20 years ago I sat across from my friend, shuffling up unsleeved Magic cards, excited about this new game and ready to play. I cast my first spell and have been hooked ever since. I played competitively in our local scene for a few years, but after that, Magic was a kitchen table game for me. Throughout the years I built a lot of decks, played a lot of games, but never really concerned myself with any sort of serious competitive play. The last tournament I played in was 1995. I ran a five color deck that utilized Black Vise and Underworld Dreams. To this day I haven't found a deck that is more fun to play. Unfortunately, running that list now isn't legal in Legacy, and I don't have the extra $10,000 or so to put it together.
I came in second that day. The loss stung. Not nearly as much as the loss to Josh Peek (Virginia State Champion), but losing to an 11 year old brought on much razzing from my friends. I did end up with half a booster box of Revised, so that was sweet. I played a lot through high school, then a failed college run and two punk rock bands later I joined the Navy. I sold my collection (SO STUPID), and forgot about the game for the most part until 2008 or so when I taught my six-year-old son how to play. He got me back into the game, and I feel like the luckiest guy around. I get to share the game I love with my boy, and not too much beats that.
I've been running tournaments for Kaboom for the past six months, six days a week. I'm living the dream, no more deployments, no financial practice bogging me down, and an amazing family that supports my Magic endeavors. I'm lucky to have an awesome team that helped me playtest for the weeks prior to the event. My son, who is now 11, runs my lists at FNM and other tournaments throughout the week, and I couldn't be more proud of him. He's Top 8ed just about every tourney he's entered, loves to draft, and may watch more MTGO videos on YouTube than I do. All that said, you wouldn't be reading this if it wasn't for my partner in crime, Kit Solomon. Huge props dude, you're the man.
So what about the Virginia State Tournament? After missing the PTQ the month prior, I had my eyes on States, and started telling myself that I could win. Who would have thought...20 years, four kids and two careers later I could be a State Champion. I've never been one to do anything and think that I would fail, and this was no different. The first step was figuring out what deck I was going to play. At the time, I had been running Gruul with great success, but I wasn't sold on it being the best deck in the format. I wasn't convinced that Reanimator was the way to go for me, and playing control makes my brain hurt. The one thing I didn't want to do was play all day, go to time half the matches, and make hundreds of decisions throughout the day. Running tournaments and being engrossed in the game is one thing, but I usually only played in Modern events, and knew that I couldn't masterfully pilot a good control list like the best in the business do. Sadly, I don't think my opponents would have let me get too far with my old Delver list...pretty sure a turn one Gitaxian Probe wouldn't sit well...JUDGE! I thought about doing it for the laughs...but I wanted to win.
What I did have access to was my old pal Geist of Saint Traft. His spell book may have shrunk a little, but those losses were recouped with Wizards' printing Voice of Resurgence. Sam Black summed this dude up in one simple, but powerful sentence. "Voice of Resurgence is the truth."
I've been a Voice fanboy since day one. Whether you love him or hate him, he's here to stay. People laughed when I told them to hoard him at prerelease. He'll go down. He dies to Pillar. I'll just cast spells on my turn. The token is only a 1/1 after a board wipe...I just shook my head, waiting during the calm before the Voice of Resurgence storm. Lines of play like two Voices on board, Supreme Verdict, Lingering Souls and flashback led me to believe that he was best suited in a Junk build, but a few games with him in Bant Auras was all I needed to know I had a winning list. Here's the 75 I sleeved up with confidence.
After countless hours of testing, discussions, stressing over single main and sideboard decisions, I found something that worked consistently, was fast, and at most times had limited decisions that needed to be made. One of my greatest strengths has always been mental preparation, and knowing I wouldn't be playing long, grueling matches gave me the edge sitting down and facing my opponents throughout the day. I knew I could win. I wanted to win so badly for all the people that look up to me, and for the teammates I have the privilege of sharing this amazing game with. Here's how the day panned out...
Sitting down for my first major tournament in almost 20 years was nerve racking to say the least. We shuffled up, said good luck, and I proceeded to win 2-0 in 10 minutes or so. I didn't see too much from him... Voice, Lingering Souls, anthem effects...a very solid deck, in fact it had some of the core pieces we've been recording in Modern MTGO videos. Anyways, turn two Geist of Saint Traft wins games I've heard. Game two dropped an Invisible Stalker, put the pants on, and never looked back. Good start to the day, I felt awesome, and I had plenty of time to relax, collect my thoughts and prepare mentally for game two.
Some form of Jund Aggro. I hadn't tested against it, but I knew the deal from running Gruul for so long. Burning-Tree Emissary, Burning-Tree Emissary, Dude. I didn't see Arbor Elf or Gyre Sage though, so I didn't have any worries after winning game one. Game two double Thundermaw smoked me, not much I could do about that. What I didn't see in two games was Liliana of the Veil. Zero edict effects, and no Bonfire of the Damned. I knew he had them though, every draw was the typical off-to-the-side, peek at the card...sigh when it wasn't a miracle set to wreck my day. A misplay won me the last game, after Bonfire finally made an appearance. I had Strangleroot Geist, Avacyn's Pilgrim and two Voice tokens. He didn't realize the damage stayed on after the Strangleroot Geist and Avacyn's Pilgrim left, and extended his hand and scooped up his cards. Both tokens would have been gone, and I was left with the Geist and him at four. His buddies flipped out, screamed obscenities and then some...but in my opponent's defense, I had Rancor in hand and my next draw was Ethereal Armor.
I sat down for round three and realized I was playing the dude I'd been chatting with for a week or so on Facebook. Small world. We'd been talking about him recording MTGO videos for us, the current meta, and States. I knew he was playing Esper, and also knew that my sideboard would serve me well in this matchup. I got crushed game one, but knew from testing that I could come back and take the next two. This was a critical point of the tournament for me. I could have let the defeat get to me. I've seen a lot of players run through the shop over the past six months, and countless times they go on tilt because of a bad game. A single game of Magic should not define you as a player or make such a huge impact on your mindset. But it happens all the time, and it is something I've worked very hard at eliminating from my game. Game two Strangleroots did their thing, and my assessment of Deputy of Acquittals was correct. All Star in the tough situations I knew I needed to get out of. Supreme Verdict...flash in Deputy and scoop Geist of Saint Traft back to my hand. Good times. Next game, Mending Touch on Geist, then I untapped and played a Silverblade unpaired, on to round four.
Samson. That's all I saw looking at the pairings. I walked to the front of the room knowing I was in for one tough battle. Couldn't believe we were paired up, he was just at the shop the night before, playtesting and working out kinks in his Jund list. I let him borrow Rootbound Crags and Stomping Grounds, wished him luck, thinking to myself I hope I don't run into him tomorrow. Of course, I did. Again, lost game one. Could have tilted, stressed, went off the deep end...but something told me that this was my day...and I took game two. Game three Pithing Needle on Liliana turn one. Turn three Pithing Needle on Rakdos Keyrune. As crazy as it sounds, that may have won me the game. I didn't see Unflinching Courage all game, and not getting beat in the face with the 3/1 turn after turn saved at least 12 points of damage. Abrupt Decay on the other needle brought out Liliana of the Veil, and I'm pretty sure at least two Thragtusks came down. Whenever I play an opponent with Thrags, they start to blend together. Thragtusk. five life. Beast. Rinse, repeat, win. Definitely looking forward to a standard environment where I don't have to worry about that dude. The final straw came when he top decked a Garruk, Primal Hunter. Slammed him, drew five cards...with NO answers! Lucky guy am I! No Mortars to Overload, no Bonfire. Nada...two of the cards were Liliana, and they did him no good. I then untapped and won. By far my roughest game of the entire day. Props to Samson though. He played masterfully, we had a good crowd watching us, and the analysis afterwards was pretty intense. I look forward to seeing him again on the tournament scene.
One more match and I could double draw into Top 8. This is where my tournament inexperience did me wrong. Looking back, I should have just played all seven rounds. Could I have lost the last two? Sure. Was that likely? No. Anyways, I sat down telling myself that this was my game, I didn't care what my opponent was playing. Sometimes just ask, and you shall receive. On top of that, our team captain Tom Whitman was there for me the entire day. Rooting me on, keeping me focused, fueled with food and drink...I was set to Top 8 my first tournament in, ya...like forever. As we shuffled up all I could think about was walking in my front door, holding the trophy, giving it to my son and hugging my girls. While that didn't happen, it did feel pretty awesome walking in with a Top 8 mat, and a box of Dragon's Maze that I quickly gave to my boy.
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So, not too much to say about this round. Game one, Saint Traft's favorite Geist was too much too handle for the American Flash deck. Game two, NevermoreSupreme Verdict...seems good.
Double Draw into Top 8. Sweet!
At this point, I had two hours to sit around and do nothing. They took our decks to deck check, and I didn't get it back until the start of Top 8. No fun. I did a lot of walking and thinking, and did my best to not let my nerves get to me. Next time, I'll be playing things out I think. Top 8 was fine, but my standing left my opponent on the play at the start of each match. Not cool.
Ah, Reanimator. Finally, I love this matchup. I've never been worried about Standard's boogeyman, and don't lose to it often. It's a wonderful deck, we have a few pilots for it on the team, but of all the decks out there it is the one I've never sleeved up. Not sure why, but I've always felt that there were decks better suited for me. I took game one. One down, one to go...then mulled to four. I saw one land, a bunch of enchantments, no dudes. On to game three. There's typically a play I can determine that I've taken the edge. Goes back to my days of playing chess, and identifying the moment that I've either won moves ahead, or if my opponent is playing first, when they lose being the aggressor. Turn three, Liliana, discard...Hi Smiter! I did move a bit hastily and put him into play before my opponent discarded...but from the look on his face it didn't matter. He did eventually play an Angel of Serenity, but with no targets and an 11/11 Stalker, that was game.
On to the Semis I go...
All good things come to an end. Jund and Josh Peek. He is the one guy I play regularly and don't look forward to it. Let me restate that...I love playing him and I enjoy our matches. There have been times were his lines of play are just plain old masterful, and he has pushed me to fine tune my Modern decks week after week. It never fails...I'll run 4-0, meet him in Top 8, and lose. After a long day, maybe I did let this get to me. It is what it is. We wished each other luck, shook hands, and played out two games that he dominated. Game one there really isn't much to say. Mulligan. One dude. Liliana. Dead.
No worries, on to sideboard. Game two, I sealed my own fate...but, there was one play that he made that stood out. In fact, it was the play that stood out the most out of any single play I had seen all day. After I punted (more on that in a second) we were in a situation where I could have still come back. Maybe. He tanked for a long time. Played Thragtusk. Tanked for longer. Then Tragic Slipped his own Thragtusk, flipping back Huntmaster of the Fells, gaining him life and a wolf. I sat for a moment staring at the cards. Looked up, and said ‘Well played sir. Well played!”
At that point, I was already scrambling. Instead of playing turn three Geist, I played a Spectral Flight on my Stalker. Pass turn. Liliana. Great...
That was it folks. All she wrote. Had I played it correctly things could have went either way from that point. He had answers for days though and is an awesome Magic player. I eventually scooped, extended my head and told him to go win this thing...and he did.
I appreciate you taking the time to read this tournament report. I hope it helps those looking to play the deck, or play against it. It is a ton of fun, and I cringe when I sit down and know my opponent is playing it. My list was finely tuned to do what I wanted it to do in situations I expected in our local meta. As I mentioned, I had a massive amount of support from Team Kaboom, and a ton of testing helped me identify the cards I needed in situations that would cause me to lose the game. Most of the list is the typical auras build...but a few cards won me many games, and continue to do so. Deputy of Acquittals. Supreme Verdict and edict affects Crush dreams. Scooping up your Geist is a good thing. Try it, you'll like it...Ajani, Caller of the Pride...this dude doesn't get enough love. I don't see him often, but when I do, I play him with pride...then swing in with a giant, flying, double striking Geist. Cool beans. Pithing Needle turns bad things off, and sometimes it is just fun to cast Nevermore and tell your opponent he can't cast his best cards.
There are a few other quirks, and I regret not playing Jace, Architect of Thought. A last minute audible removed him from the list. Was more of a gut move than anything from testing. "What if I don't see the 4th land?" I kept asking myself that, and convinced myself to remove him. Sometimes, you have a ton of guys, no enchantments. More often, you'll have the wrong enchantments with no outs. Most times the deck just dominates, but you'll find yourself out of cards, or needing the right answer. Jace's dig gets you there, and his ultimate should just win you the game. Lingering Souls is a thing, and he shuts off every other 1/1 in the format. Lots of those pesky dudes running around, and on the play he makes the Burning-Tree Emissary, Burning-Tree Emissary, Lightning Mauler, etc. draws not so bad. Seems good to me. I'm putting three of him in the Bant Good Stuff list I'll be putting together after I finish writing this. Should prove rather interesting. Also, if you're looking for a good deck to run in Modern, this shell with the goodies that come along with Modern, is doing rather well here.
Thanks again for reading. Be sure to like the TCGplayer on Facebook, and check out their articles and future events. They have some of the best content on the net, and if you're not watching Frank Lepore's videos, you're doing it wrong Also, Some of Craig Wescoe's recent articles have been the most moving MTG pieces I've read in a long time. Back to brewing I go, best of luck in your future matches. If you're ever in the Virginia Beach area stop by Kaboom and sling some spells with us. Cheers!
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