In the few weeks leading up to the Kansas City SCG Open, I'd been playing nothing but U/B on MODO. I'd been basically playing some form of the Worlds Top 8 lists, with Matignon's maindeck and a combination of his and Paulo Vitor's sideboard. The deck felt absolutely insane, but I wasn't really sure how to play the mirror, and I kept getting peeled out by Valakut. I was basically beating every other deck, but I knew I had to tighten up the mirror and figure out how to best beat Valakut.
A couple of days before the tournament, Gerry Thompson IMed me and told me to put Mind Rot in my U/B sideboard, saying "as a Valakut player, I definitely don't want to play against that card." I was fairly skeptical, but I put three in the board and fired up a Daily Event. I beat two Valakut decks and lost to two mirrors despite still having all of the tools that other mirror players had, so I still wasn't really sure about that, but I knew Mind Rot was very good against Valakut. Basically any time you draw two of them, you can't really possibly lose (especially on the play), and one is generally awesome as long as you just base your game around it.
I also decided to cut the Sea Gate Oracles, as they're literal, stone bricks against everything but Vampires, and cut them for a Vampire Nighthawk, which is better against Vampires and Boros and a fourth Inquisition of Kozilek (or rather fifth Thoughtseize effect). Sea Gate is essentially a filler in the deck, which gets boarded out against everything except Vampires. Cutting it for one or two Nighthawks is a drastic improvement, as you want Nighthawk against every deck, including the mirror and Valakut. In the mirror, I wasn't cutting anything relevant from my deck to put them in, and Mind Rot was an actual upgrade from Flashfreeze. We could bring in Mind Rot against Boros, as it's much better than a bunch of Spreading Seas and various maindeck do-nothings, and if you can just get rid of two lands or two spells, it can get you far enough ahead to get into the late game. It's pretty terrible against Squadron Hawk, but even getting rid of two of those is pretty fine, as you have problems with that card as is.
Here's the list I settled on and sent to various friends a couple days before the event:
I kind of wanted the second Nighthawk in the maindeck, but I figured the fourth Inquisition would be universally better. I didn't really want a Nighthawk over an Inquisition maindeck against Valakut or the mirror, and while Nighthawk is awesome against the aggro decks, Inquisition is also very good. I could've also cut Duress for a Nighthawk, but again, I wanted an extra answer to Jace/Summoning Trap, and it's only really terrible against Vampires.
One reason I really want all of these Thoughtseizes in my deck is that I've been valuing information more and more lately as a player. Against a deck like Valakut, this is so valuable, as you can more easily base your game around a card like Mind Rot when you know exactly what they have, or whether or not they have a Trap, or if they're choked on lands. Against the mirror, it's things like counterspells that are the most important information, but even other things like Tectonic Edge or Jace. One downside to this is that it's easy to get tilted when you Inquisition them, see no Trap, and two turns later, they Titan + Trap you (which happens to me about 75% of the time in that situation), but there's no real reason to get upset. The only thing that changes is the fact that you actually see them getting lucky, though it's obviously frustrating.
The van to KC was driver Mark Hinsz, Martin Lohman, Katie Moline, recent big tymer Patrick McGregor, Gerry Thompson, and myself. The first hour and a half of the car ride was fairly uneventful, then as soon as we made it a little bit into Iowa, it turned to hurricane-like winds blowing snow everywhere. At any given time, we could go from being able to see way ahead of us to barely being able to see the road directly in front of the van. At one point, we were talking, and I just heard Mark say from the front, "So uhhh..... all of the other cars disappeared," and we literally could only see to the front of the van. Here's a pretty nice picture that Mark took (while driving of course):
The caption on Facebook says, "This is either Iowa, or we are following a Star Destroyer."
Somehow, we arrived in scenic Kansas City completely intact at about 12:30. Everyone had their chats about switching decks or cards, but Pat and I were staying on our respective 75s, as we had no real reason to change anything the night before. Obviously, several times in our transit from Minneapolis, I said how bad I thought Boros was and look who has the chips now...
I won round 1 of Standard, defeating Mono-Green Eldrazi. I lost game 1 pretty handily, but games 2 and 3 were won on the back of three Mind Rots; then I had a close game 3 with me winning with Tar Pit for exactsies the turn before I lost all of my permanents. It felt pretty good winning a close game 3 where I felt like I played really well. In the end, I had him basically drawing to a runner-runner, and on his first turn, he hit an Ulamog, so there was still a big sweat on the next draw step, but luckily he bricked.
Next round, I defeated the newish U/G Genesis Wave deck. Game 3 he mulliganed to five, and I kept him off five lands until he was dead. Basically game 2 and 3 came down to me just fatesealing him off lands while his hand was mono-six-drops.
Round 3 I was up against the same U/G deck, however this gentleman had Vengevines post-board. I got destroyed game 1, getting out-Jaced the whole time, from what I can remember. Game 2 I Inquisitioned him and then Mana Leaked a ramp creature, then he Summoning Trapped into Frost Titan. Pretty standard.
Round 4 I lost game 1 to Valakut after having to run out a turn 6 Grave Titan, needing him to brick a Summoning Trap. He hit an Oracle of Mul Daya, so I basically needed him to not hit a Valakut in two turns; then it was down to one turn, and he hit it that turn. Always heartbreaking to do all that work and still lose. Then game 2 I mulliganed to five, and on his turn 3, he had Lotus Cobra, Koth, six lands, and three cards in hand. Somehow didn't pull that one out.
I was kind of frustrated with this result, but it's nothing for me to stress over. I've basically been playing nonstop U/B on MODO and 2-2ing every single Daily Event I play. Clearly I'm doing something wrong, but I'm not sure how to address it or even what it is. Mind Rot was absolutely the correct call for the sideboard of the deck, and it was great for everyone playing it.
One of the big things I dislike about Standard is how much the games can swing back and forth. No matter how far ahead you get with this deck, you can always just randomly lose to a peeled Titan, and that's a very frustrating thing to have happen to you over and over. As Gerry puts it, all of the cards in Standard are either 5s or 10s, and all of the cards in legacy right now are 5s. U/B is full of 5s, with some 10s, but no matter how great of a lead you get with your incremental 5s, you can still just lose to a 10, and that's that. Every matchup literally feels like a 50/50 matchup where the games depend on what cards you draw. Even the control decks feel like The Rock decks sometimes, and the endgame feels way too good. In Legacy, the incremental advantage can't be swung as easily. In the Counterbalance vs. Goblins matchup, if I can get myself ahead with some little Goblins, there's not much a blue deck can do to swing the lead back to them. Basically, once I start getting it in good, I'm not going to lose to them topdecking a Titan. I'm probably going to win; it's just a matter of time.
I didn't drop until the prospect of going out to eat came up. Martin, Mark, Katie, and I ended up going to Genghis Grill, which was absolutely delicious. You load up what looks like a dog-food bowl with meat and vegetables, and then they cook it on a giant flat-top grill for you. Mark, being the genius he is, instantly broke the format by piling food on and then mashing it down with his hand, eventually balancing as much meat on top of the pile as he could. After that masterful display of foodsmanship, we ended up gaming for the meal. Mark, being the rookie in the league, naturally lost.
We ended up going coming back to the site and cubing a little bit. After about five hours, it was time for dinner, and if you've ever been to Kansas City, you know the only place to really eat is Jack Stack Barbecue. Ryan O' Connor, Tim Aten, Ben Jackson, Martin Lohman, and I made the three-block trek to Jack Stack in Ryan's mom's Escalade and devoured the most delicious food of all time. I punted and opted for potato salad and baked beans rather than the cheesy potato bake, which Martin got as his side, but you can't win 'em all. We watched the Jets win despite their best efforts to lose to the Colts and headed back to the site.
The rest of the night was spent sitting around with AJ Sacher, Tim, and Ryan attempting to find Kenny Castor a place to stay. I was basically in continuous laughter for two hours, as Kenny was too tilted to get anything done, so he was basically just on the phone complaining to various people for an hour. I stayed until Pat won his Top 8 match, then we headed back and got to sleep around 1:30.
I got my Goblins list from Jarvis Yu a few days before the event and literally just shipped it to the person I was borrowing cards from without looking at it or changing anything. He didn't have Perishes in the board, which I ended up adding. Here was the list I settled on:
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 4 Goblin Lackey
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 3 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 2 Siege-Gang Commander
I had no idea what Tuktuk Scrapper was for, but it ended up being pretty insane against Affinity, U/R Painter, and random artifacts. Having no Sharpshooter anywhere was absolutely terrible, and I didn't really think about changing the list at all. My focus was completely on Standard for this event, and I knew Goblins was really good, offering both nut draws and a solid late game, rewarding good play.
I started out the tournament 2-0, beating Burn and Aggro Loam. Against Loam in game 1 I got Devastating Dreams-ed late, had no permanents for three turns, eventually drew a land for Goblin Lackey, and had him brick out and somehow lose. A pretty entertaining example of never conceding, though I'm pretty sure I win that game about 1/100 times; there's no reason to concede. Then I somehow won game 3 while he drew nothing relevant.
Round 3 I lost an SCGLive feature match to Caleb Durward and his pretty awesome U/R Painter deck. Game 1 I felt kind of robbed, as I had a turn before his combo was basically shut off, and he used all of his cards + Top to lethal me. Game 3 he had a solid draw and just beat me.
I then racked off a couple wins (including one against Pat) to get to 5-1 and won what I thought was my win-and_in against a very nice man named Dennis Taylor who was playing RDW. I won game 1 with a Goblin Piledriver on very little life. Game 2 he kept a one-lander, didn't draw a second land for the entire game, yet was still a turn away from killing me. Definitely not going to deny that I was running insanely well this tournament.
I thought I was going to be able to draw into Top 8 at 6-1-1, but all the 6-1s ended up needing to play round 8. I had a covered feature match against Ben Wienburg which you can read here.
Basically game 1 I had to play a long game, as he had Vedalken Shackles early, and I felt like I did a fairly good job of building my board as well as disrupting his mana. It took me a long time to kill him, but I felt in control pretty much the entire game. Game 2 I kind of punted, but I was drawing pretty close to dead regardless. I basically didn't give myself a couple of extra draw steps to peel out and grew his Tarmogoyf when I killed his Jace. This play was pretty inexcusable, but it didn't get to me at all. Game 3 I played another fairly long game, and this one was ended by Siege-Gang Commander after keeping his mana locked down to just Bant colors for the whole game.
I was obviously ecstatic to be in Top 8 and even had friends from school texting me congratulations. Now, as an aside, either I'm blessed with extremely awesome friends, or everyone is just wrong about the stereotyping of Magic players. Before this year, I wouldn't necessarily hide the fact that I play Magic from my friends, but I'd avoid talking about it. This year, a lot of people randomly found out from YouTube videos, Facebook posts, etc. and actually think it's kind of cool that I'm winning money by playing. It's not a conversation topic or anything, but it's not as big of a deal as a lot of people make it out to be. While I understand high school is pretty different from college and so forth, it just seems ridiculous that some people are completely ashamed to be Magic players. I absolutely love all of the friends I've made through Magic, and that's really the only thing keeping me playing. Playing the game and winning are both awesome, but I'm also going to these tournaments to be around all of my friends that I don't get to see that often.
I denied the split, and in Top 8 I was paired against Affinity in an SCGLive feature match. I lost game 1 to Cranial Plating + Etched Champion after a game I thought I was almost assuredly going to win otherwise. In the next 2 games, he mulliganed and got choked on mana while I played Tuktuk Scrapper and kept his mana tied with Wasteland and Rishadan Port. I was happy to get that win out of the way, however I started to feel very sick between Top 8 and Top 4. By sick, I mean my stomach hurt to the point where it was painful to walk. I had the shivers like I had a high fever, and my head and body ached. It was pretty miserable, and I knew going into the mirror in Top 4 was going to be tough when feeling like this. The match is covered here.
Game 1 I was on the back foot from turn 2, as he had Goblin Lackey into Siege-Gang on the play. He thought long and hard about this turn, which made me think he was pretty nervous about the match, as I wouldn't have been able to attack faster to further the blowout. I tried to extract some value from various Mogg War Marshals and Warren Weirdings, but I ended up losing in the long game. Game 2 I had a Vial on the play and basically crushed him with card advantage and Piledrivers. Game 3 I kept an inexcusable hand of Mountain, Badlands, Rishadan Port, Wasteland, Aether Vial, Goblin Warchief, and Goblin Ringleader on the draw. I kept because he mulliganed, and I thought if I got to a long game slightly behind or on parity, I could easily win. He ended up having Lackey on the play to make for a pretty anticlimactic game and match.
Really I just wanted to leave, filled out necessary forms, and did so immediately. The crew stopped at Taco Bell on the way out, and even the smell of it made me feel awful. I flickered in and out of consciousness on the way home and eventually we arrived in cold Minneapolis. Upon arriving home, I slept for about 20 out of the next 24 hours and somehow wrote this report despite barely being able to keep my eyes open through this awful sickness.
I had a really great time in KC, and of course it was great seeing everyone that I don't get to see very often with how little I travel. I'd really like to thank all of my friends, as their presence and support are truly priceless; you guys have no idea how much you really mean to me. My buddy Jason Mohr lent me two decks for this trip, as well as for my Columbus/Indy trip this summer, and there's no way I'd be able to play without so many cards readily available to me. I'm not sure what event I'll be attending next, though I do know I'll be in Denver for the GP in February. My schedule is very restrictive, as my parents don't want me missing too much school, and I really shouldn't. I checked out when the next Invitational was now that I'm qualified, and it turns out it falls on the same weekend as my graduation... awkward.
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