Reading This Article is +EV

GerryT breaks down the merits of his #SCGDEN weekend! With all the talk of good and bad value, where does such a weekend rank? What kind of value do you expect from #SCGINVI this weekend?

In probability theory, the expected value of a random variable is intuitively the long-run average value of repetitions of the experiment it represents.”

Last weekend, I flew to #SCGDEN. It’s a tad unusual for me to fly to an Open as I’ve never been in the running for the Players’ Championship, plus I was busy trying to accumulate pro points. With no Grand Prix during December and #SCGINVI coming up, I decided to go. Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Flying to tournaments is generally not a great idea, as the cost of travel generally outweighs any given person’s equity in the tournament.

Now, the StarCityGames Opens are particularly juicy these days, with $5000 for first place and Premier IQs on Sunday if you bomb out of the main event. Before #SCGDEN, I hadn’t missed cashing one of these events. However, I had only ever made Top 8 of one of them, but I didn’t make that big score. It’s difficult to identify which would make me more likely to attend additional Opens — actually hitting the big score or continually missing it. Either one could cause me to chase a(nother) first place finish.

Looking at it from an EV perspective is all wrong though. What does “value” actually mean?

Most of the time, we’re talking about monetary value, but you can’t take that with you. I’ve had money and I’ve had no money, and life wasn’t significantly better in either situation. Money doesn’t make me happy.

What about EF (expected fun) or EG (expected glory)? For some, EG means playing on the Pro Tour, but to others, it could mean getting your decklist posted or playing on camera in front of 15,000 viewers. Perhaps hoisting that trophy is all you care about. Ultimately, I think we’re there for some amount of EF, because without it, why would we even bother, especially if the EV calculations don’t add up.

Everyone has a different definition of value.

Last week, Michael Majors posited that Soulfire Grand Master + Painful Truths is the best thing you can be doing in the format, and I don’t disagree. Once Murderous Cut enters into the equation, you have a way to utilize the extra resources you gain and eventually spend. Combined with Soulfire Grand Master, Murderous Cut is a gigantic beating.

Rather than play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, I went with Siege Rhino for some additional lifegain to combo with Painful Truths.

Siegefire Grand Rhino. Soulrhino Siege Master. Mastersiege Grand Rhino. Siegefire Soul Rhino. The decknaming possibilities are truly endless. Let’s just go with “Mardu Green” though.

That’s right, I couldn’t stay away from Nomad Outpost for long.

At some point, I’ll probably realize that “I think my idea actually merits playing Nomad Outpost” is probably always wrong. Until then, I’ll #marduguy it up.

(And probably keep losing.)

The real goal of the tournament was to block for Tom Ross and Todd Anderson, but I failed.

I started 4-0, but then got Tickled. Before the tournament, I looked at my sideboarding numbers and realized I was oversideboarding in a few matchups. Those slots created became additional hate for Four-Color Rally in the form of Hallowed Moonlights. Sadly for me, Tickal came to bring the pain and we didn’t even make it to a third game.

After re-watching Game 2, I could have played the game better and perhaps forced Game 3, but I was also stuck thinking in spots where I shouldn’t have to due to a lack of practice. That lack of practice probably led to me making this mistakes as well. Now, I could make an excuse about how people never seem to play Four-Color Rally in the Magic Online Leagues, but I should probably find a way to practice that matchup. Then again, I kind of got my practice in with that match, so maybe I’m good?

After that, I did a bunch of losing, but I’m pretty sure I understand the reason — I only had two Painful Truths maindeck. I rationalized that the combination of Abzan Charm plus Den Protector would provide a suitable replacement while also being a little more versatile, but that didn’t exactly pan out. Draw two just isn’t the same as draw three.

I liked the deck overall and loved certain portions of it. Soulfire Grand Master going long was nearly unbeatable. Majors’ deck had access to Ojutai’s Command, but without access to blue mana, Kolaghan’s Command is the stand-in. Kolaghan’s Command was sweet against most decks and provided an easy card to sideboard out against Abzan Aggro. With the deck being so threat-light, having a card that can double as a threat late is very nice to have.

The real question is should I play Siege Rhino or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy going forward? Todd Anderson keeps putting up seemingly impossible results with his mopey-looking Jeskai Black deck, so I’ll probably have to try that.

Those are thoughts to ponder for later this week though.

I got into bed Saturday night with plans of playing Legacy in the morning. My Sultai Control deck (with zero Shardless Agent) was sleeved up and ready to go.

I registered this:

Uhh, that’s not a Legacy deck, is it?

Well, as I laid in bed at 2 AM, I started doubting the viability of my Legacy deck. Something seemed missing (which I later figured out was probably Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy), and eventually my better judgment took over.

I muttered expletives, got out of bed, and started brewing Modern Grixis Control. Losing sleep is almost certainly -EV, but getting useful practice in is +EV. Maybe it evens out? It may or may not translate into good things happening at #SCGINVI, but if I wanted to do everything within my power to make that happen, I should be playing Modern. I typically enjoy Legacy more, but there’s a time and a place for EF.

Ah, Grixis Control. I needed to cross you off my list, but I think you’ve found your way back on top of it. Originally, I thought its time had passed with the rise of Zoo, since a plethora of one-drops typically gives them a huge edge in Game 1 and you need a bunch of sideboard cards to have a shot at winning the match. As it turns out, Zoo is still relatively unpopular despite having one very, very good weekend. Corey Burkhart’s dominance at #GPPitt made me rethink my opinion.

The list is based off of mine and Michael Majors’ Grand Prix Oklahoma City list, but it’s been tuned and streamlined. There’s no more nonsense like Grim Lavamancer, Twisted Image, or Dismember. Aside from the mediocre performance of Rise//Fall, the maindeck was great. The sideboard still needs that fine-tuning, as Blood Moons didn’t really pull their weight, and I forgot to try the Surgical Extractions that Majors suggested.

Anyway, onto the tournament!

My day started off with some confusion. Pairings went up, and I took a seat across from a gentleman who didn’t actually know if he was my opponent or not. He and his son share the same name, so they didn’t know who was supposed to be seated where. Eventually the match slips came, his DCI number was the one on the slip, and we got to battling.

The dad was playing Mono-Blue Tron, a pretty poor matchup, and absolutely demolished me.

I wish I played against the son. Or maybe the person next to me whose first turn consisted of “Glimmervoid, go.”

I rattled off a few wins, including against another Mono-Blue Tron player, electing to stay in the tournament at 0-1 rather than go shoot some hoops and escape a room with LSV and Wrapter. For me, staying in the tournament was likely +EF as well as +EV, at least compared to playing basketball.

In Round 7, I played a sick, sick match against Jund, which was a win-and-in for my opponent, but not for me. When you lose Round 1, you don’t get to intentionally draw into Top 8 very often. Unfortunately for me, win-and-in rounds have been lose-and-out rounds lately, and this match was no different.

With tighter play, I could have won. Perhaps the lack of sleep got me? Maybe I should have had that second Red Bull? Maybe I suck?

In Game 1, my opponent mulliganed on the play, scryed to the top, and played a Raging Ravine. Great, my third Jund opponent of the day. So far, I had been winning, but the matchup is hardly a cakewalk. I used an Inquisition of Kozilek on my first turn, seeing:

Liliana of the Veil Thoughtseize Dark Confidant Verdant Catacombs Bloodstained Mire

My hand was:

Serum Visions Snapcaster Mage Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Also, three land.

Grixis Control is basically weak to Liliana of the Veil at all times. Still, I had a bunch of viable lines here, including taking Thoughtseize to protect Pia and Kiran Nalaar, which kind of beats Liliana of the Veil on its own.

Surprisingly, at the time at least, my opponent chose to play Thoughtseize over Dark Confidant. Even more surprisingly, he opted to take my Serum Visions. I drew another copy and used it to set up a Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which would be protected from Liliana of the Veil by my Snapcaster Mage, but that ended up being disastrous.

My opponent played the dreaded Liliana of the Veil on Turn 3, which was likely the card he kept on top with the scry. It’s ballsy, but I love it.

I used Snapcaster Mage to Flashback Inquisition of Kozilek, taking my opponent’s last card, the Terminate, and leaving him with Liliana of the Veil at four, Raging Ravine, and two Swamps. I had three lands on the battlefield and my hand contained:

Pia and Kiran Nalaar Thought Scour Polluted Delta

The top card of my library was a Tasigur, the Golden Fang. I couldn’t imagine how my opponent could fight through the Nalaars and the Tasigur, but he didn’t have to. A topdecked Kolaghan’s Command killed my Snapcaster and allowed him to +1 his Liliana of the Veil for the turn. I had to discard two cards total, leaving me with no way to play the Nalaars on my turn.

I could discard the Thought Scour and land, play Tasigur next turn, and force my opponent to -2 the Liliana (unless he peeled a removal spell). That might give me a one turn window to draw a land and play the Nalaars. In hindsight, I think that was my best play.

Instead, I kept the Thought Scour, used it on my upkeep, and tried to fight Liliana of the Veil with two fresh cards. Predictably, that didn’t work out.

Also, I don’t think I should have prioritized the Tasigur very much. It probably would have been better to use the Serum Visions to insulate myself against a topdecked Kolaghan’s Command, as with an extra card in hand, there’s no way I wouldn’t have been able to land Pia and Kiran Nalaar on Turn 4 barring a topdecked Thoughtseize.

Game 2 was won on the back of Kolaghan’s Command and Snapcaster Mage, although Tribute to Hunger and Engineered Explosives played roles. In the final game, my opener was close.

Lightning Bolt Lightning Bolt Snapcaster Mage

Thought Scour Bloodstained Mire Kolaghan's Command Terminate

Or it was something along those lines. Eventually, I shipped it back, into Snapcaster Mage, Serum Visions, Tribute to Hunger, and three land. This hand was pretty sweet, but my Snapcaster Mage got discarded, my Vancouver scry and Serum Visions turned up a bunch of land, and I lost an anti-climactic Game 3 to an otherwise solid match.

Other than Round 1 and Round 7, I won all my matches in convincing 2-0 fashion.

I ended up in 16th place, good for $100 (half my flight!) and a playmat (another 1/10 of my flight?), plus I got to crash at LSV’s house, hung out with Wrapter for a hot minute, smashed some awesome people I just met (such as Adam Miller, who is obviously impossible to find on Facebook), got smashed by some awesome people I just met (such as Kevin Kingsley), sold some cards I wasn’t using, and generally had a great time.

These were the highlights of actually playing Magic:

Each time I saw Tom Ross cast Abbot of Keral Keep, he revealed a Hordeling Outburst he couldn’t cast. I cast a Turn 1 Inquisition of Kozilek against an opponent in Game 1 and missed. I Kolaghan’s Commanded a Scion of Oona and a Sword of War and Peace from a different opponent.

You can’t put a price on that.

My Sunday night was spent decompressing at the LSV residence while AJ Sacher berated me via text message for not going out with him, Cedric, PSulli, Todd, and Tom. That was -EF for sure, but making sure I was on my 7 AM flight was probably +EV.

You’d think that with over a decade of travel experience, I’d stop booking flights that leave at 7 AM, but we aren’t there yet apparently. Also, Frontier Airlines? What the hell was I thinking?

Everyone has a different definition of value. Mine involves a combination of everything and #SCGDEN provided it all. I can’t wait for #SCGINVI.