Players Championship Thoughts and Theories

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One year ago today I was riding the best hot streak of my magic playing career. I had top 8ed roughly half the major events I played in the fall of 2014. I won an open, top 8’d another, won Legacy Champs, and top 8’d a super Sunday Series Legacy event. I was ready to crush the inaugural SCG Players Championship. The event excited me and I felt like it was a reward for having a decent year grinding the open series. Maybe I was overconfident (I’m often overconfident), maybe I was underprepared (I’m almost always underprepared), maybe I was just happy to be playing in the event. Maybe all three. But regardless of the contributing factors, I got crushed. I won only one round in the standard portion and consequentially never made it to legacy. My deck for standard was poorly constructed and my approach to the tournament was likely completely wrong. I played the absurdly powerful Jeskai tokens deck that Yuuya Watanabe played at Worlds that year. I added Mantis Riders to help with the Doomwake Giants I expected to see. I had a schizophrenic and generally unfocused and underpowered sideboard when I should’ve had a sideboard with mostly 3 and 4 ofs. In a 16 person tournament you have to be ready for the extreme in deck choices and 3 of the 16 people played Heroic. My one Glare of Heresy was embarrassing. It’s important to have multiple copies of the best sideboard cards because you won’t play against 5-6 different decks, likely you’ll play 1-3 different decks and hopefully have 4 hosers for each matchup. I expected a fair number of Constellation and Whip decks and only played one or two Erase in my board. I played against two Sultai Whip decks and was lucky to manage a 1-1 record there. I had a hunch that a UB control deck with Perilous Vault and Ashiok would’ve been a great choice but was blinded by my comfort and success with Jeskai decks. I maintain that UB would’ve been great but alas, we’ll never know. This year I won’t be afraid to leave my comfort zone.

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It often happens that the toughest opponent we face in this game is our own ego and stubbornness. At least this holds true for me. I’ve had average results with Dark Jeskai lately and can’t bring myself to ditch the archetype for the PC. Dark Jeskai is likely to be a good choice for the event though. I expect Abzan Aggro, Atarka Red, and the mirror. Along with a couple Esper Dragons decks. The players are generally pretty good so they’ll gravitate towards the tier one decks. There’s also a bias in small events towards decks that are linear and powerful. Last year saw lots of Jeskai and Heroic and this year will probably be lots of Abzan and red aggro. Jeskai is great because even if it is poorly positioned you can never miss by that much. It’ll be 47% against the field and tight play and knowledge of your deck and the format can help you win the close ones. The Esper deck I tested was pretty poor against Warden of the First Tree and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Also, it felt pretty clunky against the red deck. It had a low number of instant speed removal spells. The card that did excite me a whole lot was Murderous Cut. That card was great and I was almost always able to cast it for cheap in the midgame. I could be receptive to cutting a few of the Tasigurs from my Jeskai deck for a couple Cuts. Cheap removal affords me the luxury of playing more objectively powerful threats. Playing Gideon on 5 mana and casting Murderous Cut on the creature that tries to kill it is a huge tempo swing. I’ll be sure to talk more about Jeskai as the event approaches. For now, I want to discuss legacy and the deck I’m considering.

This is the deck I want to test for the legacy portion of the players champs.

So this list is essentially copied card for card from one I found that top 32ed the open in New Jersey a few weeks back. I played in that event and piloted Shardless Sultai to a 10-5 top 64 finish. My tournament consisted of losing the first two rounds after my byes, then losing to turn two Blood Moon and turn one Blood Moon out of Omnitell. Finishing day one at 6-3 after beating a lands opponent who mulligained a bunch. I then lost my first two matches on day two and won the last four to cash the event. My first loss of day two came at the hands of a Merfolk deck. This loss is what got me thinking because even with a relative wealth of legacy experience I was basically helpless. All my conventional attempts at interacting were thwarted by their deck construction. When a deck makes a True Name Nemesis, copies it with Phantasmal Image and equips it with a Jitte the ways you can interact with them are seriously reduced. Merfolk is great against fair decks. Now, the PC should have a fair number of experienced legacy players who favor the interactive fair decks like Delver and Miracles. And Merfolk should have a fair chance against these decks. But what truly excites me about the prospect of playing Merfolk is that the plan of multiple True Names isn’t the only way you can invalidate most of your opponents deck. The list also includes 4 copies of beloved hoser artifact Chalice of the Void. Multiple players championship hopefuls have shown a proficiency with storm decks in legacy. Chalice on 1 is basically unbeatable for storm decks in game one. An early Chalice can turn your opponents hand into 3-5 dead cards. The deck makes up for its relative lack of objectively powerful spells (Brainstorm, Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, Deathrite Shaman) by playing powerful hosers like Chalice and ways to make your opponent’s entire deck irrelevant (True Name, Cavern of Souls, Aether vial or Kira to a lesser extent). Cavern of Souls or Aether vial can even invalidate the entire plan A from a Miracles deck. True-Name Nemesis ignores the Punishing Fire engine and the Maze of Ith that lands used to crush conventional creature decks. With the sideboard dedicated mostly towards beating unfair decks and a powerful proactive game plan, Merfolk is poised to be a major spoiler in this modified legacy metagame. One of the worst matchups for Merfolk is burn. Nobody is going to risk playing burn in an event likely to be filled with Storm, Show and Tell, and Miracles. All of those decks are relatively well positioned against burn. Stoneblade decks can use their own True Names and equipment to dismantle the board presence of the Merfolk deck. Stoneblade is historically pretty poor against miracles and combo decks, especially those packing discard spells like storm or reanimator. These matchup dynamics make it relatively unlikely that anyone will choose to battle in the PC with decks that are particularly bad for Merfolk.

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Lastly, I want to briefly discuss the interesting nature of this tournament that I’m preparing for. It is a 16 person event broken down into pods and spread out over all three constructed formats. Deck selection is incredibly important. You are likely to have to pick three good and well positioned decks. This is incredibly difficult when you take into account all the leveling and metagaming going on. People are going to play what they’ve been doing well with on the open series all year. Other people will play the polar opposite of that. It’s all about testing against the expected field. Joe Lossett made a name for himself with several high profile open and invitational finishes playing miracles in legacy. He played 4 color reanimator with Gemstone Caverns maindeck at the player’s champs last year! What on Earth?! That’s crazy! Or maybe it’s brilliant. That’s the unique nature of a multi-format 16 person invitational. Does everyone think I’m going to play Jeskai or Dark Jeskai in standard? Probably. Are they right? Most likely. But I could play Atarka red, or Abzan, or Esper Dragons. People can’t be too sure. There’s infinite levels to the thought process and if you don’t really know the people involved it can be super tough. I’m sure most of the players expect me to show up with an interactive fair blue deck in legacy. Stoneblade, a delver deck, a Young Pyromancer deck, or maybe even Shardless (combo matchup is bad so most people will realize this won’t happen). I’m planning on sleeving up Merfolk in an attempt to transcend the stereotypical lack of range that I’ve expressed so far this year. I could still be persuaded to sneak attack a spaghetti monster but I’m pretty close to locked in on Cursecatcher. Next week we’ll talk about my last week of preparation and the results of my last standard testing events. And also my modern deck choice and why it is the one I’m likely most confident in. Hope to see you all back next week. I’ll be writing a weekly article for the Kirwan’s Game Store and you can find them right here if you happen to enjoy what you’re reading. I’m growing as a writer and enjoying the process and I’m glad some of you take the time out of your day to read what I have to say. It’ll generally be standard strategy or the occasional modern or legacy article. I just figured that the unique nature of the player’s championship warranted a little bit of documentation of my thought and preparation process. So that explains the relatively disjointed structure of this thing.

-Kevin Jones

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