Hi my name is Evan Arkin. I'm 21 years old I'm from Eugene OR and I'm a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma WA. I've been playing Magic ever since my older cousins handed me their unwanted cards around 1997 but it was always an off and on affair mostly because of the extreme and continued disapproval of my parents. But I've battled on.
The story of how I got involved with competitive Magic isn't too enthralling but offers at least some amount of humor so I'll tell it shortly. After attending GP Portland (2010) on a whim with a friend I was asked by my French teacher the following Monday to tell the class what I had done that weekend. Feeling put on the spot and not knowing how best to explain MTG in French in the first place I just said "I attended a tournament of card playing in Portland." After class a classmate one Brian Weller-Gordon inquired if I happened to have played in GP Portland. I told him I did and he said he had also. We began to hang out and he introduced me to Magic Online. From there I began to play pretty consistently through the present.
This past weekend I made Top 8 of the SCG Standard Open in Seattle with Naya Pod based on Brian Kibler's promotion of the deck but with a few tweaks of my own. From January 4th to June 20th I was living and studying in Granada Spain and didn't have a chance to play much Magic. I missed the release of both Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored and had to really rely on my friends for cards. I knew from playing a bit on Cockatrice I was on Naya Pod and thanks to my friend Brian I got almost all of the cards. I've always wanted to attend an SCG Open Series and I was extremely excited to get back and be able to go to my first one on the following weekend!
Here's the decklist I played:
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 3 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Nearheath Pilgrim
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
My final record was 7-1-1. I won't go into every match I played but rather will give a list of my matches some detailed explanations of the more interesting moments then talk about my card choices versus Brian Kibler's and show how I sideboarded.
Round 1: Ian Swanson U/W Delver 2-0 W
Round 2: Sean McCarthy U/R Control 2-0 W
Round 3 Video Feature Match: Corey Ayres U/W Delver 2-1 W
Round 4: Corbett Gray Naya Birthing Pod 2-0 W
Round 5: Austin Hacker G/R Aggro 2-1 W
Round 6: Michael Diamant U/W Delver 2-0 W
Round 7: Nic Harlow U/W Delver 2-1 W
Round 8: Phil Johnson Mono-Black Control 1-1-1 Draw
Round 9: Dustin Whelan Naya Pod 1-2 L
Quarterfinals: Nic Harlow U/W Delver 1-2 L
Round 2 vs. Sean McCarthy (U/R Control)
Playing against a U/R control deck surprised me because he really didn't seem to have the tools to beat Naya. For example he had Tamiyo to tap down my Pod but I was still able to cast Zealous Conscripts off of my Cavern of Souls steal his Tamiyo attack with two guys then use his own planeswalker to draw two cards. The turn after that I used Restoration Angel on my Zealous Conscripts to do it all over again. Those two cards are fantastic and if you're playing white or red you need to play those cards.
He did have Whipflare and Slagstorm which I anticipated out of a control deck featuring red mana but Naya has the ability to create a lot of pressure off of few cards. So I forced his sweepers by not overextending and Restoration Angel at the end of his turn was too much for those spells.
Round 3 Video Feature Match vs. Corey Ayres (Delver Decks in General)
Corey and I didn't start out under the camera but the first camera match was finished so quickly that we were moved there after our first game which I lost to a turn 2 flip of Delver and adequate protection for it.
I wasn't too concerned though since I knew my deck was very good against Delver. Being behind and then put on camera made me extra-focused whereas Corey unfortunately got a bit nervous and lost the next two games.
Thalia Guardian of Thraben is a big reason why Naya is great against blue decks and I stuck with Brian Kibler's suggestion of two maindeck and a third in my sideboard for this matchup. In games 2 and 3 I had turn 2 Thalia which Corey really had to deal with or he was far behind. At one point he made a couple mistakes such as flashing in Snapcaster Mage to block my Thalia and 'trade' for it but he forgot it had first strike.
Another key moment was when he used one of his few actual removal spells Dismember on my Thalia when I was pretty clearly representing Restoration Angel by passing with four untapped mana when I could have done other things with on my turn. In response to him paying four life and tapping two mana for his Dismember I cast Angel and targeted my Thalia giving myself a massive momentum swing that closed out the game. He admitted after the match that he just hadn't thought of the Angel in that moment.
The most interesting/embarrassing moment of the match was in game 3 where his board was Tamiyo at one loyalty counter and Snapcaster Mage on defense. I used Birthing Pod sacrificing Geist-Honored Monk to get Inferno Titan (my favorite play against Delver) and divided the damage as one to Tamiyo one to Snapcaster and you guessed it one to his face. See the problem? Because I was about to win my first video match I forgot about the need to assign two damage to him and then redirect it to Tamiyo. But neither Corey the judge or the coverage team noticed it and I won that turn and would have either way. According to Marshall Sutcliffe we all got some flack for that on the chat…but oh well.
I only lost to Delver in the quarters against Nic whom I had beaten in round 7. The matchup revolves around two big things:
1) Being able to provide consistent pressure. Choose your spell order carefully but don't be overly afraid. With cards like Blade Splicer Huntmaster of the Fells and all-star Restoration Angel it's too many individual threats they must deal with or die. Always resolve Birthing Pod as quickly as possible in game 1 because they can rarely touch it and it will win the game. In game 2 I typically wait to resolve Pod until I know I can get at least one activation out of it if it resolves because they always bring in artifact removal.
2) Having a chance against their nut draw and using the sideboard. Some decks simply cannot beat a turn 1 Delver that flips early. However having access to Pillar of Flame Thalia Huntmaster Angel and Geist-Honored Monk (which was incredible against Delver in every match except my last; more on that later) means that I was often able to come back against an early Delver flip. The reason Delver is such a good deck is because they are attacking on so many angels—uhh I mean angles. But that is also a big part of Naya Pod featuring only two Birthing Pods. Every one of my big threats requires a different type of response and if they miss on one they lose as well. If they draw their Divine Offering and not their Dismember and my draw is Huntmaster of the Fells and Restoration Angel they have a hard time with or without Pod.
Round 8 vs. Phil Johnson (Mono-Black Control)
I had a blast playing against Phil who is a great guy and was playing a very interesting deck. I knew going into the matchup that I was going to have to be as aggressive as possible to take advantage of the windows in which he didn't have enough answers to my creatures. His late game is only beatable by having both Zealous Conscripts and early pressure to make it matter (and Conscripts isn't even the best against Grave Titan). We were joking and bantering the whole time and since we were at table 1 and the match went slowly a large crowd gathered. Personally I play better under pressure and with people watching me. This is definitely one of my favorite matches I've ever played because I had a fun opponent playing a challenging deck an electric atmosphere and a lot riding on the outcome.
Game 1 he hard cast Griselbrand on turn 6 I think. If you're an adrenaline junkie like I am I recommend this experience at least once. I didn't concede because I knew that drawing Zealous Conscripts and using his creature to draw 7-14 cards would give me a good chance and enough gas to potentially fight him (looking for Phyrexian Metamorph and Birthing Pod). I didn't get there and he killed me quickly.
Game 2 was what I hoped to be doing on the play and I was as aggressive as possible eventually opening up the window for the kill because he was light on removal. The key moment was when he played Grave Titan and it looked like he was going to smother me in darkness. The turn after he played Grave Titan I elected to just pass the turn and flip my Huntmaster of the Fells dealing two damage to the Grave Titan. To Phil it looked like I was setting up a trade in combat between my 4/4 Ravager of the Fells and his 6/6 that had taken two damage but really I had a Dismember in hand and was ready to take the Titan out. I had the feeling that Phil wasn't going to make the trade so when he moved to combat I didn't play my spell and like I thought he didn't attack with Grave Titan and went to pass the turn. I killed his Titan on his end step and won the game.
Game 3 was a total grind. He had Karn Liberated Liliana of the Veil and eventually Wurmcoil Engine. From that point on my main plan was to attack Karn with my Restoration Angel to force him to keep ticking it up while waiting to draw Zealous Conscripts or Birthing Pod which I would use to steal his Karn and use the ultimate myself giving me a huge advantage in the newly created game. I wasn't able to find those cards but I was able to keep enough pressure on that we eventually tied instead of me losing.
Round 4 and Round 9 vs. Naya Pod (The Mirror)
Brian Kibler has advocated maindeck Mikaeus the Lunarch in his Naya deck alongside the full four Gavony Township. The reason is that the mirror is all about combat and having the most and the biggest creatures so those effects are the most important ones to have access to. Personally I'm not a fan of Mikaeus. I recognize his power level and I don't think that including him is necessarily a mistake but my plan for the mirror was hope that just the Townships would be enough and to use Restoration Angel and Blade Splicer to generate enough first striking Golems that combat was favorable for me.
In game 1 against Corbett we both had access to Gavony Township but while he was using all his mana for three turns activating his Township I was able to use that time to create an army of first striking Golem tokens and then start using my own Township. This eventually gave me the win by giving me time to find Acidic Slime for his Township and continue growing my team.
Game 2 was much worse for me. He was on the play and had more creatures and more Restoration Angels. I couldn't attack and starting losing my creatures to his Huntmaster of the Fells. On the last draw step I had before he killed me during his next turn I got lucky. Miraculously lucky. I drew one of my two sideboard Bonfire of the Damned and miracled it at X=6 wiping his entire board and then swinging for lethal with only a few creatures of my own. Corbett was understandably annoyed at losing that way and I'm not sure there should be a card that allows me to win the game in that situation but there is so I was definitely using it for all of my creature heavy matchups. On the road to the Top 8 I was focused and playing the best Magic of my life but I certainly did run well on a couple of key occasions.
My round 9 versus Dustin was a perfect example of how the Naya mirror revolves around Restoration Angel utility creatures and Township. Obviously an unanswered Birthing Pod on only one side of the board is a problem but if the person without Pod still has a few creatures and a Gavony Township they can hold back the pressure. We traded back and forth exchanging Wolfir Silverhearts (luckily I had one of my own or I would have lost immediately to that card) but he ground me out with recurring advantage. Congrats to Dustin on making it to the semifinals!
Quarterfinals vs. Nic Harlow (U/W Delver)
Games 1 and 2 went about as expected. He flipped two Delvers early in game 1 and had the right cards to protect them. Game 2 I had two Birthing Pod and chained a Huntmaster of the Fells into Geist-Honored Monk into Inferno Titan…game over. Since we knew each other's deck I knew he would have three Phantasmal Images against me postboard. That card is incredible against Geist-Honored Monk but the Monk is so good otherwise that I couldn't afford to not play them. I had to hope he wouldn't have enough to outclass me. He ended up drawing all three of his Images after I played my Geist-Honored Monk and proceeded to draw four lands in a row and I quickly lost to his three 10/10s and army of Spirit tokens. Congrats to Nic for playing some great Magic and making the finals!
Card Choices for Maindeck and Sideboard
Dismember: Once I tried the two Dismember in my maindeck like Kibler had been doing I was sold. I think Kibler is totally correct to have Dismember maindeck and Bonfire in the sideboard. Naya Pod is great at grinding out creature matchups but it can lose to an early Delver flip an unanswered Wolfir Silverheart or an untimely Sword of War and Peace. Those are the situations I was wary of and Dismember won me a ton of games that no other card could have.
Being able to have a way to deal with opposing Restoration Angels was huge. Getting opponents to pass their turns in an attempt to flip their Huntmaster only to run into my Dismember was game ending. Instant speed removal just shores up the weak spots in the deck like no other effect can and don't forget that Birds of Paradise produces black mana (I forgot only once and luckily it wasn't relevant). Bonfire can come out of the board when necessary but for now I like this configuration. Being able to pass the turn with Huntmaster and use it + Dismember to take out larger threats was awesome and kept me alive versus Phil.
Geist-Honored Monk: This card gives Delver decks a headache if they can't find more than one Phantasmal Image (one is typically not enough against Naya after board) and combined with Gavony Township I knew I wanted to have one in my maindeck for the blowout effect and one in the sideboard for redundancy.
No Sword of War and Peace: Having just come back from six months in Spain I didn't have new cards to trade with and I've never owned Sword of War and Peace. My friends were using all of theirs so I just decided to go without them and justify it like this: with only two Birthing Pod when you draw them it's amazing when you don't you're an efficient aggro deck and if they bring in too much artifact removal it gets stuck in their hand a lot of the time. Sword of War and Peace is great but a lot of times my Delver opponents had useless Divine Offerings in hand. I won't say that playing without Sword is right but it wasn't bad for me.
1 Strangleroot Geist: If you're playing four Birthing Pods in Standard you probably want four of these guys. But this Naya deck functions more like a versatile and consistent aggressive deck that can have "I WIN" draws using Birthing Pod but not needing it. Because of that I don't think Strangleroot Geist does enough on its own to have more than one. I typically want to jump the two casting-cost cards and use mana acceleration to hit Blade Splicer or Borderland Ranger on turn 3 and if I need to play a two-drop may it be Thalia in a field full of Delver. I included one for the nightmare draws where I only had mana dorks and Birthing Pod so that I could Pod for it and start a chain but that is not what I want to be doing.
2 Thalia Maindeck 1 Sideboard: If you're not playing Thalia Guardian of Thraben in this kind of deck you're wrong. This card is a huge reason why I was so good against Delver. It forces them to play into your game and either lose to it or waste removal early and lose to the onslaught of Huntmasters and Angels later in the game. This card will be a mainstay of tournament Magic in every format in which it's legal.
Inferno Titan: I asked Travis Woo what he thought about this guy a week before the event and he gave me some good arguments against it. It can't kill Restoration Angel is bad against Sword of War and Peace and is out-classed by Wolfir Silverheart. However while those are all good arguments I had been testing with the Titan and really do believe that he should be included. I rarely ever needed him to attack to win a game but one of the most backbreaking lines is to play a Restoration Angel at the end of their turn turning it into Zealous Conscripts on your next main phase untapping the Pod and Podding the Conscripts into Inferno Titan taking out key blockers and/or dealing damage to planeswalkers. That line of play won me at least three games against Delver by killing Snapcaster Mage and flipped Delver of Secrets and such.
Nearheath Pilgrim: I gave this guy a shot after seeing it in Kibler's list because I can picture situations where he comes out of nowhere and gets you out of a hole but I never once needed him or Podded for him. Him + Wolfir Silverheart is certainly a big game but that's not the kind of line I typically try to set up because it's very vulnerable to lots of different cards. Going forward I would probably cut this guy for something else but try it for yourself.
Cavern of Souls: Because of my card situation I could only get my hands on one. The list should have at least two and I recommend reading the SCG articles on Naya Pod to find the numbers and mana base suggestions. This card is fantastic in this deck and usually names Human. Resolving Huntmaster and Geist-Honored Monk without fear is incredible against blue decks.
-1 Wolfir Silverheart -1 Nearheath Pilgrim -1 Strangleroot Geist -1 Fiend Hunter -1 Borderland Ranger -1 Zealous Conscripts -1 Huntmaster of the Fells +1 Geist-Honored Monk +2 Pillar of Flame +1 Combust +1 Plummet +1 Ancient Grudge +1 Thalia Guardian of Thraben
Huntmaster is a great card in the matchup but I was confident that I only needed two postboard with all my other action and nothing proved me wrong. Thalia Resto Angel Geist-Honored Monk and the dedicated anti-Delver cards were more important and I didn't want to cut Blade Splicer because it's part of my most explosive draws.
If you can be certain that they board out Mana Leak and you're not too afraid of Restoration Angel getting equipped with a Sword try boarding in Bonfire of the Damned. I didn't board the card in because I didn't feel comfortable tapping out for it and Dismember + Pillar of Flame was always enough.
Vs. The Mirror and Other Pod Decks
This sideboard plan emphasizes how good Dismember is. I didn't feel like I needed Fiend Hunter because it can't attack or block in the matchup and it can't get Podded away unless you take out a token which isn't high-impact enough normally. This matchup is all about either having the fastest start or having the cards to deal with your opponent's fast start. Strangleroot Geist is similarly too outclassed here.
Vs. Control Decks
Moving forward I would cut the Nearheath Pilgrim for sure replacing it with either the fourth Huntmaster of the Fells maindeck or a removal spell. Besides that definitive change this deck is super customizable and fun to play and I recommend giving it a whirl. The sideboard has so many options including Hero of Bladehold and Sigarda Host of Herons but I was confident my maindeck could handle the decks those cards are good against. I really liked my sideboard and used every single card to great effect except for Ray of Revelation which is still probably deserving of a slot.
Overall I had an amazing time. I was a bit disappointed to lose to Nic in quarterfinals after having beat him in the Swiss portion but that's Magic. I'm mostly just happy that I could come back from a long hiatus from tournament Magic and make Top 8 of my first SCG Open Series event.
I'll never forget the ringing voice of Mani Davoudi telling me I'm a "sicko" after every round that I won or telling me good-naturedly that I'm the worst player ever after witnessing me take a suboptimal line in a feature match (fortunately I was winning that game anyway). For everyone out there who like me before this tournament hasn't made Top 8 a big event but has the fire and the confidence please know that it's worth it and the most important thing is to have the right attitude followed by having good friends in the community. Networking was a huge component of my Top 8. Before this event I didn't have any resume-worthy finishes but I made the effort to improve a lot in the last two years and meet and befriend players who are better than me and also great people.
I want to give a shout out to the people who rode up to the event with me. We played very different decks with Greg Peloquin playing G/R Aggro Brian Weller-Gordon playing U/W/R Delver (for Bonfire of the Damned Pillar of Flame and Zealous Conscripts) and Ian Kendall (who just won the SCG Legacy Open congrats!!!) and Thomas Overton playing U/W Delver. Greg finished 30th Brian finished 24th and while Ian and Thomas didn't have as great of a tournament there was a while between rounds 4-7 where Greg Brian Ian and I were all still in the running for Top 8. Greg and Brian only got knocked out of contention pretty late in rounds 7-9.
Congrats to those guys for a great performance and thanks to Thomas for diligently birding and supporting me through the whole thing. I'm hoping to make the SCG Invitational in Los Angeles. Feel free to give me feedback or ask questions in the comments; this is my first attempt at writing a tournament report and if I (hopefully) get to do it again I'd love to improve.
Arkinstar on Magic Online