It’s quite possible that I am nuts. Recently, I flew to Montreal to head judge a PTQ and potentially play in the World Magic Cup Qualifier the next day. Many of you reading this won’t see that as a big deal, but to fly anywhere from Newfoundland is an expensive proposition. Through discussions with the judge manager Michael McCliment, the organizers at Face to Face Games and a bunch of my judge and player friends who I knew would be there, the trip became worth it for me even at a loss. The plan was made slightly more palatable when the judge foil lands came in the mail.
Being able to head judge a large event in a different area actually carries a lot of value, which is something many judges (and players, I would imagine) don’t realise. Not only do you get to see how things are run elsewhere, you also get to show people how you do things in your area. This knowledge exchange often improves all the judges involved, which is something we should all be striving to do.
This isn’t an article about judging, though. As much as I love judging events, and even though seeing people like KYT and Will Blondon would be excellent, and even though I could eat at Black Strap BBQ and La Banquise, the thing that had me the most excited was the opportunity to play a high-level Competitive tournament in a format I know with a serious prize on the line.
Lest anyone think that what follows is a complaint, please be assured that I gladly and voluntarily give up playing in events in order to run them. Newfoundland has but one L2 and if I don’t head judge things like PTQs, they won’t happen (or they will be very expensive to run). I don’t consider it a sacrifice to miss out on these tournaments that others may play, but instead I truly love handing over the invitation to the winner. That doesn’t mean that at some point I wouldn’t really, REALLY like to play in one.
The plan we came up with was for me to head judge on Saturday for the PTQ and then be a standby judge on Sunday, only being activated in the event that we went over a certain number of players. Given that last year’s WMCQ in Montreal was under 100 players, it seemed reasonable that I would be able to play. That meant I had to immediately engage Serious Testing Mode.
My columns normally are about making slightly (or incredibly) off-kilter ideas work, to some extent, in Standard. Even recently I have been trying to make The Chain Veil work with Nissa, Worldwaker and Ral Zarek (with varying degrees of success) and a very, very trolly Modern deck that I hope to write about next time out. I very rarely make decks that I expect to compete with the highest level of tournament-tuned decks, and even more rarely will I netdeck. I used to think doing so was inherently wrong, but really it’s just not how I enjoy playing Magic.
I wanted to win, though. I wanted it more than I have wanted to win anything. I would have been happy just making top 8, showing that I am good enough to compete with the best in the country and that if and when I try, I can succeed. So I started playing the Jund Walkers list that was seeing some success on the SCG circuit, with the intention of tweaking the deck in the few weeks leading to the WMCQ. The deck looked right up my alley: grindy, powerful and hard to shut down, with a good control matchup. My first time with the deck I went 4-1 at FNM, losing only to the mirror. OK, we’re off to a good start.
Jund Walkers, Take 1 – Chris Lansdell
My initial build was straight off the SCG list, 74/75. My only change was leaving out the third Rakdos’s Return in the sideboard, replacing it with a Gild. I may love that card too much. Still, it seemed to do well when I played against mono-blue at FNM so for the time being, it would stay. This was the weekend of the Midgard M15 Invitational, and that’s where the wheels started to come off. The Standard rounds would see me having horrendous luck as well as playing pretty poorly. The deck couldn’t beat a Naya Hexproof player who got stuck on 2 lands for multiple turns, got destroyed by black-white midrange and generally left me tilting very hard. There was no doubt it could do some powerful things but one too many games of drawing nothing but Caryatids and Coursers left me looking for a way to make the deck more threat-intensive.
I wasn’t ready to abandon the archetype just yet. Abrupt Decay seemed to be losing value with Detention Spehere and Banishing Light seeing less play in UW Control. Garruk was way too heavy against a lot of decks, only really being a trump in the mirror. I also wanted something else to beat down and provide some card advantage, which turned me to Indulgent Tormentor. Yes I know, but it seemed like a good idea. I also tried a single Mogis, God of the Slaughter. This was the version I took to Game Day:
Jund Walkers, Take 2 – Chris Lansdell
I added the Wake to the board because the mirror match was looking like it would be a thing. I only drew Mogis once and that game was already over at the time, so I don’t know how it would have worked out. The Tormentors rarely showed up and when they did, they died early. I took a night off testing to try this little spicy number:
The Chain Veil – Chris Lansdell
I don’t remember the sideboard on this one but I know it had Counterflux, Stormbreath Dragon and Anger of the Gods. The deck wasn’t good enough for serious play but I did manage to go infinite a couple of times with The Chain Veil. I also managed to die to it once, but we don’t need to talk about that. It’s possible that this deck could be better with some tinkering, but this wasn’t the time to perform said tinkering.
Scotty to the Rescue!
So we’re a couple of weeks from what was likely to be the biggest tournament of my life, and I still didn’t know what deck I would be playing. I knew Jund Walkers was a powerful deck but it just wasn’t working for me. One local player (Chris Stoyles) was having a ton of success with it, taking down a couple of bigger local events with the list, but still I couldn’t find a 75 I liked. Nissas, no Nissas, Mystics, no Mystics…nothing felt right.
Scotty Mac and I have worked together on decks before, and he has never steered me wrong. He sent me a Naya Walkers list that certainly seemed to be doing a lot of the things I wanted to do in terms of threat density, but didn’t sacrifice the upper end like a lot of aggro decks. I had been looking at the best colours for a planeswalker-heavy build and was very attracted to white as it gave me access to Elspeth and both Ajanis. Scott was looking to ramp into them fast:
Naya Walkers – Scott MacCallum
Although I really liked this list, I wasn’t convinced that red offered more than black in combination with GW. Sure you got Xenagos, the Reveler and Mizzium Mortars, but you lose Vraska, Garruk, Hero’s Downfall, Golgari Charm…the trade didn’t seem worth it to me. Scott was having some success with the deck but I couldn’t walk away from the power level of the black cards in the archetype.
But did I have to? Nobody is playing Encroaching Wastes or Burning Earth right now, and with Caryatids a fourth colour on the splash is almost free. Not to mention
Junk Abzan splashing red let me play Slaughter Games in the sideboard instead of Stain the Mind, an obvious upgrade. Although Mortars would give me an answer to Blood Baron of Vizkopa, I decided to have Xenagos as my only red card in the main deck. Besides, it’s not like I was doing well with anything else! With all this in mind, I sleeved this up for our regular Wednesday night Standard event:
4C Walkers – Chris Lansdell
This deck was nowhere near as greedy as it looked. In all my testing I only got stuck for mana once, and I won that game anyway because Scavenging Ooze into Archangel of Thune isn’t particularly fair. I went 3-2 at FNM, losing to Rabble Red outracing me and Mono Black having this in their graveyard at the end of game 3…
Yeah, I did not win that game. Still, nut draws aside I was happy with the way the deck was positioned and felt good taking it to Montreal.
Still though, I wanted to get some feedback on the deck. Scotty liked it. A couple of other people thought it was too greedy, but I had playtest evidence that it wasn’t. Then I made the mistake of shipping the list to one Michael J Flores. In typical Flores fashion he was extravagant in his derision of my deck choice (going so far as to say I could never beat anything good) and effusive in his praise of RW Burn, which he considered the best deck by some considerable margin. He was certain I could never beat Burn with this deck, for example.
If you’ve never spoken to Flores about a deck, you have to know how to filter his enthusiasm. If you can get passed his hyperbolic nature, you can often find a lot of valuable information in what he’s telling you. RW Burn is a very powerful deck in a metagame filled with monoblack strategies, shocklands and painlands, but I expected a lot of UW Control in Montreal and didn’t want to be playing a deck that had a rough matchup against Control. I built the deck anyway as a backup, because it never hurts to have an audible.
I played the Walkers deck at FNM at Face to Face, and went 3-1 losing only to a Naya brew and beating Burn, GW Aggro and UR Control on the way. I also managed to get in a few practice games with KYT against his GB Midrange deck and got beaten fairly consistently due to Pack Rat and not being able to find an answer to Nissa. Still, there was nothing that made me think I shouldn’t be on this deck for the WMCQ.
So what happened? Well, I ended up having to judge. I guess we’ll never know if I can hang with the big boys, but I was happy with the process that led me to the deck I had ready, and playing it since has proven to me that it actually is very good. I have since dropped the Xenagos for Reaper of the Wilds and Desecration Demon, which has given me a little more punch.
While it was somewhat disappointing to miss out on playing in a major event or the first time, I had a blast judging and the tournament really did need me to judge in order to run smoothly. It also reignited the fire for me, and I’ll be writing and playing more often now I think. I’m sure at least two of you are happy to see that. Until next time…brew on!