Stories From Charlotte

Brian Braun-Duin shares some stories from his rollercoaster of a time at #SCGINVI, where he made Top 16 of the Invitational and locked up a spot in the SCG Players’ Championship.

Last weekend was an interesting one. My emotions were strung from insane highs to absurd lows. I experienced a feeling of invincibility in the same event that made me feel the most frustration I can ever remember experiencing at a Magic tournament. I went from happiness to tilt to happiness again in the span of just a few hours. I wasn’t sure I would even be able to play in the SCG Invitational, and then I started 10-0. For every emotion I felt in Charlotte, I experienced an equal and opposite emotion.

Magic is a cruel taskmaster, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I want to share some of the stories I have from this event, for better or for worse, and I hope you will join me for the ride. But first you must excuse me. Where are my manners? It wouldn’t be very gentlemanly to weave a tale of punts and glory without first providing the 75s that Chris VanMeter and I took into battle.

In Standard I avoided the audible curse and stuck to my guns with B/W Midrange.

This list is tuned for a specific metagame. I do not think I would play it in an open field where my opponents could be on anything. I expected to play against essentially three decks in the Invitational: R/W Burn, U/W/x Control, and B/x Midrange. I played six of my eight rounds against those decks along with Monsters twice.

This list is not very good at beating Mono-Blue Devotion and Monsters. If you’re expecting to play against those two decks, then I would recommend making significant changes to the deck or simply playing a different deck.

In Legacy I played my U/W/R Miracles list again:

I made a few changes from my Top 8 list in Atlanta. I decided that in some matchups Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull was so powerful and that I so rarely wanted another Equipment to search up that I was just going to make Stoneforge fetching Batterskull my main plan. Thoughtseize my Batterskull? I’ll just find my other one. I love discarding a Batterskull to something like Liliana of the Veil and then just putting in the other one afterward. Your opponent will always check your graveyard to make sure you aren’t cheating them.

People were certainly surprised by the second copy of Batterskull, and I won a number of games thanks to being able to set this up.

I went 4-2 (after byes) with this list in Legacy. I think that is fairly impressive considering the Invitational had a lot of strong Legacy pilots and I had three cards that were actually completely dead in my maindeck. I did not assemble Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek a single time, and Humility was quite bad. I decided to give Humility a second chance, and it failed me again. It will remain a sideboard option from henceforth until eternity!

I played a similar list in the Legacy Open, only I had all four copies of Stoneforge Mystic and both Batterskull in my maindeck. That list was fine, but I still felt like something was missing. Having Stoneforge Mystic made me even more vulnerable to Liliana of the Veil, who is already extremely annoying to deal with. If I play Miracles again (and I probably will), I need to come up with a good plan for dealing with Liliana. Vendilion Clique is good, but I have to draw it along with the opponent not having Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Swords to Plowshares, or any number of other cheap answers.

But that’s enough of that dribble. Ah yes, you must forgive me. I got distracted. My apologies. Where was I? Right you are. It’s story time.

Tighten Up!

In the first few rounds during our byes, Chris VanMeter and I went and grabbed some delicious hot dogs from a nearby hot dog venue. If I had just one adjective to describe those dogs, I would probably lean heavily on "diggidy."  @&#$%es don’t know ’bout that Italian sausage.

Upon returning I decided to play a few practice games against Korey McDuffie. The very first thing I did in our first game was to unnecessarily fetch on turn 2 and confidently slam a Counterbalance in play. Joshua Cho, who was watching the match, decided to step in and pose the question everyone was wondering: "Isn’t that a Counterspell?"

Whelp, you got me. I thought the Counterspell in my hand was actually a Counterbalance. That was embarrassing. Thankfully, it happened in a practice game and not a real match. I countered Korey’s next play with said Counterspell, untapped, calmly drew Counterbalance off the top (obv!), slammed it into play, and said "had it!"

After Korey played a True-Name Nemesis, I drew my next card and put it in my hand. At this point Josh Cho, who was still watching me train wreck through this game, decided to pose yet another question that was on everyone’s mind: "Hey, BBD, don’t you play the card Terminus in your deck? Maybe you shouldn’t just slam cards into your hand. Can we please tighten the @#$% up?"

There’s a reason I always demand that someone play games with me before the tournament begins. I need a warm-up more than other people do.

Play loosely. Get rewarded. That’s my motto.


In my first round after byes, I was paired in Legacy against Jund. We were in game 1, and my opponent played a Bloodbraid Elf into my Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. I announced my Counterbalance triggers, and my opponent’s Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into an Abrupt Decay (obv!) to blow up my Counterbalance.

I then decided that I wanted to find a four-mana spell to counter his Bloodbraid Elf with the Counterbalance trigger that was still on the stack. My top three cards didn’t yield an answer. I shuffled with a fetch land and checked again. Still no four on top. I then took things to the next level and cast Enlightened Tutor for Humility. Despite the fact that I didn’t have enough mana to be able to cast the Humility and didn’t want to draw it, I still needed to counter the Bloodbraid Elf since I was at a reasonably low life total from his earlier Bloodbraid Elf (that had also cascaded into Abrupt Decay on an earlier Counterbalance, obv!).

I searched up Humility and confidently revealed it to Counterbalance. My opponent, who wasn’t completely clear about how the triggers worked, called a judge to confirm. I explained the progression of events to the judge, who ended up clarifying that I was in fact completely wrong and my opponent was right to call the Judge.

Counterbalance triggers for Bloodbraid Elf at the same time that cascade does. Since he was the active player, my Counterbalance trigger actually happens first before cascade. Since I let him cascade, it is assumed that I missed my Counterbalance trigger. I then asked the judge if I was locked into all the things I did afterward, such as cracking my fetch land and casting Enlightened Tutor for Humility. He said that I was, and we resumed play.

My opponent had a Bloodbraid Elf. I had just wasted multiple cards to do nothing and set up the top of my library with a dead card.

I still won that game and eventually the match.

Play loosely. Get rewarded.

Two Batterskulls One Top

In the very next round, I was in game 3 against Esper Deathblade. My opponent had a Deathrite Shaman, a True-Name Nemesis, and a Liliana of the Veil in play. My hand was a mere Terminus, and my board was a mere Sensei’s Divining Top. I was stuck on five lands and not sure how I was going to be able to cast my Terminus with Liliana making me discard a card each turn.

Thankfully, Sensei’s Divining Top delivered. I was able to check the top cards of my library and see that there was a Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the mix. My opponent ticked up Liliana to make me discard a card. I drew with Top and discarded an irrelevant land to preserve Terminus. Then I drew the Top again next turn, played it, and activated it to draw the Jace that was now on top of my deck. I used Jace to Brainstorm to put Terminus back.

Jace died to Nemesis, and I miracled the Terminus to clear his board. Unfortunately, his followup play was another copy of True-Name Nemesis. I replayed my Top and checked the top three cards of my deck. They were Batterskull, Batterskull, and then the perfect Terminus I needed to clear out the fresh Nemesis. Unfortunately, Liliana had reached ultimate by this point, so I had multiple problems on my hands.

I put the Terminus on top and miracled it to get rid of his Nemesis. My opponent decided to tick his Liliana up to seven counters so that it would survive after he blew the ultimate.

I replayed Sensei’s Divining Top and checked my top three cards. They were Batterskull, Batterskull, and the perfect Detention Sphere I needed for his Liliana of the Veil. I drew the Detention Sphere and played it on Liliana.

He passed the turn back, and I decided to check my top three cards again with Top.

They were Batterskull, Batterskull, and the perfect Stoneforge Mystic.

Play well. Run well. Get rewarded.

Whippings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

I posted this story on Facebook, but I think it’s good enough to merit another telling.

It was the last round of day 1. I was sitting at 7-0, battling against Mono-Black Devotion in a match to determine who would advance to day 2 in the coveted position of 8-0 and first place.

I had an active Underworld Connections for a while but was flooding out a bunch. My opponent was as well. I had a few Soldier tokens and a couple of Desecration Demon against my opponent’s soon to be growing Pack Rat army. He was at about ten, and I was at six.

I untapped with a hand of Swamp and Thoughtseize. I drew Whip of Erebos. Sweet! How awesome. I activated Connections and drew Obzedat, Ghost Council. Just the best!

The cogs started churning in my head. Is it finally going to happen? Am I going to finally pull it off? I had wanted to pull off Thoughtseizeing myself to set up a Whip activation on Obzedat for such an absurdly long time. In fact, this was my goal at Pro Tour Theros all the way back in Dublin in September.

I started getting visibly excited. Other matches were looking over because I couldn’t contain myself. I loudly and confidently announced "Thoughtseize . . . targeting me!" I revealed my hand and discarded Obzedat. Then I went to activate Whip on Obzedat while thinking the entire time "look at how cool I am to use this Thoughtseize to give my Obzedat haste."

I reached into my graveyard to pull the Obzedat back into play, but I accidentally grabbed the card underneath the Obzedat as well . . .

It was a second copy of Obzedat that was already in my graveyard.

Play loosely. Get rewarded. I ended day 1 at 8-0.

I feel like at this point I should clarify what I’m doing here. I’m pointing out these bad plays I made because I think they make for interesting stories and showcase some fun interactions that happened over the course of the event. However, the downside to doing this is that a lot of times when I point out mistakes I make, it just encourages people to step up and say things like this: "Geez BBD, how are you so lucky all the time? If I was as lucky as you are, I would win as much as you do. I hate seeing how awful people play when I can never win myself. I run so bad."

I hate that attitude. I think it’s self-destructive, completely incorrect, and marginalizes everything that it takes to be successful in a tournament. Certainly I did make mistakes in the event—as did every other player in the tournament. Anyone who has the attitude that they played a tournament, a match, even a single game without making a mistake is typically wrong.

Also, I did draw well on day 1. It’s not possible to get to 8-0 on skill alone. However, I also put a lot of work into this event. One reason that I have had an extremely high amount of success in Invitationals is that I’m very good at reading the metagame and coming prepared with the right deck in each format to capitalize on it. In Standard I expected to play against three archetypes, and I played six of eight rounds against them. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I performed well.

I’m also not any luckier than anyone else. When I lost five matches in a row to one of the worst strings of variance I’ve ever encountered, I certainly wasn’t "lucky."  A lot of times when someone gets lucky, it’s because they gave themselves a chance to get lucky. For example, in the Batterskull story above, had I not played the prior turns to set myself up to win like that, I wouldn’t have even had a chance to get lucky enough to do so. There’s always more to the story than what is on the surface.

Frankly, everyone makes mistakes over the course of a large tournament like this regardless of how good you are. Hall of Famer. Platinum Pro. Player of the Year. Those players did not play a perfect tournament.

I actually thought that I played very well over the course of day 1. I correctly read my opponent’s hand numerous times and played around the right cards. I sequenced my spells correctly to get maximum value out of them. I won numerous close games without much room for error.

I also made some pretty boneheaded mistakes, but it comes with the territory. I just hate when someone opens themselves up to criticism by explaining mistakes they made and rather than using it as a learning tool or a chance to get a good laugh, people use it as a chance to bemoan how unlucky they are at Magic or how they can’t believe someone so bad can do so well.

We’re all guilty of that behavior, myself included. I just think we should actively strive to eliminate it because it doesn’t help anyone, least of all yourself. Embrace your mistakes. Learn from them. Keep an open mind. Nobody is as good at Magic as they think they are, myself included. These examples are lessons of that.

Right, then. Stories.

My Biggest Fan

This little guy kept birding all of my matches. I think we bonded.


Crash & Burn

At the beginning of day 2, I managed to beat both Storm and Shardless BUG to advance to 10-0. At this point I was feeling invincible, yet I also knew that anything could happen and that I needed to remain focused.

I lost my next match to R/W Painter. This is actually a great matchup for Miracles, but he had a Koth of the Hammer in game 2 that I couldn’t deal with and then stole game 3 with the stone nut draw when I stumbled.

I was frustrated to lose this match, and I was trying to think if there was anything I could have done differently to win. A number of people came by, and they seemed pretty surprised and dismissive that I could be frustrated despite being 10-1. The thing is that every little inch matters in a tournament like this. You don’t really have a lot of room to lose.

As it turns out, this match did matter. I ended up losing my next match to Tom Ross and his Infect deck. At this point I had played two full events with my Miracles list, and my only losses were twice to Tom Ross playing Infect and once to Koth of the Hammer. Legacy is weird.

When we jumped back into Standard, I was 10-2. I rattled off three straight losses to fall to 10-5 and out of Top 8 contention. I won’t say they were particularly good matches because they weren’t. I didn’t draw very well, and I was extremely frustrated. In fact, I don’t think I have ever been as frustrated in a Magic tournament as I was when I finally hit 10-5.

As far as tournament performance goes, that was complete rock bottom for me. I’ve lost the finals of four PTQs, but this felt worse. When you lose the finals of a PTQ, it’s one match. This was five matches.

I was demoralized, and I don’t think I was doing a very good job of masking it.


I checked the standings going into the last round. I was in 24th place and paired up against 23rd place. Outside of the players who I couldn’t possibly pass in standings regardless of results, there were seven matches ahead of me. If I won and none of those matches ended in a draw, I would end up in exactly sixteenth place. Considering a number of those players could safely draw into Top 16, I considered it to be fairly unlikely that all seven matches played. I actually asked my opponent if he wanted to draw since I felt like it was such a long shot for Top 16 and I wanted to try to lock up Top 32.

Unbeknownst to me was that if we drew, we would knock ourselves out of Top 32, which meant we actually had to play the match just to tread water and remain in the Top 32. Thankfully, my opponent had done the math to know we needed to play, and as it turned out, that ended up being a blessing.

I was plagued with mulligans, but I ended up winning a close match against R/W Burn on the back of Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Despite what others may say, Burn is a very favorable matchup for the B/W list I played. Between Thoughtseize, Duress, and Sin Collector, it’s hard for them to assemble a critical mass of burn spells to kill you before Brimaz and Desecration Demon can close the door. In addition, Devour Flesh; Obzedat, Ghost Council; Whip of Erebos; and Blood Baron of Vizkopa can provide enough life gain to make things a nightmare for them.

None of the matches ahead of me drew, and I miraculously ended up in exactly sixteenth place.

Despite how poorly day 2 had gone for me, there was certainly some redemption in still finishing in the Top 16. Also, by virtue of Brad Nelson, William Jensen, and Chris VanMeter not putting up strong finishes, I locked up the Season One Points Leader qualification to the SCG Players’ Championship, which was a weight off my shoulders.

While it may not seem like much—and I likely would have qualified by the end of the year anyway—it’s nice to know that it’s already locked up. I don’t have pressure on me to perform well throughout the year in order to qualify, and I don’t have to go to great lengths to grind for points anymore. I can afford to take weekends off without worrying if I’m costing myself a chance to qualify. I can afford to play janky decks in tournaments without a nagging thought constantly pestering me about whether or not I’m throwing points away.

Despite my crash and burn, it ended up being a positive event. Operation: Charlotte was a success.

Before my tale ends, though, I want to share a couple more bonus stories from the Legacy Open on Sunday. You know, just for value.

Wear // Tear Blowouts

Yes, plural. Blowouts.

Wear // Tear is this nice card that I like to play as a one-of in my Miracles sideboard because it can be a slightly cheaper Disenchant sometimes. It also has the fuse ability to let you cast both sides, but that basically never comes up. I had never fused a Wear // Tear before, and it was kind of one of those irrelevant bonus abilities, like Blood Baron of Vizkopa’s "flavor text" of +6/+6 and flying that essentially never comes up.

At least it had never come up until last weekend.

In round 2, I was playing the Miracles mirror match. I had won game 1 thanks to having a Jace, the Mind Sculptor advantage. In game 2, I had a Stoneforge Mystic and a Batterskull, but my opponent had an active Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. It was turn 5, and my opponent was tapping out to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

I had four untapped lands, and my hand was Brainstorm, Jace, and Wear // Tear. Thanks to my own Sensei’s Divining Top, I knew that the top two cards of my library were also both Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

I formed a diabolical plan. In response to the Jace, I cast Brainstorm. Since my opponent had no available mana, I was trying to bait him into drawing a card with Sensei’s Divining Top so it would go back on top of his deck and he could reveal it to counter my Brainstorm with his Counterbalance.

My opponent took the bait. I responded to his Top activation with a fused Wear // Tear to destroy both his Counterbalance and his Sensei’s Divining Top. His blind Counterbalance reveal on Wear // Tear was unsuccessful and both, the Counterbalance and the Top were sent on a one-way trip to the graveyard. Now that he no longer had a Top heading to the top of his library, his Counterbalance on my Brainstorm failed. That meant my Brainstorm resolved.

I drew three cards. It was the two Jaces I knew about . . . and Force of Will.

I countered his Jace with Force of Will and then untapped and cast my own. My opponent went from everything to nothing in one huge blowout turn. The game didn’t last much longer.

Fast forward a few rounds. I was playing against R/W Painter. I won game 1, and we were in game 2. My opponent had a Painter’s Servant in play naming blue, but despite having a Swords to Plowshares, I was content letting it sit around. I had two copies of Force of Will and not many other blue cards. When my opponent played a Sensei’s Divining Top the next turn, I got to counter it with Force of Will pitching Terminus.

I also had a Wear // Tear in hand, but my board was Island, Plains, Plains, Tundra, so I couldn’t Wear down his Painter’s Servant since I lacked the red mana.

My opponent untapped, floated two mana from his City of Traitors, played a Mountain, and cast a Blood Moon. What was I saying about lacking the red mana to cast Wear?

It resolved. I used the red mana from Tundra and fused Wear // Tear to destroy both the Blood Moon and the Painter’s Servant.

I heard the distant sound of three tires exploding in the nearby parking lot. It was a blowout.

That Turned Around Quickly

My opponent’s board was a Liliana of the Veil on four counters, a Garruk Relentless, and a Wolf token. My board consisted of seven lands and nothing else. We both had no hand.

I drew a Sensei’s Divining Top and cast it. I checked the top three cards of my library and reordered them.

My opponent untapped; played Thrun, the Last Troll; made a Wolf with Garruk Relentless, and ticked Liliana up to five. The board was stacked a bit in his favor. Just slightly.

At the end of his turn, I drew a card with Sensei’s Top and played a Vendilion Clique. I untapped, redrew the Top, checked my top three cards again, and killed his Garruk Relentless with Vendilion Clique. Since I had a Karakas in play, my opponent couldn’t edict my Vendilion Clique with his Liliana of the Veil, so he was forced to simply attack me for eight damage with his two Wolves and Thrun down to eight life, play a land, and tick Liliana up to six. At this point I was still facing down lethal damage on board and a Liliana on six.

I drew Stoneforge Mystic. I activated Top to draw a card and drew another Mystic. I then cast the first Mystic, searched up Batterskull, and hard cast it. I attacked Liliana down to three counters with Vendilion Clique. My opponent attacked me with his creatures. I blocked a Wolf with my Germ and took a net of two damage. My opponent ticked Liliana down to one to make me sacrifice a creature, and I sacrificed my Mystic.

I untapped, cast my other Mystic, searched up Sword of Feast and Famine, equipped it to the Germ, hit him for six, gained six life, and untapped all of my lands while Vendilion Clique finished off Liliana.

That escalated quickly.

In three short turns, the game changed from me being overwhelmingly behind with no board and no hand while facing a Thrun, the Last Troll; two Wolves; and two planeswalkers to me being overwhelmingly ahead, with a Batterskull, Sword of Feast and Famine, Stoneforge Mystic, and an active Vendilion Clique + Karakas combo against G/B Rock.

Legacy is awesome.