A few weeks ago, I was thinking about skipping the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Los Angeles.
What a mistake that would've been.
For a variety of reasons, I had not secured a flight to Los Angeles. Despite testing for the event, I wasn't sure I was willing to pay $600. Thankfully, one of my favorite people on the planet, James Davis, agreed to use his airline miles to get me to the Invitational. I would not have gone to the Invitational if not for James' generosity.
In addition to James, I have quite a few people to thank for helping me out on this trip with cards, airport rides, etc. One of the great things about the Magic community is that you don't have to do everything by yourself. We're all here for each other. Thanks to the following people for helping me out in some capacity:
There are plenty of fantastic people that make these events worth going to. My good friend and Arizona transplant Tony Pagliocco had basically the best possible outlook on this weekend. To quote:
"So #scginvi follow up - did the worst i've done in 4 years at any tournament - still had a blast - tons of old friends, tons of new friends - these trips always remind me why I love the MTG community"
While I love going to these tournaments for the people and our shared experiences, I was also looking forward to playing some Magic. I had been a little light on the spell casting lately, so I had done some dedicated prep work for the event. I streamed 100% of my preparation on my Twitch channel, Snap Keeps, over the course of a few weeks. The streaming was good times, and I definitely learned quite a bit. I streamed a week of Legacy followed by a week of Standard.
I did not have the success in Legacy that I would have liked in 2012. I love playing the format, but my move to Cincinnati reduced my ability/desire to play in regular Legacy tournaments. Most of my Legacy matches were actually on the Open Series, which is fine but not a great recipe for success. This is doubly true when switching decks as often as I did. I played the following decks in 2012:
Dredge (three times)
RUG Delver (three times)
My most recent Legacy tournament before LA was the SCG Open Series in St. Louis, where I played Stoneblade. Playing the Stoneblade deck made me realize what I want to do in Legacy. I want to play unfair. I am simply not willing to play an arms race of grinding cards. I don't think Lingering Souls is a Legacy caliber card, but it is good provided everyone agrees not to kill each other until turn 10.
To move to a combo deck (Dredge was out of the question because of Deathrite Shaman), I knew I would have to practice whatever deck I decided to play, as my combo experience was not extensive. Thankfully, I was able to borrow Ad Nauseam and High Tide to make my first foray into Legacy on Magic Online, and I was impressed with both decks. The first thing that I loved was the high density of cantrips in both decks. I think more Legacy combo decks should try to fit in more Preordains than they currently do based on my experience with Storm and High Tide.
I definitely liked the Storm deck more than the High Tide deck, but both were what I was looking for. I wanted to ignore the super grindy cards that have become prevalent in Legacy these days. I would not lose to Squadron Hawk.
As it turns out, I made quite the Legacy choice. Shardless Agent and Garruk Relentless were being lauded as fantastic choices, and Deathrite Shaman was all over the top tables. I cared not about these cards.
After my experiences streaming as well as a 7-1 record at the Invitational, I would say my skill with the deck is fairly competent but not master class. I firmly believe that if I had played a little bit better and seen a fairly obscure (for me at least) line, I would've won game 3 of the match I lost to Todd Anderson. However, I made some fairly tight plays that dealt with some intricate interactions with my opponent. Dealing with cantrips and discard effects is fairly difficult, and I am proud of my play over the course of the weekend.
A few short weeks ago, I had extremely limited knowledge of the various Storm decks. I was not practiced in the ways of (non-Cube) Tendrils of Agony. Far too often, I see players ignore potent archetypes and decks with claims of difficulty and unfamiliarity. I'll say it again:
I made Top 8 of the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles almost exclusively because I was willing to put in a little bit of time to learn an unfamiliar deck.
Given my recent Legacy history, I would say my decision to practice the unknown was worth three to four match wins. I could not have been happier with my decision. I encourage everyone to try a deck, an archetype, or even a format they haven't before. In addition to having a huge edge for the Legacy portion of the Invitational, my Magic repertoire is now slightly expanded. If I want to come back to the Storm deck, I can now do so very easily.
As for the rounds themselves, many of my matches were awesome and the games incredibly close. The interactions were fantastic, and interaction happened all over the place. While my Storm deck can't interact with the board very easily, that doesn't mean I am playing solitaire.
- My Maverick opponent led with a Noble Hierarch into Ethersworn Canonist and...Dryad Arbor. Had his second land been a Forest, I was looking at Sylvan Safekeeper to protect the Canonist as well as quite a few more hate cards in the hand, including Gaddock Teeg. I cast Chain of Vapor on the Canonist and then went off on my turn 2.
- On camera against a burn deck, my hand was developing poorly, and I could not assemble a kill until turn 4. I used Chain of Vapor to prevent two damage from Goblin Guide and had to sweat a draw step to stay at one life where nearly any one-mana spell would kill me.
- I had a natural storm kill that I had never encountered before. It involved Brainstorming the Tendrils back to the top of my deck then playing Gitaxian Probe and responding by cracking Lion's Eye Diamond so that I could use the mana to play the Tendrils that I drew from the top of my deck. While I'd put together some natural Tendrils kills far more often than I expected, this was a pretty cool path to take.
- My opponent cast a Thoughtseize on turn 1, a Duress on turn 2, and then watched me go off on turn 3. My opponent thought he cut me off from enough mana, as I only had three + LED, but I simply discarded Past in Flames, flashed it back using five of my six mana, then continued with Dark Ritual -> Cabal Ritual -> Infernal Tutor -> Tendrils.
- I lost a game because I planned on shuffling after a Brainstorm, but a discard spell from my opponent off the top of my deck meant that I needed to draw one of the cards I was going to shuffle away. I didn't put much thought into the order I put them back, but I put them back in the wrong order. I was either a mana short or a card short, in part because I drew a land I didn't need instead of the second Infernal Tutor I did.
- I cast my first Ad Nauseam of the tournament in my win and in in round 16. All tournament long, I'd been using either Past in Flames or Infernal Tutor for another copy to build up a storm count. It is quite a poor Ad Nauseam in terms of killing that turn, but I end up stopping on four life facing a Snapcaster Mage attack. My next card was Past in Flames, which I drew on the next turn and killed him with.
- You may have seen this:
Since I have been asked about my second game with Sam Friedman quite a bit, I will go through my thought process through the second game.
On turn 2, I Duressed him, taking his Force of Will and leaving Snapcaster Mage, Surgical Extraction, Batterskull, and some non-relevant cards, while he had Stoneforge Mystic in play. I was fairly locked into taking the Force because I couldn't take his other blue card and didn't have a second discard spell. I left the Probe in my hand both to make sure Sam's topdeck wouldn't be a problem and to add to storm count if need be.
On turn 3, I felt like I could go off and cast Gitaxian Probe to see if the coast was clear. It was, as he'd drawn a second Snapcaster Mage. I had a few choke points, one being threshold for the pair of Cabal Rituals. The Probe was only the third card in the graveyard since my first two lands were not fetchlands. I had two Lotus Petals that could make it five cards, but the last two were tough, not to mention his ability to Surgical Extraction me away from threshold should that have become an issue. I decided to Brainstorm to get some additional information/options, but it established a second choke point.
I could not go hellbent very easily for my Infernal Tutor. I ended up with three cards that I couldn't really get rid of. My fourth land, the Tendrils of Agony, and a Past in Flames, but I could only put two back. If not for the Surgical Extraction, I would have been happy to play the Past in Flames and win easily that way. Basically I had only bad options.
I couldn't get hellbent Infernal Tutor that turn, and passing and fetching would allow Sam to play Snapcaster + Ponder, giving him five looks at a disruption effect. I was out of cantrips and discard spells, so if Sam found one, I was basically cooked. This was further compounded by my only line being Ad Nauseam if I passed. His Surgical cut off my current Past in Flames capabilities, and I wouldn't have enough spells to naturally Tendrils given no cantrips and the extra four life the Batterskull gave Sam. Ad Nauseam was further complicated by the Surgical, as I would have to find the one copy of Tendrils again somehow if he Surgicaled the Infernal Tutor I used to get Ad Nauseam. As we saw in game 1, twelve life is by no means a sure thing, especially when it means I probably need to hit a four-cost card as well.
The advantage of passing was that I could put back Tendrils and Past in Flames and then play a land on turn 4 and attempt to go off. This wouldn't work if Sam found a disruption spell or I drew another land. If I drew a land, I still couldn't get hellbent, and then I'd be down to five from Sam's attacks, making Ad Nauseam incredibly difficult.
As you may know, the line I decided on was a little risky. I put back a land and the Past in Flames and used Infernal Tutor to get a third Cabal Ritual. This only generated nine storm (Probe, Brainstorm, Tutor, two Petal, three Cabal Ritual, and Tendrils itself). Sam was at nineteen. But wait! Sam had the opportunity to Surgical one of my cards, giving me a lethal storm. This was likely to work if Sam had a good reason to cast Surgical. As it turned out, he actually has a few options for which Surgical would theoretically be effective.
One was Surgicaling Lotus Petal, which would take me off threshold when I cast my first Cabal Ritual. The other and more correct line of play was to Surgical my Infernal Tutor at the same moment. He could always Snapcaster the Surgical if threshold became important. It was likely and not unreasonable that I was stuck with two Infernal Tutors in my hand and that I was trying to get one of them hellbent. As I did not have threshold for Cabal Ritual, I wouldn't have the mana to cast both Tutors as the last two cards in my hand. It was the perfect trap, one where I needed my opponent to make the correct play of putting me on one of my three remaining Infernal Tutors as opposed to the single copy of Tendrils of Agony.
You can see me shaking my head as I'm Brainstorming, as I was unsure if I could get Sam to fall for the trap. My information at that point was that Sam was a solid player, one deserving of his seat at the win and in table. However, he seemed uncomfortable with the matchup, as most players (and myself circa a month ago) would be. I was unsure if my ploy would work but figured it was my best shot at winning the game. I simply could not find another line that I was happy with. It worked, of course, but I would be interested to hear if there was another line I could take that would have defeated any action Sam took with his Surgical Extraction + Snapcaster Mage. After Brainstorming, I had an untapped Underground Sea, a storm count of two, and the following cards before I put two back: Tendrils of Agony, Infernal Tutor, Past in Flames, two Cabal Ritual, two Lotus Petal, Underground Sea, and Polluted Delta. I had four cards in my graveyard.
If that all seems complicated to you, that's because it is! Hopefully I gave you enough information to see the whole picture. Having the SCGLive video helps of course.
For a variety of reasons, Standard was not as interesting. While I do think that the Standard environment is the best it's been in years, my individual games were not particularly exciting. After two byes, I only went 3-3 in Standard while playing a fairly basic U/W Flash deck.
The major changes were that I wanted something to keep up with the other control decks in the format. I knew that Sphinx's Revelation would likely be the most popular card among the top players, and I wanted to compete with more lands and more Revelations than I was accustomed to playing. However, games tended to go one of two ways with this deck. Sometimes, I got my cycling engine going and got to the point where a Revelation was game over but not needed. Other times, I could not use my cards at their optimal capacity and would either flood out or play from behind.
I played two matches apiece against Bant Control, Naya/Four-Color Midrange, and B/R Zombies, splitting my matches 1-1 with all three. One of the great things about Standard is that your matchup doesn't influence your win rate very highly. Not just this Invitational but all of my Standard experiences have been this way. As opposed to archetype matchup being important, sometimes individual cards can swing a matchup.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in my Top 8 match against Matt Nass. We both had U/W decks, but his deck had Geist of Saint Traft and mine did not. I assumed this would put him in aggressor's seat for the match, and I felt my Talrands would simply trump anything he could possibly do with Geist of Saint Traft. I was correct, and Geist did next to nothing the entire match. However, his trump card was much better than mine.
I lost the match because of my inability to interact with Jace, Memory Adept.
I made a few tactical errors in the match, such as assuming he only had one Dissipate for some reason (the second crushed me) in game 1. I also sided in too many Supreme Verdicts when I didn't play a single one that was truly effective. I feel that I could have won a game I did not, but I still had to live in fear of Jace, Memory Adept. I would like to sit here and tell you that I won't make that kind of deckbuilding mistake in the future, but I know that's not true. With the way I build decks—fundamentally sound and largely independent of the metagame—I have to accept that sometimes there are individual cards that I cannot realistically beat from time to time.
Regardless, I am incredibly happy with my performance at the Invitational. I'm happy I decided to take a plunge with a Legacy deck and have decided to do the same in Standard. I've been playing blue decks for the better part of the past four years. I can't remember the last time I played a non-blue deck in Standard. To that end, I am going to experiment with a variety of decks in the format. I've started the process on my stream, and I encourage all of you to watch! The last time I streamed my deckbuilding process, I ended up with U/W Flash, and Sphinx's Revelation wasn't on my radar until a watcher suggested it. So come join in on the fun!
Thanks for reading,