My SCG Invitational: New Jersey

Sam writes about what he learned at the SCG Invitational in New Jersey while trying new decks in Standard and Legacy. Check them out for #SCGMINN and #SCGKNOX this weekend!

I did not do well last weekend.

I don’t often write about tournaments in which I didn’t do well.

This isn’t about how I need to step back and approach tournaments differently or what there is to learn from defeat—well, not exactly. This tournament is worth writing about for me not because it says a lot about the game of Magic but because I played new, barely-tested decks in both formats. I figured things out about them as I played them, played updated builds in the Opens, and learned more, and updated them again, though I haven’t played the updates yet.

I’m not terribly heartbroken about my results last weekend. I didn’t have extremely high expectations. When I’m playing a new format, I want to play a new deck—it’s just more fun for me—but if I’m not playing in a Pro Tour, I probably won’t have had time to test the deck much (often even if I am playing a PT, the deck could have used a little more—decks can always use a little more). I’m playing to learn. Note that I play Magic in general to learn rather than to win, as it’s just more fun for me. Winning is incidental with enough learning.

I did a video deck tech on each of my decks, so you may have already heard a bit about them.

My Standard deck was basically built to attack midrange green decks since threaten effects are outstanding against them. The key cards I built around were Lifebane Zombie, Mark of Mutiny, Zealous Conscripts, Restoration Angel, and sacrifice outlets. The rest of the deck was just glue to hold it together.

I knew I wanted more of a midrange/control deck than an aggressive deck. I wasn’t looking to get the early aggressive draws of the original Aristocrats; Lingering Souls and Doomed Traveler were both late additions to the deck to give me ways to make sure Cartel Aristocrat stayed in play.

In the tournament, I lost to Bant Hexproof. His draws couldn’t possibly have been better, but really his matchup couldn’t have been much better either. My deck was built around targeting creatures, and his deck forced me to race, which I was built specifically not to do.

In the future, I need to do something about that.

I also lost to Jund Midrange but won another match against it. I made a costly mistake by letting him untap before using a Restoration Angel on my Lifebane Zombie so that I could see what he drew when I knew he had another Huntmaster of the Fells that I wanted to take, but he drew Tragic Slip and I lost my Zombie for no reason. Anyway, as is the nature of Jund, building my deck to beat it really just made me a slight favorite, so going 1-1 against it wasn’t too surprising.

The deck I played was:

The video deck tech had only one Swamp listed, but there were two. Also, the sideboard is as much an arbitrary collection of spells I can cast as it looks like basically.

I added Barrage of Expendables moments before the tournament. I had Bubbling Cauldron in my deck before that (I actually started with three but cut them through testing since they’re obviously not that good—I wanted a way to be sure I could sacrifice a creature and life gain against aggressive decks). As it turned out, Bubbling Cauldron actually would have been much better than Barrage of Expendables to the point where I almost wish I’d played more than one.

When I was first imagining the deck, I was leaning pretty heavily on Festering Newt and Bubbling Cauldron as my defense against aggressive decks. I cut them and didn’t add enough defense to make up for it.

I changed my deck for the Open but not enough and not toward beating aggro in a dedicated way. I cut three Lingering Souls for a Fiend Hunter, a Sin Collector, and a Restoration Angel and then cut Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Sin Collector in my sideboard for Pillar of Flame and Appetite for Brains.

I played against aggressive red decks twice in a row, and both of them beat me in three games.

Fiend Hunter was excellent, and I think the deck really needs more of that going forward. The other major change that I want to try is adding Bonfire of the Damned, which should help against aggro, Bant Hexproof, and the Elf deck Huey played if that catches on.

The list that I’d test next is:

This deck is much more focused on Restoration Angel and plays a substantially higher concentration of good cards. I think this deck is quite a bit better, but I still need to test it and am sure it still needs more work.

In Legacy, I played Young Tokens:

I lost to RUG Delver and Lands. Lands is unwinnable and virtually unfixable; this is just the kind of deck that deck is built to beat. RUG Delver I’m working on.

Reuben Bresler said he thought this deck was probably just a few cards off and I’d figure it out. He was definitely right.

For the Open, I cut the Dark Confidants for two Baleful Strixes, a Snapcaster Mage, and a Swords to Plowshares, and I cut a Swords to Plowshares from the sideboard for a Surgical Extraction. I did this because I didn’t have four Baleful Strixes, but I also wanted to find room for a maindeck Swords to Plowshares. Snapcaster is awesome to have in the deck, particularly with Intuition, because then I can do things like Intuition for Snapcaster Mage and two Wear // Tear. Or if I draw Snapcaster Mage, I can Intuition for Lightning Bolt, Lingering Souls, and Cabal Therapy and Snapcaster the Lightning Bolt.

Quiet Speculation is an alternative to Intuition. You don’t want too many of that effect total because you can only find three Lingering Souls once. I prefer Intuition because it gives you more total Souls/Therapys, and I found myself searching for three Lightning Bolts more often than you’d expect.

As for cutting Dark Confidant, I was playing it essentially as a lightning rod to let my Young Pyromancers live. I don’t have enough discard or countermagic to really protect Dark Confidant, so even though triggering it is awesome in this deck it just won’t happen much. That means it’s basically just a two-mana sorcery that trades with their one- or two-mana instant, which translates into losing value. I cut it for Baleful Strix because I figured it would do the same thing except I’d be up a card.

The only problem with this is that Dark Confidant is awesome after sideboarding against combo decks that don’t have removal, especially because I’m bringing in more discard and counterspells. I don’t really have room for it in my sideboard, but at the moment I think my combo matchup is good enough that I don’t need him.

Baleful Strix was fine but not outstanding. It’s a good card against RUG Delver, but it’s annoying that it’s an artifact in the graveyard to pump Tarmogoyf. I think I can do better.

Snapcaster Mage was excellent. I think I want to go up to two, but it gets a lot more clunky if you draw multiples, so I don’t know if I want more than that.

Playing three Deathrite Shamans was just wrong—very wrong. It should absolutely be four, so I guess I’d just cut the two Baleful Strixes for a Deathrite Shaman and a Snapcaster Mage going forward.

Intangible Virtue has been quite good. It’s natural to suggest playing equipment (most likely Umezawa’s Jitte) over it, but I’m worried about how mana intensive that card is and how much of a tempo loss it can be if they do something about it. That said, one and one could very easily be right. It or a Sword of Something and Something might be good in the sideboard.

As for the sideboard, I’m pretty happy with it. I don’t think I need the Spell Pierce, so that’s at least one space I can work with. I kind of like the idea of playing Geist of Saint Traft since it lets me close games when I have to; it’s good with Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls because it means it will basically never get edicted. It also becomes even better if Umezawa’s Jitte ends up in the deck. I like that it lets me beat things like Engineered Plague and Punishing Fire much more easily.

Speaking of Punishing Fire, I think Surgical Extraction is actually worse than Extirpate in this deck since Punishing Fire is the card I care most about removing and some people play around it sometimes. Spending a black mana to make sure it happens isn’t too bad and lets me use it to snipe a Brainstorm I know they’re holding.

As for Engineered Plague, I think it’s a card I should consider for the sideboard since I felt like I wanted a high-impact card against creature decks rather than trying to one for one them until I get ahead with Lingering Souls (which isn’t a terrible plan). I’d definitely like to try it. I played against Elves and Goblins in the Open, and both seemed like close matchups (I beat Elves and lost to Goblins and think it should usually go the other way).

As for the deck more basically, I built it after seeing Marijn Lybaert post this list on his Facebook wall:

Drew Levin based his list for the Open much more closely on this. I’ve never really liked Delver strategies when I can avoid them, so my inclination was to cut the Delvers and slow the deck down. The main reason I wanted to do this is that Young Pyromancer is the real draw to the deck for me, and I think it works better as a defensive card than as an aggressive card because 1/1s without evasion just don’t make very good attackers.

That said, this deck is much better at actually interacting with the opponent since it has eight counterspells and more discard, and it plays a lot of awesome cards, so I definitely plan to try it too. I’m not sure which approach is better, but with Marijn having posted this, I knew others would work on it, so I wanted to try working on a different take.

And that’s what I learned at the StarCityGames.com Invitational weekend in New Jersey. It would have been nice to make some money too, but I think that’s quite a bit to take away from a single weekend. Next week I’ll probably be back with more big picture metagame stuff when we can look at the results of Worlds Week as well as this weekend’s tournaments.

@samuelhblack on Twitter