After the Columbus Invitational was over, I had an unnatural fear about myself. It’s that fear you get when you know something is too good to be true. A defense mechanism telling you not to get too emotionally invested into something that can break your heart.
Sometimes I dream of winning a big tournament like a Grand Prix, or of drawing into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, only to wake up disappointed. The night after I won, I couldn’t sleep. Subconsciously, I feared that I wouldn’t wake up the champion.
I’ve gotten pretty good at making Top 8 and coming up short. I had started to wonder if I’d ever actually win a big tournament in my Magic career. It hasn’t hit me. The Players’ Championship invite, the prize, and most importantly my own token… it’s overwhelming. I’m not used to it.
This was from an article of mine titled “A Dream Comes True,” published over two years ago.
That Invitational meant everything to me.
I’d never been the winner of anything bigger than a Grand Prix Trial. Magic is a game I love but there’s nothing significant that I’d done that I felt would leave a mark for people to remember. I poured my heart and soul into the game. I didn’t want to be forgotten.
I wanted to be ahead of the game. I pushed myself as hard as I could. I knew Boss Sligh, a Mono-Red deck, was the tool I wanted to beat Mono-Black Devotion. I even got it to fair respectably against Mono-Blue Devotion full of Master of Waves and Tidebinder Mage.
If I could go back in time, it likely wouldn’t have been my deck of choice. I got much praise from the community for building a budget deck that could beat the metagame. Truth is, it was never a decision.
I wasn’t in the best shape two years ago. For life circumstances I’d like to forget, I had to leave everything I owned at the time behind.
I played budget Mono-Red because it’s what I could afford. I picked apart that little piece of buffalo that I could grip my hands onto and used as much of it as I could. It became my sole focus for life. The perfect curve of Akroan Crusader into Dragon Mantle and Legion Loyalist.
I solitaired hundreds of hands. I would’ve solitaired hundreds more if there were more hours in the day. On a couch, not mine, that I called my bed. I had to get everything right. My life depended on it.
I’m not in the same position for this Invitational in Atlanta. I have a good job with StarCityGames.com and have put together enough finishes this year to not need to worry. I have a Christmas tree, a great cat, a supportive girlfriend. I own everything in my apartment. It may not be lavish, and not what is expected of a 33-year-old to have achieved by now, but I’m proud and thankful to have what I have.
It’s lucky that professionals in this field don’t start to decline in ability in their late twenties like in sports. I’m as good as I’ve ever been when I’m at the table. However, it’s the travel that takes a toll on me. Long car drives/rides seem to get longer each trip.
The Race Is On
I enter the #SCGINVI up twelve points on Jeff Hoogland in the Player of the Year race. No one else can catch us, even by winning the tournament and getting 50 points.
For the record, this is what we’re playing for at the Invitational:
Most payout tiers have a jump of five SCG Points between them. I roughly consider each tier as a “match win” separating them. Of course, tiebreakers enter the equation, but from a general standpoint, each win you achieve (or each loss you receive) on Day 2 will bump your end result by a pay grade on the standings.
Invitationals are split-format and are for big money. No time to be messing around. At Invitationals, we rarely see new brews come out of the woodwork. It’s generally everyone’s best bet to play the two decks that are the best in the format or the decks they have the most practice with. Those deck choices are usually the same decks that qualified them for the Invitational in the first place. Take Liam Lonergan’s win in Season Two, for example.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
During Season Two I played Mono-White Humans and Dredge. Humans had the popular opinion of being unplayable…and I had the most success with it that season. Still, it was highly gunned for and I was well-experienced with it. Dredge, while trending upwards, hadn’t hit its peak and players were still not very prepared for it. Dredge was also my deck of choice for the previous Modern Open, giving me my first Modern Top 8 of the year.
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 2 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 1 Haunted Dead
Neither deck could be considered the best in either format. That’s not my style. It’s tough to win a tournament through sixteen rounds plus another three more in the Top 8 with decks that people nearly know the entire 75s of.
However, it is much easier to pilot two of the best decks and leave the tournament with a respectable finish and some cash.
With a twelve-point lead I need to not blow it. Everything is drawing me to the safe play of playing safe decks:
- Flip a coin between W/U Flash and B/G Delirium.
- Play the Infect deck that I’ve had sleeved for three years. Or, if feeling frisky, play the Dredge deck I’ve had sleeved for three months.
But I don’t like safe. I want to win the tournament. First or dead last: that’s my motto. No gamble, no future, they say.
I still have a week to test, but I doubt I’ll be deviating far from my norm. W/R Vehicles is appealing to me, since it’s the deck I started with first this Standard season. It’s hard to deny results, though. Maybe a two-deck format is just a two-deck format.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
Who’s more deserving, the soldier deployed for two years or the soldier deployed six months but who completes multiple critical missions for their country? One has sacrificed more time. One is more successful at completing missions.
Neither is more deserving than the other; both are heralded as heroes when they come back home. Both have given their all.
Jeff Hoogland has attended every Open this year that was logistically possible, and even some that weren’t.
I’ve skipped six Opens this year. I’m a professional Magic player that now has a life built around navigating myself from city to city any given weekend. I sacrifice some, but not as much as Jeff, with a family and programming job.
With the pressure between us, Jeff won a Modern Classic with Kiki-Chord. I responded by winning a Modern Open with G/W Tron. Our success was no coincidence.
Once, a Top 32 finish could keep pace for an end goal such as a seasonal Players’ Championship bid. Now “just” a Top 16 might mean falling behind. I couldn’t attend the Open in Knoxville last weekend, which meant I had to make the most out of the Columbus Open.
Sometimes it’s easier to win when you can’t afford to lose.
I played G/W Tron in Columbus because of two reasons. It had a (strangely) great Dredge matchup and was good against durdly midrange decks, namely the Kiki Chord deck that Jeff Hoogland won the previous Classic with. Yes, one of the main reasons I chose a deck was to beat one guy on one deck. Truthfully, I was likely to need to get through Jeff in Columbus at some point during the tournament. It just so happened that it came during Round 5 rather than something like the Top 8.
I want to beat the field going into the Invitational, but I also need to beat the top players that I expect to face at some point during the weekend.
It might sound foolish to metagame so narrowly, but it is what it is.
After getting an invite to the Players’ Championship in Season Two, I was left with a decision. I could play more Grand Prix and PPTQs with my invite secure. Instead I decided to pursue Player of the Year, meaning I would have to play in nearly every event for the rest of the year.
Being the Player of the Year of 2016 is something I’ve worked hard for to earn and would be a title that I could remember for the rest of my life.
Under different circumstances, I would’ve packed up my cards and left the venue once I saw I was paired against Todd Anderson in the Top 8 of Columbus. He needs an invitation to the Players’ Championship; I don’t. If he misses out barely this year, it may come down to that one moment.
Winning the Invitational would mean I’d get back on the Pro Tour. That’s what matters to me now, really. Money comes and goes. I don’t really need another token. It’s rare that I can spare a weekend to play a PPTQ, or even Grand Prix for that matter.
I’d like to think that my goals are more than just numbers and a bucket list. I could be the only person to win three Invitationals. I’d like to get on the Pro Tour and start making headway towards making Pro Tour Top 8s and, years down the road, into the Hall of Fame. Getting up to 150 Pro Points to have a vote on the HoF ballot is also a milestone of mine along the way.
Just Another Magic Tournament
I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself for the Invitational in Atlanta. I’m going to play what I know I can play and let the cards fall as they may. I’ve already come to terms with the possibility of Jeff Hoogland passing me and him being Player of the Year. If he does, he most certainly will have earned the title.
Next up will the final Players’ Championship before we all move on to new forms of glory. Of course, I’d like to win one of those while it still exists. If not… whatever. Good beats.
In any case, I’m happy for where I’m at and how my year has gone.
Sometimes it’s easier to win when you can afford to lose.