Before I wax eloquent on how insanely lucky I get, I should probably start with something of an introduction. My name is Kevin Jones, I live in New York, and I play Magic on the SCG Tour®as a member of The Metagame Gurus, commonly known as Team MGG. I'm known for slightly above-average play, passionate obsessions with B+ cards like Mantis Rider and Delver of Secrets (in Modern), and giving myself the nickname The Daddy. My friends tell me I'm stubborn and should expand my range and play different decks more often. My mom tells me I'm great, so I don't see any reason to listen to the critics.
Anyway, those who know me even somewhat well know that I have a ton of difficulty showing up on time. This has hampered me in various ways, ranging from graduating college on the 5.5-year plan to having to battle through many IQs with a match loss for showing up to the event an hour late. This accurate, albeit slightly scathing, portrayal of oneself begs the question, “Why should I listen to this person at all?”
Well, to that I say, obviously you should listen to me because I'm great and win enough to sign playmats and get feature matches and stuff like that. But seriously, despite all my faults, Magic is one thing I do fairly well. I've managed nine SCG Open Top 8s and I've qualified for all three Players' Championships. I've also played in a couple of Pro Tours way back when PTQs were very different from what they are now. This seems to be a sufficient enough introduction, seeing as I have quite a story to recount to you, dear readers.
To accurately provide the context for what I'm about to tell you, I must first fill in some background. Since April I've been a member of Team MGG and we've been traveling to events on the SCG Tour®. We've enjoyed some success, and it's true that being a sponsored team does take away some of the stresses of the grind. Our managers and partners make it pretty easy for us; all we have to do is prepare, show up, and battle. Seems easy enough, right? Right. However, one necessary evil inherent to professional Magic playing is air travel.
The flights are generally short and relatively affordable compared to international travel, so it's not the worst and you get to see some pretty awesome cities you might not be too likely to travel to otherwise. But you actually have to get on the plane! This is the part where my struggles with being prompt have come back to bite me. My teammates and I were scheduled to leave New York and travel to the SCG Tour®stop in Dallas, Texas the last weekend in June. I missed the flight and it wasn't super-close either. I arrived to the airport very late and had been feeling the stress of constant travel and competitive Magic. I was ready to go home, but I had a conversation with Frank Pendl, one of our team managers, and after getting lucky enough to be rebooked on a direct flight at no additional charge, I decided to give it a shot. I had a responsibility to go to the Open to support my teammates and our brand.
My anxiety regarding air travel was flaring up and I wasn't too thrilled about getting on the plane, but I pushed ahead and did it because being part of a team means putting your own nonsense on the back burner and doing what you've got to do. I landed and got into the hotel around 1 AM. This was both good and bad. It was bad because I hadn't registered a decklist yet and the tournament was a mere nine hours away. It was good because Jim Davis, our team captain and travel mom, was very responsible and thus not awake to yell at me.
No teammates being awake (aside from Pete, who was in the hallway taking selfies) meant that I had nobody to bounce ideas off of. I was unsure what deck to play, as I had been struggling in the Modern format and really didn't like playing most of the decks. The one deck I did like was Ryan Overturf's Grixis Delver deck. He made the Top 8 in Indianapolis in May amidst all the Team MGG hype and his awesome list was largely forgotten about in the context of the event as a whole, but I had swiftly put it together to battle in my local Wednesday night Modern events. I had done pretty well with it locally and it was a lot of fun to play while still having a bunch of good matchups and only a few terrible ones.
So, despite my Delver deck being a sort of joke within the team, I didn't fly three hours to hate everything and play Infect, so I registered my Grixis list. This happened almost three months ago, so some of you might know how the story ends. I won the Open and it was the one finish that propelled me to a Top 3 slot on the leaderboard for SCG Tour®Season 2 and a third straight Players' Championship qualification.
I missed a flight and then spiked a tournament immediately afterwards. The story made for an awesome blog entry on our team site. It also was a great story to tell during the winner's interview and a great way to troll teammate Andrew Jessup, whom I beat in the finals. But this couldn't ever happen again, right? Who could possibly miss another flight after being so heinously lucky to have the last one they missed rebooked for free (and made into a direct flight on top of it)!?
Fast forward to Friday, September 15th. It's early morning, approximately 1 AM, and I'm a very tired Human. I set my phone alarm and settle down for a quick nap before I get up and head to the airport for a 7 AM flight to the Modern Open in Orlando, Florida. My bags are packed.
I had done well at an IQ the previous weekend with Grixis Delver (now with Young Pyromancer) and I felt great about the list. There was gas in the car and my suitcase was filled with pastel dad hats, shorts that stop above the knee, and boat shoes. I was heading to Florida and it was poised to be a great time, both magically and otherwise.
Then something weird happened.
I awoke with a start. I blinked at the bedside table and my laptop screen. The screen read 5:31 AM. LaGuardia airport is two hours from my apartment. I was super dead. I actually did it again. I was shaking my head in utter disbelief.
I called the airline. Our tickets were express deals, and part of their value was the fact that they're totally nonrefundable. These flights can't be rebooked, rescheduled, refunded, or missed. I called the third-party booking agency and got more of the same. I got in the car and drove the two hours to the airport anyway. I wanted to make good on my mistake but at the same time I knew I didn't intend for this to happen.
I called my manager and told him the price of a new ticket. He told me to stay home.
I got frustrated with myself and with my teammates who were busy preparing for an event and didn't care to entertain my problems, justifiably, of course. I made a sad, traffic-filled trek home on a Friday night and I wasn't sure what was going to happen next for me. I didn't know if my relationship with my teammates, who made their sacrifices to make flights on time, was damaged or just tenuous. I understood how bad this must look from their perspective and I wished I could get to that event and do my part, but alas, money is often tight for Magic grinders. Buying a ticket myself, just hours before the plane was scheduled to take off, was not a feasible option.
The Daddy was grounded.
I made a stop and got some food on my ride home. While I was eating I sent my old friend, Jeff, a message. Jeff is the manager of Toywiz, an awesome store in southern New York where a couple of known Magic players had humble beginnings. Some Toywiz alumni include me, SCGLive commentator and Team Cardhoarder Prime member Andrew Boswell, and Magic superstar and owner of great hair Reid Duke.
Besides being a great nostalgic part of my Magic past, Toywiz was running the final World Magic Cup Qualifier that weekend. Jeff responded that there was plenty of space left, and my brother and I made plans to go down Sunday and battle for America. I spent Saturday playing in a softball tournament and checking on my teammates' progress and felt myself growing excited for the WMCQ the next day.
It was weird watching an Open go on without me while I did normal stuff in my hometown. I think that contributed to my fire for this event. I was excited to play Grixis, since I felt like the deck was in a good spo,t and after missing my flight, I was actually surprised how intensely I desired to play Magic. Pretty soon I was enjoying the Round 1 bye you get at a WMCQ when you have an absurd amount of Planeswalker Points and my chance to battle had arrived.
This is what I registered:
Some notes on card choices and some of the more unintuitive applications of certain cards:
Collective Brutality: This card was an all-star and I am really trying to find room for a second copy. I rarely sideboarded it out and often left it in against decks where its uses were less readily apparent, because between shocklands and Painful Truths in the sideboard, you often deal yourself five to eight points of damage and the lifegain can be super-important.
Murderous Cut: There's something to be said regarding a threshold for delve spells, and I think with nine fetchlands and four Thought Scour, five is pretty close to the ceiling for reliability. That said, the first Cut is pretty much always better than the third Terminate. A pure fire of hatred burns inside of me for Master of Waves, seeing as I lose to Merfolk almost every time I play against it. This card also helps against Eidolon of the Great Revel and with double-spell turns against some of the more aggressive decks.
Any removal spell that costs one helps mitigate the cost of things like Mana Leak and Electrolyze, which, while clunky at times, are super-necessary to being able to beat the wide range of threats Modern presents. Because you deal yourself a lot of damage, it's worth noting that basic lands are often the correct lands to fetch. Basic lands can constrain your ability to cast two spells with colored mana in the same turn, especially when one is a spell with two colored symbols in its cost. Murderous Cut and Lightning Bolt is an easier turn than Terminate and Lightning Bolt, even when you're paying two to three mana for the Cut. The cheap spells make you less likely to have your unused mana be mana of an awkward color. You always want to leave two-color lands untapped because they can represent more things for your opponents to consider and it's important to be able to do that while also fetching basic Swamps when it is deemed necessary.
2 Electrolyze / 1 Kolaghan's Command: This split is a concession to Lingering Souls, both its presence in the metagame and its strength against Grixis Delver. Nineteen lands isn't a lot when you do have games that go long and the cantrip effect from Electrolyze helps you hit the crucial fourth and fifth land drops. Kolaghan's Command is a better card in Grixis, but I can't play less than two Electrolyze in this metagame. If you're practiced and careful, one Kolaghan's Command is really all you need to loop Snapcaster Mage and grind your opponent out.
Sideboard Card Choices
Painful Truths: This card makes up part of a grindy sideboard plan I've been employing. The other parts are Desolate Lighthouse and, to a lesser extent, Young Pyromancer. I bring them in against Jeskai, Grixis, Jund, Abzan, and Mardu. These cards greatly increase your ability to go long and remain relatively threat-dense while sideboarding Delver down or out when it's less likely to be effective. I trim or cut Delvers on the draw against midrange decks, especially ones with Lingering Souls.
Desolate Lighthouse: In addition to the aforementioned grindy matchups, I'm sideboarding this card in any time I feel like my mana is pressured and when it's important to loot away excess dead cards or lands in hope that you can close the game more quickly. Affinity and Infect are matchups where I don't like Young Pyromancer and consequently I'll shave on Gitaxian Probes against Affinity, so the extra land helps a lot. I usually keep Probes in against Infect, but they also tax your mana heavily and leaving mana untapped against them is a very strong play.
Kolaghan's Command: I'll sideboard this in anytime the artifact destruction is relevant as well as anytime when your opponent is heavy on removal and your most effective path to victory lies in Snapcaster loops. This card is still great, but the trend towards Path to Exile and away from Terminate means that you're marginally less likely to be able to get back Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which is often the best threat you have against midrange decks.
Surgical Extraction: This card is for Dredge and Goryo's Vengeance. There's a case to be made for Kitchen Finks and the rest of Abzan Company and Chord decks, but it's very important that you don't randomly sideboard this card in. Grixis Delver wins a lot of long games and it's often the case that you need all your cards. Surgical Extraction can be a dead card sometimes and that can be all the advantage they need to get past you. The games where your opponent has Lingering Souls or Snapcaster Mage are so dependent on card advantage and playing for the long game that I'm fairly certain sideboarding in Surgical as a “value play” is a trap. Also, your copies of Electrolyze, Izzet Staticaster, and to a lesser extent Engineered Explosives help beat Lingering Souls.
The actual tournament went very smoothly. I was fortunate enough not to face either of the two terrible matchups, Merfolk and Ad Nauseam, and I faced several close but good matchups, including Affinity, RG Scapeshift/Breach Titan, and GR Land Destruction.
I had a bye Round 1.
In the Swiss I played:
Affinity: W 2-1
R/G Land Destruction / Blood Moon: W 2-1
Grixis Goryo's Vengeance: W 2-0
Affinity: W 2-1
Affinity: W 2-0
RG Breach/Titan/Shift: W 2-0
Death's Shadow Zoo (Sam Black): ID
R/G Titan: ID
In the Top 8:
Evan Whitehouse, Mardu Control: W 2-1
Tom Strong, Jeskai Control: W 2-0
Sam Black, Death's Shadow Zoo: W 2-0
Some interesting notes from my matches:
- I beat triple Etched Champion from Affinity. The first two got blown up by an Engineered Explosives and the third got raced by a bunch of Delvers.
- I was very fortunate to beat a resolved Chalice of the Void from my Round 7 R/G Titan opponent (Marc Blesso, who also Top 8ed). I had no idea they played that card. My Affinity opponent in Round 2 also had one in Game 3, but I had Spell Snare.
- I won Game 1 of Round 8 against Sam Black and then accepted the draw when he offered. I knew a draw locked me for Top 8, so I think it was right. It's weird, though, because I could've offered before Game 3 even if I lost. Sam was 6-1 and I was 7-0, so it's likely I could've lost and drawn and still Top 8ed. Likely and guaranteed aren't the same thing, though. The equity of beating Sam Black and thus knocking him out when he's playing a perceived bad matchup has some amount of value. I have no idea how much, but it's interesting. This ended up being a really interesting part of my day, though I imagine, had I lost the finals, that it would be the one single thing that dominated the day when I thought back on it.
- I sideboarded in Painful Truths against Jeskai Control with Spell Queller. The card is for matchups like Jeskai, but the closing speed of Tom's deck was much faster than a normal Jeskai Control deck with Nahiri, the Harbinger. He had Vendilion Clique, Restoration Angel, Spell Queller, Snapcaster Mage, and burn. It's possible this is wrong to sideboard in. Either way, getting Painful Truths hit by Spell Queller is funny.
- I never cast Painful Truths with Desolate Lighthouse as one of my three lands, but I imagine that this is also funny. I could've and chose not to, partially because value is important to me and partially because I don't want my opponent to make fun of me.
- I played Sam Black in the finals. The way the bracket worked out, this happened specifically because I drew with him. I'm still unsure whether this was genius or stupidity or both. Or neither.
- In Game 2 of the finals, I had a tapped Tasigur, the Golden Fang and four mana. Sam was at five and he had four or five lands and a Monastery Swiftspear with a few cards in hand. When he attacked, I chose to cast Snapcaster before blocks and target the only card in my graveyard, Spell Snare. This induces Temur Battle Rage in response if he does have it. It also essentially forces the Mutagenic Growth or Become Immense in response to make the Battle Rage ferocious (I'm at nine life). He cast Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage with the Snapcaster trigger on the stack. I cast Terminate from my hand with my remaining two lands because I never had to spend the mana on Spell Snare, and he extended the hand.
This last play is bad if he has a counterspell (never showed me blue mana), Vines of Vastwood, or Apostle's Blessing. The last is the most likely of the three things. I think this play is correct because it ensures the game is ending. I can beat almost anything he could have (and everything he had shown me in three games over two rounds thus far), so why not ensure the game ends? He can never win if he lets the Spell Snare gain flashback, since I have lethal on the battlefield plus cards in hand and a blocker. It was a pretty interesting situation, and replaying it in my exhausted mind afterwards left me with conclusions everywhere from "Great play, you're great!” to “Doesn't matter much, he's probably dead either way” to “That's basically a slowroll.”
Bringing It All Back Home
After missing my flight again and seriously questioning my place on my team and in Magic in general, I took a ride to my old local store and now I'm qualified for the World Magic Cup. That's so lucky it's laughable. Some people who don't play Magic think it's all luck (or all skill) and I usually say, “It's both luck and skill, but you've got to control as much as you can and set yourself up to get lucky.”
These people generally look at me funny, but the sentiment remains. I could no longer control the fact that my airplane was in Florida with my teammates amidst palm trees and theme parks without me, but I was able to channel my strange and misplaced anger and frustration into positive energy, and now I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Things have a funny way of working out.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope to do America proud. Maybe I'll get to do this again sometime. Until then, take care!