I might have to change the name of this website after leaving yesterday’s StarCityGames Super Invitational Qualifier semi-victorious. Out of 100+ players, I ended up in 3rd/4th place, my highest finish in a large tournament since, well, the beginning of time. We had three members of Team BMP in the event, and we celebrated this sudden change of luck and match results with some awesome BBQ at Red Rock in Ypsilanti (the place is so good I had to plug it).
My deck was a slightly altered version of the fairly popular American Flash deck (you can find the decklist HERE), which I prefer to call “Izzorius” based on the feeling I have combining the electric control of Izzet with the strong command of Azorius.
After testing out various builds, including both the ones featuring Boros Reckoners and those relying on Aurelia, the Warleader, I was left craving something more intimidating to finish off my opponents. Fortunately, I came across Anthony Lowry’s article on TCGPlayer.com about the potential awesomeness of everyone’s favorite Izzet guildleader, Niv-Mizzet, the Dracogenius. I tested him out at a local event the Thursday before the IQ, and loved his unbridled power, so I ran two of him and changed a few cards in Lowry’s PTQ list from the article – the main changes being the inclusion of my favorite control card in the format right now, Izzet Charm, and tossing in Aurelia’s Fury and Mizzium Mortars instead of two Pillar of Flame, which I had found unimpressive against a format made up mostly of midrange and control decks.
I finished 5-1-1 in the Swiss, squeaking out an 8th place finish on tiebreakers – I had an even 50% Opponents Match Win breaker over the 9th place guy’s 49% and change OMW. It took some decent playing and a good chunk of luck to get through it all. But don’t worry, there were still plenty of times throughout the day where I was a Bad Magic Player!
Let’s just go round by round and discuss.
Round 1: Jund 2-1
I lost a close game 1 with Niv-Mizzet getting hit by Murder late game, which reminded me that there was still some sort of instant-speed hard removal in the format (until Putrefy takes that spot after DGM, that is). During game 2 I managed to take control of the board and land a Niv-Mizzet with protection (a Dissipate), and when I was able to untap with him on the table, the game became mine to lose…which I nearly did.
My opponent was at 9 life with a Deathrite Shaman and Acidic Slime on board, and only an Overgrown Tomb untapped, with several cards in hand (and plenty of spells, creatures, and lands in the yards). I was at 8 life with a hand full of good stuff, including a Dissipate and Snapcaster Mage. I swung in with Big ‘Ol NivMizzy, drawing a card and knocking my opponent down to 4.
Thinking about “all” the possible responses my opponent had available, I gathered my land into RU combinations to count how many Niv-Mizzet activations I could do – 9 total mana, with 4 possible UR combos. He was at 4 life; I could do 4 damage, and I didn’t see any way he could react to stop the damage. So I did what any Bad Magic Player would do – tap 8 mana, and announce that I was shooting my opponent for 4 and expecting to move on to game 3. Except….
My opponent activated the life gain ability and ended up not dead like I assumed he would be at that point. I sadly passed the turn, presuming I had just punted my first match, and began the mental trip back home. All I had to do was pass the turn with my hand of permission, and Niv-Mizzet would win the game on my opponent’s end step or during my next turn.
But I was lucky. Turns out that my opponent had a Rakdos’s Return in hand, but only enough mana available (including Deathrite’s mana ability) to do 7 damage total, including 2 damage from swinging with the Acidic Slime. He needed to rip a non-shock land (since he was at 2 life) to win the game…and he didn’t, and reluctantly conceded.
For game 3 I went nuts with Restoration Angel aggro, chain-dropping them on turns 4, 5, and 6, and there was nothing my opponent could do about it. Sometimes it IS better to be lucky than good.
Round 2: Izzet Guttersnipe 0-2
I didn’t have a shot against this deck. It was like a suped-up Izzet pre-constructed deck with Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe partnering with tons of flashback cards to quickly burn me down in only a few turns. There was literally nothing I could do to win this match, as the deck was full of counterspells that also did 2 damage to me everytime I tried to kill a snipe, and I was burned several times by incidents of me Searing Spear a Boros Reckoner. Post board was even worse, as the deck had even more counterspells and ways to burn me down before I could even think, “I wish I had a Witchbane Orb in my 75.” I figured this match was my punishment for getting so lucky after punting so hard in Round 1.
Round 3: Izzet Delver 2-1
I enjoyed playing against this deck, mostly because I have been fond of Izzet Delver as an archetype since before Return to Ravnica (for example, read this). Game 1 was a crush, since I had plenty of removal for Delver of Secrets (which almost never flipped anyway) and his friends, and had no problems sending in several Restoration Angel attackers.
I thought I had game 2 in the bag when I played Niv-Mizzet on a board with only a flipped Delver and my opponent in top-deck mode. But of course, he miracled a Bonfire of the Damned for 5, and that was the end of that (I could only activate Nivvy once at the time, and I only drew useless things after that). Must be nice.
Niv-Mizzet was unbeatable in game 3, and paved my way to a match victory. As I learned throughout the day, casting Niv-Mizzet will often cause your opponents to groan loudly, shuffle their cards nervously, and concede shortly thereafter. He is such a house.
Round 4: Green-red midrange/aggro 2-1
Took down game 1, was run over game 2, and fought a long and hard game 3 that took longer than the first two games combined.
This deck had a bit of the early game aggro, with Flinthoof Boar and Burning-Tree Emissary powering into Domri Rade. But it also played more powerful cards like Garruk, Primal Hunter, Wolfir Silverheart and Zealous Conscripts, giving it a much longer range than the more aggro-tastic versions.
During game 3 I was ready to play Niv-Mizzet when my opponent used Domri Rade’s +1 ability to show me a Zealous Conscripts. I spent most of the game playing around it, waiting for him to use it to take Restoration Angels or other light threats, but he played well and saved it for the obvious big play I would like to have made. Had I not known about the Conscripts in hand, I would have likely played NiMi, and probably end up crushed given the 8 life and card advantage I would have lost. I was able to maintain control of the game and win without my big dragon friend, but I certainly craved his awesomeness while I was forced to keep it tucked away in my hand.
Round 5: Bant pants (hexproof) 2-0
This is the round I’d like to call the “Magical Christmas Land Match,” because that’s pretty much what it was. Total luck won me this match, and I am not afraid to admit that.
I kept an EXTREMELY shaky hand (for an unknown opponent) on the play – 4 lands (of all three colors evenly distributed, including a shock land), Mizzium Mortars, Azorius Charm, and Supreme Verdict. If my opponent is playing control or a non-naya midrange deck, I’m pretty much screwed without drawing insane. If it was against aggro or bant enchantments, I have a fairly good hand to start with on the play. To my surprise, it was the latter.
My board sweepers did their job, but my opponent kept slamming down Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker after I cleared the table. I was down to 5 life, staring down a Geist enchanted by Spectral Flight, so I either had to sweep the board or get a flying blocker on board, without my opponent enchanting the Geist any further (which he probably could with 2 cards in hand and a draw step to come). I had two relevant cards: Augur of Bolas, and Nivimous-Mizzimous.
My options were to either 1) play the dragon and pray for Geist to stay a 4/4, or 2) play Augur and hope one of the top three cards of my deck was a Supreme Verdict (I had enough mana to cast both Augur and Verdict if I got one). I chose option 2, and somehow, a slight Magical Christmas Land miracle occurred, and I revealed that wondrous board sweeper. After the Verdict, my opponent did not draw another creature (the hand was all enchantments and land, so option 1 was not a winning choice), and Niv-to-the-Miz chomped down on another victim.
Game two was even more Magical Christmas Land. My opponent had a fast start, casting several Strangleroot Geist, which I traded with two Snapcaster Mages early on to prepare for the Supreme Verdict in my hand since game start. After clearing the board of Strangleroots, I found myself at 6 life facing an Ethereal Armor‘d Loxodon Smiter (a 6/6 because of an Abundant Growth on a land). I had 5 land in play, my third Snapcaster Mage in hand as my only card, and a Verdict in the yard. Since game 1 was all about hexproof guys, I sided out all Azorius Charms, leaving me with only two outs – a sixth land so I could Snap + Verdict, or my third and last Verdict. I ripped a Glacial Fortress and sighed with relief as my opponent placed his enchanted elephant in his graveyard…but my relief was re-routed into despair quickly when my opponent played his last two cards – a Loxodon Smiter and a land – and I had no cards in hand.
Then I ripped Mizzium Mortars and killed the Smiter. My opponent, who had also entered topdeck mode, drew that little double-striking 1/1 guy whose name I can’t think of at the moment, but I drew like a champ – Searing Spear. For at least four turns, my opponent and I traded opportunities to seal the deal – he would topdeck a threat, and I would topdeck an answer. Finally, he drew a land, and I drew a Geist of Saint Traft, and my near-death experience was over. It was the most exciting and stressful game of magic in my life, and it had so much Magical Christmas Land topdecks I couldn’t dream of winning another match by topdeck ever again.
Round 6: Red-green aggro 1-1-1
I was able to stabilize around 8 life and come back with a series of Sphinx’s Revelation casts for lots in game 1, and was completely run over in game 2 – basically the classic situation of Play First, Win First.
We didn’t have time to finish game 3, and ended up drawing. It was a very close game, with my opponent’s conservative play leading to the draw instead of his win. I was at 3 life, without any counterspells or life-gain cards in hand, with an empty board, while my opponent kept one card in his hand for several turns, drawing land after land and playing them (thus saving me the suspense of wondering what more than just the one card could be).
I presumed that one card was a Searing Spear or other 3-damage instant, and tried to do whatever I could to bluff a counterspell or Sphinx’s Revelation. This included actions like tapping three land and counting how many other land I had, then untapping those three land, as if I was deciding whether or not to cast the Revelation I didn’t actually have. It must have worked, since I didn’t get hit by anything while the match clock ticked down to the final seconds.
When the first of the Five Turns began on my turn, I drew an Augur of Bolas, which yielded me the fabled Sphinx’s Revelation my opponent probably believed I already had. It turns out that my opponent was holding a Skullcrack and fell for my shenanigans, so he did not feel comfortable trying to force the play through – which of course, would actually have won him the match). I was fortunate that he did not draw a second burn spell with which to respond if I did try to avoid his first attempt to finish me, and the Five Turns quickly ended, drawing the game and the match.
My last draw was a Negate, so it was possible for me to Sphinx for 5 and Negate his responding burn spell, but there were no more turns to do anything the cards and life gained. I had the potential to win with more time, but he did too, so a draw there was fine.
Round 7: Red-white-black Tokens 2-1
Thanks for my draw in round 6, I was paired down against an X-2 player. If only the DCI wasn’t so strict about deals, I would have loved to offer him a way to just scoop me into the Top 8 while ensuring that he received essentially the same value he would have gotten for winning and making the Top 16. But instead, I was forced to play the game and fight his effort to dreamcrush me.
I was pretty behind game 1, facing down armies of tokens that did large amounts of damage before I was able to board clear with Supreme Verdict. But my opponent got me to 6 life and played Gather the Townsfolk to create two Human tokens. The only relevant card in my hand was Izzet Charm, but he had 4 mana available so the negate option was useless. Then, to my sadness, he cast Falkenrath Aristocrat, and attacked with the hasty vampire. I declared no blockers and prepared to enter the scoop phase. However, for once in a long, long time…I wasn’t the Bad Magic Player.
My opponent picked up BOTH Human tokens and announced that he was sacrificing them to the Aristocrat. Now, in normal weekly events at the local game store, I would know what the player meant to do and accept that he intended to activate Aristocrat’s ability twice to put two +1/+1 counters on it and make it indestructible, with priority being passed to me between each activation. But since I was playing for a Top 8 where I could win cash and potentially an invite to a $50,000 event, I had to be a little bit of a nit-picker.
I declared that “in response to you putting both of those activations on the stack,” I was casting Izzet Charm to deal 2 damage to the vampire. My opponent was a little confused, and I explained to him that if it wasn’t a competitive event with real money on the line, I would have given the game to him, but I had to play legit on this one. He understood, and the Aristocrat died. Niv-Mizzet came down a few turns later and took care of business.
He vengefully crushed me game 2, but I was in full control of game 3 from the start thanks to a solid lockdown by Izzet Statiscaster. An army of tokens is no match for a card that can eliminate all of them with one activation, and Falkenrath Aristocrat wasn’t invited to the party either.
Top 8 Match: Red-green aggro 2-0
As much as I thought I would be screwed by the top 8 play-draw rules (highest seed gets the choice to play or draw first in game 1), since I was permanently on the draw to start each match as the 8th seed, I took care of business and my deck ran super hot as I took down my opponent without too much resistance.
Top 4 Match: Prime Speaker Bant Control 0-2
This is a difficult matchup to begin with. This deck draws way more cards and gains way more life than I do, and I draw a heck of a lot of cards and gain a heck of a lot of life as it is.
During Game 1 I felt like I had the upper hand as I was able to Azorius Charm my opponents early game Loxodon Smiter several times to delay his draws while I waited for a threat of my own. However, I continued to draw more Azorius Charms and Snapcaster Mages, which resulted in me sending the same Loxodon Smiter to the top of my opponent’s library SIX times before the end of the game.
Eventually my opponent was able to land a Thragtusk, which I turned into a 3/3 beast thanks to Searing Spear. For some reason I was so concerned about Charming the Smiter over and over that I took 9 damage from the beast token – when the whole time I could have used one of the charms to permanently deal with the beast! I’m a Bad Magic Player.
At 1 life I had Niv-Mizzet in play, with only my fourth Azorius Charm in hand, and the same 3/3 beast token (which I should have killed 9 damage ago, but then again, this way I knew what he drawing so it gave me some predictability) and that Loxodon Smiter that had enjoyed sitting on the top of the library most of the game. My opponent had one card in hand, and attacked with his team. I had enough mana to either shoot 4 times with Niv-Mizzet, or shoot 3 times and play the charm. I decided to become a Bad Magic Player again.
I immediately Charmed the Smiter back to the library top, and went into the think tank for a bit to decide what to do about the token. I don’t remember exactly what I was afraid of, but for some reason my decision was to just shoot down the token. After the token died, my opponent windmill slammed his Supreme Verdict, wiping away Mr.Dragon. Of course, we all know what he was drawing next turn, and my next two draws were Clifftop Retreats. That was definitely the wrong line of play for me.
The correct line of play was this: Block with Niv-Mizzet. Cast Azorius Charm giving my creatures lifelink. Wait to see if my opponent has a reaction, and let damage happen if not. I’d take 3 but gain 5 at the same time, putting me at 3 and killing the Smiter. My opponent would likely have played Supreme Verdict then, after which I could shoot him three times to draw three cards. Granted two of them would have been land, I would still have had a shot in the 2 new cards I would see (the third N-M draw and my draw step) and he would have to topdeck a real card and not the Smiter.
This line of play would not care what the opponent’s last card was, since even a pump spell would give me a chance to take out the token if it was targeted (by something like Selesyna Charm, although it would have likely been cast to exile Niv-Mizzet instead, and pre-combat), or shoot the Smiter to trade (and gain that life still thanks to Azorius Charm). If the last card was a creature other than Angel of Serenity, I would be getting to untap with Niv-Mizzet and start drawing cards and doing serious damage, likely pulling out the win from there.
It is possible he would have topdecked something awesome and won anyway, but I would have been in a much better position than dead as I was with the way I actually played.
Game two was a mess for me, which a bit of a mana short and my opponent landing a Garruk to draw cards, then playing a large Sphinx’s Revelation to draw more cards, and basically having infinite cards and life while I struggled to play even one spell per turn. After he tapped out for Revelation on his main phase (I was tapped out from a play on my turn), he discarded two Detention Sphere, laughing to the judge next to us that he didn’t need those any time soon (based on my empty side of the board).
I presumed that he had a third in his hand, since it didn’t make sense to pitch so much reactionary removal unless the hand was so stacked with threats and counterspells. Regardless, I played the Assemble the Legion I had been holding since my opening hand. It was the only way I could win and it was worth risking its Sphere-ing in order to maybe squeak out a sudden victory. Naturally, and not unexpectedly, my opponent threw out the third Detention Sphere on the Assemble, and then played double Restoration Angel as I began packing for home.
Some onlooking members of Team BMP say that my opponent had actually discarded all of the Detention Spheres that were in his hand at the time, and amazingly topdecked the third one. I don’t know if I believe that, but if it’s true, it’s only fair that I didn’t get to hoard all the good luck that day.
Yes, I played poorly during that last match, but I can’t complain. I’ve never made it this far in a large tournament, and I made 200 bucks playing a card game – plus an awesome playmat and a Top 8 pin. It was a tremendous learning experience that I can use to help become less of a Bad Magic Player as I venture into the post Dragon’s Maze standard world.
Turn and Burn baby!