$50,000. Sixteen Players. Three Formats. Two days. One Champion.
This past weekend was the Players' Championship. It's a tournament that rewards playing the decks you know very well. It also rewards you for playing something unexpected. Most importantly, it rewards you for playing a deck that attacks a deck that has favorable matchups across the expected field of fifteen opponents.
I had to figure out the perfect 225 to bring to the table.
I knew that Infect would be a poor choice. Grixis Delver would be everywhere. Jeff Hoogland might bring Mono-Red Sneak Attack. Everyone knew that I, Max McVety, and several others favored Infect as a Legacy deck. It would be heavily prepared for.
Lands seemed to have some good matchups. Grixis Delver is close, but overall favorable. Some people like Brad Carpenter had been known to play Colorless Eldrazi and I knew Lands is a good matchup there. Elves could make an appearance, as well as some opposing Infect decks. Seemed like a good time to be casting Punishing Fire.
I got some advice from Lands master Jody Keith. After an hour of talking on the phone, I had enough technical play and sideboarding tips that I felt like I could navigate my way through the expected metagame fairly well, albeit never having played an actual game.
The Ancient Tomb was originally Gerry Thompson's idea that Jody has been putting into practice lately to good results. In combination with Crop Rotation, it's a way to cast your Chalice of the Void or Sphere of Resistance on turn 1 without a Mox Diamond. Also, Tireless Tracker looks really good if it can be cast off only two lands, often before you play a land for the turn. These key interactions, along with the ability to sneak in a Thespian's Stage activation a turn earlier or even unexpectedly with Crop Rotation had me sold.
The first pod round was Legacy. I played the following people, in order:
Andrew Jessup - Elves
Gerry Thompson - Grixis Control
Jacob Baugh - Lands
The gameplan versus Elves can go one of three ways:
- Kill everything with Punishing Fire.
- Get them good Crop Rotating for The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.
- Make a 20/20 Marit Lage token quickly.
It usually takes me a while to get going and the first match of the day tends to be where I'm not quite on my game yet. Thankfully, it's against Elves, where I have a little margin for error. I think I forgot that Crop Rotating for Tabernacle was a thing and focused in Game 1 on Punishing Fire when it was too slow. I lost a game there that I think I could've won. Games 2 and 3 involved some disruption from Andrew but an unstoppable 20/20 nonetheless.
Next up was Gerry Thompson. I lost a tight one Game 1 when I couldn't attack with Marit Lage because he's at 21 life from Grove of the Burnwillows. During sideboarding, I'm not sure of the numbers of Chalice of the Void, Sphere of Resistance, and Tireless Tracker I should have. I know that I should have some Tireless Trackers so I don't get beaten straight up by Surgical Extraction and Ensnaring Bridge. I sprinkle a few of the above cards in, along with a Krosan Grip to Gamble for if needed.
In the next two games, the raw power of Lands pulls through. The 20/20 is good enough when Wasteland doesn't show up in time for Gerry either game.
Going into the third round, I didn't expect for another player to be on Lands, but there was Jacob Baugh as my opponent. Jody told me that the most important things in the matchup are the enchantments (Manabond, Exploration) followed by Life from the Loam. Assembling Thespian's Stage and Dark Depths is too tough when both players have four Wastelands, four Ghost Quarters, and three Maze of Ith.
Game 1, I keep a hand with a bunch of Explorations but not much action. I ended up dying with a bunch of Grove of the Burnwillows and Taigas on the battlefield and not enough Ghost Quarters and Wastelands to get through a huge stack that left Jacob a window to make Marit Laige.
I liked my Legacy deck choice here. The mirror obviously favors the more experienced player, but is closer to a coin flip among relative newcomers like me and Jacob. I don't think I did anything wrong, but there could be things I'm not aware enough to notice.
I finish the pod at 2-1 and in third place after tiebreakers. This means I have to play a round of Modern to see where I'm seeded next.
Modern seemed like the most important format for the Players' Championship and the one I spent the most time on developing my deck. I was on a hot streak in Modern at the end of Season Three, which left me with a good understanding of the format and a wide range of decks I could choose to play.
It was going to be from 8-Rack, Soul Sisters, Dredge, Infect, Mono-Green Tron, and G/W Tron, all of which I felt were perfectly acceptable choices for the tournament.
This is the list I was practicing with and tuning before taking a step back in favor of G/W Tron:
I played this at SCG Modern Game Night a week before Players' Championship decklists were due. This was an extreme take on idea I wanted to try out. First, I didn't like World Breaker or Wurmcoil Engine very much. Next, I really liked basic Forest and really disliked Razorverge Thicket. Also, I wanted to explore exactly how good Hangarback Walker is in the deck. Finally, I had to get Gemstone Caverns in my deck and felt like the card belonged in Tron all along.
Hangarback Walker can gum up some aggressive draws while being something that triggers Sanctum of Ugin. Gemstone Caverns is excellent on the draw and passable if drawn later in the game. It can produce great draws, including turn 3 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or popping an Oblivion Stone instantly.
I had Warping Wail, where Majors's list has Spatial Contortion. Both are worse than Path to Exile but of course don't require playing another color. Over the course of a bunch of solitaire and real games, I got a feel of how much I really needed white mana to support a few white spells. I knew I wanted that Gemstone Caverns and probably the Horizon Canopy anyway. A single Razorverge Thicket along with a Talisman of Unity felt like enough.
The Talisman is another way to get eight mana by turn 3 while providing a little bit of fixing. Once Path to Exile entered the deck, Talisman of Unity gained more value, since there's a spell that you can cast that interacts after you've accelerated your mana. It's obviously not great with Oblivion Stone, but in this build of G/W Tron I'm only playing two and going up to three Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
I actually wanted more hate against Dredge but was comfortable with three Relic of Progenitus in the maindeck and just one Ravenous Trap and one Rest in Peace to help in the sideboard. My secret path to increasing my odds against Dredge was speed. Gemstone Caverns and Talisman of Unity sped the deck up to where I felt I could get Ugin, the Spirit Dragon down in time to be relevant. I only ended up playing against Dredge once, but it sure was relevant.
I played four rounds of Modern in the tournament. I played Jacob Baugh for seeding into the Modern pod. I was on the draw and also played my Gemstone Caverns before he scryed, letting him know I had some pregame action. I joke about Leyline of the Void for a bit before we eventually begin.
He unsurprisingly was on Dredge. My hand was Gemstone Caverns on the draw with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to go on turn three. His draw was really bad and included no creatures, so a turn 3 Wurmcoil Engine was cast instead. The turn 4 Ugin prompted the concession.
The second game, he continued to mulligan and I showed up with a bunch of Relic of Progenitus, just as I drew it up, and thus far I'm happy to have registered G/W Tron.
My Modern pod had to be one of the toughest possible for me and my deck. Again, in the order that I faced my opponents:
Joe Lossett - G/B Tron
I don't think that Death's Shadow is as bad as it appears for G/W Tron. Path to Exile is the best card to have against them, especially when they have no basic lands in their deck. Blessed Alliance out of the sideboard helps. You can even make them gain life sometimes to kill Death's Shadow.
Game 1 against Todd, I aggressively attacked his land with Ghost Quarter. He missed a couple of land drops while cantripping with Mishra's Bauble and Street Wraith. Eventually he did find lands. I ended up losing a turn before I could get Tron online because I took a turn off using that Ghost Quarter. Game 2, I had some Path to Exiles into a quick Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Game 3 was close, where I attacked his lands again. He missed his land drop. Eventually it's a sweat to draw a land to combo kill, and he does before I can drop a big thing.
The match ended quickly, even though it was three games, so I had half an hour before playing Brad. I sat down and stared at the decklists to figure out the optimal sideboard plan.
Game 1 against Brad, I kept the ugliest keepable hand imaginable on the play against Death's Shadow.
I looked at the hand for a while and felt like it'd be a great six-card hand without an Ulamog and a great five card-hand with neither. It didn't have anything good to cast and no interaction, but it had a plan. It was good against Thoughtseize and was capable of having a turn 4 Ulamog if things went perfectly. It took a while to find the last Tron piece, but it eventually showed up about ten cards deep (and looked very lucky when I drew it).Tron players are always the luckiest.
Game 2, I mulliganed a bit and got my hand stripped pretty badly. I had some Path to Exile and Blessed Alliance to work with, but it wasn't enough. Game 3, Brad ended up flooding a bit while I flooded as well. Thankfully, me flooding isn't the worst and eventually I had double removal spells ready to go while I waited for something to do. Thragtusk showed up and ended up being enough.
The final Modern match would be against Joe Lossett on G/B Tron. If I win this match, I could be anywhere from first to third seed. If I lose, I could be dead last. I feel like my build is favored with Path to Exile over Collective Brutality.
In the opener, Joe won the die roll and had a turn 3 Karn Liberated that I couldn't overcome. Game 2 was back-and-forth until he landed an uncontested Karn Liberated. I attacked it with Eldrazi Spawn made from Warping Wail and a Beast token from Thragtusk a bit before it got out of control. Joe ultimated Karn Liberated to restart the game with these permanents on the battlefield:
I keep a hand with a white source and Path to Exile in the restarted game, but oddly enough, it was too slow.
I finished the pod at 1-2 and fourth place on tiebreakers, leaving me without a chance to play Standard for a bye on Day 2. I finished Day 1 3-3 in pod play and 4-3 overall, the tenth seed for Standard the next day. Definitely bad breaks on the tiebreakers, as Jeff Hoogland and Joe Lossett moved on to Day 2 in third and fourth with byes with the same record I had. Those are the beats.
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 2 World Breaker
- 2 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Seriously, though, I had to split my time when preparing for three formats. I opted to delegate the Standard deck and card choices to Todd Stevens on this one. Jacob Baugh's build of Naya Aetherworks seemed like the best deck at the SCG Invitational in Atlanta. I knew it would be gunned for, but it's hard to not play something with such rare power. Turn 4 Emrakul, the Promised end is a heck of a ceiling for a deck in any Standard era.
The card choices came down to metagame preference. We felt like various Aetherworks Marvel decks would be played at the Players' Championship and wanted maindeck cards that would tilt the matchup to our favor.
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the best thing you can hit with Aetherworks Marvel. It's also tough for an opposing Emrakul, the Promised End to really mess up; if they end up exiling two of your permanents, then they still have to deal with Ulamog on the battlefield killing them. With three Chandra, Torch of Defiance and a Spawning Bed, we felt like casting Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in longer games was an attainable goal.
The World Breakers served as more maindeck ways to remove Aetherworks Marvel. Their reach also worked well against Smuggler's Copter and the W/U Flash variants, including the Esper Aggro build that Jim Davis piloted at the Invitational. World Breaker is a good hit from the Marvel spin that's also reasonably castable naturally. Still, they weren't an incredible hit that shut the door on people. Going back, I'd relegate the World Breakers to the sideboard.
Nahiri, the Harbinger is the only white spell in this build of Naya Aetherworks. I've never liked Fragmentize, especially on a splash, and Todd said that he never wanted Sigarda, Host of Herons against anything.
Nahiri is great at exiling troublesome permanents like a tapped Aetherworks Marvel, Smuggler's Copter, or a huge creature out of range from Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Harnessed Lightning. Her -8 ultimate is a bit of a toolbox that can get Ishkanah, Grafwidow; Emrakul, the Promised End; or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
I didn't mind my choice of Naya Aetherworks for the Players' Championship. Once I was paired against Todd Anderson, I knew that the tournament was going to end by the spin on the wheel. I kept a couple of hands that would be great if they hit lands drops and would do nothing if I didn't. I missed those lands and died. Quick and painless and over in ten minutes. Variance comes in many forms in Magic.
I wish I could've found a build of Humans that I liked. I tried my best to make black the support color to the white Humans with Night Market Lookout synergizing with Smuggler's Copter and Town Gossipmonger. It felt too underpowered relative to the Humans builds of last season. It was also bad that most of my threats died to Liliana, the Last Hope and only took one energy to kill from a Harnessed Lightning. Ishkanah, Grafwidow seemed like a Vintage card in the face of my Draft deck.
I'm happy with my three deck choices this year. I went 4-4, losing to Todd Anderson twice and two mirror matches. My pods had some tough matchups and the tiebreakers didn't go my way. I even had the final tiebreaker locked up, which was who had the most SCG Tour®points this year. Sadly, the tiebreakers never went down that far.
I think G/W Tron is great. It's powerful and has the tools where you can massage the decklist into whatever you need to beat a metagame. I think Lands is underplayed and a very strong deck that I'm considering for Grand Prix Louisville. I think any deck that's phonetically Boss Naya is awesome.
To finish, a random Top 8 list:
My Top 8 225s
8. Pro Tour Charleston 2006 decks: Mardu Aggro, Temur Dovescape, Abzan Midrange
7. The first three digits of my DCI number.
6. This year's Players' Championship decks: G/W Tron, Lands, Naya Aetherworks.
5. My old area code in Baton Rouge.
4. Last year's Players' Championship decks: Zoo, Death and Taxes, Jeskai Black.
3. Whatever we'll bring to GP San Antonio.
2. Whatever we'll bring to #SCGBALT.
1. 2:25 AM, time to go to sleep.