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Summer Championship Finals: A Report (Part I)

September 4, 2012

This past weekend my local watering hole as Magic goes in Stockholm, Dragon’s Lair, held a pretty prize heavy tournament (with a prizepool of ~1500$, which is quite a lot for being a local non-PTQ/-WMCQ type of event in Sweden) which they have dubbed the Summer Championships. To give more context for those of you who aren’t Swedish or maybe aren’t living in the Stockholm area, the tournament was actually a finale of a series of tournaments Dragon’s Lair have been running during the summer which portions of the attendances fee from those events fueled the prize pool of the finals. In addition, these smaller tournaments leading up to the finals awarded the top finishers in respective events payed attendance fees for the finals and if enough people played in them also byes.

I didn’t play in too many of the “trials” during the summer but the finals seemed both like a fun and quite lucrative event to play in so I was excited to do so. I ended up doing pretty well at the finals, so I thought I write this report about my run at the tournament and the preparation I did beforehand.

The tournament structure for the finals was pretty cool with a 2-day setup; on day 1 there would be 6 rounds of Standard and after that a cut to day 2 with the Top16 advancing. Then on day 2 there would be a M13 draft followed by 3 rounds of play as usual before a cut to Top8, where it was Standard again in the single elimination rounds.

As for preparations goes, I had drafted the format maybe not extensively but at least what I consider a fair share during July and August, at least enough to make me feel confident about what I was doing. I feel like there are certainly decks and strategies for every color that are playable, even though for example blue is a bit shallow in the number of playables. While green seems like being perceived as the consensus best color in the format by the community, I really have a thing for black in M13.

I just think the color is really deep in the number of playables and also has a wide array of tricks that you can utilize. There are great evasive creatures (Bloodhunter Bats), great defensive creatures (Giant Scorpion, Duty-Bound Dead), card draw (Sign in Blood) and of course excellent removal (Murder foremost, but Essence Drain and Crippling Blight aren’t shabby either). In addition some of the best uncommons in the format are also black (Vampire Nighthawk, Public Execution, Harbor Bandit and Cower in Fear comes to mind) and the on-color ring is likely the best one in the set to booth. To round out, black in this format seems also just to suit me very well in how I approach Limited personally.

As for green goes, the color has just not been clicking for me. I mean, Sentinel Spider is absurd and the number of Sentinel Spiders in my Limited decks have been proportional with my win rate with green in M13, but after that I don’t find green all the impressive. I’m quite sure that I undervalue several cards that has lead me to feeling this way about green. For example I highly suspect that I’m not appreciating Centaur Courser as much as I should and thus I have received the results that I have.

Anyhow, despite not “getting” how to draft green properly in M13 Limited, I felt confident about my ability to succeed in the Limited portion. A far more pressing issue for me was the Constructed portion, namingly Standard.

Basically since the PTQ and WMCQ in Malmö at the beginning of the summer, I have been pretty much exclusively been playing various iterations of Delver decks in the Standard events I have participated in. The various iterations has preformed okay in my hands but not spectacularly. The problem really is that many of the local ringers in Stockholm seem to prefer to play various aggro decks or midrange decks with access to Bonfire of the Damned. Regular Zombies, Zombie Pod, Infect, GR Aggro, Naya Pod, Bant Pod, 4-color Pod have all been overrepresented compared to the meta you would find online or if you look at the recent SCG Open Top8s. While Delver is a fantastic deck, fighting against these kinds of decks have always felt a bit like fighting a losing battle to me. I mean, you do beat these kinds of decks a fair amount of the time with Delver but it does feel like an uphill battle all the time.

So, while Delver is most likely the best deck in the format, it felt to me that it was poorly positioned against the expected field. That lead me to thinking about something else to play that would be better against these aggro decks I predicted to have to slog through. However, after doing some playtesting and theorizing I fairly quickly determined that I didn’t really like anything else that was played in the format.

I really hated the idea of playing a deck with Birds of Paradise right now, since the format is just so incredibly hostile against X/1, with Gut Shots, Fume Spitter, Mortarpod and Bonfire of the Damned all over the place. Infect is quite dirty, but it didn’t overpreform against Delver or didn’t really allow me to take advantage of the fact that I would probably be a better technically player than most opponents at the tournament (yeah, I know… #humblebrags). Some version of Zombies didn’t feel too bad but the problem with that style of deck is that it’s really easy to prey on if you know people will show up playing it. Since I was heavily expecting it, I suspected several other would have the same idea hence gunning it out with zombos felt like a sketchy idea.

After dismissing those decks, I looked at my old pal Primeval Titan. Could he maybe save the day for me?

The answer was no, not really. The matchup for Wolf Run lists against Delver is in my opinion still sketchy although it passable but what really sucks about the deck is that’s just completely dead in the water against Infect. The matchup is just so uncannily bad for the Wolf Run side. It’s about on the same level as playing Hatred against Red Deck Wins. With such a horrible matchup against Infect, I couldn’t justify myself playing Wolf Run when I fully expected to have to play against at least a copy or 2 of Infect in the tournament.

Another idea I had was to play some sort of control deck with access to Curse of Death’s Hold, which seemed pretty well positioned against the field in my head. It nullifies Gravecrawlers, Falkenrath Aristocrats and Blood Artists from the Zombie deck, Infect is pretty much dead in the water against it unless if they are running some number of Viridian Corrupter in the main, it shuts downs the mana acceleration and Blade Splicers from the Pod deck and is still quite useful against the various Delver decks. I toyed with a Grixis build for a while that preformed admirably, but I ended up dismissing it because it just took ages to actually win games with it.

The issue was the the more I played with the list, the more I hated having a bunch of the usual fatties these sort of decks typically play to actually win the game with  (Grave Titan, Inferno Titan, Consecrated Sphinx and their like) and thus after each playtest session I ended up cutting copies of them. The problem I have with the fatties in these sort of decks is that there are just over 9000 copies of Phantasmal Images and Phyrexian Metamorph being played right now by just about everyone. It happened on a regular basis that the game was looking good, I had swept the board with a Black Sun’s Zenith or something and was just going to land my Grave Titan to seal the deal but then my opponent would go on to copy it with a pair of Phantasmal Images or something that previously had been sitting dead in the opponent’s hand. To circumvent this annoying feature of the meta I went down just to a single Grave Titan as a finisher fattie and instead begun to fill the deck with Batterskulls and Planeswalkers. While these cards are very resilient to clones and common removal spells, they do take a very long time to actually win games with and I really didn’t feel like playing a deck that I was bound to go to time round after round with.

I mean, I don’t consider myself as a slow player but I’m not exactly Speedy Gonzales either. It really takes that long to actually win games with the deck unless your opponent is quick to concede to the impending doom of a Tamiyo or Karn. Anyhow, for those who are curious, this is the last version of the Grixis list I had before I abandoned the idea of playing the deck at the event:

Grixis Control

1 Grave Titan
1 Snapcaster Mage
2 Batterskull
3 Mana Leak
1 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Ancient Grudge
3 Pristine Talisman
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Whipflare
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Karn Liberated
3 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Desperate Ravings
1 Ponder

4 Darkslick Shores
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Drowned Catacomb
4 Island
2 Swamp
1 Mountain
2 Shimmering Grotto
1 Copperline Gorge
1 Desolate Lighthouse

As you might understand by know I was beginning to feel pretty cynical about Standard at this point and with just about a week to go before the event I begun to feel quite hopeless. It seemed like I would “just” have to sleeve up a Delver list and feel bad about. Although I wasn’t happy about it, it seemed at the time as the least worst decision.

Then I remembered a deck that was very popular until about a month ago which I had seen being played extensively by Michael Jacob on his stream (username “darkest_mage”), Esper Midrange. I quickly searched for the last version of the list he played (which you can find here) and looked on it for a while before thinking: “This deck does just about what I want to be doing at this tournament”. The deck has the control elements that I desired to face off against an aggressive field without being a complete do-nothing-control deck. Needless to say I was quickly sold on the idea of playing Esper Midrange.

I begun with the list MJ had latest been playing and over the course of last week I made some adjustments according to my own play style and towards the local meta. That meant that at least a couple of Gideon Jura would end up in my 75, as the card is just very good against Zombies and Infect and just aggressive strategies in general. Because of the expected local meta, Lingering Souls were cut because they didn’t feel particularly good against neither Zombies with their Blood Artists, Infect or worse, the green based decks with Bonfire of the Damned. A Cavern of Souls were also shaved to accommodate a copy of Ghost Quarter to have a Sun Titan recurrable answer to Inkmoth Nexus but also to some extent Moorland Haunt, Gavony Township, Kessig Wolf Run etc. while still having enough real white mana to support Gideon Jura. Also some minor changes were made to the sideboard.

So, finally on Saturday morning, these were the 75 I registered for the event:

Esper Midrange

4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Blade Splicer
4 Restoration Angel
3 Phantasmal Image
2 Sun Titan

4 Ponder
3 Thought Scour
2 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Mana Leak
2 Gut Shot
1 Go for the Throat
1 Doom Blade
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Dismember
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Gideon Jura

4 Seachrome Coast
3 Darkslick Shores
3 Glacial Fortress
2 Drowned Catacomb
4 Island
2 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Vault of the Archangel
1 Cavern of Souls

SB: 2 Celestial Purge
SB: 2 Duress
SB: 1 Divine Offering
SB: 1 Phantasmal Image
SB: 1 Oblivion Ring
SB: 1 Sever the Bloodline
SB: 1 Dissipate
SB: 2 Nihil Spellbomb
SB: 2 Day of Judgment
SB: 1 Jace, Memory Adept
SB: 1 Gideon Jura

With my list posted above, I’m going to stop for now as my elaborated explaining of my deck selection for Standard as taken me many words to complete. Expect part 2 with round-by-round commentary, the draft portion and reflections about my deck and the tournament as a whole in shortly.

Until then, have a good one.

Bernhard

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