This is a pretty exciting time!
#SCGDEN is in the books, and with Joe Lossett, Todd Anderson, Tom Ross, and Logan Mize all making it into the Top 8 along with Chris Andersen winning the Modern Premier IQ, we have quite the race going into the #SCGINVI this weekend in Las Vegas.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit sad that I’m not going to make it to the #SCGINVI and since moving to the Pacific Northwest and away from IQs, I basically took myself out of the race for qualifying for the Players’ Championship, but I will say that it’s been very exciting watching the race for points, and I have really been impressed with some players in how they have stepped up their game at the Opens.
There are some pretty big name players and a lot of players trying to make a name for themselves vying for the seven at-large bids for the Players’ Championship, and the #SCGINVI in Las Vegas is their last shot at points. This weekend is going to be very important for a lot of people, so let’s take a look at what that list looks like.
Currently Number One: Jonathan Morawski (Lock)
Jonathan Morawski has been close to the top of the leaderboard this entire season, and although he is less known overall than some of the other players, he is a very steady fixture in the northeast Magic scene.
He does have a handful of Open Series Top 8s, which gives him a healthy amount of points, but he has been putting in plenty of work in the IQ scene and has had great results. With the northeast being a hotbed for IQs and players who are grinding points, these aren’t your casual Magic events. With 30+ people regularly showing up for IQs and some other players on the leaderboard looking for points, these events keep getting more and more difficult.
Being so unfamiliar with Jonathan, I decided to look over some of the decks that he has played and placed with, and for Standard, it looks like he has been firmly on the defacto best deck for some time: Abzan Aggro.
I can’t really blame him though. Siege Rhino and friends are rarely going to be bad, and Anafenza, the Foremost is just continuing to get better by the day. The current Standard format doesn’t seem very hostile to Abzan so it seems like a pretty safe choice, but it’s also important to note that Jonathan is a lock for one of the seven slots, so his main goal, outside of getting paid, might be to potentially block for friends if he is close to any of the other players on the list.
As for Modern, it looks like he’s a believer of four mana enchantments, and no, I’m not talking about Angelic Destiny. Splinter Twin variants have been his weapon of choice over the last few months, and much like Abzan in Standard, anything Splinter Twin related in Modern is generally a safe choice.
With the Open Series changing to The SCG Tour® next year and the point allocations for events also changing, I’m excited to see what Jonathan can do closing out this year and potentially make a name for himself at the Players’ Championship and run with that momentum into 2016.
Currently Number Two: Kevin Jones – Qualified
I’m not going to talk too much about the people who are already qualified, but for Kevin Jones, I would put him on Jeskai Black or Jeksai Dragons for Standard, and Grixis something in Modern.
Currently Number Three: Joe Lossett (Lock)
Joe is the sole West Coaster in the hunt for a Players’ Championship berth, and probably the one on this list who wishes the most that one of the formats for the #SCGINVI this weekend was Legacy. Being known as a Legacy specialist has definitely worked to his advantage since he is (not so) secretly just very good at Magic and people tend to underestimate him in other formats. He has had lots of success in Standard as of late, capping it off with a Top 4 finish last weekend at #SCGDEN.
Joe was able to make it into the Top 8 with two unintentional draws – something that he is quite known for given his affinity for slow-ish control decks. Hopefully this won’t be an issue for him since the Invitationals are usually 60-minute rounds as opposed to the standard 50.
After locking up an #SCGPC spot with last weekend’s performance we might think that Joe is going to take the Invitational easy, but that’s just not how he looks at things. With the new point structure next year, every point that you can get matters – and that starts this weekend in Vegas. That being said, after taking his Five-Color Bring to Light deck all the way to the Top 4 last weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just ran it back. I’m sure that he will make some changes based on his experiences with the deck, but Bring to Light is a hell of a drug – just ask Gerry Thompson.
As for Modern, I know that Joe is traditionally a G/R Tron player. I think that Tron is always a great choice and can just steamroll a lot of the Modern meta, but one card in particular that sticks out to me is the potential addition of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The ability to get rid of two troublesome permanents while applying pressure is invaluable, and it can be cast off Tron + a second Tower, or Tron + any land + Eye of Ugin.
Silly Eldrazi, please just get off our plane.
Joe has put in a lot of work this year trying to make it back to the #SCGPC, and I’m happy to see him reach his goals!
Currently Number Four: Ross Merriam (Lock)
I’ve known Ross for quite some time, and I feel like he has taken leaps and strides this year. He was able to play in the Players’ Championship last year and with his Open Series performance and IQ grind dedication this year, locked up a spot for the #SCGPC, all while simultaneously playing in a bunch of Pro Tours and Top 8ing a few Grand Prix.
Ross also started a weekly column here on StarCityGames and is a superb writer who likes to use big words but still get his thoughts across.
Ross has definitely broadened his range this year and is much more the type of player who will work hard to try and find holes in a format, if they exist, and try to punch through rather than just play whatever deck he likes.
In Standard, Ross has played a few decks recently, but I could honestly see him playing anything. If I had to pin him on one deck it would be Abzan Aggro; splash or no, Ross is no stranger to Anafenza, the Foremost and company, and I think that it would be a reasonable choice for the Invitational.
As for Modern, I know that Ross has always been an aficionado, much like myself, of the mana-creatures, but I don’t really think that the Melira decks are really in a good spot right now. I know that Ross has had success with both Affinity and Twin variants as well, which both seem to be better positioned right now. I think that Affinity has a better chance of winning if the Top 8 were Modern, but since the Top 8 is going to be Standard, I would probably be looking at the best 6-2 or 7-1 deck, which is likely going to be some sort of Twin deck.
Ross is calculated and methodical and will definitely have a plan regardless what he brings to the table.
Currently Number Five: Hunter Nance (Lock)
Hunter is another East Coast player that I recognized from IQs in the area who has really stepped his game up in the last two seasons. He had extreme success with Abzan Aggro on the IQ circuit, with a few Open Top 8s and cashes, but in the last couple seasons, he really has performed much better in the Opens in addition to making it to more of them.
Much like the others, Hunter is a lock, but I still expect him to stick to his guns on what decks he is comfortable with in the formats. Looking over finishes in the last couple of months on SCG, we can see that Hunter has been all in on Siege Rhino and friends, but he’s had Woodland Wanderer as an additional beefcake. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with what he’s familiar with or switches to something a bit more mainstream.
I will say, that I’ve had the pleasure of watching him battle a bit with Abzan decks of different flavors, and he definitely knows his way around a Siege Rhino.
In Modern, the only deck I’ve ever seen Hunter play is Merfolk, and I would be shocked if he decided to switch it up for this event. He has had a number of high finishes with the deck, and has proven that he has the chops to navigate the somewhat difficult games. The last Standard/Modern Invitational was the Season Two Invitational, and Richard Adams was piloting Merfolk decks in the Top 8, and while one of them didn’t win – that pleasure went to Ali Aintrazi when he stomped me in a very quick three games – their presence was interesting.
I really like how Hunter has opened himself up this year, especially in the latter half. He is quite active in the comment section on SCG and has been traveling to more events. I am excited for him for the end of this year, and very interested to see what he can parlay the second half of this year into for 2016.
Currently Number Six: Rudy Briksza (Lock)
Rudy is another grinder from the northeast who after having some success here and there on the Open Series, decided earlier this year that he wanted to try and make the #SCGPC. Identifying that getting points from IQs when you couldn’t make it to Opens was a good way to go, that’s where his “grind” started, but he has had quite a few Open Series Top 8s.
The main thing that I’ve seen from Rudy over this year is that he is evolving as a player and increasing his range where he can, which is a good thing. It’s really easy to just sleeve up the “best deck” or whatever deck won the previous weekend, but Rudy has made it a point to work on strategies that he enjoys employing and making them work for the changing metagame.
In Standard, Rudy has pretty much been all over the place and with his spot in the #SCGPC basically a lock, I have to imagine that we could see just about anything from him. The points do matter for next year, but Rudy really likes building a story with the decks that he plays. It’s interesting right now because of how volatile Standard is with Atarka Red and Four-Color Rally at opposite ends of the spectrum with everything in-between. I think that Rudy feels more at home with Jeskai style decks; I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him playing something like Todd’s Jeskai Black deck without Mantis Rider.
In Modern, Rudy has always been a fan of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but as the format evolves it’s interesting to see just where the card shows up. That being said, a quick look at the deck search tool on SCG shows Rudy having played Zoo to Top 8 finishes in four different IQs in the northeast in the last four weeks.
It’s possible he plays something different, but we are in Vegas, so gamble away.
Currently Number Seven: Todd Anderson (Soft Lock)
I’ll be honest. I miss Todd. We never did hang out all that much when I was in Roanoke, but whenever we did, it was always gas. I enjoyed traveling to events with him, and was genuinely happy for him whenever he did well in an event – and that hasn’t changed.
Last weekend, Todd was able to make another Top 8 at #SCGDEN with his new take on Jeskai Black, a more controlling build with no Mantis Rider, to just about close up what has been a very exciting last season. Todd has been on a roll in just about every format, and much like his performance in 2012, when he’s on fire, he is almost unstoppable.
Todd has pretty much been Mono-Jeskai Black for a while now, and I would be surprised if he switched off it. He is very good at taking a deck and tweaking it week in and week out to beat what he expects people to be on. Now, Todd has been known to be talked out of his decks by Brad in the past, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be the case this time.
Modern for Todd is a different story, as he has had success with two different decks. Even when people thought that Temur Twin was long dead, he still took it out for a spin and had success, but he also had success with Infect alongside Tom Ross.
I wouldn’t be surprised with either deck choice.
As a “Soft Lock,” I think that Todd will need to just focus on himself as much as possible. Worrying about where the other players are who have a chance to jump you only takes your focus off the things that you can control. Todd just needs to do Todd and crush all of his opposition!
If the points were to cut off right now, he would be in. Nonetheless, I wish Todd all the luck in the world (well not all, I still have a couple other good friends trying to get there).
Currently Number Eight: Logan Mize (Soft Lock)
Logan is a Florida player who is no stranger to the IQ circuit or the Players’ Championship itself, since he was one of the lucky sixteen to make it to Roanoke last December.
Picking up some much needed points last weekend at #SCGDEN has given him the start to a good sprint at the end of the season, and I would be pretty surprised if he switches up from the Abzan Aggro deck that he ran the tables with in the Swiss of #SCGDEN.
Logan doesn’t have any Modern finishes in the last month, but going back to October and November he has been solidly on Abzan Company. Again, I don’t really think that the format is that favorable for the deck – I mean, even BBD is playing Splinter Twin – I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on it.
Currently Number Nine: Tom Ross (Soft Lock)
Tom is another Roanoke heavyweight that has put in a lot of work this year to try and get back to the #SCGPC. He had some middling success in the first two seasons, but really stepped his game up in seasons three and four.
Atarka Red and Infect.
Okay, I guess I should write a little more about Tom.
He is very good at figuring out what line his opponent is going to take and punish them to the maximum for it. His ability to read you and use that to his advantage is paramount. In addition to that, he is a master at aggressive strategies and aggressive combo decks.
Again, Atarka Red and Infect.
My prediction is also helped by the fact that he just placed in the Top 8 of #SCGDEN with Atarka Red. We do have to keep in mind that he does play other decks though and could very easily be on a Jeskai Black deck with Todd.
As a Soft Lock, Tom needs to gather as many points this weekend as possible and hope that either Todd or Logan bust out. I know that Tom and Todd are very good friends, which is unfortunate. I think the two of them need to just battle as hard as they can and see where it all ends up.
Good luck buddy!
Currently Number Ten: Eric Hawkins (Outside Shot)
At some point during last season I tweeted about having no idea who Eric was despite him being atop the leaderboard. His IQ dominance in the MN area is second to none, but I am extremely happy that he has taken it upon himself to get out there and battle in more Opens and make a name for himself.
I’ve watched him play his foil Storm deck and was very impressed, not only with the cards, but his ability to navigate the complicated games. Sadly, this #SCGINVI is not Legacy.
In Modern though, the majority of his finishes in IQs have been with Amulet Bloom, and I pray to whatever God that you believe in that he plays Amulet Bloom. I still believe that it’s the best deck in the format, and someone should do well with it before it gets banned in Modern.
An interesting aside about the last two players here: At #SCGSTL, Tom and Eric were paired in Round 14, with Eric a lock even with a loss and Tom needing a win to draw into the Top 8, and Eric scooped to him. The story goes (as far as I know) that Eric explained to him that he respects his honesty in regards to Tom calling a judge on himself in an IQ in an important match when he drew a sideboard card in his opener.
Eric is great. Tom is great. Amulet Bloom is great.
With an outside shot, Eric pretty much needs to Top 8 this thing. I can definitely see Amulet Bloom as an 8-0 deck, but some poor draws and some bad matchups and you can be quickly out of it. I’m definitely going to be watching Eric this weekend!
Currently Number Eleven: Chris Andersen (Outside Shot)
Sometime in Season Three, Chris asked me if I thought it was viable for him to focus on trying to make the #SCGPC since he had just done well at an Open and if he was going to make a run at it, now would be the time to decide.
I don’t remember what I said, but I would like to hope that it was something along the lines of “Yes, of course, you’re a master, go crush it all.”
Chrandersen was in a pretty rough spot points-wise after limping into day two of #SCGDEN and then losing his first round, but managed to give himself quite the boost after winning the Modern Premier IQ later that day with Burn.
I know that Chris has been a big proponent of G/W Megamorph in Standard, and after winning the PIQ with Burn, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him on that again.
Too bad it’s not Legacy. I heard he’s pretty good with Lands.
Caleb Scherer is in the same boat as Chrandersen and Eric Hawkins, with an outside shot requiring a near finals appearance to make it to Roanoke next weekend. Sadly, it looks like Matthew Tickal is dead after really picking it up in the last season grinding IQs and traveling to Opens.
I don’t know about all of you, but I’m definitely going to be watching SCGLive all weekend. Sixteen rounds of action. No byes – literal non-stop edge of your seat action … also, you get to enjoy Cedric Phillips, Patrick Sullivan, and Matthias Hunt doing their thing.
Good luck to all of the competitors. I’m sad that I won’t be joining you, in Vegas or at the #SCGPC, but I’m definitely riding the ropes watching all the action!