"End of youw tuwn, I'll Bwainstorm"
Was this kid trolling me?
My round one opponent of the Star City Games Invitational couldn't have been much older than 14. When I sat down across from him, I couldn't help but get the feeling I might be on the verge of an easy win. I wasn't going to let my guard down, but I was secretly hoping he had luck-sacked his way to the Invitational by spiking some Standard Open (like I did). He proved me very wrong by being patient with his RUG Delver deck, putting down one threat at a time, protecting it, as well as Wastelanding and Stifling me out of the games.
Six months ago, a loss like this to a wittle kid wiff a wittle whisp would have swightly twilted me, but I've recently been able to take a lot of emotion out of my gameplay and I feel like this has helped tremendously with my in-game concentration. There is a little phrase from “Finding Nemo” that pops into my head that sort of describes this new found attitude: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming".
My Reanimator opponent had a turn two Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur in play, but I had the Path to Exile. Most of the damage was done though, as his graveyard was filled with juicy reanimation targets like Angel of Despair, Blazing Archon, and Iona, Shield of Emeria. He was at low life from the Jin-Gitaxis reanimation and could tell I had burn by the cards I was holding back, so he named Red when he Animate Deaded his Iona. He also Animate Deaded his Angel of Despair targeting my Qasali Pridemage, but I just took out the Animated Iona (yes, he did these things in the wrong order) and burned him out.
Game 2 he gets the same Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur in play on turn two. I have one shot to win this game, and fein as though I should scoop, hail mary attacking my Grim Lavamancer into the Gitaxis. He blocks and I Lightning Bolt it to death and am able to pull out the match win.
I matchup well against Goblins most of the time. He was pretty slow game one and he Goblin Matroned for a Warren Weirding to deal with a growing Scavenging Ooze. I Wastelanded his single Black source, Badlands, and beat his little green men with my big Green men.
He does not disappoint and slowly opens up game one with me having all gas, removing any blockers or threats. The memory gets foggy here and he takes Game 2 easily after resolving Elspeth, Knight Errant. Game 3 we are facing an interesting situation where I have a Thrun, the Last Troll in play battling a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and 3 Spectral Procession tokens. I can put Tarmogoyf down to keep up pressure, but don't want to overextend into a Wrath of God (I could only pray it be a Day of Judgment to regenerate Thrun). I decide I need to go for it, still banking two Wild Nacatl in my hand. My Tarmogoyf is a 7/8, and he doesn’t find the Wrath in time.
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
The SCG Invitational Day 1 is split format, with the first 4 rounds being Legacy followed by 4 rounds of Standard.
Coming into Standard at 3-1
I'd been testing two man MODO ques with Wolf Run White (Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment, Timely Reinforcements in the board) and doing really well them. Most everyone else in our Group of Traveling Minnesota Magicians is on Pat McGregor's Illusions list—including Gene Richtsmeier.
The night before the tournament we were battling the decks against each other as he didn't have much practice with Illusions and I didn’t have much practice playing against the Illusions deck. I felt like the matchup was close but in his favor a bit and the sideboard I had wasn't putting any pressure on him. I started to really doubt the results from my MODO two mans, as they can be a bit soft. Others in the group were all split on what Wolf Run removal they were using, but I went with my gut and decided I wanted to be using Dungrove Elder again.
The MODO standard dailies were providing decklists that were all showing 4-0 Dungrove builds. I had already determined that I wanted to play two maindeck Thrun, the Last Troll, as I was always boarding him in, so I added the hexproof Dungrove Elders and hexproof Thrun to my decklist and hoped it would win me some games. It appeared I was going to be "dancing with the woman who brought me"—playing Dungrove Wolf Run and Zoo like at SCG Kansas City, where I qualified for the Invitational.
Sure thing, I get paired against Illusions. Game 1 wasn’t very interesting as he got stuck on two non-White lands. I naturally drew Forest, Mountain, Kessig Wolf-Run and killed his team of Phantasmal Bears with my lands before I played what wouldn’t be my last Troll of the day. Game 2 was a bit more interesting as I had early acceleration with Birds and Elves which allowed me to get two Dungrove Elders in play. However, they were only 1/1s, as I had a bunch of utility lands. I landed another Troll and drew the Forest I needed to pump my guys a bit and trample one of em through for the win.
I'm sitting down against an unknown opponent who reminds me of a character from one of my favorite TV shows: "Freaks and Geeks".
Game 1 he mulls to 3, finally deciding to keep and plays Mountain, Grim Lavamancer. I Acidic Slime his Mountain before he is able to do anything else. Game 2 he curves out perfectly: Stromkirk Noble, Stormblood Berserker, Chandras Phoenix. He has the Ancient Grudge for my Batterskull before I die. Game 3 I get a turn 2 Llanowar Elves from a Green Sun's Zenith and hope he doesn’t have the removal. He attacks his 1/1 Noble into it. I block and play turn 3 Dungrove Elder, Turn 4 Dungrove Elder, Turn 5 Tree of Redemption, dropping a basic Forest every turn, killing him with 6/6 Elders. We both laughed pretty hard at my choice of Plants and Treefolk as creature types populating the table.
I'm climbing pretty high up the tables now, getting paired against Reid Duke who is just coming off the MOCS World Championship. I read everything Reid does and we seem to have similar tastes in decks. I know he is on Wolf Run White, possibly with some Birthing Pods, Day of Judgment, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
Game 1 he wins the roll, which is bad for me, but plays a Birds. I draw one of my two maindeck Arc Trails and pray he plays another Birds. He does me one better with a Palladium Myr, and I’m smiling pretty big when I get to blow them up and put me back in the race to six mana. We both get our titans and the struggle ensues with me trying to kill him with trample damage on Dungrove Elders, and him trying to infect me out.
I recognized this a bit too late and used my Batterskull to put me on top of the damage race with a much too greedy penultimate (beta?) alpha strike. I needed to hold back some mana and eqiup my Batterskull to a Birds of Paradise to soak up infect damage on the crack back. I simply didn't do the math and lost because of it.
Game 2 I stumbled a bit with a mulligan and lost the race to 6 mana.
Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming.
Win and in. I look at the pairings.
I briskly walk by Ryan Overturf on my way to my table to see if he knows what Brian Kibler is playing, as I thought he had played him earlier.
"I played him in Legacy."
I turn to get to my table and Ryan hurls the words "Blue Black Infect" at me.
I am 1-0 lifetime versus Hall of Famers, so I can only assume things are in my favor. I sit across from Kibler and begin to shuffle, the volume of his headphones indicating he's not ready for chit chat.
He wins the roll.
Drowned Catacomb - Go
Forest- Birds - Go
Swamp - Doom Blade the Birds - Go
(Seriously? This guy is in the hall of fame. Why is he killing my birds so early? Surely he should save that for something better, like the two Primeval Titans in my hand.)
Drowned Catacomb - Go
Forest, Thrun - Go
Liliana of the Veil - sac a Thrun
No land - Go
Swamp, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
I lose to a couple hits from Skithiryx. 3 Titans stranded in my hand.
Losing via dragons from the Dragonmaster. Who would have thought.... it figures.
Game 2 Presents me with a hand of:
This. Could. Work.
I draw another Birds and am on the tunnel visioned gameplan of putting as many mana creatures as I can into play and get a Sword of Feast and Famine equipped to one of them. About turn 3 I’m starting to see the flaw in this plan as I look at my board of 1/1s and 0/1s. I’m thinking of the cards that will ruin me, which include Ratchet Bomb.
Then it dawns on me and I say out loud: “Wow, Curse of Deaths Hold would really wreck me right now.” Kibler is stoic. I get the Sword of Feast and Famine equipped to a Bird, and it goes the entire distance—attacking past the DragonMaster’s Skithiryx.
Game 3 has the balance of my tournament resting on it’s shoulders.
I mull to 5 and keep a one lander Forest with a Birds, Thrun, and Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. I draw more 1 drop accelerants and actually have a bit of action.
Kibler untaps and plays:
My board is dead, my Garruk makes creatures that instantly die. He eventually lands Phyrexian Vatmother and I only draw blanks, with Liliana also blanking the Thrun in my hand. Any creature I play will get eaten by Liliana. Any spell I don’t play will likewise get eaten by Liliana.
What A B!t..
The day of Magic was over for the both of us and I took the opportunity to gleam any insight from Mr. Kibler.
“I didn’t have the Curse boarded in game two, but added it in game three once you pointed out how strong it was against you.”
I returned his trademark smile with one of my own and signed the result slip.
Thus my Invitational tournament ended. I didn’t make Day Two. I honestly feel like every 8-plus round tournament you play in, you get one match to give to a bad matchup and one match to give to bad luck/mulligans/land screw.
You can’t make any mistakes, as that is loss number three and it puts you out of the tournament. My mistake came in Round 7 versus Reid Duke and it cost me day two. I lost a game versus the mirror in which I lost the die roll but played my Titan first. I didn’t do the math and, although it may seem strange to attribute the entire day to one play, I believe that play cost me the ability to cash the tournament.
I let out a sigh of relief to release some of the mental stresses of the day and sought out the rest of the Minnesota crew to swap our stories over drinks and sushi.
DAY TWO—STAR CITY GAMES LEGACY OPEN—CHARLOTTE
My opponent wins the roll and leads with Plains, Aether Vial. My hand has Forest, Horizon Canopy and a couple Qasali Pridemage, so I'm not too worried. He proceeds to play Rishadan Port and ports me on my upkeep, setting me back another turn. I eventually get to play the Pridemage, but, by the time that happened, he had two Ports and two Plains and is taking my mana away on upkeep. I never drew the third land.
Game 2. Goes much the same way. I can't keep down the power of Aether Vial and he ends up locking up some lands, Wastelanding others, and Mangara of Corondor takes out another. His Jötun Grunt was bigger than my Knights and cats.
Another day starting with a loss. Daggers.
. I'm facing off against GW Maverick and can't keep up with the Swords and Plows he draws. I don't know his list, but, for whatever reason, he had more removal than other Maverick builds I've seen before.
At 0-2, my opponent didn't show up.
I get a chance to get some food from the convention center food court and reflect on my morning so far. I haven't won a game, yet I'm 1-2.
This was my most hilarious match of the day - opponent wins the roll and opts to go first:
Him: Scalding Tarn
Me: Wooded Foothills
Him: Ancient Tomb, Show and Tell - Show and Tell resolves, him revealing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. I reveal and put Sylvan Library into play hoping to dig into Karakas.
I don't find the Karakas.
Him: Scalding Tarn
Me: Wooded Foothills
Him: Ancient Tomb - Show and Tell - I Pyroblast the Show and Tell - He Force of Wills the Pyroblast - I crack the Foothills, and have a second Pyroblast for the Show and Tell.
Me: Tarmogoyf for the win.
Him: Scalding Tarn
Me: Windswept Heath
Him: Ancient Tomb, crack Scalding Tarn for Island, Show and Tell. Show and Tell resolves, he puts Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn into play. I cover it up with my revealed Oblivion Ring.
Me: Tarmogoyf and others take the rest of the match.
There really isn't much like beating a decidedly bad matchup to help turn your day around—especially when he had Show and Tell turn two three games in a row.
In a hilarious twist of fate, I find myself paired against another Show and Tell/Hive Mind opponent. He didn't have the multiple turn two Show and Tells that my previous opponent had and he lacked answers to my Gaddock Teeg.
My opponent plays a third turn Cephalid Illusionist, signaling his comborific aspirations. I have removal for the creature and every one he plays after—winning with him only having lands in play. Game two I get to be the control deck, playing an early Wild Nacatl and leaving it to do the full 20 to him as I keep creatures off the board with my removal spells. It might have been a game if he had played a Turn 1 Aether Vial.
So, my Zoo deck is now 3-0 versus the combo decks.
I appear to be facing another GW Maverick build, with the addition of the Punishing Fire / Grove of the Burnwillows combo. I outdraw him first game, due to a Sylvan Library keeping me up on lands and removal spells. He takes game two pretty easily with an active Umwezawa's Jitte against my board of Sylvan Safekeeper and two lands. Game 3 is full of action, with both of us using our removal to keep the massive threats off the board. We are basically both in topdeck mode, and he rips Stoneforge Mystic for Batterskull into Knight of the Reliquary into Sword of Feast and Famine to my Noble Hierarchs.
I drop, being out of contention, and go back to witness the Urza's Block Rotisserie draft that the bulk of the Minnesota crew is running with the leadership of Forrest Ryan.
The drafting portion had started about four rounds ago. There was fun and merriment had by all, especially Gene, who drafted a Show and Tell / Sneak Attack monstrosity of a deck including hits like Serra Avatar.
Zoo's place in Legacy is quickly being replaced by the GW Maverick decks. That deck has the same powerful creatures and can abuse Green Sun's Zenith better than Zoo can. I feel like its sideboard options are limited and is likely softer to the combo decks that don't exist, as Snapcaster Mage decks keep them suppressed.
I have to admit that my results with Sylvan Safekeeper in Zoo were disheartening, but I was excited to see a copy in a couple GW Maverick decks with Green Sun's Zenith. Maybe it would work better with Terravore in that deck.
Ultimately, I think there will be a larger push for Thrun, the Last Troll in Legacy. He's a good guy to have on your side when you need something to dominate a board of Jace, Swords with Flashback, and even Batterskull.
Tower of the Magistrate is the real deal.
I also want to re-stress the noticeable change I've found in myself when facing these tournaments. I've alluded to it a number of times already, but this philosophy of playing a game at a time has really made a change in my tournament results. I owe the seed of that idea to Gerry Thompson:
One Step Ahead: GP Nashville Report, 1st (read the last 4 paragraphs)
When I first read it, I didn't think much of it. However, I kept hearing Julian Booher talk about it, spouting similar nuggets of philosophy in his Twitter and Facebook updates. Then he started to do really well at tournaments. Julian is a bit of an anomaly in our group, as he can simultaneously be the youngest and most mature person in a room. I witnessed the changes in his game and success firsthand, spawning jealously in myself—resulting in personal frustration.
- Play one game at a time.
- Don't worry about your record.
- Don't concern yourself with the prize.
- Remove your emotion from the game.
- Just play Magic until someone tells you to stop.
That's what I know.