Somerset Slump

Anthony Lowry’s #SCGNJ didn’t go according to plan. He discusses how he puts too much pressure on himself for big events and where his deck choices are leaning for #SCGPROV.

Having a high-profile tournament about 40 minutes away from your home is exciting for multiple reasons. There’s this feeling that you have to defend your
turf from the players that are visiting, that you have to keep those trophies nearby. I also despise the actual act of traveling, even though I’ve done a
ton of it this year. I get to wake up somewhere around 8:30 or even 9 AM and stroll my way to the event site.

This week felt a bit different, though.

I usually put a metric ton of pressure on myself before big events. What if I don’t do well? What if I get into another win-and-in situation, where I’m
something like zero for five in SCG Opens, and one for twelve everywhere else? It’s easy to sit here and tell you the usual “none of that matters” and
“focus on the task at hand”, but let’s be real here. I think about it. I think about it a lot. I do my best to not think about it when those situations
arise, but I still do. I don’t know if it’ll go away when I finally crack through, or if I have to figure it out myself. Either way, it sucks.

Maybe I worry too much about the story aspect of the Open Series.

“What do you mean?”

Whenever you watch coverage or a specific player on coverage, oftentimes you’ll hear about how well they’ve done, their accomplishments.

“This player has three Top 8s in the past two months.”

“This player just won X tournament with this brew!”

“This player is only fourteen years old and is in the Top 8!”

“This player has the most Open Top 8s this year!”

All of these are examples of the pretty cool stories you could see on any given weekend. Stories of uniqueness or specialty. Character or flair. It’s a
pretty amazing thing to see. Stars are born out of nowhere, and the spotlight is on them for as long as they can continue doing what they do.

It sounds incredibly selfish of me, but I’m not one to really hide how I feel anywhere. I wanted to be in that spotlight. Every single week. I often didn’t
have a reason why, but I just wanted to be there. I didn’t particularly love the attention, or want to be thought of as any specific thing. I don’t know
why I care so much. I guess I didn’t want to be looked at as “just another Magic player/writer/whatever-I-am” (I know it’s contradictory to the previous
statement) but I was basically taking things for granted. I was spending too much time trying to be a story.

It was something I realized a while ago, but was too stubborn to really accept as a fault. I fixated on trying to fit in everywhere. I spent way too much
energy on trying to be somebody that I wasn’t prepared to be. Part of me was sick and tired of feeling like I wasn’t accepted anywhere I wanted to be.
Another part of me felt that I wasn’t going to get better at Magic unless I was accepted by the better players around me. My brain, and my heart, were both
fried. I knew that I had to continue working though. I’m the most stubborn person I know when it comes to working on things. I’m addicted to being busy,
trying to do everything I can to keep myself occupied and productive. This week was really testing my ethic.

I initially started the week working on R/B Aggro, but I quickly dismissed it. The cards were powerful for sure, but the mana base was absolutely horrible.
Playing basic Mountains in your base-black deck is not where I wanted to be. I moved to Mono-Black Aggro eventually. I thought having twelve one-drops
would be pretty strong, but again, I wasn’t impressed. I was also figuring out that I just wasn’t having as much fun as I usually do. I would usually not
be too worried about my deck choices and just play what I felt comfortable playing. I was second guessing myself and losing precious time because of it.

I was reluctant to work on Burn because I didn’t know how I wanted to navigate the mirror at all. Spark Trooper was nonsense if you just didn’t leave
yourself open. Boros Reckoner got a whole lot more awkward if you ever fell behind under an Eidolon of the Great Revel, and was it really worth exposing
yourself to things like Searing Blood anyway? I mentally mangled together some conclusions and wound up with this.

With the help of Chris VanMeter, I got the build to almost exactly where I wanted it. He strongly advocated playing Shock, a strong tempo card in a deck
that has a difficult time generating it. I wasn’t completely sold, though, and wound up switching back to Toil // Trouble at the player meeting. I wanted a
way to keep Sphinx’s Revelations in check, and I was more comfortable playing six ways to pace it instead of four. I was worse against things like Elvish
Mystic, and in theory, Desecration Demon with this move. The latter was made up by moving to the full set of Chained to the Rocks in the maindeck, along
with three Banishing Light in the sideboard. I strongly preferred Banishing Light over something like Wear // Tear or Harness by Force because of how
important it was to handle a large amount of things in a few sideboard spots. I knew that players were going to do a whole bunch of things to try and stop
me, and most of it was permanent based, like Fiendslayer Paladin, Nyx-Fleece Ram, Nightveil Specter, Whip of Erebos, Blind Obedience, Archangel of Thune,
among other things.

The other big addition was the set of Staff of the Flame Magus. My game plan against burn was to side out every one of my creatures except for a single
Chandra’s Phoenix for the four Staffs and Banishing Light. This gives me an inherent reaction to any sort of permanent-based card they could be playing
that I may not have been expecting, while attempting to strand their Searing Bloods. I understand the importance of Chandra’s Phoenix in the matchup, but a
resolved Searing Blood is going to put you in a worse spot than you tried to put your opponent in, so just don’t allow it to happen in the first place and
give up that angle. Staff’s role can theoretically allow you to get away with it, but I personally would rather not. Staff is also the reason why there are
only three Mutavaults in the maindeck. Having the extra Mountain was much more important than having the Mutavault there for chip damage that weekend.
Cutting a Temple or Mana Confluence is not advised because of how important scrying and hitting your second color is. One could argue going down to two
Mutavaults for a Mountain before going down Temples or Confluences.

Through all of this, I still was feeling very stressed about it all, but I did my best not to let it get to me. One of the most challenging things to do
while playing is playing under pressure, but preparing under pressure is even worse. It’s important to develop a clear-cut plan and execute it, even if
that plan isn’t the best thing you could be doing.

When I began playing in the event, the rhythm never really got going, despite a 3-0 start. I wound up falling apart in my off-camera feature match against
Jonathan Sukenik, dying with three Boros Charms in my hand at one point. I then proceeded to lose my next three out of five, eventually losing for cash
against Eric Rill.

Overall, I played against five straight U/W/x decks, and I never played against Burn, so I never got to put my Staff theory in action.

In Legacy, I wound up going with Erik Smith’s Jund deck:

The deck was OK, and I was a big fan of the maindeck Golgari Charms (My Enchantress opponent wasn’t). Punishing Fire in general wasn’t spectacular, though,
and I probably could have done without them. Moving forward, I think I’m going to shelve Jund as one of my two primary decks, and start with a Shardless
BUG variant:

Losing Bloodbraid Elf is enormous, but I think I can settle for Shardless Agent. I may wind up comfortable enough to dash a bit of red and play Bloodbraid
Elf, but I want to learn the basics of the deck before I do anything crazy. In short, I’ll leave the innovations to the Andrew Tenjums of the world for
now, since I know he’s done things like the red splash before.

The big question for me is how many True-Name Nemesis I want to be playing. I’m positive that I want more than one, but I need to figure out just how much
it fits into both my and the deck’s style. I’m also a big advocate of basic land, and there’s no way that the deck has gone on this long without some room
for a basic. If Jund can do it, why not BUG? Yes, I understand that the deck is super mana-intensive, and you can barely afford to play Wastelands, but
just how much can we afford to cut Wasteland? I hate how cold we are to Painter and Blood Moon in general, and I also want to be able to get under opposing
Wastelands when I don’t have a Deathrite Shaman. If we do play basics, I’d be more inclined to play two of them to allow room for Abrupt Decay in a pinch,
despite basic Island being attractive because of Brainstorm.

Overall, the weekend has been one of the most frustrating and mentally taxing weekends I’ve ever had. Even when I got off to a good start on Saturday, I
just felt out of it, and I’m not quite sure how to fix it. I know that I need to do a better job of accepting the fact that I’m not always going to be
recognized for the things I do in the game, and I shouldn’t expect anything. I need to put way more effort into focusing on improving my game and being in
that environment. Finding ways to reset when going through rough patches is extremely important, and what worked before may not work the next time.

What do you do when you’re going through mental slumps in Magic? What do you do when what you did before no longer works? The Open Series hits Providence
in two weeks, and spending this week focusing on a better mindset will give me a better approach, and that may be the missing key.