A Lowry Reborn: Top 16 Standard at SCG DC

Written by Anthony Lowry on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

A Lowry Reborn: Top 16 Standard at SCG DC

Anthony Lowry

Anthony Lowry, also known as "Firebranded", is a rising player from New York City known for his open-minded deckbuilding prowess and knack for aggressive strategies. His most notable finish in his young career is an 11th-place finish at the StarCityGames Open Series in Washington D.C.

“Attack with the Blight Mamba with Rancor.”

Me: “I’ll block with Thundermaw Hellkite

Mutagenic Growth?”

Me: “You got it.”

“This is a lot tougher than I thought, maybe I’m not good enough to make it. … What am I doing wrong? Is it me? The deck? The …”

I feel a hand on my shoulder as I was preparing for Game 2 of my first feature match. It was Rudy Briksza.

“Breathe, you got this man.”

It was at that point, that specific moment, where I felt like I belonged here.

Flashback to that morning, about 6:45 a.m. I wake up to one of the most awesome views I’ve ever seen, almost the entirety of Washington D.C. in my view. I always had this issue feeling incredibly uncomfortable when waking up before big events: Not getting enough sleep, feeling drowsy and whatnot. It was different this time. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t antsy. I was calm, focused and ready to go. I don’t think I’ve ever been so determined to play

“It isn’t about winning”

I would always tell people, “Winning isn’t my priority, it becomes a direct side effect of improvement.” I don’t like to gauge players by how much they’ve won, because one can play perfectly and still lose horribly. Putting in the time and effort into bettering myself as a player, and as a person, was the most important thing to me. About this time a year ago, I was about 40 pounds heavier and putting no effort into advancing my career as a DJ. My confidence was shot.

I made the decision to stop worrying about the end result of things about six months ago, and just get better at the things that are most important to me. This included friendships, Magic, DJing, my physical appearance, and my overall state of mind. It was, and still is, a very slow, and ongoing process, but I’m definitely a different person. I held the people that supported me as a person, and as a player, closer to me than ever before, while resisting those that didn’t.

I made efforts into the “just get better” mindset. I went to clubs, talked to managers, and earned spots in gigs all around Manhattan. And I lost a ton of weight. I wanted to get better, and I was never satisfied. I was hungry for improvement. Addicted to it so much. Winning and losing, the result, the outcome, started to not matter to me. After all, if I just set my goal on improving, every single day, then am I not winning every day anyway?

“Progress begets confidence begets progress.” My friend’s late great-grandmother told me this a long time ago, back when I didn’t know what “beget” meant, and while she demanded I get her some Doritos.

“Ninety-something year olds can still eat Doritos?” I asked myself as I try to sneak a few chips out of the bag.

… I got caught.

I received a ton of help with the card decisions for SCG DC. Each choice was critical to how we wanted the deck to perform. This isn’t to say there weren’t flaws. In fact, there were a lot of things that I’d want to address going into the next event.

Core of the deck

These choices were decided, and it would have taken us a lot of convincing to change any of them:

Most of the cards here are fairly common to see in a RG aggro deck. The Borderland Ranger got the nod over Wolfir Avenger simply because the Avenger, while very effective at setting up your Huntmaster of the Fells, was almost always just a vanilla creature that didn’t help us develop our mid game. Borderland Ranger did exactly that for us, and was surprisingly helpful in helping set up a Bonfire of the Damned for two. The Gut Shots were in place of Dismembers because of how incredibly well positioned it was in comparison. I wish I played a fourth.

Reinforcements

These cards reinforced the plan we wanted to execute:

1 Thragtusk
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Wolfir Silverheart
2 Sword of Feast and Famine

We had a bit of wiggle room, but we eventually settled on the mini-mini package of only Wolfir Silverheart and Thragtusk. I never felt I needed more than one Silverheart in a lot of matchups, and Thragtusk, while very powerful, felt pretty clunky in multiples. This conclusion was misleading, however, mostly because I didn’t have Borderland Ranger when I had multiple [card[Thragtusk[/card]s. I learned this in my notes way after the event, as I was reviewing my matches. Misleading information can be critically bad, and I’m incredibly lucky this particular one didn’t bite me.

The two Swords of Feast and Famine were for the Naya, Zombies, Infect, RG, Monogreen, and general control deck matchups. We figured we’d run into those much more often than we would run into Delver, and while the Delver/everything else split turned out to be fairly even, they still performed about where I expected. They also eased the stress on the sideboard, since they can get boarded out in a lot of matches on the draw to make room for something more high impact against creature strategies, like Arc Trail. Thundermaw Hellkite was the reason why I started working on this deck in the first place. The sheer brute force this card delivers is astounding, and going in, it was the card I wanted to resolve the most.

Final spots

We had a lot of choices here, but I didn’t want to try and do anything too crazy:

2 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Cavern of Souls

Having Borderland Ranger allowed us to only play a single Mountain, which gave us room for another utility land. I thought of a single Hellion Crucible (alright, maybe I lied about the ‘not doing anything crazy’ part), but that was way too soft to Vapor Snag. A third Kessig Wolf Run would have probably been fine, but I opted for the single Cavern of Souls.

Having one Cavern makes you slightly more resistant to mulligans, while giving yourself a small, but relevant edge against countermagic, more specifically, Delver decks. Playing two makes your early Green Sun’s Zeniths, Strangleroot Geist/Huntmaster of the Fells draws, and Kessig Wolf Runs a bit too uncomfortable. If you can find room for the fourth Borderland Ranger, then having two Cavernsshouldn’t hurt you nearly as much. Granted, we’re talking about a couple percent here (if not less), but I feel that it’s important to be as intricate as possible when building.

Two Phyrexian Metamorph was a concession to versatility, while remaining proactive. Copying a Strangleroot Geist isn’t a bad thing, and having that much more interaction with Geist of Saint Traft is important. It does exactly what you’d expect it to do.

Sideboard

The sideboard was an entirely different animal, and we probably spent twice as much time on the sideboard than the maindeck. (And we definitely should have spent more time).

2 Arc Trail: These were Flames of the Firebrand for a little while, but we can’t all be as brave as Rudy Briksza, and ultimately dropped them for the more deck-efficient choice. Killing a Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul for two mana is pretty good, as is an Arbor Elf and Elvish Archdruid. The applications are pretty vast, and I’d be happy to play more.

1 Beast Within, 2 Crushing Vines, 2 Dismember, 1 Uvenwald Tracker: I wanted an expansive and versatile removal package that covered any holes that may have opened up in the first game. I would almost always play Crushing Vines over Ancient Grudge, simply because there are way too many variations of Delver to have something so narrow. It’s weird because I’m a huge advocate of using narrow cards in your sideboard for very specific things, but I think Crushing Vines is an exception to the rule. Two Dismembers were specifically for Restoration Angel and Hero of Bladehold. The single Beast Within and Uvenwald Tracker were more “I hope I didn’t miss anything” cards. Which is pretty disappointing to say, because it shows a flaw in preparation.

1 Viridian Corrupter: Acidic Slime costs way too much nowadays for me, and this is the next best option for a Zenith bullet.

1 Champion of Lambholt: This was specifically for the mana dork-based decks on the play. It’s very difficult to beat a Blade Splicer heads up, but I was fine with brute forcing my way through one.

3 Zealous Conscripts: Any matchup that had a major, singular threat, I wanted Zealous Conscripts. Wolf Run, for example, can get punished really hard for just slamming a Titan and passing the turn. I also don’t mind one of these in the Pod matchups, since it can really break the late game wide open.

1 Wolfir Silverheart, 1 Thragtusk: These were maindeck cards 61 and 62, rather than sideboard cards. I wanted the ability to make slight tweaks to the main, since I already had the bullets I wanted for the matchups I wanted.

Sense of Urgency

Hmm … something’s different … everything is much clearer. No. Don’t worry about it. Just play.

I went 8-2 overall in the 10-round grind. My losses were to the only Naya Pod deck I played in the event, and to Ben Lundquist’s U/W Delver, one of the best matches of Magic I’ve ever had. I’m going to go over my thoughts for what I feel were critical moments in Game 3.

VIDEO: Anthony Lowry vs. Ben Lundquist (Game 3 at 8:39:00)

At around 8:41:00, I play a second Borderland Ranger. I was not only playing around Mana Leak here, but I was trying to keep my mana dorks on the board for as long as possible. I felt that it was extremely important to keep them from getting hit by a Vapor Snag at my end step, and I wanted to be able to set up a future Bonfire of the Damned through a Mana Leak, should Ben’s Delver’s transform at any point.

At 8:42:15, I feel like Ben was basically telling me he has Phantasmal Image and/or Vapor Snag. I felt that I pretty much had to cast the Thragtusk. His Delver hasn’t transformed yet, so the chances of him having a Snapcaster Mage are pretty decent.

8:43:00 was the first critical play in the match on my end. I could have cast Phyrexian Metamorph, copying Thragtusk, but I felt casting Huntmaster of the Fells would give me control over the pace of the game. I valued that a bit more at the time than the advantage from a second Thragtusk. I also wanted to play around any potential Sword, which I felt was probable because he kept missing on his Delvers. I think that the “pump fake”, that Gerry correctly called, was a really bad mistake on my end. I gave him a hint at another five-drop in my hand, which I actually didn’t have, but he seemed to have played around. It was also bad because of the second big play of that turn, attacking with my Thragtusk. If I’m trying to tell Ben that I have another five-drop in my hand, then I definitely don’t attack here. If we go back to the beginning of my turn, and I, lets say, cast the Phyrexian Metamorph on a Thragtusk, then I’m plus five life (since I would use Birds of Paradise to produce blue mana) and I’m able to trade then.

At 8:44:46, I opted not to play the second Llanowar Elves because, as Gerry correctly pointed out again, I was invested in the Huntmaster plan. Ben wound up having the Celestial Purge in his opening hand, which was unfortunate for me. 8:47:29, Ben hits a Runechanter’s Pike and equips it to one of his Delvers, basically walling me. At this point, I was mostly on the Bonfire of the Damned plan, and needed to keep the game going for as long as possible.

Ben finally gets his Delvers transformed at 8:48:25, revealing a Mental Misstep. If we go back to the Metamorph on Thragtusk play, then I’m pretty sure Ben just attacks with both Aberrations here, and maybe Oblivion Rings one of the Thragtusks, or moves the Pike over to the Beast token, still walling me. I’d argue that 8:49:30 was just as big of a moment, where I cast the Llanowar Elves into his Mental Misstep. I was trying to make room for any future Birds of Paradise that may come up, since I needed to start blocking the Pike. Despite what Mike Flores said, I was definitely going to block with my Birds of Paradise. at 8:52:06, I cast a Metamorph without the Cavern of Souls I had in my hand, which cost me two life that could have mattered if I ended up drawing action. At this point, I was pretty frustrated with what I thought was a huge mistake with Thragtusk, and was fighting hard to maintain focus, since the game wasn’t over.

All in all, I may have been able to get one more turn if I make another Thragtusk, and if I don’t cast Llanowar Elves, but Ben may have played a bit more aggressively to offset that. If there’s anything that you can point out that I may have missed, definitely let me know in the comments. Congratulations to Ben on his Top 4 finish!

As far as the deck is concerned, the maindeck was very good to me. The only real problem was Thundermaw Hellkite, which underperformed in many of my matches. I don’t think that it’s the time right now for our beloved dragon, which is disappointing because it’s one of my favorite dragons in recent history. Zealous Conscripts may get the nod over Hellkite in the near future, mostly due to the rise of Wolf Run RUG (which isn’t particularly great against Frost Titan, but is the best option for proactively trying to kill them when they have anything else), and Hero of Bladehold in Delver decks.

I would have really liked some more cards for the infect matchup as well. For those that think that the infect deck isn’t real, is very much is, and you should respect it in every tournament from here until rotation. Cathedral of War gives the deck a new way of powering through poison, and Rancor adds an entirely new element of speed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these infect decks in the future, as they prey upon the unprepared, and can have insane nut draws. It’s also surprisingly difficult to interact with as well, and I can’t really give a suggestion on how to because I am not very experienced in the matchup.

The sideboard was an entirely different animal, and a messy one at that. The Uvenwald Tracker, Champion of Lambholt and Beast Within were incredibly underwhelming. While I would keep the Beast Withins for the Wolf Run RUG and Hero Delver matchups, I definitely wouldn’t play the Champion or Tracker in the coming weeks. Here is an updated list:

Of course, this is just a rough idea on what I would do going forward, so everything is subject to change. I definitely want to be more proactive though, and force the issue more than I have been in games.

We Belong

When my game with Ben Lundquist ended, I was pretty disappointed, not because I had lost, but because I could have done better. I saw the play, and opted not to do it. My sense of urgency was fading. To me, that was a failure. Everyone that was watching — Lauren Lee, Gerard Fabiano, Rich Stein — congratulated both of us. It definitely lifted my spirits for the rest of the weekend. The feeling of failure turned into the realization of progress. And “Progress begets confidence begets progress.” It was certainly an experience to remember. Even though this entire tournament was a huge, huge grind, it just motivates me to work harder, get better, and learn more.

Being able to keep focused for 10 rounds of Magic is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in the game. Everyone was rooting for each other, almost like a team. In these events, you need that in order to keep going. When I had my first ever feature match with Tommy Chafe, my Game 1 was miserable. I was folding under the pressure of a feature match, and they’re much more difficult than one would think. The entire room knows about you now, and the pressure is real. The first game was met with really bad plays on my end, resulting in a loss, even though I had three Thundermaw Hellkites (one of which was a copy).

“Attack with the Blight Mamba with Rancor.”

Me: “I’ll block with Hellkite”

“Mutagenic Growth?”

Me: “You got it.”

“This is a lot tougher than I thought, maybe I’m not good enough to make it. … What am I doing wrong? Is it me? The deck? The …”

I feel a hand on my shoulder as I was preparing for Game 2 of my first feature match. It was Rudy.

“Breathe, you got this man.”

It was at that point, that specific moment, where I felt like I belonged here.

~Firebranded
Twitter: @aulowry

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