Before the #SCGINVI
Wednesday the 17th: Two days before the Invitational
I'm doing something a little off the beaten path this week. Instead of writing a tournament report about my #SCGINVI experience after the fact, I've instead written portions of this article before, during and after the event.
Complaining about Magic is something I can't justify doing right now. After a mediocre start on the Pro circuit this season, I turned it around and had two amazing results on the Pro Tour that catapulted me into being qualified for the World Championship. Before the last two Pro Tours I thought I wasn't even going to get Platinum status for the next season. I not only did that, but I found myself on the best testing team I have ever been a part of in the form of Team EUreka. Since joining them, I've only lost one match of Limited, which was against none other than Jon Finkel, who needed to topdeck on the last turn to beat me. I'm blessed.
That said, it still stings that, after being 7-0 in last year's Players' Championship, I found myself losing one match and being out of the event. That abrupt conclusion to such a great start in the event has festered for the past eight months and has created an almost yearning to play in the Players' Champs once more. I want vengeance! I want to get back to this event and dunk on Jim Davis.
I've had it with this guy.
I want to take everything back he took from me. The only issue with that is it is almost impossible for me to grind out events on the SCG Tour® as well as on the Pro Tour. This means I'll be treating the last two #SCGINVIs as qualifiers for this illustrious event. I want this, but first I have to win my Players' Champs Qualifier.
Actually, first I have to explain to my girlfriend that I want to spend some of the limited time we have together playtesting for yet another tournament. I just got back from Sydney, and now only nine days later I'm leaving for the #SCGINVI and going from there straight to Seattle to test with Joel Larsson and Brian Braun-Duin for Worlds. After much deliberation, she was fine with me preparing for this event as much as I needed to. The flight to Seattle for Worlds and PAX Prime may or may not have played a role in her decision-making process. We just will never know.
Modern Deck Choice: Death's Shadow Aggro
I front-loaded my Modern preparation for the Invitational prior to the release of Eldrich Moon. I had a couple weeks at home with stagnant formats that gave me the time to attempt to master a new Modern deck. The weapon of choice is Death's Shadow Aggro. I chose it since my fellow teammates on EUreka have been working on the deck for many months, which makes them experienced mentors and confidants. It's hard to argue when almost half of them that played in the World Magic Cup Qualifiers won their respective events with the deck.
Death's Shadow Aggro is also a deck that isn't represented much in the United States. It's becoming extremely popular in Europe as well as Magic Online, but the only public showing of the deck was when Sam Black Top 8ed GP Charlotte with the deck with limited testing. He was extremely impressed with the deck, but his spotlight on the deck didn't give the archetype much traction. Team Eureka considers the deck the best in the format if being ignored which is exactly what I think will be the case at the #SCGINVI.
The sideboard is designed with Bant Eldrazi and Dredge in mind. Both matchups can be difficult without dedicated sideboard slots. Path to Exile isn't usually played in this deck, but having an answer for Thought-Knot Seer and Spellskite seems like it could significantly help in the matchup.
Dredge is volatile and games can be stolen from both sides. Even though they have answers for Grafdigger's Cage, they'll need them in their opening hand. Death's Shadow Aggro doesn't give a deck a lot of time to set up or find answers. Even the turn taken off to kill the one mana artifact might be the time needed to win the game.
Standard Deck Choice: Bant Humans
Now this is the strange one. Last season I was an advocate for Bant Company, while many others gravitated towards Bant Humans. Now I'm switching again? This has been the hardest deck to commit to, because even though my gut is screaming it's the better choice, all I can think about is maybe I'm being too cute. So why Bant Humans?
First off, the Bant Company matchup. Now that might all change with this article's submission, but for right now I've found I have the edge over Bant Company with the Humans variant. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is a very powerful three-drop in the matchup that can sometimes cause enough tempo loss for Company that they might not have the time to get back into the game. If the battlefields are building up, Thalia's Lieutenant helps beef up the squad in preparation for an attack that leaves Bant Company's battlefield anemic. The difficult games involve stalled battlefields filled with Selfless Spirits or when Company does its thing.
Now sideboarded games get interesting. History has shown that in this matchup Bant Company wants to take the more controlling approach with Tragic Arrogance. That's somewhat changed in the past month with Luis Scott-Vargas putting a spotlight on Subjugator Angel and the fact that playing Tragic Arrogance alongside Spell Queller can get a little awkward. Some players have chosen to play Tragic Arrogance while others have given it up. There's practically a split between those who like or dislike the card.
That's not the world Bant Humans wants to live in. It's easier to build a sideboard plan when most players fall in line. That said, it's really easy to blow out Bant Company players with Tragic Arrogance from the Bant Humans side thanks to them not being prepared for it. You see, Duskwatch Recruiter sucks against Bant Humans, making the Subjugator Angel plan useless. Bant Company doesn't expect Tragic Arrogance from Bant Humans (especially on the play), making it a complete blowout when you try to get them to play into it by countering a Collected Company the turn before you want to cast it. Things can go south quickly for Bant Company if they fall for the trap.
Funnily enough, Bant Humans can get such an impressive battlefield position thanks to Thalia's Lieutenant that many games can be won with Tragic Arrogance rotting away in-hand. It effectively acts as a safety valve just in case things go south, but it's still possible it won't become a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to the explosiveness of Bant Humans.
One would think that if a deck is favored against Bant Company, it must be weaker than Company against the other decks out there, but I disagree on that as well. Bant Humans doesn't play out the same way Bant Company does, which is the deck everyone is preparing for. For example, Ishkanah, Grafwidow is very powerful against Bant Company, but Humans can bash right through it. Bant Humans can play around Languish quite nicely with Lambholt Pacifist and Thalia's Lieutenant.
Long story short, the deck just hits harder and people aren't prepared for that level of aggression from a Company deck.
Here's the list.
- 2 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Lambholt Pacifist
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Tireless Tracker
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
The two standouts in the sideboard are three Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and two Heron's Grace Champion. The planeswalker is easily the best card against most of the “unique” decks in the format and gives this deck the best chance to steal games against dedicated removal. The Heron's Grace Champions are for the U/R Thermo-Alchemist strategies that are popping up as well as Mono-White Humans. The card really shines against U/R thanks to its ability to not get countered by Dispel. Often they will block in a way that Dispel will protect them and be rudely awakened by a card nobody respected. The life swings can also keep you in a game you had no business winning.
During the #SCGINVI
I just got done with Day 1 of the event. I don't have much time because Todd wants to go to a pizza place that's a drive away, but I had to sit down and collect my thoughts after such a great day!
I'm currently in second place with a perfect 8-0 record and everything I thought going into this tournament came true. No one knew how to play against Death's Shadow Aggro, which netted me some free wins. Once I got to Standard, I played Bant Company three times in a row and all the matches played out the exact same. I took an early lead in Game 1 thanks to Thalia's Lieutenant, and then post-sideboard Tragic Arrogance won me all three Games 2. I even blew out Team Cardhorder member Devin Keopke on camera with it! Things are looking good for tomorrow, but before then I must go out and celebrate with my Roanoke brethren!
So I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I made the Top 8 of the #SCGINVI and my storyline of calling this event my “PCQ” has picked up momentum. The bad news is that I play Burn in the first round of the Top 8. Now I have beaten him already in the Modern Swiss rounds, but it's still not a matchup I'd like to face. Luckily for me, I'm on the play and I have two games pre-sideboarded before he will get access to Path to Exile and Deflecting Palm.
Magnus Lantto has agreed to help me test the matchup on Magic Online tomorrow morning before the Top 8 starts, which is a huge relief. I've played the matchup before, but not enough to be confident. That means there won't be much celebrating for me tonight. The weekend isn't over and I have an 8 A.M. call time with Lantto. It's time to get something to eat and then off to bed.
Sunday after beating Miles:
What a match! I still can't believe it. I'm currently in my hotel room, which is only minutes from the site. I just had to get away from the tournament hall for a couple of minutes. I have the time, since the other quarterfinals are being played now.
My hands are shaking. I've had to rewrite almost all of these words thanks to dexterity issues.
I can't stop shaking! It's been a long time since I've played a match that intense. I need to calm down and start preparing for my semifinals match, but part of me feels the journey is done. That I can relax now or something. I have to shake this feeling because I'm still two rounds away from my goal. Most would be happy getting this far, but not me. I came into this tournament wanting to win, and I am damn close to achieving that goal. Plus, Jund isn't that bad of a matchup and Jadine's list isn't particularly hateful. Plus, after that, I should be in the finals with Elves, which is as close to a bye as a matchup can get. Things are looking great!
You're going down!
All right, time to talk to Magnus about how I should sideboard against Jadine.
Sunday after losing to Jadine:
Eventually everyone will come around and become grateful for such a good finish, but initially anything but first is crippling. Especially when the only goal of the weekend was to win it all. Previous versions of myself would have just been excited to play in such a great event with so many good players, but the one staring into this computer screen wanted only the trophy. Top 4 just wasn't good enough. Hell, not even second was going to do it for me. All I wanted was first, but I came up short.
I probably could've played better a time or two this weekend, and maybe given myself a better shot, but that's not how the story will be written. I lost my match and thus the privilege of being the protagonist of this story. I'll tweet something about how there's always next time, but next time feels like an eternity away. A wound this fresh doesn't want time to heal it. This wound was created in competition and thus lusts for revenge.
I can't wait for December to come. I need retaliation now.
The Aftermath: Tuesday the 23rd in Seattle
I'm now sitting in my hotel room with Joel Larsson and Brian Braun-Duin in Seattle. We just got situated and are beginning our testing for Worlds. I took some time out of my day to finish up on this project, but I honestly had no idea what I would say about it. I didn't even know if this was going to be worthy of an article. It just looked like broken thoughts about a tournament. I thought to myself that maybe I should just trash it and write some sideboard guides for the decks I played at the #SCGINVI. Then I re-read what I had so far.
This might be interesting only to me, but my writing styles throughout the last week were noticeably different. This is most likely due to my mindset going in and coming out of the event.
Before the tournament I was much more articulate and decisive. I was juggling ample amounts of information, trying to get my lists to match my predictions. Once in the event I was more emotional, excited about good records while also being nervous about rounds to come. I'm usually much more collected during an event (or so I think), but writing out my feelings on paper in real time showed that I was being very emotional. The stress of getting one step closer to the end result of winning was apparent.
I've also never written anything in the moments following a knockout loss. I've strived to be objective when it comes to results and not let them dictate my self-worth, but a lot can be learned from what I wrote after losing to Jadine. Those words were written immediately after the match, even before the other semifinals match started, yet they seemed well-collected with a sense of deep perspective behind them. Looking back, I can tell you I felt far more crushed than those words articulate, but maybe that's a product of knowing they will be read by thousands. I probably don't want to sound like an entitled jerk who isn't even happy with a result many dream of achieving.
Maybe it's a defense mechanism trying to rationalize with the reality of being eliminated. I started off by being introspective, but you can tell my aggression seeped into my writing near the very end. I wanted to rationalize with defeat, but part of me couldn't accept it even knowing this chapter was closing. Part of me needed to keep fighting even without an enemy.
Looking back, I had no idea what this article was going to achieve. It was probably just going to be an interesting take on the generic tournament report and that would be the end of it. Ironically enough, I don't think it was that interesting in tournament report form. You really didn't get a good snapshot of how the event played out without the context of following along online. I most likely would have polished up some of the writing if that was the direction I wanted to take, which was what I thought I would be doing. Instead, it became so much more and here's why.
I learned that even though I try to always be objective, that's not actually happening in the moment. I can look back and pretend that was the case, but it's not. I'm an emotional person, and shouldn't be hiding it in my writing. As a content producer with a public image, I have to think about what I'm going to say before I say it. Most of the time the words I write are in past tense, and most of them are prepared for the intent of publication. This article was different, since I knew I would be going back and rewriting parts of the article. I didn't have to censor myself initially, knowing I would have another crack at a final draft. Once I re-read them I didn't want to make any changes. I want people to know the real me.
I love competition and hate losing. I try not to be disrespectful to my opponents, but I want nothing more than to “embarrass” them on the court and I'm not afraid to say that anymore. Sportsmanship is important, but so is competition. I'm proud that I can put in hours upon hours of testing and see that work be fruitful.
My predictions for this event were spot on and I'm proud of myself. I'm not gloating, or saying I'm better than everyone else who didn't come to those conclusions. I'm just happy for myself and find validation in that. Something I think everyone should do. Competition isn't a place for the thin-skinned. You have to accept the lows with the highs and learn to appreciate the journey.
You also can't be offended by someone finding happiness from their journey and accomplishments. Something I think many do, and that's a reason why I sometimes censor myself so I don't come off arrogant. I'm just not afraid of looking that way anymore to those who want to see it that way. I work hard at Magic, and even though I didn't get there this time, I will find a way to dunk on Jim Davis. Somehow, someway.
Next time, buddy!