Sixteen competitors, all being congregated to one place for one event to end all events. They are flown in, housed, fed, and made a media spectacle for the world to see. They have to smile and dine together, but while they share a common camaraderie of all being chosen for this event, they also know that only one of them will survive. Secrets must be kept. They all have family and friends back home watching and cheering for them, praying that they come out on top. They smile as they mingle with one another, but they know they will have to kill each and every other competitor to emerge victorious. May the odds be ever in your favor.
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Pop culture references aside, the event I'm of course referring to is last week's Players' Championship. I had a rough event unfortunately, but the event itself really was an amazing experience. SCG did such a fantastic job of treating us all like kings, and making it a great experience not only for us, but also more importantly, for you guys, the viewers. The format was intense, and every step of the way someone was on the brink and fighting for their tournament life.
In the actual three days I had to prepare for the event after returning home from the Season Four invitational, I definitely didn't have any breakthroughs. I was fairly fixated on U/W Control for Standard, as the deck was right in my wheelhouse; good against many of the midrange decks and not really being played or respected by other players, meaning I would not have a target on me at all. I don't want to spend a bunch of time on the deck as I've already been through it last week, but my deck tech from the event gives a very nice overview:
I considered Legacy to be by far the most important format, as not only was it the six rounds leading up to the top 4, but also the format with the most room for maneuvering and metagaming. With a little help I compiled a matrix of what I thought were reasonable assumptions about what everyone was going to play:
There were a number of holes, as players like Brad and BBD have such wide ranges, but for the most part people played what was expected - except for Lossett and Ketter who are maniacs, of course.
I really wanted to play something with maindeck graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus to hose the power of the delve cards, Abrupt Decay, or Wasteland, although not necessarily together, something that didn't fold to a Force of Will, and preferably a non-blue deck to avoid all the Pyroblasts. This is, of course, much harder to actually do than say. I considered Sultai Delver, Deathblade, and a few other decks, but nothing was really working that well. Having three days to come up with a new/good Legacy deck is quite the monumental task, and while I think this Legacy format is definitely breakable, I didn't really come close.
This led me to just play Storm again, as I felt I still had a good matchup against U/R Delver and the other decks looking to out Treasure Cruise each other. I wasn't really thrilled about it, as I didn't love piloting the deck at the Invitational, but it was good and I was moderately prepared with it so I just ran it back:
Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately given the number of Reanimator decks in the field), I was never even able to play it.
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While the tournament started on Saturday for the rest of the world, pre-production started on Friday for all of us. We were carted off two at a time to SCG Headquarters to record our interviews and deck techs and take promotional photos. After catching up on sleep, having a sweet hotel waffle breakfast, and testing some Storm online, I found myself ready to battle.
Tons of familiar faces abound, it was awesome being inside the belly of the SCG beast. Everyone was extremely awesome and accommodating, and it was very clear that SCG cares as much about its players as it does the game itself.
After mingling, however, it was time to get to business, and I found myself sitting here:
The interview process was a lot of fun, and it really felt like I was competing in something bigger than a Magic tournament. I've played in a bunch of Pro Tours, but this was the first event I really felt like I was important in the grand scheme of the event.
After the interview, which was the fun, get-to-know-you part of the process, I recorded my deck techs with good man Andrew Shrout. SCG really went all out, and they turned their storefront into basically a TV studio. If you ever wondered why SCG broadcasts look so good, make no mistake, SCG goes all out.
With the media day finally wrapped up, a large group of competitors and SCG folk all went out to Smokey Bones, a local BBQ joint, for a pre-event dinner. It was a lot of fun getting to hang out with everyone I would soon be battling with and having a relaxing evening before we would do battle.
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The next morning saw another hotel breakfast, and then even more food at the site, as SCG had a catered breakfast waiting for us. We had all already submitted our decklists two days prior, so there was no anxiety to be had about finding cards or figuring out that last sideboard slot. There was tension in the room, but the overall atmosphere was relaxed.
Pods were chosen, and I had a round one feature match against Brian Braun-Duin. I wasn't sure what to expect deckwise, but it was quickly clear he was playing Abzan Aggro. After splitting a very close first two games, the decisive game 3 was extremely interesting. While I had been able to answer his first few threats, he had been able to activate monstrosity on a Fleecemane Lion, and we were currently in a standoff - my Pearl Lake Ancient against his Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer. This is about where the video coverage picked up:
I won't give the play by play as you can just watch the video (and, of course, Cedric does it so well that I would never step on his toes), but we end up in one of the situations that many of the competitors very much hoped to avoid this tournament - extra turns into life-total sudden death.
I am able to defend Brian's Nissa and Sorin attacks, and once I have both Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Pearl Lake Ancient ready to go with a Disdainful Stroke in hand against Brian's empty hand and soon to be dead planeswalkers, I am a heavy favorite to win.
Unfortunately, Brian's Sorin, Solemn Visitor attack has gained him a boatload of life. While normally all that means is it would just take me a bit longer to kill him, once turns are called it is very clear that I will not be able to deal enough damage to him in the few turns I am given.
In a normal event this would have been a draw (unless Brian is feeling generous and willing to concede at a very disadvantaged boardstate), but in this event I am saddled with a loss due to the sudden-death rules. A lot of people have expressed sympathy for my loss in this round, as if it was some sort of injustice, but the reality is I knew coming into this tournament what the time rules were going to be and I chose to play my deck anyway. While I do think that the rounds should either be untimed or given a long enough clock that going to time is very unlikely, what I think isn't really relevant to the tournament as it is happening. I thought we were both playing reasonably quickly, but I should have been playing faster to prevent this from happening, or maybe even just played a different deck. It sucks, but it was what it was.
I would lose an unexciting round two against Logan Mize's G/R Monsters deck, and win an unexciting round three against Derrick Sheets' Abzan Reanimator deck. This would lead me to my elimination match against Tom Ross, who had started the tournament at an ugly 0-3.
After winning a fairly easy game 1 where I am able to remove every creature Tom plays, leaving him with many lands and auras, I decide to play perhaps one of the worst turns I've played all year in game 2.
I attacked with my Brimaz, which was currently dominating the game, into Tom's Favored Hoplite with one counter on it. I had taken out a few of Tom's creatures already and he was stuck on two lands with a ton of cards in hand. While I had a Devouring Light to stop any one trick, Tom's deck was absolutely packed with one mana tricks that will blow me out in this scenario - Gods Willing, Ajani's Presence, Defiant Strike, Stubborn Denial, and so on.
I should have been perfectly happy playing the waiting game as I made land drops and moved myself into the lategame, forcing him to make the first move, but instead I allowed him to have two tricks and threw my Brimaz in the garbage. If I didn't attack, he was forced to either attack my high life total and let me attack back with Brimaz to make more chump blockers, or just sit back and not attack again letting me move deeper in the game.
I also could have played my land first, leaving me able to Dig Through Time in response to Gods Willing to find a Negate on top of my deck and cast the Devouring Light in response to Ajani's Presence to play around Stubborn Denial.
Going back and watching the video just makes it sting more. I played essentially every part of that turn wrong, and likely threw away my chance of doing well in the event in a matter of minutes.
I was not and am still not very happy about it.
Regardless though, just like that, me, Kevin Jones, Derrick Sheets, and Jeff Hoogland were out of the event. All was not lost, however, as at the player meeting before round one all sixteen players agreed that we would skim $500 off first place so the first four eliminated players could play a Cube draft for something of meaning while the remaining competitors battled.
While it sucked to be dead, it was enjoyable to get some good use out of my cube and have some fun. I started my draft off as an Oath of Druids deck pack one, with a few U/G lands, a Garruk Wildspeaker, a few counterspells, and the Oath, but never saw a huge creature as Kevin Jones was drafting Sneak Attack behind me. I had to move into a bad Bant creature deck and was defeated by Derrick Sheets round one. Derrick was running a B/R mana denial deck.
Another fun dinner with friends followed, and Sunday consisted of more Cube drafts for the eliminated players while we also watched those still in contention on a TV while we cubed.
I won some, I lost some, but this was my best deck over the few Cube drafts we did:
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Porcelain Legionnaire
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Joraga Treespeaker
- 1 Loam Lion
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Vengevine
- 1 Boon Satyr
- 1 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Once top 4 was announced we all retired to Todd Anderson's house where he and Kali were wonderful hosts for a post-Players' Championship party. We watched the semis and finals, drank, laughed, played games, and all celebrated when Brad arrived with the trophy. Getting to hangout with everyone was (and usually is) the best part of the weekend, and it was a great unwind to a fun but stressful weekend. Villagers were lynched, old stories told, fires almost started, and many pizza bagel bites were consumed.
I'm very disappointed with my result, but the overall experience of the Players' Championship was really amazing. There are a few kinks to be worked out, but I would like to hand it to SCG for not being afraid to try new things with the format and for treating its players so well.
It's good to be home and to be able to relax for the holidays. There were a lot of long weekends this year, and I'm currently deciding if I want to go as hard next year as I did for this one. For now though, it's time to eat cookies, open presents, and be with family and friends. See you guys next year!