The StarCityGames Players' Championship was one amazing tournament, one I hadn't expected to be as exhilarating and exhausting as it was. Every match mattered, and I faced elimination multiple times. It was like winning a win-and-in every round. Through its intimidating structure, it played out extremely well, giving everybody plenty of camera time and making sure each and every round would be important.
I was informed that I was 9-0 this year against the fifteen other competitors this year in Opens and Invitationals. which was a nice boost to my confidence. For some reason I play better Magic against top players in Invitationals (specifically in the later rounds), and I'm often able to see my opponents' thought processes and construct a gameplan to defeat their point of view. Against unknown opponents it's tougher for me, and I have to rely more on the raw power of Magic cards and tight play, leaving higher level plays like bluffing and reading into intentions on the backburner. The problem with this tournament was that their edges of how I play was stronger than mine against them.
Infect wasn't the best Legacy deck for the Season Four Invitational. U/R Delver was on the rise, and Brian Braun-Duin's Jeskai Stoneblade was also to be expected, as that was the biggest Legacy event to follow Grand Prix New Jersey. I faced Delver and Jeskai Stoneblade four times in the tournament and lost all of those matches, including one piloted by Todd Anderson on his way to a close ninth place finish.
That said, Infect had a lot going for it going into the Players' Championship. I felt like there would be decent showings of combo and Miracles where Infect is most favored. Outside of the heavy presence of Reanimator, everything went about as expected.
Except for Gerard.
As unorthodox as Gerard Fabiano's decklist looked, I really respect the range his deck can play against other decks and the ability that the one- and two-ofs have in putting the fear into opponents. When you're aware of everything that you have to play around, the mental strain breaks down even the best of us. Sultai "Cards I Own" had a lot going for it.
I found it no surprise that Brad Nelson won the tournament. The fire is real and there's an unmistakable pattern of whoever wants to win the most getting there. These are my impressions of who wanted to win most.
Who wanted it the most?
Season One: Me, but my builds sucked.
Season Two: Me.
Season Three: Reid Duke.
Season Four: Dylan Donegan.
Players' Championship: Brad Nelson.
For a tournament like this, stamina and preparation were everything. Many of us had to fly home after the Season Four Invitational, giving the Roanoke locals a little more time to prepare. That said, whoever wanted to could've adapted and those that did were successful.
- 4 Battlewise Hoplite
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 3 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Eidolon of Countless Battles
Round 1: Brad Nelson on Sultai Reanimator
This has historically been a good matchup for me and W/U Heroic. Brad really figured out the matchup by going up on Sultai Charm and adding Kiora, the Crashing Wave to the sideboard. Kiora is a card that I hadn't played against with W/U Heroic, and it was far more effective against me than anticipated.
The trick for him winning was not to try to dance around my Gods Willing, but instead to stay at a high enough life total to take one big hit. You can't be defense against W/U Heroic forever, and Brad continued pressure with early Sidisi and Kiora that made me react to him without having a chance to put him on a fast clock.
Round 2: Steve Mann on W/U Heroic
So far I've been 0-3 against the mirror regardless of their builds. At the Season Four Invitational, I took my first Standard loss to W/U Heroic where a Battle Mastery on Akroan Skyguard combined with Mortal's Ardor closed the game out for my opponent. W/U Heroic is a deck that doesn't play well defensively, and the match tends to snowball quickly once someone pulls ahead.
His build was fairly straightforward outside of a maindeck Triton Tactics. I lost the die roll, won game 2, but lost the others. Game 3, I had an inactive Stubborn Denial in hand for many turns. That was likely a mistake in sideboarding, as any other card would've been better.
Round 3: Chris VanMeter on Jeskai Tokens
This matchup is as close to 50/50 as Standard can get. Chris won the die roll and got the upper hand in game 1 in quick and usual fashion. As expected, I won game 2 and he won game 3. A key moment in the match was knocking off my own Eidolon of Countless Battles with Feat of Resistance to put a surprise blocker into play for Goblin Rabblemaster. 100% cute, however, not effective enough to pull out a win.
0-3 in my pod.
Round 4: Jim Davis on U/W Control
A rollercoaster match that nearly went to time of the 60 minute round. Being as I went 0-3 in my pod, this was my first elimination match. Jim had the luxury of being on the play for game 1. I drew a bunch of lands for my draw steps, and Jim had a typical U/W Control game play out on his end that included some counterspells and a turn 5 End Hostilities.
Game 2 was my toughest game of the tournament. The reverse of game 1 occurred where instead of flooding I had to make due with two lands until something like turn 7. Many stressful decisions led to me passing with Favored Hoplite on defense with two lands in play when I could've made any number of plays on my turn. My only way to get back into the game was for Jim to attack his Brimaz, King of Oreskos into my creature and walk into Ajani's Presence and Gods Willing. I really needed to fire off that scry to help find my third, but in the moment of my plan working out, the scry slipped my mind. Thankfully there was a third land on top of my deck anyways, which led me to being able to play some Magic. The rest of the match involved me resolving a Treasure Cruise and some Ordeal of Thassas that I sandbagged for a few turns. I clutched onto a Stubborn Denial for several turns, letting cards like Jace's Ingenuity and Dig Through Time resolve while saving the counter for something that would kill my lone creature.
Round 5: Reid Duke on Miracles
A rematch of our Season Three Invitational finals. I was fortunate to win the die roll and have a turn 2 kill with a turn 1 Glistener Elf into Noble Hierarch + double Invigorate with a backup Daze just in case. Game 2 was a bit longer but went according to plan, not overextending and playing around as many things as possible while still keeping pace with a reasonable clock.
Two wins in a row to follow up an 0-3 start. I was starting to feel like I was back in this tournament.
Round 6: Chris VanMeter on Reanimator
My first of many rematches this tournament in which I felt a little better about my chances going in. Infect has more soft permission than some realize, and it's tough for a combo deck like Reanimator to successfully go for it.
Game 1, I made the mistake of letting Careful Study resolve, choosing to fight over the reanimation spell instead. Chris had the Force of WIll backup, and back came Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite from the graveyard. I even had a Berserk, but CVM was too wise for that and didn't attack with Elesh Norn before also putting an Iona naming green into play.
Game 2, he had a turn 1 Careful Study again and a made a comment about learning my lesson. I had the Daze for it but decided to let it go through as I was hoping to get him with Crop Rotation into Bojuka Bog this time. He never had a piece of discard and ran into the Crop Rotation, which gave me plenty of time to win with small incremental hits from 1/1 creatures.
Game 3 was the first time I've won keeping a zero land hand. And it was a keep of seven cards too! On the draw with two Force of Will, two Gitaxian Probe, two Brainstorm, and Glistener Elf, a blue source in the first three draw steps made this a great hand. I ended up not drawing a land early until a turn 5 Bojuka Bog, which hit nothing relevant, and then a turn 7 Inkmoth Nexus to get a clock going. Around turn 9, I got a Misty Rainforest to enable my hand and was able to defeat CVM in short order.
From 0-3 to 3-3, a fine way to end the day. It uplifted my spirits about Infect in this tournament. All I could hope for was a good pod for day two.
Round 7: Ross Merriam on Elves
Ross and his Elves were the main reason I went up to the full four Submerge in the sideboard. We played this matchup once before at the Season One Invitational where I was triumphant, but to his credit he did mulligan a lot and had never seen Infect before. Infect was definitely stronger back then even though the correct build hadn't been fully fleshed out yet as the surprise factor more than made up for being a few cards off.
Game 1, we both used all of our cards against each other, and he ended up with a bunch of random elves on the table versus Noble Hierarch and four lands including Pendelhaven and Inkmoth Nexus. I ended up passing on turn 4 with one card in hand against his one, and he went for the natural Craterhoof Behemoth into my hardcast Force of Will. From there on I chipped away at him with Inkmoth Nexus hoping to draw a pump spell or hoping that he didn't draw well enough to combo off on me. I drew some lands, he drew some action, and he got me a turn before I would've gotten him.
No biggie, I got these Submerges to bring in.
Game 2, my hand was good thanks to two copies of Invigorate. Any hand with two Invigorates is great no matter the matchup, and leads to the easiest and fastest wins the deck is capable of. I'd run twenty copies of Invigorate if I could.
Game 3, he ended up comboing through a bit of disruption like Spell Pierce, Daze, and Force of Will. All of these cost me time and cards in some way. Submerge would've put me in a better spot but, just like Invigorate, I can't play more than four.
Round 8: Steve Mann on Temur Delver
A matchup that I wanted to avoid, Temur Delver had always been one of the tougher of the Delver variants, even before the printing of Treasure Cruise. Nowadays, U/R Delver is the hardest, and SMann's build was closer to U/R Delver than any traditional Nimble Mongoose + Stifle deck.
The details are fuzzy, but in the end, game 3 came down to a bit of unfamiliarity on his part about when to interact with Infect. I fired up an Inkmoth Nexus to chip at him and he aimed Lightning Bolt at it immediately. This gave my Invigorates the extra value of acting as a free counterspell while also acting as a free double-Fireblast.
Tip: Kill Infect's creatures on your turn. If you must wait until their combat, use your removal at the end of their turn when Inkmoth Nexus is still active, and after they would've gotten extra value from Invigorate or a kicked Vines of Vastwood.
Round 9: Reid Duke on Miracles
A match for Reid's tournament life, and he was 0-3 against me lifetime. We were on camera again, and I liked my chances.
I won the die roll and kept a hand with three copies of Gitaxian Probe and most of the pieces for a turn 2 kill. I was able to see a clear path and kill Reid on turn 2 in under three minutes.
I overheard that Reid had brought two Peacekeepers with him just for me. I didn't see them in the previous match, but I assumed that he brought them in and didn't see them. I'd taken out my Piracy Charm before, but wouldn't be this time around.
In short, my draws weren't explosive in the next two games. Game 2, I end up conceding to the second Peacekeeper as my one Piracy Charm was the only way to remove one. Game 3, I got a bit greedy as I did have the Piracy Charm for his resolved Peacekeeper, but I allowed it to stay in play even though I had a window to kill it. I wanted to keep him locked down on mana for a while. It ended up biting me, and the board got a bit too complex to handle, and I ran a Force of Will into his Counterbalance after knowing he had his own Force of Will on top.
Round 10: Brad Nelson on Sneak & Show
The last time Brad and I faced off was in the quarterfinals of the Season Two Invitational. After I crushed him 3-0, he said that was the least upset he's ever been after a loss. After losing to him in this elimination match that was basically a quarterfinals, I wasn't a bit upset at the loss and genuinely wanted him to own the tournament.
He had the option to go first and chose correctly. I kept a hand that couldn't beat a turn 2 Show and Tell with backup, and that's what he had. Game 2, we danced around as I kept a hand with a bunch of Brainstorms and didn't want to overextend into Pyroclasm. He ended up sculpting perfectly and even Karakas couldn't save me.
I was glad for it to be over.
This is the most nerve wracking tournament I've ever played. #SCGPC— Tom Ross (@Boss_MTG) December 20, 2014
Now that it's over, I can't wait to go back next year.