My Story & Las Vegas

Shaheen Soorani talks about how he made Top 8 of his fifth SCG Invitational in Las Vegas and some personal struggles he overcame this year.

Another StarCityGames.com Invitational has come and gone. For those who were there, Las Vegas is one happening city. I love the thrill of Magic and gambling separately, but when combined they create a dangerous concoction of shenanigans. I made the Top 8 of the first Invitational of 2013 way back when but was on a killer slump in the last two. Prior to this Invitational, I really gave deck construction and Magic Online testing my full attention, and it paid off. Because who was I kidding? I may have tried some U/W/R decks, but Esper is me and I am Esper. Today I’ll take a stroll through my experiences in the tournament, Las Vegas, and a bit of my personal life that is very much tied to my Magic career.

Sin City

The Invitational was held in one of my favorite places in the world. One of the things from the trip that stands out is a restaurant called the Heart Attack Grill. Orrin Beasley and I ventured there alone and regretted it immensely. Upon arriving, we had to put on a hospital gown, and only then were we allowed to sit. The menu was very basic, containing just very large burgers, fries with chili and/or cheese, and regular soda.

Orrin and I ordered the smallest burgers they had available with good reason. If you don’t finish your meal there, they have a "spanking" penalty, and we witnessed a very painful victim prior to ordering. The smallest burgers were still huge, but we got through them and did not face the wrath of the paddle. To top it off, we ordered a chocolate brownie milkshake that came with a piece of butter on top. Needless to say, we could have picked a better dinner spot Friday night than that, but it was a fun experience overall. After our feast we walked back to the hotel and played some blackjack, and then I went to sleep at 7-1 for day 2.

I’ve always loved gambling, and when it’s combined with good friends, I love life. I had the pleasure of rooming with Orrin, Brian Braun-Duin, and eventual Invitational winner Max Brown. Somehow, as you’re likely aware of by now, three of the four people in our room made the Top 8 of the tournament. We definitely picked on Orrin a little for not making it a 100% success story, but he’s had his share of nice finishes so it was all in good fun.

The real heart of the Las Vegas scene was the fact that most of the room had never really gambled before. I took it upon myself to teach BBD and Orrin the ways of craps, blackjack, and roulette. The celebration really kicked in on Saturday night when we found out that we were playing in the elimination rounds the next morning. Did we test the night before? Heck no! It was filled with gambling, fine dining, and living that 24-hour rock star life.

Vegas has always been a blast for me, and this time proved to be no different. I left with some gambling cash, spiked another Top 8 appearance, and spent time with friends I don’t get to see nearly enough. These memories are what Magic is all about.

Ups & Downs 2013

As many of you may know, I got married in December of last year and divorced shortly thereafter. The rocky relationship this year affected my tournament appearances and play. I had big plans for commentary, Open Series appearances, streaming, and many other boosts in my exposure in the Magic community. I’ve mentioned quite a few times that the biggest drive for me to play Magic is to get the control word out and to have some effect on your decision to play the decks I suggest. The personal issues I had this year compounded with work and grad school definitely affected my Magic run. But I can proudly say that I’m back on track my friends.

Now, this wasn’t meant to air out my dirty laundry. It was simply meant to display how Magic is the glue that has held me together during some rather difficult times. I don’t know if that’s sad to some, but I consider this "game" a vehicle for great friendship and experiences. So here is my official thank you to the readers who have kept me in your thoughts with your comments, likes, and Twitter feedback.

This summer I plan on streaming and being more in touch with you guys and the community. And as far as my life is concerned? It would be tough for it to get any better. I’ve almost finished my graduate work, added better finishes, and got my area more competitive the last few months, and I plan on doubling that success next year.

Legacy At The Invitational

This section will be brief due to the similarity of the last few Invitationals I played in. The only topic to really discuss is the power of Lingering Souls over True-Name Nemesis. True-Name Nemesis may be, could be . . . okay, it’s better than Lingering Souls! Lingering Souls does have its advantages however.



While it’s true that both can be countered, Lingering Souls can get countered and come back for more, is more resilient to cards like Zealous Persecution and Golgari Charm, and doesn’t care one bit about Diabolic Edict effects. The interaction between Intuition and Lingering Souls also cannot be ignored, but in a vacuum True-Name Nemesis is better. I won’t look down on any of you for switching to the Merfolk Rogue, but I’m sticking to my guns. Until I get crushed in a Legacy tournament, I will keep on summoning 1/1 Tom Martell tokens to send into the red zone.

I played some epic matches against Dredge, Ad Nauseam Tendrils, Sneak and Show, and the mirror for my win and in, but the one that sticks out the most is my match against Erik Smith with Jund on camera. We had a crazy game 1; he killed 90% of my win conditions with Punishing Fire, but I ripped my lone Vindicate on the last possible turn it to destroy his Grove of the Burnwillows and win the game. Game 2 I got absolutely crushed, and but game 3 showed why I’ll always be a big fan of the former Invitational champion.

The Esper Stoneblade versus Jund matchup can take a pretty long time to finish, but I had finally established firm control with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and a few trusty Tom Martell tokens. The problem was that actually getting the job done with Jace was going to take a few more turns than we’d have. Knowing that he was beat given more time, Erik decided to graciously give me the win because of how ahead I was when he didn’t have to. That kind of sportsmanship goes a long way, and the good karma produced by that decision may have been what put him into the Top 8 by the skin of his teeth.

Ya never know!

Standard At The Invitational

I take great pride in playing the decks that I write about in my column, so if this is familiar that is because I posted this exact decklist in my previous article. The list ran very well, and I feel that it’s optimal for metagames that lean a bit more toward control and midrange decks. The only change I would make to this list would be adding a third Fiendslayer Paladin in the sideboard if your area has a few more red mages than mine and adding a third Blood Baron of Vizkopa to the maindeck. I’d cutting the Merciless Eviction even though it did some decent work for me in the tournament. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is simply amazing right now, so pick another one up and don’t listen to those naysayers who are down on the Orzhov mythic.

During the Swiss, I was paired against Mono-Red Aggro, U/W/R Control (almost the same build as mine), Mono-Black Devotion, and a couple other mainstream decks. My one loss during the Swiss was to a Turbo Fog deck, a strategy I didn’t expect to play against. He had so many Jace, Memory Adepts; Aetherlings; card drawers; and haymakers that it was borderline impossible for me to win.

As you know by now, BBD is a great Magic player. I would put him ahead in most categories, but in the control versus control matchup I give myself a slight edge (I could give a speech about him being in diapers when I was cycling Decree of Justice, but we all know how old I am and how long I’ve played). I love playing against control, and when pros playing control get paired against me, I ain’t ever scared. I don’t think he played incorrectly in any way and I think I drew pretty well, but in the end I swept the quarterfinals 3-0. In game 1, I dropped Aetherling shortly after turn 6, and he conceded on the spot. I would have done the same thing in his shoes because even though you can do things to prolong the game you know what the end result will be.

BBD cut Aetherling from his maindeck and many other pros dislike the evasive monster, but I refuse to cut the best win condition control has seen in ages. Blood Baron of Vizkopa is amazing and a must play, but Aetherling only takes one slot and is just fine on turn 6 against a majority of the field. A 4/5 is tough to kill in general, so usually it’s safe to drop him with your shields down against most enemies. However, Esper is not that enemy, and I was able to kill Brian’s Aetherling in the second and third games and move on to the semifinals against Greg Hatch.

For the second invitational Top 4 in a row, I refused the prize split due to what I felt was a favorable matchup. I had played against Mono-Blue Devotion a bunch online and never ever lost to it. There are problematic cards like Bident of Thassa and Jace, Architect of Thought, but the rest of the deck is just mediocre against the control options at our disposal. This is one of those matches that mana screw and flood were the deciders, but I hate to credit the loss to just variance since this is where I played some of the best Magic of the weekend.

I’ve gotten a lot of flak for my keep game 2, but I would keep if I got to do it over again. I kept a hand of Temple of Silence, Doom Blade, Azorius Charm, Thoughtseize, Pithing Needle, and two other cheap spells. Greg led out with a Judge’s Familiar, and I played a Thoughtseize on my turn. Greg made what I felt was one of the few play mistakes that would be witnessed in this match when he didn’t sack his Familiar to counter it. I nabbed his Thassa, God of the Sea and saw he was left with just a Jace, Architect of Thought and a Jace, Memory Adept. The next turn I dropped a Pithing Needle, hitting the smaller of Jaces, and things were looking great—except for one problem:

No more land.

I bottomed a spell with the Temple of Silence and proceeded to miss land after land. Many would say that the keep was loose or bad, but I would keep that hand ten out of ten times. Not only do I not care about missing one land drop, but I can miss two or three after that and oftentimes be just fine. I had a Thoughtseize to take Greg’s best card, Pithing Needle to stop a planeswalker he controls, and didn’t mind taking a few hits from the early dorks Mono-Blue Devotion plays. With just one land I could have easily come back with the Azorius Charm and Doom Blade I had, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Magic is Magic my friends. If there weren’t variance, this game would be much worse. I’ve beaten Paul Cheon in all three meetings, but he is infinitely better than me. That is the beauty of this game, and I have no regrets regarding my match against Greg. I believe I’ve overcome a decent amount of personal hurdles, and with the help of my friends reading and keeping my game sharp, I’ll win one of these things. I can’t wait for the new year and season of Magic ahead of us.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you all next year!