A a couple of weeks ago I was all packed up and ready to hit the road for last weekend’s SCG invitational in New Jersey. My MGG teammates and I invited some friends and holed up in a hotel suite from Wednesday to Sunday. We spent the first two days trying to prepare for the most important event of the season thus far. We were joined by Ross Merriam, Todd Anderson, Harlan Firer, Frank Skarren, and Ben Friedman. Although Ben’s travel conflicts prevented him from arriving early he was able to communicate remotely and still managed to post a solid finish, losing the last round where a win might’ve given him 8th or 9th. Frank is a two time limited Grand Prix champion and is currently reintegrating himself into competitive magic. He was unable to win either of the last minute IQs at the nearby store, The Only Game in Town, and was actually not qualified for the invi. He still was a great testing partner as he was always eager to jam games despite his relative inexperience with current standard. Harlan, Ross, and Todd are all established personalities on the SCG tour and they need no introduction. Both Harlan and I won our regionals with Bant Company and were ready to bash the deck against all opposition. If nothing beat it then we would easily be able to iron out a good list and spend lots of time getting the perfect numbers. But things did beat it. Those things played the card Kozilek’s Return along with giant monsters to activate its flashback ability. Early on in testing our team was very interested in a Sultai Dredge style emerge deck that splashed for Kozilek’s return and supported elder deep-fiends and distended Mindbenders with the resilient value creatures Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam. The deck managed to do some very broken things such as flipping Jace on turn 3, putting a Haunted Dead, a spirit, and two Prized Amalgams into play on turn 3, protecting Jace with a wall of spiders from Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and casting Traverse the Ulvenwald multiple turns in a row to chain deep fiends. The deck also was able to return a haunted dead discarding a K return and trigger prized amalgam, emerge deep fiend off the haunted dead, return prized amalgam after the k return flashback resolved. The initial testing against Bant resulted in a convincing victory by the Dredge deck. 6-1 in games. The deck was doing some of the more unfair things you could be doing in standard. It was, however, inconsistent. After I played games where I was aggressively attacking the Jaces and the green graveyard enabler cards, I was able to manage a 6-2 record with the Bant deck against the dredge deck. Andrew, Danny, Ross, Jim, and Ben all played the Dredge deck. Ben lost playing for top 8, maybe 9th, to Josh Taylor’s BW Control. But as a whole, the performances with the deck weren’t spectacular. Ben was also able to win his RPTQ with an updated version of the dredge deck that we talked about briefly Saturday night. Danny went 6-0 in the standard classic before losing two matches in a row. Jim was able to convert and top 8 the standard classic. They were both playing the dredge deck. Limited master Frank Skarren took his second loss at 6-1 in the classic as well. So it seems that the deck is actually much more consistent than it appeared. Everyone was doing pretty mediocre midway through day one and it was possible they made the wrong deck choice. Andrew managed a top 32 finish in the invitational with the deck and his choice modern deck, GU Infect. Some decent results overall for the guys this weekend. I had a pretty rough weekend myself, however. I was unable to day two the invitational, managing only a 2-2 record in modern and a 1-2 record in standard. I played Harlan’s RUG Midrange deck, the same one he played to 12-3 at GP Charlotte and 11-3-1 for 11th place at SCG Syracuse. His results were definitely good with the deck and it was also surely my type of deck. I was beaten badly by Daddy Michael Segal and his Bant Eldrazi deck in the first round then beaten just as badly by a very good Jund player in the second round. The next two rounds were better but only cause I played against blue decks. The RUG midrange deck is heavily favored against other blue decks. It plays 4 copies of Remand and has 4 Snapcasters and Tarmogoyfs, as well as a bevy of cheap permission. I was able to defeat Jeskai Delver and Grixis Control rather handily.
My standard rounds were a continuation of the mediocrity of my modern rounds. I lost round 5 to player of the year front runner Jeff Hoogland and his Jund delirium deck. After winning an academic first game my mulligan to six had duskwatch recruiter into Tamiyo, Field Researcher. One of his two copies of To the Slaughter destroyed me in short order. Game 3 was back and forth and despite being behind early I had flipped a Nissa and began to battle back. I couldn’t beat his Emrakul when it was backed by double Ishkanah activation however. Round 6 I defeated a U/R Burn player in 3 close games. The pivotal turn involved a Dromoka’s Command to prevent a Collective Defiance and kill his Stormchaser Mage. Fortunately, the command was my last card and he took the chance that I didn’t have it. I lost a close round 7 to Andy Boswell and his trusty G/W Tokens deck. The two post-board games were extremely close and I ended up on the wrong side of an Avacyn both times.
It was very discouraging to miss out on day two and lose control of my own destiny in the Players’ Championship race. I felt lost in modern and likely should’ve just played Bant Eldrazi despite having little familiarity with the deck. I took a chance on the R/U/G deck and feel like I threw away a shot a good invitational finish. I think my standard deck was good, but I played rather poorly, especially against Andrew. However, my mediocre performance left me outside smoking and shaking off the sting of defeat. While I smoked and tilted off, something I’ve been working on harnessing better than I had in years past, I noticed an imposing shadow adjacent to me, also smoking intently. It turned out that the shadow was attached to a person, a common characteristic of shadows. The person was also a magic player and happened to be the most dominant player in SCG invitational history. But Gerry T, the owner of the shadow, was not there to play great magic with mediocre Grixis decks. He was there to impart his own brand of wisdom. We proceeded to have a very interesting conversation. I lamented not knowing if I would earn my slot to the Players’ Champs or not. As it stood I was in, but a powerful performance from Devin Koepke or Ross Merriam could end up bumping me. Gerry asked me, “If one of those guys does well and passes you did you earn your slot?” I replied immediately, “Hell no!” He nodded, paused a second, and said “Well, what’s the difference if they don’t pass you? You’ve done the same amount of work and performed the same at this point regardless of whether you make it or not. So how could, would you be earning it either way?” I never really thought about it like that and was basically at a loss for words. I responded that I felt earnings were relative. That a performance that leaves you in one of the top 3 points slots at the end of a season earns you a berth to the important end of the year event. And that there’s no objective amount of points that is deemed “good enough” since everything is based off the amount of points others are achieving. So basically, you’re always gauging your success on the backs of the failures of others. Also, Gerry posits that setting the goal of reaching the PC will yield within oneself a degree of settling, of satisfaction with having reached one’s goal. I said naturally “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.” He thinks the initial goal should be to win, because otherwise you’re tempering your fire once you get there. Which again, kinda blew my mind. I have always preferred baby steps, and felt that setting a short term goal would allow me to reevaluate for the long term. But I had to ask myself, “Am I okay with losing in the tournament that I’ve been working towards all year?” And the answer is I’m not really sure. When I saw the new structure I wanted to use the momentum gained from my top 4 finish last December to springboard myself towards a return to Roanoke this December. I wanted to show everyone that I didn’t need the points from IQs to do it either. And I guess that’s what I did. All along I kept saying “get that invite, get that slot” instead of “win the players champs this winter.” So in a way I was allowing myself to be okay with failure. I think most people do this to a degree, albeit in different ways. Some people say, “get a job” or “get a girlfriend or boyfriend” not “find work that makes me happy and fulfilled” or “find someone with whom I would be honored to spend forever.” Are we all kinda missing the point? I’m not sure, I think small goals are important, but long term goals are the ones you should really never lose sight of. I’m already thinking about hoisting that huge SCGPC trophy so I guess that’s a step in the right direction. I’m out of here for this week, thanks everyone for reading my rambles about something other than decklists with Reflector Mage or Snapcaster Mage in them. I’ll leave you guys with 5 funny anecdotes from our invi weekend, take care!
-Harlan Firer was eating some mysterious pizza off an actual glass plate while sitting in my car on Saturday morning. I have no idea where the pizza came from and can only assume that the hotel will miss their plate because it’s still in my backseat, caked with pizza. He also went 0-7 between the invi modern and the modern open. What a hungry wall of frost!
-Todd Anderson is way better at basketball than anyone would have anticipated. He’s a short stocky dude and you wouldn’t think he can ball, but that guy is tenacious! One little butt thrust box out move and I was resigned to different approaches to rebounding. Side note, Jim Davis hasn’t gotten the best of me in any athletic competitions we’ve done as part of team MGG. Danny and I beat Jim, Ross, and Harlan in two of three games with a barely mobile Andrew Jessup as our third teammate. They were only able to win once Ross tapped out and was replaced by tenacious Todd.
-Tom Ross says great things. Tom approached me before we all left on Monday morning and asked for a cigarette. I naturally responded with, “DADDYYY!” Tom spoke in his deep southern drawl as I handed him a smoke and said “You’re like a Pokemon.” Truer words have never been spoken.
-Commentary is really hard. Matthias Hunt is one of the smartest dudes around. He broke down some of the many complexities inherent to coverage broadcasting and my mind was blown. The guys who bring you these stellar broadcasts week in and week out put an incredible amount of time into doing so. We are fortunate enough to be sponsored players because it’s much easier than being behind the mic.
-I can do a front flip basically on flat ground. Harlan was staying with me in New York this week in preparation for the RPTQ at our very own Kirwan’s Game Store this past Sunday. We decided to spend Monday afternoon at one of the greatest vacation destinations America has to offer, the Jersey Shore. Harlan was pestering me to go in the ocean Monday evening before we headed home. We had been swimming earlier and were way too loose to bring or buy a towel. I was hesitant to get wet again because it would make the 2.5 hour drive home considerably less comfortable. Changing clothes in your car is illegal in the state of New Jersey and I don’t break the law. So I would be resigned to a wet butt for almost 3 hours if I did take another dip. When he threatened to splash me like a petulant child I acquiesced and basically tilt-charged into the ocean. I decided to use the favorite ocean entrance move of my 14 year old self, a crisp front flip over the wave breaking on shore. The water behind the wave is roughly knee deep and will cushion the fall if you don’t stick it. So I went for it and the next thing I knew I was standing in knee deep water and everyone was kinda looking at me. I even heard some clapping. Daddy’s still got the moves, kids!
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