My name is Nick and I have a problem. I am what they call a perpetual “Bridesmaid” in the gaming world. What's a “Bridesmaid” you ask? Let me tell you all about it. 2nd place is my magic number. I either have some debilitating, subliminal fear of success or cosmic forces as a whole are just out to get me. I cannot close a tournament to save my life and you may or may not have seen my name just about five times in the finals of any given PTQ result in that last 4-5 years. This has definitely lead to several awkward trips home in a car of grumbling grinders who were forced to wait until almost midnight to see me get stomped on in the finals while all of the good restaurants close for the evening (thus we enjoy our 24-hour drive through special, on me of course).
So who would like to hear one such tale of choking? I know I'd like to get this one out there!
How I Called My Shot, Ran It Back and Was Succinctly Jinxed by My Buddy, Jesse – An Orlando 5k Finals Report
6 a.m. Saturday
As my phone vibrates consistently, reminding me to provide cards to a paranoid Spider-Man lookalike (our Floridian friend Brennan DeCandio, who bears a striking resemblance to Andrew Garfield. -Frank), I get up to do the one thing you should always do before any given tournament: shower. Following the most polite activity one can do out of consideration for others, I leave my house in Alachua and drive South down 75 toward Orlando and potential TCGplayer glory. I then make the important call of stopping and eating a full breakfast. Always get something before entering a 9-12 hour event as it really does keep you aware longer than you'd think.
Full of delicious food, I make it to the venue right before registration actually opens to register and chitchat with my cross-State pals. After handing Brennan DeCandio his Esper list, I sit down to do some last minute Golgari Charm-adding to this:
Jund Aggro is the pace-car of the format - it punishes weak draws and mana issues while curving into maximum value. The ability to have a relevant and powerful creature for the first four turns combined with the plethora of 2-cc removal options (including Ghor-Clan Rampager!) allows it to run over most opposing starts.
Further, the die roll is quite important for the first game (though breaking serve is quite easy if Burning-Tree Emissary is paired with any other 2-cc or 1-cc beater) and Experiment One is the best card in the deck in the first game (mulligan hands that don't have one drops in pre-board games). In side-boarded games, it is very important to know your role as either staying an aggressive Zoo deck or becoming mid-ranged in order to go long versus other aggressive and mid-ranged decks.
Despite the usual cars full of Gainesville players, I make this trip solo and am the only one in the crowd representing the Gators. Sadface. We've been placing at more or less every event we've gone to in the last few seasons and the burden was all on me. This wasn't my first rodeo, but to be honest I hate going alone. At least my testing and input network extends far enough that I have the good company of Brennan, Cliff, Mark and Bronson as well as Cuvelier to talk to and jam a few games with (as well as to fail to draft ONS/ONS/APC due to disinterest and party-poopage). Jim Bishop walks up to bum Thragtusks and I hand them to him and ask, “Junk Reanimator run backs?” and in return he says “Nope, just Cliff's sweet Human Reanimator list from our testing.” Cliff's deck was a sweet take on the Brad Nelson/Brian Braun-Duin brew from February and it has since evolved into a MODO crushing machine. Again having a team or a network of friends is the best. I can't recommend these people enough. (Oh and THE Frank T Lepore was also hanging around!)
10:35 a.m. The Player Meeting Finally Start and the Swiss Begins
331(!) players show up to battle. Tables are brought in and people are prepared to be packed into a room set for 225 and side events. Fortunately, I don't even have to sit down as they were taking lists in advance during registration (sweet move, Phoenix Games!).
Round by Round Report
Round 1 - Bye: Since I had a pretty good run last season, I still had somewhere between 20 and 30 MaxPoints from my Championship Top 8, so I decided that sitting around for the extra hour would be good and I registered with a single bye. If you can do this, I can only stress that you do. Byes in any tournament drastically affect your tiebreakers as well as give you one less shot at chucking an otherwise good day down the drain (Also they greatly reduce that trap of starting 0-1 and running below 5% to top 8). So I opted to take a bye and root on friends/warm up vs. Bronson Magnan while birding Cuvelier and Logan Mize jamming Esper versus Jund Midrange. While this was going on, other friends happily reported that, more or less across the board, everyone managed to win. Nice starts guys!
Round 2 - Jund Aggro (Mirror) against Byron King: Fast starts both games paired with removal and Byron's mulligans in the dust. The ability to punish slow starts is why this deck (and any Zoo deck to be honest) is quite powerful. Despite the Misfortune, Byron was still a good guy to talk to. We spoke about sideboarding plans and wished each other luck.
Round 3 - RW Humans (ala Wescoe) against Adrian Richmann: Fast starts both games with two Ghor-Clan Rampager in one and a sweet Burning-Tree Emissary into Emissary into Flinthoof in game two were quite able to overcome Boros Elite, Silverblade Paladin, Nearhearth Pilgrim and friends. Since the games were over within a 15 minute window, we talked about his deck and it looked like a pretty sweet concept , and I do love me some Red aggro decks (but you can pry my Aristocrats and Rampagers from my cold dead hands before I ever audible – Rakdos4life).
At this point, most of my friends were either 3-0 or 2-1 and it was time to Refresh, eat some trail mix and down some caffeine (five hours of it sounds like enough, but it really isn't).
Round 4 - Jund Midrange against Kristoffer Barrett: We sit down and chat, and I give him props for a sweet Slipknot shirt (though it has been about nine years since I've jammed to them). He assumes I saw what he was playing the prior round, but I was watching my friend next to him. We start out the match in good spirits and it is soon apparent that he is on the bigger version of my deck. However, I manage to eke out game one as he doesn't overwhelm me with a miracle Bonfire or too many Thragtusks/Olivia. In the second game, on a mutual mulligan to 6, my last-minute Golgari Charm addition wrecks his Bonfire and he dies game two to two beaters: Mogg Flunkies and Flinthoof Boar or Dreg Mangler, I believe.
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Round 5 - Human Reanimator against Jesse Weix: Jesse is quite excited to be 4-0 and we congratulate each other. If you can't have fun jamming Magic, I don't know what you can have fun doing. Not to sour our back-and-fourth, I did start with aperfect-ish* curve game one on the play (Experiment - Flunkies - Dreg Mangler - Falkenrath). Despite being on the brink, Jesse did something that I would advise against: When you are definitively going to die on the fourth turn and you have simply played Farseek, please don't play a Mulch – leave me as in the dark as possible going to the sideboards. The Mulch allowed me to prepare even better with Cremate (otherwise I potentially lose to the reanimation chain game two). In the second game. I am able to start well enough on Experiment One and to finish with two Falkenrath Aristocrast before his critical turn.
Here is where the tournament variance goes way in my favor and a fortunate pairing breaks my way.
Round 6 - Jund Aggro (Mirror) against Taylor Raflowitz: We are on very similar lists, but Taylor was all about Crimson Muckwader – which I love, but would never have mana open in an optimal situation, so I prefer Flunkies. Due to a pair up/down, Taylor (a good friend of mine) concedes to put me in position. At 4-1, Taylor feels like my 5-0 had the best shot to guarantee a Top 8 berth and Taylor did what he thought was best. (And I know that most people would never do this, but Taylor isn't most people – he is awesome – think the arm from Strong Bad's dragon, Trogdor only multiply it by two.)
Round 7 – Prime Speaker Bant against John Dean: After witnessing the crushing draw between John and his last round opponent (in which the opponent was dead but did not concede), he gets another Gut Shot by setting him with a pair up. I race Thragtusk each of the games in which I am on the play, and he died to it in the middle alongside Prime Speaker Zegana and Restoration Angel beats. John's deck looks as sweet as possible, whereas I am jamming Mogg Flunkies. Magic is a great game…
Fortunately for me at 7-0 I am a lock unless I physically die, but if I play either my 8th or 9th round out to place myself in position to be on the play in Top 8, I can then carry John's breakers assuming he goes 7-1-1.
Round 8 - Jund Midrange against Max Ackerman: Opponent asks for a concession and I decline; I counter with the possibility of a draw and he declines (which is exactly the spot I'd like to be in to help John and myself to Top 8 and be on the play respectively). He declines and we enter glorious battle. At this point, Max is somewhat tilted and miffed that I didn't scoop and plays with nervous haste. I do not recommend rushing your “win-and-in” match against Experiment One. I win game one with a strong curve backed by removal. In game two I mull to five and we go long. I lose inevitably lose as he draws gas while I flood about from turn 10 to 12 or so. In game three I out-midrange him and win with Aristocrat, Olvia, and Silverheart. Max is somewhat salty, but shrug.
tl:dr – He forced me to play and I obliged him.
Unfortunately, John didn't make it out of round 8 unscathed, but on the bright side I am untouchable for 1st if I draw the next round. Being on the play with Zoo.dek is super important. I recommend playing for position if possible (gotta love that new Competitive REL!).
At this point Taylor, Cuvelier, and Jim are all at X-2 with good breaks, meaning that Top 16 is looking real nice and Top 32 is easily in their range. Taylor and Cuvi both lock it up while Jim takes 31st.
Draw - 4c Goodstuff: Jimmy Thoms recognized me/my name and congrats me as we draw into Top 8. A friend of SMann is a friend of mine.
(Fun fact – recent PT Top 8 competitor, Steve Mann, was stuck in Purgatory this weekend as he was held hostage at a wedding less than one mile from the event site!)
Mark and I go for a ride to get some delicious Milkshake and Coffee action and we chat a bit about my Top 8 chances, bridesmaiding and music. These are the best ways to relax pre-elimination rounds. Always get something in the stomach, eat fruit or drink some coffee. My good buddy, Jesse Roberts, all the way from Oregon, hexes me as hard as possible (or did I Hex myself?) with a, “I sure hope you don't lose in finals again!” as opposed to my 6 a.m. status of, “Going to Orlando for some 5k action. Maybe I can run last year back (or better).”
Top 8 is announced and in 1st place at 25 points – this guy!
Quarterfinals - Naya Humans/Midrange against Steven Rodriguez: A strong start (Experiment One into Shaman and Flunkies plus a Searing Spear) forced his Mayor of Avabruck (three nonetheless) to play defense and eventually to succumb to overwhelming forces. Game two was more of the same with Abrupt Decay and Dreg Mangler making special appearances to remind us why we are Jund and not straight Gruul. At this point I did make a small mistake – I mean to play Falkenrath Aristocrat as I hit my fourth land, I read him for having the Searing Spear, I even count how many humans I have and feel really good about him being on no outs. What do I do? “Olivia Voldaren, go!” “Searing Spear her!” OOOPS! However, my position was quite strong so the follow-up Aristocrat passes right through a Restoration Angel and the game falls my way. We congrat one another on our finishes and the super sweet playmat :
Semifinals - 4C Goodstuff against Jimmy Thoms: Jimmy and I drew in in round 9 and his Top 8 opponent conceded and left to make it home early (lucky!). We chat about my job prospects in Tampa (I am a Classics MA, a.k.a. a High School Latin Teacher looking for a sweet job in a sweet place). After sharing our experiences in the Tampa area, we commence the combat. Game one ended with his board looking like, “Tapped Dual, Glacial Fortress, Rootbound Crag” while I mulliganed to Experiment One and curved into Ghor-Clan Rampager (yes it can be a creature spell). Game two was a reckoning against three(!) Boros rares (guess which one) which I was unable to overcome. In the third game, I went big and crashed the boards with Falkenrath and Ghor-Clan monsters backed by a Wolfir friend.
Finals, a.k.a. That One Loss - Junk Reanimator against Shawn Ellis*:
*Sidenote – I lost vs. Shawn Ellis in the finals of the TCGplayer Orlando 5k last July (despite an easy matchup of my Esper Midrange to his Grites deck) all due to mana issues in the third game. I'll say one thing, Shawn's deck choice was quite easy to guess as he has quite the record with Unburial Rites included a State 2012 finals vs. our own Mark Nestico.
We chat about the last event we battled in and things are well and good. I managed to dodge Junk Reanimator all day after declining to play it myself. (As it turns out, Junk Reanimator and I took a pretty strong spot in the TCGplayer 50k Championship last year thanks in part to both Jim Bishop and Mark Nestico battling with it prior to dinner). Starting somewhat strong, I was pummeled by Angel of Serenity around turn 5. In the second game, I mulligan down and start well enough, but fail to find the fourth land for my pair of Falkenrath's until after he plays the first of his Angel of Serenity alongside a reanimated Thragtusk. Bridesmaids that is (look for me in the sequel!).
I congrat Shawn on his sweet new plaque, swear vengeance by the goddess Nemesis and head home on a gruuling solo trip, rakdosing my brain with coffee and listing the the golgari-ing sounds of an empty stomach.
BONUS – Sideboard Talk
This deck is a prime example of “less is more” sideboarding. Let's look at my board and what each card is for!
1 Kessig Wolf Run – When siding in to more 4-drops and a pair of 5-drops, Kessig Wolf Run is the land to do it with. If the game is going to go long, Fireball on a land is sweet. This comes in whenever you need to side in larger drops or against grind matches like Esper, Bant or Naya Midrange.
2 Olivia Voldaren – Umezawa's Jitte; Against Jund Midrange, it is super important to have every answer possible to their Olivia. Against a multitude of decks, here ability to ping, grow and steal creatures is quite powerful. I am a fan of siding in Olivia against Midrange, Aggro and Junk Reanimator decks.
2 Wolfir Silverheart – THE trump in an aggro match and quite a powerful threat on its own, Silverheart is for Midrange and Aggro matches. Also, cast it late game against UWR then slam Olivia or Falkenrath Aristocrat as a partner and see just how well it goes.
2 Appetite for Brains – If Thragtusk, Unburial Rites, Supreme Verdict, and both types of frequent Angels are giving you problems, this is the solution. As I noted in the intro, Appetite is quite a flexible, proactive answer that can keep certain threats off the field. Best vs. Bant and Junk, solid vs. Esper.
3 Cremate – An obvious answer to Reanimator and some Snapcaster strategies. I considered Vile Rebirth for a short time, but it pales in comparison to the commonly played Loxodon Smiter and Centaur Healers which are being jammed into contemporary Junk decks. (Heck, I almost jammed my Reanimator deck with 4 Smiters until I decided to loan my Thragtusks out!)
2 Golgari Charm – How do I deal with Bonfire and Supreme Verdict? How do I make profitable combat when all our creatures match our opponents? Easy – make your creatures into Trolls! Further, the ability to wrath away multiple mana producers and Lingering Souls as well as to take out multiple humans on the play is quite nice paired with a neat answer to Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere.
1 Ultimate Price – Angels and Dragons are quite powerful. This is one of the better outs to them. Brennan was eager to jam this card into my board so I did.
Now that each card has its own definition, how do we board with this deck? Well, on the draw, going big is always nice. I tend to cut some number if not all of the Rakdos Cacklers and to reconfigure the spell package based on what I expect to see out of an opponent. It is not a great idea to swap 12 cards in despite their power level. Commonly I also like to cut Burning-Tree Emissary when going large. Why? Well, if you end up cutting any of the other 2-cc beaters then BTE becomes kind of silly as a 2/2 that leaves money on the table. Against Lingering Souls, Falkenrath Aristocrat isn't oh so hot, so she tends to take a seat on the bench. Further, my plan against Midrange Thragtusk decks are to just run over them – never cut Ghor-Clan Rampager if you don't expect Azorius Charm. There is also no rigid strategy to boarding, just be flexible and if you want to be aggressive in a third game on the play, then bring back in some or all of the Cacklers and address your curve accordingly. Often I would bring in up to 10 cards on the draw, but cut it down to 6-7 on the play.
If you are looking to smash this deck – Esper Control and Junk Midrange are your best options – high impact cards and 3-cc Lifesticks ( Centaur Healer) or Loxodon Smiters are where it is at.
Thanks again to all those who supported me (especially Jason Query who consistently asks me about my Magic plans and deck choices)! And to Ari Lax - your decks are always super sick! Please, ask me anything you'd like in the comments and we can all have a bit of a chit chat about how Mogg Flunkies is or isn't better than Crimson Muckwader.
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