So Many Insane Plays – Building Your Own Standard

Read Stephen Menendian every Wednesday... at StarCityGames.com!Today’s So Many Insane Plays concentrates on two things. The first is a thorough breakdown of the Bring Your Own Standard format, played at this year’s Invitational. If Mark Rosewater has his way, this could be coming to a sanctioned tournament near you! Second, Stephen takes us through the rest of his Invitational experience, including the long awaited Vintage portion…

The Magic Invitational is a showcase for wacky, innovative formats. It is also a testing ground to try out ideas that may have application elsewhere. The Powers That Be expressed an interest in making Build Your Own Standard a tournament format, perhaps even a qualifier format. I would like this article to serve as your serious, comprehensive introduction to the format.

Build Your Own Standard

During the Invitational, I had the opportunity to spend time with Mark Rosewater. As he explained it, Rosewater envisions Build Your Own Standard as a tournament format that would allow players to play with older cards without requiring players to play with older cards. On that account, I think the format is brilliant. In Build Your Own Standard you select two blocks and a core set from 5th Edition on and literally build your own Standard format and make a deck from that. The only caveat is that all Block banned lists are in effect as well as the Legacy banned list (those lists can be found here).

Wizards wants Magic players to enjoy the cards from the past. They’re interesting and they’re fun. Many of them can’t be reprinted due to the effect they would have on the sets, blocks, and Standard formats they would inhabit, but that doesn’t mean that Wizards doesn’t want them to see play. BYOS provides an outlet for cards like Survival of the Fittest and Fireblast, cards that don’t see much play in Legacy or Vintage, but don’t exist in Extended.

Another problem addressed by BYOS is that many of the older cards are scarce and expensive. Once you legalize a set like Revised, many players will feel like they can’t compete without having access to those cards. See Legacy. The way this format is conceived, people play with different sets, so there is no feeling that if you don’t own cards from Tempest block, you can’t compete. That’s the beauty of it. You can play with Time Spiral block, Lorwyn Block and 10th Edition, if you’d like. As long as you have a legal Standard deck, you have a legal Build Your Own Standard deck. The format is a series of trade-offs. Forgoing one block means being able to select another.

If you happen to be a fan of Survival decks, well, you can play that. If you really like Goblins, you can link Onslaught Goblins with Lorwyn or Urza’s Block. It’s the sort of format that would constantly evolve over time as people combine and recombine blocks to tweak their decks. But more than being able to simply build a competitive deck, the format is technically large enough that you can make design adjustments should the metagame lean one way or another.

I hope that Wizards follows through with its vision of bringing this format to competitive tournament magic, particularly in PTQs. Hell, I’d play it.

With that in mind, bookmark this article for the future. Today, I will give you the ultimate primer on Build Your Own Standard.

The Baseline

Figuring out a format as big as Build Your Own Standard can’t be done alone. A number of players from the Eternal community extended an offer to help me navigate the morass.

The first step was figuring out key engines and great cards. Here is a preliminary list of potential deckbuilding components broken up by set/block. Keep in mind that this list is incomplete and primarily illustrative.

5th Edition:
Armageddon, Animate Dead, Dark Ritual, Brainstorm, City of Brass, Incinerate, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Sylvan Library, Winter Orb

6th Edition:
Armageddon, Diminishing Returns, Mystical Tutor, Worldly Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Doomsday, Opposition, Infernal Contract, Dark Ritual, Jokulhaups, Prosperity

Ice Age:
Enduring Renewal, Dark Ritual, Illusions of Grandeur, painlands, Jokulhaups, Brainstorm, Incinerate, Pox, Pyroclasm, Pyroblast, Swords to Plowshares, Tinder Wall

Force of Will, Contagion, Pyrokinesis, ESG, Lake of the Dead, LDV, Diminishing Returns

Rite of Flame, Jotun Grunt, Counterbalance.

Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Infernal Contract, Incinerate, Phyrexian
Dreadnought, Shallow Grave, Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Worldly Tutor

Fireblast, Impulse, Necromancy, Natural Order, Prosperity, Tithe, Undiscovered Paradise

Abyeance, Ophidian, Firestorm, Buried Alive, Doomsday, Gaea’s Blessing,

Aluren, Ancient Tomb, Cursed Scroll, Dark Ritual, Intuition, Humility, Lotus Petal, Mana Severance, Meditate, Recycle, Sapphire Medallion, Scroll Rack, Time Warp, Tradewind Rider, Wasteland

Mox Diamond, Volrath’s Shapeshifter, Volrath’s Stronghold

Mind over Matter, Survival of the Fittest, City of Traitors, Cataclysm, Recurring Nightmare, Sphere of Resistance

Urza’s Saga:
Ill-Gotten Gains, Argothian Enchantress, Dark Ritual, Energy Field, Exploration, Fluctuator, Goblin Lackey+Matron, Morphling, Persecute, Show and Tell, Exhume, Sneak Attack, Stroke of Genius, Turnabout, Priest of Titania

Urza’s Legacy:
Defense of the Heart, Goblin Welder, Crop Rotation

Urza’s Destiny:
Academy Rector, Pattern of Rebirth, Donate, Gamekeeper, Masticore, Opposition, Replenish,

Notice that Urza’s Block is eviscerated by Legacy bannings.

Mercandian Masques:
Misdirection, Thwart, Squee, Brainstorm, Dark Ritual, Brainstorm, Land Grant, Rishadan Port, Food Chain

Accumulated Knowledge, Daze, Tangle Wire

Basically nothing. Foil?

Fact or Fiction, Obliterate

Flametongue Kavu, Orim’s Chant, Destructive Flow, Eladamri’s Call, Draco, Meddling Mage

Fire/Ice, Pernicious Deed, Vindicate, painlands, Phyrexian Arena

Psychatog, madness/threshold suite, Balancing Act, Zombie Infestation, Buried Alive, Haunting Echoes, Holistic Wisdom, Shadowmage Infiltrator, Standstill, Tainted Pact, Terravore, Upheaval

Nantuko Shade, Mutilate, Cabal Coffers, madness, Deep Analysis, Ichorid, D. Dreams and N. Dreams,

Wishes, Mirari’s Wake, Wonder/Anger/Genesis, Cabal Therapy, Solitary Confinement,

fetchlands, Exalted Angel, Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, Akroma’s Vengeance, cycling lands, Future Sight, Patriarch’s Bidding, Words of Wilding/War
Legions: Akroma, Phage

Tendrils of Agony, Stifle, Decree of Justice, Form of the Dragon, Xantid Swarm

* Besides the obvious tribal stuff

Note that Mirrodin Block is eviscerated by block bannings.

Thanks to Matt for helping me coming up with this list.

With those out of the way and a general sense of what each set has, it was time to put together some decks.

The core of this format is Legacy. Drawing up this preliminary list helped us realize that Goblins was probably a deck that we could fashion almost in its entire Legacy form. For several years now, Goblins has been one of the very top decks in Legacy. Its power is actually format-distorting. If a deck can’t address turn 1 Goblin Lackey or win before turn 4, you probably shouldn’t show up. Goblins is also one of the best performing decks in Legacy. The only real exception has been the brief errata on Flash, answered with a banning. And even then, Goblins still got 2nd place in Flash.metagame. If Goblins could be built in basically its entirety here, that would be the presumptive best deck in BYOS.

Onslaught gives you the core of what we know of Goblins, including Goblin Warchief and Goblin Piledriver. Urza’s Legacy gives you the key accelerant, Goblin Lackey and Matron. Combine Urza’s block and Onslaught block and you have almost the whole of what Legacy Goblins provides with one key omission: Goblin Ringleader. Still, even without that source of card advantage, Goblins should still be a force. More than that, it should be a baseline for what aggro decks in the format should look like. I expected a number of Invitationalists to play it, so I asked my crew to build the best Goblins list they could.

I’m not sure if they succeeded, but here is a list that Kevin Binswanger advocated:

This deck always felt too mana heavy, a bit slow, and somewhat inconsistent. Still, it was a useful test deck. Even if this deck was imperfect, it would at least tell me something.

The other most obvious deck from history was Survival. I wasn’t at all surprised when Rich Hoaen showed up with Survival. It has a fairly consistent turn four kill with Recurring Nightmare. What’s more, the errata on Great Whale gives you infinite mana. We had many Survival decks, some that used Reya Dawnbringer, and others that just comboed out. Here is one of our combo lists:


So, if you basically play out like this:

Turn 1: Land, Bird of Paradise.

Turn 2: Recurring Nightmare

Turn 3: Survival of the Fittest. Discard a creature to find Great Whale. Discard Great Whale to find Priest of Gix.

Turn 4: Play Priest of Gix. Sacrifice it to return Great Whale. Tap your mana. Replay Recurring Nightmare. Sacrifice Great Whale to return Priest of Gix. Repeat. Generate infinite mana. Survival up Highway Robber and win the game. Duress and Mana Leak protect the combo, and cards like Verdant Force provide a secondary kill.

This deck is another baseline deck with a decent amount of disruption and a solid, consistent combo. This would provide a nice test deck for the gauntlet.

Here is the Full English Breakfast version:


In this version, you play Volrath’s Shapeshifter ideally with Survival in play. You discard Flowstone Hellion which gives your Shapeshifter haste, then you attack. But before damage you stack the Hellion’s ability between 8 and 11 times. 8 should be lethal. Then you respond by discarding Phyrexian Dreadnaught to give you a 12/12. Once the Hellion’s ability resolves, you will have a 23/1 trampler. GG. That’s pretty good — it kills most people.

This deck can also play as a regular Survival deck rather than a combo deck.

That brings me to the final baseline of the format:

After discovering Survival and Goblins as two key baselines for the format, Ichorid suddenly stood out as a potential winner. This deck remains virtually untouched from its Friggorid heyday in Extended. Since GP: Charlotte semi-finalist Tom LaPille happens to be a teammate, he suggested that we put together the exact deck he ran in that tournament. There are some potential alternative options, such as Wild Mongrel that Shawn Anthony recommended, but I think I agree with Tom. His list seemed like a very powerful option. The hate is limited against it. You have to be playing certain sets to have a solid answer. This would be a presumptive best deck for the format.

There are a number of other potential decks I’ll just throw out there, but did minimal testing with.

The first is Life:

This deck just seemed worse than the other Survival decks, but it is possible that the combo might prove powerful for the format. It’s efficient to pull off, and a deck like Ichorid would just die to it.

Another deck that historically had some power and seemed worth throwing together was Hatred:


Stephen Menendian
Test deck on 11-18-2007

This was a deck that we were aware of, but didn’t really test that much. I encouraged my assistants to come up with as many deck ideas as possible. I didn’t want to be surprised.

And then of course, we come to a deck that has a special historical place in my heart. Buehler Blue (check out this article for some variants on this deck).


This deck was tempting to play. It’s very powerful. The problems are twofold. First of all, good luck beating turn 1 Goblin Lackey. You either have the answer or you lose. Second, I don’t see how this deck beats Ichorid. That pretty much rules this deck out.

Then there were the spate of other decks like Psychatog and Wake and other historical control decks.

Keep in mind that Affinity was neutered by bannings in Mirrodin Block.


Testing. Counter-intuitively, the deck that tested the best was a deck designed by Spencer Hayes using reconstituted Ice Age block, Champions of Kamigawa, and 8th or 9th Edition.

This deck was the deck I became convinced was the best deck in this format. It looks so bad on paper. But in testing it just beats everything.

I made some tweaks to Spencer Hayes’ decklist. First of all, I added Mikokoro, which was fantastic. It beats the Counterbalance mirror. It also is a late game draw card. The mana ratios are the product of testing.

This deck just beats everything I played against except Ichorid. Ichorid was tough, but winnable. Jitte + Grunt on the table together basically means GG. Post board, I ran in Pithing Needle on Putrid Imp.

This deck beats Goblins, Burn, control, and all forms of aggro. Swords to Plowshares is unbelievably powerful and Force of Will deals with any counterspell. My men aren’t spectacular, but there is a lot of hidden synergy. For instance, turn 2 Grunt can be followed with Ninja after an attack to draw a card. Jitte seals up lots of other holes, and Descendant in the sideboard fills up the rest. I couldn’t imagine how Survival or a deck like Buehler Blue would handle this. In testing, Goblins was tight, but Hydroblast and Descendant out of the sideboard made a big difference. Hydroblast + Swords to Plowhsares is just hilarious. It’s like running 8 of the same card.

The card that would have been huge but never occurred to me, and somehow didn’t come to my attention in our brainstorming, was Samuri of the Pale Curtain. It was evidently mentioned, but somehow flew under the radar despite the fact that I told everyone that my two top decks were this and Ichorid. I would have run four over Pithing Needle (despite Needles limited utility against Survival).

Beyond being just awesome, this deck was a blast to play. I decided that unless I played Ichorid, I would go 3-0. That’s precisely what happened. I went 2-1 in this format, only because I had to face the one player in Invitational running Ichorid.

Round 10: Evan Erwin

Evan and I were in the same room at the hotel, so we knew what each other were playing. Ironically, Evan and I played the same sets. You can see Evan’s decklist here.

The matchup plays pretty simply. I have many aggressive elements in addition to Jitte and all the counterpower that Evan has. Evan has Wrath of Gods, but I only need to commit one or two men to the board to deal a great deal of damage. I did manage to almost punt one of the games, but I cleaned up the rest. I believe in one of the games we managed to both have Counterbalance in play, which is a little bit hairy, but I managed to resolve my spells at the critical moment and win the match.

Round 11: Frank Karsten playing Ichorid

I was miffed to have to play the Ichorid player, but recognized that I still had outs. Let’s face it, I have four maindeck Grunts. Tight play would be key to this match.

Game 1:
To make matters worse, Frank won the die roll and elected to play. He opened, unsurprisingly, with turn 1 Putrid Imp. He immediately began dredging.

In my opening hand I had Mikokoro. I carefully played all of my lands but the Center of the Sea. He dredged down to 1 card left in his library to maximize his attack, but he could only send me to two life.

I sat there focused and trying to not give anything away. I untapped, drew a card, and played Mikokoro. I had us both draw a card immediately.

At that point, I assumed that he knew that I had won, but he looked shell shocked. He searched his graveyard for an answer, looking in vain for some way to stave off doom and finish me off. To no avail. I got him!

Frank and I were talking some time later in the subway about bluffing. He remarked that I often give away a lot of information. I acknowledge that this is the case, but told him that I often don’t, especially when I need to maintain my poker face. I reminded him of this game and he admitted that he was totally surprised.

I sideboarded in Pithing Needles and Descendant of Kiyomaro.

Game 2:
My opening hand had at least two Isamaru and a Savannah Lions. Despite the excess of this sort of card, it also had a Brainstorm and a top, so I hoped that I could find a Jitte and quickly equip. It was not to be. I drew garbage from a hand that perhaps I should have mulliganed. He opened with Putrid Imp again and killed me quickly by turn 4.

Game Three:
So it comes down to game three. My opening hand has Grunt and Needle, so I’m quite pleased.

I lead on turn 1 with Pithing Needle naming Putrid Imp.

On his turn he plays Cabal Therapy on himself, naming Stinkweed Imp. I see his hand and he has Psychatog, Golgari Thug, Island, Cephalid Coliseum, and Swamp.

On turn 2 I play land and Top.

He dredges mostly lands. I think he plays Golgari Thug and I consider Forcing it, which I think I do because I don’t want him to flashback his Therapy on me, naming Jotun Grunt. In retrospect, it seemed like this was the wrong play. I could have just Forced the Cabal Therapy.

I play a third land and drop Grunt onto the table.

He does not Dredge. Instead, he plays his third land and drops Psychatog. He removes all of the cards from his graveyard except a Stinkweed Imp. He passes the turn and my Grunt is forced to die. I’m holding Swords to Plowshares for his Tog, but debating the timing.

I commit to wait until I maximize my flow information and get him to commit to a course of action. I decline to Swords his Tog on my turn or his upkeep. I know that the draw step no longer uses the stack, but I forgot that dredge doesn’t either. My intent was to wait until he dredged and then Swords the Tog. Well, the problem is that dredging is just a replacement effect. Once we enter his draw step, it’s too late. He dredges the Imp revealing Ichorids, but no dredger. I Swords the Tog, but he discards the Stinkweed Imp again. This was key because now he gained at least one turn.

On my next turn I dig, but do not see Jitte. I play some small critters and pass.

He dredges, now seeing a Golgari-Grave Troll. His Ichorids will begin entering the red zone. His engine is fully online.

I resolve Counterbalance and Descendant of Kiyamaro.

He dredges and now has Wonder in the yard. He attacks me down. He amazingly flips over two more Ichorids. I’m being punished for my mistake.

I dig, seeing another Top, Jotun Grunt, Isamaru, all too late.

He alpha strikes me with all four Ichorids and it deals enough damage to kill me.

The amazing thing is that my next set of cards was going to be Brainstorm into Jitte. If I had not made that one play mistake with Swords and Tog, I may have been able to pull out this game. I was furious at myself, but what’s more, I became more livid when I discovered that I could have been running Samurai of the Pale Curtain over Pithing Needle.

Still, this was not a match I expected to win. I had a chance, but it’s not overall favorable unless I have Samurai.

Round 12: Craig Jones

This was a match I’d be looking forward to for some time.

I’m not at all surprised that Craig is playing Burn. Evan just played him and won, so I figure that I have a pretty favorable match as well.

Game 1 I have about as good of a hand as you could draw. Craig reported the details here.

The key play was burning my Lion when I went to equip it, costing me crucial time.

My life dropped as follows: 19, 17, 16, 14, 12, 11, 9, 6, 2, dead

Game 2:
I brought in Hydroblasts and Descendants for Kiras, 2 Counterspells, and I don’t remember what else.

Craig recounts this game pretty well:

Game 2 I mulliganed to five and still put up a hell of a fight. I even thought I had Stephen at one point. I was holding a Price of Progress worth six points of damage. He had Counterbalance out and I sent out an Incinerate at the end of his turn to see if the way was clear. He didn’t flip and so I untapped and went for the jugular.


Stephen flipped over the Counterbalance sitting on top of his library. Stephen was so excited he forgot the upkeep on Jotun Grunt. I can forgive him for that as the Counterbalance play was very, very good and probably won him the match.

More Grunts followed and picked up the pointy stick of doom and I watched helplessly as his life climbed into safe territory.

That was probably the best play I made in the entire tournament.

Game 3
This game was intense.

My opening hand after drawing my first card was:

Adarkar Wastes
Descendant of Kiyamaro

Immediately, my plan was clear. Just resolve Descendant, but ensure that I have enough cards in hand to make it work. Since I was on the draw this game, I knew that I had the natural edge in terms of having more cards in hand.

Craig led with Mountain, Mogg Fanatic.

I debated my next play. If I played Adarkar Wastes, that would allow me to play turn 1 Hound and turn 2 Counterbalance. If he continued to play land and a spell a turn, when we got to turn 3, I could drop Descendant and still have the same number of cards. This would preclude Craig from being able to burn it. As soon as he played a card, my Descendant would add some girth and lifelink. My turn 2 play, then, would depend upon his turn 2 play. But so long as I wanted to leave the option of turn 2 Counterbalance available, I knew that I’d need to play turn 1 Adarkar Wastes, which I did.

I then made a Hound.

He swung in at me. In our previous games, I would normally just take the damage. This was so for a number of reasons. Jitte, especially in game 1, is a key part of my road to victory. I need men on board to use Jitte. In this situation, my strategy revolves around Descendant. Since he attacked in, I just blocked and traded, happily. He was surprised by this play since it ran counter to the previous two games.

When he played Mountain, Fireslinger, I resolved to play turn 2 Counterbalance, which I did. Even if he just drew a card and did nothing, I knew that my turn 3 Descendant would leave us with the same number of cards in hand, which is exactly where I wanted to be. I slipped the Counterbalance onto the table while my primary strategy was just to win with Descendant. My hope was that the presence of Counterbalance would induce him to accelerate his plans. When he played a card, I was relieved.

I untapped for turn 3, played a Plains and Descendant. We both had four cards in hand. The question now was: would he have two spells to address the Descendant, and more importantly, would the Counterbalance stop one of them?

The Counterbalance flip revealed Isamaru, countering the Shock and the game was mine. While we rebuilt our hands, both going to 7, I was sitting on the two Hydroblasts. A few turns later, another Descendant joined the battle.

I ended the game at 30 life.

Final Thoughts on BYOS

Here’s a breakdown of the decks that the Invitationalists ran for the format:

2 Survival
2 Dredge (1 Ichorid, 1 Bridge)
1 Fecundity Combo
1 Dragonstorm
1 UW Aggro Control (Me)
1 UW Control
1 Mono-Blue Control w/ Teachings & Teferi
2 Mirari’s Wake Control
2 Psychatog
2 Goblin Bombardment Combo
1 Burn

The metagame was far more diverse than I anticipated. I expected slightly more Survival decks (3-4) and a lot more Goblins, upwards of 6 or 7. I also expected 5-6 Control decks, like Tog and Wake. Pros seem to enjoy heavy Blue decks.

I would definitely play the same BYOS deck again if I had to do it all over again. My deck has great matchups against Combo and slow control decks. I run as much countermagic as they do, but have more draw and the powerhouse of Counterbalance.
The only change I’d make is to run Sammy p-curtain over the Pithing Needles.


That brings us to Vintage. All eyes on me, I guess.

I thought I’d be cheating myself if I decided to run anything other than GroAtog. However, I expected the Pros to favor Flash, an unbelievably fast combo deck that is even more broken than it ever was in Legacy. GAT had a mediocre Flash matchup (game 1 is unfavorable), so I decided that I’d need to maximize it as I thought that many pros would be running Hulk Flash. Instead of running Opt, which you simply do not have time to play against Flash, I ran Street Wraiths. I knew that this choice would give me a disadvantage in the Gro matchup. Opt is better because in the mid and late games you would rather see two cards for one mana than one card for no mana.

It turned out that although Street Wraith is fine against Flash, it’s actually worse than I thought in Gro mirrors. The life mattered both as I was trying to combo out with Fastbond and in ground battles. I expected Gro, but not as much as I faced. I thought that the marginal disadvantage I had could be recouped through vastly more experience, despite supreme technical play across the table. This was a mistake as well. You can’t give yourself any disadvantage and expect to win against players of this caliber.

My first match exemplifies this.

Round 13: Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa

Our match is captured in the feature match report.

Game 1, as reported, was pretty much a blow out. The Street Wraiths would have been so much stronger as Opt and better still as Ponder. I might have actually been able to compete in that game if I had turn 1 Ponder instead of cycling a Street Wraith. Similarly, the mid-game Street Wraith could have been Ponder and done wonders for me.

Paulo executed the GAT game plan perfectly: resolve early Ancestral, build towards Yawgmoth’s Will and win.

Game 2 was pretty much the opposite. My Duress kept him off balance. When I saw his hand, it was pretty much garbage: Mox Emerald, Red Elemental Blast, Brainstorm, Duress, Time Walk, Smother

I took the Brainstorm, forcing him to Time Walk in the vain hope of digging.

We got close to going into topdeck mode, but I had a slight tempo advantage. I cycled multiple Street Wraiths (again, they would have been so much better as Ponder or even Opt) and managed to find a Scroll to resolve my Ancestral. I knew pretty much the entire contents of his hand, so I could formulate an optimal plan.

In a move of desperation, Paulo Mysticaled for Ancestral, but by this point I had already found a Misdirection and stole it from him. The game now shifted definitively in my favor and a Yawgmoth’s Will sealed it. Paulo made me play it out.

Game 3 was a genuine disappointment. I suggest you read the match coverage and I’ll supplement that with some commentary here.

My opening hand was very powerful: Two Force of Will, Misdirection, Time Walk, Merchant Scroll, Polluted Delta and Duress.

So long as I drew a mana source (or a Blue cantrip) in the first three draws, I couldn’t imagine losing this game. He Duressed taking my Duress and I topdecked another Duress. What I saw was something that I could race against, rather easily: Gush, Smother, Pyroblast, Mox Emerald and Polluted Delta.

I took the Gush and left him with garbage. Without the Gush, he was left without ways to draw cards or manipulate his library. My unbelievable counterpower should keep him in check.

I topdecked a land on turn 2 and played Merchant Scroll. I easily resolved it a turn later while Paulo did virtually nothing except lamely try to Pyroblast my Ancestral. I knew everything in his hand but one card.

I needed to find the quickest route to victory. I cycled Street Wraith and had Demonic Tutor in hand. I knew that I wanted to Yawgmoth’s Will soon. I could dig it up now or wait a turn or two, making more land drops, to make my Will more explosive. Alternatively, I could DT for vamp tutor so that when I Yawg Will, I could Vamp for Fastbond, Gush to draw it, and play it all for just 5 mana. I decided to just find Will instead, waiting a turn so that I could just get another land or two onto the table and win without giving Paulo more turns.

Paulo topdecked Empty the Warrens and it was all over. He had been sandbagging two Moxen. He played ETW for 6 Goblins. I untapped and drew another Street Wraith, I had no choice but to cycle it. Street Wraiths had caused my vulnerability to this play and put me in the awful predicament I was in. I had only one option. I needed to find Cunning Wish so that I could find Echoing Truth and bounce his Goblins. Instead of setting up a game winning Yawgmoth’s Will, I was forced to play Yawgmoth’s Will as an overcosted Regrowth to recast Ancestral to find Merchant Scroll.

I was at 13 life due to Street Wraith cycling, Force of Will, and fetchland breaking. Paulo swung at me for 6 putting me at 7. Paulo played Brainstorm. Even if I wanted to Force it, I would be dead next turn. I needed 7 mana to Echoing Truth his tokens.

I now had just one shot to stop this madness. I went through all kinds of contortions with cantrips and tutoring and finally found the Scroll and enough mana to play C. Wish. I was one short from being able to Echoing Truth it this turn.

He swung me to 1 life. I untapped and resolved my Echoing Truth. Just in the nick of time!

Or so I thought. Paulo played Duress, Fastbond and another Empty the Warrens. I was done.

My only out was in my graveyard and Yawgmoth’s Will was removed from game. If I had known that Paulo was playing with ETW, I would have boarded it in, but I didn’t.

A disappointing loss that could have been avoided if only I had played a good list. Nonetheless, I have to give a lot of credit to Paulo. He played very well. It’s not every day in Vintage that someone loses after resolving two Ancestrals and Yawgmoth’s Will.

Round 14: Raphael Levy

This match was actually embarrassing, as opposed to disappointing. My hands were probably the worst hands I’ve drawn with this deck. I imagine that Raphael was completely unimpressed by me and my deck. How could he not be? At no point was I even in this match.

In game 1, I double Duress him in the first two turns seeing:

Polluted Delta
Vampiric Tutor
Time Walk
Quirion Dryad
Yawgmoth’s Will

He’s a bit surprised to see me take the Vamp first, but that’s because I have another Duress for his Will next turn.

My Duresses get me nowhere, however, as the rest of my hand is just mana. I continue to flood with Lotus, moxen, and plenty of lands. He kills me with Dryad beats.

In Game 2, I am forced to mulligan to 5 on the play.

The saving grace is Duress. I am mentally defeated when I see:

Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Underground Sea

Yeah, I didn’t win that game either. It was a total blowout.

Round 15: Gabriel Nassif

This match lasted forever. I could recount all of the details, as it was pretty exciting, but at this point this tournament report has gone on long enough.

Nassif is playing a UBW Fishy type deck with 4 Thoughtseize, Meddling Mages, and Dark Confidants.

There was a lot of interaction, much decision-making, and a higher power that didn’t want me to lose, as I drew everything I needed in sequential order in the last game, winning the game at 1 life.

Ultimately, I’m forced to admit that my performance on the 2007 Magic Invitational was a personal disappointment. Not a severe disappointment, but one that will linger with me. It would be one thing if I was thrashed and felt like I had no chance. I felt, at every turn, that I was in the competition. Despite all of the minor errors made and small miscues or planning mistakes, two stand out. The first and most important error of the entire invitational was the Auction.

My bidding blunder sealed my doom. Most of the formats you can control. You can test for BYOS and Vintage and even learn the in’s and out’s of Lorywn Winston Draft or the Cube. I tested the hell out of the Auction format, but it did not prepare me for what happened for one simple reason: I did not foresee the possibility that the decks would be bid so low, and when I realized that they would be, I did not properly account for or understand how that might affect my deck.

Think about this: the two people who 3-0ed the Auction format were in the finals of the Invitational. I don’t consider that a coincidence. I think the Auction was the pivotal format. Skills and experience fracture and balance around this format. This was the deciding format.

To unfairly reduce this statistic further, the two people who 3-0ed the Auction were the only two to play with 8 starting cards.

In short, the Invitational finalists got there because they got the only two decks with 8 starting cards. Of course, that is an overstatement, but there is a kernel of truth there. I also don’t think that Rich and Tiago had fully examined the Auction format. It seemed like they were navigating their way through the format in the fast-moving, fast-paced, fly-by-the-seat of your pants Auction bidding with a think-on-your-feet approach. I don’t think either had really done a close analysis of the format’s decks or planned to be the final two people left in the bidding process. They just correctly rejected all of the other decks, as they were bid too low, and ended up with the two best deals (well, at least one of the best deals) in the format. I definitely think that Rich had the better deal as he had a vastly superior deck to Tiago, but Tiago played his deck exceptionally.

The other mistake I made was not so final, so fatal, so totally tournament conclusive, but still had an impact. It was my overly metagamed Vintage deck. I tested and tuned my GAT deck to beat Flash, knowing that I would be at a slight disadvantage in the GAT mirror. I’ll be honest. I assumed that I would be able to weather the slight mirror match disadvantage through experience. That was wrong. Not only did the Pros play virtually perfectly — it felt like most of my Vintage top 8 matches, but they actually put some thought into their decklists. A week before the Invitational, at Pro Tour Valencia, Scott Larabee gave us an info sheet on the Invitational, which announced that Lorwyn would be legal. I considered the option of incorporating Lorwyn into my deck, but I decided to stick with the decklist I had already built. That was another mistake. My deck was overly metagamed to disadvantage myself from the first or second most important Vintage match (the GAT mirror) and did not incorporate Lorywn upgrades. Those were two big mistakes in retrospect. It’s not surprising that I lost the GAT mirror and narrowly defeated Nassif.

Still, I don’t feel like I embarrassed myself. I was just disappointed because I know that I didn’t perform up to my ability. Flip those two things: have me coming out ahead going 2-1 or even 1-2 in the Auction and 2-1 or 3-0 in the Vintage segment and I would have been in contention for the finals.

Still, despite those errors, I can say that I was proud to represent the U.S. and even prouder to have been selected by both R&D and indirectly by my second place finish in the Storyteller ballot. For that, I have all of you to thank.


I owe so many people my thanks. First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me for the Storyteller ballot. You sent a strong message to Wizards that undoubtedly informed their decision to pick me. I’d also like to extend my deepest thanks to Wizards R&D for picking me. It was a genuine honor. Although my performance fell short of what I was capable of doing, I hope that you believe you made the right choice.

Secondly, I’d like to extend a thanks to everyone who helped me prepare. In particular, I’d like to single out Sam Stoddard (MUCH thanks), Shawn Anthony, Kevin Binswanger, Spencer Hayes, Team Meandeck, and the other moderators of the Manadrain.com who assisted. I’d also like to thank Mike Ward for coming up with Mikokoru and SCG for their critical support.

Finally, I’d be remiss to not extend thanks to all of the people who helped me make it in Europe: Chris at SCG, Mike Ward, Alberto Urdiales, Omar, Omar (you know who you are!). Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thanks to everyone who wished me well, who offered support or assistance.

The Invitational is about so much more than the people who play in it. More than anything else, I hope that I represented the Eternal community well. I hope that when you look back upon it, that this is something you can be proud of and happy with. It was for you more than anyone else.

Next week we’ll turn to SCG Chicago and discuss how Tarmogoyf is now the best creature in Vintage, too.

Until next time,

Stephen Menendian