I love Magic-packed weekends where there is more time spent card-tapping and life counting than eating or sleeping. This past weekend was no exception. I played 18 rounds of Magic in the span of 27 hours, ending 12-4-2 on the weekend slinging a slight variation on American Flash. I call my version of the deck the “Spawns of Niv-Mizzet” Izzorius Flash because of the main-deck inclusion of three Thundermaw Hellkite, a trio of powerful hasty dragons that are distant relatives of my favorite Dragon, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, which I played in this deck archetype earlier this year.
The weekend started out with an FNM at a sweet Local Game Store (LGS) just north of Baltimore, called Brewport Games, where first prize was a From the Vault:Twenty box set and a bunch of M14 boosters. Somehow I managed to Trogdor through the competition and take first place and the pretty box of shinies, some time around 1:30am.
After 5 hours of sleep, I headed into Baltimore for the StarCityGames Standard Open, and trudged through 10 more rounds of standard. I finished 6-3-1, which put me at 75th out of about 550 players (basically one win away from finishing in some money and Open Points), which is one of my better SCG Open finishes, so I definitely can’t complain.
I had a great time playing lots of challenging matches and meeting some new friends. I definitely made some Bad Magic Plays, but I learned a ton in the process, all of which I’m about to share with you!
But before I go into the details, here’s the list I played in both events.
“Spawns of Niv-Mizzet” Izzorius Flash
3 Augur of Bolas
3 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Azorius Charm
1 Izzet Charm
3 Think Twice
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Warleader’s Helix
3 Searing Spear
1 Turn // Burn
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Supreme Verdict
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Desolate Lighthouse
3 Celestial Flare
1 Pillar of Flame
2 Wear // Tear
3 Izzet Staticaster
1 Detention Sphere
2 Blind Obedience
1 Renounce the Guilds
Here’s the breakdown of my matchups and results for each round throughout the weekend:
Friday Night Magic for a From the Vault:Twenty (1st place/36, 6-1-1 matches, 13-3 games)
Rnd 1: Naya midrange 1-2
Rnd 2: Junk Rites 2-0
Rnd 3: Dragonmaster GR 2-0
Rnd 4: Naya midrange 2-0
Rnd 5: Draw
Top 8: Monogreen elves/ooze 2-0
Top 4: Red-green aggro 2-0
Finals: UW control 2-1
StarCityGames Standard Open Baltimore (75th place/550+, 6-3-1 overall,14-11-1 games)
Rnd 1: UWR flash 2-1
Rnd 2: Naya midrange 1-1-1
Rnd 3: Jund 2-0
Rnd 4: UW control 0-2
Rnd 5: UWR control 0-2
Rnd 6: BG rock/control 2-0
Rnd 7: Naya midrange 2-1
Rnd 8: Orzhov tokens/humans 2-1
Rnd 9: Bant aggro 1-2
Rnd 10: Junk Aristocrats 2-1
Multiple Matchup Results (doing the math so you don’t have to!)
Naya midrange: 2-1-1 matches, 6-4-1 games
UW Control: 1-1 matches, 2-3 games
UWR: 1-1 matches, 2-3 games
Let’s get down to business, shall we!
Lesson #1: Don’t be so Haste-y
Thundermaw Hellkites have haste, you know. But that doesn’t mean they have to come out and attack right away every time you cast them. Sometimes it’s totally okay to put a 5/5 flyer in defense mode, and attack when the coast is clear. This is something I had to get used to over the course of the weekend. In practice with the main deck dragon squad, I was mostly playing them after a board clear and attacking immediately. But the more matches I played, the more I became comfortable sitting back with the fire-breathing monsters, even tapping out on turn 5 to play a 5/5 wall against decks like green-red aggro and orzhov humans/tokens. Those kinds of decks have few ways to remove them outside of trading it for their creatures during combat or some other 2-for-1 method involving a Domri Rade -2 fight, so I can hide behind a Hellkite for a few turns while re-building my spell arsenal.
Just because the creature has haste doesn’t make it only an attacker; with a control deck, having a big body on the table during my turn can be just as good as a burn spell in hand during my opponent’s turn.
Lesson #2: Early game mistakes will destroy your chances of victory…
In the finals of the FNM at Brewport Games, I started off game one against UW control by making two HUGE mistakes. In practice and discussion with friends over the matchup, we concluded that one of our main win strategies would be to use the burn package to throw damage to the opponent’s face, since most UW control decks had hardly any killable creatures, since they rode on the back of Aetherling to win. So early in the game, I threw both of my Searing Spears at my opponent at the end of his turn, and then proceeded to attack with Augur of Bolas into an obvious Restoration Angel flash-and-block. I ended up taking 12 damage from that Angel, where just keeping one of the Searing Spears would have made it a non-issue and an acceptable 2-for-1. Instead, I wasted cards, gained no real advantage for the 6 damage I dealt with the Spears, and lost the game without having a real chance in the late game after wasting more cards to kill the Angel.
Lesson #3: …but don’t let those mistakes get into your head
Even after throwing away game 1 in the finals against UW control, I tried to stave away tilt and focused on winning one game at a time. I played much, MUCH better in games 2 and 3,probably playing some of my better games of Magic in recent times, to steal victory even after such a terrible start to the match.
On a similar note, I learned from Charles Johnson, owner of Brewport Games and Finalist in Saturday’s SCG Open, that mulliganing is not the end of the world. Based on his experience on Saturday, even bad variance to start a game can be overcome by good ole’ fashioned focus and good play. Charles went 8-1 in the tournament when mulliganing to 5 cards, including winning a game in the finals stuck at 5 cards on the draw.
Lesson #4: Draws suck, play faster!
I faced Naya Midrange four times last weekend, twice in each event. The third time I saw it was in Round 2 of the SCG Open. Anyone who’s played Magic with me knows I’m a chatty player who likes to interact with my opponents verbally as much as with their plays. As a result, games take longer than they should, and far too close to the 50-minute limit each round is allowed. It’s nice playing with polite and friendly players, like my Round 2 opponent, but we ended up playing a 30 minute game 1, which I won. We took nearly the entire remaining 20 minutes for game 2, which he squeaked away from me with a few good plays involving Scavenging Ooze, and we were left with 4 minutes to try and finish a game 3.
While he almost stole the match early with a turn 5 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, I fortunately had my one-of Turn // Burn in hand to deal myself 6 damage and eradicate the big Gruul guy. Then as final 5 turns began, I showed my opponent my hand full of burn and counterspells to indicate that I couldn’t kill him in my 2 remaining extra turns (even if I ripped runner, runner dragons, the best possible rips) and that I wouldn’t allow him to do anything during his 2 remaining turns, so we shook hands and took our draw.
For the next three rounds, I was stuck in the “draw” bracket, playing only opponents who were X-X-1. Outside of a few Naya and Jund players, there were three long tables full of control mirrors representing this bracket, while aggro and midrange fought it out on the upper tables. Yep, I was stuck playing matchups I was hoping to avoid rather than the other 90% of the format my deck was built to destroy. Draws are bad, m’kay!
So for the big tournaments, if I plan on ever taking a draw, I’d best have a plan to beat control decks, because that’s all there really is once your record gets a stat in the third column. I didn’t have a strong control plan other than hoping my dragons land, and I went 1-2 against them, winning only against a BG rock/control deck that flooded during game 2 (although I think that matchup isn’t too bad, compared to UWR and UW). I went into the event ready to beat Aristocrats, Hexproof, Jund, and Green-Red Dragonmaster, but all I got was a fistful of control, and it was 100% because of taking a draw so early.
It might have been worth taking a loss instead there, in theory. But nearly all of my rounds on Saturday came within 5 minutes of running out of match time. It’s probably better to just play and win my matches faster instead.
Lesson #5: RTFC!
Read the Freaking Card! Normally this lesson comes up just about every match in some way, and it refers to making a mistake based on not entirely knowing what a particular card says. In this case, I didn’t screw up because I didn’t read a Magic card; the card I’m talking about here is the card I got from the Baltimore parking garage where I left my car during the SCG Open.
I parked in a garage that closed at 8pm, which I did not realize was the case until I happened to look at my garage ticket in between rounds around 2pm. It was already near 7pm and we had just started round 8, so I knew I would not be done with the event before the garage closed. Fortunately, my match finished rather quickly, and I spent the 15 minutes of extra round time sprinting (as a big man, this means I took larger steps than normal at a slightly faster pace) two blocks to the garage, got my car out, and drove around town looking for another open garage.
I almost didn’t make it back in time for round 9, since a Baltimore Orioles game had just ended and droves of people were taking their sweet-ass time crossing streets. But luckily this also meant lots of prime parking spots were being abandoned by baseball fans, so I found an open spot in a garage across the street from the Convention Center. No harm, no foul, just 10 extra dollars spent on parking, and I still got lost finding the garage a few hours later when I finished round 10.
Lesson #6: Not all decklists are created equal
When nearing the end of a Standard format, like we are now with only a few weeks before Theros brings us some new cards and exiles Innistrad block and M13, it’s easy to fall into the “Trap of the Known.” That’s what I call the problem of assuming what a person is playing based on the cards you see in his/her deck compared to commonly played deck archetypes. For example, when you see me play Hallowed Fountain and Steam Vents on my first two turns, you’re likely assuming correctly that I’m playing American Flash or something similar. Sure, there are individual card differences in decks of the same archetype, like how I play Thundermaw Hellkite as a finisher instead of only Restoration Angels, Augur of Bolas, and Snapcaster Mage as win conditions, or Aetherling, for example. But you know the general strategy I’m going to play during the game because of those first few cards, especially when I cycle Azorius Charm or play Think Twice at the end of your turn.
The “Trap of the Known” springs when you don’t see enough cards in the first game to make an accurate decision as to what the opponent is actually playing. As a result, you screw up your sideboarding. Then you get steamrolled for taking out the cards that are irrelevant against the presumed matchup but necessary for the actual deck you’re facing.
I fell for this trap in Round 9 of the SCG Open, where I suffered my third loss of the event and my lost my chance at placing in the top 64 (and getting some money back). The only cards I saw during the first three games were blue, green, and white mana-producing lands (Hallowed Fountain, Breeding Pool, etc.), Geist of Saint Traft, Strangleroot Geist, Unsummon, and Rancor. It only made sense that my opponent was playing Bant Hexproof, and so I brought in my 4-6 board cards (Celestial Flare, Wear // Tear, Negate, etc.) for it, and settled in for what is usually a pretty decent game 3 matchup, and then got crushed by a small army of Experiment One, Young Wolf, and Rapid Hybridization-created tokens.
The cards that came out in sideboarding? Searing Spear, Wear // Tear, and Pillar of Flame, since those are generally useless against Bant Hexproof, but would have been amazing against Bant Aggro, which was the deck against which I was actually playing. I didn’t keep Pillar in just for Strangleroot Geist since I had other ways to deal with it, and most of the time Hexproof can enchant 2+ toughness on the Geist (if they are desperate to enchant something that doesn’t have hexproof) before I can cast Pillar.
Well, there you have it. Six things I’ve learned from last weekend from which I hope you can glean something for your own play.
Overall I’m very happy with this decklist, and am not too worried about shoring up the control mirror matchups, since I’m still convinced the odds are more towards playing other archetypes as long as I can stay out of the draw bracket.
I’ll be giving a go at the NOVA Open $3k this Saturday near Arlington, VA, and then taking on another big SCG Open in Philadelphia September 7. I’ll have on the purple shirt at both events, so come say hello and play some EDH between rounds!