Lessons Learned in Indianapolis

This past weekend I attended the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis. The format was mixed between Legacy and Standard with Legacy being the first four rounds as well as the top 8. My only real experience with Legacy recently was the Open held in Atlanta in September. There I played a UWR Delver list I copied from Ben Friedman. I finished X-2, which was good for top 32 prize of $100. My relative success with the deck and the availability of cards convinced me to run it back. Here is the list I ran:

UWR Delver

Maindeck (60)
Wasteland
Tundra
Volcanic Island
Misty Rainforest
Flooded Strand
Scalding Tarn
Delver of Secrets
Stoneforge Mystic
Geist of Saint Traft
Grim Lavamancer
Snapcaster Mage
Brainstorm
Ponder
Daze
Lightning Bolt
Force of Will
Swords to Plowshares
Gitaxian Probe
Spell Pierce
Umezawa’s Jitte
Batterskull

SB: (15)
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Swords to Plowshares
Flusterstorm
Counterflux
Grim Lavamancer
Meddling Mage
Rest in Peace
Sword of Feast and Famine
Wear//Tear

The changes I made to the list were likely wrong. I cut one of the Stoneforge Mystics Friedman played for a Snapcaster Mage. In the Atlanta Open I played all four and thought that was too many. After playing the Snapcaster, I think the Mystic is right. Rarely is flashingback a spell going to be better than finding one of the equipment. Because of card availability I ended up playing a Counterflux over a third Flusterstorm. If I had the Flusterstorm I would have played it but I do have an interesting story about the Counterflux I will share later.

To start the event on Friday I thought I was going to get a free win. As the round was called to start I didn’t have an opponent. I called a Judge over so it could be noted and found out there was a car that had gotten a flat tire but called ahead. The group had arrived to the site and the staff was giving them extra time to fill out deck lists without penalty. I was a little disappointed, but I came to play and so did they. I know if I were in there situation I would appreciate the same courtesy. In the end I didn’t have to wait that long so it wasn’t even an inconvenience.

In fact, it may have actually been the case I spent more time waiting and shuffling than playing our match. My opponent turned out to be on Belcher, won the roll, and made 14 goblins on turn one. In the second game I made a poor judgment call with a hand of two blue sources, Delver of Secrets, Daze, and Flusterstorm of note. I figured the Daze could buy me a turn so I decided to run out the would be insect. He led with Lotus Petal, which I tried to Daze. He had the Simian Spirit Guide to pay for it and proceeded to make another 12 goblins.

What I should have done is left up the Flusterstorm, which should be very difficult if not impossible for him to beat early, and played the Delver on turn two. Skipping a turn of attacking him is a small cost for ensuring he can’t go off on turn one. Had I played more games against such decks I would have come to the same conclusion.

Friday would turn out to not be my day as the following round I was paired against an impossible matchup. My opponent was playing a Veteran Explorer deck that also featured Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. My threats couldn’t stay on the board and my counterspells were useless. The following round I managed to beat the mirror before finishing Legacy with a loss after a mulligan to three to Omnitell.

At 1-3, I figured it wasn’t likely I could win out in Standard to make day two. Even if I did, I thought it would be better to play in the Open on Saturday than try and grind out for top 32 in the Invitational. Still, I wanted to get practice in with my deck. I had decided I liked the Thoughtseize/Hero’s Downfall decks, but as I said in my last article I didn’t think BW was still a good choice with the anticipated rise of mono Black. I did the logical thing and jumped on the mono Black train. I did make some tweaks involving a Red splash. Here’s what I ran in Standard:

Black Devotion

Maindeck (60)
15 Swamp
Blood Crypt
Rakdos Guildgate
Mutavault
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Desecration Demon
Nightveil Specter
Pack Rat
Erebos, God of the Dead
Thoughtseize
Hero’s Downfall
Underworld Connections
Ultimage Price
Devour Flesh
Whip of Erebos
Doom Blade
Rakdos’s Return

SB: (15)
Pack Rat
Doom Blade
Pharika’s Cure
Rakdos’s Return
Duress
Lifebane Zombie
Devour Flesh
Erebos, God of the Dead
Dark Betrayal

I liked the addition of Rakdos’s Return as a trump against the mirror in which Pack Rat doesn’t take over the game early. It also seemed better than another Duress against Esper. I was sold on the idea after testing it against the Gr devotion deck and using it to kill a Garruk, Caller of Beasts while also erasing the card advantage the Planeswalker generated.

The metagame for the Invitational was largely comprised of Esper and various Mono Black builds. One of the new takes on Black was to add Green for Reaper of the Wilds and play Abrupt Decay over most of the other removal spells. I also heard of a few players having at least one Prophetic Prism to help with the color intensive costs while supporting four colorless lands. I liked the idea after running into issues casting Nightveil Specter with multiple Mutavaults. For the Open on Saturday I cut the second Whip for a Prism as I never wanted to draw the second Whip.

I managed an unremarkable 2-2 to close out the Invitational. I still liked the way the deck felt, so I didn’t feel any pressure to switch off the deck for Saturday.

The Open went much better for me. I started off 3-0 before picking up my first loss to a Mono Red aggro deck. I was concerned about it’s presence in Indianapolis given its potentially good matchups against Esper and Mono Black, though Gr and Mono Blue should keep the deck in check. I don’t think it ended up being that popular, but some number of people will always pick it up for an event like this.

I pushed forward and picked up wins against the mirror, Esper, and Mono Blue. My first Green opponent on the day was playing a list similar to Makahito Mahira’s from Pro Tour except he had added an additional mana accelerator in Karametra’s Acolyte to fuel large Clan Defiances. I found out about the Clan Defiance after nabbing one with a Thoughtseize. Had he untapped with it, I would have been dead. Instead, I forced him to play the board and had him in good position when he top decked a second one for the win.

In the following game, my early removal was undone by a resolved Garruk. I was forced into the burn him out plan. I had two Gray Merchants. I needed to draw a third one or one of the Rakdos’s Returns in one or two draw steps. I miss on the first and decline to block his attack thinking keeping mana symbols on the board may be important if he has a Domri Rade or Polukranos, World Eater to kill the other one. This was actually a mistake as blocking would have played to a fifth out I had forgotten about, the Whip of Erebos. I promptly drew the Whip for my turn and immediately regretted not blocking. After thinking a moment I sent in my two Merchants. At first it seemed like he was going to take the bait as he had lined up a fatty on one of the Merchants. He quickly realized what I was playing for though, and put his Elvish Mystic and Burning-Tree Emissary in front of my attackers instead. Neither of my guys died, but I did on his counter attack.

At 4-2 I was on the money bubble for the rest of the event. I still liked the way the deck played against the rest of the field and thus felt confident of my chances. I then proceeded to win the rest of my matches to end up 24th and with $100 to mitigate the costs of the weekend.

The next day would be Legacy. I wasn’t too thrilled about returning to Legacy after doing so poorly with my deck in the Invitational, but my money finish on Saturday and the fact that Ben Friedman took his list to an 8-0 performance through the Invitational renewed my confidence. I wanted to add Stifle to the deck, but couldn’t find any that weren’t $25 from the vendor. Besides if Ben could go without, so could I.

I had to start the event with what seems like a rather tough matchup from a very good player: UWR miracles piloted by Joe Losset. I knew what Joe was playing since his Legacy list from the Invitational had been posted the day before. After breaking the ice with asking about how he fared overall in the Invitational, Joe was a really pleasant guy to play against. I’ll definitely be cheering for him in his next win and in. Hopefully next time he can win one as this time around he played three and lost all of them.

Our match was mostly uneventful with one exception. In game three, he was facing down a Geist of Saint Traft and had a Sensei’s Divining Top. During my first attack with the Legend he activates the top to draw an Entreat the Angels. He chose to miracle it with two mana up to play around Spell Pierce. This was the only time I got to cast the Counterflux from my sideboard. It caught him quite off guard. He admitted after the match he had a Flusterstorm to play around any further counter magic, but obviously couldn’t get around the one I had. He ended up having a second Entreat the following turn to take control of the board, but it still felt good to know my board card did some work.

The following round I was paired against Elves. A recent report I read suggested the matchup should favor UWR, so I felt confident about the pairing. Game one I was able to get Jitte active to keep his team under control. In the second game I was able keep Deathrite Shaman off the table to keep my Grim Lavamancer active as long as possible. I was still in a rough position, though, after casting a Meddling Mage naming Glimpse of Nature when he peels a land off the top to cast Natural Order. I had considered naming the four mana spell instead of Glimpse, and probably should have considering how slow his start had been. I didn’t have the Force or Daze to combat the back-breaking spell so thought I was going to get punished for naming the wrong card with Pikula. I was pleasantly surprised when the best he could come up with was an Elvish Visionary to draw an extra card. My Lavamancer continued to keep his team in check, and I secured the victory.

After the match I asked him about the Natural Order play. He explained the Craterhoof Behemoth and sideboarded Ruric Thar where stuck in his hand. “What about Progenitus,” I said. He told me his friend had promised to provide one but didn’t manage to come through, so his list just didn’t have one. Bullet dodged.

From there I played against a Junk Bitterblossom deck, where once again Jitte dominated, and then a BUG Tombstalker Tarmogoyf deck. In the later match I failed to draw a Rest In Peace to his triple ‘Goyf draw in a deciding game three. He showed me the Abrupt Decay, so the enchantment would have only bought a little time. Still, I likely misboarded here as I didn’t think bringing in all three Rests were necessary. I should have considered his ability to remove it and hedged with all three copies.

In the fifth round I played against a version of Tin Fins that won the die role. Game one I make a mistake of playing a Delver over a Ponder when he has played a Badlands. I caught a glimpse of a Faithless Looting in his hand that he declined to play and was able to deduce from that he was on some sort of graveyard deck. For some reason I didn’t come to the conclusion about why he wouldn’t cast the Faithless Looting there and ran out my Delver. The obvious reason was he had an Entomb to cast at end of turn and found a Griselbrand. Had I realized the obvious, I should have played the ponder to try and find a Daze or Force to combat the Black instant or the reanimate spell that followed. He proceeded to punish me with drawing 21 cards and casting Tendrils of Agony. I checked my top cards and felt some solace in knowing the Ponder would not have found the appropriate counter, though a shuffle may have.

I win game two after he keeps a one lander that doesn’t develop. Game three was more interesting. I keep a hand similar to the one against Belcher in the Invitational with Delver, Blue sources, Flusterstorm, and Daze. This time the hand also contained a Brainstorm. I make the correct play this time and play the Blue source and pass. He started his turn with a few draw spells before playing a Lotus Petal into Duress. At this point he had four cards still in hand. I didn’t want to lose the Flusterstorm, so I floated a Blue and cast Daze by returning the Island. He has the perfect answer in Simian Spirit Guide to pay for the Daze, but I’m assuming what could have only been because of nerves he decides to Pyroblast the Daze rather than merely paying for it.

I was pretty happy by his choice to burn the extra spell. I figured it’s near impossible for him to continue to go off on this turn with only two cards left in hand that I cast the Brainstorm to hide the Flusterstorm from the Duress. As the match progressed it was clear that he utilized way too many resources in order to resolve that Duress that he isn’t able to find more of what he needs. The two creatures I cast eventually get the job done.

After the match he said he thought it was pretty important for him to find out what I was working with so he could sculpt his game plan from there. I agree that seeing the Blue player’s hand is important, especially if you can pick up the one relevant spell from it, but the fact that my clock isn’t as fast as a combo decks means he could have waited longer. Once he had the Duress he could have waited another turn at least or even until he has all the necessary pieces before casting it. Legacy is hard.

The final match I played was a mirror match, except he had Stifle. I was the first one on the board with a Delver that immediately flips (How Lucky!). Other than that, my hand is not very exciting with two Force of Wills. It gets worse when I draw the third. I decide my best course of action is to aggressively protect the Insectile Abberation with the Forces and hope that’s good enough. I did just that to his first two removal spells and get him to two before he finds and answer. At that point I was out of gas and he was starting to get on the board. He eventually lands a Stoneforge Mystic finding Batterskull. Still sitting at two, I realize I have to find a way to kill the Mystic before the Skull gets put into play. I draw Lightning Bolt for the turn and am about to shoot the Squire when I realize I can just kill him instead.

In the second game he led with a Grim Lavamancer. In the matchup, Lavamancer is king, dealing with all of the opposing threats except of Geist of Saint Traft and, if the game goes long enough for it to be hard cast, the germ token from Batterskull. My hand contained a Tundra, Swords to Plowshares, Wasteland, and a Delver I believe. The other cards where not relevant to my opening play and were not another land. I knew I couldn’t play the Delver as it just gets killed. I considered the Swords, but I was concerned his followup would be Wasteland and I would be without action until my deck coughed up another colored source. I decided to go for the play that did well for me in the Atlanta Open and I wasted his Volcanic Island. His follow up play was a Wasteland that he was clearly not happy about. I then cast the Swords on the Lavamancer and get my Tundra wasted in return. However, I had drawn an additional land at this point while he had missed his turn three drop.

I felt good about my position. My Delver was answered somewhat quickly, though I have another Wasteland to again set him back. At one point he main phases a Ponder or Brainstorm from the land he cast that turn. On my turn I had a Brainstorm in hand with Flooded Strand and Tundra in play. I knew he had Stifle in his list and didn’t want to lose my land to his spell. I considered using the opportunity to thus Brainstorm and get the shuffle in if there were any cards I wanted to get rid of. For some reason I decide to pass back to him and that was a mistake. I was up a land to him and should have done whatever I could to use that to my advantage. I didn’t have a threat at the time so I should have been trying to find one to get on the board with. To that end I also erred by not casting the Snapcaster Mage as an Ambush Viper when I had the chance the following turn to at least start the clock.

The game eventually comes down to his Stoneforge Mystic plus Batterskull versus mine. His came down first, allowing him to make the first attack. I attempted to put my own equipment into play to block his attack, but he Stifled the Stoneforge Mystic activation. This wasn’t the ideal Stifle target as he should have allowed Batterskull to hit and targeted the token generating trigger, but it was effective. In order to try and play around a top decked second Stifle, I main phased a second activation. He already had the second Stifle.

At this point we were actually rather low on time in the round, largely due to pausing too much between spells and activations to consider a response or at least act as though we could have one. I don’t know that either of us were more to blame for this than the other, but it cost me more than him. I eventually fall to his Batterskull with about a minute to go. The judge who was sitting at the table says we probably won’t get a chance to play. We ignored him and shuffle up. As we started to draw our opening hands the timer went off for the round. The judge then informed us that since the game hadn’t actually started we don’t get to. Rather than take the draw and continuing to fight for at best $50, I decided to concede to him as my travel partner had lost the round and we had a long drive ahead of us.

Had I been more proactive earlier in the game I may have found a Mystic before him, or at least had a clock that would have forced a different line of play for him. Instead I allowed the game to draw out long enough for him to get unmanascrewed and find a threat that was hard for me to deal with. Then once the game was nearing an end I could have played slightly more defensively to draw the game out and potentially not finish the second game. I’m not advocating slow play, but I could have played to not lose rather than to win, which would have required different lines of play than what I took.

At the end of the weekend I was a little disappointed in myself. I was happy with the money I managed to win on Saturday, though I felt like I could have done better. I don’t think I made as many mistakes in Standard as I did in Legacy and it shows in my results. There are clearly little things in my game that need to be worked on, like knowing when is the right time to get aggressive and knowing all of my outs and how to play to them.

This weekend I will be in Charlotte for the Standard Classic. I will be playing the same Black splash red list. Hopefully I will have learned some of these lessons and can improve upon my results.

Thanks for reading,

Grant Christopher
Hologram001 on MTGO