Stepping Up

So folks who sometimes stop by this little corner of the interwebs may have seen that over the past year and change I’ve gone back to an old pasttime – Magic:The Gathering (or Magic:The Addiction). I started playing again at LibertyCon because Brandon Sanderson invited me to a draft with him, and I had a blast, remembering how much I enjoyed the game all those years ago. That was the first step. Then I found a local game shop that I really like, and it was all downhill from there. I’ve spent a piece of almost every week since slinging cards, trading cards, and generally nerding out over chunks of cardboard.

For those that have never played, Magic is kinda like a blend of poker, chess and Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a collectible strategic card game set in a fantasy environment with awesome art and lots of smart marketing. And I’m totally hooked. I’ve primarily focused on my Limited play since coming back to the game (Limited is when you take a set of new packs of cards, open them and build a deck from what you find there). I enjoy Limited because the playing field is pretty level, and I can fall back on my game theory and understanding to lead me to some modicum of success. I’m a decent Limited player, but most of the major tournaments are Constructed format (Constructed is when you build a competitive deck from all the cards you own or can borrow and bring that to the tournament), so I decided about a month ago that it was time to step up my Constructed game.

In Magic there are two main ways to build a deck – homebrew something that you think will be awesome, or go on the internet and get the deck list from last week’s major tournament winner. After a year and change of homebrewing without real success, I moved on to Plan B and built a Mono-Black (with a splash of white) deck. I splashed white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, because it has protection from white and black, which makes it very difficult for many decks to deal with. Once it resolves, it’s going to give a lot of people a lot of problems.

Last weekend was a Star City Games Super Invitational Qualifier tournament at Be There Games in Indian Trail. It’s not far from my house, and I’d heard good things about their events, and a bunch of my friends were going, so I decided to give it a shot. I got there and started to register my deck (bigger tournaments have you list the cards in your deck and then do random deck checks to fight cheating) and took a little advice from my friend Joe. Joe has had a lot of tournament success recently, winning two major events this year, so I listen to his advice. I was running one Prophetic Prism so that when I stole a card with my Nightveil Specter I could cast it no matter what. Joe suggested I cut that, because I’ll often pull land with the Specter and be able to cast the card anyway. That allowed me to add one more Blood Baron, upping the threat level of the deck considerably.

Unfortunately I had no answer for the other glaring error Joe pointed out in my deck. When I was tweaking things I cut back on my white mana sources from eight to four. I cut the Godless Shrines and kept the Temples of Silence, which meant that there could be times I was going to have mana troubles. I took a live and learn attitude to this mistake and hoped it wouldn’t screw me too badly. It didn’t crush me, but definitely ended up being relevant.

Round 1 – I played against a very nice guy from Atlanta (which set my tone for the whole day – all my opponents were very cool, which made the day way better) who was playing a Mono-red aggro deck. This deck feels on the surface like a terrible matchup for me, and in fact I had play-tested with Taco in a small tournament the week before and got my ass kicked by his mono-red deck. My Round 1 opponent had a couple of rough draws, but was still able to get some early threats on board, but I managed to push through his pile of early attackers and bad draws and beat him down 2-0 (Magic tournament matches are best of three).

Round 2 – Another nice dude, one of the other oldest guys in the room (he even had a few years on me). His name was Stephen, and he was playing a white weenie deck (lots of small creatures that kill with a swarming strategy). He couldn’t get anything going and once I resolved a Blood Baron (which has protection from white so he had no answers for it) it was pretty much game over. Game 2 I think I killed him with a swarm of Pack Rats. 2-0 and I was feeling pretty good about my deck and myself.

Then I got to Round 3, and found out what a problem my deck could be when I played a mirror match (a mirror match is what happens when two players piloting the same deck get matched up against each other). And my opponent had a lot more tournament experience than me, and more experience with the deck, and had better draws to boot. So a better player with more experience and better draws beat me in less than fifteen minutes out of the fifty-minute round. I was still in the running at 2-1, but couldn’t afford to lose another match.

Round 4 I clashed with Chris, another nice dude from Augusta. I don’t remember what his deck was, but I remember they were very good matches. Beating him was far from easy, with back-and-forth matches and the first time all day I went to Game 3. We were 1-1 going into Game 3 and it was going to come down to who got their deck going first. I got the advantage and took down the match, but don’t remember any of the details of the match.

Round 5 should have been better than it was, but I got stuck in the mirror match again, against a better player again, with more experience again, and got my ass kicked again.

Since I was eliminated from contention for Top 8 and major prizes (major for Magic, but first place was $400, which is a good day no matter how you look at it) I went ahead and dropped out of the tournament and entered a booster draft. Back in my Limited comfort zone I went 3-0 to win the booster draft and redeem myself a little for the day.

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