Ringers And Run-Goods: An Invitational Report *8th*

Ben Friedman made the Top 8 of the Invitational with a little bit a of luck and some work. He played Tempered Steel in Standard and U/W Stoneblade in Legacy. Read about his journey to the peak.

I was pretty sure I was dead. I had kept a pretty loose hand against David McDarby in an on-camera feature match, and by “a pretty loose hand” I mean a one-lander with Brainstorm, Batterskull, and Sword of Feast and Famine. (I’m almost as bad as Gerard Fabiano when it comes to mulliganing.) After stupidly walking my Brainstorm into a Red Elemental Blast and my subsequent Snapcaster Mage into another one, I was stuck on two lands and discarding at each end step.

I knew I was better than that, but I was out of practice, and punting comes naturally to me. My opponent had a Tarmogoyf and a Counterbalance out, and I had embarrassed myself on camera yet again.

Then, the improbable happened, and after topdecking a land and resolving an Oblivion Ring on David’s Tarmogoyf, I climbed back into the driver’s seat with an Elspeth, Knight-Errant and a Batterskull, both of which are immune to Red Elemental Blast and blind Counterbalance flips. Before the comeback even had time to sink in, time was called; my opponent got distracted and forgot to bring back his Punishing Fires; and I attacked for the win.

Five seconds passed, and my phone started buzzing with the following text message from my good friend Matt Costa. “Wowwwwww” summed up exactly how I felt at that moment, considering how badly I felt I’d played that match. Run-goods: 1, Opponent: 0.

Now seems an appropriate time to interrupt the narrative for a brief introduction. I’m Ben, and I’ve been known to catch a lucky break or two. I’ve also been known to punt a match on-camera, and occasionally Lady Luck sees fit to bail me out when I clearly don’t deserve it. As for concrete accomplishments, I apparently ended the 2011 season of the StarCityGames.com Open Series with exactly 100 Open points, but there is sadly no Level 7 anymore. I’m a freshman at University of Maryland, which means that when the Invitational date approached, I was able to catch a ride with two of my chums from Baltimore. These guys and others also let me borrow cards to play the decks I wanted to play; thanks again Steve, Jermol, and Branch!

The Friday afternoon trip down from Maryland to Charlotte was fairly uneventful, punctuated with a brief encounter with a surly gas station attendant in some godforsaken place along I-85. Our gas tank was empty, and my bladder was full, so we went to a dingy-looking gas station off the highway, and I went in the bathroom. After doing my business, I walked briskly out toward the door, eager to get back on the road. As I passed by the cashier, he grumbled at me, “Thank you very much, sir.” I didn’t realize he was being facetious, and as I stepped to the door, I replied absentmindedly, “Thank you.”

As I pushed open the door, he muttered, “That’s why I got up this morning, so you could use the bathroom.” The meaning didn’t hit me until I was out the door, but when I was halfway out to the car, I realized that I had just met my first rude Southerner! I didn’t know they existed, and I had always assumed it was okay to use a gas station bathroom without buying anything, but apparently that’s not how it works in Nowhere, North Carolina.

When Steve came walking out a minute later with chips and a soda, I automatically assumed the cashier had bullied him into buying some snacks, but he assured me he had actually wanted them, so hopefully that three dollars gave the cashier some much-needed job satisfaction. The remainder of the trip was spent trying to find good music on the radio, which is a tough task when there’s no classic rock to be found.

Regardless, we made it to Charlotte in one piece, and Jermol wanted to play in a grinder with his silly U/W/R Control deck. I also wanted to hash out my decklists and pick up cards, so we went to the tournament site. After meeting up with some good buddies and crushing Jonathan Sukenik silly Puresteel deck 7-0 with the real Steel, Tempered Steel, I was confident that I would crush the blue decks in Standard, which is where I wanted to be. As for Primeval Titan decks, well, who plays those? After consulting with Kurt “Kirk Sipes” Spiess and Larry “Swasey Shuffle” Swasey, I came to a final decklist for Standard, and Tim Pskowski helped me figure out that I wanted one maindeck Crucible of Worlds in Legacy. Here are the decklists I registered for the Open:

For Legacy, I’d maybe cut a Spellstutter or a Wasteland for the fourth Force of Will, but I’m not really sure about that. Three Forces is a lot better against any non-combo deck. I’d cut Ancestral Visions from the sideboard for Spell Pierce, or I’d consider splashing black off two Underground Seas for Thoughtseize in the sideboard. Crucible and Elspeth are awesome against Counterbalance RUG and the mirror, which are the matchups where you’ll need the small one-of edges to try to sculpt a win. When they play a Counterbalance and miss on countering Elspeth or Crucible, the game is usually yours, as long as you play well!

As for Standard, I like my list, but I only played against Illusions once. I went 5-2 in Standard with it, losing to Mono Red and GerryT’s deck, beating Dungrove Green, Illusions, U/W Humans, Solar Flare, and another copy of GerryT’s deck. I can say that the deck is powerful but inconsistent, and I probably would rather play Illusions locally, but I could see playing Steel again in Honolulu if the metagame is right.

Friday night was uneventful after a trip to a local Harris-Teeter (great name, by the way) for guacamole, tortilla chips, and carrot sticks. Best late-night snack ever, except for that awkward moment when I had to cut open the package of guac with my key because we had no better way to open it. Deliciousness followed soon after and sleep soon after that.

The next morning, we arrived at the site to see the usual scurry of people finding their last-minute cards for the Open and the Invitational, and after borrowing Jermol’s copy of U/W for Legacy and acquiring the last Etched Champion for Standard, I was able to relax and wander over to Panera Bread with Kurt. We talked about our Legacy decks, with Kurt on the surprising choice of G/W Maverick. I know Kurt loves to Brainstorm as much as I do, so I found his choice puzzling. He defended it, saying it was actually good against U/W and fine against the combo decks, which I couldn’t believe. My policy on Legacy is and has been for a while: if it isn’t Brainstorm, it’s crap. We were about to see which one of us was right, though, as it was time for round 3 battles!

I found myself paired against none other than the infamous Michael Pozsgay, who I’d played once before at GP Atlanta back in January. I caught him drawing extra cards against me there, and I hoped it wouldn’t happen again. I tried to keep an eye on his hand size at all times, but it left me less able to focus on what mattered in the games. Game 1, he got out a Sneak Attack with no red source, and his attempt at a Jace was countered, at which point I gained control of the game. Game 2 he snuck in an Emrakul and killed me despite my hitting a Scalding Tarn in his hand with a Surgical Extraction. He topdecked a Show and Tell off my Vendilion Clique and killed me. Game 3 he got in a Progenitus because I played my Brainstorms instead of a Vendilion Clique after an Intuition.

Yikes, I already punted my first match, and I had started the tournament confident in my ability to 2-0 Legacy! The most important thing, though, is that I didn’t lose focus or tilt at all; instead, I let the loss sink to the back of my mind and focused on getting the last win out of Legacy before praying to the pairings gods in Standard.

For Round 4, I was paired against Alix Hatfield, a great guy and a great Legacy player, and I managed to get the match in two games against his Counterbalances. It wasn’t the first time my clunky three-, four-, and five-drops won me a match against a Counterbalance, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Round 5 was my first with my Standard deck, and what better way to start off the format than with a quick win over Illusions? This was exactly the reason I picked the deck, because it crushed the blue decks that I hoped everyone would be playing. Round 6 was the same script except against U/W Humans, and Round 7 was against Michael Jacob, winning because in Game 1, I drew all four Inkmoth Nexus, and in Game 3, I drew two and resolved a Tempered Steel. I have to be honest; these Tempered Steel games were the opposite of interesting. Sometimes I resolved the Steel and won, and sometimes I didn’t and lost.

Round 8 was against Eli Kassis, playing Mono Red, and he beat me with a blazing fast start Game 1. Game 2 saw me with Inkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, and three Plains in play against his one-creature board, with a Gideon Jura in my hand. Two drawn Dispatches and some dead Etched Champions later, I was packing up my cards. Damn you, Ari Lax, for putting a five-drop in a deck with only 21 actual lands!!!

Ending the day with a loss was a bit of a disappointment, but I knew that I could go 5-1 the next day and top 8. Unfortunately, Kurt and Larry had a rough time with Steel and missed day 2, and Kurt even had his G/W deck stolen during the Standard rounds. Talk about daggers on daggers! It just goes to show that theft at these events is still rampant, and there’s nothing to do about it but be more vigilant of our own things.

On a brighter note, during the day, I was privy to an interesting new trend in wishing one’s opponent well at the start of a match. My good friend and general nuisance Dave Heilker explained that the next level in wishing good luck is to say “Best wishes!” at the start of the game because “good luck” is overused. Apparently, the night prior, there was a fire alarm that went off at the hotel at the event site, and Dave and company were going around wishing the firefighters best wishes when they showed up to what had become a fire drill for the whole hotel. Of course, I thought it was hilarious and indeed chose to wish one opponent best wishes during the day. I highly recommend it.

Saturday night was a Chipotle night because let’s face it, every night should be Chipotle night. I went to bed with visions of turn 2 Tempered Steels in my head, and when I started day 2 with a quick victory over Solar Flare, I was confident that I could crush the rest of the tournament. Gerry Thompson put a quick end to that with his control deck, while I drew fairly poorly in the midgame Games 2 and 3 and got picked apart by an Ancient Grudge. At least I was able to go over to the camera feature match table before my fake feature match started and snag a few apple juice boxes for me and my boy Nick Walters. And yes, I am essentially eight years old. With one more round of Standard, I knew I would have to win out to make Top 8, but I was ready for the challenge.

My last round with Steel was against Dungrove Green, and I took an awkward Game 1 where we both mulled to five, then got Game 3 with a powerful draw against an awkward one by my opponent. I was relieved because I knew I could 3-0 the last Legacy leg as long as I played well. After all, I was packing a set of trusty Brainstorms!

Round 12 was against Brian DeMars on U/W Stoneblade/CB/Top, and after he pushed through a Counterbalance/Top lock, I snuck through it with a Sword of Feast and Famine into Crucible of Worlds. Three-drops rock! Game 2 he was mana-screwed, missing on several Top looks before succumbing.

Round 13 I beat up on Andrey Yanyuk’s Red/Blue Delver deck, since Batterskull beats burn. He was pretty depressed to be on such a bad slide after starting day two undefeated, and I felt pretty bad for his reversal of fortune, but I had to focus on the last round, which was going to be for top 8.

Game 1 of the last round, I punted by not main phasing my Stoneforge Mystic activation after landing a Crucible of Worlds and a Stoneforge Mystic against his Thrun, the Last Troll. He punished me with a surprise Vendilion Clique, and just like that, I was down a game in an ugly matchup. Game 2 I punished him with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Elspeth, Knight-Errant in consecutive turns, reminding all the video viewers who the real Magic power couple is.

After the ridiculous Game 3, I was in top 8 and paired against my good friend and awesome human being Reid Duke. I wanted the prize split, as Reid was playing my bad matchup when compared to all the Illusions and Solar Flare running around that top 8, but some other players no-sirred the split, and I was forced to battle. The coverage is here: http://www.starcitygames.com/events/coverage/quarterfinals_reid_duke_vs_ben.html

I feel like the coverage sums it up nicely. I wanted to sneak through damage in Game 1 to put Reid to a do-or-die position, and he managed to cling to that last point of life. I don’t think I could have played differently, except for a subtle timing misplay that eliminated Dispatch as an out, which would have been to Dismember his Solemn Simulacrum in response to the trigger, which would have kept him from searching up Acidic Slime. Game 2 I got blown out by the one-of Ancient Grudge, and just like that, I was done. I didn’t feel particularly bad about it, but then again, I didn’t feel particularly awesome about having made the Top 8. Maybe that was what GerryT meant when he used to talk about detaching your emotions from your results. Or maybe I’ve just lost some of my fire for the game. I hope it’s the former because that means I’m only going to get better from here on out!

Anyway, after a celebratory Chipotle dinner, I took the wheel and drove for six hours straight to get back to college at about 3 am, at which point I promptly fell asleep. A physics midterm awaited me the next morning, but such is the life of a Magic-playing college student. I wouldn’t give up either, though. Telling my school friends about winning $2,000 playing the same card game they played as eight-year-olds is too priceless.

Thanks for reading,

Ben Friedman