Teetering On The Blade’s Edge Between Feast And Famine *26th*

After starting off 1-2 in the StarCityGames.com Invitational, Brian DeMars turned things around and won five matches in a row on day one. Read about how it all went down.

After the first three rounds of Legacy at the StarCityGames.com Invitational, I walked away from the table completely disgusted and dejected. Disgusted with my poor draws, disgusted with my opponent’s stellar draws, disgusted with my deck choice, and most of all disgusted with my recent apparent allergy to winning. I was once again in the hole early, with a disappointing 1-2 start in a tournament where it was likely that a record of X-2 would be necessary to make day two. That wasn’t even the worst part: My pitiful 1-2 record didn’t even accurately reflect my actual tournament performance, as my round one opponent Jeff Sirkis (God bless him) had actually conceded to me in a match where I was ahead but couldn’t finish out the third game in turns.

It was the kind of gloom that only ever creeps in after the match is over and only in the midst of a particularly bad losing streak that seems to center on the attributes of the game that are beyond one’s own control: a lot of mulligans, being ahead and people coming from behind to win with timely draws, and feeling like despite the fact that I was playing pretty well I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. It also occurred to me that on top of the fact that I was running bad, that my deck choice and build for Legacy was poor—or at the very least misguided. Though I try not to believe in luck, or at least complain about it too much or take it too seriously, it bothered me a little bit that I lost all three die rolls to start on the draw when I had rolled 9 or higher all three times with two D6s!

The deck that I had decided to play for the StarCityGames.com Invitational was an Esper Stoneblade deck that incorporated Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top. Although, I am hesitant to include the list because I don’t think it was a particularly good deck choice (for fear that others might be suckered into the same lie that I was and play it), I’ll go ahead and post it here:

The reason that I played this deck was that I expected that there would be more combo decks (particularly Dredge, Reanimator, and Show and Tell) than there was. After being graciously conceded to in a match against G/W that I would’ve probably won provided more time, stomped by a Bant deck where I mulliganed both games (once to five), and edged out from way ahead against Max Jacob playing BUG, I was left to ponder why I had opted to skimp on removal in favor of playing useless Counterbalances instead.

My game one against Max really illustrated to me why Counterbalance was a poor choice for this particular tournament. I ended up in a situation where I had two Mishra’s Factory, Counterbalance, and Brainstorm in my hand to his board of six dual lands with no hand—and lost. He drew running Wastelands; I drew Tundra and Swords to Plowshares—and killed off my poor Winter Factories. He then proceeded to draw Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and I brainstormed into three bricks and no way to shuffle and promptly died.

Besides the part where I get destroyed at the end, it was actually a really epic game that I had a lot of fun playing, and Max, who I had just met that round for the first time, is a good player that I had the opportunity to chat with quite a bit over the course of the tournament, but walking away from that match knowing my deck was not as good as I thought it was going to be, knowing that I was really far ahead and that it had slipped away, and knowing that now for the fourth event in a row I was quickly falling out of contention right from the start…

As I walked outside, I quickly decided that the name of my SCG Invitational article, and perhaps every article from here on out, might be titled:

Drought, because it literally felt like there was no telling when I might actually run well again. I usually update my family and a couple of friends of my record in between rounds, so I sent a couple of texts and went for some water. One friend texted back, “Just 5-0.” I chuckled at the text and sent back: “If only it were so simple…” To which he responded: “Haven’t you ever won five matches in a row before?”

Thinking about it from the perspective of “I have zero margin for error, and if I lose again I am out” felt really daunting, but the indignantly phrased “Haven’t you won five times before?” and knowing that I’ve won five matches in a row plenty of times somehow made me feel that my challenge was more manageable. I decided that like so many times before playing Magic, I was going to get my head back in the game and try to win five in a row to make day two.

The next round I played against an Aluren deck (the only combo deck that I got to play against with my combo-hate deck) and promptly won the match in two games. Not only did I win, but I won in crushing fashion: turn one Sensei’s Divining Top into turn two Counterbalance on the play. I had made it out of Legacy alive with a pretty mediocre deck and now had four rounds of Standard to look forward to.

While I had felt that going into the tournament, my Legacy deck, geared up to beat Graveyard and Combo decks, was perhaps a bit of a gambit, I felt much more confidant about my chances against the field with my Standard deck choice U/W Blade:

I played a similar list to this at the Magic: The Gathering World Championship, and though I ended up 3-3 with the deck, felt that I very easily could have been 6-0. All three of the matches I lost were very, very close and could have gone the other way. I have been playing the deck since then at Friday Night Magic and a couple other local events and felt very confidant that the tweaks I had made since improved the deck and also felt more capable of playing the deck even better than I did a month ago.

The first round of Standard I played against a Mono Red deck in the first round and won 2-0. Memorable moments included Gut Shot on his turn one Stromkirk Noble and Snapcastering his turn two Stromkirk… Pretty sweet.

The next round I played against a Red-Green Wolf Run deck, which from what I have witnessed appears to be a very popular and well positioned deck in the metagame—especially with Illusions being so popular. One thing I love about this Blade list is that it absolutely destroys ramp decks, the same way that Caw-Blade wrecked Valakut. They really struggle to deal with the deck’s best card, Sword of Feast and Famine, and if you ever hit them with it, they pretty much always lose. I was able to win that round by Mind Controlling an Inferno Titan!

Mind Control is one of those cards that I really felt was well positioned for this tournament. There are a lot of Titans and a lot of Wurmcoil Engines floating around—and though the deck is pretty good at being able to deal with big creatures, one thing I noticed is that because most people assume that my deck won’t have anything bigger or scarier than their six-drop, they won’t hesitate to tap out for something big, since often the worst-case scenario would just be that I kill it and tag them for a couple life. While bigger mana decks don’t really care that I kill their Titan, Wurmcoil, or Sphinx, since it will have already generated value, Mind Controlling some big threat in my experience almost always just wins the game on the spot. My rule of thumb for sideboarding is that if I think I’ll have a legitimate shot at a Hero of Bladehold or better, I almost always bring it in!

So, pretty much without having to work very hard, I had won three in a row and only had two rounds left.

Round seven was the freest round I have ever gotten. My opponent started with a game loss for being tardy. I’m not sure why, but I sort of assumed he was going to be playing an aggressive deck and kept a hand that was threat light but loaded up with stuff that’s good against aggro. He was actually playing the most controlling of U/B Control decks. We played a thirty-minute game two where despite his drawing 10 extra cards with Consecrated Sphinx, I put myself into a position where I was in very good shape to win the game.

I got two turns where he had to tap out late in the game, and most of the non-land cards in my deck would kill him on the spot, but I hit two lands in a row, while he had to Alchemy and draw step into perfect combinations of cards twice in a row to stay alive and ultimately push ahead. The endgame we arrived at involved him playing a Grave Titan and chump blocking both my Mirran Crusader and Spirit token wearing a Sword of Feast and Famine to stay alive at three life. He only had about ten cards left in his deck, and he could only attack me down to one life on my turn with an alpha strike. He took me down to one and played Black Sun’s Zenith for three to kill my team, leaving him with a 3/3 Grave Titan in play.

My opponent was at four life with a 3/3 Grave Titan in play, and I was at one life with a Sword of Feast and Famine in play, no cards in hand, and no creatures in play…

I drew the best, most perfect card possible in this situation:

I drew Spellskite; I couldn’t possibly believe it—especially because there was only one left in my deck because the other had been binned by his Nephalia Drownyard. I played the Spellskite, equipped it with the Sword of Feast and Famine, and passed the turn.

My opponent drew for the turn, looked disgustedly at his cards, scooped up his board, and conceded.

I have no idea why he conceded, but he did so. Apparently Spellskite was quite the draw! Before I had passed the turn, I had figured out that I was drawing to six cards left in my deck—provided he bricked on his next two draw steps: Blade Splicer, Snapcaster Mage to rebuy Midnight Haunting, and the last Sword of Feast and Famine. My opponent, for some reason, without saying a word, packed it in. After he signed the match slip and walked away, I looked at the top of my library, and it was an Inkmoth Nexus, so I would have lost that game…

Anyway, the freest one ever considering I should have had to play a third game.

Four in a row, just needed to win one more…

Round eight was anti-climactic for a change. I played against a U/W Humans deck and kept two hands where I pretty much knew I was going to win as soon as I drew them. My opponent also had mana problems that made it difficult for him to keep up in one of the games. All things considered, the match lasted about twenty minutes including shuffling and sideboarding.

I texted my friend: “Business as usual, won five in a row, made day two.” And felt pretty good about it.

I got pretty lucky to get an entirely free match win, but I’ve learned that so many things can go wrong in Magic that when something goes particularly right, it is probably deserved—particularly at the end of a drought.

So, where my Legacy deck had really let me down, my Standard deck really bailed me out by allowing me to go undefeated on day one.

One thing I noticed when I checked the Standings after the first day was that my tiebreakers were atrocious. I had pretty much among the worst tiebreakers of people left in the tournament despite the fact that I was in 47th place overall!

I took my girlfriend Rebecca (who was kind enough to accompany me on the 12-hour car ride down to North Carolina from Michigan) out to dinner to celebrate how awesome I am for being able to win five matches in a row under pressure, and exhausted from the long car ride and the long day of playing cards, cashed in early to rest up for day two.


Day two started with me playing against Brian Kibler playing U/B Viral Drake Infect Control in a feature match that can be read here.

I ended up winning to improve my record to 7-2. It was also pretty amusing to me that I got several texts messages from friends and family throughout the event about the subtitle on my photo in the match, which refers to me as: “Brian DeMars, famed Vintage and Legacy writer.” My brother asked me if they let the players write their own captions, and my girlfriend (who is tech and actually has a smart phone) texted me “I didn’t know I was dating a famous person…” To say the least, it was a very flattering description.

I lost the next match to U/W Illusions. It was the one round where I actually felt that my draws were particularly bad, having had to mulligan to six both games, and kept hands that were on the borderline that ended up not working out.

After losing one, I made up for it by winning the next one and finishing 6-1 in the Standard portion with U/W Blade. My final thoughts on my Standard deck are that I don’t think we’ve seen or heard the last of Sword of Feast and Famine… All things being said, the kinds of tactical advantages it provides and the fact that many times it is free to cast like an Urza block “free spell” make me feel like it is probably the single most powerful card legal in Standard.  

So, the Standard portion of the tournament was completely over, and I had to put away one U/W Blade deck and pick up another one.

In round 12 I got another feature match that didn’t get covered on the website against Ben S. playing Stoneblade and got promptly crushed. I remember thinking to myself as I walked up to the feature match area: I really hope they don’t cover this one because my Legacy deck is embarrassingly bad. In game one I resolved Counterbalance and Top but never had the right converted mana costs on top of my deck to actually counter anything and in the second turn kept a two-land hand with Top, fetchland, and Brainstorm and never found a third land; and by never, I literally mean NEVER, as the game ended without me having a third land…

Round 12 I played against another Bant deck and managed to squeak out a victory thanks to a luckily drawn Perish.

Wrath of God, target YOU!”

In the last round when I looked at the standings, I was in 29th place, and my opponent was in 30th place and dead last in tiebreakers among players with 27 points, which at first made me think I’d likely have to play it out in order to make top 32 and finish in the money. However, upon further investigation I realized that there were only 4 players with 25 points and that they were all paired up and that because of this, we could both draw and guaranteed finish in the top 32. I also quickly realized that even if I won, there was 0% chance that I could make top 16 because my breakers were so bad. Since my opponent was also in the exact situation, we decided to draw, and that was it. Tournament over.

Starting from 1-2 and battling back to finish in the top 32 felt pretty awesome. To go from the brink of defeat and end up turning things around is always a really fantastic feeling. When things start off poorly, it’s just an opportunity to go on a streak. You’ve won five matches in a row before, right?

Thanks for reading.

Brian DeMars