and sleeping. Glamorous, right?

As soon as we hit Atlanta, we celebrated not crashing the car by feasting on Fogo, which as obligatory as it sounds is just freaking delicious. I’m not looking to be a food snob. I don’t need to be the guy sifting through every directory to find the quaintest and most off the beaten path little German bakery that serves the most pretentious beers in town.

Daddy likes steak. Daddy gonna eat steak.

After playing my favorite game, “Who Can Drink More Kettle One,” and winning (at least in my mind because I was the only one drinking it), I settled in for some sleep, which I absolutely didn’t get because my roommates are secretly Snorlaxes in disguise. I decided to take a shower and get cleaned up for the event.

Things started on time, which is the norm at SCG events, and at almost 600 people, we were in for ten rounds of pain. I was elated because for the first tournament in forever I wasn’t playing a deck that would take me to time every round.

I rattled off three quick wins against Mono-Black Devotion opponents, basically doing exactly what my deck was designed to do. For those of you not familiar, let me share with you the rudimentary philosophy I use when playing it:

1. Thoughtseize them real good.
2. Coast is clear? YOLO a Pack Rat into play.
3. Kill them with Pack Rat.
4. They dealt with Pack Rat? Play Underworld Connections on a land.
5. Draw a bunch of cards.
6. Eventually draw a Thoughtseize.
7. Coast is clear? Play another threat.
8. Kill them with threat.

Round 4 saw me screw up against Tom “The Boss” Ross on camera, which is always awesome because having a recorded history of failure is right up my alley. Basically, there was a turn where I played a Desecration Demon instead of just making another Pack Rat, and it cost me dearly. He ended the game at five life, which was the exact amount of damage I missed out on. I felt like I had to worry about the midgame, but in reality I didn’t. I just had to follow steps two and three.

With no action in my hand and having to sac a Rat to survive with him having Abrupt Decay on top, I scooped since there was no way to recover from that, but it was also out of disgust with my play that game. I’m sorry you had to witness it because I damn sure am embarrassed by it. Game 2 his draw was fantastic, mine was mediocre, and he put the boots to me. Tom deserved that win for playing tight, and I deserved to lose for one glaring mistake.

The next few rounds I won a few more and lost a few more, but I dropped in favor of going to a very nice Italian dinner. The food was amazing, and it helped me recover from an abysmal performance that I am not proud of.

This is becoming something I have to work through and get over because aside from getting ninth in Las Vegas, I’ve hit a wall that I can’t climb. A little over a year ago I was making Top 8 of every PTQ in Florida, making day 2 every GP I played in, and putting up other great finishes wherever I played. Lately I’ve been failing miserably.

Any clues for how to break down mental blocks? Feel free to share them. This dry spell is getting old.

Oh well.

I was feeling down, so I decided to skip the Legacy event and do something I never do anymore when I play Magic . . .

Have fun.

One of my best buddies, Cliff Weixler, didn’t have a deck for the Legacy event and therefore was regulated to wandering around the hall and playing side events. We talked about playing in the Two-Headed Giant event on Sunday afternoon, and the more we chatted about it, the more it sounded like something I’d enjoy. I’m a fan of Theros/Born of the Gods Limited, and Cliff is a fantastic player despite not liking The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.

I don’t hold it against him.

Playing 2HG sounded like a blast, so I was in.

We called ourselves Team Siskel & Ebert because we just can’t agree on movies.

The packs we opened were very powerful, and the rares fell right into the categories that we wanted. Cliff went with a controlling B/W deck featuring Hero’s Downfall; Heliod, God of the Sun; and a bevy of removal spells. I put together the crash n’ smash special of G/R with Nessian Wilds Ravager, double Fall of the Hammer, double Felhide Spiritbinder, and tons of aggressive creatures that curve very well.

We handily dispatched of our opponents before meeting a team with the most insane 2HG decks I have ever seen. In order to win, we had to beat four copies of Celestial Archon (it was played, killed, returned from the graveyard, bestowed on a creature that I killed, returned to hand when I tried to kill it, and played again before finally having to block a Wild Ravager bestowed by Purphoros’s Emissary). Other hits included Sea God’s Revenge, double Lightning Strike and Dissolve, and Arbiter of the Ideal.

The opposing team played extremely well and had two excellent players. The match kept swinging back and forth and got to the point where we were at two and they were sitting at forty, but I drew out of being flooded while they finally started to succumb to bad draws. The sheer power of my deck took over, and Cliff started draining and braining them with Scholar of Atheros. We quickly got back into it, and our opponents looked stunned as we marched to victory. How did they let it slip away?

They got Nesticowned.

It was the most skill-intensive game that I’ve played in months and easily the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in forever. Bring back team Pro Tours please—this was bananas!

The night ended exactly the way I wanted it to: I got to watch a good friend, Steve Mann, take down the entire event. The night before Steve and I had talked a little bit about reevaluating our approach to the game, and seeing him put it into practice instantly and demolish the Legacy Open brought so much happiness to me. This is a guy who puts in the time and effort and has never shied away from offering me advice on getting better. Well done, SMann. You deserve it.

As I finish this, the snoring continues, and I believe what was left of my mind is now officially gone. I think the last thing I’d like to talk about is Magic player cleanliness. I don’t think there’s anything more fitting before I leave you for the week.

I went to use the restroom because, you know, I am human. What I saw was a circus of horrors.

Let me leave you with this, fellow Magic players:

Learn to not be freaking pigs. Learn to not make a hideous mess in a bathroom that 600 other people need to use. Learn to flush the toilet. Learn to wash your hands. Learn to not talk to the guy in the stall next to you. Learn to use toilet paper like an adult. Learn to call for an attendant if there is something you can’t clean up.

I’ve read articles that talk about wearing deodorant and brushing your teeth. Do that too. But to those of you out there that still act like toddlers, get your act together. It’s truly befuddling how some people treat these halls like pigsties.

For the people who actually do all of the above, you are a shining example in an otherwise dim world.

That felt great to get out of my system, so with that in mind I bid you a fond farewell.

As for me? Pray for me.

Pray that when you read this I fell asleep through the snoring because the night is dark and full of terrors. And snoring. Lots of snoring.

GP Richmond