A Weekend In The Booth

 

Invitational Breakdown

Before we get into the decks and metagames of each tournament, we thought it might be interesting to share the stories of each event and walk you through the narratives we experienced.

Going into the WNY Invitational, there were several people to watch, including Mike Strianese, the winner of the previous WNY Invitational, and Jimmy Wray, the owner himself, who also had a round one bye due to placing in the top 4 of the event going in. We weren’t very familiar with the usual WNY Gaming players going into the tournament, but by the end of the event they had definitely given us quite the show.

We decided to follow Mike Strianese through the first round after we saw his Abzan Constrictor standard list, and he impressed us with his splash for Shalai, Voice of Plenty, as well as M19 newcomer Hungering Hydra. Mike had emerged victorious after round one.

We were interested to see Jimmy’s take on the Turbo Fog list that had been gaining popularity. He was paired against Mike Strianese and eventually emerged victorious after resolving approximately one hundred thousand Nexus of Fates, pushing Mike to 1-1.

With the event only going five rounds, a 3-2 record was likely good enough to make top 8. The top 8 itself would take an interesting form, with the quarterfinals being standard, semi finals being modern, and then the finals being a best of seven series with games 1-3 as standard and 4-7 as modern. It was definitely an interesting choice that kept players on their toes and kept us very busy in the booth.

Isaac Mallette-Lloyd was a player teetering on the edge of top 8 towards the end of the swiss rounds, but things weren’t looking good for him. He needed his previous opponents to not only stay in the tournament (he had to convince them to) but to win as well, but on top of that some of the 3-1 players would have to want to play out their matches. To his surprise, after he won round 5, Isaac found himself in the top 8 going to battle with his Naya Zoo in modern and his interesting Goblin Ramp in standard, which each rattled off a win in the quarterfinals and semifinals, meaning he was locked for the finals.

On the other side of the bracket, tournament rivals Jimmy and Mike met up yet again in the semifinals, this time playing modern with Jimmy on GR Titanshift and Mike on a very straightforward Burn list. Mike’s aggressive starts and timely Skullcracks ended up getting him vengeance on Jimmy and advancing him to the finals against Isaac. The finals were a back and forth barn-burner, with Isaac taking game 1 with Goblins, Mike taking game 2 with Constrictor, and Isaac getting game 3. Moving to modern, Mike definitely had the advantage with a more streamlined aggressive deck, whereas Isaac was focused on getting through primarily with creatures, and that can be tough when every spell in the Burn deck also destroys a Wild Nacatl. Mike evened things up 3-3, and in the final game of the finals we finally got a winner. Mike Strianese took down his second WNY Invitational in a row to earn himself a custom token to go along with his previous Thopter! Congrats to Mike and well played to everyone who showed up.

PPTQ Top 8 Breakdown

The top 8 started strong with the first match being Tron, piloted by Willaim “Beardsley” Eadie, BZ’s pick to win the tournament, going against Dylan Ekes-Erckert, who had squeaked into top 8 after a victory via concession in the final round, playing Mono-white flicker. A very stock list against a deck that we’ve never seen before. Unsurprisingly, Ulamog finished off both of those games very quickly for the Tron player after Dylan took a little too long to get set up and had kept a rather greedy one lander in the next game.  

The top 4 showcased the match of Suicide Zoo against Grixis Death’s Shadow. Going into the match we predicted that the high amount of removal spells in the Grixis would prove too much for the zoo player. After losing quick game 1, the Death Shadow was able to tie it up in a dragged out game 2. Game 3 played out grindy, with neither player able to gain much advantage. This stood until the zoo player was able to get 3 Death’s Shadows on board, eventually winning the game with them.

The finals featured James Gardner on Suicide Zoo against William Eadie (Beardsley) on Green-Black Tron. With Beardsley up against a seemingly impossible matchup, we were surprised when he managed to take down game 1 by nuking most of James’s field with Karn Liberated. Since James was only running four lands that produce mana, Karn proved to be too much for him. James swung back in game 2 when he deployed a crippling Damping Sphere that threw off Beardsley’s clock just enough for James’s small threats to get lethal damage in. The final game came down to a race for Beardsley to assemble Tron against James’s threats, but in the end James was able to prevail over GB Tron.

    Despite a top 8 that was full of seemingly “top tiered” decks, the winning strategy came in the form of Suicide Zoo.  Suicide Zoo is a list that hasn’t seen much play in a year, but James Gardner was able to pilot the deck to victory; taking home the RPTQ invite.

 

The Breakdown

While standard isn’t as diverse as we have seen in other times during magic’s past, the format is more open to change then we have seen in recent sets. The expectation coming into the invitational was that there would be an emphasis on grixis midrange and Black-Red aggro, but the reality of the room was quite different. Only a handful of players were on those two decks, while the rest of the field was wide open for whatever the players felt was best. This allowed for the room to be filled with a wide variety of lists that presented almost no similarities between player’s 75’s. This is best shown through the finals between mono-red goblins and abzan constrictor. Two decks that were played for the meta, but created both results for their respective pilots. The deck that stood out the most came from Jimmy Wray in the form of Turbo Fog.

The first time that we saw Turbo Fog in action came in round 2 of the invitational. While looking at the decklist, we saw a variety of subpar cards that seemed to create a deck of incoherent jank rather than an over performing standard powerehouse.  Surprisingly the ladder is what we saw when Jimmy Wray piloted the deck to a convincing victory over the eventual champion (Michael Strianese). Despite Strianese seemingly executing his gameplan in both of the games, it wasn’t enough to match the card advantage of the Turbo Fog list. While Strianese was able to navigate his board into a seemingly favorable advantage, it all fell apart when Jimmy would cast a fog effect, acting as a pseudo time walk. This gave Jimmy the time to create a loop with his extra turn spells (specifically revolving around Nexus of fate) that essentially locked Michael out of he game. 

nexus of fate

This match presented the power of the deck, where two mana fog’s act at extra turn spells against the top decks in the format. This allows for the deck to slowly constrict it’s opponents out of resources while the deck slowly builds card advantage through cards such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Search for Azcanta. This is what allowed for the Jimmy to win both matches on camera as well as giving him a run to the semifinals.

While we don’t believe that the deck is the best in the format, we think that it’s existence in the format provides an opportunity for standard that we haven’t seen in the last year and a half. Rather than the format revolving around 1 or 2 cards/decks we are seeing room for the format to grow and evolve based on how the meta has shaped on a week by week basis. This is particularly relevant for the Turbo Fog deck. While it currently is positioned well as a result of the aggressive and midrange filled meta, it’s success will subside if we see an increase in mono-blue paradoxical outcome as well as Teferi based Control Decks. This back and forth of the meta should give players hope that the format is slowly rebuilding itself into a healthy position, one that we haven’t seen since the days of collected companies and Emrakul’s.

If these two tournaments have showed anything, it is that modern is still the envy of other constructed formats. Unlike standard, it’s that the format is in a place where good players can pilot almost anything into success. At the invitational we saw a finals of burn and zoo. One deck that hasn’t put up many successful numbers recently with the other that hasn’t seen much play in the last few years. This continued into the PPTQ where we saw James Gardner take it down with an innovative take on Suicide Zoo, a list that hasn’t seen play since the banning of gitaxian probe in modern over a year and a half ago. Despite this, Gardner took this old school list and condensed it into a tournament winning strategy.

Although suicide zoo and burn won their respective tournaments, the meta for both was much larger than just aggressive strategies. This represented itself in the top 8 where we saw a wide variety of midrange, controlling and aggressive strategies; These ranging from Blue-White control to Scapeshift. Where the format truly becomes extraordinary is the lack of overlap between decks. Over the 16 decks that we saw in the two top 8’s the only deck that repeated itself was Death Shadow and Burn. Death shadow only represented 3 of the 16 decks, while burn was only replicated due to it being piloted by the Michael Strianese in both top 8’s. This diversity is what has pushed modern as the most popular format, allowing for players to successfully pilot any form of deck that fits their playstyle.

Surprisingly, the most underrepresented archetype of the two formats was combo. Between the two days we saw no KCI or storm lists, much to the dismay of our bingo board, with a very low representation of any other form of combo deck. With many factors being at play, the one that to me stands out as being the biggest reason behind a lack of combo decks is the playtesting behind it. Many of the top combo decks in the formats require intreguite knowledge of  the deck that can take months to figure out. This makes it difficult to simply pick up a combo deck and pilot it to success. With decks such as KCI only recently emerging into the meta, it would make it difficult for a new pilot to build and learn the deck in a relatively short time- frame. The combo deck that did show up with great success was living end. Making the top 8 of the invitational, the deck seemed poise to make a deep run in the tournament. BZ and myself had predicted the deck to do well based on the other decks that we saw in the room. Had the pilot not lost in the standard portion of the tournament, we may have seen living end lifting the trophy.

Overall, these last two formats have only continued the idea of a modern format that is open and diverse. We saw a multitude of top tiered decks perform well, as well as having older and new strategies over-perform. If anything this is the direction that we hope to see standard move towards.  

Commentating vs. Playing

Playing magic in a semi-competitive or competitive environment requires a lot of focus, especially when you get into the older formats.

Sitting in the booth providing commentary really gave us a different perspective compared to playing in one-on-one matches. We discovered that it’s a lot easier to point out a misplay when you’re not involved in the match itself. This can teach an important lesson: most games of modern will not be played perfectly. Modern is such an in-depth, aggressive format that requires a multitude of decision points. Between scrying, fetching, running out threats, removing key creatures, and sequencing your spells properly, there’s a ridiculous amount of room for error. The key to playing your best is to know your deck, get the reps in, and make the best decision you can at each point. Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake, even a simple one. Once you make a mistake you should do your best to avoid it in the future, but you’ll lose percentage points in future games if you get hung up about these things.

Conversely, one of the other most important lessons that came out of commentating was the improbability of playing a perfect or even semi-perfect game. While playing your match it can be difficult to identify errors within your play, specifically when the result of your match is a win. This can be particularly relevant in games where you think you played well, but the reality is that your opponent may have made a decision or two that negatively affected their own chances of winning the match. This is where being an observer became relevant. Not only were we watching the matches, but we were able to identify what lines were most likely correct because of our near perfect information of the resources that both players were working with. This allowed for us to make judgements about plays based on this information. The reason that we mention this is because there were times where we deemed a decision a misplay because of the information we had, while the player who made that play most likely saw their decision as being right. Even though their perception of the play was that it was right, the reality of the situation is that their decision could have cost them the game.

The Winning Decks

Modern Burn

Lands (19)
Arid Mesa
Bloodstained Mire
Inspiring Vantage
Mountain
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Wooded Foothills

Creatures (14)
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Goblin Guide
Grim Lavamancer
Monastery Swiftspear
Vexing Devil

Instants and Sorceries (27)
Boros Charm
Lava Spike
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Rift Bolt
Searing Blaze
Skullcrack
Sideboard (15)
Deflecting Palm
Destructive Revelry
Ensnaring Bridge
Exquisite Firecraft
Rest in Peace
Searing Blood

Standard Abzan Constrictor

Lands (23)
Aether Hub
Blooming Marsh
Forest
Sunpetal Grove
Swamp
Woodland Cemetery

Creatures (29)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Hungering Hydra
Jadelight Ranger
Servant of the Conduit
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Verdurous Gearhulk
Walking Ballista
Winding Constrictor

Instants and Sorceries (4)
Blossoming Defense
Vraska’s Contempt

Other Spells (4)
Heart of Kiran
Nissa, Vital Force
The Eldest Reborn
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Sideboard (15)
Deathgorge Scavenger
Doomfall
Duress
Fatal Push
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
Plummet
The Eldest Reborn
Thrashing Brontodon
Vine Mare
Vraska’s Contempt

Modern Death's Shadow Combo

Lands (16)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Verdant Catacombs
Wooded Foothills

Creatures (16)
Death’s Shadow
Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage
Street Wraith

Instants and Sorceries (24)
Become Immense
Blossoming Defense
Dismember
Lightning Bolt
Mutagenic Growth
Temur Battle Rage
Thoughtseize

Other Spells (4)
Mishra’s Bauble
Sideboard (15)
Abrade
Ancient Grudge
Collective Brutality
Damping Sphere
Dismember
Fatal Push
Nihil Spellbomb
Pyroclasm
Surgical Extraction

About Ourselves

BZ- If there is a green/black dual legal in a format, I’ll be trying it out. I definitely lean towards midrange strategies when I play, and am more comfortable with great removal than with all-star creatures. I’m a big fan of modern, limited, and try to play as much commander as I can in my free time between grinding RPTQ’s and working as a talented pizza delivery man.

Nick– Unlike BZ, my style of play tends to drift towards controlling and combo strategies. While i’m not against casting a thoughtseize, I feel much more comfortable with a remand in my hand. While I tend to focus primarily on modern and limited, I do like to delve into standard.