Pondering—Twenty Sided Store Championship

Bituminous Blast

It had been a long season. Months of trials and tribulations finally culminated in the reward that we had all worked so hard for: the Twenty Sided Store Championship. By now you’ve probably already read Jess and Matt’s reports on the event. Here’s how this whirlwind of a weekend all went down for me.

We had all learned of the tournament’s formats and structure before heading into the event, but not the prize support. Luis kicked it off with the announcement that the top four finishers will get to choose from: Unlimited Tundra, Unlimited Underground Sea, sealed Commander’s Arsenal, and sealed From the Vault: Realms. I think it would have been better to have kept it as a mystery until the very end, not only because I like surprises, but also because, now that there was a tangible prize to fight for, people will do just that—fight. Emotions ran high all weekend as 16 of the store’s best players and fiercest competitors gave it their all to try and walk away with the big prize.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to Saturday at noon. The first three rounds of Swiss would be Standard Pauper. Here’s the list that I ran:

Deck: Pauper Delver

Counts : 60 main / 15 sideboard

Creatures:16
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Splatter Thug

Spells:24
3 Essence Scatter
3 Negate
4 Searing Spear
2 Spectral Flight
4 Think Twice
4 Brimstone Volley
2 Cancel
2 Divination

Lands:20
8 Island
4 Izzet Guildgate
8 Mountain

Sideboard:15
4 Dispel
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Thunderbolt
1 Amass the Components
2 Chandra's Fury

Surprise, surprise, there are Delvers in there. Did you like my Alex Ullman impression? In all seriousness, I gave the format very little preparation compared to some of the other players in the room (namely Zach and Hugh). I simply spoke with some people with more knowledge of the format than myself (again, Zach and Hugh, and of course, Alex) and put together a list that I felt would do well.

As it turned out, UR Delver is one of the best archetypes, thanks to the solid as ever Frostburn Weird, and the awesome enabler that is Goblin Electromancer. Those guys were no-brainer inclusions, but I felt the creature suite was a little lacking, even if Delver would quite often be Mr. Free-Wins. I added the Splatter Thugs as a last minute inclusion, and cut two spells to make room for Spectral Flight. This left 22 instants and sorceries, which is enough for Delver to flip consistently.

Round 1: Kadar—UR Delver
Oh baby. Delver mirror? Don’t mind if I do. There was no way I was losing this one, and that is not at all a sleight on Kadar or any of the other four or five UR Delver players in the room. Back during Scars/Innistrad Standard, my win percentage in Delver mirror was somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. I understood the cards, I understood the tempo, and I was so good at doing “Delver math” that I could plan multiple turns ahead of my opponents. It also didn’t help that Kadar drew poorly both games and had Delvers that refused to flip while I flipped mine immediately after playing them. Not a whole lot to say about the match, other than Dispel is perhaps the best card in the format and definitely warrants being an auto four-of in any Blue sideboard.

1-0 matches, 2-0 games.

Round 2: Chase—Mono White
Chase didn’t do his homework for the format and just slapped together a weenies build. I wasn’t sure how the match was going to go, but I did know that Seraph of Dawn would present a major problem if not dealt with, and it proved to be the case when Chase mulled to five on the play but recovered well with an on-curve Seraph. However, I was able to bait a block from Chase by attacking in with a Thug and a Weird. He put his Loyal Cathar in the way, and its death allowed me to get a Morbid Brimstone Volley to deal with the Seraph. Chase would make a misplay the following turn when he attacked in with his Unhallowed Cathar, thinking I wouldn’t block with my unflipped Delver. I gladly accepted the trade, which made it so that Chase’s Haunted Fengraf would no longer guarantee returning a Seraph of Dawn when he cracked it. He got the Cathar, and I killed him the following turn.

Game two was less of a contest. I stuck a Spectral Flight on a Splatter Thug, and had the Negate for Chase’s attempt at stabilizing with Moment of Heroism.

2-0 matches, 4-0 games.

Round 3: Brook—UR Delver
Another mirror, but this one was a closer affair. I took the first game with a Weird and all the removal. I had the option of sticking on a Spectral Flight as early as turn three, but chose to hold it until I could back it up with a Negate, which turned out to be the correct decision. Brook got one back with a flipped Delver and his own removal suite in the next game, but when I flipped my Delver off of a Dispel turn two on the play in game three, it was all but over.

Did I mention Dispel is the best card in the format?

3-0 matches, 6-1 games.

***

We broke for a bit before moving onto the Cube rounds. For this portion, the eight players highest in the standings were in one pod, while the other eight players comprised another. Joining me was Dana at X-0, and six players at X-1 in Johnny, Chase, Hugh, Joe, Brook and Kadar. I took Bituminous Blast as my pack one, pick one, and eventually ended up with a sweet (though very greedy) Grixis control deck with multiple Planeswalkers (Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, Sarkhan the Mad) and Wrath effects (Infest, Firespout, Steam Blast, Black Sun’s Zenith). Unfortunately for me, there were multiple decks at the table that could easily punish my greed. Hugh drafted the mono-Red plus Wasteland deck, and Kadar, whom I was passing to for the first and third packs, got the lion’s share of the insane amount of White cards going around the table. To give you an idea of how many White playables went around, I had to hate draft a Marshal’s Anthem thirteenth pick in the last pack. On the flip side, six drafters at the table were in Black to varying degrees, so my hope was to get matched up against the greedier decks and win through attrition.

Round 4: Joe—Esper Control
Yes! Joe got the Hallowed Fountain and Celestial Colonnade I so painstakingly passed when I was deciding between Grixis and Esper, but since his White picks were filtered by Kadar, I was feeling confident. We went to three games, one of which Joe took off of an unanswered Conundrum Sphinx and Crystal Ball combo, but in the other two, I resolved Chandra and protected her both times with endless Wraths to win through her ultimate.

4-0 matches, 8-2 games.

Round 5: Hugh—Mono Red Aggro
This was the match I was dreading, and the one that I went into knowing that I’d have my undefeated streak ended. Miraculously, I stole the first game by blowing out Hugh twice with Firespout and Infest, but I did not have the same amount of luck in the other two. Moreover, Hugh smartly sandbagged threats in the last game, waiting until I had no choice but to pull the trigger on Black Sun to commit to the board. That, and a Wolf Run with the Gruul Turf to activate it sealed the deal for Hugh.

4-1 matches, 9-4 games.

Round 6: Chase—Mono Black Control
This match turned my whole day upside down. Up until this point, I was doing well and feeling confident, but afterward, I was tilting so hard I felt dizzy and physically lost my balance on multiple occasions. I won’t pull any punches here: Chase’s deck was garbage. It was a combo deck with more pieces than Melira Pod: Bloodghast, Plagued Rusalka, Bloodflow Connoisseur, Falkenrath Noble, Lifeline. He had no discernible win-con aside from grinding people out with those cards, but he got me in three games off the back of turn three Phyrexian Arena, which my deck had absolutely no answer to, every single game. Even with multiple missed triggers, his hand was constantly a full grip, and I was never able to permanently get rid of Bloodghast with no way to interact with the graveyard. He also always had Falkenrath Noble, which made my Wrath effects absolutely horrible, and once he got the Lifeline engine online, we essentially stopped playing Magic. It was the most miserable experience of my Magic career, and the fact that I lost to that pile put me on one of the worst tilts I’ve ever had.

When Chase said “sorry” as I scooped up my cards, I lost it. I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend, but at the time, it was adding insult to injury, much in the same fashion of someone saying “I have no idea how I won that” after grinding out a victory. It’s demeaning to the other player, and is almost never sincere.

I told him to fuck off and immediately regretted it. Chase has been a loyal friend for many years, and despite all the shit that I give him to try to help him improve at the game, he made less egregious errors than I did and deserved the win. The play that locked it up for him was a misplay on my part when I bit the bullet at a precarious life total and cast Infest, thinking I’d wiped the board, only to realize that Chase’s Thrill-Kill Assassin was unleashed, and therefore survived to trigger Lifeline at the end of turn, and everything on his side came back.

I hated myself, I hated losing to that deck, and I hated that I cared. Looking around, what had been 16 smiling faces just hours prior had turned into a clusterfuck of furled brows, vacant stares and bottled emotions. We were supposed to be among friends, yet almost everyone wanted to rip each other’s heads off.

I spoke with Jess in between rounds. Cube, the format that we both pegged to be the most enjoyable out of the four for the weekend, turns out to be not so fun when there is quite literally a ton on the line. Again, I think things might have played out a lot differently if the prizes were kept under wraps. Sure, some might get antsy to find out, but when you don’t know what you stand to lose out on if you don’t do well, the pressure isn’t nearly as high. The human psyche is a fickle thing.

As it was, people had problems dealing with their losses (I was a big culprit here), not because of who they lost to, but because each loss pushed the top prizes away from them further and further—and I believe that each of the 16 of us, at some point during the weekend and to various extents, believed we were good enough to lay claim to those prizes. Moreover, the way we handled our losses showcased just how much growing up we still have to do, even as adults. Many players were guilty of this, but I’m not here to point any fingers. For my part, what I did was unacceptable. Chase is one of my closest friends, and I snapped at him over a game. A game that ranks at the very top of the things that I’m passionate about, but a game nonetheless. I apologized and we moved on.

At the end of the Cube rounds, I was 4-2 matches, 10-6 games.

***

Time for Standard. If I didn’t hate the format already, Atlantic City made me totally disillusioned. I decided that I would give up on trying to play decks that I liked only to lose miserably to the rest of the field. And so, with no shame and no regrets, I went back to RDW.

Deck: RDW

Counts : 60 main / 15 sideboard

Creatures:28
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Stonewright
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Ash Zealot
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Pyreheart Wolf
4 Hellrider
2 Thundermaw Hellkite

Spells:9
3 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
2 Brimstone Volley

Lands:23
2 Hellion Crucible
21 Mountain

Sideboard:15
1 Frostburn Weird
4 Mizzium Mortars
4 Thunderbolt
2 Volcanic Strength
2 Flames of the Firebrand
2 Archwing Dragon

Round 7: Kadar—Junk Reanimator
I actually considered playing my Seance build since it wins against the other Thragtusk decks without ever interacting, but I knew there would be a ton of aggro in the building (especially since GP AC unleashed that abomination of an Auras deck to the world, which I correctly predicted that the participants in the championship that don’t regularly play Constructed would instantly snap up) and decided against it. Kadar was running the Craterhoof deck with Lingering Souls, which gave my Ash Zealots some incidental value, but I drew poorly in games one and three and didn’t end up getting there. In game three, I mulled to six and kept: Mountain, Zealot, Zealot, Lightning Mauler, Pyreheart Wolf, Searing Spear. I drew one of my two Hellion Crucibles and never saw a third land, while Kadar curved out with Healers, Tusks and Angels. Though that’s the risk you take for playing a gimmick deck like RDW.

4-3 matches, 11-8 games.

Round 8: Chase—Naya Humans
A chance at redemption. I knew Chase’s deck inside out, both because we test together often, and because I can always blindly assume his deck would contain four Champion of the Parish and four Mayor of Avabruck and be correct 95% of the time. I lost game one after Chase stabilized with a Huntmaster as I ran out of gas. I topdecked a Hellkite only to get it Selesnya Charmed. Game two was much more lopsided in my favor. I drew better and ended the game at 20 life. Game three was a nailbiter. I could only get Chase down to ten life before he flipped his Huntmaster to instantly stabilize. The board state eventually came down to me at 1 life with a Cackler and 6 lands on the board, with a Thunderbolt, a Searing Spear and a Hellkite in hand. Chase was at ten life, and had already swung in with his Pilgrim and Ravager while holding back his Mayor. I tanked hard as he passed it back to me.

The first question I asked myself was whether I wanted to use both burn spells. They would bring him to four life, but his Huntmaster would flip back and get him back up to six. With only a Rootbound Crag untapped, the way was clear for me to slam Hellkite on my turn, but I would need a 1CMC burn spell off the top to win, or else I just lose. And knowing I had only two Pillar of Flame in my deck after sideboarding, it wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. So the hope now was to Thunderbolt him to seven at the end of his turn and topdeck a land so I could get him with Hellkite and Searing Spear.

I went with that line and sent the Thunderbolt to Chase’s dome. I untapped my ugly Mountains—the ones I purposefully used over my nice Zendikar full art lands as a statement of how little I cared for Standard—and drew for turn. Flames of the Firebrand. There was no way for me to deal five with Hellkite and then burn him out. The only way I could win was if Chase pulled a Finkel and chose not to block my Cackler, and then I could burn him out.

“Combat. Attack with Cackler.”

A long pause.

“No blocks.”

“Go to five. Flames and Spear for game.”

As it turned out, Chase was playing around Morbid Brimstone, which was again a two-of in the deck, but he wasn’t to know, especially in a high pressure situation like that.

And with that, I ended the first day at 5-3 matches, 12-7 games. I was in third, behind Dana (X-1) and Hugh (X-2), and ahead of a rabid pack of X-3s based on tiebreakers.

***

Fast forward to day two. I had a great late night meal in Chinatown with a bunch of the players, got a good night’s sleep, and came into it feeling much better. There would be one more round of Standard and three rounds of RTR draft before a cut to top four.

Round 9: Richard—Esper Control
I had played Richard earlier in the week at TNM. The matchup is very much lopsided toward me. Esper’s mana is clunky, and only plays a few Augur of Bolas as far as I’m aware of, which my deck can easily punish should he stumble. I lost a game when I got stuck on three lands and got locked out by Tamiyo, but fairly effortlessly won the other two by curving out, even through a Wrath and multiple removal spells in the third game.

6-3 matches, 14-8 games.

***

I was well positioned going into the draft portion. I was third still behind Hugh and Dana, both at X-2, and ahead of Dave, who was the only other X-3, and a bunch of X-4s. The draft pods were broken down in a similar fashion to the Cube pod, with the top eight in one pod and the rest in another. Joining myself, Hugh, Dana and Dave were Chase, Johnny, Richard and Kadar.

I opened my pack and took Gore-House Chainwalker as my first pick. The pack also had a Dramatic Rescue and an Azorius Charm, but I took the Red card as it was the only card in that color in the pack, whereas the Blue seemed to be the color to fight after with Inaction Injunction and Tower Drake also in the pack. From there, the Black and Red was decently open in both directions, and I opened a Mizzium Mortars in the second pack, so I settled on Rakdos. The deck wasn’t insane, but felt very consistent with multiple Daggerdrome Imp and two Deviant Glee and a Pursuit of Flight to stick on them. I also had two each of the bread and butter three drops in Dead Reveler and Splatter Thug. I splashed Blue for a Mercurial Chemister, which was passed to me in the last pack. I picked up two Goblin Rally and hoped to table a Dynacharge, but it was snapped up by Chase, also in Rakdos two seats to my right.

Round 10: Hugh—GBw
Hugh’s deck was absurd. Daggerdrome Imp, Rubbleback Rhino and four (four!) Sluiceway Scorpion. I was able to take a game off of overloading Mortars, but couldn’t get there in the other two. In game three, I played an on-curve Mercurial Chemister and pitched a Splatter Thug to kill Hugh’s Imp before it got out of hand with Scorpion scavenges, but he had the Avenging Arrow to get my Chemister in return. From there, he kept mounting pressure and raced me with Volatile Rig. When it became apparent that I could not get triple Red for Mortars, Hugh committed the two Scorpions he was sandbagging to stop my lethal backswing and kill me the turn after.

6-4 matches, 15-10 games.

The loss threw me into the pits with the other hungry X-4s. Dana lost, bringing her to X-3, but it was Dave who beat her, meaning the standings now looked like:

  1. Hugh (X-2)
  2. Dana (X-3)
  3. Dave (X-3)
  4. Myself (X-4) on breakers

I needed to win out to guarantee a spot.

Round 11: Kadar—UWR
Kadar was X-5 and basically out of contention, but we talked it over and decided that it’d be a shitty thing to do to have him scoop to me, since it’d be unfair to everyone else. At a larger tournament, sure, but this was a competition between peers. No shenanigans.

Kadar’s tempo control build was a big pain for me, since Lobber Crew and Frostburn Weird block my dudes all day. He stalled until he dropped Archon of the Triumvirate in game one, and almost did it again in game two had he not misplayed and forgot to give a blocker flying with New Prahv Guildmage when I came in for lethal with a flying Dead Reveler via Pursuit of Flight. The misplay made way for game three, in which I got off to a super aggressive start with Daggerdrome Imp and Dead Reveler, both with a Deviant Glee. The game was over quickly, and my hopes were kept alive.

7-4 matches, 17-11 games.

Dana had lost her R11, bringing her to X-4. Over in the other pod, which progressed faster than ours, they had actually finished up their R12, and Brook ended up winning out his pod to finish at X-4 as well. Dave, who won his R11, was paired with Hugh for the last round, and if Hugh won that, Dave might get squeezed out since his breakers were awful (Opp. Match Win % of 38% compared to 56% of myself and 60% of Dana and Hugh). In the end, a lot of scenarios could play out, but only one mattered for me: win and in.

Round 12: Johnny—GWb
It was surprising to me that Hugh got so many Golgari cards since Johnny was in the same color combination, but it soon became apparent that Johnny was base Selesnya with all the combat tricks in the world. In the second game, Johnny showed me three Swift Justice in a row, but I powered through with double Goblin Rally and a Pursuited Imp. In game three, however, with everything on the line, I chose to pluck the tricks out of Johnny’s hand by brute forcing it, rather than playing around them, and he had it every time. The game was not close, and while I don’t think it was a complete punt (what was I going to do, not attack with unleashed Rakdos guys?), I passed up on the chance to be in control of my own destiny, and was left to see how everyone else did.

Dave beat Hugh, meaning they were both locked for top four. Dana lost, thereby locking in Brook. The final spot would be between myself, Johnny, and Dana, all at X-5. Luis read off the standings and used his patented slow-roll techniques to keep the suspense up, but I saw the writing on the wall already. Dana went into the draft with a better record and better breakers, and came out of it with a tied record but still better breakers. The margin was razor thin—her 60.03% or something similar to my 59 and change—but in the end, I was the one on the receiving end of a dreamcrush. But if anyone was to get in over me, I was glad it was Dana. I correctly pegged her and Hugh to be in the top four before the weekend began, as they are two of the most well rounded and robust players in the league. My other two picks were Jess and Dylan, and while that didn’t pan out, my opinions of them remain the same.

After 12 rounds, I finished in fifth place, 7-5 matches, 18-13 games.

***

What a ride. The first and probably the last store championship. It was the brainchild of Luis and Lauren, but we turned it into the beast that it was. It was our pain, our pride, our pleasure. The system wasn’t perfect, both how the scoring worked during the season and how the top half and bottom half pod system during the championship incidentally caused “the rich to get richer” in terms of breakers as the round progressed. But those are minor details, and as a fighting game veteran, I’m familiar with the phrase “don’t put yourself in that situation.” Yes, I was narrowly squeezed out of the top four on breakers, and yes, Dana had a bit of an advantage having played top finisher Hugh three times throughout the event whereas I only had two opportunities, but guess what, it was my fault for not winning when it mattered. Like I said, Dave went into the draft with abysmal breakers and ended up second going into the top four; and Brook wasn’t even in the top pod for the draft, but by X-0ing that portion, he broke out from the bottom half and earned his place in the final four.

And, at the end of the day, the tournament wasn’t a right, it was a privilege. And I for one am honored to have taken part in it.

Looking forward about the possibility of another season, there have been arguments for and against it going away, and while it’s very apparent in how miserable it made all of us both in getting to the championship and during it, we only felt that way because we knew we could do better. The league upped the stakes and made everyone bring their A-game to each event. I certainly feel that I’ve grown as a player because of this, and would like to thank Luis, Lauren, and all 15 other participants for making this possible. It’s not up to us whether there will be another season, but if I were ever to be asked whether I’d want to do it again, the answer would be a resounding “yes!”

Once more, with feeling: thank you, everyone, for everything.

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Comments
6 Responses to “Pondering—Twenty Sided Store Championship”
  1. thejlina says:

    It was pretty fucking cool. If it happens again, I think I’d like to see half the people in each pod switch after each event. Like, the top four of each pod become pod A, and the bottom four of each pod become pod 1. Something like that. Just because I think the churn would be good, and then maybe we’d end up playing the same people fewer times? I know James was fucking tired of playing me by the end of Sunday.

  2. David McCoy says:

    I have to say it was a fun weekend. I was definitely disappointed not to get to play everybody–I played Matt, Zach, and Brook twice each, but didn’t get to play you, Li.

    If people were interested in doing something similar again, I’m sure there is a way players/regulars could organize something, though probably nothing as amazing as what Luis and Lauren put together.

    • Matt Jones says:

      I’d be down with doing another thing like this if the formats are Standard, Modern, Legacy, and current set draft. I will never play pauper or cube again unless there are lives on the line. HA!

      • David McCoy says:

        Haha, I understand your dislike of Cube, but Legacy seems like it would be really hard to include in any non-legacy tournament. It is, in my mind, the hardest/most expensive format to put a deck together for, thus severely limiting the number of people who can play it.

        Cube, on the other hand, is mostly free.

      • thejlina says:

        Eh, just play Burn or Dredge. Neither one of those decks is more expensive than a playset of Hellkites.

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