Lessons I Learned Calling #SCGATL

CVM was in the SCGLive booth all weekend, but he saw a lot of incredible Magic! Just because you aren’t playing doesn’t mean you can’t learn! And as you’ll read here, #SCGATL provided a lot of insight into future stars, the game’s current stars, and just what beats those G/W Tokens decks!

Whew, what a weekend! So many awesome things happened at #SCGATL, I don’t even know where to begin! Commentating feels like it’s getting easier and easier, and the more shows that I work with Andrew Boswell the faster it feels like we fall into a groove together while casting the matches over the weekend. I was a bit nervous going into the event because it was the first Standard SCG Tour® that we were casting; I thought that there was a chance the field was going to be mono-G/W Tokens and we would just be casting mirrors all day long. The G/W Tokens mirror is pretty interesting, especially when it comes to the build that Gerry Thompson used or the nuances of the few flex slots available in the maindeck, but I would much rather have big name players and unique decks to feature than having to pick either-or.

Thankfully, our Top 8 had seven different archetypes represented with a nice spread over a lot of the top players in the tournament. Gerry even went on an amazing run with his unique take on the G/W Tokens deck, which was the most played deck by an extremely large margin although Gerry was the only pilot that cracked into the Top 8 with the archetype.

There were a lot of exciting moments and awesome decks that we got to see at #SCGATL, and I highly suggest going back and watching through the archives once they are up. From Mono-Blue Prison winning with four copies of Fevered Visions on the battlefield from his opponent to U/R Eldrazi slamming Drowner of Hope to the Gerry Thompson versus Chi Hoi Yim match in the quarterfinals, there were plenty exclamations and arm flailing. Sadly, you will not get to see me flail my arms, but Andrew and the producers can confirm it definitely, definitely happened.

All excitement aside, I had actually been struggling a bit with Standard. I knew that G/W Tokens was awesome, but I couldn’t find a cohesive sideboard plan that I liked against the field and I just felt lost a lot of the time in terms of pacing the games and prioritizing key cards and points in the game. After watching all of these matches while casting #SCGATL in addition to picking Andrew Boswell’s brain all weekend, since he is the Dromoka’s Command master and is pretty high on the G/W Tokens deck, I feel much better about Standard and where to go from here.

Here are some of the key points from this weekend that I gathered.

Play Linvala, the Preserver

The card of the weekend for me was definitely Linvala, the Preserver. Every single time we saw that card cast it was downright backbreaking. Whether it was gaining five life, making a 3/3 flying Angel token, doing both, or even just as a 5/5 flying body by itself, Linvala, the Preserver always made a huge impact on the board. It felt like anytime a player cast a Linvala, the Preserver they either instantly caught right back up and threatened to pull ahead or they just put the game basically out of reach.

These things are all happening with Linvala, the Preserver for a couple reasons.

Standard, as it stands right now, is Reflector Mage’s world and we’re all just living in it. Linvala, the Preserver is one of the few cards in Standard that just doesn’t really care about Reflector Mage. Getting value off either ability on your Linvala, the Preserver is something they generally can’t afford to let you do, even if it’s suspended for a turn. On top of that we’ve also got this 5/5 flying body, which is bigger than just about everything else and is a great way to pressure opposing planeswalkers.

In addition to being a great threat that’s resilient to Reflector Mage, Linvala, the Preserver is also quite good against Eldrazi Displacer, another card that is generally very good against the G/W decks and is traditionally found alongside Reflector Mage.

At dinner Sunday night with the champion Tom Ross and some other Roanoke folks, I pondered the question if there could be a 4x Linvala, the Preserver deck in Standard. Gerry mentioned that it’s not likely, but if there were that it would want four copies of Hedron Archive.

Whether or not that that is true, it was very evident that Linvala, the Preserver looked insane on camera, and our own Cedric Phillips even went so far as to play a copy of her in his maindeck last weekend. Sadly, he did lose two rounds in a row to both Gerry Thompson and Tom Ross when all he needed was a single win to make the Top 8. It’s easy to be disappointed with not making it into the elimination rounds, but Cedric played extremely well. His Gideon, Ally of Zendikar use was flawless, which is extremely important in what feels more and more like a Gideon-centric affair. Making emblems when appropriate and turning the corner at the precise moment aren’t things that are always apparent, and I was very impressed with all of his play on camera.

Read Gerry Thompson’s Articles

During coverage Andrew and I kept hitting on the fact that Standard felt like it was turning into a midrange arms race. Players are trying to “out-midrange” each other by going bigger and clunkier, trying to have the biggest and baddest haymakers. In situations like this it’s often correct to just play an aggro deck, and when we first saw Tom Ross playing R/W Humans and crushing someone we started talking about how this weekend might just be the perfect weekend to be on the beatdown plan.

Tom ended up winning the whole thing and we also saw Bant Humans have a breakout weekend, but I also alluded to the fact that if this was the situation then I wouldn’t have been surprised if Gerry wasn’t also on the same deck as Tom.

He wasn’t, he still went 15-0 in the Swiss, and he played the exact same maindeck from his G/W Tokens mirror article a few weeks ago.

In fact, there were just a handful of changes to his sideboard from the article too, the biggest of which was Planar Outburst. When I finally saw that, it all made sense.

Gerry is, and has been, a genius for a long time.

Talking with him about his deck at dinner Sunday night was a delight, and it really summed up a lot of my thoughts on some of the cards and strategies of the already existing G/W Tokens builds… especially that of Tragic Arrogance. A lot of times against a Bant deck, one of the premier decks for that card in particular, they will have a Duskwatch Recruiter, an Eldrazi Displacer, and a Sylvan Advocate and you’ll be looking at the Tragic Arrogance that’s been sitting in your hand waiting for the proper time to be deployed while wishing that you could just kill all of their creatures.

We still have planeswalkers to combo with our five-mana game-breaker, but now we just get to kill everything and we even have the opportunity to make a 4/4 at the same time.

Seeing Gerry pilot the post-board games with his control configuration was a delight. Being able to get rid of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Oath of Nissa, and shave some other low-impact cards for Planar Outburst, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Linvala, the Preserver and more spot removal was a delight. Slowing the game down, and playing against what our opponent is generally expecting of us gives us an edge, and watching how some of Gerry’s games played out over the weekend was great proof of that.

The Kiefer Kids Are Naturals

In round one of #SCGATL I had the pleasure of casting Jack Kiefer piloting his Grixis Control deck and was absolutely blown away with his play. It seems that he and his family are making a road trip out of the month of June and traveling to all of the SCG Tour® events! They are all very good, but this was the first time that I got to fully watch Jack play and I’ve gotta say – watch out world.

He was sequencing his spells masterfully, finding all of the right spots to sneak in his creatures and using his life total as a resource like a seasoned pro. There was even a point where, without batting an eye, he determined that even though he was at three and facing down multiple lethal attackers the only chance he had of winning the game was to cast Read the Bones.

Something that I didn’t pick up on early enough in my Magic career was the concept of playing to win a game. It is in our nature to try not to die. I don’t want to lose right now, so I am going to do everything I can to prevent you from winning. This isn’t quite the same as playing to win the game. The simple shift from “how do I not lose” to “how do I actually win this game” was one of the first big steps that I took in getting better at Magic, and I can thank Gerry for helping me to realize that. It seems that Chris Andersen is already instilling this instinct early for the Kiefer Squad ™ and I really can’t wait to see just what they can do in Magic.

Tom Ross Is Out Of This World

Tom picking up yet another win isn’t something that anyone should be surprised about. Tom is a great deckbuilder and a great Magic player, but what impresses me the most about Tom is that he always does it his way.

Last week he wrote one of the best articles that I have ever read. I am not labeling it as a Magic article, because it’s not just about Magic. It’s also not even really about the poker event where he and Todd split something like $14,000. It’s about people. It’s about growth. It’s about coming to the realization that being the best version of you is infinitely better than trying to be someone else.

Tom Ross is the best at being Tom Ross, so why should he ever try to not be Tom Ross?

Tom is going to play Anointer of Champions whether or not you think it’s a good card. Tom is going to put four Needle Spires and some Reckless Bushwhackers in his sideboard and beat you silly when you think you can attrition and sweep up his board.

To steal a quote from his article:

“Avoid bad spots while putting opponents into bad spots. Let them make mistakes. Given enough opportunities to hang themselves, even the best in the world will.”

That is one of Tom’s strengths. If you watch him play he is quick to make decisions, very concise in his movements, and will play circles around anyone trying to win via the combat step. This is one of the reasons that he is so successful with Infect. This is one of the reasons why he was able to position Rabble Red as the deck of a Pro Tour for his friends. This is one of the reasons of why he won back-to-back Invitationals doing just what he does best: being Tom Ross.

I think it’s time for me to start being the best Chris VanMeter than I can be. That’s not just about Magic, or any one specific thing. Whether it’s changing to a healthier lifestyle and joining a gym or putting in extra time to work on the decks that you want to work on. It’s not even about making sure that everything else that you need to take care of like homework, grownup work commitments or domestic duties for your significant other get taken care of before you are able to battle in this game we all love. Being the best you is much better than anything else that you can bring to the table.

The one part from Tom’s article that will resonate with me is that it’s better to play at 100% and 0% once each than 50% twice. He goes on to talk about how prizes are top-heavy and whatnot, but even outside of tournaments or gaming we can find that going through things with half-efforts and half-focus is much worse than just taking a break and refocusing.

Be the best you and always give maximum effort. I’m off to go practice what I preach!