The Luckiest Man I Know – My SCG Open: Las Vegas Report *1st*

Jon Kornacki might be lucky, but there’s no question it took more than luck to get to the top of the Las Vegas SCG Open on the back of U/B Control. Check out his build and his game reports.

Greetings StarCityGames.com visitors! If you don’t hail from the great state of Arizona, it’s exceedingly likely that you have no idea who I am. My “name” is Jonathan Kornacki, but my good friends call me JFK. You are welcome to take your pick. My caravan of five devoted gamers made the trip to Vegas from Phoenix, and it took a bit longer than expected due to some balmy November weather. Wasn’t too much of a bummer, but it was pretty cold, and it cut into the last-minute brewing/testing a few of us relied on. After a few test games with something that looked strikingly similar to an untested, awful version of Lu Cai’s 2nd place U/R decklist, I decided that it just wasn’t ready and that I’d have to audible to my trusty U/b. This decision was made at about 1 am before the tournament, and I knew that I would need some tweaks.

I’ve been very busy these last few weeks, hustling and acquiring funds and other necessities for the coming weeks, including some familiarity with Standard. That said, I didn’t get to play nearly as much as I wanted and didn’t even see the U/b list that won the GP. My list was compiled largely with many of my own card choices (obviously, most everyone else agrees it’s pretty terrible), inspired in part by local superhero and longtime drinking buddy Adam Prosak, who won States with U/b and wrote an awesome article about it.

Most of what I saw and brainstormed for the metagame was via Magic Online. I expected to see a whole lot of Mirran Crusaders, white tokens, and Kessig Wolf Run. It was with this in mind that I arrived at my final list, while doing everything in my power to remain versatile and not be drawing dead to anyone. I described it after many rounds that as a basic control deck, I didn’t have any blowout matches in either direction.

Nothing was unbeatable, but against every deck in the room, it would take a certain amount of time and tight play in order to actually achieve control and win the game. Hearing that it was a ten-rounder was pretty daunting considering it was going to be my longest day of Magic to date, but there was nothing to do but remain confident and do what I came to do anyway. Play some Magic.

On some of my card choices:

Surgical Extraction: This one seems kind of controversial, but it was good for me all day. Against the decks it’s bad against, it still has notable benefits. It’s an instant, so getting a look at their hand at end of turn, either via Snapcaster Mage or hardcast, is worth its weight in gold. And it’s not as if we’re short on ways to get one of their best cards into the yard. And when it’s good, it can be an absolute game changer.

4 Mana Leak, 2 Dissipate, 1 Negate: Negate is kind of a house. Dissipate is necessary, but Negate in the slot is fine when most of the cards you can’t deal with efficiently are planeswalkers or equipment anyway. Against tokens and the like, it’s one fewer turn you have to wait to leave a counter up for a Garruk or Elspeth so you can slam a sphinx and not be able to lose.

3 Doom Blade, 2 Black Sun’s Zenith, 1 Tribute to Hunger, 2 Liliana of the Veil, 1 Wring Flesh: My good buddy Percy has been having sick reads on this format for as long as he’s been testing it with me, and he confirmed before our weekend started that Mirran Crusader was the card to beat. I put my trust in his words, along with my own observations, and wanted to leave myself plenty of outs to it, when paired with the countermagic. Also meant big game against Dungrove Elder or Thrun, the Last Troll if it came up. Dungrove is hard to Black Sun, but realistically it’s a winnable game if you get to kill their mana dorks and shrink the Elder even a bit, especially with Liliana batting her eyes.

As far as the draw package, the only thing that got me funny looks was Visions of Beyond. I don’t feel a need to defend it; you’re all quite welcome to not play it, but it bears mentioning that I Ancestraled multiple times this tournament. Granted, it was a super long tournament, but I like the added consistency of the cycle. Sometimes applying some pressure with a Snapcaster is correct anyway, so getting some advantage out of flashing back a nothing card is not unrealistic.

Curse, Liliana, Batterskull, and Black Sun were my most important sideboard cards; honorable mention to the Negates as well.

My matches, in order for the day, were as follows, with some notes regarding anything (hopefully) interesting if they did, in fact, occur.

Round 1 – Necrotic Ooze Combo (U/B)

I guess this counts as interesting… a fellow AZ player, one of MANY who forgot to draft me in their pool for the tournament. His deck was interesting and comboed using Necrotic Ooze, Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, Bloodline Keeper, Tree of Redemption, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, Trespassing Souleater, and Civilized Scholar, as well as Merfolk Looter. Luckily, he only achieved an infinite/infinite in game two and was not able to make it unblockable. The maindeck Surgical Extraction and the ones in the board showed up. Sounds like a tacky deck, I know, BUT I was quite capable of losing games if I didn’t have versatile answers. He was also packing Spellskite.

Round 2 – Joe with G/W tokens

After I lost another die roll, he slammed a turn-two Mirran Crusader. I Black Sunned, Surgical Extractioned the Crusader on his draw step, didn’t hit another one out of his hand, but had no problem using countermagic and removal to stabilize at ten life. Game 2 he got me down to six, but it didn’t go to three.

Round 3 – RDW

I mulliganed, on the draw (for the record, I didn’t get to play first until the finals), and he slammed a turn 2 Shrine of Burning Rage. I stabilized at ten but didn’t have near enough time to set up a win condition or find an out to Shrine, so I died unspectacularly. Game 2 he took a mull, had a decent opening on Stromkirk Noble, but I kept his board down and eventually dealt with it and Batterskull-ed. I attacked him a couple times, and I couldn’t lose.

Game 3 he quickly went to sideboard, and I figured the artifact removal was coming in because of the Batterskulls. I mulliganed after he made a keep that I just read as something he was really unexcited about. In the dark, I assumed it was his freshly sideboarded artifact removal. He had no one-drop; I get to draw some cards, kill a guy, cast a Liliana, and go to town on his hand. First discard was a Manic Vandal. Next turn was Manic Vandal plus random guy; Liliana ate one, and I killed the other; all of a sudden he was hellbent, and I just dropped the Batterskull he was oh so prepared for. I really got to liking Liliana in these aggro matchups; most of their card advantage (in this case, Koth) is so expensive that to effectively play it around some countermagic, it’ll be the last card you play. All day, Liliana’s +1 was killing Garruks, Heroes, Elspeths; in this matchup some Gray Ogres might have paid off if he had enough pressure to make me play a Batterskull too early.

Round 4 – Mike Benedict, friend and father figure. Aspiring Magic champ, with Wolf Run White

Game 1 he obviously played first and cast a turn-two Mirran Crusader, presumably for the only time in his tournament. It was a tight spot, but again I was able to Wrath him, Surgical his Mirran Crusaders, get a look at his game plan, and take control. He had a Thrun to Green Sun for, but I found one of many outs.

Game 2 was one of my top three games in this tournament. There were two separate times where I thought I’d run him out of outs, and he proved me wrong and put me on needing to topdeck. He’s not to be underestimated. I was able to use my mana to kill some guys and make his Thrun a 1/1, but he had Kessig Wolf Run and a few lands still, so when I had to deal with his Bird (as a red source) and he drew a Titan, I was all of a sudden staring at lethal, but I was luckily able to hit my outs and seal the game.

Round 5 – A fake feature match against Lowell, with G/w Kessig planeswalkers

Game 1 I took some damage from an Emissary or something, countered a Primeval Titan and Surgical-ed them, neutering his deck and getting a look at some Gideons, big Garruks, and an Elesh Norn in his deck, as well as Day/O-Ring in his hand. I was willing to go long game, but I was at 12 when he scooped on 16. I believe it was due to a Consecrated Sphinx taking over after he was out of removal.

Game 2 I lost; all I vividly remember is going late into the game and feeling like I’d put myself in a pretty good position, but he snuck an Elesh Norn in by hitting some runners I had to deal with, and he had Mirran Crusader. I had a play to Snapcaster-kill an Elesh Norn with Doom Blade and block the Mirran, but Snapcaster would die to Elesh Norn anyway, and I didn’t have the life to survive again.

Game 3 I took some Mirran Crusader beats but stabilized in plenty of time, EXCEPT in relation to the clock, as we were cutting it close. I slammed a Sphinx and started softening him up while taking absolute control. Sphinx is an absolute house when it comes to this. When time was called, I had enough time to kill him on turn 5 exactly and couldn’t even shave a turn off with my extra Sphinx while leaving up countermagic, so I played it safe and played Sphinx #2 on turn 3. He was on no cards from Liliana and drew Primeval Titan for his last stand. He played it; I said it resolved, and he started digging for lands. It was at this point I really should have called a judge, as he put two Inkmoths into play, conveniently untapped. I was unimpressed and wasted no time letting him know that we both knew what Primeval Titan does.

Round 6 – U/W Blade

Sword of Feast and Famine alongside Snapcaster, Dismember, Midnight Haunting, Mana Leak, Mirran Crusader, and Spellskite. This was going to be a fun one. I lost game one pretty handily despite what I felt was a pretty solid effort on my part. I ran him out of cards, dealt with a Mirran Crusader around a Spellskite, and was getting him pretty low on life, when he drew some sequence of Sword into Snapcaster for Midnight Haunting and then had counterspell.

Game 2 my Mana Leak for his Blade Splicer irked him. Sorry, bro. I had card advantage and removal and didn’t go below 17 while achieving card advantage and a win condition.

Game 3 neither of us took any damage; he just was dead while at 20 and scooped, again getting Mana Leaked for an integral spell and being annoyed about it. It’s honestly a major strength of my deck that it plays on his turn. He has a few similar cards, but when his draws aren’t bailing out, my cards are usually just doing it better. He was the first of what would turn out to be many to go on about my incredible luck and how I would win this thing if it remained this way. Guess I can’t fault the guy for being right on both counts, even though the two are actually pretty unrelated.

Round 7 – Mark with G/W Tokens

I saw Mark playtesting my ride JJ Moore before the tournament. More Mirran Crusaders. No big deal. He turn two Blade Splicered me, I believe, followed up by a Hero and a Township. Exciting game.

Game 2 he took a mulligan, and I was never really drawing slim. I winded up not taking any damage while I beatdown for 12 with a Snapcaster Mage, and it was over from there. Game 3 he double mulliganed. I felt for him, as he’s a friend of a friend and a decent player at least if he’s sitting at 6-0, but after a double mull it was literally a game of Curse or Black Sun to manage his board while not allowing him to resolve a planeswalker, and that was all that it took.

Round 8 – Nick Spagnolo with Mono-Blue Architect

Nick is a real cool guy, and we played a semi-long game one feeling each other’s decks out. I got some value out of a Surgical Extraction (possibly countering a Buried Ruin?) and saw a hand of Mana Leak, 2 Dismember, Grand Architect, Snapcaster, and a Buried Ruin. I played a Consecrated Sphinx that was good for a double Dismember and used a Black Sun to take care of his aggro beats. His deck was also packing Spellskite, Azure Mage, and Swords—of Feast and Famine and War and Peace. He was surprised to see a Liliana, and after I won game one, he said, “God, no wonder you’re 7-0; the cards in your deck are insane!”

Game 2 stabilizing was going none too well. He brought in Perilous Myr to deal with my Liliana, and I got killed from five infect and three life.

Game 3 was by and far my best game of the tournament. The kind of game that makes me ecstatic to meet someone because from here on out I know he is a caliber of player to be respected. That I can’t give anything up, or he’ll make me eat it.

Stabilizing involved putting three -1/-1 counters on my Consecrated Sphinx and slamming a Liliana, but that two-card combination was plenty functional. I’d unfortunately milled a lot of win conditions and spent a lot of time on the game, but I’d run him out of cards and did a quick check.

I was running super low on cards in library but knew that I could just Black Sun to stay in the game. After checking my yard, I knew the only way I’d be able to kill him was to draw my second Nephalia Drownyard. His side of the table seemed perplexed, as I Thought Twice down to about four cards left in my library, but when I dropped a second Drownyard, he knew what I was going for.

Time was called with me having approximately exactly enough time to mill him out, but I had two cards left in my deck. I drew and cast Black Sun for zero, and the look on his face was pretty priceless. He was a super cool guy and obviously a talented player, but sometimes you just forget, and that definitely looked like the case this game. He failed to draw a card on turn 5 of extra turns. We talked after the game, and he was afraid he could have survived by not activating a Druidic Satchel while trying to stay in the game, but my last mill was for six on his four-card library.

Round 9 – ID with Adrian Saredo

After my game with Nick ended in epic fashion, one of the Brazilian guys who were watching the game, who turned out to be one of Adrian’s travel buddies, came up to me really excited, congratulating me on a game well-played. Despite a pretty moderate language barrier, he explained that some of the spectators were really blown away, thinking I was dying, and he was watching me the whole way. I heard the guys were in town for Worlds, and I wished them the very best of luck. They were respectable gentlemen.

Round 10 – ID

I’m a very lucky man, but not because I drew the cards I put in my deck or got sweet matchups. I was actually drawing first all day and had competent, worthy opponents. Nothing was easy in those eight rounds, and it felt gratifying because a bunch of my fellow Phoenicians were all about representing their support and watching their boy. I wouldn’t be the player I am with out them, and I hope they all know that they’re the reason I’m so lucky~

Quarterfinal – Moorland Aggro

Game 1 looked pretty miserable. We got decklists, and I didn’t necessarily have a problem with Mirran Crusaders and Geist of Saint Trafts, but backed up by Grand Abolisher, Doomed Traveler, and Honor of the Pure, it seemed like a losing proposition. I noted that his only real sideboard card against me was Mana Leak and settle in for the long haul.

I was on the draw (surprise) and kept a one-lander on the draw, including Drowned Catacomb, Visions of Beyond, and Think Twice. I definitely considered shipping, but my logic was that game one was going to be pretty brutal, and I’d have to get some sick draws to win anyway. I made a run at it, but Grand Abolisher on the play got him a free turn, and he got an Honor of the Pure. Curse seemed pretty miserable against him when facing Honor, but I needed to give myself outs against Moorland Haunt and even things like Doomed Traveler and Mirran Crusader.

As it happened, I landed a Curse before he could attack me in game 2, and he had a 1/1 Mirran Crusader. Unfortunately he untapped and landed Angelic Destiny, cutting me from 20 to 10, but I untapped and Forbidden Alchemied into Tribute to Hunger. I presumed he had a Mana Leak that I needed to play around, and the best I could do was feign weakness with a Think Twice, which he used his Mana Leak on. I cleared his threats at three life, and we went to game 3 after he told me he hoped I mulled to five.

Game 3 I sensed weakness in his keep and declared my snap-keep in place of the double mull. This game I maintained control the entire game. I had Liliana and did pretty much whatever I wanted with it. He didn’t have nearly the counters to fight me or the threats to overcome me.

Top 4 in the morning, after a night with some of my best friends in the world. My friends stayed up and partied in our hotel room, with a few drinks (a few…), lots of support, and lots of pride for their boy going deep in this massive tournament. I wanted to represent for them; it was a very motivating factor; I was sure my competition understood as well as I did.

Semifinals – Adrian Saredo with Bant Pod

Bright and early in the morning, in game 1, he took a mulligan to five, and I kept on seven. Not the way I bet he wanted to start his morning, and I felt for him. He went for a Mimic Vat that might have been annoying, but I had Negate and cards to play, so I got him pretty quickly with a Grave Titan with him on no cards. He peeled Oblivion Ring, but the Zombies still got him.

Game 2 he had a pretty slow start. He slammed Mirran Crusader on turn three, and I had the Black Sun but didn’t want to tap out and let him land a Pod or Mimic Vat. I Dissipated his Mimic Vat, sure enough, and played a Ghost Quarter. The feature match report for this match remembers the details better than I do; what I remember best is that I had the second black mana for Liliana and the Black Sun the whole time. I just played Ghost Quarter to put him off the read, and it wound up being sick against Archon of Justice, allowing me to Doom Blade and Liliana in the same turn, losing Ghost Quarter instead of a color-producing land and making him sac his Mirran Crusader. His last bit was a Wurmcoil Engine, but I tanked it pretty effectively and took control promptly as I needed to, never before being properly set up to do so.


Hopefully available soon on video for all of us 🙂

It was a great, close, hard match, where I got a lot of value out of Surgical Extraction, even in game one. It got his Chandra’s Phoenixes, got a card out of his hand, and told me exactly what I had to play around, which was integral. Furthermore, the final turns of the match came down to Surgical on his Mana Leak, so he had to use his Mana Leak, and then I landed a Sphinx. Drew two before it died and traded, and then the counter door was still open. He was almost out of it at that point.

This tournament was a really sweet experience, and most of my opponents were both respectful and respectable, a group of solid guys—guys like the ones I came with, just the general awesome sort of people that make this game worth playing for me, and many others like me. I thanked the Innovator on camera after the tournament, a very surreal experience, as I was reading his book, Next Level Magic, last year. It changed my perspective on the game and gave me what I feel is the extra edge that separates doing consistently well with consistently better. It was awesome hanging out with him and Jacob Van Lunen for a few minutes, sharing some of the same perspectives I did with you here today.

In closing, I’d like to throw thanks out to Mr. Goslar, Mr. Francia, Mr. Smith, Mr. Percy, Mr. Moore, Mr. Basco, Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Prosak, Mr. Gogol, Ms. Love, Ms. Catterbuck, Mr. Benedict, and last but not least my little brother. He’s not as bad at this game as he thinks he is, and I can vouch that if I’m capable of this win, then so is he.

As a final word to the wise, despite the advice and recommendations I received from some of the past champions (and judges…) at the event, and much to my dismay, the trophy will not contain beverages. I went to have a nice refreshing Coke on a nice kickback night of celebration and quickly had to turn it bottoms up, as it started running out the bottom. You’ve been warned.

Sorry about the lack of sideboard notes. I’d have loved to have it written down, but with only three minutes to present a legal, thoroughly randomized deck and not wanting to give any advantage to my opponents, it simply did not get done.

Thanks for reading; I don’t know when I’ll be picking up the virtual pen again, probably the next time I have anything worth writing about. Hope you enjoyed this tournament experience. I know I did.