Normally I wouldn’t recommend picking up a deck right before an event, but when you’ve got a feeling, you’ve got a feeling.
And boy did I have a feeling.
Only somewhat recently in the past five years or so have I taken it upon myself to become a better player and try to make it to the ultimate stage: the Pro Tour. I’ve since played in one Pro Tour, Pro Tour Philadelphia, which was the first Modern tournament, and am currently qualified for Pro Tour Born of the Gods in Valencia.
That being said, my focus these past few weeks has been diverted from the Standard metagame to the Modern one. With very little preparation for SCG Standard Open: Orlando, I was set on playing the same deck I did reasonably well with at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth, which was a Mono-Black Devotion list splashing green for Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm.
Then it happened.
Late Thursday evening I got a message from friend Jimmy Heartman asking me what he should play. Jimmy hadn’t played since Pro Tour Theros and wanted something straight from the latest Magic Online Premier Event-winning decklists. He linked me to this deck, and I noticed I’m quite familiar with the pilot.
For those of you who don’t know, _Batutinha_ is a guy named Carlos Alexandre who is the #1 ranked Magic Online Constructed player. He’s always ahead of the curve and has been defining Standard behind the scenes for years. I loved the list and wanted to play it if I could, but finding the cards I was missing was a tall order with the event only a day away. I messaged some friends and called in some favors, and as luck would have it, I have some very generous friends. (Thank you very much Mark Nestico and John Howell aka Peaches!)
You’ll notice that this is not the exact 75 that I sleeved up that morning. I made my way to the event early Saturday morning in a car with a few friends, one of which was none other than Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor Stephen Mann, who was wondering why I didn’t just find room for Nightveil Specter in the deck. With his advice, I swapped out one Pack Rat, one Underworld Connections, and one of the Ratchet Bombs for three Nightveil Specters. Some additional sideboard changes were made mainly because I know that Magic Online typically has an overrepresentation of Mono-Red Aggro variants due to their cheap cost to build. After that I swapped out the two Plains for two Hallowed Fountains so I could cast Nightveil Specter off my white sources, and I was ready to go!
Here’s the exact list:
There are times when you feel like you’re wielding Excalibur, and this was one of them for sure. I couldn’t think of a matchup I was afraid to face, and my record throughout the Swiss portion of the tournament supports this feeling. Here’s how I fared:
Round 1: Win 2-1, W/B/R Control
Round 2: Win 2-0, Mono-Black Devotion
Round 3: Win 2-0, Mono-Black Devotion
Round 4: Win 2-0, Mono-Black Devotion
Round 5: Win 2-1, B/W Midrange
Round 6: Win 2-1, G/R Monsters
Round 7: Win 2-0, R/W Devotion
Round 8: Win 2-0 Mono-Blue Devotion
Round 9: Draw, Mono-Blue Devotion
Round 10: Win 2-1, B/W Midrange
Yes, I played the last round of the Swiss knowing I couldn’t miss Top 8 even with a loss. It was against Michael Smith, the same player I played in the quarterfinals when he ended up in eighth place. The only time I ever felt like I wasn’t at a significant advantage in the tournament was in round 5 playing the mirror playing against another member of the car I drove to the event. He was on the exact maindeck that _Batutinha_ won the Premier Event with but also with some sideboard changes. The other B/W Midrange deck I played against on camera didn’t have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which is just a backbreaker of a card in the mirror since it’s a threat that can also answer Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
Then it was time for Top 8, my first one ever at a SCG Open Series event. I’d made plenty of Top 16s but never cracked the barrier. After our group photos and player info sheets were filled out, it was time to do glorious battle!
Having the option to be on the play is a huge advantage in the elimination rounds, and even though I knew I would have to play the mirror again, I felt I had a huge advantage. The first two games were very unexciting, so I suppose it was a good thing that we weren’t on camera for those. The first was just a Pack Rat game where my opponent kept what I thought was a little loose of a hand and quickly got run over by a Thoughtseize into Pack Rat draw. Game 2 I mulled to five and was run over by his Thoughtseize into Pack Rat draw.
Such excite, wow.
Game 3 was a real nail biter. My draw didn’t pan out the way I wanted, and my opponent being able to get an Underworld Connections going on turn 4 through double Thoughtseize was a beating. The entire game came down to a decision with a Pack Rat that I drew in the midgame. I played it with three lands available to make a Rat in response to his end-of-turn removal spell. I had five lands in play and a Hero’s Downfall and a Swamp in hand (my opponent knew I had those cards from his earlier Thoughtseize).
I thought about his list and how he hadn’t been doing anything for a while despite drawing two cards a turn for a few turns. My inclination was that he had more discard spells and that discarding the Hero’s Downfall would allow me to keep the sixth land to cast Elspeth on the off chance that I drew one. It also didn’t hurt that it would turn any of his Sin Collectors into overcosted 2/1s. But another thing to keep in mind is that I wouldn’t be able to beat a Pack Rat with only one Hero’s Downfall or a Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
All of these variables led me to discarding Hero’s Downfall over Swamp with the Pack Rat activation. As I predicted, next turn my opponent cast a freshly drawn Sin Collector, and I revealed the Swamp I was clinging to. Then I drew and flipped:
With great power comes great responsibility.
Elspeth proceeded to make me six tokens before biting it to a Hero’s Downfall from my opponent, but that was all I needed to seal the deal.
There was some confusion at the end of the game with my opponent floating mana with a Mutavault to cast a Devour Flesh, which would have kept him alive for a turn, but mana now empties at the end of each phase as opposed to the end of each step like it did in the past. As such, he was unable to cast Devour Flesh in the manner that he wanted and was quite frustrated. After the match I peeked at the top of my deck, which revealed back to back Blood Baron of Vizkopas and would have been more than enough to win even if he hadn’t made that minor mistake.
Afterward I made my way to an ale house for some celebration and good food, where we ran into the coverage team from the event, and good times were had. But the night was short lived since I had an early bird appointment with some Thassas and Master of Waves!
Milton Figueroa had an interesting take on Mono-Blue Devotion featuring four Omenspeakers maindeck (essentially replacing Frostburn Weird), which I’m sure helped him in a lot of mirror matches, but against me it hurt him because taking the beatdown role is more difficult. This was the only time I boarded out Nightveil Specters in the tournament because if you take a look at his sideboard there’s a whopping four Domestications. Having a card that if Domesticated immediately turns on a Thassa, God of the Sea isn’t where I want to be in the matchup.
Game 1 ended up being incredibly close, with me topdecking a removal spell after he cast his Master of Waves, but that was actually the first spell I had drawn all game, having kept a hand with Pack Rat, Nightveil Specter, and Desecration Demon with four lands. Game 2 was much more of a blowout in my favor since I had removal, discard, and giant flying 6/6s, which carried the game quickly to the finals.
My finals match against Tyler Wilkerson came down to me stalling on lands far too long in games 1 and 3. I do believe I misplayed with an attack in game 3 with a Frog Lizard token early on as well as badly timing a removal spell the next turn after holding back. It allowed Tyler to further leverage the fact that I was mana screwed and ultimately lost me the match. I don’t think that it was any matter of luck that I lost but rather my own doing.
I believe Tyler also missed forcing me to attack with his Bident of Thassa on one turn, but a timely Dissolve put me too far back on tempo to where a topdecked Thassa turned me from clawing my way back into the game into a dog to win it. I could have Last Breathed my own Frog Lizard on my last attack since it was a 2/3 from Jace’s -1/-0 trigger, but then I’d also have to Last Breath my only Pack Rat and be in no position to win.
I extended the hand and congratulated my opponent, knowing I was so very close to a perfect 12-0-1 tournament.
Overall, I had an amazing time at this event. StarCityGames.com has really set the standard for how tournaments should be run and how coverage should be presented. I’m looking forward to potentially traveling to a few more Open Series in the future as well as the Invitational in Charlotte at the end of March. As for now, I’m going to spend next weekend playing in a Standard PTQ.
I’m telling you now—there isn’t a single card I’d change from the maindeck or sideboard. However, I didn’t play against a Sphinx’s Revelation deck the entire event, so those Obzedat, Ghost Councils rotted in my sideboard the entire day. I do still want them there for that matchup, but I found it humorous that one of the key cards that drew me to the deck in the first place played no role at all in the tournament.
I’d like to leave off by saying thank you to all the staff and judges, as we really do have the best judges here in Florida. Also, thank you to the coverage team. I’m glad you’ve stepped up your game even further. You are truly the pacemakers of the field, and I’m excited to tune in to any and all events I don’t attend. Finally, I just want to say thank you to all my friends for your support during the event. Friends are the reason I think we all play Magic. Take care everyone, and wish me luck at Pro Tour Born of the Gods! See you all next time, and remember:
Much power, such responsibility, WOW!