Secure the Abbey

I have been playing control decks almost exclusively for as long as I can remember. I play Miracles in Legacy, UW control in Modern, and, generally, a UW variant in Standard whenever possible, unless a “best deck” shows up.

Last season, before Shadows over Innistrad (SOI), I had brewed a UWb deck that ran [card]Secure the Wastes[/card] and [card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card] as an end game, but gave up on it to play [card]Rally the Ancestors[/card] as I couldn’t figure out how to beat it, and as the season wore on it became obvious that it was the best deck, so I switched to it. After SOI came out, a few of the biggest problem cards for my previous strategy rotated ([card]Temur Battle Rage[/card] and [card]Rally the Ancestors[/card], mainly), and the set provided a few cards that fit right in.

I put together my deck and have been putting up solid results consistently since then.

On April 10th, I won the first PPTQ I played with the deck at Gamer’s Spot St. Hyacinthe. The following week (April 16th) I played it in the SCG Open in Columbus to finish 33rd. Two weeks later, at GP Toronto, I lost my last round to finish 134th. The following week at GP New York, I finished 46th. Then I lost in the finals of a PPTQs on May 14, and again on May 21.
This past weekend (May 28th), after I won the PPTQ at La Place Du Collectionneur on Saturday, I told my friend, William Blondon, who had been judging that day that he should run my list on Sunday because I thought it was well positioned and very strong… so he did and he won the event. And so Kar asked me to write a primer on it to share.

So here is the list you’re actually here for:

Esper Control by David Schnayer

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Evolving Wilds
3 Island
1 Mage-Ring Network
2 Plains
1 Port Town
3 Prairie Stream
4 Shambling Vent
3 Sunken Hollow
3 Swamp
3 Westvale Abbey
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Anguished Unmaking
3 Clash of Wills
3 Declaration in Stone
2 Descend upon the Sinful
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Languish
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Ojutai’s Command
3 Painful Truths
3 Secure the Wastes
1 Silumgar’s Command
2 Sorin, Grim Nemesis
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Ultimate Price
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
2 Negate
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Pick the Brain
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Dispel
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Silumgar’s Command
1 Languish
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

This deck is designed to buy time. Everything in it helps you get to the late game: After starting 3-0 in the PPTQ with a control deck that he had never played before, Mr. Blondon sent me the following message:

“I’m probably not side boarding optimally but there were two games against control were I was very much behind and I still came back and won. Deck is oddly good at getting back into games.”

There are games where the mana base may be a little clunky. Like any three color deck, the possibility of running into issues due to it does exist. However, as the deck is built in such a way to overcome these issues, this is mitigated the longer the game goes. And the long game is what this deck wants. Like any control deck, making it out of the early turns in decent shape is key. Your first land drop will almost always come-into-play tapped (CitP), and ordering your land drops in the first few turns is a bit tricky. For example, if you have a Sunken Hallow and a [card]Shambling Vent[/card] in your opening hand, with a basic that isn’t an [card]Island[/card], it is tempting to play the Vent first as the Sunken Hallow may be able to come in untapped at a later point – however the correct play is likely the Sunken Hallow as it will enable many more turn 2 plays than the Vent.

The most obvious path to victory with the deck is through a large end of turn [card]Secure the Wastes[/card], into flipping [card]Westvale Abbey[/card]. However, there are many other lines at play, and figuring out what to do with the cards you draw can be tricky. Games can be won quickly with a Gideon attacking or a Narset hitting ultimate, if needed. Sometimes grinding with [card]Westvale Abbey[/card] tokens and [card]Shambling Vent[/card] gets there, and other times Sorin will be able to kill your opponent by reveling a few high costed cards. While Jace emblem is possible, generally you want to be getting value from your Jace by using its minus ability.

While Esper Dragons is the only known Esper deck in the format, this deck is closer in style to the BW control deck than Dragons. I feel like I have a strong edge in both of those matchups, and my results with the deck reflect it. We are a bigger control deck that both of them; Dragons is weak to your threats and theirs are generally easy to deal with, and against BW we have better card advantage and counterspells.

The hardest matches for this deck are decks that feature a fast clock and their own counters to back them up and keep us from clearing the board. The biggest single problem card for us is Gideon; if they play it on turn 4 and we can’t answer quickly or counter it, then we are probably going to lose to it.

Key Card Choices and Discussion:

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy // Telepath Unbound
Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy is the only creature in the main deck. Many people quickly point it that it must die to removal often, and that is true. The thing that people don’t think about is that I don’t mind my turn 2 Jace dying to removal. If my opponent spends his turn 2 or 3 killing my Jace, then he doesn’t spend it play a threat, which means more time to make land drops and move towards the late game. There are also many times that he often doesn’t die to removal, and then the card advantage he creates and the time he buys by nerfing attackers is huge.

Painful Truths over Read the Bones
[card]Painful Truths[/card] is much stronger than [card]Read the Bones[/card] in most situations. You always want the extra card, and the life lost is more than offset by that fact. Playing a turn 3, [card]Painful Truths[/card] for 3, and having to discard a card at end of turn is not necessarily bad. Discarding will help flip Jace, possibly turn on delirium sooner, and improves your overall hand at very little cost. Also, don’t be afraid to play [card]Painful Truths[/card] for 2 if you have no other turn 3 play and a colourless source in play; it’s still fine.

Descend upon the Sinful and [card]Languish[/card] Split
When I first started with this list, I had 3 [card]Languish[/card] and 1 [card]Descend upon the Sinful[/card] (DutS) in the main deck with the fourth languish in the board. I quickly realized that DutS is actually much better against the field. I never wanted 4 [card]Languish[/card], even against the most aggressive decks like Mono White Humans. Once I shifted to two in the main, 1 in the board of each, I have been much happier with the balance.

[card]Descend upon the Sinful[/card] is like two of my favorite magic cards in one – Terminus and [card]Entreat the Angels[/card]. Getting delirum with this deck is not automatic, but it happens most games by the time you want to cast Descend. The angel token also provides another kill condition and blocks creature lands that could attack back through your sorcery speed removal. DutS is also very relevant to exile things against decks that run [card]Zulaport Cutthroat[/card] or [card]Hangarback Walker[/card].

(I did consider [card]Planar Outburst[/card], but it’s blanked by Avacyn too often, and awakening it is harder than getting delirium.)

Declaration in Stone over Other Removal
I have heard many people say that [card]Declaration in Stone[/card] (DiS) is not good in control because the opponent will always have time to crack their clues. While it’s very true that they will have time to crack their clues, it’s always better that they draw a random card over a threat that could win them the game (there is no wrong threat, only wrong answers). The fact that it only costs 2 mana, hits everything, and exiles is also very important against many decks. I originally had four in the main and went down to 3 but I’m still unsure if the change was right.

Secure the Wastes
This card is what makes this deck win so many games. It can be used both defensively and offensively. And to understand when to use it is key to setting up many victories. It can act as a pseudo removal or help you defend a planeswalker close to ultimate. It can be used to put a clock on your opponent who has no clear cut ways to answer 4 1/1 tokens. It can “gain” you life by blunting an attack to help you setup a board wipe. Figuring out how to use your best weapon will at times pull you out of a game you thought you were about to lose. There have been a few times that games have gotten to a point that I played secure for 5 main phase and then immediately used the tokens to flip my Abbey and kill my opponent.

Battle for Zendikar Lands vs Shadows over Innistrad Lands
I’ve seen many a three color mana base lean on the SOI lands heavily, but I only run 1 ([card]Port Town[/card]). The reasoning behind this is that I don’t mind my lands coming into play tapped on turns 1 or 3 at all, and 4 most of the time, but I really want to have untapped land drops later when I want to play multiple spells or play a large [card]Secure the Wastes[/card]. Having to keep another land in my hand to play out the SoI lands is not a good thing.

Sideboard Guide:

The sideboard of this deck is a ton of one-ofs of cards that already have copies in the main deck. Sideboarding is a bit of an art form. It’s not always clear what you should bring in or what you should leave out. Too often, players tend to over board and that is worse than under boarding. Even after playing the deck for almost 2 months, I still need to think hard or look at my list as I’m un-boarding to figure out what I put in or took out.

Some of the numbers don’t line up, that is because I’m not sure what the best next thing to cut is.

Pick the brain is in the board due to mana curve issues – the fact that it can hit any non-land and gives you info about your opponent’s deck is great, but not generally needed in game 1.

Matchups

GW tokens

The biggest problems from GW you need to deal with are Gideon and Evolutionary Leap – if they don’t have either of these cards, and/or you can deal with them quickly, then you win.

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
2 Negate
2 Pick the Brain
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Silumgar’s Command
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Declaration in Stone

Out

[sbplan]
1 Ultimate Price
2 Languish
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Clash of Wills
1 Narset Transcendent
1 Ojutai’s Command
[/sbplan]

RG Ramp

Countering their acceleration is a gamble, but you want to make sure that you can get rid of their Ulamog/Kozilek from their hands before they are able to cast them. World Breaker can only ever hit your lands, which isn’t ideal, but Declaration in Stone is fine at dealing with it once it’s in play.

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
2 Negate
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Pick the Brain
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
[/sbplan]

Out

[sbplan]
1 Ultimate Price
2 Languish
1 Clash of Wills
1 Silumgar’s Command
[/sbplan]

GB Aurora Ramp

In

[sbplan]
2 Negate
2 Pick the Brain
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Anguished Unmaking

Out

[sbplan]
2 Languish
1 Clash of Wills
1 Silumgar’s Command
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Transgress the Mind
1 Secure the Wastes
[/sbplan]

Bant Company

In

[sbplan]
2 Pick the Brain
1 Descend upon the Sinful
2 Dispel
1 Declaration in Stone
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Languish

Out

[sbplan]
1 Narset Transcendent
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Clash of Wills
1 Silumgar’s Command
1 Ultimate Price
[/sbplan]

GB Aristocrats

They can win games where they have multiple Zulaport Cutthoarts and a Nantuko Husk before you can Descend upon the Sinful – without those you can board wipe them more times that they can recover from.

In

[sbplan]
2 Pick the Brain
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Ultimate Price
1 Languish
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Anguished Unmaking, +1 Dispel

Out

[sbplan]
1 Narset Transcendent
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Clash of Wills
1 Silumgar’s Command
[/sbplan]

4.5 Rites

Be careful of Rites going over the top, them being able to flip Abbey quickly, and Reality Smashers post board.

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
2 Pick the Brain
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Dispel
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Languish
[/sbplan]

Out

[sbplan]
1 Narset Transcendent
3 Transgress the Mind
2 Clash of Wills
1 Silumgar’s Command
1 Ultimate Price
[/sbplan]

W Humans

Secure the Wastes is at its best here – use it as a removal spell and/or to buy turns until you play a board wipe and win.

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Languish
[/sbplan]

Out

[sbplan]
1 Narset Transcendent
3 Transgress the Mind
2 Clash of Wills
1 Ojutai’s Command
[/sbplan]

BW Control

You are both playing control and you have better card draw and counter spells.

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
2 Negate
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Pick the Brain
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Silumgar’s Command
[/sbplan]

Out

[sbplan]
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
1 Declaration in Stone
2 Languish
1 Clash of Wills
1 Ojutai’s Command
[/sbplan]

Grixis Control (Like the one in top 8 of GP Manchester)

In

[sbplan]
2 Negate
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Pick the Brain
1 Silumgar’s Command
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Anguished Unmaking

Out

[sbplan]
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
2 Languish
1 Clash of Wills
1 Secure the Wastes
[/sbplan]

Maybe: +1 Declaration in Stone

Esper Dragons

In

[sbplan]
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
2 Negate
1 Narset Transcendent
2 Pick the Brain
2 Dispel
[/sbplan]

Out

[sbplan]
1 Ultimate Price
1 Descend upon the Sinful
2 Languish
1 Clash of Wills
1 Secure the Wastes
1 Declaration in Stone
1 Transgress the Mind
1 Ojutai’s Command
[/sbplan]

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them here or message me directly – I’ll do my best to answer them.

@schnda

Miracles in Cincinnati

I decided to go to Cincinnati for the SCG Open because I felt like playing Modern and had the time off to do it. I posted on Facebook to ask if anyone was interested in going, but as I had assumed the 1250 km drive was too far for anyone local to be interested – and I didn’t blame them – it’s a ridiculously long drive that I generally would have laughed at, I went alone.
I took my time for the trip, leaving Montreal on Wednesday, and not getting back until the following Wednesday – but it wasn’t too bad a drive despite rain, freezing rain, and snow falling at different points along the way.

On the Friday evening before the event I noticed a lot of Magic players hanging around and playing cards in the lobby of the hotel. I joined in and got in a few practice games, but I had previously decided I was going to go to a local FNM to play Modern as I wanted to get in rounds, and figured with the SCG Open in town, the turnout would be pretty good. Two Headed Games was a decent store and ran their FNM well, even with the 30 people who showed up for it; my only issue was that it was 5 rounds and started at 7 p.m. which meant that after going 4-0-1 it was already 11 p.m. and I needed to get back to my hotel and be up early the next morning. To make the situation just a bit worse and confusing, the Mcdonald’s near the hotel for some reason closed at 11, leaving IHOP the only restaurant in the area that I knew to still be open – I just wanted to eat and get to bed, so I went in anyway – Chicken and Waffles were good . . . But I’m guessing the wafflehouse I noticed the next night would have done it better and faster.

I like Modern as a format in general, but it is a frustrating format. There are too many decks and angles possible for control decks to really be good, and even though I love running my UW Control list, I know it’s not that good in a diverse field I expected to see at the Open. I have had fun playing GR Tron in the past, and so I went with it as my deck choice, with some tweaks on recent lists I’ve seen and what I thought would be good for the event. I cut all the [card]Pyroclasm[/card]s in favor of more Ulamog and [card]Spellskite[/card]s, and I believe that it was correct despite my poor performance with the deck, as [card]Pyroclasm[/card] would not have helped in any of the matches I lost.

RG Tron – David Schnayer

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Forest
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Karn Liberated
3 Oblivion Stone
2 Relic of Progenitus
4 Sylvan Scrying
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
3 Spellskite
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
3 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Batterskull
2 Crucible of Worlds
2 Rending Volley
2 Boil
4 Nature’s Claim
2 Pyroclasm
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1 Crumble to Dust
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I wasn’t even thinking about writing an article at the time of the event, so I didn’t take many notes about it, so here are the things I remember.

Before the event started, there were a lot of people in the event location – I’ve been to enough GPs to know that there were more players than the TO expected, just given the size of the room. When the number of 1022 people in the main event was announced and that it was the largest SCG event yet, I wasn’t surprised given the amount of people in the room, but if I had thought the tournament was going to be that big, I likely would have stayed home.

My first opponent was on Infect, I had [card]Spellskite[/card] turn 2 every game, and he never managed to deal with it.

My second opponent was on Affinity; this is the match that not having Pyroclams in my main deck should have hurt . . . I won game 1 with [card]Oblivion Stone[/card] against his slow start. In game 2, I counted things out and was dead on his turn 4 regardless of my turn 3 play if he had any 2 or less cost artifact in his hand of 4 cards thanks to a [card]Cranial Plating[/card], 2 [card]Darksteel Citadel[/card]s, and a [card]Master of Etherium[/card] in play, so I played to my out of him having all blanks.

He started his turn by playing a second [card]Blinkmoth Nexus[/card], which meant he had enough on board to put me to 0, if he simply activated both of them and attacked me. Thankfully for me, he decided that playing [card]Blood Moon[/card] was better, and so only attacked for 10 or so before playing it, and that made his 2 guys small enough that [card]Pyroclasm[/card] killed them both on my turn. I had multiple chances throughout the game to kill that [card]Blood Moon[/card], and yet it hurt him more than me at every point in the game, including giving me the red mana to cast the [card]Pyroclasm[/card]. Please Affinity players, don’t play [card]Blood Moon[/card], it’s not even good in one of the major matches you’re supposed to side it in for.

My first loss was to the Burn deck splashing for [card]Wild Nacatl[/card], [card]Boros Charm[/card], and [card]Atarka’s Command[/card]; the match is basically unwinnable for Tron in my experience. A turn 3 [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] gives you a slight chance, but with [card]Atarka’s Command[/card] in the main deck, it’s rarely good enough, and after board, unless you have devoted 10+ slots to it, you are still going to be unfavoured. (This is the most frustrating thing I find about the format, every deck is either completely fair accross the board (and probably slightly unfavored in most matches) or must give up some matches to have good matches elsewhere.)

After that, I beat Brad Nelson who was playing Abzan in 3 close games. My next 3 matches also ended up pairing me against Abzan; I haven’t played enough Modern recently to know just how bad the matchup is, but it felt bad. Between hand disruption, [card]Path to Exile[/card], and land destruction ([card]Fulminator Mage[/card]), unless I won the roll and got on board before I was disrupted, I was dead and so I lost 3 in a row against Abzan, dropped, registered for the Legacy Open, and went for dinner.

Legacy is a format that I like a lot, but never get the chance to play so I was actually pretty happy that I didn’t make day 2 of the main event.

I’ve been playing the same, more or less, Miracles deck in Legacy for as long as I can remember. [card]Counterbalance[/card] with [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] is just super fun and anyone who would like Wizards to ban the card doesn’t know how to enjoy playing Magic correctly.

Miracles – David Schnayer

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Flooded Strand
4 Island
2 Karakas
1 Mystic Gate
2 Plains
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Tundra
1 Volcanic Island
2 Wasteland
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Brainstorm
2 Council’s Judgment
4 Counterbalance
1 Counterspell
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Entreat the Angels
4 Force of Will
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Spell Pierce
1 Supreme Verdict
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Terminus
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Monastery Mentor
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Terminus
1 Pyroblast
1 Red Elemental Blast
1 Enlightened Tutor
3 Rest in Peace
1 Helm of Obedience
1 Moat
1 Humility
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Wear // Tear
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Vendilion Clique
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

My first round opponent was on Burn, splashing green for [card]Atarka’s Command[/card]. I was rusty at Legacy and made at least 2 minor misplays that likely lost me game 1. In game 2, being on the play allowed me to kill his first 2 guys with a [card]Brainstorm[/card] into Terminus, followed by getting [card]Counterbalance[/card] and [card]Circle of Protection: Red[/card] on board. In game 3, he was on the play, and I mulliganed and kept a mediocre 6, and proceeded to be killed on his turn 3 as I had nothing to stop it.

A round 1 loss in a matchup I feel I am favored in felt bad, but I was now awake and ready to face my round 2 opponent . . . who didn’t bother even showing up. So after waiting for 10 minutes, I got up and sold a bunch of cards to American vendors.

Facing round 3 with a much fuller wallet, I felt like I had already just won the day. When my opponent started playing [card]Island[/card]s, then a [card]Merchant Scroll[/card] for a [card]Force of Will[/card], followed by a Candelabra, I knew they were on [card]High Tide[/card]. The fact that I had already resolved my turn 2 [card]Counterbalance[/card] seemed even better. We played the draw, land, go, game for a few turns until I found my Top. They tried to Force it, I Forced back, they played [card]Cunning Wish[/card], to which my blind [card]Counterbalance[/card] revealed a land; the [card]Cunning Wish[/card] found a [card]Pact of Negation[/card] in hopes that I didn’t know how [card]Counterbalance[/card] worked . . . Fortunately I wasn’t that rusty, and the opponent conceded as soon as Top resolved. I’m not sure why the concession came so quickly, I had seen a [card]Turnabout[/card] at some point, and that could have been used to potentially get out of the lock.

Round 4 I played against Lands. I had turn 2 [card]Counterbalance[/card], but no Top, he had [card]Exploration[/card], [card]Life from the Loam[/card], [card]Wasteland[/card], and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]. I likely would have lost the game if not for my opponent’s [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] giving me several shuffle effects to find a Top and a 2 drop to leave on Top to counter his [card]Life from the Loam[/card]. I stabilized the game with 0 basic lands left in my deck, but from there I had a lot of time as he would never be able to resolve [card]Life from the Loam[/card] again; I eventually found my [card]Wasteland[/card] and [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card] and locked out my opponent. In game 2, I quickly cast a [card]Rest in Peace[/card] once there was a [card]Life from the Loam[/card] in my opponent’s graveyard; he dealt with it eventually, but by that point I had a second one ready to go and my [card]Helm of Obedience[/card] to finish the game on the next turn.

I unfortunately don’t remember which opponent was which deck between Rounds 5 and 6, another was playing UR Delver Burn, and I don’t remember the last one. The Delver deck was interesting to play against but between [card]Counterbalance[/card] and COP: Red, I felt pretty in contorl the whole time despite me stabilizing at very low life totals both games. I was also lucky enough to manage to [card]Brainstorm[/card] then shuffle and blind flip a [card]Force of Will[/card] to counter my opponent’s [card]Force of Will[/card] when I tried to resolve my [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] in the middle of the game.

After starting the day a 1-1 (losing round 1 and then beating the bye), my tie breakers going into the last round were the lowest of the 5-1s, so I couldn’t draw and have even a little hope of making it in.

Round 7 was playing a Sultai strategy. I believe this match went to 3 games, with my sideboard [card]Rest in Peace[/card] and [card]Helm of Obedience[/card] combo getting there both games 2 and 3. Making [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s into 0/1s and [card]Gurmag Angler[/card]s effectively uncastable helps a lot. My opponent raged a little after losing the match, as apparently, he has lost a few win-and-ins recently at these events. I didn’t take it personally, but it was a little awkward.

The top 8 was announced, and at that point because I hadn’t looked yet mainly because Star City’s website was somehow down for the entire weekend. I had a judge fill me in on the prize structure of the event. The prize payout was the same for the entire top 8 and was pretty good (1800 prize wall tickets, which turned into $450 of SCG credit or 5 boxes of BfZ depending on what you wanted), the big thing still to win for me was that the top 4 gets invites to one of the next 3 Star City invitationals, which seemed like pretty good value. More points get awarded the higher you finish, but honestly I can’t see myself having enough time to play enough SCG events to compete in the points race.

My top 8 match was against a guy playing Death and Taxes, the slowest grindest control deck in the format. Our match took forever, but in the end I won. I’ve always liked my matchup against that deck, but it’s never easy nor straightforward.

We managed to finish our match fast enough that I had a chance to get up and scout what was happening in the other top 8 matches. I saw Storm versus Grixis Delver and Sneak and Show versus Temur Threshold, and was informed that I would be playing the winner between Sneak and Show, and Threshold.

I was very happy to sit down in the semifinals against Temur Threshold since my experience with the match has been that I’m favored. My deck and from was I saw of the Temur Threshold deck have changed maybe 5 cards in the past 5 years (outside of the season of treasure cruise). I even got to start the match since I was in 6th, but my opponent with in 7th going into the top 8. I don’t remember much of what happened, although apparently my supreme verdict took him by complete surprise as it killed 3 of his guys on turn 4, when he was holding something like 2 force of wills and 2 dazes.

I again managed to finish my match before other match, but not by much – enough to see that the Grixis deck had [card]Winter Orb[/card] in their sideboard, and was going to win the match.

I was pretty relaxed going into the finals, as I didn’t care about the trophy nor the points at all, so I had already won everything I wanted to win. I lost game 1, won game 2 on the back of my [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card] and my opponent’s [card]Winter Orb[/card] hurting him more than me, and lost game 3 quickly due to a fast clock from him and me not being able to deal with it.

Pleased with my trip to the city of Cincinnati, I now look forward to playing in an SCG Invitational.

PTQ Amsterdam in Montreal – 2nd (UW Control)

I decided to run UW because I have been performing well with the deck lately; making top 8 in Toronto 2 weeks ago, and splitting the finals of a win-a-mox tournament at Jeux Face a Face the week before that.  In truth, I almost decided to sleep through the event because I was tired and I felt like the meta had shifted, making UW a bad choice of deck. I decided to stick to it because I knew the deck and how to play it decently, although I could easily have changed decks considering I have all the cards to build anything/everything in standard.  Also, Kar’s interview with Shawn Soorani helped me in updating my list since I was still actually playing Brad Nelson’s list from a few weeks ago.

(By the way, I believe I lent someone my Lotus Cobras 2 or 3 weeks ago and now I can’t find them – if that was you and you still have them, please return them.)

I didn’t take notes for my day, but I remember most of my games pretty well.  That said, I can’t give you a turn by turn description of what happened, nor can I specify exactly what was in play or was played during a game unless it really stood out. Also, I didn’t note the names of my opponents, so I’m going to include names I remember – if I spell your name wrong or don’t remember it, I apologize. So now let’s get to the tournament report.

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
5 Island
4 Plains
1 Scalding Tarn
3 Sejiri Refuge
3 Tectonic Edge
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Day of Judgment
2 Deprive
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Everflowing Chalice
2 Gideon Jura
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Mind Spring
4 Path to Exile
1 Rite of Replication
4 Spreading Seas
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Wall of Omens
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Emeria Angel
2 Kor Firewalker
1 Kor Sanctifiers
3 Luminarch Ascension
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Negate
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Rite of Replication is excellent agaisnt Jund and was good in previous versions of UW Control for me, but I think that with Sphinx, it is no longer necessary.  And 2 Emeria Angel is right – I never wanted 3, although I never played agaisnt Next Level Bant which is what it’s there for.

Round 1 – Jund – Draw – 0-0-1

I sat down in round one against a guy I’d never seen before – probably a good sign, since I recognize, by face, most regular PTQers (except Kar).

I win the roll, play my land, pass the turn, and he opens with a land that screamed Jund – either a Savage Lands or a Raging Ravine.  Generally, I feel that Jund is favored about 55/45 to UW, depending on the build and the person playing the deck, but this guy didn’t seem to confident – Lotus Cobras make my odds much worse.

A few turns into the game, my opponent plays Abyssal Persecutor and now I’m happy.  I play Jace, and bounce it, he plays it again, and it gets bounced, and then, surprisingly, he plays it again.  I knew Jace was good, but buying 3 turns against Jund while I was settting up and doing other things was a little ridiculous.  I don’t remember how game 1 ended, but I never fell below 10 lives.

Game 2, I got JUNDED!!!!!  He played Thought Hemorrhage on turn 5 or so and called Jace – and I smiled – Jace was awesome against him in game 1, but it’s the first thing that goes to the board for game 2. He searched my deck, didn’t take any notes or really even look at what was in my deck as soon as I told him that they were not in there.  2 turns later he played another Hemorrhage and chose to name Elspeth, with 1 already being in my yard – another near miss.  Had he named Baneslayer Angel and/or Sphinx of Jwar Isle, I would have lost much sooner.  After that, the game went long, each of dealing with the others threats one by one.

It came to a point in the game where I had 2 Walls and a Sphinx on my board, and my opp had 2 Saproling tokens on his. Both our hands where empty, I was at 5 and he was at 9.  After thinking about it, I decided to try and kill him.  I knew his only out was to draw Bloodbraid Elf and cascade into his third Maelstrom Pulse – so at the beginning of his turn I told him that he was going to draw the Bloodbraid and hit the Pulse – and yes he did!

It was too damn comical I couldn’t even be upset – it’s what jund does, it draws and cascades in to the right thing at the right time (I lost in the t8 in Toronto in a similar fashion…).  We only had 3 minutes for game 3 because we both thought way too much during the previous 2 games, and so it ended in a draw, although I probably would have lost that game if we had had another few minutes.

Round 2 – Junk (WGb) – Barry Hum – Win – 1-0-1

WGb is kinda like a Jund mixed with a Mythic – except it plays fair, and fair decks just don’t win at Magic.

I’m pretty sure I won in two, but I could be wrong. His deck was weak to DoJ, since it couldn’t support Vengevine and his dudes just didn’t seem too scary. He was still a nice guy to play against and didn’t take his loss too hard.

[Barry is actually a Team Chex member, which makes your record something like 100-1 against us.  Your ONE loss being to me at a WPN Qualifier.  You clearly have our number.  –KYT]

Round 3 – UW Mirror – Win – 2-0-1

I drew better than him in Game 1 and won after a long game. I sideboarded 11 cards, leaving 2 Firewalkers and 2 Emeria Angels on my board.

In game 2, he was on the play and had Luminarch Ascension on turn 2, and then had a second one on his next turn, while I played a Chalice for 1.  On my turn 3, I cast Jace, Brainstormed, said go, and then he cracked his fetch.  I asked him when he was cracking his fetch and he specified that he was doing it during my second main phase after I passed priority.  I liked that answer and said okay. He moved to end of turn and tried to put counters on his ascensions, I told him he couldn’t because he had fetched and hence lost lives during my turn, he was very annoyed.  He untapped, played O-Ring on my Jace, and passed it back.

I drew the second white source I needed to play my kicked Kor Sanctifier, a card, which I’m guessing, wasn’t supposed to be in my deck, because he seemed angry that I had it.  The next turn I O-Ringed his second Ascension and played my own.  A few turns later, he scooped.

As he did so, he made a comment about how I’m a good player – and then added that it was sarcasm – well douche, play better yourself, and beat me next time. I know you’re a good player and I’ve seen you at many PTQs, that you feel the need to insult your opponent to his face after a match is pretty crappy.

Round 4 – Plainswalkers // stupid friends // UWr – Win – 3-0-1

My opponent played turn 2 Luminarch Ascension against me.  In GAME 1!  I was actually laughed out loud and almost just scooped right there to go to games.  Fortunately for me, I know better to just scoop a game before it’s over.  It did eventually get online, but he forgot to make a token at the end of the turn that it did, and he only had 1 white source thanks to stalling on 4 and me using spreading seas. If he had played better or just drawn a second white source, I probably would have lost, but I managed to race with a turn 5 Sphinx of Jwar Isle while he wasn’t doing anything relevant. I boarded 11 or 12 cards again, and won game 2 easily.

Round 5 – Naya – Halley Shwaub – Lose – 3-1-1

I had been told that this a decent match for me, but for some reason I had never really tested it.

I don’t remember much about the match as no stupid plays really occurred, but here is what I do remember. Firstly, Halley seems like really nice guy and a very good magic player – I lost to him in this round, and while very annoying that I lost, which meant I then had to win out, it was good magic. Second, the key card in Naya that UW will lose to is Behemoth Sledge – board in all the ways you have to deal with that you can: with Emeria angel in the board, Vengevine isn’t even a real threat without it.

Round 6 – Time Sieve – Ugo Rivard – Win – 4-1-1

Ugo and I are friends, we used to play together back in the day and he was already 4-2 and had knew he had no chance at top 8, while I still did so he conceded the match to me. Let me make it clear to anyone reading this – I did not offer him anything for his concession, he scooped because he is a nice guy and it was the nice thing to do

If you are ever paired up against a good player who can make top 8 and you know you can’t, you should scoop to them.  Do not ask for anything for it, don’t even imply it – if they decide to give you packs later, that is their choice, but you could both end up DQed without prize, or worse, if you ask or tell them that they owe you something for the concession.

By the way, we played a few games for fun and to kill time anyway – game 1 is a bye for Time Sieve, and game 2 isn’t much better.

Round 7 – Jund – Justin – Win – 5-1-1

Game 1, went long and I managed to win it, despite not drawing any spreading seas, which is really the key card in the match up because of how much it can slow down their draws.

Game 2, I mulliganed to 5 cards and kept a hand with a Refuge, Chalice, 2 Spreading Seas and a random card I don’t remember.  I was on the draw, I didn’t think I could get a better hand at 4, since if I draw any given land in my deck, I will have 2 spreading seas which would let me stabilize and hopefully draw more land.  Well, I did get the second land on turn 5.  It seems my opponent had kept a removal // Sarkan the Mad heavy hand because the game ended when he played his second Broodmate Dragon and then Ultimated with his Sarkan to kill me, while all I had in play was 2 lands and a Chalice.

After game 2, he went back to his board – I guessed he decided that he wanted to try something else. Game 3, I had spreading seas early, actually I managed 3 Spreading Seas and a Tectonic Edge and kept him off red mana and out of the game for a long time, until he had to pulse my seas to be able to cast red spells.  Unfortunately for him, by the time he got to that, I was pretty well set up and still had cards in hand, and won soon after thanks to the awesomeness that is Baneslayer angel.  He was rather upset after the round, which was understandable considering I knocked him out of top 8 contention.

He also informed me that since he hadn’t seen a Seas in the first 2 games he had boarded back out his Prisms, and had probably lost in game 3 because of it.  Moral of the story – unless you’ve searched your opponent’s deck, assume he does have Spreading Seas even if you don’t see them.

Also, don’t give your opponent extra information about cards in your deck if you don’t need to – this is more important in sealed and draft then constructed – but if I had played 1 rather than playing chalice in game 2, game 3 may have gone very differently.

Round 8 – Turbo Lands – Simon Geurette – Win – 6-1-1

I was told that Turbo Lands is supposed to have an awesome matchup against UW, but again I hadn’t played it much.  It seemed to me that it’s a deck that has 4 win conditions, and like 7 other relevant spells, i.e. Mind Spring, Jace and Avenger of Zendikar.

Game 1, he won because I didn’t draw DoJ or Path to stop his Avenger.

Game 2, I thought I was dead.  He played a turn 3 Jace, then I played a Chalice for 2.  I followed that up with a Baneslayer while at the same time, missing my land drop.  Then he took 3 turns, in which he played a bunch of lands and mana spells, Brainstormed a bunch, and played Avenger of Zendikar, and then passed the turn back to me with tons of mana up and 2 cards in hand.  I was holding 2 DoJ, but only had mana to cast 1 and because of my awkward land draw didn’t have UU to play my deprive even though I had 6 mana available.  I attacked his Jace with my Naneslayer and it died, and then I played my DoJ and it resolved.  I was completely stunned.  I was completely sure I had lost the game. From there, he didn’t really do anything and I quickly ended the game with some Baneslayer beats.

If my opponent had waited to play his second Time Warp until after he had Resolved his Avenger, I probably would have lost, although I don’t remember what he drew, so it may not have been an option.

In game 3, he didn’t really do much either.  I had turn 3 Elspeth, into turn 4 Gideon. Then I used a DoJ early to kill a Cobra, Oracle, and Wall because I could.  I was holding back 2 paths and a Deprive to deal with his Avengers.  I hit him with a 9/9 Gideon, but then on this turn, he had a Mold Shambler to kill my Gideon.  I remember DoJing him again to get rid of the Shamble before he figured out that his Jace could bounce it and he could slowly blow up my board.  I managed to draw a Sphinx a few turns later, and it went all the way.

After the Swiss rounds, I was at 19 points, which put me somewhere between 5th and 10th place. Waiting when you’re not sure if you make top 8 or not is hell – I had been in the same situation 2 weeks ago in Toronto – at least in Montreal they just stuck the list on the wall. In Toronto, they actually announced us one at a time going down, and I was 8th – those 30 seconds between when they announced 7th and 8th place felt very very long.

I was in 5th, which was good because it meant I didn’t have to play my friend Rob right away, but was bad because I was going to face down Halley again with his Naya deck which was my one loss for the day.

Quarter Finals – Naya – Halley Shaub – Win

Top 8 is always intense.  I was on tilt from having already lost to Halley during the Swiss rounds, but I wanted revenge.  I’m sorry I again don’t remember much about the match again – weird that the only 2 rounds I don’t remember well are Naya.  I remember that he didn’t have Sledge in 2 of the 3 games, and that he didn’t have many Bloodbraids or Vengevines until game 3 either.

I also made a douchy move by calling the judge when after he said that his Gideon was going to become a creature and then saying wait let me think about it – I didn’t want to lose to being a nice guy in the top 8, but at the same time, I knew I was being an ass by calling him on it. The judge ruled that since he hadn’t paid the cost, he could take back the action because nothing had been changed yet – I’m not sure I agree with that, a cost of 0 still exists, but obviously it can’t be visibly paid since it’s 0 – I didn’t know if or what the official rulings on the topic are, and felt like an ass so I was fine with the ruling, and he got to +2 the Gideon that turn.

Semi Finals – Jund – Win

I’ve never seen / noticed the guy I’m playing against at a tournament before, so I really wasn’t aware of how good or bad he was. He decided to bluff stupid by picking up and reading my Tectonic Edge and then my Sphinx when I played them.

For a Jund player, this guy had 0 skill with Bloodbraid Elf – Zero, none at all – it was almost impressive. He played 5 of them over our games, and hit removal spells 4 times with no target on my board, and a Putrid Leech on a turn before I planned to DoJ anyway.

Finals – Stupid Friends // Plainswalkers // UWr – Robert Anderson

This may have been the most relaxed PTQ finals ever. We are friends and had actually split the finals of a 50 man tournament 3 weeks ago, with each of us playing approximately the same decks as we did for this PTQ.

In game 1, I got the fear and kept a stupid 7 card hand that I knew was awful in the match – it had 2 DoJs in it, which are basically dead cards against him. I lost the game.

Game 2, I got Luminarch Ascension online and got it to stick around long enough to win.

Game 3, I honestly don’t remember at this point – but I do remember that I got Ajanied and lost.

The whole way through the match we were talking and joking around, to the point were a spectator asked us how come we were so relaxed and okay with our friends talking and commenting on the game.  We both had a good time, and even though I wanted to win, I lost to a friend and had a great time playing.

David Schnayer