So much for extensive preparation tight play or any of the qualities typically associated with doing well at a Magic tournament. The SCG Invitational in Atlanta was all luck and I don't for a minute pretend otherwise. But in examining my good fortune over this particular tournament I also started to contemplate all of the ways Magic has made me a lucky person.
First and on a base level something we take for granted I get to play Magic which among possible ways to spend a weekend is far more rewarding than most. Not only do I get to play Magic which is awesome in and of itself but I am coming of age at a time that offers me (for now) the freedom to attend awesome tournaments like Pro Tours and Invitationals.
I also am privileged to have a circle of friends I'd otherwise never have met with whom I can discuss certain thought intensive issues that literally no one else in the world can understand. Seriously try talking to your best non-Magic playing friend about the lines of play in a Stoneblade versus RUG Delver match. It probably won't make for very scintillating conversation. I on the other hand have spent whole dinners discussing the ideal way to build a Goblin Game deck for Legacy or playing Sam Black's awesome no-cards-needed custom format.
In a way being a part of the Magic community is like having a Ph.D. in a very obscure branch of math or physics. You can only talk in any meaningful way about your area of expertise with a few other qualified people and no one else can understand any of the terminology you use regularly. You also get to go to cool places a few times a year where you gather with hundreds of like-minded people to share your theories and expertise. Plus if you're particularly successful you can gain that niche celebrity where no one outside the community knows who you are but no one inside the community doesn't.
I mean none of my college friends get to hop on a plane on a given Friday night to go to a Grand Prix or get to compete in anything where thousands of dollars are on the line. They are stuck in one perspective the one most people are locked into for their four years on a college campus where the two most important things in the world are passing your classes and receiving instant gratification not necessarily in that order. Lucky for me I get to change that perspective every few weekends for one where the most important thing in the world is winning the next match and where 4 AM cab rides start your day rather than end it.
It offers a certain refreshing change when the microcosm of the college world gives way to the microcosm of the Magic world and I'm lucky that I get to experience that when others don't. After all too much of the same thing even something as awesome as college gets old after a while. Magic breaks keep it fresh. And I expect that to be true for as long as I play the game which will hopefully be many fruitful years.
But the weekend of the Invitational I was lucky not only because I am privileged to be able to play in this awesome tournament series but also because I was very very fortunate both in several key games and in tiebreaker math in order to make it to the semifinals.
To start from the beginning here are the lists I played in Standard and Legacy with a bit of reasoning behind each:
I was fairly set on these lists for a long while before the actual tournament although Javier Arevalo convinced me that I needed to be playing Terminus and Wasteland in my Stoneblade list and I ended up being very happy with the two Wastelands. I foresee important changes coming though because of two main factors. One the Sylvan Library Todd Anderson had in his RUG Delver maindeck and sideboard is going to be very hard to beat going forward if everyone adopts it (which I expect they will).
Two we can cut those silly Terminus in the sideboard and play Supreme Verdict to laugh at those Dazes Spell Pierces and Forces that have been keeping Wrath of God from being played. Terminus is just not as good in our list as it is in Control which can take better advantage of its miracle cost than we can. Additionally our Brainstorms are already heavily stressed because we run narrow cards like Thoughtseize and Spell Pierce alongside Swords to Plowshares and Engineered Explosives. It stresses our Brainstorms further when opponents know that by countering it that they can keep from being hit with a Terminus. Plus Stifle looks to be on the upswing judging from Todd's success and I'd rather not have every board sweeper I play be vulnerable to getting Stifled.
As for beating Sylvan Library well that will be tough. Hopefully we'll be able to take a proactive role and keep our opponents from being able to pay too much life for more cards and Engineered Explosives certainly takes care of the problem if we can resolve it on two. Sadly though I might have a hard time playing a patient game to wait out the Stifles while still not giving the opponent time to set up a Sylvan Library advantage to put the game away. Of course Sylvan Library has a bit more immediate impact than Life from the Loam and combined with Sulfuric Vortex it provides a hard-to-answer threat for Stoneblade but as always there will be room to adapt with more cards like Vindicate and a more aggressive shell being my most likely candidates for the best plans of action.
Standard rotation may be about to make Delver irrelevant but I think there would still be a fair amount of innovation left if we could see how this metagame would adapt. I think the fact that Gerry Thompson was so bold as to play Mirran Crusader and Spectral Flight in his list shows that but I stuck with my guns and played nearly the exact same list as Dave Shiels and Matt Costa in Standard.
Day 1 started with two lovely byes during which time I got a birthday cake flavored milkshake for breakfast. One bonus of going to Magic tournaments is that I get to satisfy all of my small child cravings that I'm usually too disciplined for when I'm at school. I played round 3 against Caleb Durward who was playing Bant and I lost what he told me was actually not a very good matchup for me. I had a hard time believing that to be honest since his deck seemed like Maverick with Jace instead of Choke or Armageddon. I can beat Jace with one of my own but beating Choke or Armageddon is a lot harder.
I was a bit disappointed to start off with a loss and sat down for round 4 against someone I'd be seeing again later in the tournament. Todd got unlucky against me in game 3 when I went for a key Engineered Explosives knowing he had a Force of Will and a mystery card in his hand. It turned out that he was holding Krosan Grip and once I had the board stabilized I was able to put down a Jace and end the game. Little did I know that luck would turn two days later but as it stood I was in a reasonable position going into Standard. I played against Delver Wolf Run and Delver again winning my matchup with Wolf Run because of Sword of War and Peace and winning my second Delver mirror despite sloppy play with regard to not holding up Mana Leak.
I then lost to Naya in the final round of Day 1 as Gene Richtsmeier played a bunch of beaters and killed me while I played a bunch of cantrips and awkwardly tried to set up my mana. Hey sometimes that happens with a nineteen-land deck. I was super happy to be going back to Legacy though since I definitely thought I was capable of 4-0ing the next Legacy portion.
I started off Day 2 with two wins against competent opponents both playing Stoneforge Mystic and I definitely got a little lucky in both. I beat Brian Eason because I peeled two important Lingering Souls to hit his active Jace with and I beat Joe Bernal when he kept a one lander on the draw with a Brainstorm that just bricked.
I got to play against Cedric Phillips with Goblins in the next round and my Terminus carried the day despite a Lackey + Siege-Gang Commander start from Ced in game 3. This was my first camera match of the tournament and I was feeling great about my Legacy deck. The next round I played against the ominous Omni-Tell deck that has been getting hype lately and I blind hit Force of Will with Cabal Therapy after my opponent Brainstormed in response. I'm telling you there are no more skill-intensive cards in Legacy than those two and I was very pleased with myself for figuring out what the most likely card was after a Brainstorm. I definitely got a little lucky in game 1 of that match by not hitting any of my dead cards but hey that's sometimes how it goes.
Back to Standard I won a narrow match against Dave Thomas on Solar Flare + Thragtusk basically because in game 3 his deck was just a little too clunky and my quick Delver draw put it away. Then I really started sliding in my play. What can I say I was a little tired I was maybe overconfident and I was just not playing the way I expect I should. I lost to Anthony Eason and Chi Hoi Yim in back-to-back rounds playing sloppy Magic all the while and I was definitely not feeling like I could pull out the last win necessary in my third win-and-in. Both of those matches I deserved to lose and I also deserved to lose the last one against AJ on camera. But sometimes the miracle is the opponent bricking for four consecutive turns despite two key punts on my part.
The first punt was in the last game I Pondered my Angel above my Mana Leak when it needed to be the other way around. If I did that I would win when AJ casts Strangleroot Geist shoves with the team and gets his post combat Huntmaster countered. The second punt after shockingly not dying to my first was when I made a Haunt token but did not equip a Runechanter's Pike to it. If I did that I give AJ fewer turns to topdeck and basically make it at least reasonable for me to win off of his brick. The way I played it I was just a huge luck sack and was basically just disgusted with myself even through the Top 8 pictures and interviews.
By the time of the Top 8 split agreement forms came around though I got a little bold. I knew that I was playing five-game sets with my Legacy deck which I was super comfortable with and I wanted to win big. Bigger than $6000—I wanted to gamble. So despite several suggestions from friends back home that I split considering I was on the draw as the eighth seed I almost instinctively circled the "NO" on the split agreement sheet and that was that. I guess I just wanted to test my luck a little bit more before the weekend was out.
And my luck came in big against Anthony who despite his best efforts to not get mana flooded did exactly that in games 1 and 3. Game 2 he did the opposite and sat on three lands while I assembled Stoneforge Batterskull and Jitte.
But that's not the really important story of that day. Because I'm a writer for StarCityGames.com I get free entry into Opens. Additionally the Legacy Open started an hour before the Invitational Top 8 so I followed Shaheen's example and signed up to play a single round for an extra free Open point. But what to play? Well the choice was obvious given the decks I had on hand. I could play my Legacy deck or I could play my Standard deck. Go go Geist of Saint Traft!
I actually think that with Force of Wills and Swords to Plowshares a more aggressive Geist-based U/W Stoneforge/Delver deck could be playable in Legacy but I don't know if Mana Leak Ponder Gitaxian Probe and Restoration Angel are the best way to fill out that list. The thing is that Vapor Snag is really good! So good in fact that when I topdecked a copy against my round 1 opponent it let my Geist get in past where a Stoneforge Mystic once stood and take game 1. Of course I had no sideboard for this event and in game 2 my opponent had a mighty pair of Swords to Plowshares in hand while Geist of Saint Traft stood tall. The announcement came over the loudspeaker that I was needed at the Invitational stage but I had a match to win.
My opponent played a Batterskull forgot to put a Germ in and just passed the turn. I topdecked a Runechanter's Pike and saw that I was actually just going to win the game. The problem was that I didn't want to be a jerk and tell my opponent that he lost because he forgot Batterskull's living weapon trigger especially considering I was about to concede to him. So with Riki Hayashi watching I simply told my opponent that I was going to concede to him because I had to go play in the Invitational but that he should really remember his living weapon triggers. As far as I'm concerned I won that match with my Standard deck. If that doesn't pump you up for playing a single match for $3000 I don't know what does.
Anyway I beat an extremely unlucky Anthony Eason Top 4 rolled around and I decided it was time to lock in my winnings with the rest of the semifinalists. Of course I promptly lost to Todd in three straight games making me look like the smartest gambler of all time. Todd ended up winning the whole thing which is particularly impressive when you consider that he lost to Matt Costa and myself to start off the tournament.
I signed up for a Draft Open to end the little weekend excursion and after making the Top 8 and drafting a sweet U/W deck I got crushed in the quarterfinals when I got mana screwed games 2 and 3. That of course allowed me to explain to everyone for the rest of the day how unlucky I was and how I always run so bad. I promise that they understood my feeble attempts at sarcasm. The phrase "Magic is such a luck-based game" may have been uttered more than once that evening.
After bashing Limited for being a high-variance format for a while we retired to the adjacent restaurant where I took particular delight in watching the Ravens snipe one from under the Patriots while Adam Snook Matt and Dave (who are all from Massachusetts) could only hang their heads in shame.
Four hours later it was time to wake up for a taxi back to the airport with Dave Adam and I all having super early morning flights out of Atlanta. A long week of schoolwork lay in front of me but I really couldn't complain. After all I am a pretty lucky guy all things considered.