In my last article, I went over my mono-Blue build* for Standard and detailed some of the matchups and card choices. I also said that my Constructed rating at the time was 1888, and that I needed at least 12 points by December 15th, 2004 to earn two byes on rating for GP: Boston and GP: Seattle. On that point, I was wrong – I needed 18 points, as my rating really was 1882 after a few adjustments went in to the system.
In search of the elusive 1900 rating, I went to the local store (about 35 minutes away) in Oberlin, Ohio – Matrix Games, owned by the cheerful and accommodating Josh Perry, who was more than happy to have me there. All the players at the store are genuinely nice people, and the competition is slightly better than your average local Constructed tournament.
I played in three events there in search of the threshold rating to get me to two automatic byes for the aforementioned Grand Prix, and I’ll briefly go over my matches and results as best I can remember them from my short notes and relatively decent memory:
11/23/2004 – Tuesday Standard, Matrix Games
Round One – Josh Weinandy
Josh is a familiar face around the Matrix Games location, and a well-liked player all-around. His decks tend to be on the rogue-ish side, but many players (including myself, but no longer) foolishly mistake that for lack of play skill. This is very far from the truth – Josh plays five-proxy Eternal with TPS and can play that deck extremely well, so obviously much of that play skill bleeds into other formats.
In game one, I lose the die roll and draw a hand consisting of Annul, Hinder, Echoing Truth, Inspiration, and three Islands. I keep, relatively happy with the hand, and he also keeps. He starts things off with a turn 1 Birds of Paradise, and I draw Vedalken Shackles, play an Island, and pass the turn. He plays a second Forest and casts Wood Elves. At this point, I know I’m already going to lose this game, based on the cards in my hand and the fact that he has four mana on turn 2 against my Blue deck. I draw something that isn’t a two-mana counterspell, play a land and pass the turn. He plays a land, attacks with the Wood Elves, and plays a second Wood Elves. After that, he muscles me around with his mana advantage and is able to eventually resolve a Rude Awakening with entwine as I run out of counters for his Eternal Witnesses and such.
I sideboard in Evacuations and Bribery, and side out Relic Barriers and Annuls. I draw my hand of seven, feel comfortable with it since it includes a Condescend (but no Mana Leak), and play an Island and pass. He plays a forest and a Bird. I play my second Island. He responds with land, Sakura-Tribe Elder. I play another land and Vedalken Shackles, he sacrifices the Tribe-Elder, untaps, plays another land and Tribe-Elder, and casts Blanchwood Armor on the Tribe-Elder.
I die a few turns later, unable to procure an Evacuation or an Echoing Truth from the deck.
Not such an auspicious start for me.
Rating before: 1882
Rating after: 1870
Round Two – Charlene Wood
Charlene is a great person to be around, and runs a successful Magic selling/buying website that I cannot remember off the top of my head (sorry, Charlene!), and plays in the Matrix Games tournaments mainly for fun. She is playing mono-Red Ponza.
Game one sees me Annuling her Chrome Moxes and bouncing her Slith Firewalkers with Echoing Truth, and eventually winning with Keiga after she stalls on land in the midgame.
I side in Bribery and Meloku and side Relic Barrier out.
In game two she gets turn 1 Slith Firewalker and resolves an Arc-Slogger after I Bribery her for one of her own. She attacks with both creatures, activates the beast to put me to five, and Shrapnel Blasts me for the win.
In game three, she keeps a marginal hand that is contingent on Chrome Mox resolving on turn 1. It doesn’t. She doesn’t play a third land.
Rating before: 1870
Rating after: 1873
Round Three – Derek Vogan
Derek is a younger player who shows a lot of promise as a future serious contender at the PTQs, but often doesn’t think out his plays fully, or doesn’t put enough thought into the future turns of the game. This is particularly bad for him against control decks, like mine. He’s with G/R Land Destruction, and he insists on calling it a name that I refuse to repeat here.
In game one, he doesn’t get enough mana-acceleration on the play to get past my four-mana flashpoint of Inspirations, and is unable to resolve a single threat, as I let him kill my lands in the mid and late game, saving my counterspells for his threats. Eventually I take control of a random large creature with Shackles and beat him with it and Keiga.
I side in Bribery and Evacuation and side out Annuls and Relic Barriers.
More of the same happens in game two, unfortunately for him. His Plow Unders never resolve, and he ends up losing to a recursive Bribery + Eternal Witness chain.
Rating before: 1873
Rating after: 1880
Round Four – Samuel Wyman
Samuel seems to be a new player, and is playing a G/B deck focused around spirits and splashes for other colors for Hondens. In both games I counter his Hondens and kill him with Keiga – nothing exciting happened.
Rating before: 1880
Rating after: 1882
So, my net gain/loss is exactly zero from going 3-1 here. There are only two more tournaments I can get to at Matrix Games, so I have to go undefeated for five or six rounds, most likely.
11/26/2004 – Friday Night Standard (not FNM), Matrix Games
Round One – Tysene Leboda
Oh great. Of all the people in the room, this is the last guy I want to have to play. His play skill is probably equal to mine in Constructed magic formats, and is best-known around here for making the Top Eight of the largest U.S. Regionals ever (Ohio Valley, over 1000 people, if I recall correctly) by going 8-0 and safely double-drawing in, with Green-Red Beasts two years ago. Today he’s playing Green/Red without Land Destruction. He also insists on calling his deck a name I won’t repeat.
I win the die roll in game one, and choose to Condescend his second turn Sakura Tribe-Elder with only one counterspell left in my hand (Hinder). He fails to play a third land. I beat him with Keiga.
I side in Bribery and Evacuation and side out Annul and Relic Barrier.
In game two the board is looking relatively stable, with a Vedalken Shackles in play (one in the graveyard), one of his Eternal Witnesses in play on my side, and two or three small creatures on his side. During his end step, I cast Inspiration. He responds with Boil. I scoop them all up a few turns later, even though I’m not a clear loser, because I don’t want him to see Bribery or Evacuation.
In game three, I Bribery him with the board state looking relatively stable and my life at 12, and he frowns immediately. As I look through his deck, content on getting Eternal Witness and recurring Bribery, I spot the beast that is none other than Kodama of the North Tree. I smile and take it. He casts Kumano, Master Yamabushi, and I untap and take control of it with a freshly summoned Vedalken Shackles, and attack him for six. He untaps and casts Viridian Shaman, asking “Do you have the third Hinder?” I do, and he concedes.
Rating before: 1882
Rating after: 1887
Round Two – Christopher Jones
Christopher is a more than competent Magic player who also plays Eternal at the store, along with Standard, and is playing a mono-Blue deck as well. If there’s something I absolutely love, it’s the control vs. control mirror match, as I believe that my years of Extended dominance with mono-Blue in a field of Counteroath, Maher Oath, Turboland, and Survival decks have prepared me for it.
In game one I resolve an early Shackles, making all of his manlands useless. He eventually stalls on land, and I beat him senseless with Stalking Stones.
I side in my 27th Island and my Temporal Adepts for Keiga and my Annuls. I plan on winning on the back of manlands.
In game two, I counter his turn 3 Adept, and play my own. He answers right back with another one, which I bounce, and he replays. I cast Vedalken Shackles and take control of it. He concedes.
Rating before: 1887
Rating after: 1893
Round Three – Corey Conkin
Corey is playing mono-Blue, as I surmised since he was playing next to me, but his deck has liability issues in the mirror match, as he has Treasure Troves and Thoughtbinds instead of Inspirations and Annuls.
In game one I get more manlands than him, and go to town on him, making sure to keep Vedalken Shackles off the board. I also Annul one of his Treasure Troves. He animates a Stalking Stones with my Vedalken Shackles on the table, and I take it. For good. He picks up and reads my copy of Vedalken Shackles, laughs, and concedes.
I side in Island and Temporal Adepts for Keiga and Annuls.
In game two, I play a turn 3 Adept, which resolves, and he Briberies me (?). I tell him that I sided Keiga out, he checks, and takes a Temporal Adept. I cast Vedalken Shackles and steal it, and he concedes without an Echoing Truth in hand.
Rating before: 1893
Rating after: 1895
Round Four – Steven Tremaine
I don’t have the slightest clue who Steven is, or what I played against. Sorry, Steven!
I was at Grandpa’s card store in Akron, selling and trading cards with my teammate Joe Gagliardi, and I got the text message from the DCI with my new rating: 1899. Sigh. Off to another tournament, I guess. The only problem is the fact that I would be out of town from December 4th to December 8th visiting my girlfriend Trida in Seattle, and would be unable to play in a few events there. This left me with one tournament to do it at…
12/10/2004 – Friday Night Standard (not FNM), Matrix Games
I showed up and declared that I would be going 1-0 drop, and Josh (the store owner) was amused. As I went to the tournament play area, I noticed several players from the Cleveland area there – JT, Brandon, and Bob all came from Ground Zero Comics, and Saran (my team sealed partner) was also in attendance. They all have significantly higher play skill levels than the majority of Matrix Games players, and I wasn’t looking forward to playing any of them should I have to, especially considering their deck choices (Mono-Black / Five-color Control / Mono-Blue / Big Red, respectively). I crossed my fingers and looked at the pairings going up…
Round One – Thomas Buck
Phew. I dodged the bullet, or so I thought. I sat down, shook my opponent’s hand, and he declared the intention of conceding to me for the points that I needed. Saran, who was sitting next to me, said “Do not bow down to this man!” I shook my head, laughed, and told him that he really should play it out, and not to do me any favors, even though I was very gracious that he considered it. He said “You’ll probably beat me anyway, I’m playing a deck that features Obliterate.”
Uh, what? Obliterate? You have to be kidding me.
“How am I supposed to beat a deck that has Obliterate in it?” I said.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
It turns out that the matchup is extremely favorable for the Blue player (as I said in the forums), because there is nothing like Nether Spirit or Ivory Gargoyle to give nightmares to Blue-based control players.
In game one I counter his Darksteel Ingots and Hondens of Infinite Rage/Cleansing Fire, and beat him about the face with Stalking Stones. He never is able to cast Obliterate.
I side in Temporal Adepts and the Island, and side out Relic Barriers and something random.
In game two, he has no good answer for a turn 5 Temporal Adept (he sided out Electrostatic Bolt and Magma Jet – whoops), and cast a Darksteel Ingot and March of the Machines. I cast Vedalken Shackles and bounced a land, then took his Darksteel Ingot after the summoning sickness wore off of my Shackles. I also cast Keiga, making Obliterate no longer an option.
I drop from the tournament and go pick up my youngest brother from Compendium Collectibles at their FNM draft, my old stomping ground, where he makes two horrible play errors back to back in the Top Four to lose – not casting Yamabushi’s Flame on his opponent’s Rootrunner and swinging for the win, rather just attacking into it, and then on his opponent’s attack, he scoops his cards up to a Strength of Cedars targeting Jugan, the Rising Star when he could have killed it with Yamabushi’s Flame + Glacial Ray and then won on subsequent turns.
This is the kid I have to turn into the JSS master by February.
But he’s luckier than he is good, and wins the random Brainstorm FNM foil anyway, along with his Top Four prize.
Fast forward to a few days later, and I’m here sitting in front of my computer at 7:10 AM due to horrible insomnia problems, seeing my final rating on the day of the cutoff: 1904.
I am happy – very happy that my rating has finally eclipsed what is generally accepted as a relatively good player’s rating. My Limited rating is at 1875, which does need some improving, but I am content with my 1889 composite rating – for now.
However, this 1904 rating doesn’t just make me satisfied that I have two byes to both GP: Seattle and GP: Boston (both of which I plan to attend). For the longest time, I played in Extended and Standard tournaments at the aforementioned Compendium Collectibles with the best magic players in Ohio (and now the country, even world) such as Tim Aten, Joe Gagliardi, Worth Wollpert, Jason Opalka, and plenty of others whose skill far surpass mine. I brought up original decks (mono-Blue in Extended featuring Thieving Magpies and maindeck Misdirections, and sideboarded Disrupt) and strange modifications to previously established decks (Wraths of God maindeck in mono-White Rebels, the addition of Red and Keldon Necropolis to Nether-Go, the addition of maindeck Auras of Silence, Propagandas, and Tundras to Empyrial Armor White Weenie), and did well with most of my creations, but I was always regarded as an inferior player who would never break through the ranks.
That’s what many of you are suffering from out there, no doubt. My roots came up in an extremely harsh environment, but I kept studying and doing extensive deckbuilding and playtesting for the local tournaments (which reached 24k levels on some nights), and didn’t let the verbal degradation get me down. For the longest time, I had a hot-blooded feud with a local player, Joe Jones, who hated me with a passion. He always played aggro decks, and thought that they should have the constant advantage against Blue-based control decks (especially ones running Thieving Magpie, for God’s sake). This is not to say Joe was a poor player because of it – he was competent and played Ten-land Stompy and Sligh to perfection. Yet he rarely beat me in these same matchups, where he would have twelve one-drops at a time when I wasn’t even running Powder Keg (I opted for Legacy’s Allure, even in the face of Cursed Scroll). **
Why was this? Simply put – I knew the matchups of the cards and knew what I had to sacrifice to win. A classic example involves me casting Force of Will twice, pitching cards both times, to counter turn 1 and turn 2 Jackal Pups from my final round opponent in a particularly high-stakes match. Down four cards on the draw against Sligh in game one, with no Powder Kegs in the deck, I was certainly going to lose, right?
I didn’t. I knew that the sacrifice of inherent card advantage had to be made to compete in the mid-game and get to the late game, since I couldn’t deal with Cursed Scroll directly. I went on to win the game on the back of Thieving Magpies, Misdirections, and Legacy’s Allures.
And for those of you who doubt the power of Misdirection – let me tell you: You have not lived until you’ve attacked with a Thieving Magpie with Rancor on it versus Ten-land Stompy.
So what’s my point, anyway? I guess I’d like to share with all the intimidated new players and casual players looking to make the jump with their original decks or crazy tweaks to previous established decks my experiences. While I’m not exactly error-free in my play (hardly so), and I’ve never even qualified for the Pro Tour (though I should have based on the old PT: Columbus Extended frozen ratings nonsense that happened years ago…but whatever), I like to think that I’m one of the better players in the Ohio Valley and have a slight name built up for myself. I had to go through plenty of ridicule and intimidation to get where I am today, and I still probably have a lot more to go through.
So what? Let your rating and your tournament results speak for themselves. Don’t get intimidated, suffer from “pro shock,” or otherwise play off your best game because of how rude or disrespectful your opposition might be. Just play your best magic, playtest, be creative and original in your deckbuilding, but most of all – have fun in what you’re doing. Remember, Magic’s a game to be enjoyed – you’d do well not to forget that.
Thanks for reading, if you made it the whole way through. Feel free to leave comments in the forums (where I will respond to them) or email me personal comments (where I may or may not respond, because my outgoing mail server absolutely sucks) at kboddy at bw dot edu.
* I know, you’re all sick of the recent rash of mono-Blue lists, but I’d like to give you my final version (thanks to Justin George for letting me borrow cards):
4 Relic Barrier
4 Vedalken Shackles
4 Mana Leak
2 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Stalking Stones
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Temporal Adept
4 March of the Machines
2 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
** Joe and I are great friends now, for the record.