Part 1: Preamble
I was one of the 124 Vintage players who battled in the Power 9 Series this year. Any large paper Vintage event is special, but this one was particularly important to me: this fall I’m turning 30 and having my first kid. With that, a lot of my life is in flux, not least of all my relationship with Magic. I don’t know the extent to which I’ll still get to travel to large Magic tournaments any more, so I’d built SCGCon up in my head as a last hurrah, and a chance to prove myself on the competitive field.
Luckily, I wasn’t going alone: fellow Lone Star Lhurgoyf teammates Ben, Mike, and Patrick all made the trip to Virginia with me. Flights from Austin to Roanoke aren’t cheap, so we arranged to fly into Raleigh and drive from there. We’ve all done these team trips before, and they’re often the most enjoyable and memorable Magic experiences you can have.
SCGCon was structured such that if you make Day 2 of the Power 9 Series, you can’t play in the Duel for Duals Legacy tournament the next day. Likewise, our flights home on Sunday meant that Top 8ing the Duel for Duals might not be viable, so I decided I’d put all my focus and mental energy into Vintage.
I’ve been playing White Eldrazi since I bought power last summer. While it’s my only sanctioned deck and I love it, I had a few other options to consider:
- Shops: Patrick was on Paradoxical and could have leant me his Workshops.
- TPS: Ben was on Shops and could have leant me his Blue Power.
- Dredge: Ben could have leant me his Bazaars.
However, one of the few competitive maxims I follow is, “Play What You Know.” I had the most reps with White Eldrazi, and felt that I’d either be a competent pilot of it, or a bad pilot of my other options. Likewise, the deck didn’t look too badly positioned going into the event! For planning’s sake, I’d boiled down the meta to five contenders:
- Ravager Shops: bad matchup
- Paradoxical Mentor: roughly even matchup
- Xerox: good matchup
- Oath: good-to-great matchup (depending on their build)
- Dredge: great matchup
I felt that my 60 could naturally carry me in four of these five, and that if either dodged Shops or stacked my board against it, I might OK. Making these decisions depends on your goals, really. If my goal was to win the tournament, I should have just played Shops. However, my goal was to place well (i.e. Top 32, or cash, or whatever). With that, I was comfortable with the idea of hoping to dodge Shops.
I’ve been happy with my maindeck for a while, but spent a few weeks agonizing over the board. Here’s the 75 I landed on:
3 Containment Priest
4 Thalia 1.0
3 Thalia 2.0
3 Eldrazi Displacer
1 Sol Ring
1 Stony Silence
2 Null Rod
Part 2: The Trip
Wednesday was a non-Magic day for me. I was up early to get some work done and run a few errands, then flew into Raleigh, where I was spending the night with my college buddy, Greg, who’d moved there a few years ago. He wasn’t out of work when my flight landed, so I Ubered to the Glass Jug, a brewery in Durham, and had a few beers. After I’d gotten a small buzz going, he and his wife picked me up and took me to a hipster bar, Parts & Labor, where we had some IPAs and kimchi poutine. From there we went to an Ethiopian place for dinner. The food was great, though it set in motion some tract issues that would later be exacerbated by a weekend’s worth of stereotypical Magic food. We finished the night with some drinks at a hotel roof bar, and then went back to their house to hang out with their cats and watch some shitty British sci fi show.
In the morning Greg and I got chicken and waffles before he went to work. I had a few hours to kill before the other Goyfs got in, so I hung out at Greg’s house and took care of some work emails.
Ben got in at noon, and we met at the Glass Jug and spent the afternoon drinking, eating Chinese, and jamming Vintage games. Patrick and Mike landed a little before 4:00. They picked up the rental car and met us at Glass Jug; after a quick beer we hit the road to Roanoke. We made a pit stop for Taco Bell and then got into town around 7:00. Ben and Patrick hung out at our Airbnb while Mike and I made a run to Kroger for beer and basic supplies. We were all tired and decided to stay in, tune our decks, watch Rich Shay streams, and drink beers until midnight.
Part 3: The Power 9 Series
I woke up early to the news that Anthony Bourdain had died, which was strange. After everyone was up and had showered, I put on my Tobasco socks (I always wear graphic socks when I play Vintage), we got McDonald’s breakfast, and headed to the convention center. We were early and not allowed in yet, so we hung around the outside patio and sweated.
Caffeine count: 1
Once we were let in, I found a vendor selling Dragon Shields and resleeved my deck; I’m never sure if it’s important to do so, but it’d be dumb to get a game loss for something like old sleeves. I still had some time before the tournament started, so I went to get my buddy’s Show & Tells signed by Jeff Laubenstein. I also picked up a Show & Tell playmat as a prize for a future Vintage event:
At 10:00 we all sat down for the players’ meeting, and learned that there’d be 124 of us competing. I don’t know what kind of numbers Starcity expected, but for me, this was great: as someone who gets to play Sanctioned Vintage maybe twice a year, my standards are pretty low!
Not long thereafter Round 1 kicked off, and the tournament was underway.
Round 1: Nick on Powered Colorless Eldrazi
- Game 1: This wasn’t much of a game: his Endless Ones and Ballistas went bigger than my dudes.
- Game 2: Nick got in some good damage, but I assembled Displacer/Priest and took over the board.
- Game 3: I kept a Lotus opener that was ruined by his turn 1 Chalice for 0. From there, my lifepad shows 20 > 13> 6 > dead.
So, an inauspicious start to my day. As you’d expect from an Eldrazi mirror, my round was over quickly. Rather than scout the field, I had Ken Meyer sign my Dark Rituals and then got a coffee.
Caffeine count: 2
Round 2: Joel on Combo Oath
- Game 1: Joel led off on turn 1 Orchard + Oath. I did not keep a Containment Priest hand and saw Griselbrand next turn. I didn’t scoop, so he Oathed into Emrakul and showed me a Hive Mind along the way. Having established that it was not Inferno Oath, I scooped.
- Game 2: I had the straight anti-Oath nuts, and he didn’t get to play Magic.
- Game 3: I had the straight anti-Oath nuts again, and he didn’t get to play Magic.
I checked in with my teammates between rounds, and both Ben and I were 1-1. Ben joked that we’ll get paired next round, and we both laughed heartily.
Round 3: Ben on Ravager Shops
- Game 1: This is why you don’t joke about getting paired against your friends. Ben and I have tested this matchup extensively, and it’s garbage. I didn’t bother taking real notes because Ben stomped me.
- Game 2: I brought in 12 sideboard cards, and for a bit I thought I was holding him off – I made a quick Kataki and Revoker-on-Ballista. However, I bricked on lands for forever, Ben played out fatties while Wastelanding me, and eventually he ground me out.
At this point, I assumed the tournament was effectively over for me. I always try to play out the event regardless, so I wasn’t going to drop, but I did readjust my mindset and try to not care.
Again, with my round going so fast I had some free time, so I got Pete Venters to do some signatures and Mark Tedin to alter my Sol Ring.
Round 4: Dave on Paradoxical Oath
- Game 1: Dave and I were both in the losers’ brackets, and I think it showed in our demeanor. Still, I landed double Revoker to lock him out of mana and kill him before he ever got anywhere.
- Game 2: A first turn Lotus draw turns my mediocre hand into turn 1 Glowrider + Cage, turn 2 TKS. Completely absurd.
Round 5: David on Dredge
- Game 1: I did not keep a hand meant for Dredge, and did essentially nothing.
- Game 2: This was a tight one – I kept a 2 lander with Displacer and Priest. David did not get his engine online or answer the Priest in time, though, so I got there off the fair beats.
- Game 3: I quickly got down Cage, Priest, and Glowrider to lock it up.
Two wins in a row is a good way to reenergize! I was still pretty sure I was out of contention, but it’s less draining than the win-one, lose-one exchange I’d started the day on.
Round 6: Josh on RB Daretti
- Game 1: This is the one match in which I definitely played like ass. I kept a Lotus + Temple opener thinking it made 5 mana, then once the game started, I realized it was 4 mana and my sequencing got all out of whack. Josh led on Badlands into DRS, so I put him on Jund. A quick TKS did a lot of work, but eventually he stabilized at 2 life with triple DRS, Daretti, and Liliana.
- Game 2: I went turn 1 TKS to turn 2 TKS and he scooped.
- Game 3: Josh made a turn 1 Karn, Scion that I could never beat.
Picking up my third loss was rough, as it meant I effectively had to win out to make day 2, let alone top 8. Fortunately, I remembered to energize, so I got myself a concession-stand brat and a Dr Pepper before the next round.
Caffeine count: 3
Round 7: Ro on BUG
- Game 1: Ro’s a Houston guy I met earlier that morning, and knew he was on BUG. I never like to beat a fellow Texan, but I felt good sitting down against a known BUG opponent. I didn’t bother taking notes, because this matchup is dogshit for BUG and it played out that way.
- Game 2: Same deal.
The easy win felt nice, but this deep into the day I was starting to crash pretty hard. I got another brat and sat around feeling sorry for myself that I chose competitive Magic as a hobby.
Round 8: James on Stax
- Game 1: James was on the play, said, “This is either gonna be great against you or awful,” and went Workshop, Crucible, go. I countered with a Turn 1 Smasher. He never really got anything going in time to beat it; not many decks can.
- Game 2: Turn 1 Big Thalia did all the work for me, here. James was 1 step behind every turn, and even a Tabernacle couldn’t catch him up.
It was an ugly day, but I just barely squeezed into Day 2 at 5-3. Unfortunately, I was the only Goyf to make it; despite crushing me in the early rounds Ben had finished 4-4, while Patrick’s record was even worse. As a result he stuck around to play the Vintage challenge, while the rest of us called it quits for the day.
Ben, Mike, Ro, and I drove to our Airbnb to drop off cards, then called an Uber to take us back out. Our driver, Willy, was a Roanoke enthusiast who redirected us from the bar we’d googled to Bick Lick Brewery. There, we ordered pizzas and drank beers until they closed at 10:00 and Patrick met us. From there we walked to a bar where, we’d heard, all the artists would be hanging out. We didn’t see any, but had a few more beers before getting home around midnight.
Day 2 didn’t start for me until noon, but as my Airbnbuddies were playing in the Duel For Duals we were all up by 8:00. Mike was in pain from the beer and food, but the rest of us felt fine! After a quick shower I put on my Lebowski socks and we got another McDonald’s breakfast.
Caffeine count: 1
At this point, I should mention the convention center’s bathroom situation. In a building hosting several thousand large, nerdy men, there were roughly half a dozen stalls available. My teammates and I all suffered for this on Day 2, as the beer and diet of processed meat caught up with us. If I can fault any aspect of the weekend, it’s that.
With the downtime before Day 2 started, I thought I’d check out the vendors to see if anyone could entice me to be irresponsible with my money. Unfortunately, there were only four vendors in the hall, none of whom had the odd things I’m in the market for (Japanese cards, Beta goblins, etc). I’d brought my Pauper deck with me – for some reason I thought I might want to play a 6:30 Pauper Turbo event that night – so I goldfished that while listening to Tyler, the Creator and Wiki. Then I got a concession-stand coffee and watched Mike and Patrick get stomped in their first round of the Duel For Duals.
Caffeine count: 2
Towards noon I headed over the to Vintage corner of the room to wait for pairings. I saw a few friendly faces – Sean (of Team Tusk) and Greg (who wrecked Ben in round 8 yesterday) and chatted with them. When pairings were announced, I saw Sean’s name next to mine and didn’t know how to feel: I’d beaten Stax handily yesterday, but Sean’s a good player who took down a Goyf the last time he got paired against one. Certainly a lot riding on this one!
Round 9: Sean on Stax
- Game: 1: Sean seemed to feel this was a bad matchup for him, and the cards didn’t disagree. I made a quick Thalia and Glowrider, and he never really got to cast anything.
- Game 2: A quick Thalia and Priest ran up against Tabernacle, but I always had mana to pay. Meanwhile, Sean had double Tomb with no follow up, so the game ended pretty quickly. Lhurgoyfs ascendant.
Taking down an intimidating first round felt great. With plenty of time to spare, I got another coffee and listened to No Quarter to keep the high going.
Caffeine count: 3
Round 10: Marland on Paradoxical Karn
- Game 1: You know that good feeling I just mentioned? That ended abruptly when I mulled to 4 and Marland made a turn 1 Karn.
- Game 2: I mulled to 5 and Marland made a turn 1 Karn. I managed to Revoker the Karn, but it didn’t matter: the Construct he left behind was bigger than any creature in my deck.
At this point, I didn’t know what to feel, and I was pretty sure I was out of Top 8 contention. Still, I only had 3 rounds left in the day, so I knew I had to play it out to see where I landed; as long I could pick up one more win, I’d at least finish the event with a positive record. To that end I put on some Danny Brown and tried to get my head in the game.
Round 11: David on Paradoxical Oath
- Game 1: Besides Revokering Top, I did absolutely nothing while David drew a million cards. I was not super happy to be facing another Paradoxical deck, until David played out an Orchard and I knew I’d be OK.
- Game 2: I opened with Lotus, Ancient Tomb, Glowrider, Priest. So that’s that.
- Game 3: Over the first few turns I made a Priest, Cage, Revoker (on a Mox) and Wastelanded one of his few lands. He desperation Timetwistered, passed, and I drew a hand that let me double TKS.
I was feeling pretty good about picking up that “gets-me-a-positive-record” win. Remembering that energy is important, I got two brats before the next round started.
Round 12: Chris on UWR Xerox
- Game 1: I thought I’d seen Chris on Xerox, and when he mulled to 5 I was pretty sure I’d be fine. Yep – all the Thorn effects were way too good.
- Game 2: I was doing already doing the White Eldrazi thing pretty well and had Chris down to 12 when he punted a Snapcaster into my Thalia, forgetting that she has first strike. It was all over after that.
So now I was in an interesting spot: while I was still sure I couldn’t Top 8, I was in the Top 16 range. Fortunately, Patrick and Ben were done with their events and got in my corner. Patrick got me a coffee and gave me a quick shoulder rub, then I scouted the tables to get a good idea of what everyone was on. Once I felt confident I’d memorized faces, I put on some Death Grips and prepared for my last round.
Caffeine count: 4
Round 13: Daniel on Dredge
- Game 1: I saw Daniel sit down at our table and felt immense relief: I’d dodged Shops and gotten, arguably, my best pairing in the room. I hoped I’d be able to easily draw a Priest, but my opener was Land, Mox, Sol Ring, Crypt, Smasher, Displacer, Revoker. I decided to keep: it’s a turn 1 Smasher into an additional 5 power on turn 2, so if he stumbled at all, I could get there. I think it’s a fine keep, but when Daniel said, “Let’s see if your nut draw beats my nut draw” and played two Bazaars and made ten zombies, I was toast.
- Game 2: I mulled to 6 and kept Cage, Strip Mine, and some irrelevant junk. My Cage got Misstepped, and while I was able to Strip his Bazaar, I was feeling pretty dead. But then, Daniel didn’t play another Bazaar, and despite Dredging 6 per turn, he never hit a Narcomoeba or Ichorid. Meanwhile I got to play out some dudes and kill him!
- Game 3: This game was for everything, and my deck gave me the Dredge nuts: by turn 2 I had Priest, Cage, and another dork. Daniel managed to land a few Hollow Ones, but I was able to trade off a TKS and a Smasher to clear his board, then land Displacer to take over the game.
Towards the end of game 3, I felt a smile creeping onto my face: it was clear that I’d won the match, and I was finishing in Top 16! Patrick and Ben were thrilled to see me take it down. Patrick had been texting updates to my wife, who normally doesn’t give a shit about Magic, and she was sitting on the edge of her seat waiting to hear. When I called her to give her the news, she was obviously excited. I mentioned that I was happy because, with the baby coming, this might be my last opportunity to do this for a while. Her reply? “I mean, you’re doing this in Pittsburgh in November. Be real.”
Ben and I hung around the Vintage tables to hear my final standing. After a little while the judges got on the mic and announced that there’s a clean cut to Top 8 at 27 points. We looked at each other. “27 points? That’s me.” They read out the Top 8, and suddenly everyone else was looking at each other. A few people approached the stage, and a minute later, the judge came on the mic. “I’m sorry. Our actual Top 8 is . . . “ They’d gone off of Round 12 standings. Oh well. I finished out at 13th of 124, and walked away with 200 SCG Funbux for my effort.
With the exception of Patrick, who wanted to redeem himself in the 6:00 Vintage Challenge, we were all pretty beat. The three of us got beer, ordered pizza, and watched the Top 8 back at the Airbnb. We planned on all swapping decks for the Vintage Challenge the next morning, but as we only had three sets of power between the four of us, I put together Unpowered UR Delver before calling it a night.
Part 4: The Final Day & Bonus Delver Report
We were up at 7:00 to pack, clean the Airbnb, shower, and eat some bagels we’d bought on Thursday. We got to the convention center a half hour before the Challenge, so I picked up some By Forces for my Delver board (as well as a pair of Golgari Thugs to meet their credit card minimum).
Round 1: Jeff on Metalworker
- Game 1: I tempo’d Jeff decently, but never landed a real threat. Eventually, my unflipped Delver was racing two Voltaic Servants. Jeff got me down to 1, and on my last turn Delver flipped to swing in for lethal.
- Game 2: I had all the tempo ever. Jeff made a Bridge that I Abraded, and then just Delver’d him out.
Round 2: Justin on Grixis Pyromancer
- Game 1: I was watching Justin’s last round and knew what he was on. He mulled to 5, I Misstepped his Probe, and he never really did anything else. At this point, being on Blue felt great after 13 rounds of Ancient Tomb.
- Game 2: Justin led on Lotus, Pyromancer, make two tokens. I never caught up. Not even close.
- Game 3: I had a triple Delver hand. What beats that?
Round 3: Andrew on UWR Xerox
- Game 1: Andrew led on turn 1 Library. I did not have the Waste and got buried in cards.
- Game 2: I had a perfect tempo hand that kept him off the Xerox plan.
- Game 3: Andrew led on turn 1 Library, and again, I got buried.
Round 4: Jeremy on UWR Xerox
- Game 1: Jeremy kindly offered to ID, despite knowing what I was on. I got him down to 3 before he stabilized with a Mentor and ran away with it.
- Game 2: Same deal.
UR Delver actually felt pretty solid, except for the Dazes. God, that card is awful in Vintage. Next proxy event I’m in, I’ll hafta try Delver with -4 Daze, +4 pieces of power.
I walked away with eight packs of Dominaria that converted into about $2 of trade in value. However, Ben bought one pack each of Vision, Coldsnap, New Phyrexia, and Planar Chaos, and did a grab bag for our team. I got Visions and opened an Elephant Grass.
With that, we hit the road.
Part 5: Closing Thoughts
SCGCon was a great experience. I always enjoy traveling to bigger events with buddies, and this was no exception. The tournament was well run, and with the exception of the bathrooms, the convention center was fine.
For those unfamiliar with it, White Eldrazi is a very strong deck. For the most part I piloted it well, but it also just gives you free wins; I had a large number of insane Lotus openers, and many decks are unprepared for the sheer volume of hateful permanents it has. Its biggest weakness, however, is Shops, which I believe makes it much better in paper than online. I don’t play MTGO, but if I did, I’d avoid White Eldrazi: all the Shops players will just smash you. I was running 12 pieces of Shops hate in my board and still lost that matchup handily. But in paper, because of Workshops’ card availability issues, dodging the matchup is more realistic. I took that to the extreme and only played the deck once; had I run into it more, I could easily have finished 8-5, 7-6, or worse.
That aside, my expectations for the deck panned out. I felt confident in most of my Blue matchups, and smashed anyone on Oath and Dredge (both of which are popular paper options). The list itself was good, too; I might trim Shops hate next time, but I think anyone could pick up this list and achieve reasonable success with it.
On the ground, Vintage also looked pretty good as a format. That decks like Xerox and Paradoxical are currently competitive with Shops is great. I was a little surprised to see 50% of the Top 8 as Shops – just because there wasn’t that much in the room – but at least it wasn’t a 5/3 split with Oath! Likewise, you can’t really be upset to see Montolio win an event.
I’m personally thrilled with my performance. After going 5-5 at Vintage Champs last year, this was a nice affirmation that I can hang in competitive Vintage. That said, I don’t attribute too much of that to in-game skill. Rather, I think I had two advantages this weekend:
- As mentioned, deck choice. White Eldrazi felt well positioned in the meta; it’s relatively under the radar; and it’s not taxing to pilot over 13 rounds.
- I suspect I have better stamina than most Magic players. I often start these events weak, but then get into a flow, and by round 8+ I’m still able to play competently. Deck choice helps with that: I never had a round go over thirty minutes, which always left me time to clear my head, drink water or coffee, eat food, etc.
I hope my wife is right and that I’ll make it to Vintage Champs this November. It’s impossible for me to know how having a baby will change my relationship to Magic; I wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of my life and responsibilities changing, but I also love getting to go spend a weekend hanging out with friends and playing busted cards. With any luck, you’ll all see me playing some Thalias and Displacers in Pittsburgh this fall.