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One Last Tournament

I don’t want to say “this is it,” because I will be at plenty of Magic tournaments next season, but Worlds was my last professional-level tournament for at least a year. That led to a strange week, a strange tournament, and a pretty emotional end to the season (though I guess it technically is the start of the next season). For a more detailed look at me entering the coverage bracket, here’s an article by that title.

Let’s rewind a bit and take a look at the past tw0 weeks since this is secretly a Grand Prix Indy report too.

On Coverage of GP Indy

We assembled the usual squad for GP Indy:

gp-indy-team

The tournament was a lot of fun to cover. I legit love covering Modern events, as you get to see such a wide range of decks and the games are exciting and swingy. Granted, those are some aspects of the format that can be frustrating as a player (preparing for a field of 20+ decks is tough), but from the booth I think it’s awesome.

Some highlights:

Opening the Floodgates

After doing an escape room (which is becoming a coverage tradition), we found ourselves trapped by a torrential downpour of biblical proportions. We had no idea when it was going to stop, so it was a tough spot. Huey and I were brave enough to decide to just run it, and we sprinted three blocks to the place we were having dinner.

We ended up ABSOLUTELY drenched. Like, I’m talking “just jumped into a swimming pool” levels of wet. Water was coming down in sheets, and we were soaked through and through. We immediately took out our phones and wallets to dry them, and waited for the rest of the crew (Gaby, BK, and Andrew Parnell) to show up.

A few minutes later they stroll in, dry as dry can be. Apparently there was a secret underground tunnel directly to the restaurant, and they didn’t get a drop on them. It was one of the most savage beats I’ve ever suffered in my life. At least we found out that Huey and I aren’t cowards (or as smart as the rest of the team).

Turn-1 Ancient Grudge

In the quarterfinals, Scott Lipp powered out Ancient Grudge with Simian Spirit Guide, leaving Mason Linne with 0 permanents after Glimmervoid disappeared. This is the closest we got to a turn-1 kill in the tournament.

A Well-Timed Conversation

Here’s an exchange I had with a gentleman using the urinal next to mine on Sunday:

“Oh hey, are you Luis Scott-Vargas?”
“I am.”
“Awesome, I’d love to shake your hand!”
“…”
“You know, after we wash them.”

On PAX, Worlds, and Everything Seattle

We headed to Seattle on Monday, where my team for Worlds was meeting. The squad we had assembled was myself, Mike Sigrist, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Sam Pardee. We’d already been testing for weeks, and really just had to figure out our Modern deck.

On Standard

Here’s what we played in Standard, which was pretty much done by the time we landed in Seattle:

Temur Emerge

Some notes about the deck:

  • Jace is incredible. The fact that many Temurge decks don’t run Jace is offensive, as he’s everything the deck wants. He puts Kozilek’s Return into the graveyard, he smooths out your draw, and he combos very well with Grapple, Gather, and Traverse. You can even sacrifice him to emerge!
  • Traverse is seeing more play, which is good. A split card that’s a land or a Demonic Tutor is awesome, and this deck gets delirium quickly.
  • No Nissa’s Pilgrimage/2 Nissa + 4 Pilgrim’s Eye. This deck is way more focused on emerging Deep-Fiends, and we chose not to include the straight ramp spell. That is the most unique choice, and one that makes us better against Bant but worse at getting to Emrakul first in the mirror. Still, Deep-Fiend is great when you chain it, and this deck does that way more reliably.

I really enjoyed playing this deck, and was looking forward to bringing it to Worlds. It is a Standard deck full of Mindslavers, Demonic Tutors, Regrowths, and 0-mana uncounterable deal 5s—why wouldn’t I love that?

On Modern, and Seeing How the Sausage is Made

As the classic saying goes, “to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.”

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while since it’s a funny phenomenon to observe. Bear with me as I pierce the veil. See, people who haven’t been part of a pro Magic test team probably have an idea of how things go, and the reality is likely very different. I’ve seen this happen a few times, and I’m going to use Marshall as the example “citizen” for this one.

Marshall has now had the opportunity to watch our team in action a few times, and he was expecting a lot more structure, organization, and spreadsheets. Definitely spreadsheets. What he got instead was a lot of us arguing random points, playing a scattershot amount of games, and arguing some more. It seemed chaotic, disorganized, and WAY less impressive than he’d hoped.

Where was the database? How could we argue about Duress vs. Collective Brutality and then instantly switch over to arguing about Lashweed Lurker vs. Wretched Gryff? Were we really making decisions about sideboarding without playing a matchup or testing the potential cards? Did our plan really involve Damnation and Noble Hierarch in our 22-land deck?

damnoble

Now I can’t speak for every team—I’m sure Frank Karsten has all the spreadsheets Marshall could want and more. I have tested with many different pro teams at this point, and the reality is both less and more than what Marshall expected and what Marshall saw.

The truth is, we ARE more disorganized than we should be, and a more disciplined approach would be better. There’s some amount of duplication of results, and at times we do make decisions without playing enough games. A great example of this is when Paulo wanted us to play Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in our Abzan sideboard.

PV: “Elspeth would be great against Bant Eldrazi.”
Me: “Paulo, our deck plays 22 lands.”
PV: “Yeah, but it’s in a matchup where they have 4 Path to Exile, so that’s like 26. Plus, your Noble Hierarchs never die, so that’s like 29. If you need to, you can Path your own guys, so it’s like a 33-land deck!”

Right.

In any case, here’s my defense of what’s going on, and an explanation as to why this chaos is more controlled than it looks. By the time Marshall and Gaby showed up to watch us pick our Modern deck, we had played a ton of games. We’d been testing various decks for weeks, and Modern decks also don’t change that much from set to set. The collective knowledge of the four of us combined was pretty deep, and plenty of the things we talked about didn’t really need more games played for us to be sure about them. Likewise, the free-flowing conversation does actually accomplish a lot of what we need it to accomplish, even if having a list of topics would be more productive.

Theorycrafting is powerful, and despite sounding like a nonsense term (Marshall is scoffing at it right now), it lets you leverage all your time spent playing and watching games in order to get way more value. I don’t need to re-test the same matchups I’ve played many times to know why card A is good against deck B, and given that you don’t have hundreds of hours to test, it lets you use your time efficiently.

Anyways, here’s the result of our powerful theorycrafting (or random arguments, whatever you prefer):

Abzan

Notes about this Abzan list:

  • Grim Flayer is the real deal. He performed very well, and I think he’s a great addition as an early threat plus a good amount of card selection. The cost of including Mishra’s Bauble is minimal, and Bauble even pumps ‘Goyf.
  • Noble Hierarch was also very good. Turn-2 Liliana is great, and pumping ‘Goyfs and Flayers does matter more than you might think. The interaction with Shambling Vents is also relevant.
  • Collective Brutality is at its best against Infect and Burn. If you expect more of those, you can play another in the main deck.

We played Abzan expecting a field of Death’s Shadow, Bant Eldrazi, Infect, Abzan, and a few scattershot linear combo decks. What we got was a million Abzan decks, a couple Scapeshift decks, and a few Eldrazi decks. That ended up being fine, since we did pick a deck with a ton of close matchups, meaning we couldn’t get it too wrong. I was happy with Abzan, and given what I knew going in, think it was a fine choice.

On Day One

With our decks ready, and our team set, we donned our jerseys and were ready to go. Speaking of the jerseys, I actually liked them. They could have fit better (they tended to run large), but they were comfortable, and I liked the unified look of all the competitors.

The venue was amazing, as we were going to play on stage at the Paramount Theater. Here’s a shot Marshall took from stage, which speaks to both how cool the venue was and how good of a photographer Marshall is.

My first draft went well. Blue was very open, to the point where I wheeled a Drownyard Behemoth (!), and after the draft I was quite pleased with my deck. That was my first mistake.

I did in fact rattle off the 1-2 I predicted, losing to Shota and Reid in close matches. My game 2 against Reid, which was on camera, was especially brutal. I died to his Ingenious Skaab while on 10 life and with two blockers, thanks to Unsubstantiate, plus Drag Under, plus Incendiary Flow, crushing my hopes of starting out well.

I did manage to make my worst mistake of the tournament in round 3 against Joel Larsson.

In a close game, I drew a Drownyard Behemoth and passed the turn with 9 mana. When he went to attack me with a Thornhide Wolves, I came to the horrific realization that I had drawn a Vexing Scuttler instead. Look, they are both Crabs—how was I supposed to know??

Instead of spending 8 mana and playing a 4/5, I did nothing with my turn, took 4 damage, and had to waste my whole next turn casting the Scuttler. Of course, since justice doesn’t exist, I won anyway and knocked Joel to 0-3. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay for my mistake, but wow, was that a bad one.

After the draft, I was 1-2 and more than ready to battle Standard. What I wasn’t ready for was Oliver Tiu, more commonly known as Tiu Lucky.

On Gathering the Pack

Oliver was playing Temurge as well, though he had Pilgrimage and more Emrakuls, which is good in the mirror.

In game 2, I cast Learn from the Past to shuffle his graveyard away, leaving him with an uncastable Emrakul in hand. I then decided not to Deep-Fiend him for a turn, instead playing Jace to set up an Emrakul off Traverse the following turn.

Oliver untapped, and cast Gather the Pack, revealing the following:

For those counting, that’s 5 different card types. All of a sudden, Emrakul came down, and I met an untimely end.

They call him Tiu Lucky for a reason (though to be clear—Oliver is a great Magic player, and I am always happy to see him do well).

At this point, I was not feeling great. This was the best tournament in the world, a tournament I never thought I’d get a chance to play again, and here I was at 1-3. After taking a few minutes to relax and refocus, I was ready to keep battling.

I did at least finish the day strong by defeating Sam Pardee in the 75-card mirror, then beating 2 Bant decks in a row. Sam made a pretty cool play, where he cast Elder Deep-Fiend and stacked the tap trigger under the Kozilek’s Return trigger, so that if I wanted to animate Lumbering Falls to stop it from being tapped, it would die to Return.

I felt a lot better at 4-3, and was actually able to enjoy dinner at a nice sushi place for Gaby’s birthday. Unbeknownst to us (or maybe just me), she was also filming her video blog at the time, the name of which hasn’t been made clear yet. I’m a fan of vlogs, and given that it was the World Championship, Cheon was nowhere to be found, so the Viper Vlog has no competition.

On Tom Douglas

tommyd

Who is Tom Douglas, you may ask?

Marshall and I always talk about how much of our money he has because he owns what seems like every restaurant in Seattle. His breakfast place Lola is my favorite, and he owns the Serious Pie up the block (great), Dahlia Bakery across the street (great), and Dahlia Lounge on the corner (also great). He also owns the Carlile Room, which was right across from the Paramount Theater, and we went there like four times. What takes it from funny to odd is that his company did all the catering for Worlds competitors and staff. The evidence that we live in a simulation is mounting, since how lazy is it to just make some “Tom Douglas” that provides all the food in Seattle?

Of however many meals I ate in Seattle, I bet ol’ Tommy D. was responsible for like 80% of them. Marshall even got to meet him, which makes me very jealous as I’m a big fan of his work. I can only assume that Marshall handed him his wallet, just to take out the middleman.

On Day Two

The format of the tournament was odd. Given that it was planned around the Magic PAX stream, Day 2 was just 1 draft + 3 rounds, leading to a very short day.

My draft also ended up oddly. I had a solid green-white core, but whether to play a bunch of low-curve creatures or some loose delirium high-end wasn’t clear. I decided to start with the beatdown plan, though I consulted the brain trust after submitting my deck list (i.e., I texted Ben Stark and Pat Cox pictures of my deck and sideboard).

Here’s what I started with.

Pat liked the beatdown option, and Ben favored control. I ended up siding into control 1 of the 3 rounds, staying with beatdown for the other 2. It was a testament to how much sideboarding can matter in Limited, even in draft, as my deck played completely differently based on whether I had 1- and 2-drop beaters or Forks in the Road, Wretched Gryff, and 2/3 flying defenders.

Here is the plan I sided in against Yuuya’s red-black midrange deck.

Against Yuuya’s deck of midrange creatures and removal, the plan of going big sounded way better than the Crossroads Consecrator + Hamlet Captain strategy. Against Steve Rubin and Shota, I needed to be beatdown because their decks had much better late game.

I ended up going 2-1, defeating Yuuya and Steve, and losing (again) to Shota.

6-4

As a Craw Wurm after Day 2, I knew I needed to go 4-0 to make Top 4. There was just no way my tiebreakers would hold up at 9-5.

On Day Three

Yep.

I kicked off the day by losing a heartbreaker to Thiago Saporito, which eliminated me from Top 4 contention. It was crushingly disappointing, and I got the appropriately consoling messages from my friends watching and/or at the tournament. Those did make me feel better, and there was plenty of tournament left, with very high stakes.

Before we move on, there was an interesting situation that came up in game 3 that I want to touch on.

On a Brutal Situation

I attacked Thiago with two 2/2 Knight Ally tokens and a Grim Flayer, and he made a bunch of blocks. I incorrectly thought one of the 2/2s died that got blocked by a 1/1, and removed it from the board.

On his turn, he cast Collective Brutality, choosing to give my Knight -2/-2 and look at my hand, which I revealed to be a land. At this point Riki, the judge, stopped us and said that I was supposed to have another Knight in play (which was correct). He backed up the game until before Thiago cast Brutality, and corrected the game state to me having 2 Knights.

Thiago then decided to cast Brutality still, but chose to drain me for 2 instead of attempt to make me discard. Whether he should do that or not is a question people debated on Twitter, and even Thiago himself later apologized to me, saying he shouldn’t have used the information about my card in hand to change his play.

Where I come down on this is that Thiago did nothing wrong. He legally had that information, as a mistake by both of us led to an incorrect game state, and in the process of correcting it he gained info about my hand. That means he was well within his rights to change modes on Brutality, and I don’t hold it against him that he did.

For example, imagine that Thiago was at 2. Would it be wrong of him to change the mode so he doesn’t die to a Knight that appeared out of nowhere? I think it clearly would be unfair to expect him not to. In this particular case, the “correct” play, not knowing my hand, was to choose the Duress mode, but he does know my hand.

I do think it would have been especially sporting if he didn’t change modes, and I can see myself not changing modes given that. That is completely up to him, and while I would have been impressed had he stuck to his original modes, I have no problem with him not doing so. It’s a professional tournament, the most professional in fact, and trying to win well within tournament rules is nothing I fault him for doing.

6-5

I was more disappointed after this match than any other match I can remember, with the possible exception being the semifinals of PT San Diego in 2010. I knew I was not going to be World Champion, and knew that my last tournament for a year was not going to end with me making the final cut.

At this point, I did what I could to close out strong. I defeated Mike Sigrist in the mirror (2-0 against teammates, taste it) and JC Tao on B/W Tokens. I then got to play the sweetest game of the tournament.

On Puntdowns

The term I’m using for this is Puntdown, where you punt and win as a direct result. This happened in my game 2 against Steve Rubin, who was playing Bant Eldrazi.

It’s a fast game, so I’ll link to the beginning.

The subtle mistake I made was fetching Godless Shrine instead of Overgrown Tomb on turn 4. Now, it made sense to get Shrine in general—I have double-white cards in my deck, and no double-green cards (I had to get black to cast Damnation). The key was that I had 2 Tarmogoyfs in hand, so by fetching Shrine I made myself unable to cast them both on the next turn. Also note the mondo combo of Noble + Damnation in action.

On the next turn, Steve hits me with Reality Smasher down to 3.

I then untap, and my hand is 2 Tarmogoyfs, a fetchland, and Thoughtseize, with Goyfs at 4/5. I don’t have double green, so my only option is to play Goyf + Thoughtseize and hope one of Steve’s 2 cards is somehow an enchantment or artifact.

I nab Rest in Peace, which means that if I had double-green, I would have cast 2 ‘Goyfs and died to it. I played my ‘Goyf, and was forced to chump a 6/6 Smasher when Steve played Noble Hierarch.

I then peeled Path, and Steve drew Drowner. I was somehow in this game! He tapped my ‘Goyf, I Pathed Smasher, and proceeded to rattle off Grim Flayer, Lingering Souls, and three removal spells to come back and win. It was an awesome game, and I recommend taking a look. Multiple times coverage is like “well, this looks about over” and they were absolutely right each time.

9-5, 6th place on tiebreakers

I’ll take that as a final game (for now), and am proud of how I finished. 9-5 from 1-3 is nothing I’ll complain about, and I’m satisfied with my performance at Worlds.

The rest of my team didn’t fare quite so well, as we ended up 28-28 total (5-9, 7-7, 7-7, and 9-5). There’s always next year, for some of us at least. I did really like teaming with these guys, and would do so again if the opportunity presented itself—PV, Siggy, and Sam are all great, and I thought we had good decks in both formats (even if Abzan is by definition medium, I liked our list).

On the Finals

If you watch one game from Worlds, game 3 between Marcio and BBD is the game you should watch. It’s an hour and seven minutes long, so strap in for a ride, but it might be the best game I’ve had the pleasure of casting with Marshall. He did an awesome job keeping the tension high, no small feat in a game of this length, and at the end of it, I had no idea it was over an hour long. It was non-stop action from start to finish, and had plenty of twists and turns. If games like this are in my future, I couldn’t be more excited about doing coverage.

On Endings

PAX was a few more days, and plenty of stuff happened. There was a Tragic Slip (see the Vlog linked above for details), I explored the Kaladesh Street Fair (I’m the 2016 Thopter Assembling Champion), and I got to do spellslinging and show off new Kaladesh cards on Monday. I even got to pay a lot of money to change my flight when I realized past Luis booked a 6 a.m. flight home, and present Luis was not going to get up that early.

As for what’s next—I’ll still be writing event reports, and doing plenty of streaming, videos, and more. I’m not going anywhere, and next year is gonna be awesome. Until next time, may all your punts be touchdowns. I’ll see you in Hawai’i.

LSV

Sample Hand from Draft Deck 2 (post-board)

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