On The Grind
I really hate when people say that Magic is just a game. For some of us, it’s a way of life. However, that does create its own set of problems. Drew
Levin, who is quickly rising in the ranks, also has a 9—5 job. When he approached me, asking about how I dealt with taking Magic seriously, it was easy
to answer. I was having similar apprehensions about taking Magic as seriously as well.
Basically, Magic needs to be taken seriously in order to succeed at a high level, but you can’t view it as your job. For some people, it may literally
be the case, but putting that amount of pressure on yourself to succeed will only end in failure. Instead, you need to find a way to compartmentalize
Magic as the “fun” or “vacation” aspect of your life.
When Drew was at work, he wanted to be playing Magic, but when he was at a Magic tournament, he wished he was home. As of late, I’ve been burnt out on
Magic too. A solid two months of traveling straight, without ever going home, will do that to you. Naturally, my “vacation” felt like a job, and I
needed to take a break in order to get back into the right mindset.
A couple years ago, I was living with a buddy of mine named Steve Simon. He used to always complain about working as a bouncer, which always tilted me.
All he did was sit around, watch basketball, and drink when he was at work. One day, he complained about how he wanted the day off, and I asked him
what he would do with his day off. He replied with, “Probably watch the game and have some beers.”
Whatever you choose to do in life, your happiness will all depend on your attitude and how you view things. Despite what some people may tell you, you
can change your attitude. Work can become less about work and more about building something.
Sometimes all it takes is a little break to get your head back in the game and start enjoying something again. After being home for a couple weeks, I
didn’t want to leave the comfort of my bed ever again. Skipping Boston seemed likely, but then I talked to Ben Hayes. Ben, a NYC resident, invited me
to stay at his place for a few days before and after the SCG Open. He, too, needed a break from work and wanted to take the opportunity to visit
friends and play some Magic.
Ben is one of my favorite people in the whole universe, and so that was a deal I just couldn’t pass up. A $300 direct flight to JFK made the situation
even better. I left my frozen tundra for the bustling city with a big ole smile on my face. It didn’t take long, and already I was in high spirits.
It’s crazy what the prospect of spending time with good friends will do for you.
Story Time In The Big City
Even despite a minor setback, I was in a good mood. I arrived in the city around noon, but Ben had to be present in a surprise meeting. I was left out
on the street in front of Madison Square Garden. I spent my time grabbing a terrible two-dollar hot dog and taking pictures for passing tourists.
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t navigate the internet well enough to find Ben’s work address.
About an hour and a half later, Ben gave me directions. I met up with him, grabbed his keys, and headed for his apartment. I thought about asking him
whether he told his family that I was coming, as surely he did. Both his sister and parents were surprised to see me napping on their couch when
they came home. We spent Wednesday night playing in the MTGO PTQ, where we finished a disappointing tenth with Sparkblade.
AJ Sacher was supposed to arrive on Thursday, and Ben decided that we should head to a local college to hear Richard Garfield speak about games.
Everything seemed to be going well, except for the fact that AJ never showed up. He woke up late, missed his bus, and refused to return our phone
calls. Ben and I decided to head to Jim Hanley’s Universe, where ringers such as Edgar Flores game. We hung out for a minute, wandered the street, and
hit up Chicken BonChon, which was delicious.
Once we finally got ahold of AJ, we made plans for Friday. Ben left work around one; we were supposed to leave his place around two, pick up AJ from
Penn Station at 2:30, and grab some food before catching our bus at four. Naturally, our plans changed somewhat.
Around two, we had finished packing and were about ready to go. I decided to hit the restroom before we took off. There’s no fan in the bathroom, so it
was dead silent. From the hallway, I heard a faint cry for help.
“Help me please… Somebody come.”
Interesting, I thought, and I alerted Ben. He thought I was joking, but after some insistence, he put his ear to his front door and listened. The cry
came again, and curiously, he stuck his head out the door. A few doors down, there was an old woman that was the picture of death.
She was hunched over, with a loose fitting robe hanging off her body, which was pure skin and bones. A cane seemed to be the only way she was able to
hold herself up.
Have you seen The Walking Dead? She looked like zombie #36.
“Help me please…”
“Okay, do you want me to go to the front desk and get someone to help you?” Ben asked.
“No! Help me… I forgot my lock combination.”
Ben started giggling.
Allow me to explain. Ben is not a bad person. In fact, despite his young age, he’s one of the most upstanding people I know. Still, he tends to start
laughing in tense situations in order to cope with what’s going on around him, and I couldn’t blame him.
It was pretty clear that she was senile and didn’t appear to be in much danger at all, so he told her again that he’d find someone at the front desk to
help her. After all, we were supposed to have left a few minutes ago.
He started to shut the door, still in a giggle fit, when I heard the woman cry, “It’s not funny!”
For the next few minutes, Ben searched for the number to the front desk, but to no avail. In order to help her, we’d have to navigate past her, which
seemed difficult. I watch a lot of zombie movies, and in every instance, the zombie plague seems to get started by a situation just like this. Some
unaware citizen tries to help someone who appears sickly, only to have their guts torn out moments later. Instead of dealing with a single infected
person, now there’s two, and then four, etc.
I was apprehensive at best.
Once it was clear there were no other options, and we needed to make a break for it, Ben poked his head into the hall again. This time, he was shocked
to see that she was a mere foot or two from him. He shrieked and slammed the door shut, while she cried out, “I lost my passcode!”
We were trapped, and it was already 2:20. Ben texted AJ to tell him that we were going to be a little late, and we contemplated our next move. I
considered just jumping off the ninth-floor balcony to get to where we needed to go, but Ben vetoed that option. Once we heard another voice in the
hallway, our choice was clear: We were going to make a break for it.
She was receiving help, although I’m not sure how Ben’s neighbor, another old woman, would be able to figure out whatever lock combination the robed
woman needed. They were covering the entire hallway, and we couldn’t get past them. After a few steps, the robed woman stopped, leaned against the
wall, and murmured, “I’m in soooo much pain…”
Ben and I instantly felt terrible, although Ben did note that if she led with, “I’m in so much pain,” things would have been different. We wouldn’t
have treated her like a senile old lady. We booked it down the stairs and hoped she’d be okay.
Story Time In Boston
Once we finished taking the wonderful Fung Wah! bus into Boston, we boarded a train bound for Boston College, where Yoni Skolnik was nice enough to
offer us spots in his dorm. Since the college was the last stop, the train was getting more and more packed with each stop.
AJ was jammed against the entrance and a rail, while I was on the steps, and Ben was safe on the main walkway after the steps. There was a girl with
her headphones in, smooshed between me and AJ, who was desperately acting like she couldn’t hear us despite laughing at all our jokes.
Two frat bros boarded next, one on the opposite side of the door, while the other barely managed to fit between them with nothing to hold onto. When
the train started moving, he was swaying with the crowd, with no control over his footing. His friend, safe on the rail, mentioned that there was a
whole lot of bumping and grinding going on.
AJ, without missing a beat, gingerly rubbed the shoulder of the one caught in the middle and spoke directly into his ear, “Just go with it.” His friend
laughed, while he tried in vain to get as far from AJ as possible.
At the next stop, a few people got off, and the bros made a dash for a spot away from AJ. As they darted away, AJ called after them, “Was it good for
In the last week, I played two MTGO PTQs with Sparkblade, finishing 6-2 both times. With the mirror being all about board control, the Sparkmages
seemed awesome. Mortarpod and Day of Judgment, if they were smart enough to keep it in, were proving somewhat troublesome. My friends playing in
Regionals wanted to play straight U/W, so I was also testing that for them.
I decided to just play U/W in the Standard portion of StarCityGames.com Open and see how that went. Round three, I lost to Vampires with Hero of Oxid
Ridge. With my plethora of spot removal, Mortarpod, and Sylvok Lifestaff, I didn’t feel like it was a terrible matchup, but losing the die roll and not
having any white mana in game two did me in.
I rattled off some wins and then proceeded to punt game three against U/W Venser Control. My punts destroyed my board position after he peeled Jace,
removed mine with his emblem, and Brainstormed into two Preordains. When turns expired, I had no permanents, he had three Venser emblems, but I refused
to concede, since I was still in Top 8 contention.
The next round, I defeated KYT of manadeprived.com fame, despite playing poorly. In the final round, I was paired against AJ and asked him if he wanted
me to concede. I had locked up Level 8, while he was still in the hunt for points, and I was willing to help.
He took me up on my offer, and I could finally rest and railbird a Top 8 that consisted of seven U/W Caw-Blades, all piloted by masters, and Larry
Swasey, with U/G Fauna Shaman. Larry is an innovative deckbuilder in his own right and even defeated me at the Invitational last year. I’ve been
chatting with him since, and he’s someone to watch out for.
Edgar Flores added another Top 8 to his already impressive resume, this time with an innovative Caw-Blade build featuring zero (!) Gideon Juras.
SCG Open: Boston marked the return of DanJ. Ever since the Invitational, I could see the glazed-over, dead look in his eyes at every tournament. This
time, something was different. His fire was back, and he looked unstoppable. For once in my life, I was happy to be in the one-loss bracket, as that
meant I was out of his. After round five, I called him on winning the tournament, and he didn’t disappoint.
Dave Shiels, another Top 8er, finally took a loss with Caw-Blade in sanctioned play. His Top 4 finish made his record a staggering 44-1-x!
Drew Levin, AJ Sacher, Alex Bertoncini, and Edgar Flores continued to post impressive results. Sorry I was too busy slacking this weekend, guys!
There were two Valakut decks outside the Top 8, both with Oracle of Mul Daya and Cultivates. Nice job guys!
The R/U/G Matchup
DanJ defeated Jeremy Dombek, notable ringer, in round six, and I had the pleasure of playing him in round seven. While the R/U/G matchup is supposed to
be tough, that’s mostly because typical U/W decks can’t remove Lotus Cobra. After boarding in Ousts and Journeys to Nowhere, the matchup becomes
significantly easier if they can’t get a mana advantage on you. This is another reason why Oracle of Mul Daya is so good right now.
Much of the matchup comes down to bluffing Mana Leak or Spell Pierce against them and having it work in my favor. Both of my R/U/G opponents respected
my open mana, and it definitely cost them. Alex Bertoncini says that you should play more threats in order to beat Mana Leak, but that’s only half the
battle. The other half, which is implied by what Alex is saying, is that you, the R/U/G player, don’t have a better late game than U/W. As such, you
just have to jam your threats into their open mana and hope something sticks.
Board control is king, and having your opponent Brainstorm a few times with Jace isn’t the end of the world. With most U/W lists playing only three
Mana Leaks, and the majority of them siding out Spell Pierces, your Jaces are likely safe to resolve. It isn’t quite like the U/W mirror where if you
play Jace, they counter and resolve their own Jace and basically win.
Unlike U/W, R/U/G has the capability to fight Jace rather well with Inferno Titan, Precursor Golem, and Raging Ravine. There is no real reason to be
scared of them resolving their Jace. R/U/G is the beatdown and needs to operate as such.
On the flip side, U/W wants all the removal they can get their hands on. Even Condemn, while not great, is acceptable post-board.
I played U/B Control in Legacy because it beats all the “good” decks. My three rounds were against Burn, Goblins, and B/W Aggro. Ahem.
I defeated Burn, had an unfortunate match against Goblins, although that is a terrible matchup anyway, and then got out-Bobbed in game three by B/W.
Disappointed, sad, and hungry, I dropped to search for sustenance.
I’ll probably play the deck again, as my record on MTGO with the deck is quite good, but I need to dodge Mountains.
The list, for reference:
Hopefully see you in Charlotte!