True Diary Of A Part-Time Grinder

Get inspired for SCG Open Series: Milwaukee this weekend by reading Jim Davis’ chronicle of his time at SCG Open Series: Charlotte featuring the Invitational!

March 27th, 2014, 6:27 PM – Delta Airlines Flight 1019, somewhere over New Jersey

The view while flying from John F. Kennedy International Airport always leaves something to be desired. From LaGuardia you get a beautiful view of New York City as you ascend; from JFK it’s just south Queens and then Staten Island. A moot point I suppose, as we’re above the clouds now anyway.

In about an hour and a half, I will be in Charlotte, North Carolina. This time tomorrow I will be deep into the first day of the first StarCityGames.com Invitational of the year, and it’s an important one. I put up some decent results last year with a number of Open Series Top 8s, but my Invitational performances were extremely mediocre. After cashing four of the first five Invitationals I played in, I did not cash a single one last year.

This is something that has to change.

Thanks to my reasonable finishes and a smattering of local IQs, I’m in the Top 16 on the SCG Players’ Championship Leaderboard, and not only does this grant me two byes at this Invitational, but it also means I have a reasonable shot at qualifying for #SCGPC at the end of the year. My life outside of Magic is pretty busy, and I know I won’t be able to attend a ton of Opens, which puts an extra premium on doing well at the four Invitationals this year.

So here I am. My bags are packed and tucked neatly into the belly of this beast. I’ve said goodbye to my muggle friends, and I sit in my seat at 30,000 feet thinking about my decks.

For Legacy I’m locked in. At the last Legacy Open, I moved to Esper Stoneblade and played poorly in my last round to miss Top 8 at 7-2. The deck played well and was very well rounded, and I felt like every match was winnable. Legacy is not a format that shifts very quickly, and while I will consider some minor changes, the list will likely largely remain the same.

The flight attendant interrupts my thought process with a difficult question.

“Sir, would you like peanuts, pretzels, or cookies?”

I shoot her a smile.

“Yes please.”

With Legacy essentially on lockdown, my thoughts turn to Standard. At the last Invitational, Dan Jessup and I had put together a Naya Devotion deck that was perfectly suited for the field we expected; I went 7-1, and he went 6-2. One thing about Invitationals is that they’re typically attended by a higher level of player than you’ll see at Opens, and sometimes it can be very clear which deck these players are going to prefer. These players are good and are going to want to play whichever control deck they think most leverages their skill. For that event it was U/W Control and Mono-Black Devotion, and our devotion deck matched up perfectly against them.

For this event it seems that things are similar, but both decks are better now than they were in Las Vegas. The Monsters deck is also a real threat that did not really exist back then.

While I know Esper Control is my fallback deck, I like the idea of playing another metagame deck but haven’t really had the time I would have liked to test. Here’s what I came up with last night before I started packing:

Rakdos’s Return seems like a very powerful card at the moment, and this deck can unleash some very scary turn 4 or 5 Returns. Losing Domri Rade and the green cards is definitely a blow, but the mana is just really tough. Unfortunately time is my enemy, and I will only have a few hours to determine if it’s worth playing when we land.

The clouds look really nice, sorta like Snow-Covered Mountains. I think I’m gonna take a nap before we land.

March 27th, 2014, 11:57 PM – Courtyard Marriott Room 110, Charlotte, North Carolina

After eating some mediocre calzones at a restaurant that looked much cooler than it tasted, Dan, Andrew Jessup, and I got some games in. While the R/B Devotion deck did pretty well against Mono-Black Devotion, it didn’t crush Esper Control at nearly the level I thought it would. Without Domri Rade the matchup ended up being close to 50/50, and at that point I realized it was time to move on. I will be playing some sort of Esper Control variant as per my fallback plan.

March 29th, 2014, 1:08 AM – Courtyard Marriott Room 110

It’s been a long and arduous day.

The Invitational did not go very well for any of us. After my two byes I played against Todd Anderson, who was playing Sneak and Show, and came to an interesting point in the game.

Game State

What card do you take with Thoughtseize?

I tanked for a bit and decided on a line that was a bit cute but had a lot potential. Todd knew that I had a Counterspell in my hand from an earlier Gitaxian Probe but did not know I had the miser’s Vindicate in my hand as well.

I decided to take the Brainstorm, assuming that the following sequence of plays would happen:

Step 1: Todd will play his fifth mana source and cast Sneak Attack with Spell Pierce backup.

Step 2: I will Counterspell Sneak Attack.

Step 3: Todd will Spell Pierce my Counterspell, and Sneak Attack will resolve.

Step 4: Without another mana source Todd will have to pass then turn, and I will be able to Vindicate his Sneak Attack, leaving him with nothing but an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in hand.

This is what happened, except for one additional step I missed.

Step 3.5: Todd will play the Lotus Petal he drew that turn and after Sneak Attack resolves put an Emrakul into play and annihilate any chance I have of winning the game.

I think my thought process was sound, but it would have been much safer to just take the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn over the Brainstorm. Even if my play worked, he’d still be drawing live to four copies Show and Tell and three copies Sneak Attack, and my slow clock would give him plenty of time to find one of them.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, until I got crushed by Reuben Bresler in a round 8 feature match that saw me dead in about nine minutes. My Esper Control deck was built heavily with the mirror and G/R/x Monsters in mind, and my million tap lands and dual lands putting me behind was far too much to overcome. In game 2 he mulliganed to five on the draw and still killed me on turn 6 through resistance.

I am beginning to regret not just playing U/W Control, as not only would I never lose to an aggressive red deck with it but I have hardly seen any G/R/x Monsters.

My last round loss was pretty deflating since it dropped me to 5-3, but I know I must get up tomorrow and battle on. With a good day tomorrow I can still put myself in a position to win this event. I’m setting my alarm for 8:10 AM—enough time for a quick stop at the hotel gym and a shower—and am now going to try to get some sleep.

March 29th, 2014, 7:27 PM – Just outside the Time Warner Cable Arena

Nothing is going right today. Since when do minor league hockey games ever sell out? After a long and disappointing tournament, I decided to partake in one of my favorite pastimes while travelling: going to sporting events in faraway cities. Apparently minor league hockey is all the rage in the south, though, as not only is this Charlotte Checkers game sold out but the rest of the season is as well.

Day 2 of the Invitational went poorly, and I again fell one win short of cashing. I played the wrong deck in both formats, and I paid the price for it.

The Esper Stoneblade deck I played is very bad against Miracles, which experienced a surge in popularity and defeated me twice on the second day. My Standard deck was almost incapable of defeating a Jackal Pup, and I lost with it to another underpowered aggressive deck.

I’m going to switch up my Legacy deck for the Open tomorrow because the Stoneblade deck simply doesn’t apply enough pressure for my tastes.

After my last experience with Stoneblade, I wanted to brew up a deck like this, as the Stoneblade deck disrupts so well but always seems to lack a way to take advantage of that disruption. I’m pretty excited about the deck and hope I can salvage my weekend tomorrow.

March 30th, 2014, 10:51 AM – Charlotte Convention Center

I found it really hard to focus during game 2 of my round 1 match after they announced over the loudspeaker that my buddy Travis Harrison just won the Standard Open! After my match I only had one task—find him and give him a huge hug as fast as possible. Trav is a great guy, and we spent a good portion of dinner last night discussing his possible sideboard choices for the morning. I couldn’t be happier that he won.

March 30th, 2014, 9:11 PM – Charlotte Convention Center

What a perfect end to the weekend:

65        Davis, Jim I      18       52.5206%

Honestly, my attitude really put me in this spot. I took my first loss to David McDarby’s adorable BUG Walkers deck in round 3 and then lost a frustrating match to Death and Taxes the following round. At this point the frustration and failure of the whole weekend really caught up with me, and I played a very loose match against Merfolk that I basically threw away. I won all my remaining rounds but still fell short of cashing by a few percentage points.

I actually liked the deck a lot but still am not completely sold. The format has really caught up with True-Name Nemesis, and Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull can be kinda rough when they kill your Mystic and you are stuck trying to cast a five-mana spell in your twenty-land deck. The spells were pretty fantastic, however, and I’m trying to figure out exactly where I want to take it. Perhaps Dark Confidant? Maybe Vendilion Clique over True-Name Nemesis? There are definitely many questions that need to be answered.

I am very much looking forward to getting out of this convention center, getting some food and drink to celebrate Travis’ win, and heading home.

March 31st, 2014, 11:21 AM – Charlotte Douglas International Airport

April Fool’s Day has come a day early, as apparently it is snowing like crazy back on Long Island and our flight is delayed. This leaves me plenty of time to sit in the airport and ponder my weekend.

Last night was a lot of fun, as we got to go out and celebrate Travis’ win by eating and drinking late into the night. Despite my disappointment with myself and my performance, it was really awesome to see a friend do well and how happy it made him.


This is only the beginning of the year, and current projections for the Season Two Leaderboard put me inside the Top 10.

I guess I just gotta keep on battlin’.