The following was written before the #SCGINVI. The follow-up piece will come later this week.
So here we are. Somehow, someway I have a chance to qualify for my third Players' Championship in a row. It's an honor I don't take lightly, and I have invested my all into for the past few weeks. Just one more good finish is all I have to put up. That's all I need. That, and the tools to get me there.
- 1 Noxious Gearhulk
- 2 Pilgrim's Eye
- 4 Grim Flayer
- 3 Mindwrack Demon
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 3 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
This isn't even a decision at this point. This deck carried me to my Open win that even got me into a position to actually make it to the Players' Championship. Not only that, but over 50% of my losses are to the mirror, which includes many face-offs against Aetherworks Marvel decks on Magic Online. I have no clue how prominent that deck will be this weekend, but my worst matchup feels close to a 50-50. That's not a bad place to be.
The fear of Aetherworks makes me think that an equivalent amount of Torrential Gearhulk decks will show up as an answer to this potential threat. There may even end up being more control decks than Aetherworks Marvel decks in the event when everything's said and done. There's obviously a fear that Aetherworks shows up in unprecedented numbers like it did at the Pro Tour, but I'm not going to let paranoia dictate my decision. I know this deck, and have faith in its powers.
When did I become such a one-trick pony? A few years back, you would find me with a different deck week in and week out. Now I'm playing the same decks over and over again. Part of that is because I've transitioned away from trying to break metagames and toward trying to master the best ones. It's easy to get behind just playing the best cards in Standard, but it gets a little murkier in Modern.
Death's Shadow has yet to give me results that jump out as an obvious choice for me, but I don't know how much of that is the deck or the format. Modern's obviously a high-variance format, not only in lopsided matchups but also in what ten cards are on the top of your deck. With so much unpredictability, it's hard for me to truly know if I should respect my weak past results with the deck or go with my gut.
I truly think this deck is great and also well-positioned right now. The format has gravitated away from Path to Exile and back to Lightning Bolt. Bant Eldrazi, Abzan, and Burn all seem to be played in lower numbers, leaving decks like Grixis Delver and Jund as the most-played bad matchups. Jund isn't even that bad, but simply not a deck I'm excited to play against. Dredge, Infect, Tron, and Scapeshift all seem to be popular right now, and they're all matchups I want to play against.
I also know this deck really well. I've played it in three live events and countless MTGO Leagues at this point. I'm comfortable with most decisions and trust myself to make the right plays when they are difficult. I know the deck has a fail rate, but what deck doesn't?
Wednesday, November 30th
As you read this, you know the results. I'm either in the Players' Championship or not. Currently, though, I don't. I'm just sitting here at home with two finalized decks, waiting patiently to head into the Star City Games® offices to record a Versus Video with Todd Anderson. Today we're playing Modern Grixis Control against Death's Shadow. One deck we picked for current popularity; the other, for familiarity. I've been playing my trusty Death's Shadows for some time now and think the matchup is an interesting one.
Part of me doesn't want Todd to see the 75 I plan on playing during the Modern portion of the #SCGINVI, but at the same time think it will be the best choice for a good video. You might be surprised at my attempt to be so secretive about the decks I'm playing when it's probably obvious anyway…and, on top of that, to actually be secretive with one of my best friends and previous Players' Championship comrades.
That's what the race for the Players' Championship has done to me.
Right now I'm holding on by a thread in third place for the Season Three race. Right on my tail is Todd, who can easily pass me by with a decent finish. Now we both could end up in second and third if we surpass Ted Felicetti, but the risk for that scenario lands on me and not Todd. Right now, he is the one with nothing to lose, while I could lose everything.
Being in this position didn't come easily. I never thought I had a shot to make it this year after my soul-crushing loss to Jadine Klomparens in the semifinals of the previous Invitational. That was my best chance to take back what was once mine, but I accepted it was not to be after losing that match. I wouldn't be able to play every event throughout the season due to the Pro circuit, which meant my lead in SCG Points would dwindle as the weeks went by. Logic would tell me it's better to just let it go, but something deep inside couldn't. I was once again on the SCG Tour® grind.
Weekend after weekend I put up middling results while others that had already jumped me in the race began padding their lead. By the time Columbus rolled around I was ready to throw in the towel, but my loving girlfriend Amber told me to finish what I started. I did exactly that, and somehow took down one of those two Opens. In one fell swoop I catapulted back into the lead.
Thursday, December 1st
Another hotel room. The drive to Atlanta was an enjoyable one. My friends Eric and Charissa Hymel joined my lovely girlfriend and me on the journey. It's been a while since the four of us got to go on a double-couple weekend road trip, but we had to make sure to get at least one more in before they eventually move away from Roanoke in a couple of months.
I don't like it when I lose games of Magic, or when I lose close friends to a move. A few weeks ago I had nothing to lose. Now, only after winning something, can I lose something else. It may seem like I should still be on a “winner's high," but I know better. There is no true momentum between Magic tournaments. If you do well, it's because of your preparation. Finding success does not just all of a sudden lessen the amount of future preparation needed to continue the trend. Success isn't along the path of preparation, but the result of it.
I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, but I can tell you that I'm nervous. Not about my preparation being flawed or that I think I'll do badly, but for the first time in the longest time, I'm scared of losing something. I know I'll just do my best, and that I have the capability for a great finish. I even know they are more scared of me than I am of them, but it's tough to stay rational when you think you can lose something.
Friday, December 2nd
I'm unraveling. I can't tell you the last time I was this nervous about a Magic tournament. I just took my second loss in Round 6. It was to Burn, which is one of my worst matchups, but this match looked like it was going to be in my favor. In Game 3 I could have drawn a second land to win on turn 2, but I didn't.
I have to win one of my next two matches to make Day 2, or it's probably all over. Ted Felicetti's already been eliminated from the event, but Jacob Baugh is potentially going on a run. This means I need to jump Ted with a Top 64 finish to give myself some padding. Both of my losses were rough to take, and Modern is a fickle beast.
I'm scared I'll just lose these next two rounds and my run will be over. Scratch that, I'm petrified. I'm mad at myself for not being the centered soldier I tend to present myself as, but I just can't help it. I just hope my next opponent mulligans to four both games, or this big man might have a panic attack.
“You're on Abzan? Of course you're on Abzan! You know it wasn't enough that I had to skip so many events this season, or that I didn't have any byes! No, I have to constantly play bad matchups too!”
I win, and with it I can breathe once again. It's crazy how much stress the mind can put on the body, just to have it wash all away in a split moment. The uncontrollable fear of an embarrassing faceplant is prolonged. Maybe just for the day, but that's good enough for now. Two rounds stretch into nine as my quest for qualification continues.
Saturday, December 3rd
The day was long and stressful, but I did it. I actually did it. I knew it was a long shot, but I couldn't stop myself from buying those candy bars and trying regardless. Miraculously, at the last minute, I found the golden ticket. With an 11-5 finish I'm in the Top 32, which is good enough to lock up my spot. Words can't describe the feeling I have right now, but I'll continue writing some anyway!
The day was tough. I had some good luck at the beginning of the day to find myself in a position where I might actually make Top 8! Joe Bernal shut that door in Round 14 when his deck refused to give him anything but the nuts, but in all honesty I'm not complaining. You win some, you lose some, and then you win one more and qualify for the Players' Championships. That's how the saying goes, right?
My accomplishment feels bittersweet, though. Todd missed. He fought all year to find himself outside looking in for both the Season Three and the yearly standings races. I don't know what that feels like, but it has to be soul-crushing. He's holding it together fairly well, but I always know when he's hanging on by a thread. That's exactly it, though. His chances are technically not over, which is why I think he still has that glimmer of hope in his eye.
His season-long competitor has just turned into his saving grace. Jacob Baugh can now win the whole tournament, which opens up his Season Three slot to fall in Todd's lap. Jacob's fate is now in Todd's hands.
Sunday, December 4th
I'm about to leave Atlanta with the golden ticket I came here for. My journey to acquire it may have been brisk compared to other qualified participants, but the level of commitment I invested both emotionally and physically was extensive during this journey. Knowing the Players' Championship is coming to an end even amplified my desire to be a part of this event in these past few weeks. Still, something doesn't feel right.
It sucked two years ago when I made it while Todd didn't, and it sucks today. I was blinded by competition last week when I didn't even want Todd to know what I was playing, but now I can't get over the fact that it feels like I took his spot. Now, I know nobody deserves anything, but part of me thinks he does. I worked hard for a season, while he grinded out the year. It just won't feel right being in this event with him on the sidelines once again. I really hope Jacob Baugh wins this whole thing. I almost want it as badly as Todd needs it. I don't want to lose my friend as a testing partner, or Todd to lose his fire for the game.
Before I go home, it's hard to not think about the deepest truth about tournaments. They are designed to create losers. The coverage showcases the winners and the glamorous moments, but that spotlight is surrounded by loss, soul-shattering loss. Many others were in the race for the Players' Championships but came up short. That sucked for them, and they no longer will be brought up. Todd's name will, however, because today he has a second chance. Many see it as advertised, which is an opportunity to make it to the Players' Championships. I see it as a second chance to feel loss on the weekend, and that really sucks.
When you think Players' Champion, you think Jim Davis. You don't remember that I was 7-0 before I picked up one loss and was done. I do, though. All I remember is losing, something I'll try my hardest not to do again. I might have my testing partner Todd by my side, but odds are I won't. I don't know what will happen in two weeks, but one thing is for sure: emotions will be high. One way or another, this is going to be one hell of a tournament.
Monday, December 5th
A phrase I'll hopefully be saying again in two weeks.