What Matters

Anthony talks about the lessons he learned at SCG Open Series: Providence, where he played Mono-Blue Devotion in Standard and Jund in Legacy.

I boarded the bus to New York City from Washington DC on Monday evening after spending a week there for the Grand Prix, and I went straight to work the moment I sat down.

Gotta keep it moving!

I messaged Larry Swasey on Facebook, telling him that I was locked in on Mono-Blue Devotion. He was interested in the deck as well, so we discussed different card choices. We both shared a liking toward Omenspeaker, but I was strongly against Bident of Thassa, though I knew I wanted one in the maindeck. There were many different opinions on this, but I just couldn’t get myself to play anymore. When it’s good, it’s insane, but I always found myself wanting to cast other cards over it—except when I was playing against midrange decks like Mono-Black Devotion. The rest of the maindeck was pretty much the same, but I knew that I really had to get a handle on the sideboard. What big finisher did I want against Esper Control? Did I really want another land in the sideboard? Questions were flying all over the place, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Five and a half hours later, I arrived home, dropped my bags, and immediately fired up my stream to work on the deck. I continued to stream my progress with the deck the whole week leading up to the SCG Open Series in Providence, Rhode Island. While I received a lot of help from viewers through it all, the bigger goal was much more personal: focusing on what matters in all aspects of the game.

What Matters: Detachment & Learning

Emotionally detaching myself from winning, losing, and overall decision making was the first thing I wanted to do. Those that know me know that I’m almost always having a blast playing Magic regardless of what happens. This wasn’t the case about a month ago. I wound up in a huge slump, both in Magic and out, and my gameplay suffered greatly because of it. This is unacceptable for me. I get that some players will usually feel upset or down when they lose or play poorly, but that’s not what I’m about. I had to get back into the mode that got me here in the first place: battling for the sake of battling.

I also wanted to put more effort into learning from other players I respect the most every single opportunity I get. I made sure I did more to surround myself with other players who are in the interest of improving and learning off of each other. Having this kind of support system can go a long way toward one’s confidence and development.

Fast forward to the Friday before the SCG Open Series, I felt very comfortable with where I wanted to be with the deck.

Most of you know the deal by now with Mono-Blue, so I’ll just talk about some of the more interesting card choices I made.

1 Omenspeaker: In the grand scheme of things, Omenspeaker is not a very good card in this deck. It doesn’t really fall into the game plan, it doesn’t help devotion much, and its ability is pretty flimsy. I did however want more protection from two-power aggressive creatures while still having the ability of seeing as many cards as possible throughout the course of a given game against decks with said creatures. Omenspeaker fits that role.

3 Mutavault / 1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx: This was a concession to me not wanting to play five colorless sources in the maindeck, as well as my expectation of Esper Control being very, very weak in Providence. Going back, I don’t think I’d change this configuration.

1 Bident of Thassa: There were a whole lot of mixed opinions on Bident. As previously stated, I couldn’t get it to work for me as a two-of, so I went down. I only really want Bident against midrange decks, and since we were tuned for aggro, we relegated one to the board.

1 Voyage’s End: For the same reason as Omenspeaker, having the ability to scry against aggressive decks is much more important than one would think. Voyage’s End serves the same function as Cyclonic Rift but has the potential to get you to what you want quicker. It also has the added function of resetting your Tidebinder Mages in a pinch.

1 Syncopate: I basically didn’t want a second Negate, an Essence Scatter, or a second Dissolve. Dispel was another option. But I wanted more coverage, and Mizzium Skin did Dispel’s job for me with the tradeoff being Sphinx’s Revelation. Syncopate was the only counterspell that I could bring in a vast majority of matchups while not needing more than two mana to be effective.

1 Curse of the Swine: This was a last-minute change from the third Rapid Hybridization. I wanted a way to deal with multiple problem cards out of the G/R Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, and W/R Aggro decks, and Curse of the Swine does exactly that. It’s a tad more expensive and isn’t as flexible, but it gets the job done very well.

I was very happy with this build going in but wound up playing against many more mirror matches than expected. I basically had to pick things up on the fly during the tournament, and my round 4 feature match showed that.

I want to put a bit of a focus on game 3 of this match, which can be found here. It starts at around 02:40:00

What Matters: Never Giving Up & Not Being Afraid Of Being Wrong

There were many points in this match where I felt very dead, starting with the Domestication on my Nightveil Specter all the way until the attack with my Thassa, God of the Sea. In previous games, my opponent wasn’t that afraid of taking hits in an attempt to further press his damage potential. Due to my inexperience in the mirror, I had to come up with some sort of plan right there in an extremely tough situation. I felt that I had no choice but to attack with my Thassa (02:53:30). I didn’t attack with Mutavault because I thought I’d be dead to a Cyclonic Rift (and I was surely dead to a Nykthos), but it turns out that I would’ve been down to either two or one life if he did wind up having it.

Looking back, I think I’d make the exact same play, but I’d be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t feel like giving up at that point. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to win, but I also felt that this was my chance of displaying how much I learned in this short of time and within that match itself. Making the best decisions you can make at all times, even if you’re as dead as can be, goes a long way. As [author name="Todd Anderson"]Todd Anderson[/author] said earlier this week, it may not matter that game, but it could matter later. You simply never know, so there’s no reason not to do your best always.

I make mistakes in every single game of Magic I play, and that’s okay. We shouldn’t look to down one another when mistakes do happen. Magic tournaments can be incredibly tough, and no one—not even the best players in the world—play perfectly day in and day out. Take them as learning opportunities and focus on the next play, game, or match. If we’re afraid of doing things wrong all the time, then we’ll never do anything right!

The rest of the tournament didn’t pan out as well. I lost to Ari Lax in an off-camera feature match and again to Erik Smith on camera. I wound up in 36th place but was incredibly happy with how well I played throughout the day, especially since I’ve only had about four-ish days of Magic Online practice under my belt.

Moving forward, I can see myself gravitating more toward Sam Black maindeck. With the expected rise in Jund decks and Mono-Black Devotion decks, Bident of Thassa gets much, much better. The sideboard could use a second Nykthos, as it’s one of the better cards against other devotion decks.

Sunday didn’t go nearly as well for me, as I quickly went 2-3 drop playing the same Jund deck I played at GP DC. This time I swapped the Umezawa’s Jitte from the sideboard for an Ancient Grudge. I also ran the Crop Rotation package featuring Bojuka Bog and Karakas. The interesting bit: since round 9 at the Legacy Championship at Eternal Weekend about a month or so ago, I haven’t played against a single combo deck. That includes the entirety of GP DC. That’s about fourteen rounds of nothing but fair decks!

What Matters: Staying True To The Name & Adapting

The fact is that True-Name Nemesis is everywhere, which means that Jund needs to adapt in order to keep up. The plan I have for combating the Nemesis simply isn’t working well enough, and it may be time to look elsewhere for solutions. I thought that I could just overload on Pyroblasts, Toxic Deluges, Golgari Charms, and Liliana of the Veils, but the rest of their deck can kill you as well. It also poses a much more subtle yet glaring problem as well: sideboard strain.

Against many fair decks, Jund would prefer to fight them on the board, which usually means sideboarding out Hymn to Tourach and Thoughtseize. True-Name Nemesis throws most of that out of the window, and Thoughtseize suddenly becomes incredibly important. What else do you take out then? Abrupt Decay, as well as almost all of your other removal, is great against many other threats in True-Name Nemesis decks. Trimming Dark Confidant is tough since it lowers the velocity of your deck as a whole. What about Bloodbraid Elf? Same issue as Bob. Deathrite Shaman? No way.

Maybe the right answer is to add more edict effects. Diabolic Edict and Chainer’s Edict are fine options, with Diabolic Edict doubling against Sneak and Show. The Tarmogoyf pillow fort is a fine defense, but we aren’t really killing them that way. What about Engineered Explosives or Ratchet Bomb? Those have cross-applicability as well but aren’t the best cascades. Whatever the answer is, it needs to be able to be good against the rest of their deck.

I’m always open to simply cascading into it however!

This list is similar to the RUG Cascade deck I talked about forever ago in my first article here. Like any rough draft of a deck, it needs some tuning. There’s a very good chance that this deck simply doesn’t work, but I’m more than willing to give it a shot at the next Legacy event I go to. It has a powerful game plan, plays powerful cards, and can be very proactive in a short amount of time. Perhaps we can find room for maindeck Lightning Bolt or Misdirection, but I think I’d want a Domri Rade before either of those. Its ability to kill anything with power equal to True-Name Nemesis’s power is very strong, and with Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, getting value off of its first ability isn’t terribly difficult if not very threatening against the much slower side of the format.

What Matters: Finding What Matters To You

There is so much information out there for players to sift through that it can often be overwhelming. If you’re going to listen to anything, listen to this:

You, as a player, probably have a good idea of what your likes, preferences, and tendencies are. Use that information to figure out what you want to do in the game and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. If you enjoy playing what you think is the best deck for every tournament, then by all means go for it. If you love brewing something new week in, and week out, then who is anyone else to say no? I had a ton of trouble figuring this out lately, and after this past weekend I think I finally found my niche. I now know exactly what I want to do in this vast amazing culture we have, and it can only get better from here. It can be extremely stressful at times, but the things that matter to me most—friends, the competition, expression, the artwork, the personalities, all of it—makes it all well worth it.

Magic matters to me, and that’ll never change.