This article is probably going to be a little weird, since I'm talking about how I prepared for a tournament that is unlike anything most people will ever play in. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the Magic Online Championship earlier this year, so I've got a little practice.
The MOCS was interesting because it was my first time playing in a tournament like it, but also because I had little to no data on several of the players in the field. The #SCGPC is the exact opposite (although there are a few exceptions). With some players battling exclusively Limited (or on multiple accounts, who knows), it was tough to get a read on the field. Luckily for me, some of those wild cards didn't even show up to the MOCS (which is a story for a different day and involves a hoodie with "Return to Kamigama" emblazoned on it; ask me for that story next time you see me).
Most of the people reading this article probably think they have a good idea of what the players in the #SCGPC are going to play, thanks to them grinding it out all year in Constructed tournaments that are broadcast live and forever enshrined on the internet. And you're probably pretty close.
One of the general mistakes I think people make is trying to over-metagame or assume they are a bigger target for the other competitors than they actually are. For example, if you're Joe Lossett, you should just play Miracles. Very few other people are going to play it, and it's highly unlikely they have to play against you in Legacy anyway. It's acceptable to dance with the one who brought you.
Here are my hard reads. (The players aren't listed in any particular order. Or are they?)
Before we get into it, I'd like to note that I didn't work with anyone. My head hasn't been in the game lately (as in, I find it difficult to care about whether I win or lose, not "I don't care about Magic") so I didn't feel right playtesting with a fellow competitor. It felt disingenuous because I'm likely dead money.
Despite actively trying to not get any tidbits of information, I had to continually yell at Tom Ross when he would get too close to mentioning things about his decks. I never thought I would say this, but he talks too damn much.
Tom's next Invitational token.
It's possible that it was all a ruse, and borrowing those Chandras and Ishkanahs from me meant that now he knew I wasn't playing Marvel (which could be false! I have several copies of both! Mwahaha!), but I highly doubt that's the case. Fishing for information like that is kinda scummy, and therefore out of Tom's wheelhouse, but he'd also be wasting it on the wrong dude. After all, I'm not the threat in this tournament.
I played zero games in between Grand Prix Denver and now (which will probably bite me in Standard) and feel like this tournament is mine to lose. Obviously the defeatist mentality going in is likely going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know myself well enough to say with some authority that my feelings are simply a defense mechanism in case I do fail. That being said, I did think about the tournament a lot and even had my decks picked out well in advance. Considering some of the competitors have been posting on social media about it being crunch time and them not knowing exactly what to play, I feel pretty good about that aspect.
In reality, I should probably be treating this tournament with a tad more respect, but I find it difficult to care these days. For someone who is typically very competitive, this is an eerie feeling, and one I hope I can shake quickly.
All that said, I think my decks are all gas. In another timeline, I might actually win this thing.
At the #SCGPC, Standard is going to be full of Aetherworks Marvel decks. It blew up recently, and I fully expect many, if not most, of the players to be playing it. If not, they are going to be packing something that beats it. B/G Delirium, due to its horrible Marvel matchup, will likely not be in attendance.
That means that the other half of the field is probably going to be on white-based aggressive decks. You can't really innovate in this field.
The two ways to combat the W/X and Marvel metagame that I could think of were:
1) Build a W/X deck that dominates mirrors.
2) Build a deck that has pressure, counterspells, and loads of removal.
The Mardu Vehicles plan of sideboarding into a control deck against pseudo-mirrors is fine and having Ceremonious Rejection in your sideboard is fine, but as BryanG put it, "You're playing a lot of 40% Game 1s, but you have the best sideboard in Standard."
Obviously I could have asked my teammate Matt Severa how he felt, but I forgot I had a team. Yeah, I'm still getting used to it.
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 3 Inventor's Apprentice
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- 3 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
In addition to what I think other people are going to play, I need to be concerned about what other players think I'm going to play, and particularly what the field is going to look like as a whole. In my mind, Standard seems easy to predict because there's not a good way to break the paradigm. However, if that weren't the case, it's a fine line between breaking the format for this one tournament and thinking you broke the format, only to realize your deck is super-weak to splash damage.
My three options all kept that in mind.
The first option was U/R Emerge.
Raphael Levy debuted the deck at Pro Tour Kaladesh, and given all the work Michael Majors and I put into various Emerge archetypes, I was pretty upset that we didn't even consider a deck like that. While I don't think the deck was particularly good, it had a clock, a bunch of removal, and the potential to play counterspells maindeck if it wanted. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was probably enemy #1, so having Negate against the beatdown decks wasn't the worst idea.
Having a clock was important because the Aetherworks decks will eventually start casting Emrakul, the Promised End. I'm not about to play maindeck Summary Dismissal to trump that, so that meant I had to kill my opponents in a timely manner. Stitchwing Skaab ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.
The version from Grand Prix Denver, with its maindeck Fevered Visions, is certainly interesting.
Either way, I'm kind of sick of trying to make Stitchwing Skaab or Haunted Dead work. It's typically not as powerful as actually casting real cards. There is a possibility that I could build U/R Emerge to hose this specific field and look like a genius, but I didn't want to take the risk. I've been burned enough times at this point.
“What are you trying to say?”
Naturally, my second option was a deck with Haunted Dead. I don't have an exact list because I never made it that far, but I was going to work off decks that I was building for Pro Tour Kaladesh. I wanted to try B/U Zombies because, again, the deck had a bunch of removal, a clock, and blue mana for counterspells.
Realistically, Zombies is probably underpowered, the removal is not great, and maindecking counterspells is probably wrong when the top of your curve is high. Michael Jacob even yelled at me on Twitter for considering playing a deck that didn't have Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Emrakul, the Promised End, and he's not wrong. I think he puts a little too much stock into always playing the "best" cards or looking for free wins, but you can't get it very wrong with that strategy.
Fine, MJ. I'll do it your way.
(But I'm only playing one of those cards in my sideboard.)
There is going to be at least one Tron deck and then a whole lotta creature decks. Maybe Jund shows up, and maybe it's completely absent. It all depends on how confident Tenjum, Brad, and Todd are that they can metagame in Modern. If Modern looks like a giant question mark, it might be time to Jund it up.
Hell, I could even see Hoogland playing something like Jund if he thinks his Kiki Chord deck isn't very good against things like Infect, Delver, Dredge, and Death's Shadow. More likely than not, he'll stick with Kiki Chord, but his deck size will increase to fit in the extra bullets he needs against those matchups.
With Tenjum and Jacob Baugh working together (I mean, I assume), I could see a world where Tenjum ends up on Dredge. How scared will those two be that their deck is easily hated out, though? This is certainly one of those tournaments where a bunch of Leyline of the Voids could mess up Grixis Delver and Dredge pretty badly. In that case, Jund could be the way to go.
Then again, there are very few artifact decks in this field, so I wouldn't be surprised to see people shaving on Affinity/Lantern hate. If someone puts in the hours to master either of those decks (I would post a wink here, but I did mention just a little bit ago how I didn't do any playtesting, so...), they'd probably have a field day.
Maybe Todd Stevens and his W/R Prison pet have everyone worked up and they show up with Disenchants anyway. I seriously altered my deck, not significantly, but significantly enough that it could definitely screw me, just because of Todd Stevens. I don't even think he'll play the deck, but I refuse to be kold!
[I check the clock and realize it's past the deadline to submit or change decklists.]
Man, I'm stupid.
Anyway, if you look at my perceived metagame, it should be pretty easy to figure out which deck is underrepresented while also appearing to have a huge edge over the field. Maybe I won't be the only person playing it. But did I go super-deep and plan for the mirror match?
Man, I really am stupid.
This might be where the biggest edge is, but this is probably where the murkiest waters are.
Last year, we saw Death and Taxes (and Merfolk) kick the crap out of everyone. It was glorious. Obviously it's difficult to get that romantic notion of crushing everyone with a beautiful metagame choice out of my head. I have to keep reminding myself that it's trap.
My spreadsheet is, at best, a bunch of guesses, especially for Legacy. Is Brad Carpenter going to play Eldrazi? Hell if I know, but it's the only thing I've seen him play. It's all I've got to go on.
As I mentioned earlier, if you've got that experience to go on, you should probably do that, especially in Legacy.
I'm playing a deck I'm comfortable with, which shouldn't surprise anyone. But man oh man, how I wanted to show up with something like B/G Dark Depths after practicing for ages and just annihilate everyone. RIP, my poor ole Bucket List.
Rather than go too far down the rabbit hole, I stuck to old reliable. After having to show my work, I'm disappointed in myself.
I made my brisk jog and got to the Players' Championship. My decks are set and I think they're great. Despite that, I'm thinking I might get crushed. Given how hard I pushed in the beginning of the year to qualify, you'd think I would take this tournament a little more seriously. The odd thing is, winning the Players' Championship was never my goal; making it was. Obviously that should be able to change, but it didn't and it's a little too late now!
If I need to have a realistic goal, it's that I want to outplay Kevin Jones in a blue mirror on camera. That one seems more realistic than outright winning the tournament. I'll probably be out of the tournament after the next round, but it'll all be worth it. Hell, maybe The Daddy will teach me a thing or two.
Eh, wish me luck anyway?