Reid Duke is a badass.
I mean, I've had a pretty good month, but it doesn't come close to touching Reid's. Perhaps if I'd abandoned U/W/R Flash like my gut was telling me and come up with something better rather than testing slight U/W/R alterations, my tournament would have gone better.
Alas, that's a story for a different article.
I traveled to Los Angeles (for the StarCityGames.com Invitational, if that wasn't clear already) by myself and planned on meeting up with Ben Hayes, Josh Cho, Lewis Laskin, and Todd Anderson. Ben canceled at the last minute, and Lewis ended up staying with Nick Spagnolo, leaving me, Cho, and Todd to fend for ourselves.
I volunteered Cho to book our hotel, which meant I was headed to the fabulous Ritz Milner after landing. I could have taken a bus/train combo for a mere pittance, but I would gladly pay more to not have to do all that work. When my taxi parked in front of the Ritz, Cho was waiting for me, and he laughed maniacally when he saw the $50 on the meter.
Ritz Milner: Downtown LA will make you want to come inside.
From the lobby, the Ritz didn't look like a bad place. It had a couple nice seating areas, a room for breakfast, and even a piano! However, once we entered the shoddy elevator and Cho asked me if I wanted to see the Kill Room, I knew I was in for a special treat.
After attempting to use my room key several times, the door finally opened (which would become a trend). Upon entering, I couldn't stop myself from laughing. I couldn't remember ever seeing a smaller hotel room outside of Japan. Cho had truly outdone himself.
It was also incredibly cold in the room, which was something Cho attempted to rectify by turning up the heat and covering the air conditioner with a blanket. Neither seemed to work.
Ritz Milner: Don't worry; our rooms are so cold the bugs have all migrated.
But hey, at least we were staying in the same hotel as some of our good friends.
Well, at least they gave us this helpful information on our key holder.
After settling in, we headed to The Counter, which Cedric Phillips promised would be a delight. On the way there, Ced informed me that some other people would be joining us. I typically get along with most people, but there are some people I just don't like. Most of those people wouldn't be fortunate enough to be in Ced's company, but since few are, I was curious.
Me: Aw, man. Can't you just tell Reid to ditch Dan?
Ced: Really? You don't like Dan?
Me: Not really. It's fine though. If Reid's coming, it's worth it.
Dinner went smoothly, although my burger was a little too bloody for my liking. I happily devoured it while the topic of conversation changed to someone I didn't like (I forgot who exactly).
Dan: Oh, come on, how can you hate that guy?
Me: Look man, I don't even like you. I can hate whoever I want.
Dan: Wait, what? Are you serious?
I maintained my position, while Dan seemed to think I was suddenly joking.
We continued our dinner conversation while Reid, always the gentleman, didn't bother fishing for information. Dan, on the other hand, was trying to rubberneck my notebook to figure out changes I'd made. When he couldn't figure it out, he outright asked me.
Now, I'm all for sharing ideas, but I still think it's bad etiquette to ask for information when both of you know the other party isn't going to reciprocate.
Todd met us outside the restaurant, and we walked back to the hotel. Once Todd saw the room, he was a little skeptical. We'd have to push the beds apart in order to make enough floor space for Cho, it was cold, and we showed him the Kill Room. We should have never shown him the Kill Room.
Ritz Milner: Ignore the Kill Room.
After a quick trip to the restroom, where Todd murdered three baby cockroaches, he asked if it would be impolite to go stay with his other friends. Cho and I certainly couldn't object.
Ritz Milner: Even Todd Anderson has standards.
Since the Invitational started at noon and we were jetlagged, we had plenty of time to finalize our lists in the morning.
I tried sleeping through Cho's excited cries of joy from scooping imaginary pots in some phone poker game, but that quickly turned into snoring. My stomach also had other ideas. Apparently it did not like the raw meat I'd consumed earlier. A lengthy trip to the bathroom later, I was back in bed, freezing, and trying to sleep.
Ritz Milner: You don't have food poisoning, it's just us.
As is always the case, our alarms went off sooner than I'd hoped. After a freezing shower, we got ready and tried to go downstairs, but the elevator was out, which seemed strange considering it was working just a couple hours earlier.
Ritz Milner: Just take the stairs, fatty.
I suggested breakfast at Subway, but Cho wanted to get value from the Ritz. Unfortunately for him, the entire spread looked like it was a week old, but thankfully the apple juice machine worked. Cho doesn't even like apple juice, but like I said, he at least needed the appearance of getting value.
Ritz Milner: At least our apple juice is ok.
After quenching his thirst, Cho went to report the suspicious lady he'd seen going into everyone's rooms. I don't think they ever arrested her though.
U/W/R had served me well the last few weeks, and despite every gut feeling telling me to switch decks, I still played it. As Reid pointed out in his article this week, he'd rather play a bad deck well than a good deck poorly, and I felt the same.
This is what Todd, Cho, and I registered:
The main changes were the Grafdigger's Cages instead of the Rest in Peaces I normally played in the sideboard. Against "normal" Reanimator decks, being able to shut down Deathrite Shaman is very important, but I was expecting more Human Reanimator than anything. They have access to Ray of Revelation, which does nothing against Cage.
I started off the tournament with two byes.
Round 3: Four-Color Heartless Summoning
Round 4: Lauren Nolen with Bant Control
I felt favored against non-Reid Dukes in this matchup, especially post-board. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to play Magic. Some missed land drops in game 2 put me too far behind against a Farseek, Cavern, Thragtusk sequence when resolving a Jace, Memory Adept would have likely won me the game.
After that, we switched to Legacy, which I was excited about. Who wouldn't be with a deck this sexy?
The goal of my deck was to out-attrition the BUG mirror matches. In theory, I had good matchups against U/W, RUG, BUG, and some combo decks if I could draw enough disruption. My main concerns were decks like Burn and U/R Delver that have a ton of reach, especially with Price of Progress.
I beat Todd in a few games before the tournament, which caused him to switch over to my deck at the last minute.
I should have known better.
At the last Invitational, I had a sweet Mirran Crusader / Spectral Flight Delver deck designed to beat up on Zombies and Birthing Pod. Todd decided to play some games before the Standard portion, forgetting that he had friends who may want to keep their deck secret and that people hadn't submitted their decklists yet.
Sure enough, round 5 rolled around, and Brad Nelson found himself playing an identical mirror match. Needless to say, he was thoroughly confused.
At this Invitational, Legacy player Jacob Kory approached Todd and asked what he was playing. Todd, always the nice guy, didn't hesitate.
Little did he know that Cho was two seats down from him and heard the entire thing, so I found out anyway.
Round 5: Esper Stoneblade
That feeling is the reason they made cascade in the first place.
Round 6: Junk
We had a lot of the same cards, except I also had blue ones.
Round 7: Jacob Kory, Elves
Curse you, Todd Anderson! Thankfully, removal and discard plus card drawing is pretty awesome against creature-based combo decks. I did kind of want to lose so I could blame it on Todd though.
Round 8: Brian Braun-Duin, BUG Control
BBD and I go way back. In fact, I'm undefeated lifetime against him in sanctioned tournaments, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. The matchup advantage always seems to be mine, and, in cases like this one where he had a slight edge, I get lucky.
With poker, you can list several hands where your opponents sucked out on you but can rarely pinpoint any times where you sucked out on them, which is similar to Magic. If you're good at poker, you are typically committing your chips when you know you're ahead. Meanwhile, you rarely get it in behind and need to suck out, so your opponents all appear luckier than they truly are.
Magic is kind of the same. If I'm playing an intense game, I can probably sculpt it to a turn where they have to draw something very useful in order to get back into the game. If I couldn't do that, I was probably losing horribly. Good players rarely end up in situations where they need to peel since they are always slightly ahead, way ahead, or way behind.
That is, of course, unless you're playing someone who's just as good as you. Those games are very close, especially if they're attrition-based like ours was.
I finished 7-1 on Day 1, including a 4-0 in Legacy! It'd been a while since I had a good Legacy finish, so that made me very happy.
That night, we went to the Yard House, which was a pretty awesome restaurant. While waiting for our table, I took a seat at a different table full of gamers.
Me: Oh look, some of my favorite people like AJ, John Penick, but definitely not Dan Jordan.
Dan: Dude, I can't even tell if you're being serious.
I was mostly being cruel at that point.
Round 9: Joe Bernal, B/R Zombies
Joe's a tough opponent who has a completely different view on the game than I do. He's mostly playing the best aggro deck, which is often a difficult matchup. Both games I started very far behind but was able to catch up thanks to Sphinx's Revelation.
I was in spots where I almost conceded both games, including the first game where he had a lethal miracled Bonfire of the Damned on the stack. I needed to find my singleton Rewind with some card drawing in order to counter it and still have enough mana to play another Restoration Angel to chump block his two fliers. Somehow I found it and untapped into a big Sphinx's Revelation, but his attack put me to one.
After that, I had enough cards to put him away.
Round 10: Todd Anderson, U/W/R Flash
This match was pretty sweet also. We split the first two games, although I potentially could have won game 1 by taking some riskier lines.
In game 3, Augur of Bolas shipped both my Jaces to the bottom. Despite baiting out counterspells with Runechanter's Pike and a small Sphinx's Revelation, I didn't have enough counterspells to prevent Todd from landing a Jace.
If the mirror continues to become inbred based solely on Jace wars, more Counterflux and copies of Jace are necessary. Additionally, either Essence Scatter becomes a good way to stop Snapcaster Mage from Counterfluxing you again or you want a Cavern of Souls or two to Snapcaster Counterflux them.
Round 11: U/W/R Flash
My opponent was mostly playing my deck but with some slight alterations. This match was pretty fun, as I had control the entire time in games 1 and 3 but got flooded game 2.
Round 12: Jonathan Job, Naya
This is where the wheels fell off. In game 1, I was grinding through his Thragtusks, trying to set up a Supreme Verdict where I wouldn't die on his next turn. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the second white source in time.
In the second game, he skipped his turn to cast Rest in Peace, which gave me a window to start getting aggressive with Snapcaster Mage and two Restoration Angels. A long string of lands allowed his Huntmaster of the Fells to transform multiple times, and he won the race thanks to that. Basically any spell in the last five turns of the game would have won it for me.
I was guaranteed Top 8 if I could go 3-1 in Standard, but I only went 2-2. I knew my road was going to be rough, but I liked my Legacy deck a lot.
Round 13: Dave Thomas, Esper Stoneblade
While crushing him game 1, he commented that his matchup against me was abysmal and he had no idea how he was going to win. I guess that's why we play the games out, as I lost the next two when I basically did nothing.
Round 14: Vidianto Wijaya, BUG Control
Vidi kept a hand that was reliant on Life from the Loam in game 1, but my turn 1 Deathrite Shaman seemed to ruin all his plans. He drew Abrupt Decay and went about destroying my mana base with Wasteland. Meanwhile, a Shardless Agent was nibbling him for a two a turn, and eventually he died to it after drawing a bunch of air.
You might say I was lucky to win that one, but considering both our opening hands, I had the advantage from turn 1.
The second and third games involved the opposite of what happened in my match against BBD. I created an overwhelming advantage early, while my opponent peeled relevant spells several turns in a row to get out of it.
At that point, I was deflated. I'd lost three crucial matches in a row, all in good matchups and all in supposed misfortune. People like Job, Dave, and Vidi are perfect opponents for me. They're very good but not insane, and they don't think outside the box. They play ABC Magic to the best of their abilities and don't innovate their decks much if at all.
That type of person is very easy for me to exploit, hence my Grand Prix/Open Series success and utter lack of Pro Tour success. Those are the matches I live for in tournaments like the Invitational, as there's usually good Magic played except I have a pretty big edge.
Well, you know that gut rot feeling you get when you're talking to your friends about how you lost, but you know regardless of how lucky they seemingly got, you could have played around it? That's what I had. I was angry at how the matches played out, but there was no one or nothing to be mad at but myself. By focusing that anger on myself, I was able to refocus and double my efforts.
Most of the time, I shut down when I can no longer win the tournament; I'm not content with a Top 16 finish. I either want to win everything or go home with nothing. In this case, once I figured out the mistake I made against Job, I was incredibly happy. Sometimes, it's just nice to know that things are under your control.
Round 15: Esper Stoneblade
My opponent didn't seem interested in conversation, which I was thankful for. Instead, we just played Magic, and I smashed him with a bunch of card advantage and answers to his threats.
Round 16: Dan Jordan, BUG
I sat down at the table and said, "I couldn't have scripted this better."
Dan stumbled and was defeated very quickly. My brother from another mother, Troy Thompson, was sitting next to us and didn't know how the match finished, so he asked Dan. Dan looked up at him, stared at him, and then went back to de-sideboarding without answering.
I ended up in 13th place, good for $1000.
That night was spent discussing Legacy strategy, as I had a brew I was working on. I built it on the airplane to the tournament and it seemed pretty sweet, but I couldn't find Boom / Busts.
I've seen similar decks with Force of Will maindeck and Fire / Ice to support it, but that seems kinda bad to me. If you want to play a deck like this, it's because there's little combo in the format. Cards like Ancestral Vision and Punishing Fire destroys decks like Esper Stoneblade and BUG. Combo is going to be your bad matchup regardless, so why try to rectify that with cards that will make you worse in your good matchups?
Since I couldn't find Boom / Busts, which was the main reason I would have played the deck, I played BUG instead. I went 6-2 and intentionally drew into Top 32. I lost to an Esper Stoneblade deck and a Maverick deck, mostly because my deck was constructed wrong. Since then, I've learned a lot of things and will definitely be attending Grand Prix Denver, mostly because I like my deck a lot.
I do want to work on the four-color version though.
A few other things that happened on Sunday:
1) I played a tough match against Jund in the Legacy Open, and that deck seems like the real deal. Much like Modern, I fully expect Jund to start dominating. It will basically take Maverick's spot in the metagame.
2) Sunday morning I watched the first game of Todd's Top 8 match in the Invi against Ben Wienburg. Within seven turns, I had an entire article worth of things to discuss. There were mistakes made, misassignment of roles, and even the wrong land played on turn 1. If anyone is interested in this type of article, feel free to let me know in the comments section.
3) Caleb Durward almost made Top 8 the Legacy Open with a 62-card RUG Delver deck, mostly because he couldn't count. It reminded me of the PTQ Rob Seder won with 65-card Faeries and the Grand Prix Ian DeGraff played with 65-card Slivers. Count your decklists, guys!
4) In a match between two Asian titans, Josh Cho and Chi Hoi Yim, it appeared that Chi Hoi was dominating Cho. He had two Sensei's Divining Tops, Rest in Peace, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in play against Cho's pair of Tarmogoyfs. I thought for sure Cho was dead, as even if he found an Abrupt Decay, Chi Hoi certainly had something in hand or on top of his deck to deal with them.
Cho drew a fetchland, hoping to break out of Jace's fatesealing with one lucky topdeck. Chi Hoi predictably fatesealed him, and Cho desperately wanted to hero call by not cracking his fetchland—he knew it was in Chi Hoi's range to keep a good spell on top in order to get him to crack his fetchland.
In the end, Cho caved, cracked, and looked at the Abrupt Decay on top of his deck. However, that turn he drew into Shardless Agent and cascaded into Abrupt Decay, winning the game because Chi Hoi only had four life.
I was amazed that Cho kept playing since it was game 1 and they were down to only 25 minutes on the clock, but he ended up winning. Chi Hoi revealed the top three cards of his deck, which were two more Jaces and another Rest in Peace, all cards he thought were blanks. If he just cast that second Rest in Peace though...
From talking to Cho later, he felt like he made a mistake toward the end of the game when he cracked his fetchland. He'd been holding a card for a while, which Chi Hoi probably figured was a land. When Cho didn't search out his fourth Underground Sea, Chi Hoi could reasonably deduce that. However, Cho could have made a casual comment about only playing six real lands to fetch (his two Tropical Islands and Bayou were in play) in order to trick Chi Hoi into thinking he had action.
I think that in the spot Cho was in, he would have been in a better situation if he'd just showed Chi Hoi the land in his hand. At that point, Cho was vulnerable but could win if Chi Hoi didn't play around anything. By lulling Chi Hoi into a false sense of security, he opted not to play out his second Rest in Peace and lock up the game.
5) Sam Black has played one Leyline of the Void in his Zombie sideboard for a while now, and that makes basically zero sense. Well, last weekend, he had it in his opening hand in both sideboarded games and went on to win a critical match because of it. I understand that you only need one to win, but you do know your chances of having it go up with multiples, right?
The future of Flash is uncertain. Matt Nass, Adam Prosak, and Todd Anderson all made Top 8 with distinctly different versions, each good against a different metagame. I'll continue to work on U/W/R, but I will likely be switching to something a little different.
@G3RRYT on Twitter