"I know Jace is the best, Pat... But this time, he just didn't get there."
"Let me get this right... You had Jace in play for seven turns against no clock... And lost? Yeah, blame Jace."
At the time, I felt like I had played relatively well, but a day or so of reflection and that conversation with the Innovator have put me on the right path.
I opened up Day One of the StarCityGames.com Invitational 2-0 / 4-0 before the wheels fell off in Standard. I couldn't have won either of the next two matches on the merits, but there were two plays I could have made better.
You may have seen my Round Three SCGLive.com feature match against Ben Swartz and thought I was overly aggressive in Game One. I wasn't. I played the entirety of the first game on the right line, and though I could have done one thing differently, it wouldn't have affected the outcome of the game.
I played Gitaxian Probe to see Ben had Deceiver Exarch, Splinter Twin, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in his opener, but his lands were Island, Tectonic Edge, and Scalding Tarn. Two things about this hand: 1) Ben had no RR and would have to sacrifice to get UU; and 2) though he had the combo, he had no protection. In order to assemble it, he would have to hit lands, not spells, but everything would be tight.
I had no proactive plays before turn 4, so I had to jam my first Jace. I figured that even if Ben drew a counterspell into a land and Jaced me, I would just Jace back, and we would be even, with me holding multiple copies of both Into the Roil and Mana Leak. The problem with sitting and doing nothing is that I had no more lands, and if Ben were lucky, he could wait and start a fight on my turn with Exarch. If he drew lands and I was stuck at four, I would have essentially no chance unless he played very badly.
So Ben played his Exarch and Jaced my Jace. I wanted him to do this under the reliance that it would bleed him a red to get UU; he would be tapped; and I would play my Jace, fateseal him, and ideally untap with Jace and a hand full of interaction.
I saw Gitaxian Probe on top and left it there.
The error on my line is that I should have pushed the Gitaxian Probe. I'm dead to red on top regardless of whether he has to play the [free] Probe or not; but if he doesn't kill me, I've denied Ben the knowledge of my hand. Error, but meaningless error... Or at least that is what I have been telling myself.
I haven't had the chance to go back to the tape, but I have run the scenario over in my head roughly a bazillion times: Ben must have been tapped for Jace.
My line shouldn't have been "deny the Mountain" ... It was so sucking simple.
I had been horribly sick and probably dehydrated for three days running; Drew Levin asked me to lunch after round two, took us to a worthless garbage stand, but I was too distracted talking to him to actually eat any of the food I had brought with me, so my blood sugar was low; my computer was in the shop for two weeks, and I had a little ring rust due to no practice; I was 80% to win with the play I made anyway; reasons Reasons REASONS (excuses Excuses EXCUSES); say whatever you want: It was like Fischer getting his bishop trapped in the first of twenty-four in the World Championship. I just didn't see it. No one put those two loyalty on Jace but YT.
What was I thinking about, if not the right play, the play on the board?
"Adrian and Gavin probably don't understand why this line is right. I can't take any other line."
The line was right (up to a point). The last play wasn't. You know I've gone through whole tournaments where the only matches I lost were feature matches? Yeah. The first of many sorrows.
Even if Ben drew red land, he wouldn't have been able to kill me. In fact, he could likely avoid inevitable loss only by a Jace of his own (of some sort) on the spot. I already had a fist full of Leaks and Into the Roils. With Jace getting me lands, I would eventually out-mana Ben and win. And that, beloved readers, is why I am sorry. I let down Jace.
I lost twice in Legacy. In both cases, Jace gave me the opportunity I needed, and I didn't seize those opportunities.
I lost—and I shudder to admit this—four more times in Standard. Playing better with Jace might have gotten me two of those losses back. I can reasonably say I was generally unlucky on the weekend. I mulled to four one match and got topdecked on camera. I withered on a five-card hand... In a game that probably never should have occurred. Now of course my path would have been different had I made the right play under the Round Three lights, but this is interesting: No matter how unlucky I was, given the matchups and the draws I actually had, I could have won enough for Top 8.
That is flabbergasting! I finished a match OUT OF THE MONEY.
With all this talk of Gitaxian Probes, now seems as good a time as ever to post my decklist:
I figured I would play against mostly Caw-Blade and Twin decks, which is why I cut the three mana value dudes for the seventh Jace (comes in against both) and Gitaxian Probe (usually gets sided out but gives you an edge in speed and the knowledge of whether you can go off safely)... Plus I needed to buoy the loss of Sea Gate Oracle's selection a bit, and the ‘trip does that. I lost to Bloodghast out of the woefully underpowered Vampires twice, so obviously cutting Sea Gate Oracle punished me (but as I said, I could have gotten one if not both).
Surgical Extraction is the brainchild of one Peppermint Von Corduroy, and it is awesome. The U/G deck can potentially win in Game One (but certainly not to the degree they claim... For example, I beat Nate Pease's double Spellskite + Birthing Pod in Game One), but our sideboard is a disaster for them.
Once they Fauna Shaman for Vengevine with Vengevine, the game is already over as you not only get their cards but their mana and entire line up to this point; and the rest of their cards cost two, so, you know... Ratchet Bomb. Nate had a Lotus Cobra / double Spellskite Game Two draw against me, which was invalidated by my second-turn play. Larry Swasey's win was awesome, as it forced us all to raise our games, but Spellskite is easy to trump if you're actually trying (0/4 non-threat who only has text the turn you're actually going off).
Surgical Extraction also came in for the mirror. You can Extract like anything and win by breaking the remaining symmetry. Obviously Extracting a combo part makes life awkward for them, but a Jace, the Mind Sculptor (particularly when they have one in hand) is also usually enough to win. We have so many Jaces (including double Ingenuity this week) that a resolved Extraction makes the fight like a Porsche against a rusty tricycle.
All the tools.
Most of the draws.
Why am I sorry?
I let down Jace.
My second loss of the tournament was an 0-2 to Vampires, and the only loss of the tournament where I didn't let down Jace.
On the pivotal turn I set up an Exarch to tap down an attacker, block another, with seven mana in play, a Tectonic Edge for his Lavaclaw Reaches, and a Mana Leak. He had DI removal so I had to Into the Roil my own Exarch and survived at one or two.
"Do you have the Twin?"
But despite his being tapped out, I was afraid he was juking me. Deceiver Exarch doesn't have haste, so you can't just seven and win. Anyway unless he drew either a burn spell or second Bloodghast, I had the game on the next turn on the merits. He drew Bloodghast obviously.
What I should have done: Just flashed the Twin on his turn, when he asked.
I'm not saying I would make an illegal play. I obviously had the opportunity to misrepresent and didn't take it. That's called "savage cheating." But there is a non-zero chance you get a scoop on showing the Twin there (at essentially no cost), and I didn't take it. This is the rare, lost freebie you can't fix by infinite MTGO grinding.
I think all my wins in Legacy were over the Stoneforge Mystic U/W, so I assume it's a healthy matchup. I lost twice, and unsurprisingly, both times I let down Jace.
The first time was in Round Six on Day One. My opponent was Painter, and I got the first. I slowed him down and locked him down with Wasteland + Crucible of Worlds. He gave me the concession at the point I gave him a Mox Opal... with Mox Opal already in play. I had the nuts sideboard and was pretty sure I had inevitability in the matchup.
I didn't really need it and locked down his threats the old-fashioned way Game Two (Spell Snares and Swords to Plowshares). He wasn't realistically going to beat me with the Painter's Servant + Grindstone combination.
… But I didn't know about his sideboard.
I had two counterspells in my hand, but they were Mental Misstep and Spell Snare, so Emrakul, the Aeons Torn hit the table. I Brainstormed and didn't find Jace, the Mind Sculptor and lost the next turn.
Because I shut him down the old-fashioned way the first two games, going into Game Three, he didn't know that I had Emrakul in my deck, so I steered him into devoting his hand all-in on his combo.
With the solo Emrakul, I obviously wasn't going to lose to his combo. He had no choice but to go beatdown, but a Welder and a Painter aren't very fast, so the game went very long, and I killed all of his Welders and Painters. But he again had Show and Tell. I countered multiple copies of those, and he passed several times with just one card in hand (no surprise what it was going to be).
Very late in the game, I finally got one turn with Jace and used the Brainstorm ability, finally actually seeing that Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Not really thinking about it, I shuffled Emrakul away with a Scalding Tarn.
Sorry Jace, I let you down again.
All I had to do was hold the Emrakul! He was already not going to win with the combo! I just had to close out his Show and Tell line. If I had kept Emrakul, I would have been able to do that, at least for this Emrakul.
I didn't and died.
I had the cards. I had the deck. I had the inevitability and even stole Game One.
I decided not to beat myself up about that one. I would not have made the correct play in practice, and it was only upon a great deal of reflection that I saw the error (in contrast to the other handful of losses).
Sorry again, Jace.
This is the Legacy deck I played:
Counterspell four was awesome... I sided it in all seven rounds of Legacy I think. Probably it is correct to cut Repeal and play four Jaces and four Counterspells in this kind of a deck. The next most common cards to come in were the three lands. Against other U/W decks (against which I was 3-0), I just played to out-land them. Emrakul was not just for Painter; had I played against another deck like my own, I would be able to deck him (or just get fifteen in play and actually run Emrakul out, which would also be awesome).
I made Day Two and opened Sunday up with a win over U/W Stoneblade. Then I met Chris Kronenberger playing his distinctive Back to Basics Blue deck.
Then I untapped and played Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Chris had drawn a second Vendilion Clique! I seemed to recall he only played two (he had actually upped to three for the Invitational, but I couldn't have known that). This second 3/1 Clique made short work of Jace, and though we battled for some time, I eventually lost to it... with Swords to Plowshares on top.
All I had to do was +2 Jace, and I was probably home free. But I didn't, and I lost Jace and lost the game.
Chris got me with a Clique again in Game Three. He won a fight over Vedalken Shackles early with two, if not three, pitch counters and threw his hand away twice in flurries of Misdirection against Swords to Plowshares. I felt pretty unlucky given that I had his Vendilion Cliques pinned 2-1 in terms of how many cards I had that could interact with them on the ‘field. So unlucky! But... there probably shouldn't have been a Game Three.
I lost my first match back in Standard on a mulligan to four where I would have won on a mulligan to five. Not much to say there; I was competitive in both games despite yet another mulligan, and if he were any deck but Caw-Blade or the mirror (both counterspells and pressure), I probably would have won them both. But when you mulligan even into winnable positions, you don't simultaneously have the combo, and cover spells, and ample mana. You just lose some, even to Caw-Blade. Then I hit David Shiels in a rematch of our New York Top 8 battle.
I mulled to five on the play and lost that one pretty predictably; I got Dave back in Game Two, making my favorite play of the tournament (him: Jace Beleren; me: Deceiver Exarch, untap Island, Spell Pierce)... It was all on Game Three.
I managed to tap Dave out on an attack and had six open on my own turn. I decided to make the same play that I used to beat him in New York, which was to tap for Consecrated Sphinx to put him very far behind and force him to Jace. On the way, I had taken out all of his dudes, and his only threat was Inkmoth Nexus.
Dave made a play I didn't really think of. He ran Into the Roil on upkeep to prevent me from drawing extra cards, equipped Inkmoth Nexus with Sword of Feast and Famine, smashed me for a card, then untapped, and played Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
I had six mana including a Tectonic Edge. Instead of running out the Sphinx, I could have just played Jace and protected myself from the Nexus with the Edge.
The card I lost didn't matter that much; and I in fact had two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor left in hand. It was the mana, as it usually is in the Caw-Blade matchup. I didn't have enough mana to play two Jaces, and I didn't have any other good way of getting rid of a Jace. Dave eventually got me with Inkmoth Nexus + Batterskull because he drew his second Inkmoth Nexus (I of course Edged the first).
This makes a very desperate game sound simple, and the game actually went on for several turns.
Despite having Jace, Dave wasn't really winning. I was pinned for my second red, or I would have just killed him with my combo, but he was basically all-in on an Inkmoth Nexus. I got him to tap five for Batterskull and five to move Batterskull onto his Nexus, and I then bounced it with Into the Roil. It was half slugfest, half swordfight.
Shiels played what can only be called a beautiful game. As I died with eleven poison counters, I think he probably made one attack too many (I could even tell you which one it was), but he did find a way to win. It's pretty rare that you're cheering for your opponent to find the way, but he was imposing his will onto the battlefield regardless of other factors, and as a gamesman, I really appreciated the scrap and determination, even as I tried to get it myself.
Though the game took forever to complete, we can probably reduce the critical decision back to that turn with the Sphinx over Jace. His Jace made it, so I couldn't control Nexus + Batterskull with my Sphinx; and it kept my Jaces off the battlefield.
Bringing it full circle, I lost the last chance at cash round, in Game Three to Joey Mispagel (undefeated with Vampires Day One), and that was the impetus to the conversation I had with Pat that began this article.
Basically it came down to Gitaxian Probe over Sea Gate Oracle again. If I had had Sea Gate Oracle, I might have just had a huge lead over Vampires (Bloodghast is the most dangerous card, and Bloodghast is dominated by Sea Gate Oracle). I Probed Joey and saw that he had a fist full of Dismember and Act of Aggression. I had the combo, and multiple Inferno Titans in hand, but every line was dominated by Joey's hand.
I had Jace in play, and together we dealt with all of his threats.
I was using Jace at that point to try to deny Joey more mana; my plan was to bounce all of his dudes (check) and then deny him lands so that I could tap him low enough to win with the Exarch combo.
I played for many turns, drew some extra cards, shoved some Swamps. For the most part he couldn't replay threats after an Into the Roil, and I was able to keep the pressure off for more than half a dozen turns.
As goes with the theme of this article, I had Jace—and I had the draw—but I took the wrong path.
Why didn't I just play to deck him with Jace?
Instead of pushing his lands, why didn't I let him draw another worthless land?
I don't usually like to focus on what I did wrong. There isn't much virtue in “admiring a problem” over focusing on solutions.
I decided to dwell this one time because of how much I like Standard. I actually had the games—all things held equal—to make Top 8... but I didn't because I made errors with Jace, even though some of those errors were just Brainstorming instead of Fatesealing, or looking past the obvious bounce. In the barest sense, the week I was focused, and hungry, and played well, I crushed. The week I made errors, even small errors, but a collection of them round after round after round, I didn't. There is a beautiful symmetry to that that I can simply accept.
It is humbling, in a good way.
But yes, the decks were good enough. To my sorrow to my friend Jace, I wasn't.