I went to #SCGPHILLY.
I played this:
After some soul searching in the six-hour car ride with Gerry Thompson and Cedric Phillips from Roanoke to Philadelphia, I decided that I didn't want to wander too far away from what's been established as successful for Infect.
Swords to Plowshares seemed like a decent answer to the anticipated uptick in Eldrazi decks in Legacy, but that benefit comes with a few faults. Against a deck with four Wastelands the one Savannah was a very vulnerable target, which would leave me with only Noble Hierarchs to cast it. Playing a Tundra as well was a consideration, but in a deck that wants to kick Vines of Vastwood and needs a Forest to cast Invigorate this hurt the manabase quite a lot.
The Colorless Eldrazi decks, much like the Modern versions, run Chalice of the Void maindeck. When sideboarding against Chalice of the Void decks I take out as many one-mana spells as I can afford to and bring in anything reasonable that doesn't cost one from the sideboard. This is one of the many smaller uses for Necropede. Sideboarding in the one-mana Swords to Plowshares didn't work with the plan I set out against Chalice of the Void decks, even though they are quite nice when actually cast targeting Eldrazi creatures.
I did want something, and settled in on Dismember as the removal spell I wanted. It has the benefit of avoiding Chalice of the Void for one while still being castable with one mana, and it also leaves me more room for other cards in the sideboard.
Through the years I've tried my best to find an optimal sideboard for Infect. Often I try to free up sideboard space by sneaking sideboard cards into the maindeck. Piracy Charm is one, as is Viridian Corrupter. At #SCGPHILLY I played a pretty straightforward maindeck and sideboard.
I went into #SCGPHILLY without expectations... I tend to just jam Infect no matter how well or poorly I feel it's positioned in the metagame of the moment. Sure, I make card choices based on small metagame shifts, but I'm very hesitant to make changes to the deck in hopes of becoming better-positioned.
At Grand Prix New Jersey last year, I shared a very lucky hotel bed with Brian Braun-Duin and ended up losing to him in the finals. Bob Huang's U/R Delver was rampant and fully powered by Treasure Cruise at the time and was a very tough matchup for Infect. Still, Infect had enough tools to get me through the tournament. That and somehow fortunately dodging U/R Delver completely.
A deck with Force of Will and a fast clock that's as tough to play against as Infect will always have a puncher's chance.
All six of my #SCGPHILLY Day Two opponents, plus Gerry Thompson, finished in the Top Sixteen or better. I lost to the three players that made Top Eight and beat the four players that finished in the Top Sixteen. I finished the Swiss rounds with a 12-3 record, good for 7th place going into Top Eight. Four other players with a 12-3 record missed Top Eight.
Saturday, February 27th
The three of us have a staggered schedule for when our respective events start. Gerry's Magic Online RPTQ started at eight in the morning. Cedric needed to be at the site before ten for the first round. I had a first-round bye, so I had an extra hour or so. Gerry, if he scrubbed the RPTQ, would begin Open play in the third round.
Those in the Top 32 of The SCG Tour® Leaderboard get a complimentary sleep-in special similar to that of a Grand Prix. We also don't have to be at the player meeting or turn in a physical decklist then; we have to submit a decklist online before ten on Saturday, but we usually submit our lists the night before. I did, and set an alarm for nine just in case I had a revelation during the night wanted to resubmit.
I snooze through any resubmittal opportunities. This is fine because I tend to screw up my decklist at the last minute more often than not. I do wake up to find Gerry on his laptop receiving bad beats in the forms of internet issues and uncommonly tough games. He takes his second loss early enough to initiate his Plan B for the weekend: playing Colorless Eldrazi in the Open.
Round Two - James Kandziolka – Enchantress
Enchantress is a green/white deck that uses Argothian Enchantress and Enchantress's Presence to have a steady stream of card draw to fuel Solitary Confinement. Lots of Enchant Lands like Wild Growth and Utopia Sprawl work with Serra's Sanctum to generate a ton of mana for a huge Eldrazi, typically Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. James had Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as an effective Eldrazi that can come down a turn earlier or so than Emrakul.
I win the first game quickly and easily on turn three or so. In game two I get slowed down by Elephant Grass long enough for him to set up an Enchantress and Solitary Confinement, and I get Ulamog'd before finding Seal of Cleansing or Krosan Grip. On the play for game three, I'm able to counter the key enchantments and set up an early kill.
Round Three - Alex Chen - Grixis Delver
Grixis Delver is a tough matchup that I hope to avoid. Other Delver variants are easier to play against, but the combination of good removal, Deathrite Shaman and soft countermagic is tough to slog through. Forked Bolt and freeroll Gitaxian Probes are particularly annoying.
We split the first two games. If memory serves he got me good in game two with a Cabal Therapy.
In game three I make a slight mistake by not casting Become Immense when Alex goes to eat one of my lands for mana with Deathrite Shaman. By removing it from the graveyard with delve I'd keep Alex off of mana for Abrupt Decay. Fortunately Alex didn't have a Force of Will to punish me when I go for Vines of Vastwood.
Round Four - Jason Zielinski - U/R Delver
U/R is probably the second-toughest Delver variant for Infect. Heavier green versions like Sultai and Temur that rely on Tarmogoyf are a touch slower and easier to tiptoe around. It turns out that U/R Delver with Stormchaser Mage was a popular new build present in higher number than I expected.
This match came down to a key moment in game three when Jason slipped up a bit and allowed a pair of his Dazes to be paid for with an untapped Inkmoth Nexus and Noble Hierarch respectively. The final nail in the coffin was when Jason cast Forked Bolt with one land untapped versus my two. I cast Flusterstorm for three leaving one land untapped and Jason tapped his remaining land to Flusterstorm back for four. I was able to pay for one of the Flusterstorm copies and he was left with a countered Forked Bolt.
I knew of the interaction but I hadn't seen it come up in a long time. Little did I know it would come up in a big way in round fifteen!
Round Five - Devin Reilly – Miracles
He seemed heavy on Snapcaster Mage and Ponder, close to what Philipp Schonegger played in the Top Eight of Grand Prix New Jersey. Infect is very good against Miracles, and is in fact one of the main draws to playing Infect in Legacy. I win both games on early turns with several things like Vines of Vastwood, Spell Pierce, Daze, and Force of Will as backup.
Round Six - David Russo - Death and Taxes
I briskly jog to this match as pairings went up as I was refilling my water bottle. As good as the Miracles matchup is I believe that many Miracles players have played against Infect enough to make the matchup competitive. Death and Taxes is what I believe to be Infect's best matchup in Legacy right now.
Blighted Agent is a nightmare for them, and with Noble Hierarchs and additional lands coming in from the sideboard their plan to constrict you on mana often doesn't work out. Combat happens, and your pump spells work well there. All of your sideboard artifact destruction comes in to take them off of their main plan to beat you, Stoneforge Mystic into an active Umezawa's Jitte.
Things go as planned as I win game one quickly and then play game two as conservatively as possible in case David's last card happened to be a Swords to Plowshares. It wasn't, but I could afford to not expose myself to a blowout and won mostly through chip shots.
After this round I found out that Gerry Thompson is also 6-0. I go up to coverage to tell them not to feature us as there's no chance of us playing. That I'm signing the slip and running away and there's nothing Gerry can do to stop me.
Round Seven - Gerry Thompson - Colorless Eldrazi
We sit down at our table to get the match slip. Players around us are waiting for us to be called to the feature match area. I concede and we take a match off to relax and watch the other tables.
Now, you may wonder why I would snap-concede in this spot.
To me it wasn't even a question, it was automatic. It's was in the best interest of the “team.” If he insisted that I not concede I was going to sign the match slip 2-0 him and run away. He simply has a better chance to make the Players' Championship by being in the top three this season than I do.
I was itching to have the chance. Every match that Gerry won motivated me to be in his same bracket. Finding out that we were paired meant that my efforts mattered. I'm no longer only playing for myself. When I have others counting on me as well, I play harder and I play better.
Would Gerry do the same for me? Without a second thought. He deprived the audience of a great semifinals matchup between himself and Brad Nelson at SCG Portland in 2014, knowing that Brad needed every inch to make it into the Players' Championship that year. Despite Brad's pleas to please play out the match, Gerry would have none of it.
Despite Gerry not wanting a free win, I was having none of it. The match result could possibly have only one outcome in my mind.
Sorry for depriving everyone of a hype-heavy Round Seven feature match.
Round Eight - Danny West – Maverick
Danny West is the Content Coordinator for StarCityGames, a position previously held by Cedric Phillips. He's the guy I'll shortly be sending this article to, who approves the amount I get paid, and who makes the decisions for the directions of the content that goes up on SCG.
I'm paired against my boss.
Before this match a moment of sharp unease came over me. Not because of the pairings, but a combination of not eating that day, the six cups of coffee I'd drank, and that jog to my seat in round six. It felt like a needle had pricked my heart. It's something that hits me every few years. Not great.
After getting a turkey sandwich and resting throughout round seven, I was feeling mostly better. I wasn't at 100% though, not even close. I felt slow and out of it. I might've been at 5% this match. Fortunately the matchup is quite good and Danny was very understanding.
Here I start to lose it. I lead on GItaxian Probe and kinda forget what's going on after that. I want to get this game over with fast. I Brainstorm into a possible win. I lay down Berserk. I pick Berserk back up and lay down Brainstorm. I miss. My cards are reasonable, but I guess I should fetch away the worst two. I put Blighted Agent and something back on top. I play Verdant Catacombs and start to look for another Tropical Island.
The table spotter didn't notice it. Danny was still flipping through his cards in hand. But I noticed it: I'd played two lands in the same turn. I call for a judge in a not-very-loud voice. Someone yells louder. The judge comes over and I explain what happened. I could only imagine the confusion of the ten thousand or so people watching. I was a mess.
The ruling was one that I disagreed with. Even though I knew the top two cards of my library from Brainstorm, the rule was to shuffle the entire library. This means that I was getting a free shuffle after my Brainstorm. A player shouldn't be rewarded by a play mistake, and this was a corner case where just that happened.
[Editor's Note: I'm not one to chime in during other people's work, but since this involves me and I can ultimately make some good of it, so be it.
There is a tendency for players that watch Magic from the comfort of their couches or their beds to maliciously judge the play of players who have traveled ten or eleven hours, who have been awake eighteen straight hours, who are playing for the entertainment of thousands. Discussing plays and game states is interesting and productive, but acting like you belong in the chairs that other players are actually sitting in is egotistical and extremely arrogant. Tom is one of the best players in the game, and this game was a trainwreck. None of us are above it, and owning up to it is a sign of tremendous strength.
Because I understand these things, I thought the judge call was necessarily unusual but ultimately correct, and I waived my right to an appeal. I'd rather lose handily to someone who respects the game as much as Tom does than trounce an opponent that carries themselves in the opposite way. Good games, Tom!]
Stunned that I was allowed a win that I shouldn't have gotten along with the unease I was feeling from earlier, I needed a break. I walked to the bathroom for some water and back wondering how appropriate it would be to concede game two. It was a ruling that I was uncomfortable with. I decided against taking actions into my own hands and go into game two as normal.
I sideboard out my Force of Wills. Danny plays a Gaddock Teeg that can only shut off Become Immense and my copy of Green Sun's Zenith. I draw neither afterwards and win when there's no window for him to have a spell to beat me with because Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is in play taxing us. With no responses possible from him, I go for it and I get him.
After getting an easy one here, I promise myself and Danny that I'm gonna take the next match easily. I'm still going to play to win, but I'm not going to get swept up in any extra pressure.
Round Nine - Aaron Webster - Colorless Eldrazi
Ah, the talk of the tournament. I'd dodged it up until now and now I get to see if Infect can stave off the Eldrazi in Magic's last pure format left.
I recall getting him quickly in game one and then getting run over in game two. The third game comes down to a GItaxian Probe seeing two copies of Dismember, a Warping Wail, an Eldrazi Mimic and a bigger Eldrazi as well, either Reality Smasher or Thought-Knot Seer.
Facing a 4/4 Endless One, I have no option left but to attack a Dryad Arbor into it with a Noble Hierarch trigger. He thinks for awhile and doesn't block. A kicked Vines of Vastwood and a Berserk later, I have a twelve-power creature. Those Dismembers had a hefty cost this game.
I exit day one undefeated-ish 8-1. Gerry loses Round Nine to fall to 8-1.
We round up a few dinnermates and walk around to find a restaurant. Several rejected long waits later, we find a Hard Rock Cafe. Gerry and I joke about both making Top Eight. I plan on re-scooping if we meet in quarterfinals or semifinals. He's reluctant, but overall accepting of this.
Sunday, February 28th
Cedric snored. I volunteered myself to only have one pillow for the night but usually like two. I steal his second during his deep sleep. He wakes up.
“You burgled my pillow... *mumble* ... take it you're in day two.”
Round Ten - Louis Bachaud - Grixis Delver
I always seem to lose the first match of Day Two. It's happened with astounding frequency for as long as I remember. I might be something like 20% to win the first match of Day Two over the past two years. Perhaps I should get better rest.
Again, Grixis Delver is hard. We win our respective games on the play in the first two games. The third game comes down to me not pulling the trigger on a heads-up move that I might've fired off if I was more awake.
Louis cast Cabal Therapy when my hand is two copies of Invigorate, a Become Immense, and a Spell Pierce but no untapped mana. My creature is Blighted Agent and I have a win set up for next turn. I consider casting one Invigorate. This may dissuade him from naming Invigorate while not letting my Blighted Agent die to Lightning Bolt on his turn.
Round Eleven - Kyle Fitzsimmons – Storm
In game one he leads on a pair of Underground Seas and some cantrip action in the form of Ponder and Gitaxian Probe. After playing against so much Delver, it doesn't even dawn on me that Kyle could be Storm until it's too late. In game two I get him back on turn three.
In game three I Gitaxian Probe and see a clunker hand of three Infernal Tutors, a Lion's Eye Diamond, and three Abrupt Decays. He burns an Infernal Tutor for another Lion's Eye Diamond and casts both. I draw Surgical Extraction and contemplate the best time to strip him of his Infernal Tutors.
I decide that it's best to cast it during his draw step after he draws card for the turn, in case he draws his fourth Infernal Tutor. Gerry, who got smashed quickly by Lands, was watching and informed me of how wrecked I was if his draw was Brainstorm. I guess I would've been wrecked-ish and still unsure which line was better. Probably his.
Round Twelve - Zachary Koch – Infect
Zachary has been playing Infect for the better part of two years and has a Legacy Top Eight to show for his dedication. I blame him for Joe Lossett getting so good at beating Infect.
He's playing a list with white sideboard cards similar to the one I wrote about last week, but with a few of his own pet cards like Teferi's Response and Sylvan Safekeeper in the sideboard.
I've become comfortable with the Infect mirror and things go mostly as planned. After winning he has doubts that he can still make Top 8. I think he can. With the cut being at exactly 64 players there are fewer X-3s to contend with. Sadly, he wins out and still misses the Top 8 cut at 12-3.
Round Thirteen - Alex Bastecki - Grixis Delver
A fellow SCG Invitational New Jersey Champion. I was hoping that he was on Sultai Delver, but to my dismay he's shifted to the better Delver build: Grixis. I promised that I would play this round tight, and that's what I did.
In the first game we both mulligan and my first real decision is whether or not to fire off a Gitaxian Probe on turn one. I decide against it and was paid off when Alex casts his own copy. Now my Gitaxian Probe will give me the maximum available information while his leaves him with a few unknown cards. I see he has a nightmare hand of two copies of Force of Will, Delver of Secrets and Forked Bolt. I have no choice but to slog through it all and throw creatures into Forked Bolt's gaping maw. A few extra useless lands later, I find myself in reasonable shape.
I hold tightly onto an Invigorate for several turns before attacking with a seven-power Inkmoth Nexus to complement the previous turn's attack for three. I'd been nursing that Invigorate for so long that Alex missed the onboard lethal and apologizes to the camera going into game two.
Overall, I think people fire off their Gitaxian Probes too early. I'm not saying that Alex did, but it's something to consider.
The second game was a blur, but I recall that my only route to victory at one point was trying to assemble Invigorate plus Berserk by any means possible. A Crop Rotation just for the shuffle allowed me to clear away junk off the top of my library. I was down to one draw step. A Ponder allowed me a re-draw and the top of my library was kind enough to give me the Invigorate I needed to take the match.
Round Fourteen - David Long – Lands
Lands is an awful matchup. To make things worse, I was playing with Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows in mind when neither was in David's deck.
In game one I get stuck with a bunch of countermagic in hand while David is content to just make land drops and stay safely behind the walls of his Maze of Iths. I eventually die to a 20/20.
For the second game, I make a sly move to steal it. He has Molten Vortex going all game which is making it tough to keep a creature around while Rishadan Port is making it tough to use Inkmoth Nexus. Crop Rotation into Maze of Ith or Glacial Chasm is always looming in case I go for it.
I have a Submerge, but none of his lands are forests. David just made a 20/20 on my end step. I have two Noble Hierarchs, three Tropical Islands, and an Inkmoth Nexus for six mana total. David attacks with Marit Lage with only Mox Diamond and Rishadan Port left for mana. David is at nine poison.
If I Submerge his creature now I can't get through either the Rishadan Port or the Molten Vortex. If I activate Inkmoth Nexus to “block” and he shoots it down with Molten Vortex, I lose. If he taps down Inkmoth Nexus, I have a chance. He goes to tap and I add a colorless mana; along with my remaining sources, I have exactly five mana. I cast Submerge and he points out that he controls no Forests before seeing my tapped-out board. He concedes to my hard-cast Submerge.
Round Fifteen - Joe Lossett – Miracles
We'd been sitting next to each other for a few rounds, just missing each other on pairings. I had won our last encounter on Magic Online just a few days prior in a Legacy league. He won our last real-life match in the finals of the hardest Invitation Qualifier ever the night before the last Legacy Open in Somerset, New Jersey.
In the first game he is on the draw and keeps a very good hand without lands. It included something like two Swords to Plowshares, a Force of Will, and a blue card. On six cards and with a scry coming it's an acceptable keep. Things have to go right, sure, but so would mulliganing to a good five. I play conservatively, not even casting anything too important until Joe discards once down to hand size. Once I had two Invigorate and a Spell Pierce I was comfortable attacking into Swords to Plowshares plus Force of Will, which I assumed would be the minimum for him to keep the no-lander.
In the second, I put Joe to nine poison early with double Invigorate. I could've gone for it with a kicked Vines of Vastwood too, but that would've left me open to get blown out by a Swords to Plowshares. Joe wisely just took the nine. It's tough to close from there, and an Entreat the Angels token soon blocks my path. He assembles his lock pieces and I pack it into an active Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The game was long lost before that.
For the final game we put on a show. One key moment was him not taking a card with Vendilion Clique. I had just Brainstormed and had yet to have a chance to shuffle my library. My top card was a land, which Joe could have inferred, and I would've drawn an essential blank had he chosen to bottom one of my cards.
Now, I understand that continuing with perfect information is great, especially when you have all the tools in hand to beat what you see there. Not taking a card here gave me a chance to recover a bit.
Another key moment was when Joe cast Pithing Needle when I had two Verdant Catacombs in play. I admit, I got a bit lazy on my decklist and registered 4x Misty Rainforest and 4x Verdant Catacombs on my list instead of two copies each of the four green fetchlands just to avoid this exact scenario. It could've gotten really bad if I drew another copy of Verdant Catacombs that game.
I chose to use one Verdant Catacombs. I had a fair amount of mana and would rather he be put to the decision of killing one of my lands or turning off Inkmoth Nexus. He'd for sure name Inkmoth Nexus if I cracked the second Verdant. It kept me off easily hard-casting Force of Will, but that was ultimately fine.
My next real decision was whether or not to hard-cast my Force of Will on his second Counterbalance. He had a few uncracked fetchlands but no Sensei's Divining Top, so I figured he'd need to brick on blind Counterbalance flips for me to have a window to win. I elected to hold my Force, and it saved me the game – it was absolutely crucial, countering a Terminus that I got to see coming off of a blind flip. This game, for once the information from Counterbalance worked both ways.
Joe's final turn has been getting a lot of buzz. The stack was huge and I recommend watching the video rather than trying to describe it to you so that, as a reader, you can re-enact the game-state in your head.
There's some debate about what Joe could have done differently. I think using mana for Topping was the automatic move and the correct move. I made a mistake myself. I cast Vines of Vastwood with kicker… just 'cause. A chump-check to give Joe alarm. Maybe he wouldn't know its converted mana cost is still one for Counterbalance.
Of course he knows.
Jeff Hoogland cackles in delight from the siderail.
Gerry won his win-and-in too.
We're on opposite sides of the bracket. There's a chance for hilarious jokes about games of cat-and-mouse between Tom and Gerry.
We go to take pictures and other Top Eight stuff. Gerry asked Eli feels about his Infect matchup. He loves it. He asked how Eli feels about his “Tom Ross matchup.”
“Eh, less good.”
Quarterfinals - Eli Kassis - U/R Delver
We trade games one and two basically to whoever established a mana advantage - the player on the play basically just got to win. The third game came down to a crucial turn where I tightly grip a Daze until he plays a Young Pyromancer with only a Volcanic Island up. I could've Dazed many things throughout that game but would have fallen deathly behind. Eli knew something was up when I cast Daze into his open mana, but he paid for it anyway.
I win on my next turn and he reveals a hand full of Pyroblasts and other interaction but no mana left to cast any of them.
Noah Walker – Semifinals
That's what me and Todd Anderson said to each other as he consecutively knocked us both out of the Legacy Premiere IQ in New Jersey last year.
Noah is the best Grixis Delver player there is. He'd already won an Open with his archetype and was in great shape to do so again. Luckily for me he's not a greedy young man and let myself, Gerry, and Louis get away with a semifinals prize split.
In the first game, I take a line that puts me in really bad shape if I don't draw a second colored source and he Wastelands me, but leaves me great otherwise. He does. I don't. I die.
Against Daze and Wasteland decks I sideboard in my second Wasteland just to have another mana source in my deck. I also keep in Sylvan Library on the play and want to press my tempo advantage to the maximum.
In the second game I snap off all three Sylvan Library cards at the cost of eight life as I didn't have any way to shuffle my deck and needed to find fresh cards. I end up dying without coming close to having enough time to play all of the lands I'd drawn. Oh well, good beats.
Gerry beat Louis Bachaud in his match, who was also on Grixis Delver.
Gerry also beat Noah in Round Fifteen.
I like his chances. It's Gerry's tournament to win. Don't let my concession be in vain!
Noah whoops him. Second place and third place isn't so bad. Pretty good for Gerry considering that he almost didn't play and was going to drop for the Standard Classic if he was 7-2 after Day One.
It's too bad there aren't more Legacy events coming up; Legacy is truly the Cadillac of Magic. I don't know how I'll Top Eight another Invitational without my trusty Infect deck carrying me.
I still have these events to look forward to at least, and of course the Legacy Classics if I bomb in Day One of any Opens.
June 10-12 Grand Prix Columbus,OH
July 9-10 SCG Open Worcester, MA
Over three months away. Ugh.