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As the RCQ...season, I suppose—though they've never framed it as such—rolls on, it's important to remember the fundamentals of competition. Namely, skill is essential to excellence. However, greatness often comes down to luck. If everyone at an event is prepared, experienced, and playing well, then what separates the winners from everyone else is often pure luck. My experience last weekend at a Modern RCQ is a perfect encapsulation of this.
I knew the RCQ would be at my LGS, Mythic Games. This was great not only because it meant minimal travel but there's no worry about getting blindsided. I could just walk in and ask, which I did. Never take things for granted. It also meant that a good chunk of store regulars would be playing as well, which made preparing against them easier. I've been playing Burn for months and know that it's well positioned in that field.
But it wouldn't make it certain. Most Mythic Games regulars have multiple decks and switch based on the event size and expected positioning. I'm partially responsible for this practice, having advocated it as a strategy and pulled it off myself once or twice in the past. This made day-of scouting all the more important.
I knew going in that the event would hit its cap well before game day. Mythic is very generous with prizes, so their events always cap. There was a time when Mythic held 64 players, but it currently only has space for 48 players due to changes to the store layout during the pandemic. It's expanding to take up most of the strip mall sometime in the near future, but for now, it's a bit cramped. This meant that all the players wanting to play registered early, meaning they were serious players.
Despite being one of the first to pre-register, I still needed to check in on the day. This was no problem as I made sure to be there early to scout the field. I slightly regretted the decision, as upon opening the door I was greeted by an arctic blast. Mike, the store owner, is no stranger to tournaments in the Colorado summer and knows how hot and stuffy it will get with a full house. Especially with a west-facing storefront. He'd set the AC on full blast hours before opening just to keep things tolerable as the day went on. This was a complete success, but until the tournament actually got going it was quite frigid.
As I walked in and out of the store to maintain a semblance of normal body temperature, I had the opportunity to repeatedly scout without drawing undue attention. In addition to several dedicated Control players, I saw a lot of Violent Outbursts getting recorded on decklists. I wasn't sure exactly which cascade decks they were for, but that wouldn't change my strategy very much. I also saw one guy playing Song of Creation. I have no idea if he played it in the main event or was just testing, but I wasn't going to be caught flatfooted against Modern's newest hot combo deck. I also knew there was a Belcher player in attendance. With that in mind, I registered the following list:
Burn, David Ernenwein (RCQ deck)
There is no reason for the split on the basics. I did it once to annoy someone and can't be bothered to change them out now. On a more practical note, I've frequently been frustrated drawing too many Skewer the Critics and being unable to spectacle them, so I've cut down for more copies of Lightning Helix.
The sideboard is an anti-combo configuration. Silence is a card that few expect and is a counterspell against the cascade decks. It's also a complete blowout if done in response to Song of Creation or Summoner's Pact. I've frequently been disappointed playing Sanctifier en-Vec as my graveyard hate, so I'm back on Rest in Peace with Kor Firewalker instead. Wear // Tear is played over Smash to Smithereens because cascade decks tend to have Leyline of Sanctity and killing artifacts against Amulet Titan is very good.
With 48 players, there were six rounds. Because there are several eateries in the immediate vicinity and the head judge likes an efficient tournament, there was no lunch round. This made playing Burn a particularly good choice as I'm never going to time and could easily get lunch.
Round 1: Amulet Titan
I start off on the draw. This is becoming a frustrating habit. My opponent mulligans but I keep a slower hand because it has Eidolon and scouting says this is a field where Eidolon is critical. My opponent kills Eidolon with Boseiju, Who Endures but nothing else while I have no other creatures and throw burn at his face. Eventually, he gets out two Urza's Saga at two life and I run out of burn. I have three turns to draw the win and brick off. On the last Saga trigger of the last Saga, he gets Amulet of Vigor so I know what I'm actually up against.
-4 Searing Blaze -4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+3 Wear // Tear +2 Path to Exile +2 Silence +1 Deflecting Palm
Game two goes better. My opponent mulligans again, I have Swiftspear and Tear the turn one Amulet. My opponent gradually builds lands but I don't brick off this time and win. In game three I have Silence to time walk my opponent, but it's not enough. He would have killed me on turn three without Silence having finally mulliganed into a busted hand. I really needed Wear to not die to Valakut triggers, but I don't think it would have changed the final result.
Amulet is not a great Burn matchup, and my deck didn't perform the best. But that's how it goes and there's a lot more Magic to play.
Round 2: Infect
I'm drawing again, and lead off with Goblin Guide. My opponent's first play is Blight Mamba which gets Searing Blazed. From there I go the distance with Guide, taking the control role of just killing every Infect creature the turn it's played.
-4 Boros Charm
+2 Path to Exile +2 Deflecting Palm
I want to maximize my interaction against Infect.
For game two I kept a hand with a blocker and Deflecting Palm. I get a chump and trade for a pump spell then my opponent goes for the kill on turn three, right into Palm for half their life. They're out of resources and I burn them down shortly thereafter.
Infect is a great matchup and getting the win here is critical. Things are looking up.
Round 3: Prison Tron
When my opponent opens by Serum Powdering twice, my heart sinks. This is an abysmal matchup, even on the play. The Powdered artifacts aren't actually gone as Karn, the Great Creator can wish for them. This is relevant in game one as I get the opponent to two before Walking Ballista gets a recovered Basilisk Collar while Inventor's Fair puts the game out of reach.
-4 Searing Blaze -1 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+3 Wear // Tear +2 Silence
For game two, I keep while my opponent mulligans and Powders. He only has two lands so it's an easy win for me. In game three, The Underworld Cookbook buys time until Spellskite and Karn locks up the game.
I was dead for Top 8 at this point, but not for prizes. This made losing to a fringe but terrible matchup that little bit worse. Especially since that deck doesn't beat Void Mirror.
Round 4: Manufactor Combo
I'm on the play, but all that needs to be said about game one is that my opponent gets all four Cookbooks and Ovalchase Daredevil. With four lands. Just...argh.
-3 Lava Spike -2 Skewer the Critics
+3 Wear // Tear +2 Rest in Peace
In game two I keep Guide into Eidolon with Wear // Tear. Those two do all the work because I Wear away one Saga then Wear // Tear a second one and Cookbook. Rest in Peace ensures my opponent is helpless. In game three I don't have Rest against two Cookbooks, but fortunately, my opponent doesn't see Daredevil. Roiling Vortex chips away and contains the food until I can close the game with Charm backed by Skullcrack.
Still alive for prizes after a very frustrating matchup. I had hope for things to improve.
Round 5: Millvine
On the play with Eidolon, I keep. My opponent goes nuts with Hedron Crab triggers and then takes a big chunk off themselves playing into Eidolon to trigger Vengevine. With Searing Blaze I'm in the race but Creeping Chill ends my chances. Another poor, fringe matchup.
-4 Boros Charm
+2 Path to Exile +2 Rest in Peace
In game two I mulligan and have Eidolon into Rest in Peace. My opponent never has a clock. For game three I keep four lands, two Lava Spike, and Rest because it's that important. Rest is Spell Pierced and the following turn my opponent dumpsters me. The irony is that if I was still on Sanctifier I win this game, despite the five in-hand lands I died with and three more on top.
At 2-3, I was out of everything. But I had nothing else to do so I played the last round.
Round 6: Jund
I kept a one-lander with all one-drop burn spells on the play. My opponent mulligans and doesn't have a clock or meaningful disruption until it's too late so I just burn him away.
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+2 Path to Exile +2 Rest in Peace
On the draw against a Tarmogoyf deck, I don't think Eidolon does enough to justify the boost it gives Goyf.
For game two I double mulligan while my opponent single mulligans. I expect to get destroyed by discard, but instead, my opponent has all creatures against my multiple Searing Blazes. His final Goyf can't win the race in time, so I end up 3-3.
The Top 8 consists of two Hammer Time decks, Grixis Shadow, UW Control, Esper Reanimator, Cascade Crashers, the Amulet player who beat me, and a 4-Color Omnath deck. I don't know if it was Blink or Control. Crashers won the whole thing (based on what I saw from the Companion App).
After Action Report
Things didn't go my way. It happens. However, that also means it's very frustrating trying to make sense of it all and learn from failure. There were no specific misplays that doomed me in my losses. Against Amulet, my deck just bricked off for three turns in game one and I didn't have an actual chance in game three. That's how that matchup goes. Against Prison Tron, in both the first and third games I took the line of burning their face rather than their Karn. My opponent got to wish for a lock piece already, so putting them within one burn spell rather than two seemed more likely to win. It didn't work out in either case because I didn't draw the burn, but the alternative feels like I was just going to lose more slowly. And then Burn is just bad against graveyard decks.
My deck wasn't running well, but that feels like small potatoes compared to just being on the wrong end of the Pairings God. There was a lot of 4-Color Omnath and cascade of all flavors at the RCQ. I wanted those matchups and didn't get them. Instead, I got my worst matchup from Tier one and a lot of Tier three or lower decks. This was totally out of my control or ability to predict, but that's how it goes. You have to remember that half of tournament success is showing up well prepared with the right deck. The other is getting matchups that are winnable and performing well in them. I feel that I did the former to the best of my ability. It was the latter where things went wrong.
It Is What It Is
It always sucks when losses are down to misfortune and pairings rather than being outplayed in the game. However, that is going to happen to everyone eventually. The only thing to do is take it on the chin, complain in your weekly column, and move on.