Going Fishing at States-11th

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Hello once again Nexites, it is I your resident editor stepping out from behind the curtain to enlighten you while Trevor recovers from a whirlwind road trip and finishes recording his video series (going up tomorrow). To that end, let's talk about SCG States. First of all, I was a little surprised SCG held two State championships in the same year, but when I found out that Colorado's would be at my Local Game Store again, I decided I didn't care and began preparing. Black Gold (said LGS and States location) holds Modern tournaments four nights a week so there was plenty of opportunity to practice.

Master of the Pearl Trident art

This ended up being a problem for me. You see, my default big tournament deck is UW Merfolk, the deck which won me the last Modern PTQ in Colorado, and it had failed to perform over the week prior to States. I just kept getting bad draws and awkward opening hands that failed to develop. I was nervous and losing faith, and this nudged me down the dangerous road of audibling decks. I was so angered by my poor performance in the last several tournaments prior to States that I seriously considered going back to the deck I first played when I got back into the game and then into Modern: UW Titan. This is not the value synergy deck that Trevor showed you, this was a Kitchen Finks deck that exhausted old school Jund via value based attrition and used Sunlance to keep up with Delver and Deathrite Shaman. It used to be pretty reasonable, was it still good? I had no idea, it had been ages since I played it since it could not beat the card Birthing Pod. The deck, sometimes, but the card, no. I was frustrated enough to consider it, however, and brought it along Sunday.



By the time I arrived at Black Gold I had mellowed enough that (helped by a distinct lack of Affinity in the room) I followed my own advice to play what you've mastered and registered the following deck.

I've been playing this list for a year and a half at this point and the only changes that have stuck are going up to four Path's main and changing three Mana Leak into two Unified Wills. I'm not going to do a full deck tech here because A) It's really just a typical Merfolk deck with better removal and sideboard options and B) I'm saving it for the next time I need to cover for technical difficulties give a regular writer a break) but there are some choices that I do need to discuss.

Missed the Boat

Harbinger of the TidesI know I'll get questions about the "missing" Harbinger of the Tides and Tidebinder Mages so I'll just answer them up front, respectively: Not right now and when would I ever. Harbinger is one of the most tempo-y? tempo cards I have ever seen. He is at home turning around races and is not great anywhere else. He cannot remove blockers (except with help from Reejery, which rarely comes up) and any savvy Twin player will play around Harbinger by either tapping the Vial or your fourth land (which you may never hit) stranding Harbinger in your hand while you lose. Yes, bouncing delve creatures is good, but if a delve creature is attacking your board is almost certainly empty or weak and a 2/2 won't change that. Right now he's only good against Burn and Infect and even then it's marginal. If Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration was a larger part of the metagame then I would cut the Will's for Harbinger in a heartbeat and play at least another one in the side, since Harbinger is ideal for tempo-on-tempo matchups where everyone is racing. For now though, I'll stick with Echoing Truth which I can use both offensively (removing blockers) and defensively.

Tidebinder MageI do not know why Merfolk players play Tidebinder Mage in Modern. I have tried it and am always disappointed. She is at her best locking down a mana Elf turn two, but against Elves or Collected Company she does little to save you from either Ezuri, Renegade Leader or the combo. Against Jund, she usually just taps Tarmogoyf for a turn before eating a Lightning Bolt, and if that is good you were probably winning anyway. Against Infect Glistener Elf and Noble Hierarch usually don't kill you. Blighted Agent does. It would take a massive shift to Gruul for me to consider her.

I'll be covering the sideboard as I go but since I faced no matchups where I needed the Affinity hate let me explain the 3-1 split between Stony Silence and Hurkyl's Recall. Basically, Silence is better against more decks (Tron and Lantern) while Recall is better when you need to not die. Affinity is a really bad matchup even with four Recall's , so I always opt for the more widely useful option. Anyway, on to the tournament!

The Tournament

I never heard the official count, but up to table 29 was occupied so we had at least 58 players for 6 rounds of Swiss. It would take four wins and probably a draw to make Top 8 . Looking around the room beforehand suggested that blue was really under represented, with lots of Junk, Naya, Elves and Collected Company and very few Twin players. Plenty of Burn too, but that isn't unusual. Colorado States have always had lots of Burn, even back when Wizards still ran them. There were also a number of other Merfolk players which I found odd, I've grown accustomed to being the only one in the room.

Round 1-Alex Khanin, UWb Titan (Win 2-1)

Well this is annoying, I don't like playing people I know at big events. Alex is a former regular at Black Gold, well-known for foiling out his decks. This naturally led me to give him much grief over the fact that he had not done so with this deck, which I knew that he had finished buying right before the tournament began. He was playing a Titan list that splashed black for Lingering Souls and removal, having cut the Mortarpods and some of the value creatures.

Game one
Aether VialI play first and lead with Aether Vial, which ends up getting Detention Sphered after giving me a Cursecatcher and Silvergill Adept. The two Merfolk are joined by a hardcasted lord to get around his Lingering Souls and Wall of Omens. Alex tries to draw himself out of the hole with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound and almost does but misplays his Ojutai's Command into my Cursecatcher and it's off to game two.

-2 Path to Exile
-1 Aether Vial
-1 Spreading Seas
+2 Rest in Peace
+2 Tectonic Edge

I usually shave a Vial on the draw since it is a terrible topdeck. As for Path, I only want to target his Titans, which I know are a three-of at most (Black Gold was running out of Titans on Friday and sold out Saturday). RiP should keep Jace's in check and protect against Snapcaster Mage and Sun Titan, while Edge will be better for disrupting mana and keeping Emeria from activating.

Game Two

This is one of the kinds of games that made me question Merfolk in the first place. I get Alex down to two life at one point but can never seal the deal because. I drew. 14. Land. And got a 15th from Path to Exile. Rest in Peace and all four Edges keep me in the game for a while, but with only four creatures until late in the game Alex finds a Jace which eventually loots him into a win.

Game Three

CursecatcherI lead with Cursecatcher and follow with Master of the Pearl Trident, piling on pressure while Alex has few answers and is never really in the game. He gains some life back with Lone Missionary but it's not enough. The last several turns Alex could have sequenced differently and played Wrath of God into Day of Judgment without worrying about Cursecatcher, but he doesn't and just dies. As consolation I point out that I had two Mutavaults and had two Lord of Atlantis on top anyway and he was at eight. Maybe if he had hit the maximum number of foil triggers he would have won. /troll

Round 2-Hans Feng, UR Twin (Win 2-0)

Hans is a well-known local player who normally plays a Twin variant. Last time I won he was playing Grixis Twin. Last time he won it was RUG Twin (I refuse to call it Temur and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!) so I was hoping for a repeat of Grixis.

Game One

He's actually on UR which is a much better matchup for me. They cannot race as effectively as RUG and cannot play the value game as well as Grixis: it's really combo or bust against Merfolk. Game one is barely a game and I go Vial into Lord, Cursecatcher for Remand, Reejery and Master of the Pearl Trident for a turn four kill. Hans' mulligan may have helped but honestly only a string of Bolts could have saved him.

-4 Spreading Seas
-1 Aether Vial
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+1 Dispel
+1 Unified Will
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Tectonic Edge

As I said, I shave a Vial on the draw and Seas just isn't good against two color decks that run blue. The one-ofs are either adding numbers or keeping me from dying while I run him over.

Game Two

KiraWe both mulligan and Hans forgets to scry and I don't. According to him it makes no difference. It will be awhile before this stops being a problem for we long-time players.

This is a very silly game. I kept a Kira, two land, two Path and Will hand and scryed away another Kira. My first play is Rest in Peace, which resolves. Hans' is a Deceiver Exarch that taps one of my lands, which makes no difference since all my lands are Wanderwine Hubs and I still have no Merfolk. I don't die to Twin and play Kira and we trade beats for a while until Hans plays another Deceiver to break the glass and Bolt to kill Kira. I respond by Pathing both Exarchs and then Willing his Bolt. Eventually I get a Master of the Pearl Trident, which trades for a Snapcaster Mage and then a Mutavault and I just get there, Hans having nothing but counters and a useless Splinter Twin in hand.

Round 3-Doug Hendrickson, Naya Zoo (Lost 1-2)

Ick, this is bad news. You may have seen Doug's name before, he made ninth at GP Oklahoma. His deck is basically a Standard Naya Blitz deck with white for Path and sometimes Boros Charm, which makes it very strong against decks like mine. I have never beaten him before. I had no hope of doing so Sunday. I did not.

Game One

Goblin GuideDoug comes roaring out of the gate with Goblin Guide and Tarmogoyfs. I'm never really in though I fight with Path's and Master of Waves but it is in vain against his Wild Nacatls, Burning-Tree Emissary and Ghor-Clan Rampager follow-up. When I can't block profitably I struggle to remove creatures from the board and he had many.

-2 Unified Will
+2 Hibernation

I am never going to counter anything with Will and Hibernation is very effective against green creature decks. I wish I could take out some Seas since they're too slow here but I have nothing else that would be better. I keep my Vials in since I really need them to keep with his one drops.

Game Two

HibernationThis time I have enough creatures and can trade effectively enough to stabilize at four life thanks to a timely Hibernation. If I had more than two blue sources then I might have been higher but it worked out since a pile of Master of the Pearl Tridents manages to overrun Doug's board before he finds the burn or Ghor-Clan Rampager to kill me.

Game Three

I keep a reasonable hand with Cursecatcher into Master of the Pearl Trident, Reejerey, and Hibernation with lands. Doug mulligans and gets Grim Lavamancer, four fetchlands and two Bolts to completely shut me down while I draw all my Vials and no more creatures. Even if I had boarded out a Vial it would have made no difference (the card on the top of my deck when I died was the fourth Vial). Argh.  Doug is a bad matchup for me so it isn't surprising but it's still frustrating when your deck just doesn't perform.

Round 4-Andy O'Leary, Naya Burn (Won 2-1)

Andy is a shop regular and in fact crushed me at the FNM before States with Mardu Burn (because someone was borrowing his Atarka's Commands at the time). At States, I got my revenge.

Game One

I'm on the play but don't have anything turn one while Andy has Goblin Guide, which is the best way for Burn to beat Merfolk. It is pretty easy to race Swiftspear or a burn spell turn one but Guide is brutal. He also has the Searing Blaze for my second turn Silvergill Adept and I fall too far behind to catch up.

-3 Spreading Seas
-1 Aether Vial
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+1 Tectonic Edge
+1 Dispel
+1 Unified Will

Spreading Seas is too tempo negative here, though sometimes you do need one to break through. We also take out a Vial since Burn often brings in Destructive Revelry. The one-ofs are mainly to protect against burn spells and because we need another thing to bring in and Meddling Mage rarely works against Burn (I've tried).

GEidolon of the Great Revelame Two

Andy has Guide again, but this time I have Vial and stabilize at ten. A string of burn might save him from my lords but all he has are Eidolon of the Great Revels, which aren't enough to save him.

Game Three

Andy has Guide again, and I think I'm dead. Fortunately he runs out of gas when I'm at one life and I have Aether Vial to get around his Eidolon. I get Lord and Reejerey out and start beating him, hoping to capitalize on the damage he's done to himself through shocklands and Eidolon triggers and pray to fade burn spells for a few turns. It works. I draw Mutavault and Master of Waves while he gets Sacred Foundry and Monastery Swiftspear. It was a huge relief to win this one and stay alive, but I'm not going to pretend that I was anything other than lucky to win.

Round 5-Tim Kempter, Infect (Lost 2-1)

Finally someone I don't know! Time for a win and in. Tim is pleasant and friendly enough, though I despise Infect and consider the mechanic a mistake.

Game One

Spreading SeasI'm on the play and lead with Vial then Seas on his Pendelhaven, which proves to be his only green source. He never gets an infector greater than 1/1 and my lords get there. At one point I think I hear him say that Kira affects every creature. It doesn't but I was not about to clarify what he said for fear of clearing up a misconception that could win me the game. It wasn't relevant if he actually did think that it, since he couldn't play anything. Seeing him play after the fact I decide that I just misheard: he seemed too experienced to misunderstand Kira.


-1 Aether Vial
-2 Unified Will
+2 Hibernation

Will is too slow usually and again I shave Vial on the draw. Dispel is actually pretty good since it's very cheap and Hibernation is better than the alternatives and can just work if Infect is relying on Noble Hierarch instead of pump spells for Glistener Elf.

Game Two

I manage his infectors well before starting to build my board, knowing that I'm dead if he has Nature's Claim to free his Inkmoth Nexus. Guess what he has?

Blighted AgentGame Three

I take a long time to decide to keep. I can interact via blockers for Glistener Elf and Inkmoth Nexus, but cannot beat Blighted Agent. My clock is fast enough that I finally decide not to roll the dice on a new hand. Guess what he has?

I probably should have mulliganed, but Infect is not a great matchup anyway and I did consciously decide to lose to one card so I shouldn't complain. I will anyway, but I shouldn't.

Round 6-Kylen Fishler, Amulet Bloom (Won 2-1)

After looking at standings I have the second best breakers of the nine pointers. There are enough 12 pointers that some must play it out. Therefore it is still possible for me to make it in to Top 8 but at least four players, probably six, ahead of me must play and my breakers must remain at least second best. If that doesn't work out, I'm very much alive for Top 16 and prizes so time to win and hope.

Game One

Path to ExileI double mulligan, Kylen mulligans. Despite getting to Cursecatch a Summer Bloom the fact that I draw three Vials (again) means that Kylen gets Titan and 16's me. Had my last draw been a Path I might have lasted another turn but it's just my fourth land and I lose.


-2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
-4 Spreading Seas
+2 Meddling Mage
+2 Tectonic Edge
+1 Unified Will
+1 Hibernation

In my experience Seas is a pretty minor speed bump for Bloom and they bring in sweepers rather than targeted removal. Our goal is to keep them off Primeval Titan so Will and Mages come in and Tec Edge can be back-breaking if you don't just die before they come online. Ghost Quarter just buys time normally.

Game Two

Kylen mulligans, I play Lord of Atlantis, he plays Pyroclasm. I play Master of the Pearl Trident, he plays Amulet into Engineered Explosives. I play Merrow Reejerey and Cursecatcher and he does nothing for the rest of the game but scry away lands with Serum Visions. At the end he revealed that he had only land in hand. The price you pay for running 26 minimum.

Game Three

Slaughter PactI'm kind of a bystander this game. Kylen uses Ancient Stirrings to find Ugin, Seal of Primordium to kill my Vial and Slaughter Pact to kill himself. Yes, he plays Pact on a Silvergill Adept either thinking that his Tendo Ice Bridge still had a counter on it (he'd used it for Stirrings), that he had left Gemstone Mine in play instead when he played his bounce land or possibly that his Gruul Turf was actually Golgari Rot Farm, but I didn't want to ask and appear to rub salt in the wound. There's no way I'll let him take it back, he announced it and chose the target, so I win. It feels scummy but if you're going to play at Competitive REL this is what you need to be ready for and if you misplay a pact I will take my free win. Still sucks for him though.

Final record 4-2

So now I nervously wait for Top 8 announcement. I had the second best breakers of the 9-pointers so I'm hoping that holds through the final round. Announcement comes and...nope. It appears that too many 12 pointers drew for any new 12's to make it in. My breakers also fell precipitously, probably because the two players I lost to drew in. Ah well, 11th is still enough for some BfZ packs. I plan to go home immediately but it's raining so I end up staying long enough to see what made the Top 8 and was very surprised:

Burn vs. Living Twin

Infect vs. Junk

Jund vs. Elves

Naya Zoo vs. Abzan Collected Company

Both the players I lost to made it in, so that's some consolation. No blue decks and a very fringe, though fun, deck. Which probably means that our metagame summary is still accurate. I only stay for the quarterfinals (because it stopped raining and I was hungry) but Top 4 consisted of Living Twin, Junk, Jund and Naya Zoo, and apparently Doug won the thing with his Naya Zoo list, so at least I lost to the winner.

Get them Next Time

Overall I ended up being pleased that I didn't audible as the only deck where Titan had a better matchup than Merfolk was against Doug's Zoo deck. That said, while I do like Merfolk and will definitely play it again next time a big tournament rolls around I would not necessarily recommend my deck to anyone else. I picked up the basic shell back in Lorwyn and this history means that I play very differently from most Fisherman I've met. I tend to play around more cards and plan to play a longer game than almost everyone else. Still, Merfolk of any variety is a very powerful option and is worth trying if you want to avoid the value wars most decks play. I await your suggestions and feedback in the comments!

David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

View More By David Ernenwein

Posted in Modern, TournamentsTagged , ,

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9 thoughts on “Going Fishing at States-11th

  1. Excellent report, first of all. However, I must say that (as a fellow Merfolk player), the list and the opinions expressed up top are a bit curious.

    Firstly, I think that you’re not running enough creatures mainboard – 22 Merfolk and 2 Kira is really low, given that most Merfolk lists are trending toward 26-30 (I’m right in the middle of that range at 28, but I run Kira in the sideboard, which means I’m running a heck of a lot more Fish). I’m also surprised that you dedicate an entire section to ragging on Tidebinder Mage and Harbinger of the Tides, given that you speaking openly about your struggles with those aggressive Zoo and Infect decks. My mono-blue Merfolk beats Infect and Zoo regularly, and the cards that you deride are a big reason why (Tidebinder hitting red as well as green dudes is relevant). Also, I know that UW doesn’t have much room in the mana base for Cavern of Souls (one of the major reasons I dislike the splash) and that taking damage from your lands weakens you against Burn, but I’m still surprised to see 0 fetches and shocks. The white in your mana base seems rather inconsistent.

    1. Here’s the thing about creatures in Merfolk: The deck is about the two-drops and Cursecatcher. Everything else is just support for those 16 creatures. Running more creatures is not necessarily correct unless they’re supporting the islandwalk lords in a meaningful fashion. I ran three Harbinger’s at the start of the Modern PPTQ season, cut them down to two, and then cut them entirely. It does not clear blockers, and given the metagame I’ve seen it only gets value when you are behind, and because Modern is very midrangy right now and focused on dropping bombs, the tempo gain is usually not enough to justify the 2/2. Like I said, if Delver and tempo in general were a larger part of the format Harbinger would be an auto include, but right now, especially with the rise in Abzan I’ve seen it isn’t good enough. For the moment, Echoing Truth is better especially since it can save your creatures from removal.

      I have tried Tidebinder before and cut it for the much more powerful Hibernate. It’s so narrow that it was not a maindeck card (though if the Top 8 is indicative of a larger shift that may change) and wasn’t swingy enough in the sideboard. I always considered it a dedicated anti-Green card since red creatures don’t see much play outside Burn, and it’s pretty ineffective there. Yes, it is very good against Naya Zoo. Doug is the only player I’ve met who regularly plays that deck, and when I do see others with Zoo they’re almost always heavy white. As bad as Doug is for me, he’s not worth dedicating sideboard space to. If Zoo is a bigger part of your meta then by all means run Tidebinder, but I don’t see that deck I see Elves and Tidebinder does nothing there.

      I can see where Harbinger might be good against Infect, but Spreading Seas and blockers deal with 2/3 of the usual infecters anyway and if your opponent is smart they’ll play around Harbinger until the lethal turn where they have the protection to kill you anyway (this was my experience over the summer) and Tidebinder doesn’t hit Agent or Inkmoth. Again, with Infect it was a case of choosing to lose to specific cards so that I could tap out to try and win and in neither loss would additional creatures have helped.

      Cavern of Souls has a lengthy discussion in the deck tech I’m sandbagging, but the short version is that it’s only really good when counter heavy decks are prevalent, which they aren’t right now, and the white is better against the GBx decks and Bloom. You never want to deal yourself damage in Merfolk (it’s a strength of the deck) so fetches and shocks are bad and unnecessary. Half my colored sources are white so I usually don’t have problems casing my single white spells.

      1. I see where you’re coming from on the 2 drops and Cursecatcher (I agree, they are the core of the deck), but I disagree that everything else is just support. Master of Waves, for example, is an alternate win condition/trump card against anything red (I love landing these against Jund and Burn). Harbinger and Tidebinder come in as disruption – they’re not there to support the main guys, although they do so indirectly by being bodies and drawing out some removal at times. They’re there to scramble the opponent’s gameplan, and they do that job well in my experience. And with regards to the “Harbinger can’t disrupt enemy attackers” statement you made earlier… my experience disagrees with that. A Vial on 2 with a Harbinger is a devastating play (reminiscent of a Snapcaster flashing back a removal spell in Grixis Control/Delver/Twin), and that’s actually led me to trim my Vapor Snag count, because Harbinger did the job on its own. I don’t agree with the assertion that Modern is very midrange-y at the time, given that Affinity, Merfolk, Burn, Amulet Bloom, and Infect (none of which want to be playing a midrange game) are all Tier 1. If anything, the meta was more midrange-centric when Grixis Control was Tier 1, since Jund was the #1 deck and Abzan was on the rise. We’re in the process of striking a balance, and Harbinger has game against the field. Another point is that you say the Reejerey + Harbinger interaction “rarely happens”. I need to keep track of my statistics, but my (admittedly anecdotal) experience has been that it’s more common than that. I’ve been very pleased with my 4 Harbinger/4 Reejerey mix.

        Your objections to Tidebinder are definitely more reasonable, especially if Zoo isn’t prominent in your meta (though I still like it against Burn). I’ve waffled between it and Hibernation many times. Speaking of which, I’m surprised that Hibernation has not done the job against Zoo in general for you. In my experience, that card is almost a game-ender. And looking at Doug’s list (which he’s obviously tweaked a bit, since you mentioned him having a Grim Lavamancer), the only problematic thing it doesn’t catch is that Lavamancer (which makes him a prime bounce/Path target for your list). Maybe you sneak in Chalice of the Void to mess with their 1-drops? It has game in a lot of other matchups so it’s not Zoo-only tech.

        I definitely see where you’re coming from in not wanting to take damage from your lands, but in that case, wouldn’t you need more sources of white? 8 for a 20-card mana base feels low to me.

        1. I never said that Harbinger couldn’t disrupt attackers, I said it can’t disrupt blockers, unless you have four mana and a Reejerey up, and that’s not particularly likely. Yes, if your plan is to go all in on Harbinger then 4 Reejerey is correct but I don’t think that it’s worth it right now. Most of the decks you mention can and will play around Harbinger if it looks like you have it (and four mana or an untapped Vial is hard to hide), and then win with protection anyway and if Bloom is tapping to attack then you are almost certainly winning the race since they’re playing fairly. Harbinger is at its best against attackers, but most of the time (outside of Affinity, and I didn’t notice much of an improvement there when I ran Harbinger) if they’re attacking then your board is clear, or you are winning evasively and your opponent cannot block which means that Harbinger doesn’t affect your ability to win.

          With Delver losing popularity we are getting a lot of fast comboish decks like Infect and Affinity which don’t do well against Delver’s pile of burn and more Abzan (in my area anyway). With Abzan coming back the format is slowing down and Scapeshift is showing up more. For this reason I see the format as going more midrange again.

          The problem is that Hibernation is a kingly tempo card but only works when you have your own board presence to immediately follow it up. Doug’s deck in particular has a lot of creatures with haste (or pseudo-haste in Rampager’s case) so the window to win is very narrow and he puts so much pressure on so quickly that I frequently have to block disadvantageously to survive. Lavamancer really just lets him recover from slow starts. The solution is more hard removal and Kitchen Finks but that stretches the mana too much (I’d have to play at least two Mystic Gates and cut the Tec Edges) and it’s not enough of a metagame presence to justify making a lot of other matchups worse.

          I was playing Chalice against a number of decks and found that it was a bad idea unless I set it to zero. It hits your Paths and once you could set it to one it was often too late. These day’s I’d leave Chalice at home unless Bloom and Living End are big.

          I play 15 sources of colored mana, 8 of which are white. Since I only play Path main it is rarely an issue and if I really need white post-board I will mulligan aggressively.

          1. The reason for Tidebinder mage against jund is so you can shave cards that do little or nothing like Aether Vial for more permanents that swing in for damage. Jund is all about 1 for 1 and the person that wins is the one that has the most permanents on the battlefield after all cards are spent. This is the biggest reason Tidebinder will likely never be cut from my sideboard, I just need more permanents to bring in that attack.

  2. Awe man, the same thing happened to me up here in maine, with standings. got 4-2 but the entire top 8 on round six tied to lock up the standings afterwords x_x Was on Temur prowess though. 11th still feels pretty good though

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