So I started playing in events like IQs and PPTQs at the start of the year. This after I had just gotten back into the game with M15, and not playing since Lorwyn was released. I remember I was heading into my junior year of university the summer when Lorwyn was coming out, and played in a few events at a shop near my university after Lorwyn had dropped. After being utterly destroyed by this new type of card called a planeswalker, I felt the game was headed in a direction that I wanted nothing to do with. Cards like Garruk Wildspeaker just weren’t fair, and I wanted nothing to do with this new set of rules having to do with a new type of permanent.
About seven years go by, I’m done with university, I’m beginning my career and family, and I get a text message from a friend of mine that I used to play Magic with at the local store where I grew up and became very good at the game. He tells me that he still plays Magic. This coincides with two new stores opening within 30 minutes of my new (to me) home. After playing at both stores, I find that all of my favorite people that I used to play with since Nemesis dropped and I started playing have never given up the game really.
I begin to connect with them, and start having fun with them again. I sleeve up the cheapest top tier deck, mono-blue devotion at the time, and just start jamming FNMs with the old crew. They start talking about all of these tournaments they’ve been going to, and I realize I’m an adult. Not only am I an adult, I have a source of income. I have a vehicle. I no longer have to feel guilty about driving 2+ hours to go to an event because my mom or dad will have to drive me and will just be sitting while I’m killing it.
So once I get set again with the rules of the game, and accept that planeswalkers weren’t just a Lorwyn fad, but were here to stay, I decide to start battling in these events. My dream, after all, is to become a Pro Tour level player. It always has. Ask my wife (and now companion of eleven years). I made it very clear of my intentions with this game once I revealed to her it was one of my hobbies. She’s still on board to this day (she believes the reason I haven’t made the Pro Tour yet is because she wants to go somewhere she deems exciting, rather than Milwaukee or Vancouver).
After my first two events, where I was still shaky on interactions, and didn’t do well because of this, but learned from those mistakes, I started putting up results. I had 3 top eights and numerous 9-10 place finishes on tie breakers. I was very happy with my year and how it was going. That is until Battle for Zendikar dropped.
I couldn’t win. I was having a difficult time just top-eighting FNMs. At first, I went really deep trying to examine my decisions. What was I doing incorrectly? How could I improve? I would ask my friends at the event, and they would come to the same conclusion that I did a majority of the time: I was just unlucky.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago, where I just couldn’t win, and the frustration of my opponents drawing the exact cards they need exactly when they needed them while I’m drawing land or not drawing land to cast my spells, even given the high number of lands in the control style decks I’ve been playing was just too much to handle.
My first slump. Then a lot of things started to happen. Tom Martel won GP Atlanta. He did this after having a few lackluster performances over the past year or so. I made a realization as well. While I used to dominate my FNMs many moons ago playing any form of blue control, I also did well playing non-controlling strategies. Actually, the first event ever I remember doing well in was Pennsylvania State Champs in 2006. I got ninth place on breakers, because I didn’t realize how drawing worked. In the last round I was in seventh place, and decided to intentionally draw with my opponent because I was just so excited to be in that position. However, after other relevant games took place, I was on the outside looking in.
The realization I made, was that I did this…playing a Boros aggro deck. A really sweet, smooth, no frills 20/20/20 aggro deck.
Another part of this realization, was that while my first Extended format deck that I started to do really well with was The Rock (and because of this, Spiritmonger will forever be my favorite creature. At least that’s what I thought until Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy came around). However, I went to Grand Prix Boston in 2005. For that event, I playtested Red Deck Wins. A lot. A loooooooooot.
However, I decided to be fancy. When my friends got together the night before the drive up to that event, I saw they could build the old Isochron Scepter/Orim’s Chant deck, and decided to drive that into the ground with the ol’ 1-3 drop record. What we call the swap-and-flop.
Why did I stop playing these aggressive strategies? Did I just want to be fancy? I spent the last few months going between Jeskai Black, Esper Dragons, Esper Tokens, all to middling to poor results. I was extremely frustrated. I also didn’t like the Atarka Red deck because I felt it couldn’t grind. Once it got behind, it lost. Plus I didn’t want to get blown out by Virulent Plague with the Tokens decks being so popular.
So I didn’t want to play a control strategy, because I felt that the control options of the format just aren’t good. You have to play really restrictive cards that can’t deal with everything, there’s no catch-all kill card that is fast enough to deal with everything, and to me, not having that Hero’s Downfall-esque card makes playing control strategies just not something I want to be doing right now. And I don’t want to play a deck that just loses or takes a ton of splash damage from Virulent Plague. Does such a deck exist?
Yes. And I found it. And I took it to an IQ last Friday. And I did well enough to write a report. And I won. And I beat my first pro-level opponent. I call it Team Technotronic after the band that sang the song “Pump up the Jam.” You probably call it something lame, like R/G Landfall.
This deck is not only really strong, it’s a blast to play. I feel like it lets me play Splinter Twin in Standard. You get to play this aggressive strategy that forces your opponent to have answers to your guys, while also having a combo backup plan that can just win out of nowhere if your opponent even blocks incorrectly. I was reluctant at first to pick this deck up, because I prefer to have my aggressive strategies with a lot more burn and reach than pump spells. Obviously the pump spells are weak if your opponent is able to handle your creatures effectively, but in this format, kill spells that work effectively are few and far between, and your opponent can’t stumble on mana, something I found happens far too often with the three and four color decks of the format.
I played this for a few weeks at FNMs before taking this to an IQ, and I just couldn’t lose. I found the winning formula. My confidence was just growing with each round, and I felt like I found the best deck.
I take it the famed TOGIT in Somerville, New Jersey last Friday, and sign up for an IQ. A very small one, but because of the area, I expect the skill level of my opponents in this thirteen person IQ to be higher than average. 4 rounds cut to top 4.
Round 1. Brandon on Esper Mentor.
Brandon is a cool dude. Actually all of my opponents are just very congenial and polite all night, as is the norm I’ve found in Jersey.
Just a note, these Black/White/X decks, like this, the Esper Tokens, Esper Dragons, Jeskai Black, they are supposed to be the decks that prey on the R/G Landfall deck. They do have the best removal in the format, and it’s hard for us to get a creature to stay on the board long enough for our pump spells to do anything game 1, and that’s why the 13-15 card sideboard plan is live in this deck.
Game 1, I win slogging through his removal. His Silkwraps hit early, but the rest of his hand is not as good and I burn him out from 6 through a Sorin, Solemn Visitor because Atarka’s Command is just a busted card, especially when you find number 2 off of an Abbot of Keral Keep.
Game 2, he is able to find a lot more of his removal. He hits more Murderous Cuts, and has an active Jace. I also sideboard incorrectly. I left in a couple of Become Immense that should have been cut, and it hurts because I reveal one with an Outpost Siege with my opponent at 3 and no creatures on my side of the board. He’s able to overwhelm me with the Gideon/Sorin combo.
Game 3, I put up a much bigger fight than in game 2, and go about my business of attacking and preventing him from gaining life. But his first three turns consist of three Silkwraps and an Arashin Cleric. From that point onward, I just draw lands. We go to turns, but I concede on turn 2, since I can’t win.
0-1. Man, I thought tonight was my night. Just shows that luck is a thing I’ve had to deal with lately. Speaking of luck, there’s nothing more tilting that getting…
Round 2, Bye.
Not only am I 0-1, I don’t even get to play Magic in round 2. This is the rock bottom. The absolute nut low I’ve had in Magic. I can’t win events even when I play the aggressive strategies of the format. At this point, I’m texting my wife, Jason Clark, and my long term friend Joe Cammerino about my plans to literally go home and sell all of my cards on the internet. Then my phone dies. Perfect. Now I can’t even find a way home. I really do contemplate just leaving at this point. But for some reason I decide to stick around.
Round 3, Michael Derczo on Team Technotronic (ok ok, the name will probably not stick, he was on R/G Landfall).
So this is the first time I meet Michael. I’ve seen him before, he’s from around my area so plays in a bevy of events around here. He’s a nice enough guy, and we go on to our match.
Game 1, he gets it on his turn 4, he’s on the play, and I have him on my turn 4, we’re just two ships passing in the night.
Now, I don’t really speak much in between games, or during games in a match. I’ll talk more after, but I feel like saying things may indicate some patterns of mine to my opponent. Michael said something along the lines of “You know what Patrick Sullivan says about this matchup, never block.” He said this because I tanked a turn deciding whether to block or not. I decided to put his theory to the test in the next game.
Game 2, we trade with some Arc Lightnings, Wild Slashes, and Fiery Impulses, but I end up getting an extra creature, and push through for lethal with an Abbot of Keral Keep, Atarka’s Command, and Temur Battle Rage. I did notice that he never blocked that game, and I did win because I decided to block his creature with my Abbot, and hit my Abbot with a Become Immense. I then swung for the game.
Game 3, much like game 1, a couple of early burns spells, but I untap with a board of Abbot of Keral Keep and Monastery Swiftspear, against his tapped out lands, and untapped Scythe Leopard, Morph, and Abbot of Keral Keep. I’m dead next turn either way, because he can morph the Den Protector, get back and Arc Lightning, and kill my board, or just get back a pump spell and win. I tank for a bit, do some math, and realize I have the game locked up if he just doesn’t block. Because of what he said before, I shove in. He declares no blocks, and I Titan’s Strength and Temur Battle Rage my Abbot for exactsies.
2-1. Ok, I’m really stoked. I was actually shaking as I beat Michael, that’s a landmark, my first pro-level player I’ve defeated. I can at least walk away now not entirely disappointed. However, given the high amount of Black/White/X decks above me, there are a lot of matches going to time, and getting unintentional draws. I end up playing round 4 at table 4, as a win and in. How? Doesn’t matter, it’s Magic!
Round 4, Erik on Jeskai Black.
I know this isn’t supposed to be a stellar matchup, probably the worst for my deck, but I love the board plan with my deck, and am really comfortable with it against Jeskai.
Game 1, I get the win, he just stumbles on mana, and I punish him. He’s never really in it as he misses land drops, and also misses some colors. I don’t even have to do anything fancy, I just attack and win.
Getting game 1 against Jeskai is awesome, and usually leads to a victory, as you’ll get one of the other games on the play.
Game 2, we both mulligan, and I get punished for keeping the 5 land Monastery Swiftspear hand. I’m about as in it as he was in game 1.
Game 3, my board plan is just so awesome. Multiple Outpost Sieges, leading to multiple burn spells for his creatures, multiple Abbots thanks to Den Protectors, and I just pull way ahead. After turn 5. Since the Jeskai deck doesn’t run sweepers, he just can’t catch back up.
Oh man, I made the top 4 cut. We decide to split prize, so I can leave now and be ecstatic. I’m in top 4 now where three rounds ago I was selling all of my cards.
In top 4, my opponent Ryan concedes to me, he doesn’t care about the invite, and it’s off to the finals I go.
Finals, Chris on Jeskai Black.
Again, not a great matchup for me game 1, but I’m pretty comfortable playing against this deck.
I get game 1 the same way I got game 1 in round 4. I just punish him stumbling on mana because my deck just plays threats every turn, and that forces them to have an answer every turn or they are going to just take tons of damage.
In game 2, I just go grind mode again. With no good enchantment removal in the format, Outpost Siege is just so good. Sure Felidar Cub exists, but I feel like the white decks just are so tight in terms of cards they need to run to be able to beat other decks, that slight might have to be taken by something else.
So we did it. I got my first blue envelope. I’m really excited to play in my first Invitational this year. I will definitely be in the invitational in New Jersey later this year. If I get another invite, I’ll try to get to another one this year. So that’s one of my goals for 2016 already completed. Now I have to focus on winning a PPTQ and getting qualified for an RPTQ.
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