I. A Beacon in the Dark
Much like most Arizonans I am not a native of this fine state. I'm originally from Ohio and I did something completely irrational this Christmas: I decided it would be a good idea to leave the sunshine of Arizona for the dreary existence that is the Ohio landscape. While the days with the Prosak clan were well worth it I was left with nothing but time late at night. Forced to Ponder (and shuffle) my cold dreary existence I scoured the internet for worthwhile activities.
I found this little gem.
It was a light in the dark a beacon of hope in the vast expanses of the internet. Watching Michael Jacob in these videos fueled a fire inside of me. The level of detail he paid to each decision in his videos is something that's been missing from my game for quite some time.
I reflected on my own play noting that I've been playing on autopilot far too often. Upon return from the Dark Depths (still with ten counters and not a Vampire Hexmage in sight) of Ohio I resolved to focus on each individual decision. I was playing too fast although I would have to monitor the effects of slowing down. R/U/G would be a good place to start as I already had the inspirational Michael Jacob videos to build from.
II. The R/U/G Life
Upon return to Arizona I had some work to do. I managed to play in a few FNMs and other local tournaments to determine my comfort with R/U/G. Initially I had reservations about the deck:
- There seemed to be too many colors. This was the big one for me. I'm not a big fan of splashing especially for spot removal and that seemed to be the draw of red to what is a base U/G deck.
- I thought a deck with four Spreading Seas and four Tectonic Edges was the best deck for this tournament given that they were strong against all decks specifically Vampires and Valakut. R/U/G could not play Tectonic Edge and playing Spreading Seas in R/U/G simply added to the value cantrips. As much as I hate to admit it you can only cantrip so much until you have nothing but air in your hand.
- The deck seemed to be the second best at pretty much everything but the best at nothing. There was nothing to hang my hat on and the deck seemed unfocused.
However after playing this deck my fears were subsided. I've known that Lotus Cobra matchups hinged directly on Lotus Cobra and Hornet Sting was not the real deal. You really needed a spot removal spell and Lightning Bolt was the best one available. Conveniently Red is also the best color to splash in a U/G shell for this deck. Red shares the splash with green sources which is preferable to sharing with blue sources. White is out of the question simply because of the value of the mana-fixing fetchlands. You really want all eight and you need most of your lands to color fix.
Raging Ravine is also the perfect manland for this style of deck. You really want to be mana efficient and hit hard.
The results from Kansas City indicated that Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge were not the Holy Grail. The finals were between a Genesis Wave deck and a Boros deck neither of which particularly care about Spreading Seas and both decks make Tectonic Edge have as much value as Glimmerpost. The cards still provide a significant advantage but aren't a necessity the way Jace the Mind Sculptor is.
Finally I realized that I had a significant advantage in any given match at least in some aspect of the game. Against U/W and U/B it was mana development and therefore stronger Mana Leaks. Against the fast aggro decks I had Frost Titans. Against Valakut I was more efficient. Against other Lotus Cobra decks I had Cobra advantage via Lightning Bolts.
As for the individual card choices in the deck I started with the list from MJs videos .
The first thing that I noticed was something that MJ suggested himself: Garruk Wildspeaker. Wow this card is awesome. Without going into a rant about the state of Magic Garruk is one of the few cards with tension built into the card. While Lotus Cobra is easily the best card in the deck allowing for huge tempo swings Garruk can function as a four-mana version of Lotus Cobra while not being vulnerable to Lightning Bolt.
To make Garruk even better I added two Deprives to the main deck. I started with the one in MJ's sideboard and kept wanting the card. While it's very bad against the fast aggro decks it is one of the best cards against every other deck. I was extremely happy with exactly two Deprives (they are pretty bad in multiples or when you don't have tempo to preserve) and they made the Garruks even stronger.
Other than that the only important change I made to the deck concerned the Titans and Avengers. With Inferno Titans the fast aggro matches were generally blowouts but I felt that I didn't always need Inferno Titan to secure those. However when fighting the end games of the other Titan-based decks I felt myself lacking. I played in a local tournament where I got crushed by the mirror and U/G Genesis Wave and I felt that I needed two Avenger of Zendikars in my deck. However I wanted the more efficient Titans most of the time so the second Avenger found its home in my sideboard.
III. Travel Plans*
I'm very particular when it comes to traveling to tournaments. I vastly prefer to drive if the drive can be done in a day as I enjoy the company that road trips offer. I also hate flying. However I feel that it's important to travel with people you enjoy being around. If you don't like spending eleven minutes with someone eleven hours will be miserable.
At first I intended to organize the same car that was organized for StarCityGames.com Open: Denver. However only the esteemed Jim Gorz was interested in going. Then good man and San Jose native John Pershon offered his place to stay. However he only had a single spot in his traveling party and I didn't want to abandon Jim. Then Belle R de Kelaita had a wonderful solution for us all: he had access to cheap rental cars and it would make renting an SUV far more reasonable than it otherwise would be.
In the end seven of us made the eleven-hour drive to San Jose laughing Scrabbling Pursuing Trivia and in Michael Jacoby's case sleeping all the way to San Jose.
There is exactly one misspelling of a name in the above paragraph. No prizes for guessing the correct answer.
IV. The Switch
Surprise Surprise another video on StarCityGames.com really had me tempted to switch decks: Blah blah blah blame Kibler. However as soon as I saw his Caw-Go deck I immediately fell in love. I'm a big fan of not playing spot removal if you don't have to and I felt the deck had nice plans and powerful cards much like R/U/G.
In the end I decided not to stress over it. My plan was twofold. First I'd ask Alex Bertoncini and Brian Kibler — the masters of their respective decks — if they wavered at all on their deck choice. Failing that I would play the deck I felt like playing more when I woke up.
As you probably know neither Alex nor Brian had anything remotely bad to say about their decks so I decided to go with the instinct I had when I woke up. While I had the cards for both decks I wanted both sleeved up and ready to go so I ended up borrowing most of the deck from John Pershon. I won't lie; it was weird seeing Beta basics and foil Mana Leaks instead of the Unhinged basics and textless Mana Leaks I prefer.
Without going all My Fires on everybody I believe in a comfort zone when playing your decks. Early on in the tournament I could sense there was something off. I think it had to do with the differences in card appearances. I just wasn't in my comfort zone. Fortunately for me the first few rounds were extremely easy — mostly due to advantageous draws. After awhile I did settle into a comfort zone.
Here's what I played:
V. The Tournament
I played against a Valakut Player and we split fairly similar games - each overwhelming the other fairly easily in the games we won.
In the third game the situation was the same although I had the decision to either play a Frost Titan or hold countermagic. The Frost Titan would let my countermagic beat anything except for an Avenger of Zendikar. If he cast Primeval Titan I could lock down his Titan with mine while Spreading Seas could set him far enough away from Valakut to matter. The only thing I feared was him playing Summoning Trap and hitting an Avenger of Zendikar. He couldn't hard-cast the Avenger with only six possible mana but I couldn't beat Avenger very easily. I was worried when he actually had the Summoning Trap — but he chose Primeval Titan instead. After the game it was confirmed that he had a choice between the two and I breathed a sigh of relief. This was the point where I could feel things going my way.
Nothing of much interest happened here.
This round however was extremely intense. While the match was rarely in danger of not finishing I did win in extra turns. I'm used to playing Magic extremely fast and I rarely spend the entire round playing. I won't lie; this was a mentally taxing round.
My opponent was a competent magician piloting the Genesis Wave deck and the battles are generally fought over his development not mine. He has the more broken end game with the ability to knock me back into developing while plays Titans.
That's exactly what happened in game 1 although it was fairly drawn out. Eventually he just gave me all Islands via an active Jace.
In the second game I just ran him over with an unopposed Cobra and no acceleration from him.
The third game went super long again; like game 1 he has the acceleration but his action was just Jace the Mind Sculptor — all four of them to be exact. I was able to counter some and none of them stuck for too long. There were some subtle mistakes that were made in this game but I felt that we both played well considering the amount of decisions we had to make.
1) My opponent Genesis Waved for six or so and hit a Jace a Primeval and most importantly a Spreading Seas. I had been saving a fetchland in play and my opponent failed to realize that he could just place it on the fetchland effectively screwing me out of non-blue mana (at least until I drew a land for my Lotus Cobra).
2) I used Garruk fairly poorly this game. I didn't really need the mana but I should have threatened Overrun much faster than I really did. I made at least one too many beast tokens — perhaps two too many. I had to dodge multiple scary draw steps because of my poor Garruk usage.
3) My opponent might have been able to win (or at least force a draw) had he attacked Garruk. The combat at this point was extremely complicated and while we were rushing to get to time he could have slowed down on turn 0 of turns to see if attacking was correct. The first time I did Garruk math was on turn 1 of extra turns and as it turns out it was more than enough to kill him.
I barely had time to breathe yet another sigh of relief when I found myself in another intense situation.
My opponent was a gentleman I recognized from a bunch of tournaments — one who was at least competent enough to win a PTQ for Amsterdam.
The first game was a doozy. While he was struggling on mana I was developing timidly allowing him to claw back into the game. Generally speaking if a U/B deck casts a Grave Titan they should win more often than not. Well when I gave my opponent a window to cast Grave Titan he took it. I had a pair of Cobras in play and Garruk was about to make his second Beast token.
However I needed him to double block with his pair of Zombies so that I could use Lightning Bolt to kill them both paving the way for my Lotus Cobras. I decided that if I just attacked with the Beast he would put me on Lighting Bolt for sure.
How does anyone lose after a second Grave Titan? However I was pretty much in the driver's seat. I drew a land that allowed me to attack with two Raging Ravines twp Lotus Cobras two Beast Tokens and the Frost Titan locking down his untapped Grave Titan. He traded with the Cobra and chumped the Frosty going to three.
The craziest part of this game was that his next draw is a Verdant Catacombs. A Swamp here would let him Doom Blade my Frost Titan and activate his Creeping Tar Pit for exactly enough blockers. Another crazy part about this game was that his first Grave Titan that attacked was blocked by a Khalni Garden token. Had it not been for that token I wouldn't have been able to commit all of my creatures to the red zone for fear of a counter-attack.
Thankfully for my state of being I smashed him the second game and could relax for a bit.
This was on SCGLive.com camera against Neil Ocampo who was clearly uncomfortable in front of the cameras. He wasn't shy by any means but he was clearly rattled by playing where his mistakes were visible.
His keep in game 2 seemed very sketchy at best and was perhaps influenced by the cameras. I told him to play his game and to not worry about who is watching. (This is good advice for anyone not just people in front of a camera. Don't worry if your friends are watching; just play Magic like you know how to play Magic.) Neil ended up finishing 11th a pretty solid finish.
This was against young master Sherwin "Pu" Pu piloting the red spells. I was run over fairly easily in both games as Koth of the Hammer did good work. I took five damage from a Plated Geopede to try and develop better which was a mistake. In the second game I drew both of my Obstinate Baloths but flooded out pretty hard after that and Koth probably dealt me twenty damage by himself. I also had no realistic way to kill a Molten-Tail Masticore.
For a “win and in” situation Round 8 was fairly easy. I played against Boros and I basically nut drew him Game 1 landing multiple Lightning Bolts and an early Titan. Game 2 featured some back-and-forth where we played around what the other had. Fortunately for me there was only so much my Boros opponent could do without a third land.
One draw later and I was locked into the Top 8. It was very nice to be able to finally Top 8 a Standard Open. While I loved going to these events Standard had been a struggle and nearly all of my good results had come from the Legacy Opens. As an added bonus there was talk about this Top 8 being more accomplished than most and I felt great to be a part of it.
I won't cover too much of the Top 8 as all of the matches are covered here.
The match against Tom Raney was easily the most intense although the games weren't particularly close. One person just got a little bit ahead and then drove a nail in the coffin. Here are the key parts of each game:
Game 2: He played a Lotus Cobra on turn 2; I had all counterspells.
For a variety of reasons the Top 4 was played out on Sunday morning. While it's probably good overall it is fairly brutal to unwind from a day of intense Magic only to do it all over again a few hours later. 8 a.m. is also really early.
For me the top 4 matches seemed like a video game where I had all the cheat codes. My draws were so superior that nearly anyone could have won the four games that I did to win the tournament. It's a shame because Matt Nass and Alex Bertoncini are great people and great players and our matches were so....lame.
I'll take it! Time to play some Legacy!
VI The Legacy Open
I will give you full details of my StarCityGames.com Legacy Open: San Jose experience:
Game 1: Nut draw from Merfolk I don't resolve spells.
Game 2: Nut draw from Merfolk I don't resolve spells.
Game 1: Nut draw from Merfolk I don't resolve spells.
Game 2: Nut draw from Merfolk I don't resolve spells.
I won't lie; I've figured out why nobody has gone back-to-back in the StarCityGames.com Open Series yet. The emotional high of winning a StarCityGames.com Open is not to be underestimated. I felt like I was doing victory laps all the way to the drop box. Granted I would've had a tough time winning any of those games but my resolve to win wasn't as strong as it was a few short hours before. The next time I win a StarCityGames.com Standard Open** I'll keep my focus throughout the Legacy tournament as well.
I feel like this past weekend has freed me from the (Vedalken) Shackles I had placed upon myself.
The first? Being a mediocre Standard player. That doesn't have to be true and I think I proved it by preparing for Standard with focus and having such a positive result.
The second? I freed myself from Counterbalance lock. While I have locked many an opponent with a Counterbalance I have also locked myself. I promised myself that I would play it until I bombed out of a tournament with it. For those of you that understand Counterbalance was my Teen Titans. This isn't to say Counterbalance was a bad choice or will be a bad choice in the future. Far from it. GerryT made the finals and Vidianto Wijaya made the Top 8 with the same 75 with which I 0-2d so it definitely has game...I just don't need to play it all the time anymore.
Between Michael Jacob Teen Titans and Vidianto Wijaya I think that's enough Vs. System talk for now.
VII. Props and Slops
Glenn Jones and Joey Pasco: I hadn't had the pleasure of meeting either either of these fine gentlemen until this weekend. I assure you that SCGLive.com is in fine hands. I had a blast doing video commentary with Joey and Glenn brings a great energy to the live coverage. I look forward to future StarCityGames.com Opens specifically being in the booth. If I'm at home during a StarCityGames.com Open Weekend I will actively try to tune in more often now. These guys are the real deal.
Gavin Verhey: I already knew that you're the nut. I'm jealous of your job.
Alex Bertoncini: Through the StarCityGames.com Open Series I've gotten to know Alex well. He is a true gamer and a cube aficionado I can truly appreciate. We would constantly celebrate each others' wins and I have him to thank for livin' the R/U/G life. My favorite part about Alex is that he used his prize for winning the StarCityGames.com Player of the Year — a play set of the Power Nine — and just put it into his cube.
The Arizona Magic Scene: Many Arizonans made the trek to San Jose and everyone at home was busy watching. You guys are awesome and I am thankful for a thriving local scene
Everyone who congratulated me: Thank you. It means a lot. I know I didn't respond to most of the texts or Facebook posts but I read them all and I'm glad that I have people that wish me well.
Puerto Ricooooooooooooooooooo: The nut board game.
Get Real. I won the tournament! No slops here
* - Arizona Name Drop if you prefer
**- Yeah right.