Play What You Know

Chris VanMeter made the Top 4 of the Standard Open at #SCGINVI this past weekend with Jund Monsters. See if you should play his list at #SCGMKE.

Well folks, the SCG Invitational weekend in Charlotte is over, and Season One has come to an end.

Congratulations to my good friend Brian Braun-Duin and to Derrick Sheets on punching their tickets to the SCG Players’ Championship at the end of the year.

It would have taken exactly second place for me to qualify along with BBD not making it to the Top 64, which wasn’t very likely since we all know that when it comes to these Invitational things, BBD rarely loses. On top of that, I wanted him to do well anyway, being my friend and all, and there is a long year ahead of us.

I really didn’t know what I wanted to play during the week leading up to the Invitational. I got sick during the trip to Grand Prix Cincinnati the previous weekend and ended up missing two days of work so that I could rest up and be ready for the Invitational (also so that I wouldn’t curse anyone else with my illness if I was contagious). This all led to basically zero preparation going into the weekend. I had been talking with AJ Sacher about a Jund Midrange deck I was mildly interested in since I felt favored against most decks with my post-board Jund Monsters configuration, which looked very similar to Jund Midrange. He had read and watched some videos by Reid Duke working on Jund Midrange and went off working on that, and I just tried to sleep off my sickness.

For Legacy thankfully I had decided early on the previous week that I wanted to help BBD work on his U/W/R Miracles list. I had never played Miracles and figured that playing it in an important tournament like the Invitational was a good idea. My first ever match with the Miracles deck? A mirror against Joe Lossett.

Justice served.

BBD was still pretty high on his B/W Midrange deck in Standard, and I decided that I would just play whatever 150 he did. When we got into Charlotte, we went through each deck and made sure that we had all of the numbers right for our maindeck and sideboard. We only made a couple changes to the Miracles list with which he made Top 8 in Atlanta, and the majority of the changes we made to the B/W Midrange deck were in the sideboard. We felt like Erebos, God of the Dead was going to be very good at combating Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Sphinx’s Revelation, and now that we were up to the full four Underworld Connections, paired with Lifebane Zombie or Obzedat, Ghost Council we could feasibly turn Erebos into a creature for some extra damage too.

I was feeling pretty confident that our deck choices for the event were very good, and I put a lot of unneeded pressure on myself to do well in the tournament. Even though I’ve had a relevant amount of success on the Open Series, I’ve never made Top 8 of an Invitational, and it’s one of my goals for the year. To say that I really wanted to do well at this one is an understatement. It’s good to have goals, but this was a very bad way to go about it. I got caught up in all the hype being built around the race to qualify for #SCGPC with BBD, Brad, Huey, and me, and when I didn’t do so well in the Invitational, I was in a pretty bad space.

I had two byes in the tournament and just needed to 3-3 in order to squeak into day 2. I only won three games of Magic in the Invitational.

That is correct. Games of Magic. Not matches.

I lost both Legacy rounds 0-2, and then I won the first Standard round and felt like I could turn it around. I lost the next round 1-2, and then I was promptly dispatched 0-2 by a R/W Burn deck after I forgot to blink out my Obzedat, Ghost Council. I was dead regardless that turn, but he did take the time to Chain the ol’ dirty dad to the Rocks before dealing the final four points of damage to me.

I played badly, performed poorly, and had only myself to blame. I was unprepared for an event that I held in very high importance and was beating myself up about it. Why was I even there? Why do I spend every single weekend traveling to these things, barely getting enough sleep during the week and on the weekends in these different places? Our decks weren’t bad even though I only won three games of Magic on the day, and it was apparent since BBD went 8-0 with the exact same 150. I’m sure I ran much worse than he did, and he is a much more skilled player than I. But I was down in the dumps to say the least.

I had no idea what I wanted to play in the Standard Open the next day, as I wasn’t happy with the deck that we played in the Invitational. I didn’t feel comfortable with B/W Midrange and felt like it was an uphill struggle to beat R/W Burn. Additionally, if I got paired against the mirror with Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Lifebane Zombie in the main, which most people were still on, it wouldn’t be a good time. I told people that I was thinking about playing R/W Burn, but before I fell asleep that night, I settled on just playing Jund Monsters since I knew it very well and wanted to get a good night’s rest.

I had been feeling quite down, but thanks to some amazing stromboli from Fuel (the amazing pizza joint across the street from the venue) and some uplifting words from friends, I felt like I was in a much better place. I spend all my time traveling and playing Magic because I love this game. It’s one of my passions. I write about it every week. I am filmed playing it every week. I like to give everyone the advice that they shouldn’t put unneeded pressure on themselves and focus on only the next match of Magic. “One game at a time” is my mantra, and I lost sight of that.

Having solid support can be invaluable.

Last week I wrote about my experience with the Jund Monsters deck in Cincinnati and what changes I felt were needed. R/W Burn is one of the most prominent decks right now, which kind of necessitates having Courser of Kruphix in Jund Monsters. I touched on how I felt like some number less than four could potentially be correct, and for the Standard Open in Charlotte, I ended up playing two Coursers in my deck, which felt absolutely perfect all day long.

With two of them in the deck, you almost never get stuck with a second one in your hand but still have the chance of getting two against decks like Mono-Red Aggro and R/W Burn. From talking with people after reading my article, it definitely seems like I’m in the minority on my feelings about Courser of Kruphix, but I recommend trying just two and going from there. I know that I’m going to try to get in a lot more games with just two to make sure that my run in Charlotte wasn’t a fluke.

The other change that I made was ditching Xenagos, God of Revels and starting a Sire of Insanity in the main. Sire was quite the royal pain in the behind for my opponents all day, and I didn’t even play against Esper Control a single time. Every time I cast Sire of Insanity in game 1, my opponent looked like they wanted to just barf all over the table. Sire is actually good against most decks in the format and is devastating against the R/W Burn deck, especially on the play. I even won a game 1 in the mirror by accelerating into Sire on turn 4 and pitching a bunch of chaff while making my opponent lose a grip of awesome spells. I had more gas remaining in my deck, drew into Stormbreath Dragon before he did, and stole the game.

Here is the list I played:

I honestly wouldn’t change the maindeck at all. Every card felt perfect, with Ghor-Clan Rampager being the only exception. I feel like a 3/1 Reaper of the Wilds split could be good, or maybe we should cut a Scavenging Ooze and figuring out a 3/2 split. But there are so many times that just drawing a Ghor-Clan Rampager kills our opponents that it’s probably worth still having them.

The sideboard felt excellent too. I actually lost the majority of my game 1s over the course of the tournament, either to mulligans or just getting topdecked, but I felt heavily favored in every post-board matchup, especially if I was bringing in Thoughtseize. In a deck jam packed with absurdly powerful cards like Jund Monsters, Thoughtseize is absolutely backbreaking. We attack them from different angles, and there are very few cards that can answer multiple threats, which puts the pressure on our opponents to have the right answer at the right time. That’s one of the strengths of this strategy, and when we add Thoughtseize to the mix, it’s devastating.

Every time I cast Thoughtseize, I won the game. Whether I was slightly behind, on parity, or slightly ahead, the card did exactly what I needed it to do. The power of Thoughtseize was shown in my semifinal match against Kasun Wong, where I was able to take a Gray Merchant of Asphodel that would have killed me for exactsies and turn the tide of the game. I might even want a third. It was just that good.

Brian Kibler is pretty high on Jund Monsters right now, and while I don’t exactly agree on the Courser of Kruphix, Ghor-Clan Rampager, and Reaper of the Wilds numbers, I do think that Vraska the Unseen is very good in the deck. I’ve always been impressed with Garruk, Caller of Beasts, but getting to six mana can be difficult since the decks where you want him have plenty of ways to kill our mana accelerants and are the same decks where we’d want Vraska. Also, we don’t want too many spells that cost six mana, and we’re already sold on having two Sire of Insanity in the 75. She’s also probably pretty decent in the mirror as another removal spell for Polukranos, World Eater.

Chandra, Pyromaster also continued to earn her slot. Besides being able to kill Lifebane Zombie, making random creatures unable to block, and being a card advantage engine against the control decks, she’s also very good against any deck with Soldier of the Pantheon. I played against a W/B Aggro deck for my 7-0 match, and my turn 3 Chandra in game 3 killed seven creatures before the game ended.

Only having three copies of Mistcutter Hydra felt fine. I generally like to play the full four in my sideboard, but now that we have two copies of Sire of Insanity post-board against the control decks, I think having only three Mistcutters is enough.

The removal suite felt very nice, providing just enough answers for Desecration Demon; Pack Rat; Polukranos, World Eater; and Master of Waves. Shaving the numbers on Mizzium Mortars felt fine; even though some B/W opponents kept Blood Baron of Vizkopa in against me, having two against those decks is acceptable since we want to be able to kill Pack Rat and whatever three-drop they’re employing.

Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm both pulled their weight all day, and I still think that a 2/2 split is perfect on them.

Really, the only change that I’m going to try is cutting the Garruk, Caller of Beasts for a Vraska the Unseen and seeing how she plays. We could cut a Mistcutter Hydra for the third Thoughtseize, but for now I still like having three Hydras.

In the Legacy Open, I played Sneak and Show and promptly 0-2 dropped. I’m just really unhappy with Legacy at the moment and don’t know what I want to play—maybe something with Chalice of the Void or some Scarecrows. Thankfully, I have a couple weeks off to rest up and prepare for the next Open Series I’m attending.

I will be in Philadelphia next weekend for the Grand Prix, so make sure you stop by and say hello. Talking with new people and signing tokens and playmats really helps with post-loss tilt, as much as people think it wouldn’t. At least for me, getting my mind off what just happened helps me regain my focus, so don’t be shy!