Grindin': A Charlotte Open Weekend Report
Over the past four months, I’ve helped organize seven Open Weekends. I’ve also judged at three Grands Prix, a Prerelease, a Regional Nationals Qualifier (surely, there’s a better way to describe it than this), and quite probably some other tournaments about which I’ve forgotten completely. On any given month, the weekends I give to Magic (by way of my job) outnumber the weekends I give to anything else three to one. By the end of 2011, I will have completed an event schedule which I can only describe as insane.
Weekends at home are extremely rare, and equally valuable. While I’m fortunate to travel frequently and see so much of the country – including a two-week, cross-country trip from Philadelphia to Seattle and then back to Roanoke last year – there are only so many fast food meals and hotel beds I can endure before I become an insufferable curmudgeon.
April was a very busy month: I worked at Grand Prix Dallas, Atlanta Regionals, and the Boston Open. After all that, I finally had an empty weekend; surely, it would make sense to stay at home and relax! So, of course, I decided to pack up my things and drive down to Charlotte to compete in the Open.
That said, there were extenuating circumstances or, better-said, extenuating people involved: my friend Matt (and his awesome girlfriend, Kelly) accompanied me to Atlanta two weekends previous to work at the Regional Qualifier there, and when he expressed interest in judging at Charlotte, and an aversion to going by himself, I saw an opportunity to reciprocate Matt’s gracious companionship while also indulging myself in some Magic-related shenanigans.
Additionally, the Legacy Open would be Head-Judged by another good friend of mine: Jason Reedy. Jason and I have worked together for the entirety of his involvement in the judge program. I helped prepare him for his Level One certification, and he took his (successful) Level Two exam on my living room table. Watching him Head Judge an Open was a point of personal pride – when he was introduced to the player base, my clapping and whooping may have been a bit conspicuous, but I didn’t really care.
After deciding to go, I had to pick a deck. My unfamiliarity with strong play led me to believe that I’d be best served by playing non-interactive decks that required me to focus more on my own plays, while conveniently ignoring those of my opponent. I flirted with the prospect of playing Caw-Blade in Standard, but dismissed this on the basis of my aversion to a day of playing the mirror. (Strangely enough, I did not play against a single Caw-Blade deck over nine rounds of Swiss.) Instead, I chose to play Gerry Thompson’s Valakut list. Gerry is a master of iterative deck design, and much of my success on Saturday came from having such an excellent list from which to work.
In Legacy, I picked Dredge. As combo decks go, Dredge satisfies the non-interactive requirement, and also tends to exploit the metagame’s unwillingness (or inability) to adequately prepare for it. I don’t think I faced a single deck throughout the Legacy Open where I felt I had an unfavorable matchup. Unfavorable players, perhaps, but that comes later.
In a formulaic tournament report, I’d start telling you about the rounds I played and the opponents I faced. This is not that kind of report. I had only three games on the weekend that I consider noteworthy:
In the second round of the Standard Open, I played a friendly guy named Joe. Joe was with Pyromancer’s Ascension. Having tested the deck myself on MTGO, I knew that it was a solid deck, but I felt comfortable in my chances of success. I took the first game, despite my best efforts to give it away, on the back of Raging Ravine.
For the second game, I kept a greedy (two lands, plus Overgrown Battlement, Lotus Cobra, a Summoning Trap, etc.) hand in hopes of drawing out of it. I led off with Lotus Cobra, which dutifully took a Lightning Bolt to the face on my end step. (This was a recurring theme throughout the Standard Open, such that I openly wondered if Lotus Cobra’s Oracle text had been errata’d to allow my opponents to Tutor for a Bolt – or some other kill spell – immediately.) On the following turn, I ripped a second Summoning Trap. Still stuck on two land, I ran out Overgrown Battlement. My opponent paused for a moment, then tapped down to cast Mana Leak. I calmly put my leafy Defender in the graveyard, and then flipped over my first Summoning Trap. Seeing two Titans of the Primeval variety, and a third of the Inferno variety, I opted for the big red monster and flopped him onto the battlefield. My opponent was obviously displeased, but not nearly so much as when I flipped over the second Trap. Absent any Titans or Avengers, the best my deck offered was an Oracle of Mul Daya. Not quite the monstrosity I was looking for, but still enough to take the match.
I ended up going 6-3 on the day at the Standard Open. I’m pretty sure I gave away my round four match (at 2-1, after receiving a tardiness-related match win in round three) by leading with the wrong Titan when I knew my opponent had countermagic, but otherwise, I was happy with how I played.
My performance in the Legacy Open was stronger, an outcome which I attribute largely to the metagame’s vulnerability to Dredge. Despite a player base largely unprepared to face my deck, I still gave away games and matches that I shouldn’t have lost.
In Round Three, I played a young man named Chess. Though I didn’t ask outright, I’d say Chess was no older than seventeen, and he was with Goblins. The hand he kept in game one, I suspect, was weak, and he was noticeably disheartened when I opened on a first turn Tireless Tribe, discarding one of my Dredge enablers. This expression of disappointment was a common refrain from opponents throughout the day. I managed to lock him under Iona, Shield of Emeria and, after beating him with that a few times, we were on to game two.
In game two, I kept an absurd hand: Gemstone Mine, Tireless Tribe, Cephalid Coliseum, Careful Study, Breakthrough, Putrid Imp, and Golgari Grave-Troll. By the time all was said and done, I’d dropped more than thirty cards into my graveyard, including multiple Cabal Therapies, and was able to swing for forty-eight points of damage (fifteen zombies plus Flame-Kin Zealot) on the second turn. It was amazing.
At 2-1 (winning my first round against G/W Aggro and punting round two to Tezzeret Affinity), I bashed through my next two opponents with minimal fuss. It was clear to me that the format was weak to Dredge, and I was one of only three players (out of more than two hundred) playing it.
Sitting on a bench in the smoking area while my buddy Phil indulged, I told him that I was going to Top Eight. I felt invincible. Spying Edgar Flores and Gerry Thompson chatting and smoking a bit away, I bragged to Phil that there were only two players in the whole tournament who could stop me, and they were both standing over there. I knew I was bragging, but I also knew that I had to maintain that mindset if I was actually going to succeed.
My Round Six pairing – and my first-ever Feature Match! – proved that God has a sense of humor:
5 Sabin Nicholas B (12) Bertoncini Alex S (12)
Yeah. That Alex Bertoncini. Reigning Open Series Player of the Year. Top Eight mainstay. As I remarked to him at the beginning of our match, I may have typed up his decklist something like fifty times by now. Earlier conversations with Legacy guru Drew Levin indicated that the Merfolk matchup was favorable to me; I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alex run a Legacy list that didn’t start with four Coralhelm Commander. Still, the discrepancy in our ratings was somewhere near three-hundred points, and not in my favor.
Game one was a back-and-forth affair where I didn’t properly play around Alex’s countermagic. As a result, I had to eke out small advantages rather than running him over in a single turn. Against stronger players, this is suboptimal: I don’t want to give Alex six turns to beat me; I want him to have one, if that.
The game came down to Alex’s combat phase, where he was able to alpha strike such that I had to win on the following turn. When I untapped, Alex was at eleven life, and I had a Putrid Imp, a Narcomoeba, and four Zombies ready to be turned sideways. My graveyard was filled with Dread Returns and Cabal Therapies, and I held the Flame-Kin Zealot that was going to get me there. Pitching it to my Putrid Imp, I immediately flashed back Dread Return and looked expectantly at Alex. In the back of my mind, I was aware of the possible Force of Will in his grip – Could he have it? Guess I gotta find out. – and when he announced “Force”, all I could do was nod a terse “game two”, and pick up my cards.
It was then that Alex pointed out that I had the kill on board. Sure enough, eleven points was lethal, I had it, and I missed it. I gave a game away to a player against whom I could certainly not afford to punt. While considering sideboard options in my head, I proceeded to do as many players have done since the advent of competitive Magic: I went on tilt.
On the play, I managed to take game two by sticking an early Iona, backed by a few zombies. Good enough, but the match should have been over. I should have been able to capitalize on the matchup, tune out the distractions, and just win. I should have played tighter and more slowly. I should have seen the correct play when it was staring me in the face.
Coulda woulda shoulda didn’t damn.
When Alex opened game three with Cursecatchers on the first two turns, I knew I was in trouble. The Relic of Progenitus he landed a turn or two later – the only one in his entire 75 – would have been bad enough if my head was still in the game, and I was proactively looking for ways to beat him. It wasn’t. I tried to play around it and, when I lost a moderate portion of my graveyard to said Relic, I tried to play through it, but it was no good. At no point was I actually in the game. Instead, I was back on the final turn of game one, beating myself up for my error.
I strongly considered dropping after that match, but stuck it out for one more round and won – this time, against another Merfolk deck – to finish the day at 5-2. By that point, my ride was ready to go home, and I was ready to leave. Prolonging the process and making my friends wait for me to go runner-runner on wins in order to possibly make Top Sixteen was a suboptimal plan, and I dropped with no regrets.
I’m not saying I don’t like my chances, in retrospect.
The only drawback to this whole weekend of Magic-related shenanigans is that I enjoyed myself so much that I want to do it again. I’m looking at the Open Series schedule and seeing where I could get away, what I could afford to attend, and how I might loop such a trip into my end-of-the-year goal of locking up Gold status with US Airways. Trying to mise frequent flier miles is a lot like live-action World of Warcraft, but I digress. Actually competing in a Magic tournament was an awesome and useful experience, and I look forward to doing it again soon.