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Dredge and Abzan and the Starcitygames Invitational

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy, Standard

My name is Casper Mulholland. I achieved 68th place at my first StarCityGames Invitational with a record of 10-6. This is that story.

2am Thursday morning, I was about to have an anxiety attack. I had been preparing for this tournament for weeks, my flight left in ten hours, and I couldn’t find my passport, which is the only form of government identification I own. My fiancee Olivia and I had scoured our apartment and her car for a solid 45 minutes in an attempt to track it down, but to no avail. Finally, Olivia found it on top of a dresser in a pile of objects I had asked her to move because they were blocking the TV. Exhausted and relieved, I was able to unwind and go to sleep.

I awoke five and a half hours later, groggy and unfocused, to get ready for my flight. Olivia dropped me off and headed to work, while I downloaded games onto my iPad in the half an hour of free internet the airport was so generous to supply.

The trip as a whole was uneventful, although the taxi driver overcharged me for the ride from the airport to Somerset (for those who plan on taking a taxi from Newark to Somerset, $79 plus tolls is nowhere near the “standard fare”). I checked into my hotel and ordered food from the only fast food place anywhere near the hotel: Papa John’s. Suffice to say that if what I ordered had “extra sauce,” their normal pizza is probably just bread and cheese.

I got to the Convention Center at 10am on Friday, registered for the Invitational, and sat down to goldfish my Legacy deck for a few hours. A few minutes after 11, I ran into two acquaintances from Tucson, Christian Castro and Nick Gil. Their travel woes were much more dire than mine, and they had gotten maybe half a night’s sleep between them. After commiserating for a little while, we split off. Nick walked around a bit, Christian went to the vendors to find good deals on foils, and I got some drinks to ensure I was hydrated for the big event.

The player meeting happened, everyone milled around for a few minutes, and then pairings went up.

Here’s what I played in Legacy:

I was unfamiliar at best with the Legacy format, so I picked a deck that was relatively straightforward to play and didn’t rely on any complicated understanding of how the format’s interactions worked. In addition, OmniTell was the premier combo deck in the format and it didn’t rely on the graveyard so I figured many players would be inclined to trim their dedicated graveyard hate.

Round one I beat an OmniTell player in two games because he was unable to draw a single copy of Show and Tell in the entire match. In game one, he cast something like all four copies of Preordain, multiples of Ponder and Brainstorm, and two copies of Dig Through Time without any luck. For my part, I kept a cantrip-heavy hand with no Dredger and failed to find one for the first few turns, but my opponent gave me more than enough time to get going and finish him off. Game two I had a better draw and forced him to have a turn three Show and Tell into Omniscience, which he didn’t.

Round two I beat a Lands player in three games. After an uneventful game one, my opponent led with land, Exploration, land, Grafdigger’s Cage on the play in game two. I drew and, not having boarded in Nature’s Claims, conceded. In game three I mulliganed to an acceptable four-card hand and my opponent didn’t find any graveyard hate.

In round three, I kept a slow but very reasonable six on the play and lost to my Four-Color Delver opponent’s turn one Deathrite Shaman. Game two I managed to grind out a win, with my opponent unable to find green mana for the entire game. Game three on the draw I mulliganed to a strong four-card hand (Grave-Troll, Ichorid, Ichorid, Lion’s Eye Diamond) but my opponent had the Daze for the LED and I lost in short order.

In round four, I beat Burn in two relatively uneventful games, the second of which was characterized by a turn one Iona on the draw naming Red.

So now I was 3-1, which was a relief considering I was much more nervous about Legacy than Standard. I got some pizza from the convention center’s food court and settled down for the second player meeting.

Here’s what I played in Standard:

I didn’t like Hangarback Walker nor Den Protector in this deck, and I still don’t. I wanted to be as proactive as possible, have most of my lands come into play untapped, and beat down hard. The maindeck Self-Inflicted Wounds were a metagame call, as there were probably two decks at most that they were completely dead against. My plan against cards like Elspeth and Ugin that I couldn’t realistically beat was to kill my opponent before they got enough lands in play to cast them. I was extremely comfortable with my deck choice and I still think it’s a great deck going forward, although I would make a couple of changes informed by the Invitational, which I will discuss later in the article.

Round five was a back and forth affair. In game one I lost to my GW Aggro opponent’s aggressive curve that featured Elvish Mystic into Surrak into Wingmate Roc while I stumbled on mana. In game two, our decks both functioned relatively well, but it was my opponent who failed to hit his fifth mana on time, and I resolved a raided Wingmate Roc (with a second one in hand) on a relatively clear board. Game three was stressful, as I mulliganed to five cards but was able to win anyway due to the fact that my cards were just better than my opponent’s and he didn’t put enough pressure on me to make the extra damage I took from my lands relevant.

Round six was a lesson in good sportsmanship after I beat my UR Ensoul opponent in two fairly uneventful games. Game one consisted of me drawing a Self-Inflicted Wound but not needing it, as Dromoka’s Command broke up an Ensoul Artifact and Anafenza shut down his double Hangarback draw. Game two my opponent never made more than one mana each turn, despite leading with a Temple of Epiphany and casting a Springleaf Drum a turn or two later. When I offered my hand at the end of the match, my opponent shook his head and continued to pack up his things. I shrugged—I’ve had bad beats before, and I know how awful it feels—and started to pack my own things. A few second later, my opponent said “sorry, man” and offered his hand, which I shook. He explained that he had 4-0d Legacy and then lost to Abzan Aggro twice in a row in Standard, a deck against which he felt very well prepared. The great thing about this interaction is how it illustrates my view on social interactions in general, and specifically relating to Magic and tilt: it’s fine to be frustrated, and even to express that frustration, but the highest priority should be treating others with respect and dignity.

In round seven, I beat my Abzan Rally opponent in three games without sticking an Anafenza. My major problem with the Abzan Rally deck is that, despite its potential to be almost totally unbeatable if things go right, it suffers quite a bit from variance and just playing some underpowered cards. When your Collected Company hits Merciless Executioner and Grim Haruspex against your opponent’s board of one creature, you’re extremely far ahead. When it hits a single Satyr Wayfinder while you’re flooding out and your opponent has three creatures in play, you’re extremely far behind.

Round eight saw me paired against Logan Mize, who unfortunately did not live up to his name. In game one, we both had some absurd draws, with me playing Warden of the First Tree, fighting his Favored Hoplite with Dromoka’s Command, and killing his follow-up Battlewise Hoplite with one of my maindeck Self-Inflicted Wounds. Logan almost won that game. He was able to put himself in a situation where he had a total of about five looks (between Defiant Strike, draws for the turn, and Battlewise Hoplite scry triggers) to find a Gods Willing or an Aqueous Form in order to get his 11/11 Stratus Walking Battlewise Hoplite past my Wingmate Roc and Bird token. But two chump blocks and an 8/8 Trample Lifelinking Warden later, we were on to game two. Game two was unfortunately rather uneventful, with Logan taking a mulligan to six and being unable to deal with my combination of pressure plus removal. In terms of interpersonal interaction, Logan was probably my favorite opponent all weekend, as he was very nice, polite, and clear. We didn’t have any disputes over board state or life totals and I left the match feeling very positive about things (and not just because I was 7-1 and had just defeated a well-known player).

So I had just gone 7-1 on day one of my very first Invitational. I was extremely excited to be within striking distance of the Top 8, and upon checking in with Nick Gil I found he was in the same position. I went back to my hotel room, ordered another pizza, and called Olivia to celebrate.

And then the wheels fell off.

At various points on day two, my record was 8-1 and 9-6. I lost four matches in a row, which was extremely rough. Part of that was the fact that players were more skilled, which meant more players knew how to play against Dredge and had some graveyard hate in their sideboard. Another part of that—the most difficult part of that—was the fact that I was hit with a tremendous amount of negative variance in two of my matches of Standard. In two consecutive matches against Hangarback Abzan, I failed to hit my land drops in two out of three games each match, losing twice in a row against what is generally a positive matchup.

I ended the day at 10-6, which was good enough for 68th place. It was crushing to go from 7-1 on day one to finishing four slots outside the money once the dust settled, but overall I’m happy with how I performed given that it was my first Invitational, and the first time I have made day two of any Magic tournament. There were a few mistakes that I made, but for the most part they weren’t avoidable.

A few notes from the tournament:

–Wingmate Roc was underwhelming. It had a huge effect on the game in green mirrors, but costing five mana (two of which are white) is rough. I would replace the Rocs with another Herald of Torment, which overperformed, and another interactive spell, probably a Valorous Stance.

Thoughtseize is not what Abzan Aggro wants to be doing in this format. If blue control becomes popular, discard gets better, but Evolutionary Leap is better against most attrition-based matchups and Valorous Stance does a great job there as well. The Thoughtseizes in my sideboard should have been two Evolutionary Leaps and one other card for those matchups (possibly an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes).

–Dredge is a sweet Legacy deck and a blast to play, but it doesn’t afford much opportunity to take advantage of a difference in play skill between you and your opponent. If you are unfamiliar with Legacy and don’t have much time to prepare, it’s a great choice. If you have the time, I would suggest learning a more interactive and decision-heavy deck.

–Papa John’s pizza is gross, but their wings aren’t half bad.

Thanks for reading! I hope to be back next week with my thoughts on Standard and Modern leading up to SCG States!

Casper Mulholland

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