Invitational Oh-Fers

Chris VanMeter walks you through his experience at #SCGINVI last weekend, where he played Junk Aristocrats in Standard and Esper Deathblade in Legacy.

So there I was, 7-1 after day 1 of the Invitational. I had worked hard to get my one bye for this tournament and put it to good use by playing some good Magic. I 4-0ed the Standard portion of day 1 with Junk Aristocrats (with the help of Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson for the sweet list/sideboard) and 3-1ed the Legacy portion with the Esper Stoneblade deck that Brian Braun-Duin and I had brewed up the night before the tournament, even defeating Owen Turtenwald playing RUG Delver in round 8 in a written feature match.

We opted for Dark Confidant instead of Geist of Saint Traft, hoping to further overload our opponent’s removal in the mirror with the card advantage monster that is Bob Maher, Jr. (who also happens to block Geist of Saint Traft just fine). We were on Jund up until the last minute though. We thought there would be a lot of Esper Deathblade and Shardless BUG and wanted to be on Punishing Fire to combat them. Unfortunately, without Brainstorm, a lot of the time you’ll be missing a piece of your combo, and their Brainstorms will find them what they need to combat what you currently have going.

I was actually more confident in our Legacy deck than my Standard deck since you can’t (well rarely won’t) get Bonfire of the Damned in Legacy and have nothing that you can do to prevent something like that from killing you. I seriously contemplated playing something akin to the G/W Elves deck I played in my Versus video with [author name="David McDarby"]David McDarby[/author] last week, but I abandoned that after a bunch of games against Jund Midrange in which I just couldn’t win if they ever Bonfire of the Damned me off the top or from their hand when they led with an Arbor Elf.

BBD was still on Junk Reanimator, so I had access to that well of knowledge, but I just hadn’t been feeling the deck in testing. I jumped on the Junk Aristocrats bandwagon when AJ Sacher came home from Todd’s one night saying that they were all on it because it beats the W/B Humans deck in the tokens pseudo-mirror and is more resilient to Bonfire of the Damned from Jund.

I picked up my second loss in round 9 to a Jund Midrange opponent who just kept miracling Bonfire of the Damned. After that I rattled off some wins against U/W/R Flash and Esper Control before having to play Adam Prosak on camera with Jund. I felt like game 1 was close and I could lose at any point to a miracle Bonfire of the Damned, but he got mana screwed in game 2, so it was elementary to find an Obzedat, Ghost Council and kill him.

10-2 going into the last four rounds of Legacy! I was in serious Top 8 contention. I loved our deck, and I was ready to do some battling. I had already played some of the toughest matchups possible on day 1 and was victorious against them, beating Carrie Oliver with Dredge and Drew Levin with Omni-Tell. In fact, my only loss with the deck so far had been to Ross Merriam on Sneak and Show, which was definitely winnable with a mulligan in game 1 and him not getting so lucky in game 2.

Round 13 I was paired against Jund, and I was absolutely dismantled. I mulliganed every game and was never really in any of the games from turn 3 on. I was dejected, but I knew that even at 10-3 I still had a shot at making Top 8. I only had to win one more to Top 32 for $500, and even at 12-4 I could Top 16 for $1000.

Then I got paired against Gerry Thompson in a camera feature match. I’d only played Gerry in an actual tournament match once before back in Caw-Blade’s heyday, where he destroyed me with his Emeria Angels. In game 1, I played probably the worst Magic I’ve ever played and still won somehow. I was so embarrassed; I’m sure everyone watching could see how red I got after covering my face in shame and disgust when I just jammed my Jace, the Mind Sculptor into his two-card hand with an unused Liliana of the Veil in play.

Even though I got lucky to pull out game 1, I was then manhandled by Golgari Charm in game 2 and simply outplayed and outdrawn in game 3. Although I was sad I lost, I was happy it was to Gerry and that it could help catapult him to another Invitational Top 8.

Now I was 10-4 and needed to win one of the next two to get $500. I was paired against Kurt Spiess playing an innovative Lands deck with Punishing Fire and the Dark Depths / Thespian’s Stage combo. With Life from the Loam, Exploration, and Manabond allowing you to play multiple lands a turn along with Gamble to find your pieces and Rishadan Port to keep Karakas busy for a turn, you can hit your opponent for twenty at any point to just finish the game out of nowhere.

Needless to say, I was just crushed. I had Deathrite Shaman, but he had Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. I did have some Relic of Progenituses in my sideboard, but you still have to be pressuring them for that to be super effective. Kurt tried to give me a chance by missing his own The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale triggers on his two Dark Confidants, but I just couldn’t draw lands to allow me to cast spells and keep my Deathrite Shamans in play. He eventually drew into what he needed to take over the game.

At 10-5 and unable to draw into Top 32 for cash, I had to play in the last round against a nice chap with Shardless BUG. After demolishing him in game 1, I felt like things might just go my way for once in this portion of Legacy, but it wasn’t to be. I got destroyed in game 2 by his multiple Deathrite Shaman draw. In game 3, I was poised to take over the game with an active Jace, the Mind Sculptor and double Lingering Souls, and then his Shardless Agent cascaded into Umezawa’s Jitte. In four or five Brainstorms with Jace, I couldn’t find a single Swords to Plowshares or Snapcaster Mage.

10-6 and out of the cash. I think that’s the first time I ever went 0-4 in anything. In fact, I know that I’d usually just drop in most tournaments when I have three losses. It was a very foreign feeling. I was angry. I was sad. I was red in the face. My eyes were glossy, and I felt like tears of rage were welling in them. I walked right to the hotel, and all I wanted was to crawl into bed and disappear for a few hours. I hoped a plane would crash into me as I walked through the parking lot so I wouldn’t have to think about what just happened.

In the grand scheme of things, what just happened doesn’t matter. It’s just another tournament. There will be others—many more in fact—but this one just hit me hard. I wanted to do well. I wanted it bad. Since I’d started playing Magic again, I felt like I’d gotten better and better. I constantly put in work preparing for events and made the effort to play as much as possible, and I wanted it to pay off. I guess I needed it to pay off to validate it to myself in a sense.

I haven’t even really talked to anyone about it. Usually, when something goes wrong in a tournament, your friends will talk about it and give you words of encouragement. "It’s ok man, you couldn’t have avoided X." "I would have made all the same plays." "There’s always the next one." But when I told them what happened, that I was 10-2 going into the last four rounds and that I 0-4ed Legacy, they all got the same look on their face. Like they just opened an infant’s diaper and found what looks like something a 40-year-old man would make after a night of ethnic food and binge drinking. Like they don’t understand how something could be possible but have to make light of the situation because it actually happened.

I’m over it already. Just like that. I was so mad that afternoon walking over to the hotel, and within a few hours I was over it. Some food, some candy, some beer, and some crappy Matt Damon movies on USA and I was over it. There will be more tournaments, and Magic is only part of the reason I started playing this game again. Hanging out and traveling with all my friends, new and old, and seeing them do well is the other part. Gerry made the Top 8 that night, and BBD also made Top 8 of the Standard open with his Junk Reanimator deck. Just because something unfortunate happened to me doesn’t mean that hard work and effort doesn’t pay off. We see that it does in every tournament.

Things happen, and we move on. That’s how it is in life and in Magic: The Gathering.

I loved my Standard deck, and I think that the Legacy deck probably needs to change. I didn’t play the Deathblade mirror at all, so I’m not sure how the "overload their removal with Dark Confidant" idea works, but Bob was awesome against all of the decks without Punishing Fire and complete tripe against the ones with Punishing Fire. Geist of Saint Traft would have been much better for sure. I also think that Sword of Feast and Famine is probably better in the main than the Umezawa’s Jitte, and Lingering Souls was awesome all tournament.

I played Shardless BUG in the Legacy Open and dropped at 2-2, while BBD lost his win-and-in match and was able to draw into Top 32 to add even more Open Points to his swimming pool full of them. Some of you may have seen me make a brief appearance in his feature match against young Justin Uppal where I reminded the judge that the Maelstrom Pulse that Justin had just killed BBD’s Jace, the Mind Sculptor with also killed his own. These new M14 rules make things oh so interesting.

I’m not planning on going to a tournament this weekend (the Knoxville Classic Series is a possibility though), so I’m actually planning on getting quite a bit of work done for a side project that BBD and I are working on. I’m quite excited about it, so keep your eyes and ears open.

I do have a double PTQ weekend I plan on hitting with Glenn Jones and a couple local guys the following weekend, and I’m probably going to use Jund Midrange as a starting point. However, BBD’s Junk Reanimator deck is the real deal even in a field full of Scavenging Oozes. I would still like to qualify for Pro Tour Theros in Dublin, and I plan to work hard to be as prepared for that weekend as I possibly can.

I would also like to congratulate William Jensen on another awesome performance last weekend. I’m sure he’s heard enough jokes about it solidifying him for the Hall of Fame this year, but I really do think he deserves it. I was working on a similar Elves list, but Kalonian Hydra and Wolfir Silverheart both seem much better than Acidic Slime, Restoration Angel, and Thragtusk. Every time I walked by Huey to see how he was doing, all I saw was "attack with Hydra and some dudes, trigger on the stack, activate Gavony Township, hit you for a billion." The deck seems really sweet, and I can see it being a contender. I do think that Bonfire of the Damned is an issue for it, but something like Pay No Heed would work well to fight it.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that everyone who attended #SCGINVI had an awesome time last weekend, and if you weren’t there, you should try to go to as many Opens and IQs as you can to try to qualify for the next one in Indianapolis. It’s going to be a blast!

<3 CVM

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P.S. For our side project, BBD and I are looking for some funny ideas for Magic Judges in real-life situations giving out their standard "I’m going to need you to make a play" and "can I have you sign the match slip" comments. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to post them here in the comments for us. Thanks!