Making Memories At #SCGPC

Brad Nelson already has one Players’ Championship under his belt, but that isn’t enough for him! Today, he’s talking about all of the formats for this extremely skill-testing event, as well as how much another win would mean to him!

I’ve now had a couple of days to let my emotions settle and process the fact that both Todd Anderson and I are going to the #SCGPC. I’m happy that I’ll have my best bud there for the ride as a testing partner, but also a co-pilot for commiseration if things go as badly as they did for us last year. Our eyes are on the prize this time, and that’s for one of us to become the 2016 Players’ Champion!

Participating in tournaments like the #MTGCHAMP and the #SCGPC has become my favorite part about playing professional Magic. Luckily I’ve found myself in both tournaments for the past two years, which is more than I could ever ask for out of this game. It’s been an absolute pleasure to prepare for these style of events, play in them, and eventually get eliminated. Losing never feels good, but the passion it fuels is what it takes for this veteran of the game to continue pursuing it for next year.

The most appealing aspect to me is trying to get into the minds of each and every individual attending, trying to figure out how they will approach the tournament, to better understand what my counter should be. One of my greatest strengths in this game is analyzing data and trends, which is a perfect skill set to have when it comes to small-attendance events like the one I’m currently preparing for.

I didn’t, however, get it right for the last Invitational.

Everyone and their dog knew about the hot new deck Jaberwocki was working on. The only question was whether it was good or not.

G/R Aetherworks was on everyone’s mind going into this past weekend of events, as it was the natural predator to B/G Delirium, which was dominating the metagame to that point. Now, this wasn’t the first time we saw G/R Aetherworks decks, but was the first time we saw them trying to interact with a specific metagame. At the Pro Tour early this year, the deck fell on its face when it was designed with the mirror in mind. Without much time to develop the strategy, most just came with eight large boom-booms, hoping variance was on their side. Turns out it wasn’t.

Now the deck is streamlined to beat cards like Spell Queller with a full set of Harnessed Lightning and even the fiery touch of Chandra, Torch of Defiance to unlock Aetherworks Marvel from under the spirit’s spell. In all honesty, the deck doesn’t have that bad of a matchup against the metagame, but would it actually show in large numbers to the Invitational? I assumed not. The deck did exist for #SCGKNOX the previous weekend, but yet again didn’t have much success. It would be difficult for me to respect a deck that had yet to overperform. I was wrong.

Five Aetherworks Marvel decks made the Invitational Top 8. Five! I couldn’t believe it. Now, many factors were in play for this to potentially happen. The tournament had two formats, it seemed like limited W/U Flash actually showed up compared to my personal predictions, and many of those who did well with the archetype had invested significant time into teching out the strategy, which I didn’t predict.

What solidified it for me was looking at the two sets of Grand Prix results. Both have an abundance of Aetherworks Marvel doing well. Even my brother, who had a great start on Day 1 of Grand Prix Denver, fell on his face with our list of B/G Delirium due to facing Aetherworks Marvel too many times. The deck was out in force and doing extremely well.

Many did their best to innovate the strategy, but I feel the best version of the deck was in the hands of Jacob Baugh.

Team Cardhorder had faith in the archetype and spent their time between #SCGKNOX and the Invitational tuning the strategy. This was the first time at an Invitational I felt one of the SCG Tour teams outdid me in preparation. Until now I’ve always felt my capabilities with my laptop were sufficient to succeed on this circuit. It’s now been proven that there will need to be some reevaluations come next Invitational in my preparation process. Team Cardhorder proved they are the real deal, and only time will tell if their cohesiveness is a fluke or just the beginning.

What they did with this list is impressive. Let’s start with Sigarda, Heron’s Grace. This creature might seem innocuous at first, but it adds some serious protection to the deck. First of all, it protects you from other Emrakul, the Promised End triggers, which is so unbelievably huge. A 13/13 can be tough to deal with, but not as difficult when it doesn’t come with them messing up one of your turns. You can take a hit and simply exile it with the other giant addition to the deck.

Both B/G Delirium and other Aetherworks Marvel decks have a difficult time interacting with a surplus of planeswalkers. Unchecked, this card will help sift through dead draws and make sure the deck is operating at a higher level in the mid-game, something the deck has always had issues with in the past. It’s also a clean way to interact with both Emrakul, the Promised End and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Not many cards out there can say the same while also slotting into this deck so smoothly.

Aetherworks definitely throws some much needed-diversity into Standard, but will it pass the test of time? I guess we will have to see in two weeks at the #SCGPC! Sixteen of us will be in Roanoke, Virginia, trying to figure it out. Standard, however, isn’t the only thing that will be on our minds.

What sets the #SCGPC apart from any other tournament is the fact that we must prepare for three different Constructed formats.

Legacy, Modern, and Standard will all be played and all be important in our journey to first place. Day 1, we’ll play Legacy and Modern to find out if we even make it to the Standard single-elimination rounds, whether or not we will be on the play or draw, and also if we will have a bye into the Top 8 or not. Standard is where all the marbles will eventually accumulate, but the best odds of winning those matches will come down to our knowledge of the other two formats first.

The tournament starts in Legacy. All sixteen of us will come through the doors with our Brainstorms, Force of Wills, Counterbalances, and Lion’s Eye Diamonds ready. Three rounds of play will determine our fate. The four best performers will move on to Modern knowing that, no matter what, they will play Standard on Day 2, but the bottom four will be left needing to now prove themselves in Modern if they want to partake in the Sunday action. The other eight must play grudge matches against each other to determine their fates moving on to Modern.

Last year Todd, Tom, and I surprised the field with the unexpected Death and Taxes strategy from the trees.

Before that decision, no one in the event had even a fingerprint on that deck, making it a surprise to everyone, and it paid off for us. The only match any of us lost was when we played against each other. The deck was a roaring success with an 8-0 record against non-teammates. I personally got the three wins needed to move onto Modern unscathed. Hopefully I find the perfect scalpel deck choice like I did last year, but I’ll be honest, I’m a little rusty in the format.

Legacy hasn’t been played in high numbers by anyone in the group this year outside of Joe Lossett, who will even fly to Japan to compete in the format. He will be looking to do exceptionally well in this format, given it’s his greatest skill edge in the tournament. I’m jealous of the fact that Joe (along with the rest of us) knows what he’s bringing to the table, but we might not even be able to stop it. Hopefully I’ll find something in my bag of tricks to dismantle this Legacy beast, but mostly I just hope to dodge him in this format.

Legacy is an interesting question for the rest of us. Many of us have a few decks we knew fairly well, but nothing outside of that. It can make metagaming slightly predictable, but at the same time, a group of sixteen is often diverse enough to make it difficult to hit anything on the head. This year is no different, with many players piloting vastly different strategies over the years. There has to be something out there to jump onto, but I’ll have to find it first.

Now, Modern is something we’ve all become quite comfortable with during our time on the SCG Tour. It’s picking up in popularity with each passing year, and Wizards has done a great job trying to make it as enjoyable as possible. The only issue I have with the format is when you have to play the format for the highest of stakes.

These are going to be the most intense rounds of the tournament for some of the contestants. Eight players who didn’t perform well in Legacy will now find themselves one step closer to the door, needing to step up their game in Modern. The other eight will be playing the format for the chance at a bye come Sunday. I know from experience that those eight poor souls playing to stay have a much darker look on their face during this portion of the event than those simply playing for byes and seeding come Sunday.

I loved my deck choice for last year. The format was going to be filled with Splinter Twins, Snapcaster Mages, Tarmogoyfs, and Kolaghan’s Commands. Eldrazi had yet to rear their incomprehensible heads and Splinter Twin was unknowingly singing its Swan Song. Willy Edel masterfully designed a great Abzan deck for me, which again got me the three wins needed for perfection.

Things have changed since last year. The banning of Splinter Twin has caused Snapcaster Mage numbers to drop significantly. Without the Snapcaster Mage / Lightning Bolt duo to dominate the little creatures and Pestermite / Splinter Twin to race the big dogs, we’ve seen an uptick in decks like Scapeshift, Tron, and Infect. The format has become extremely volatile and proactive. A few brave souls have done well with midrange decks, but the format has made it difficult to try to control the format from both big and small threats.

It’s anyone’s game in this format. It just depends on if they have the time to invest into exploration and the savvy skills to pilot new inventions. We may see a run-of-the-mill metagame…or players proving exactly why they deserve to be at this tournament.

Those who do overperform will find themselves moving right into the quarterfinals, or at least the have the right to say they get to come back and play. Four poor souls who didn’t show up in Legacy or Modern will find themselves watching from the sidelines for the remainder of the event with only the thoughts of what could have been to console them.

Twelve players move on to Sunday, eight needing to win four rounds to be crowned champion and four only needing three, their free win earned thanks to their exceptional work in Modern and Legacy, two formats they dream to play once more in this event…two formats I didn’t get to come back to last year.

My Modern and Legacy decks were perfect. I loved them and wouldn’t change a card looking back. I do regret my Standard choice. I was prepared to play Esper Dragons before Michael Majors and Todd Anderson indirectly turned me to the dark side…well, the black side of Jeskai, to be exact. The deck was the new hotness and one of the only decks in the format that had a good matchup against Esper Dragons. It would be difficult for me to make the decision to play Esper Dragons given that Jeskai Black would be popular in the event. I made my bed.

Turns out Jeskai Black wasn’t played by anyone outside of our group and in actuality just heated up Jim Davis’s knife. He sliced through us swiftly and mercilessly on his path to win the tournament after a slow start. In retrospect it was stupid for the three of us to create an Achilles heel like that. It would have been much better if we all played differing strategies in Standard so someone wouldn’t be able to do that. You live and you learn.

Sunday Magic at the Players’ Championships is rough. At any moment you could be out of the event and watching from the sidelines, a whole year of struggling for success gone in an instance. For one, however, the day will be remembered in their honor. The other stories told about the event will simply be memories kept by the individuals who lived them, for the champion will be the only person talked about, the only one remembered.

I may have gotten lucky to have qualified this time around while only attempting to in the last season, but make no mistake and call that a boon for future success. Most of these guys have spent their entire year getting to this point with a clear understanding of not wanting to squander the opportunity they’ve given themselves.

I may have an experience edge when it comes to events like this, but that prowess means very little when compared to the unrelinquishable fire many of these competitors have obtained throughout their journey here. I must once again dig deep and remember exactly what it means to be the Players’ Champion. I must once again be the Brad you all remember from the past two #SCGPC. I must become perfect.

I must be remembered.