Only one tournament left on the year. The Invitational.
It all comes down to this.
If you've been following my work throughout the year, then you probably know that I started the year, my first full year playing paper Magic tournaments, with the goal of making my first StarCityGames.com® Players' Championship. I'm one of only three people, with Caleb Scherer and Robert Wright being the other two, to go to every SCG Tour®event this year, and after a strong Season Two my prospects of playing in the Players' Championship were bright, but the last couple of months have been filled with ups and downs.
The Modern Open at #SCGCOL in particular was heartbreaking. I started 8-1 with Sun and Moon and the best part was I hadn't even faced any of my really good matchups yet. But everything that could go wrong on Day 2 did, as I started with four straight losses, including two in a row to Affinity. Affinity! I haven't lost to that deck much with anything I play, but with Sun and Moon it's particularly hard to lose that matchup.
Todd Anderson and Jacob Baugh had all but caught up to me on the SCG Tour®Leaderboard, after finishing in the Top 8 and Top 16 respectively, and I was again left with little to show for the good Day 1 start. At that point there had been five total Standard and Modern Opens in Season Three, and I started 8-1 in three of them and 7-2 in the other two, but I didn't pick up more than three wins during any Day 2. This one was supposed to be different, though! I was playing Sun and Moon, a deck I knew inside and out and am so confidant with.
Things weren't different, though, and I was heading into #SCGKNOX with as much on the line as anyone else. You may have noticed that I didn't write an article last week, and that's because, besides having a busy week at work leading up to Thanksgiving break, I needed to be practicing during any free time that I had, as I wasn't comfortable with the Standard format leading up to the tourney. I had four weeknights to prepare, so let's take a look at how that went for me and what I learned about “cramming” for a tournament.
I played B/G Delirium at the #SCGBALT Standard Classic after not making Day 2 of the Legacy portion and had a respectable 5-3 record, but two of my losses were to W/R Vehicles, which was supposed to be a good matchup. I didn't end up playing against any W/U Flash decks, and with how dominant W/U Flash was in the Classics leading up to #SCGKNOX, I needed to know that matchup inside and out. I asked Mike Villavicencio, a friend of mine and local player in the DFW area, to help me test the matchup and we played around ten matches on Magic Online.
Most of the games were relatively close, with the person on the play seeming to have the edge. From the B/G side, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was the only card that I was worried about, and having a discard spell for him seemed like the best answer, which led to me adding a Transgress the Mind and a Pick the Brain even to the maindeck. Mindwrack Demon was surprisingly good at pressuring Gideon when on the play, leaving me to overvalue the large flyer.
The other three nights I streamed while testing in Magic Online Leagues, starting with playing B/G Delirium to a mediocre 3-2 finish. I didn't feel like there was anything wrong with the deck; it just wasn't exciting and wasn't exactly what I wanted to be playing. I'm usually not a fan of playing the deck that's on everyone's radar, so I wanted to try something else. I still had a couple more nights, and the matches with B/G Delirium take so long on Magic Online that they aren't exactly efficient, so I decided to try out one of Michael Majors's brews.
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 2 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 2 Whirler Virtuoso
I've been an advocate for Tamiyo, Field Researcher since the dawn of the format, and being able to play her alongside a quality removal spell like Harnessed Lightning was enticing. So I fired up a League, and the result? 5-0, including two wins over B/G Delirium and one over W/U Flash.
I was excited. Did I find my deck for #SCGKNOX? I wanted to play something that other people wouldn't be used to playing against; maybe this was it. I joined one last League for the night, and after a very close loss to B/G Delirium I was thoroughly demolished twice by G/R Aetherworks, the first time I had the pleasure playing against it. After sleeping on it, I decided that with such a bad Marvel matchup, as well as a poor manabase that would struggle to beat W/R Vehicles, it was time to shelve the deck and focus elsewhere.
Well, I just got destroyed two games in a row by G/R Aetherworks, and I had been hearing some good things about the deck on social media, so I decided to give it a chance.
The major pull to this deck for me was being able to play Chandra, Torch of Defiance along with Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Everyone is probably aware by now how good Ishkanah, Grafwidow is and I think Chandra is one of the most underrated cards currently in the format, so I was ready to go with the new deck that I would play at #SCGKNOX.
I played two Leagues with the deck, and if I remember right, I faced six W/U Flash decks and lost to five of them, not a promising outcome leading into a tournament that I knew would feature plenty of W/U Flash. The three Tears of Valakut were particularly disappointing, as my opponents always had a Spell Queller for it or more often a Selfless Spirit on the battlefield that was able to protect the Spell Queller or Archangel Avacyn that I wanted to kill. With so much on the line, I couldn't imagine playing a deck that was so vulnerable to one of the two major archetypes, so I put G/R Aetherworks aside.
Last night, no more options, back on B/G Delirium. I locked myself in and didn't question it. I was going to play one of the best decks and I had one more night to practice. I was only able to finish two Leagues (as I said, the games can take quite a while) and went 3-2 and 4-1, so finished on somewhat of a high note. The problem was all three of my losses were to W/U Flash, and although I was very comfortable with the mirror, I was equally as uncomfortable with the other important matchup. I had a twelve-hour drive ahead of me on Friday to come up with the best plan for W/U Flash.
This was the first time I felt like I was “cramming” for a Magic tournament. I wanted to be prepared as possible but the time was extremely limiting, especially considering most of the testing was done during Leagues that weren't exactly quick games. Day 1, I knew what deck I wanted to be playing and spent the night testing with it and a specific matchup, and that was the best testing I did during the week. I knew at the time I should probably just stick to the one deck and hammer it home as many games as I could fit in, but the allure of trying something off the beaten path took valuable testing time away from me. There's nothing wrong with trying out new decks when you have time, but when that resource is scarce the best thing to do is to learn the most about one deck that you can. This will be my sole focus the next time I have to quickly prepare for a tournament.
Here is the list I registered, which isn't for the faint of heart.
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 1 Mindwrack Demon
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
The main thing I learned when playing Four-Color Energy is that Skysovereign, Consul Flagship completely overperformed, especially against W/U Flash. I wanted to play a version of B/G that could take advantage of this, and I decided to register the Verdurous Gearhulk version of B/G Delirium, a la Eric Froehlich. The goal was to be able to have early threats that could get ahead of or go bigger than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which was the case.
The problem was this deck was much worse in the mirror match than I expected, as fighting Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Emrakul, the Promised End with five-drops is not a winning proposition. Noxious Gearhulk was particularly hard to beat, and almost all B/G Delirium decks are playing two in the 75 these days. I didn't have many cards to sideboard in against either of the big two decks, which allowed me to shore up both the W/R Vehicles and the G/R Aetherworks matchups, but unfortunately I didn't get to play against either of those two decks.
I ended up making Day 2 of the Open at 6-3, but I wasn't exactly comfortable with the deck heading into Day 2. Todd Anderson and Jacob Baugh didn't make Day 2 and would be playing Classics, and I felt I could better keep pace with them by joining the Modern Classic with Sun and Moon.
If you're interested in reading more about Sun and Moon, check out the guide I wrote here.
I played 74/75 of the list I registered for the Modern Open the week before, with the only change adding a Wrath of God back into the sideboard over the Oblivion Ring that I replaced with it. After losing to Affinity twice and Bant Eldrazi once on Day 2, I missed having the third hard sweeper in the sideboard.
I hadn't had a good Day 2 all season. Caleb Scherer and Todd Anderson were winning round after round on Sunday. Jacob Baugh started with a loss and a draw but was rattling off a couple of wins in a row in the small Legacy Classic. I'm not one that usually worries about pressure or results, but I was certainly feeling it this time. After picking up a loss in Round 2 to Skred Red, which is an awful matchup for Sun and Moon, I resigned myself to just trying to finish the day out strongly and make up the ground at the Invitational.
I played nine more rounds and I never saw my second defeat, walking away with the first piece of hardware of my young Magic career.
The win at the Classic allows me to control my own destiny at the Invitational, essentially needing a Top 64 finish to lock up a Players' Championship invite.
I have my sights set much higher than Top 64.