Daddy’s Home! SCG Players’ Championship Report: Part 1

KevinJones

When I last wrote an article I was chronicling my possible deck choices and preparation theories for the Star City Games Players’ Championship. It was one of the most important events of my magic life and I wasn’t ready to let this one slip away like it did last year. The competition was going to be intense, the decks would be good, and the coverage and matches would be riveting. This was my chance to prove that I can hang with some of the best players on the open series and in the world. Obviously the interesting structure of the event means that you can do well without being the best (the Champion went 2-5 on day one and 4-0 on day two) but the results do matter and generally you’ll be rewarded for good preparation and good play. I was much better prepared than last year and when I arrived in Roanoke on Thursday night I was still scared by how ready Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson, and Tom Ross appeared. It may seem like the local guys who make content for SCG have an advantage for this event because it takes place in their hometown. And that’s true to a degree because they don’t have to deal with the hassle of traveling, flights, car rides, hotels, etc. But the reason why they always do so well is because they just happen to be some of the best in the world at preparing for events. I knew that I would have to get through these guys, who live and breathe magic, to win the whole thing. My deck choices definitely took them into account, especially in legacy and standard. I picked a standard deck that I was comfortable with that I thought would match up well against Abzan and Dark Jeskai. In legacy I sought to invalidate as many of my opponents’ cards as possible. I picked a legacy deck that would be pretty well positioned against infect and delver decks. As for modern, I expected a reasonable amount of unfair decks as well as burn and affinity to attempt to go under the midrange strategies. I chose the deck I did because it has a good matchup against the aggressive decks and a combo finish for the other unfair decks. As well as the flexibility to grind out the bgx strategies. Before I go over my deck choices I wanted to briefly touch on the pre tournament things.

First, before I even got to Roanoke I spent a couple days in Charlottesville, Virginia testing and hanging out with Open Series grinder and top 16 expert, Harlan Firer. Harlan helped me out with a few last minute card choices and strategized with me about what cards became less good because of the deck lists being presented at the beginning of each round. A couple of spicy one of’s got cut because they just wouldn’t be surprising anyone with shared deck lists. He also helped fuel my Chick-Fil-A addiction and we got some awesome practice in with the locals at his store. So thanks again, bud! After that visit I headed to Roanoke and made it just in time to get a haircut and some new clothes and make it to the group dinner. It was a nice way to relax before a high intensity weekend and my mental acuity was taxed early on as I figured out how to avoid eventual Players’ Championship winner, Jim Davis, as he aggressively suggested that I sing karaoke. After I miraculously avoided the stage and the embarrassment of being utterly tone deaf in public we headed back to the hotel to rest up before the interviews the next morning. The deck techs and interviews may seem like a formality but they’re an awesome part of the finished product that SCG is presenting and I’ll say that they’re one of my favorite parts of the Players’ Champs. I had an awesome time going over my legacy Merfolk deck with the coverage team and loved being able to talk about myself a bit in the interview. The viewers of coverage get to see so much of us throughout the year but they know so little about many of the grinders. So the ability to provide some background to attach to the faces is beneficial to both parties. Getting to be part of an awesome production like the SCG PC Media Day is what really makes me feel like I’m making a name for myself in magic. So thanks to everyone involved in that. Now for some deck lists!

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Legacy: Merfolk

So this is very different from what most people expected me to play in the legacy portion of the PC. My goal for the legacy format was to choose a deck that would invalidate many strategies others chose to play. I wanted to be good against Delver, Storm, and Miracles. I expected the majority of the field to be composed of interactive blue decks and unfair decks. I wanted to play Force of Will but I also wanted to play a main deck hate card for all the Delver decks and Storm. I discovered that Merfolk plays 4 main deck Chalice of the Void as well as Force of Will, Aether Vial, True-Name Nemesis, and Cavern of Souls. These cards would make the best cards in Miracles and Delver largely irrelevant. Cavern and Vial will make the Counterbalance lock and the permission suite of delver decks useless. Chalice will shut down the majority of the cards in delver and storm decks. It’s also pretty good against miracles and most other fair blue decks. Other midrange decks like Stoneblade and Shardless Sultai would struggle to deal with the 4 True-Name Nemesis and 3 Phantasmal Image to copy them. The rest of the deck is pretty self explanatory. It consists of Merfolk and lands to cast them. 8 Lords, 4 Silvergill Adept, and 4 Cursecatcher. All of these are mainstays for any Merfolk deck and provide disruption, redundancy, and smoothness to the deck’s draws. The two copies of Harbinger of the Tides were a nod to Delver and Marit Lage tokens. I could’ve played the third but I thought it would likely just be a 2/2 against half the format. It’s so good when it does do something that it may be worth playing 3 anyway. I also chose to play one Misdirection to make my opponents Abrupt Decays and discard spells worse and one Umezawa’s Jitte for some lifegain and as an out to Stoneforge Mystics. I can cast Phantasmal Image, copy their Stoneforge, and go get my Jitte to put on my True-Name. My sideboard was heavily slanted towards the decks I expected most with some support for corner case strategies.

3 Flusterstorm – One of the best sideboard cards against combo decks in legacy, also good against miracles and can still be cast through a chalice on one (copies have no cost).

2 Submerge – One of the few pieces of removal the Merfolk deck can afford to play. At its strongest against Infect, RUG/BUG Delver, and Elves.

2 Dismember Additional ways to kill Tarmogoyf and Delver of Secrets. As well as good against other creature decks and creature based combo like Infect or Painter.

2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner – This card barely made the cut but I knew it could somewhat reliably block a flipped Delver (Insectile Aberration). Also, great against any fair decks since they already have a relatively small window in which removal matters. They’re consequentially incentivized to cast their spells while they can and while they have targets. Responding with Kira could be a blowout.

2 Pithing Needle – Lands isn’t likely a good matchup and this is some help for that. Hopefully needle can name one of their early win conditions or Maze of Ith and your creatures can win the game before their inevitability is recognized. Coincidentally a great card against Miracles since a miracled Terminus during your combat or end step is one of their best ways to beat you.

2 Grafdigger’s Cage – Additional hate against Past in Flames from storm as well a fantastic option against Reanimator or Dredge, fringe strategies that could be a sneaky metagame choice. Also helpful against Elves which is one of your worst matchups as a Merfolk mage.

1 Misdirection – Great against Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt decks. Especially those that play delver as well cause you can redirect their spell to their own creature to end the racing situation on the spot. Additional interaction against storm and can always counter a [cardRed Elemental Blast[/card] or a Counterspell.

1 Umezawa’s Jitte – I wouldn’t play this again. Could be the small sample size but it turned out that Jitte wasn’t even good against delver decks and Elves is close to unwinnable anyway. I might play it in an open to combat random creature decks and burn but my thought was that it would crush delver and it turned out that they can’t board out all their counters and have basically no other targets for their permission so Jitte is counterintuitive to the plan. One Jitte in the 75 is good but the second is likely a mistake.

Final Result: 2-2

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I got off to a great start beating Rudy’s Miracles deck 2-0 after getting one of my two Wastelands both games and his hands were pretty mana light. Vial and cavern shined as well. 1-0

The next round was more smooth sailing for Merfolk. I played against Jacob Wilson and his Grixis Delver deck and a timely Lord helped me one shot him from ten in the first game. I had Misdirection backup but he was empty handed so I knew it was safe to take a hit to 3 from his creatures. In the second game he hits me a couple times with his flipped delver but I play a lord every turn with Misdirection backup and he draws soft permission after I’ve drawn cavern. The strategy of preventing your opponents cards from doing anything shined in these two match ups. My deck was linear, powerful, and smooth. At this point I was feeling pretty good about my deck choice. 2-0

The final round of pool play saw me pitted against Brad Nelson and his Death and Taxes deck that he had perfected with help from European experts over the past few weeks. The European legacy scene is thriving and they have an affinity for this disruptive white weenie deck built on incremental advantages. I felt good about the match up cause they can struggle with True-Name and I had lots of them. But they’re a better deck in broken games and can capitalize if you draw a hand weak to mana denial or don’t draw vial. Game one I mulled to six, forced his vial, and drew too many colorless lands. His second vial let him play the mana denial game and he cruised to victory. Game two he mulled and the game stalled out. I was able to break parity with a True-Name and an image to copy it. In the third game I wasn’t able to answer his vial and he was able to easy navigate my awkward sideboard cards and my images that made fragile Flickerwisps. Mono blue beatdown is understandably weak to flying creatures and Sword of Fire and Ice. I was convincingly defeated. 2-1

Losing round 3 sent me to a destination match. Winning the match locks me for day two and I get to battle for byes. Losing the match puts me in an elimination pod. I get paired against Elves played by Jon Morawski and I play horrendously and get crushed in short order. I also discover that this match up is way worse than I thought and that it likely wouldn’t have mattered if I had a few more sideboard cards. My deck is markedly worse when my opponents don’t have islands. 2-2

So a great start was easily reversed and I knew I would be playing modern for my tournament life. Next part we will talk about my modern pod and the reasons behind my deck choice of UR Twin. Also there might be a cameo by some silly lanterns and awesome bluffs (by my opponents). Thanks for reading, check back soon for part two!

-Kevin Jones-

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