I went into this past weekend with high hopes. With SCG Open Series: New Jersey being canceled the previous weekend due to the "winter storm who must not be named," I was driving twelve hours with some awesome dudes to the Open Series in St. Louis to try to make up some ground in the race to qualify for the SCG Players' Championship.
The drive wasn't too bad. We were able to find a good deal on a nice hotel with a bed for each of us, and I even had some awesome company during the drive there.
Everything was awesome.
I was set on playing G/R Monsters after mulling over it all week. I started on a list with no Courser of Kruphix and Kalonian Tusker with Fanatic of Xenagos instead, but after playing some games with both versions and having a brief chat with Ross Merriam about how I was pretty stupid if I didn't play Courser of Kruphix, I settled on a more stock list.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 2 Xenagos, God of Revels
The only real difference from most G/R Monsters lists is that I played a Destructive Revelry in the maindeck. With Born of the Gods adding some more powerful cards to the format, we're finding ourselves in a position where playing a Disenchant maindeck isn't actually that bad of a decision. After seeing Revoke Existence in the main of the B/W Midrange deck from #SCGNASH and talking a bit with Brian Braun-Duin about how we both really like that card in the maindeck, we figured out that it was rarely if ever dead in game 1. In fact, the only time the entire day that Destructive Revelry was dead for me in game 1 was in the Top 4 against eventual winner Johnathon Habel, who didn't have Courser of Kruphix in his G/R Monsters list.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Boon Satyr
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
With the addition of Courser of Kruphix to the metagame, there isn't that big of a downside to playing a Destructive Revelry (or Unravel the Aether or Revoke Existence) in our maindeck, but the upside is enormous. Hitting a Courser of Kruphix early in the mirror can be backbreaking. Catching a Mono-Black Devotion opponent off guard by destroying an Underworld Connections or even a Whip of Erebos, which is becoming more and more popular again, is pretty awesome. The biggest upside though is against control decks. They rely so heavily on Detention Sphere to handle our planeswalkers that being able to hit a Detention Sphere, get in an extra two damage, and free a Domri Rade or Xenagos, the Reveler really puts them in a bad spot.
I felt like I was on a good list and had quite a bit of experience with G/R Monsters, which I was hoping would give me a slight edge throughout the grueling eleven-round tournament. In the first round, I was put on camera and had the pleasure of playing against an older gentleman named Gregg Diekhaus. When he sat down, Gregg said that he hadn't played much Magic in almost twenty years and apologized in advance for having to read most of the cards. His son plays, and he was there to play along with his son.
I feel like I'm a pretty nice guy in situations like these. I enjoy helping out newer players and am usually pretty lenient on things like pace of play and triggers when we're in an FNM setting. But I basically play Magic for a living now, so I can't just give away the farm.
Gregg played extremely slowly. I urged him to play faster the entire time and even brought it to the attention of the table judge doing coverage. Gregg's slow pace of play wasn't intentional since he had to read almost every card, and I helped him untap his permanents every turn. He was a new player and had been thrown on the stage to play in front of a bunch of people.
Normally in situations like game 1, where I was obviously behind, I would scoop much earlier against a slower player to give time for the rest of the match, but it was quite apparent that Gregg was newer and making plenty of mistakes that were allowing me to have a chance to get back into the game.
That isn't saying that I was trying to take advantage of Gregg or was rules lawyering him. In fact, the first time that he activated his Jace, Architect of Thought's +1 and then tried to draw cards from his Bident of Thassa for his creatures that had done damage before he used his Jace, I let him and warned him that he needed to do it in the right order next time. When he forgot the trigger the second time and tried to resolve it after doing something else, I stopped him and upheld what I had told him previously. He confirmed that I was correct with the judge and seemed a bit upset, but I could tell that he understood and wouldn't mess it up again.
I think he quickly understood that for me Magic isn't just a game that I play at the kitchen table, and I really did appreciate that. I think that a disconnect between casual players and competitive players can be pretty apparent sometimes, and I'm happy that I was the one in this position with Gregg.
Ultimately the match ended in a draw, and I'm sure everyone could tell that I was frustrated. Here I was trying to play competitively, and on turn 5 of extra turns my opponent played a Pithing Needle on my Ghor-Clan Rampager when it was impossible to kill me and went through all of the motions, even verifying that if his Master of Waves died in combat that the tokens would still do the damage.
I shook his hand when the match was over, but I was obviously not happy. I quickly went out into the hallway to cool off. I made a few jokes and then prepared for the next round because that's what you do when you're trying to win a Magic tournament. The last round doesn't affect the current round and so on.
Good guy Head Judge (and awesome goatee aficionado) Riki Hayashi came up to me at the start of the next round to let me know that he was sorry for the lack of attentiveness of his judges to my opponent's obviously slow play. He told me whether it was intentional or not, they were aware of it and would speak with him to prevent it from happening again. I really appreciated this gesture, and it led me to have a chat with Riki later in the day about this.
After the second round, I chatted with some of the coverage guys, who told me that Twitter was aflame during the match with sympathy for me, which I appreciated. It's nice to have people be supportive and interested in my success, but I couldn't quite shake the feeling that I should have been more adamant on having a judge watch the match so that it would have progressed at a normal rate.
After reading all of the Twitter comments, I felt like I definitely needed to address this in my article this week. A lot of people seemed like they were mad at Gregg, claiming intentional slow play or that it was scummy. Others complimented me on my patience and said I handled it much better than they would have.
All of these comments led me to a conversation with Riki later on in the day in which he asked me just how tilted I was after that first round. I was honest with him and told him that I was extremely upset but that him coming to me and talking about it before round 2 helped, as did signing a bunch of tokens (with all of the other Open Series mainstays out of town in Valencia for some hot Modern action, it was quite a busy weekend). I explained to Riki that during the whole ordeal I tried to be as patient as possible and make it a good experience for Gregg. As an employee of StarCityGames.com, I do have quite a few eyes on me, so I try to hold myself to a little higher standard in terms of interaction with my opponents and people in general at tournaments. But Riki brought up an even better point.
I am also an ambassador of the game. In fact, we all are ambassadors of the game.
This struck me as very important because all of us are so invested in this game, be it financially with our thousands of dollars of cards, working in Magic for a living, or by investing our time and emotions in the game. The health and longevity of Magic isn't just determined by how well Wizards designs and markets the game. It's also affected by how Gregg experiences and reacts to his time on camera with some guy named Chris VanMeter, who helped him understand competitive Magic a little better.
I went over how I wanted to word a lot of this article on my twelve-hour drive home on Monday. I wish that I could have talked to Gregg a bit before I left, but I didn't see him on Sunday and was out of there fairly early anyway with my stellar 1-3 performance. I went to see the LEGO Movie instead of hanging around (which is awesome if you hadn't heard).
When I got home Monday night, I actually had a message from Gregg on Facebook. It was long, and he genuinely congratulated me for my success on Saturday after our match and apologized yet again for playing so slowly due to his inexperience. He also thanked me for my patience during the match and said that even though I was stern on some things, overall it was an enjoyable experience for him and thanked me for that.
This really warmed my heart and helped reinforce what I had been thinking about the entire weekend. I feel like this is definitely something to which we can call awareness, and there are two sides to it.
For experienced players, when you are playing against an obviously newer player, remember that you are an ambassador of the game. You are invested in Magic, and creating an enjoyable experience should be something that we all strive for. You can be competitive without being a jerk. You can call your opponent on a missed trigger without laughing in their face and being rude about it. You're knowledgeable about the game and mechanics and how everything works and can still create an enjoyable or learning experience for your opponent without being rude.
I know that a lot of people think that this isn't their responsibility and that if the newer player doesn't want to deal with being rules lawyered, then they should learn the rules before they play. But think back to when you started playing. Everyone was a beginner at some point. We all should be striving to get better and constantly learn, and whether we are Gregg Diekhaus or Kai Budde, we learn something with every interaction.
This isn't just a one-way street. If you're a newer player, it's important to know that this isn't just a game for everyone. There are multiple levels of competition, and you have to at least be aware of the level of competition you are subjecting yourself to. Wanting to learn how to play and get better is amazing and is the reason that I do what I do. However, if you were a beginner at basketball and wanted to get better, I'd start at your local YMCA rather than walking into an NBA game.
Saturday was quite a test for me. It would have been very easy to just tilt off and throw the tournament away. After I lost round 3 to be 1-1-1, I knew in my heart of hearts that I could still perform well in this tournament. I told myself that even if I was only playing for ninth, I was still going to treat every round like it was the most important round in the tournament. I kept a positive attitude, telling people who asked me how I was doing that I still had a pulse and wasn't dead yet. I focused on being positive, which isn't easy when you're 1-1-1 in an eleven-round tournament, but it can be done. Anything is possible, although having amazing people cheering you on is pretty helpful too.
When I made Top 8 of my first Legacy Open back in Nashville in 2011, I started out 0-1-1 and rattled off seven in a row. I'm sure many other people have similar stories. I know this all sounds like a cat poster, but it's true.
A lot of people asked me for a sideboarding guide with my G/R Monsters list against popular decks, so here we go. (For what it's worth, with the results from this past weekend, I would definitely recommend Jund Monsters over normal G/R Monsters since it's far superior in the mirror. I had to get very lucky to beat Kent Ketter in our Top 8 match.)
I'll be at #SCGATL, but I'll be working as a buyer, so make sure to stop by, say hi, and sell SCG your cards!