Daddy’s Home! SCG Players’ Championship Report: Part 3

KevinJones

Hello, everyone! This is the article you’ve all been waiting for. This is the article where I scramble to justify putting Mantis Rider in my standard decks and shamelessly encourage you all to follow suit. Today I’ll be bringing you the third part of my SCG Players’ Championship report. We’ll be discussing standard, my deck choice, and the end of the tournament as well as reflecting on the event as a whole. So, let’s go!

If you are just joining us, feel free to catch up by reading part one HERE and part two HERE!

Ever since the release of Battle for Zendikar, I’ve been struggling with standard. I’ve had some very minor successes with Jeskai Black (won two state champs and a few IQs) but I’ve felt lost in the mirror match and with the progression of the deck overall. I had trouble closing games with the version without Mantis Rider and would lose games with multiple riders in hand where I just fell too far behind to get my spells out of my hand. In the mirror match, I would be losing games where I was too aggressive and losing games where I was too controlling. It felt like everything I was doing was wrong and I was dreading the standard portion of the Players’ Champs. I expected a ton of Abzan and Jeskai Black. I couldn’t get my Jeskai Black deck to a spot where I liked both of those match ups and didn’t sacrifice several other match ups in the process. I was ready to give up and play Eldrazi Ramp (funny in hindsight) or Atarka Red and my brother, Derek, jokingly offered his GWu Megamorph deck. He had been doing moderately well with the deck, beating up on most of his Jeskai Black opponents and doing generally well against Abzan. I laughed and declined the offer. While I did think Megamorph was a powerful strategy I didn’t want to abandon Jeskai for the most important tournament of the year. But, I thought, maybe I could have both. I could take the powerful proactive Jeskai cards I liked, Mantis Rider, Seeker of the Way, Jeskai Charm, Treasure Cruise, and Dispel and combine them with the powerful and hard to answer threats that make Megamorph a good deck. I always felt like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was a great place to be against Jeskai Black. Especially after they decided to remove Mantis Rider from their decks. Wingmate Roc was a natural progression from and compliment to Gideon and I thought it would be a great place to take Jeskai. Thus, old school Jeskai was reborn.

So now that I had a deck, or at least an idea for a deck, I needed to iron out all the card choices in the two days I had before I submitted my list to SCG on Wednesday afternoon. The early deck list submission is super important because I actually ended up doing more testing after I submitted than I did before. I’ll explain my card choices in the following section even though some of them ended up being wrong in hindsight.

Main deck.

4 Mantis Rider, 4 Seeker of the Way, 4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy – These 4 ofs were all slam dunk auto includes and all proactive Jeskai Aggro decks should likely play 4 copies of these cards. Jace might seem like it isn’t as effective in this deck and at a base level that’s true. There’s less spells to flashback for an advantage and there’s less delve spells to fuel with the loot effect as well. Also, Jace has zero power and you often want your two drop to start attacking early on in this deck. Conversely, Jace is a lightning rod for removal. It might be such that your Jace dies immediately. This is okay in many situations because you have increased the chances that one of your other creatures lives or that your Gideon is harder to attack or burn out. I still like 4 Jaces but if the next set yields another playable two drop for this archetype I could see going down to 3 or even 2. Most of the time Jace will flash back a removal spell and soak up some damage and most of their turn which is great since you can make fantastic use of the tempo and value it has provided you. Seeker is the best two drop for an aggressive Jeskai deck, races well, and plays great with Treasure Cruise, Gideon, and Roast. Mantis Rider needs no explanation and is the backbone of all these aggressive Jeskai decks.

3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, 2 Wingmate Roc, 2 Dispel – These 7 cards represent the package that I sought to incorporate into Jeskai to enable me to effectively combat Jeskai Black. I wanted to be threat heavy since my experience with Jeskai Black had resulted in a decent amount of flooding. As these decks moved into cruise/truths instead of dig they became much more likely to flood out. Consequentially, I wanted to present a bunch of tough to deal with threats.

2 Roast, 2 Valorous Stance – These are the best removal spells for trading up if you’re not playing black in your Jeskai deck. Roast can be narrow for different reasons than stance can. I wanted 4 ways to kill a Siege Rhino and wanted to hedge against Jace and Monastery Mentor while simultaneously having the option available to have some added threat protection. In a format defined by Crackling Doom and Abzan Charm you’re not going to be able to reliably protect your threats with stance. However, the instant speed aspect plus occasionally being able to trade an otherwise dead card for a removal spell from your opponents makes stance a totally warranted inclusion. Lastly, without Soulfire Grand Master in your deck, Valorous Stance is way better than Roast against Atarka Red and their Become Immense/Temur Battle Rage combo. I think the 2/2 split is a fine main deck configuration.

3 Fiery Impulse/1 Wild Slash – The aggressive slant to this version of Jeskai is more likely to need some reach to close the game out so the superior removal spell is shaved in favor of one copy that goes upstairs. Slash can also finish off their Gideon which is an effect you’re wanting for since cutting Crackling Doom.

3 Hangarback Walker – This is probably the best way to go wide while also making their removal less effective. I considered Hordeling Outburst but the lack of flying plus my deck’s inherent weakness to Soulfire Grand Master made me go with Hangarback.

2 Jeskai Charm – There should’ve been 3 copies of this card in my deck. It’s just very good at doing several different things the deck wants to do. It’s great for racing, turning a corner, closing a game, or even removing a crucial attacker when you’ve fallen behind. The only downside is charm is a little expensive. 3 mana is slightly too much to pay for any of the one effects on charm, especially when you’re on the back foot. The versatility makes it worth it though. Going forward I think both 2 and 3 copies are fine numbers.

2 Treasure Cruise – The mana base is white centric and doesn’t have the natural wealth of blue sources that other Jeskai decks have had in the past. Also, less cheap answers and more expensive threats makes cruise get the nod over dig for three reasons:

– You’re less likely to be in need of two specific answers and more likely to be in need of just “some action”.
– The lands you’ll naturally draw with cruise will help you deploy two spells in one turn in the midgame.
– You’re only playing one basic island and thus, your blue sources will be other colored sources as well. Cruise costing only one colored mana affords you the luxury of leaving up several different colors of untapped mana. Hopefully this will allow you to play as many combinations of cards you could’ve drawn into as possible.

1 Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker – The last slot in the main deck became this Sarkhan last minute. Sarkhan is a great card and I believe that it’s generally well positioned more often than not. The plus one and the minus three abilities are both pretty bad against Crackling Doom though. This slot was originally the third Wingmate Roc and I never had a problem turning on raid so the third roc is the best card here, probably.

25 lands – The manabase is pretty self explanatory and the green lands enable the sideboard splash but actually make the mana better even if you weren’t playing green cards at all. The fourth copy of Wooded Foothills was pretty bad in the late game and could get cut for a random Shivan Reef or Battlefield Forge.

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Sideboard.

3 Disdainful Stroke – I was really worried that someone would play Esper Dragons and/or Eldrazi Ramp. Also, without Crackling Doom you’re weaker to Siege Rhino and Gideon so these would come in for the Abzan matchup as well.

2 Radiant Flames – Obviously a great sweeper for Atarka Red decks, Landfall decks, and even something like Bant Megamorph if it were to show up.

2 Outpost Siege – Expanding on the theme of hard to deal with permanents for the Jeskai Black matchup. Also great against Esper, Mardu, and warrants consideration in some slower builds of Abzan.

2 [card]Roast – Die, Abzan creatures!

2 Den Protector – As the number of Ojutai’s Commands in Jeskai Black slowly decreases this card, one of the strongest against the deck, becomes less of a liability. The additional body plus the inherent card advantage and the wide range of things you can get with Den Protector makes it a great addition in the grindy matchups. The green splash is completely free since the two green battle lands actually improve your manabase.

2 Arashin Cleric – One of the best sideboard options against the wide angle of attack, token based red decks. Blocks well and let’s you use your life total as a resource to better leverage your spot removal. The lifegain prevents you from needing to cast your removal on their terms. Also, you can induce an Atarka’s command on your turn just to prevent the lifegain. Most people won’t bite on this but presenting them with a way to be punished for using their commands too aggressively will add a new dynamic to the matchup which is generally a good thing for you, being the more interactive deck.

1 Dispel – Cheap way to protect your threats against Jeskai Black and Esper while also being great against red decks. The third Disdanful Stroke and the sideboard Dispel should’ve been two Negates. I grossly underestimated the power of Radiant Flames against my deck.

1 Dromoka’s Command – Well, at least I have one way to counter Radiant Flames. This is versatile against any damage based removal while also being a nice silver bullet if someone randomly tries to play Jeskai Ascendancy.

So that’s it for the deck primer. I’ll briefly recap the three rounds I played with my deck. The day two format was standard and all the matches were single elimination and for at least 1,000 dollars each. It was an honor to play in such an intense and exclusive event. Also a ton of fun. Hopefully I can get back to the event again next year.

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Wild Card round (top 12) Vs. Jacob Wilson (Rg Landfall)

I thought Jacob would be on Jeskai Black and was ready for a tough fight. I also thought Abzan and Esper Dragons were in his range for this event. When I saw he was playing landfall I got a bit of a rush. This matchup should be pretty good for my Jeskai deck. My higher seeding put me on the play and that’s a huge boon for Jeskai in the matchup. I knew it would still be hard cause Jacob is obviously very good. While I think Rg Landfall is a smart metagame call as it can go big better than Atarka Red post board and thus has a better Jeskai Black matchup I still think playing a deck that better leverages skill would’ve been right for him. Regardless, I had a good draw and so did he. I almost held up mana instead of playing Mantis Rider on my third turn but I felt like it would be too easy for him to press his advantage without committing if I didn’t get on the board. I chose to chump with my Jace and loot to save the damage from the attacking Scythe Leopard. Jacob said afterwards that he could’ve put me to one if he had gone all in and attacked with den protector as well. He chose not to though and I untapped with impulse, stance, Dispel in hand. When he played Atarka’s command and Become Immense on his Den Protector that I blocked with Mantis Rider I was able to counter the command and kill his Den Protector while also killing the 4/4 Leopard with Valorous Stance. I was able to draw another impulse to kill his Swiftspear and clear his board. From there I won easily with Mantis Rider and the Sarkhan that I was eventually able to cast. Game two I was able to get a two for one out of my Radiant Flames and my attempt to use a second flames to kill his morph almost left me dead since he cast Become Immense and saved it and then flipped his Den Protector and put me to 7 and got back his Become Immense while adding a Snapping Gnarlid to the board. Now I was at 8 and dead to any land after I used a Roast on the Den Protector. I faded the draw step and he decided to use Temur Battle Rage to hit me for 4 with his Gnarlid, leaving me dead to any Atarka’s Command off the top. I got out a Hangarback Walker and killed his Gnarlid. I was able to fade Atarka’s Command again and raid a Wingmate Roc. The next attack gained me 3 life and I drew an Arashin Cleric, going up to 9. One more attack and the game was over. I got pretty lucky to fade any land in game 2 but I wasn’t sure if there were any other options that were better because making him cast Become Immense greatly decreases his options for the Den Protector’s regrowth ability. Also, it means I’m not getting combo killed next turn. Either way, I got through on the back of my efficient removal spells. (2-0)

Quarterfinals (top 8) Caleb Scherer-Abzan Aggro.

I liked this matchup but was growing anxious because I’d been sitting for a few hours between matches. I thought my threats matched up well against his removal and I would also be able to get a card out of my Dispels since he had cuts, charms, and commands. I’ll spare the play by play for this one and instead describe a few interesting turns. I was able to turn the corner in game 1 on turn 5 when I charmed his Anafenza to the top, impulsed his Siege Rhino to trade with my seeker, and got through for 4 with my other seeker. The turn ended with a 1 mana Treasure Cruise that I could’ve saved for prowess triggers but I chose to cast because I wanted to make sure I could cast everything I drew on the next turn. I was able to play a Gideon and Roast his Warden of the First Tree on the next turn, using all my mana. The next turn he had fetched incorrectly and couldn’t cast Abzan Charm and Dromoka’s Command. The charm got hit with a Dispel and he couldn’t recover. I lost a drawn out game two which saw me discard a cruise to Jace on turn 3 when I was hurt by my manabase. The game went long as I was able to cast all my removal and his timely Duress snagged my Gideon. Without the cruise to refill I succumbed to his double Den Protectors and a glut of mana flood. Game three wasn’t the intense back and forth climax everyone was hoping for. I played a Roast on his first creature, a warden. I did this cause my draw was double Mantis Rider and I wanted to increase the chances that the first one hit on an empty board. It did. Then the second rider helped race his Anafenza into Siege Rhino. I played a few blockers on turn 5 and after missing on the draw step he extended the hand. (2-1)

Semifinals – Todd Anderson – Jeskai Black

This was the matchup I was gunning for and I had a great draw of Hangarback Walker into double Mantis Rider with Dispel backup. And I got absolutely destroyed by Monastery Mentor into Duress and a couple more removal spells. Game two I was applying some pressure with some thopters and ripped a Gideon off the top on turn 4. He drew his one Ruinous Path however and a subsequent Radiant Flames killed my tokens. He then drew a bunch of cards, including a mentor and proceeded to make a bunch of tokens and kill my Jaces and then me. So that’s that. The run was over and I was pretty upset. 4,000 dollars is a lot of money to win but I was just thinking about the 4-16,000 I lost by losing that match. 30 seconds later I was over it. The tournament was a great experience and winning some important matches was the confidence boost I needed as I was falling into an apathetic approach to my magic career. This near miss has rekindled my fire and I’ve booked a few flights for the upcoming SCG events in January and February. I think my mental approach has improved as well. I’m getting better at losing and not getting stuck in my own head after losses. So I’m really looking forward to the upcoming grind and I hope to see some of you on the road! Thanks for reading and hanging throughout all three parts of this report!

Feel free to let me know if you think my logic was correct in the comments below! If you have any suggestions of idea’s of Oath of the Gatewatch brews (Order singles here), let me know those too!

-Kevin Jones

Daddy’s Home! SCG Players’ Championship Report: Part 2.

KevinJones

When I last left you, my lovely audience, we were discussing the bold legacy choice I made for the Players’ Championship, Merfolk. Today we will go over the modern deck I chose, UR Twin. I’ll give a rundown of the deck choice, the numbers, and a brief recap of the matches. Here we go!

So, I knew early on that I wanted to play UR Twin in the Players’ Champs. I expected some of the field to bring other combo decks which Twin generally fared well against. I also expected the linear aggressive decks, burn and affinity. I also like the match up Twin has against these decks because of the wealth of cheap interaction and a combo finish. The GBx decks aren’t great match ups for Twin but the sideboard plan of Keranos and other hard to kill midrange threats (Jace, Architect of Thought and Pia and Kiran Nalaar) along with the versatile answer engineered explosives provides us should be able to improve the match up enough to grind out some post board games. I expected Abzan to eclipse Jund as the premier GBx midrange deck for this event. It has a better match up against affinity and other midrange decks. Abzan has a worse matchup against Twin, however. The red cards provide additional removal and a better clock. Siege Rhino, while powerful, is essentially too expensive to tap out for in game one without running the risk of dying to the Twin combo. Abzan is hosed even more completely by the post board Blood Moons from Twin. These reasons, along with the fact that I felt super comfortable both with the deck in general, and in the Twin mirror, led me to register UR Twin for the modern portion of the Players’ Champs. Let’s get into some card choices.

4 Serum Visions, 4 Snapcaster Mage, 4 Lightning Bolt, 4 Splinter Twin, 4 Remand, 4 Deceiver Exarch

These are the 4 of, I believe they’re all absolutely essential to building a powerful, flexible twin deck that can be both a combo deck, a tempo deck, and a control deck. They warrant almost no explanation. Just a few tidbits on the 4 ofs.

– 4 Splinter Twin is a must. It’s extremely important to have a twin in the games where you need one. The two copies of Desolate Lighthouse help mitigate the impact of drawing excess Twins when you need interaction. As a straight UR deck you don’t have Tarmogoyf, Restoration Angel, or Tasigur to grind out games with damage. You often need to use the burn tempo plan just to force your opponent to expend a few resources to wither them down and make them susceptible to the Twin combo in the mid to late game. So it’s important to be able to back up your “bluff” if they decide to call it. The power of Splinter Twin decks in modern lies within “the fear”. If your opponents know you don’t have Twin they can make much more powerful plays. Leaving up 3 mana comes at almost no cost to the Twin deck. But it pays huge dividends by taxing one to two of your opponents mana every turn.

– The importance of casting Remand on your own spells cannot be stated enough. It’s the key to winning games against the mirror and other blue decks. Approaching every mirror match with these few goals in mind will put you in a great position to win a staggering percentage of mirrors.

1. Don’t leave yourself dead to their Twin combo.

2. Try to approach interactions with a goal of going up a card and/or putting your opponent down a card.

3. When not targeting your own spells with Remand you should endeavor to target their flashbacked spells with Snapcaster Mage. Your Remands are hard counters that cantrip against flashbacked spells. This strategy is often better than remanding your own spells and allows you to save your precious spell snares for later Snapcasters or their Remands.

The rest of the cards in the list are all important to a deck that tears through cards as reliably as this one does. Here’s the remaining cards and their explanations.

2 Pestermite -The clear cut second best combo creature. 6 blue creatures are the perfect number for tempo based UR Twin decks. This is one of the most important cards in situations where you’re racing your opponents with damage or playing a tempo game. They’re also essential to drawing out your opponents’ lightning bolts in the mirror. I almost said “baiting out” but it’s not baiting because you’re generally okay with Pestermite living or dying. They’re basically forced to kill a Pestermite since 2 points of damage per turn makes all your tempo cards much better. The inevitable trade of a Pestermite for a bolt is great because it lessens the density of direct damage in your opponents deck and lets you play a long game in the mirror where you have less of a need to fight over Snapcaster Mage from your opponent cause your life total is likely higher since they bolted your Pestermite and their deck has less bolts in it.

2 Electrolyze – This card is one of the most subtly important cards in the deck. It’s essential to beating small creature decks like Affinity and Abzan Company. This card also has another important function. It allows you to answer Snapcaster Mage without costing yourself a card. That balances out the inherent 2 for 1 that Snapcaster provides. It’s also the single best answer to an opposing Vendilion Clique. Lastly, you can kill some smaller creatures through Spellskite by targeting the creature and Spellskite. A subsequent bolt lets you finish off the pesky 0/4 without going down too many cards. I prefer to maximize cantrips provided that they aren’t at the expense of essential pieces. That’s why I go with 2 instead of 1.

2 Dispel – One of the strongest pure tempo plays with regards to mana efficiency in the entire modern format. Electrolyze, Remand, Kolaghan’s Command, Cryptic Command, Collected Company, Chord of Calling, and many more. There’s a list of all the ridiculously efficient targets for Dispel. Boros Charm and Atarka’s Command are also great targets for the cheap counter and the second copy main deck helps against burn and with your game one plan of combo killing people. The only deck it’s really weak against is Jund/Abzan which is a fairly rough game one matchup anyway.

2 Spell Snare – We transition seamlessly from a one mana blue counter that is poor against GBx to one that is arguably the best counter in the format against the archetype. UR Twin struggles with Tarmogoyf and to a lesser extent Scavenging Ooze. Ooze disrupts your Snapcaster plans and Goyf is just brutally efficient and so hard to kill. The snares are awesome against the other blue decks as ways to prevent the card advantage of Remand and Snapcaster Mage. Some of the most problematic cards in modern cost 2 and I wouldn’t go below 2 spell snare in this deck.

2 Cryptic Command – With a great mana base like the one UR Twin has you can afford to play 2 Cryptic and it’s an awesome luxury because Cryptic is one of the most powerful blue cards in the format. I love 2 Cryptic Command in this deck as its essential to the control plan you adopt in post board games while also being one of the best cards when your opponent is forced to tap mana.

2 Vendilion Clique – I was previously very high on this card and I’m still pretty impressed with it. But I want more interaction against aggressive decks, particularly affinity, and I would likely play a twisted image over the second clique going forward. The greatest strength of this card is its powerful effect against other blue decks and combo decks. I would probably play the second copy in the sideboard next time.

1 Roast – Destroys most Tarmogoyf’s and the occasional Spellskite or Deceiver Exarch. Nothing spectacular but a solid removal spell. Brian Braun-Duin top 8ed the open this past weekend with a Harvest Pyre in this slot and I highly recommend making the switch to that card since it kills flying creatures and man lands as well as most of the stuff Roast hits.

2 Desolate Lighthouse – This deck needs to be good at tearing through cards to be effective and lighthouse keeps the velocity high. I think the fact that I usually want to draw a copy in the mid to late game means 2 is the right number. I don’t generally feel like I have trouble killing man lands nor am I trying to tempo people off their mana so I would eschew tectonic edge. One Ghost Quarter would be effective against Amulet and Tron decks but it’s only a one of and I would rather double my chances of seeing a Lighthouse when I want one. The rest of the manabase is pretty self explanatory and needs no analysis. Stomping Ground gets the nod over Breeding Pool because I want to be able to fetch both colors needed for my sideboard Ancient Grudges with one land. On to the sideboard choices!

Sideboard Choices

2 Keranos, God of Storms – The best finisher against GBx midrange decks and usually lights out against other blue decks as well. Just an awesome finisher that is super hard to deal with. Essential to the controlling slant your deck takes in sideboarded games as its one of the only ways to surely kill people after taking out combo pieces.

2 Anger of the Gods – Great against Abzan Conpany, Infect, Affinity, and even Burn. I find the double red to be relatively easy to cast and prefer the exile effect to the easier to cast Radiant Flames.

2 Engineered Explosives – Additional hate for affinity and company decks while also being fantastic against GBx strategies. Also, the best possible sideboard card against Bogles and I felt like Boggles was a decent sneaky metagame choice.

2 Ancient Grudge – Likely the best artifact removal in modern. Although I’m going to give Vandalblast a shot in some upcoming testing. Grudge is a 2 for 1 against Affinity and Lantern and that’s exactly what you want in those matchups.

2 Blood Moon – The best hate against Amulet Bloom which is by far the scariest big mana deck. Also totally passable at hating on or slowing down Tron and providing a great way to disrupt any three color midrange deck.

1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar – A super tough threat for the games when your transform into a grindy deck. Provides an advantage even if it dies and is also great against Affinity.

1 Jace, Architect of Thought – Fantastic threat against Jund, Abzan, and Grixis. Also randomly stops Deceiver Exarch from killing you with Twin in the mirror. I’m almost never unhappy to draw this one and could see going up to 2.

1 Spellskite – So useful against so many decks; Affinity, Burn, Bogles, and the mirror. Also an protect your combo when that’s what you want to win with. Not good enough to maindeck because it can often be a dead card and makes their Goyf even bigger when it dies.

1 Negate – Better than a third Dispel because it’s great against the midrange decks and their planeswalkers as well as being awesome against Tron and passable against Amulet as well as good against other blue decks and Burn.

1 Roast – Die, Tarmogoyf, die! Also fine to board in when you expect Spellskite and as an additional removal spell against random creature decks like company and decks with Tasigur.

So, that’s it for the deck choices. I’ll recap my record very briefly since we are already running long here.

Modern record (2-2)

First Round: Ali Aintrazi – Lantern Control. I lost a close 3 game match where I was likely to win with Twin in game 3 and Ali drew a timely Thoughtseize. He was under pressure and dead to the damage plan a few turns later and his Ancient Stirrings yielded a game changing Ensaring Bridge. From there I missed on my Keranos on a few crucial turns and was frustratingly locked out. I was told afterwards that there was a turn I could’ve tapped his Glimmervoid with Pestermite so he couldn’t redirect the Keranos damage to Spellskite but it’s really hard to remember exactly. I thought I played fairly well in this one actually. (0-1, 1-2 in games)

Second Round: Logan Mize – Abzan Company. I lost another close three game match after walking into an Abrupt Decay when I went for the combo in game two. Probably would’ve been able to get the two damage in if I had attacked with my Pestermite instead. He attacked with Qasali Pridemage and it should’ve been a dead giveaway that he drew Decay. I wasn’t thinking and played that turn terribly. I drew the Lightning Bolt that would’ve made the Pestermite attack lethal a turn later. Lost a long game 3 to the sudden death rule because I had to bottom a Cryptic since I couldn’t use it to bounce Snapcaster Mage and flashback Lightning Bolt since he had Decay in hand that I knew about, I believe from Eternal Witness. I could’ve kept the Cryptic in a regular game and maybe could’ve gotten out of it but the sudden death rule meant I could only afford to draw cards worth damage. (0-2, 2-4 in games)

I knew at 0-2 that I would play two matches for my tournament life. Thankfully, they were against players whom I tend to do well when playing. I knew if I beat Ross Merriam I would have the game win tiebreaker and would get an elimination match.

Third Round: Ross Merriam – Naya Burn. These games were both close but I managed to save my counters for crucial turns and his Goblin Guide yielded a Steam Vents on the last turn of game 2. I was able to leave up snare the whole time, shock myself from 3 to 1, and Spell Snare his lethal Atarka’s Command in response to my Splinter Twin. The breakers were in my favor and I would get an elimination match. (1-2, 4-4 in games)

Elimination Match: Rudy Briksza – Grixis Twin. This was the match I wanted. I’ve known Rudy for years and consider him a friend. And while I know he’s a solid player with a bunch of great finishes and dedication to grinding I also know I have more experience in the Twin mirror and that should pay huge dividends. Game 1 was long and we both drew many Snapcaster Mages. He was too aggressive flashing back spells into open mana and let me maximize my Remands to stem his early attack. Neither of us attempted the combo for many many turns. Eventually, I grinded him down to just a couple cards to my 5-6 cards. I cast Vendilion Clique, he Murderous Cuts it and he reveals Pestermite, 2 Twin, Dispel. I know he’s dead because I have Exarch to play end of turn, Cryptic, Twin, Dispel and 9 mana and I say keep it. In my elation I untapped and forgot to play the Exarch. I draw another Clique and to my dismay he’s drawn more creatures and I can’t combo anymore. A turn later I go for the damage plan end of turn and he has a crucial Clique of his own and elects to leave me with Twin because he can tap my creature in response. He forgets I can untap afterwards and go off and that’s exactly what happens as a win a nail biter where both of us showed how nervous we were. Game 2 I am punished for cracking a fetch on his turn 4 end step cause he has Clique and Dispel for my Remand. I can’t Dispel back cause my fetch is on the stack. I noticed how aggressive he had been and was worried about shocking myself which is why I took the risk. It was probably still wrong and he picked a perfect spot to pinch me and he resolved Pia and Kiran soon after and I never recovered from the flying assault. Game 3 I didn’t have the combo right away but tapped his mana aggressively because I was land light and wanted him tapped low so I could do things. He eventually thoughtseized my Twin and the two Exarchs beat in for 8-10 points while Rudy flooded out. I was able to answer his Pia and Kiran and later he tapped low enough when he cast Keranos that I could elicit a fight over my Snapcaster and get him tapped low enough to Twin my Exarch for the win, although I would’ve also won shortly thereafter with damage. (2-2, 6-5 in games) It was a relief to advance after a stressful modern portion and I was determined to make the most of my opportunity. We will talk about standard next time, thanks for hanging in through this long one, see you all soon!

– Kevin Jones

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!

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

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-