I first visited the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in the autumn of 2003, when I . . .
Hold it, wrong topic of discussion. I’m guessing you want to read about Magic instead.
I didn’t go into the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Dallas (actually held in Fort Worth, but who’s counting?) with any real expectations. One of the perks of writing a regular column for the site is free entry into all Constructed Opens; I had to pay to get into the Draft Open I won way back when and would have to shell out for a Sealed event, but Standard? My only fixed costs to attend were $10 for an all-day train ticket on the Trinity Railway Express and one of my rare Saturdays off.
Well, that and the outlay to pick up the last few cards I needed for my Standard deck. I hadn’t been keeping up with the metagame too much, as I don’t have a regular Friday Night Magic, but I still had the green and white cards from my pre-rotation list of choice. Playsets of Fleecemane Lion and Boon Satyr plus an on-site audible for Soldier of the Pantheon led to this decklist at turn in:
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 2 Soldier of the Pantheon
It’s a hybrid of a few lists I’d seen, including Ryan Archer’s third-place list from the SCG Standard Open in Indianapolis and Alex Gerlock’s fourth-place list from Los Angeles. It’s not particularly elegant, but it has four-ofs in most of the right places and a maindeck anti-control card in Rootborn Defenses, which conformed to my guess at the metagame.
Not in my 75? Unflinching Courage, which I omitted for Druid’s Deliverance. It was a terrible choice—even Centaur Healer is vastly superior to Druid’s Deliverance in an environment where Skullcrack is a thing—and eventually it caused me trouble. Had I played even an FNM or two, I would’ve known exactly how devastating Mono-Red Aggro could be to a slower aggro deck like mine.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. I’ll rewind to the start of the day.
As I said, I started out in the tournament without any real expectations. My past results in StarCityGames.com Constructed events had been mediocre, and I didn’t expect that to change this time. I’d see some familiar faces, maybe score an early-round feature match, pick up my third loss decently early, and ride the train home for a nice easy day trip.
The train ride over was better than most. Usually I just curl up by myself with a book, but on the station platform I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who seemed likely to have a gamer streak in him (bottom-of-the-shoulder hair, medium-to-long beard, wire-rim glasses). I was right; he’d played Pokemon, and his active passion was modding video-game cartridges. We had a fun chat for the better part of an hour as the train rolled on from the city of Dallas to Fort Worth.
At the convention center I had a few moments to say hellos, so between that and a decent pre-ride breakfast I was on my way to a fun Magic-themed day of vacation. I wrapped up my first round against Jonathan Edwards, who I’d drafted with at a mutual friend’s house, in a three-game win as the tertiary on-camera feature. So far, so good.
The round gave me a few things: another video clip to show my mom, who first started driving me to Magic tournaments more than a decade ago; a break in my steak of losing on camera; and most of all some practice with the deck. I hadn’t played a single match of Standard formally or informally since the rotation. Sure, I’d been reading up on things, but my knowledge of how Standard played was all theory and no practice up to that point.
I wasn’t ready for how many things were about to break my way.
I never faced a blue-oriented devotion deck in ten rounds. Something like Kinny Fain’s U/G Devotion deck would’ve wrecked me barring two mulligans to oblivion within three games. I skated there.
In an early round against an R/G Devotion deck, my opponent missed a double block on a Wurm token with Boon Satyr bestowed upon it, leaving me with a 9/7 with trample instead of a 4/2.
My first loss, against eventual semifinalist Grant McGuffee, came when I was at 4-0 and starting to feel pressured to do well rather than enjoy my day. It was an immediate safety valve: “I didn’t have any expectations at the start, and now I’m back to not having expectations again. Just have fun.”
Three consecutive control players’ decks then broke down on them, allowing me to escape my own misplays (such as not activating monstrous on Fleecemane Lion when it was targeted by a Detention Sphere and I had the mana open). A Sphinx’s Revelation for five and the subsequent draw brought only lands for one opponent. Pithing Needles came at just the right times to stop planeswalkers and Aetherling from doing their usual things, including a topdecked Pithing Needle when Elspeth was sitting on seven counters. It was the most ridiculous lucky streak I’d had in Magic in at least a year.
I’d like to note here that even though some incredibly frustrating things happened to my opponents they—and all my opponents in the tournament—were really cool to play against. Even when one of them, Mr. Revelation-For-All-Lands, had to vent, it was to a friend, not at me, which makes all the difference. Thanks for being enjoyable to play with.
After I reached 7-1, I had to check in with the tournament center to make sure that my W-9 form was in place, and I had a bit of time to circulate. I checked in with a lady I’d met who was escorting her son to his first big Magic tournament, which reminded me so much of my mother and my first PTQ that it wasn’t funny. There was a father-daughter duo who did well for themselves; he finished 7-3 and in the money, and she acquitted herself well at 6-4. There were past opponents, people I knew from the Texas Magic scene, and people who’d read my articles and wanted to say hello. I smiled and dutifully gave my updates and listened.
On the inside, I was feeling overwhelmed.
All those things other StarCityGames.com writers say about taking care of yourself at a Magic tournament? They mean it. Going twelve hours after breakfast without eating anything but a cookie and two bottles of juice, as I did, is a recipe for disaster. I have gout, so I have to be careful about my red meat intake—in other words, convention hot dogs and beef barbecue aren’t on my menu—but I didn’t plan ahead and bring my own meal because I thought I’d be out of the Open early.
(You’ll also notice that when I had time to circulate I had time to run to a Starbucks and grab a turkey sandwich or something and didn’t. I was so messed up I couldn’t find the route to undo it.)
Beyond not taking care of myself, I was wrestling with feelings that I didn’t deserve this at all, impostor syndrome or something like it. Sphinx’s Revelation for five and they’re all lands. 7-1? Whatever. I’m a lucky humbug, that’s all. I’ve dealt with such emotions many times in my life over accomplishments both serious and trivial; unfortunately, I rarely spot them except in hindsight. Even now I can’t sort out the luck from the genuinely good decisions I made.
A judge—I wish I could remember his name—came up to me and asked to me if I was all right, that I seemed to be on tilt. I thanked him and said I was fine. Had it been an investigation, he would’ve disqualified me for lying to a judge. He let it go.
The chat with the judge, which I treated as a verbal caution, shocked me out of the worst of my mental downward spiral. Even so, I was unprepared mentally, physically, and Magically for the round to come.
Pairings went up. I found my table and my opponent and began putting out my play materials halfheartedly; I’d been in the feature match area six out of eight times before that, so I figured my odds were good. Sure enough, my table was called, but with a twist this time: “To Sorin.” At SCG Opens, feature match areas are identified by planeswalker images, and at this Open the Sorin Markov station was the main on-camera feature.
So my opponent, Ro Hinojosa, and I went to Sorin. We shuffled. We chatted. We wrote messages to our mothers. We played.
Before we played and during the match, I prayed—not for victory, because God has better things to do, but to avoid a total emotional meltdown. All I wanted, win or lose, was to get through the round.
That ninth-round feature-match footage is below. Watch the start and notice how the two players present themselves through body language. One is calm, confident, smiling. The other is literally praying to keep mental equilibrium. Place your bets now.
Game 1 was the first time that day my deck’s draws really failed me, the first time an opponent made a game feel not-close. More prayer and a bit of Linkin Park’s “Iridescent” (with its “let it go . . . ” bridge) got me to game 2, where triple Voice of Resurgence made up for my lack of proper sideboarding for the Mono-Red Aggro matchup. My lack of true metagame preparation is plain here; nobody who’d done the homework would’ve chosen to rely on Druid’s Deliverance over the repeated life gain of Unflinching Courage.
Then there’s game 3.
For anyone who’s read “Who’s the Beatdown” by Mike Flores and not really understood what “Misassignment of Role = Game Loss” means, it means game 3 of this match. Put it in a frame, preserve it in formaldehyde, trap it in amber, and do whatever other similar cliches you want to it.
My G/W deck is the slower build with the bigger creatures. Just as it is Ro’s responsibility to squeeze out twenty damage with his Mono-Red deck as quickly as possible, my responsibility is to trade off resources creature-for-creature until he is exhausted and a few swings from my big creatures bring the game to a close.
That’s the theory. I can repeat it just fine. In practice, though? I’m a noob at control.
Not just control decks like Esper Control, but the control role in a matchup. For over a decade, more than half of Magic’s life, I’ve played aggro and combo decks, “the beatdown,” but I never learned how to take the opposite side. It’s why I’m never seen with a control archetype at Constructed tournaments. It’s why slower Limited decks leave me lost at sea.
It’s why I made the jaw-droppingly terrible mistake of trying to race Ro’s Mono-Red deck instead of trading off creatures (“My Experiment One for your Rakdos Shred-Freak? Don’t mind if I do!”) until my biggest creatures could take over and finish.
I made my mistake, and I paid for it. Even at the end, I almost was saved from myself when my last attack made no sense to Ro unless I had a Fog effect in hand. I had him talking The Fear, and I told him, “Either I have a Fog effect or I’m trying to pull the bluff of a lifetime.”
He replied, “Well, I always call,” and sent in the team. I had the Druid’s Deliverance, but he remembered the full range of Skullcrack’s abilities in the nick of time and that was that.
I must learn how to play in the control role in Magic. I’ve spent a decade too long without knowing.
For the last round, I thought my opponent and I could draw into the Top 32—though as I made clear to him, it was not a guarantee—so we made it intentional, and I went to the train station to catch the last run back to Dallas that night. I was not in time to eat at Subway, though, so I had two more head-swimming hours ahead of me. The evening car was quiet except for occasional laughter as Lonnie and Jose, two gents who’d never met, shared earphones and a movie.
I hopped off at my station and snagged a meal at Cook Hall just before the kitchen closed. Afterward, I thought better of walking home in the dark and hired a cab, whose driver was astonished to find a sober customer at the hour. I made it back to Casa Beety, sat down at my computer, and learned from the standings that I’d drawn myself right into 33rd, the bubble slot, and a $50 payout instead of $100.
And I laughed myself to sleep that night because it was still more than I deserved.
If I had a do-over for the tournament, here’s the list I would play and likely will play on Saturday at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth.
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
Not much to say here: a few more one-drops, an Elvish Mystic to split the difference between 23 and 24 lands, and a rectification of my big sideboarding mistake from the Standard Open.
Join me in two weeks, when I’ll write about trench warfare, the Deseret alphabet, or Magic. Probably Magic.
@jdbeety on Twitter