Old-Man Magic: SCG Standard Open, Pretty Awesome for Old Guys by Quillian Rutherford

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It’s been a long time,
Since I’ve seen a su-u-u-u-u-u-unny day.
– Cake, Long Time

I’ve been playing Magic a long time: since Fifth Edition/Weatherlight. For a while, I was grinding PTQs, but there was no MTGO, no local Magic scene in my college town, and basically nothing but rolling up to the tournament after a cross-Texas drive with an untested deck and sleep deprivation. It was great. The good thing is that if you show up to PTQ-type events most weekends, you will get better over time. It’s slow-going, but taking a beating week after week from people that regularly qualify for the PT will rub off on you. I was actually at a point where I was getting into top eight contention in later rounds and even made a couple top eights. That was over a decade ago as chronicled by yours truly here, back when the editor was a lovable rodent. This is semi-important, because many of you are probably in the same or a similar boat. Kids, job, school: it all eats into Magic time, and at some point you wake up and realize you haven’t played sanctioned Magic in months, then years. One day, though, one of your friends says they are drafting online, or you read the latest spoiler—something. The fire is only banked, it just needs a little kindling and it’ll burn again. For me, since about 2003 (my last memorable Magic tournament from that era I can recall), it’s play a bit, drift away, play a bit, drift away. A year or so ago, my son came home from school and asked if we could go draft. I figured sure, one hit won’t hurt…

It turns out that after un-rusting and devouring all the internet magic news fit to read over the course of a few months, I felt pretty good about going to FNM, at least. I even flew out to GP Dallas back in December to try and see some friends, and played UW. Sadly it was an icy mess; most of my old friends from Texas didn’t want to risk the ice storm and I managed a miserable 0-3 record (0-4 according to Wizards—I couldn’t even check the drop box right that weekend). To rub salt in these wounds, I booked a hotel room once in town and it was obvious I wouldn’t be staying with said friends, only to meet a fellow wizard about five minutes later who had a spare bed. To top it all off, the room I ended up with at the hotel looked out on part of the roof, which contained a giant evaporator or something that kept firing up and thrumming like a jet engine every few minutes. So, now I have what I refer to as an “$800 play mat.” I’ve never used one before, but this one’s special, always there, reminding me of that traumatic weekend.

I made it to a PTQ in Portland after staying out too late, played UW again, started off in the draw bracket and conceded to my friend Wade when it became obvious I was in no shape to battle and just needed to find some lunch. I played a Sealed Win-a-Box tournament, lost in the first round, and headed home. A week later, I grabbed my backpack and sifted through it to look at my deck for something, only to find out I had managed to lose it at the PTQ. This was the turning point. Lacking the will to replace the cards I needed for UW, I gave in to the darkness, borrowed what I needed to complete Black Devotion from my buddy Wade, and finished ninth in a TCG Platinum event. I played it a couple more times in small tournaments and settled in with it for Standard. I managed a couple more efforts at PTQ’ing, going to a Modern and a Sealed event with no results to show. Finally, I saw in my inbox an email from Star City Games reminding me there was an Open here in Portland. I’ve never managed to attend any of the SCG events before and felt it might be a good experience. Maybe I’d even make some new Magic friends.

Preparing for the Open

I began preparing for the Open in earnest…by playing Skyrim every night instead of MTGO. For some reason, I haven’t beaten Skyrim yet and I have an urge to finish it. I did manage to go to an FNM and went 3-0-1, splitting the finals with a nice kid named Ben, who wasn’t even aware of the Open until I asked him if he was going. After actually looking over things, I saw Yutu Takahashi’s deck from GP Chicago and instantly re-kindled my love affair with main-deck Duress. Upping the number of ways to protect your Pack Rats just seemed pretty solid. The version of Black Devotion I had been playing was one that had made the top eight of a South American GP a few months ago. It splashed blue for a copy of Notion Thief, which is a really great card if you get it off at the right time even once in the matchups where Sphinx’s Revelation makes an appearance. I decided to copy Yutu’s main deck with two differences: I kept six blue sources (four Temples and two Watery Graves) and I didn’t manage to find a fourth Devour Flesh, so I ended up with a copy of Ultimate Price instead. I also don’t happen to have any Drown In Sorrow, but I’m not sure that’s necessary unless lots of white starts showing up.

I managed to play and win a match on MTGO in a two-man queue and decided I was ready to battle. I see a lot of complaints about Standard being stale, which may be true, but for me it’s been nice to be able to get comfortable with a list and not have to scramble at the last minute to play a deck I’m not familiar with. Friday night came and I managed to not stay out too late or drink too many cocktails. I was in bed and trying to sleep by 11:30 p.m. after making sure my deck was re-sleeved. I didn’t have a complete sideboard, but figured I’d have time on the train to figure it out. I had printed out a deck registration sheet, at least. Saturday morning I woke up right on time, about 7:40 AM, remembered to actually eat some breakfast, made myself some coffee, and managed to find a mug to take it with me on the train. My lovely wife was nice enough to drop me off at the train station and I started scribbling down my deck list as the train rolled across downtown. I was particularly worried about red, so I made sure I had Pharika’s Cure in the sideboard and then randomly decided Master of Waves could have slot 15. I only played one red deck and didn’t cast Master, but I’m pretty sure it would have been better as something else, for the curious. Notion Thief, while awesome when it works, is probably overkill. Cyclonic Rift, on the other hand, is great. I sideboard it in very often. It didn’t get cast too much, but it got me a match win when I needed it.

The Tournament Site

The tournament site was the Oregon Convention Center, which is pretty nice. From the train, it’s only about a five-minute walk with only a few hobos to navigate around. I had a very short line to stand in to hand over my $40, and then I was ready. I made a seriously next-level move by filling my coffee mug with water, a winning move I proceeded to make every single round. I’d say continuously hydrating was my strongest play all day. My weakest play was concentrating so hard on the number column on my deck list I was already starting the day with a game loss, but didn’t know it. In the end, my luck was running too high and it didn’t end up mattering, but giving away games before you start the tourney is not normally a winning move; embarrassing. I have not played regularly enough to really develop the requisite magic friendships, so I said hello to a few of the locals I do know a little and just milled around until the player meeting.

Despite my having scheduled this day for Magic a couple of weeks ago, my wife had scheduled us to go to a dinner party at a friend’s house. I sized up my odds and said, “Don’t worry honey, I’ll probably be done by round three or four anyway, I should be ready to go on time. No problem.” In reality, I wasn’t looking forward to having to go through 10 rounds of Magic, but I had packed a couple granola bars and knew there was food on site. I’ve noticed I tend to do the best when I don’t care about winning too much. I mean, I like to win, but if I just concentrate on playing and enjoying the game, I tend to do much better. Rather than stress out about how hard it would be to get to the end, I made the decision to just try and enjoy myself and play friendly Magic. For the most part, I succeeded.

The Deck

The Tournament

There are a bunch of primers for this archetype out there, so I’ll just hit the highlights of the rounds.

Round 1 – Matt Griffen with Monoblue

Matt was a younger kid, maybe my son’s age or a little older. I bantered a bit about where he lives (my part of PDX metro it turns out) and he was surprised he hasn’t seen me at the local shop, but since they don’t do store credit for prizes, I don’t play there too often. He started off well and took game one and I figured this is it, but I pulled out game two. Game three, Nightveil Specter stole a Hall of Triumph, which made all my creatures too large for him to handle. I got in lethal despite a Jace activation. I realized later I had sideboarded wrong, as Pharika’s Cure is a lot worse against Temple of Triumph. Matt played his deck well and I wished him luck (when I saw him later he was 5-2).

Round 2 – Peter Sundholm with Blue Devotion splashing White

Peter was a nice older guy not unlike myself. I Thoughtseized turn two into his double Judge’s Familar; he tanked for a moment and then sacrificed both Familiars. Next turn he played out the Thassa he was protecting, which I’m not sure was the right play. Losing Thassa hurts, but I feel the explosive attack from blue is the biggest threat, so I’m not sure I would have done the same. Game two was interesting, as I had a Nightveil with his Nightveil under it. I opted to Thoughtseize him and saw double Thassa, Banishing Light, Rapid Hybridization, and Detention Sphere. I pondered for a moment and took Detention Sphere, since it dealt with my rats. I’m not sure that was the right play, as he only had two land in play and none in hand, but I thought I’d rather have the 3/3 than risk a Sphere blowout later. Peter forgot to play Rapid Hybridization during my upkeep, so I played the Nightveil I stole from him with my own. I ended up using his own Domestication against him to take a Frostburn Weird, which sealed the deal. He felt he had a good matchup against Black Devotion, so maybe my luck was with me. Regardless, it’s nice to start out 2-0 instead of 0-2-drop.

Round 3 – Daniel Waldholz with Esper

I won game one with an assortment of creatures and Mutavaults and sideboarded in Notion Thief and Cyclonic Rift for game two. He never really got going and couldn’t keep his planeswalkers on the table.

Round 4 – Daniel Joyax with Boss Sligh

This round I was maybe a little too competitive. Game one I managed to snag his only enchantment in his opening hand with Duress, but he just made an army and commenced beats. It turns out that Pack Rat tokens don’t help much versus Legion Loyalist. When I killed his Akroan Crusader in response to him using a Rubblebelt Maaka bloodrush, he tried to put a token into play. A judge was called and we resolved he gets no token—not a big deal. However, the next attack, he came in with Rakdos Cackler, which had no counter on it. I moved to take damage as if Cackler was a 1/1, but he said it had +1/+1—he just didn’t have a counter but did announce it. I was pondering my hand or something, so hadn’t really been paying attention to it when he cast it, assuming he was casting it with the counter. But since he didn’t place one on it, I wasn’t sure how it went down, so I called the judge again. It didn’t make sense that he wouldn’t have put the counter, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I wanted clarification that if you announced something like this, but failed to actually keep track of the game state with a counter, if that was fine. It turns out it was.

It’s stuff like this I’m a little hazy on—drawing cards is no longer a game loss, and Magic is just a lot nicer in general these days. So he took game one, I sideboarded in my removal and Master of Waves, but it was Desecration Demon that did the trick. Although many players suggest it’s correct, I almost never sideboard out Desecration Demon or Pack Rat.

I think it was at this point I managed to go grab food. Two well-dressed ladies in front of me were contemplating what to get—one really wanted the hamburger, but resolved to get the chicken wrap as all that bread on the burger made her sleepy. I decided that was great advice and opted for the chicken wrap myself, plus a banana. Between walking around in between rounds and this move, I was a veritable health nut all day. I even ate only half the wrap!

Round 5 – Greg Galloway with Jund Reanimator

I’m not sure if Reanimator is the right deck name, but he had Underworld Cerberus. Game one he ran me over with creatures and I thought, “Well, at least I started 4-0.” Lifebane Zombie tagged in from the board, but really I didn’t have a big game plan versus this deck. However, his Domri whiffed and he never drew much after that, so I managed to get there. I have no idea how good this deck is against Black Devotion, but I didn’t think it was something I wanted to play every round.

Round 6 – Justin Miller with Bant Walkers

So far, getting to 5-0, I felt pretty lucky. However, it was pretty obvious I had hit the stage of the day where you start encountering Mini Bosses. Justin seemed to have a pretty good handle on how this goes down and absolutely destroyed me game one with a triple planeswalker board state that resembled the army of a small country. In from the board came the extra Duresses, Rift, and Thief.

In game two, he kept answering my cast threats, but couldn’t overcome triple Mutavault. In game three, he kept and I looked down at a hand containing Swamp, Thoughtseize, two Pack Rats, and three business spells. Normally I don’t keep one-land hands, and I don’t recommend it most of the time. This game, I was on the play, and I just needed a second land to get my engine started. If I was going to win, I probably needed to get a little lucky anyways, so I kept. It was greedy, but a Swamp came right off the top. I Thoughtseized and Justin had kept a six-lander himself, hating to mulligan against my discard. On turn two, I resolved Pack Rat and almost licked my lips in anticipation of the savage rat tokens I was imagining, only to have Justin draw Pithing Needle off the top and play it naming Pack Rat. Luckily, my hand was still full of business and I managed to snag something with a Lifebane, drop an Erebos (and draw twice off it before it was exiled), play out Desecration Demon, and replace my Lifebane after the first went into exile with Erebos. Justin manage to Detention Sphere the Demon, but I was getting in for four a turn with the Lifebane and the 1/1 rat, while he was tapping out for Jace and using the -2 to pick up a Sphinx’s Revelation. With no other business in his hand, the coast was clear, and on his end step I Rifted his Detention Sphere off Desecration Demon, allowing me to attack for lethal the next turn before he could recover. I’d done it: somehow I defeated a Mini Boss to get to the next level.

Round 7 – Gabe Carleton-Barnes with Black Aggro

We shook hands and introduced ourselves. I noted to Gabe that he’s a bit of a local Magic celebrity; he chuckled and took it in stride. This is another Mini Boss level. I’m pretty sure I’m 0-X lifetime versus several of the PT regulars from back in Texas, so winning here would be a new thing for me: two Mini Bosses defeated? Gabe won the flip, but mulled to five with a wince. I had an okay hand, so I thought this was going to work out. Then I died to his triple Tormented Hero draw in short order. It wasn’t even close.

In game two, I Pharika’s Cured something and hung on until I took over the game, trying to play around taking any extra damage, just in case. I wasn’t sure if there was a haymaker I’d forgotten in the format, muttering, “There isn’t a Hatred in this set, is there?” at some point. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be. Game three, Gabe drew no removal and Specter held off his troops long enough for Desecration Demon to make short work of his life total. I was actually stunned to have won. By this point, I had long missed my dinner party, and my wife was texting me about it. I told her about the lack of losses and that I would likely make top eight if I win either of my next two rounds. When I tell her about the prize support numbers, she just says, “That better not be store credit!” Sigh.

Round 8 – Michael Felps with Black Devotion

As we shuffled up, we heard a Conspiracy draft announcement and Michael asked me if I had ever drafted it. I hadn’t, and he told me he’d like to, but it would end up everyone versus him at his local shop. I mentally noted I was pretty much in continuous Mini-Boss land at that point.

Game one came down to a turn where Michael had down two Gray Merchant of Asphodels, two Underworld Connectionses, and most likely a Gray Merchant in hand, to my three Pack Rats, my own Gray Merchant, and Underworld Connections. I had another Connections, Gray Merchant, and Hero’s Downfall in hand and was at six life, while Michael was at 13 or 14. I noted out loud that if he had a Merchant, I would die the next turn, then tanked for a moment. I could have played a Connections and a Merchant with Downfall backup. I decided for some reason that trying to live another turn by draining wasn’t the right way out and attacked with the Rats, killing one Merchant in combat and Downfalling the other. I passed and, of course, he had another Merchant. In retrospect, I should have probably just played out Connections and Merchant, putting me barely out of Merchant range for another turn.

Game two was interesting, as I managed to misplay into the win. After a Thoughtseize, I drew Mutavault and a Gray Merchant. Michael started getting in with a Nightveil, so I shrugged and dropped my Merchant. He had flipped Bile Blight with the Nightveil and I couldn’t attack with the Mutavaults. Next, he flipped an Erebos off my deck and put it into play. I commenced Gray Merchant beats and sent for eight. The next turn, he tapped four again for the Desecration Demon I’d seen in his hand, but I was ready with Ultimate Price in hand, Michael ended up at three life. He held up mana the next turn and passed. I couldn”t attack with Mutavault, but I drew another Gray Merchant. I pondered. I decided if he had removal I was just going to have to walk into it and cast the Merchant. He scooped up his cards. Wow. After that game, I realized I had held back my own Nightveil for a couple of turns thinking it would get Bile Blighted, forgetting it would kill both of our Specters. Better lucky than good, sometimes.

Our last game was uneventful, as he mulliganed into a one-lander and didn’t draw mana before I had an army going. That was it. 8-0! I was starting to get a little bit giddy, as I’ve never been 8-0 before that I can recall. Maybe 6-0, but not 8-0. I tried to remain calm, telling myself I might get paired down, be forced to play, and not make top eight.

Round 9 – Ben Warschauer with Black Devotion

Here is where my focus on just playing one round at a time and not thinking about the bigger picture wasn’t optimal. My last name starts with R, and the board with my pairings was in the farthest corner of the room from table one. I wear glasses and I followed the judge who was posting the pairings, but had to wait a few seconds behind others until I could get close enough to read the sheet. There were also standings, but I was just focused on the pairings and didn’t look at the standings. At that point, having read other SCG event coverage, I was thinking I should be able to draw twice into the top eight, but I wasn’t sure. I should have checked the standings then, but I didn’t.

I walked up to table one and my opponent was none other than Ben “That Nice Kid from the Store, Who I Drew with Last Week” Warschauer. I knew his record was 7-1 and I thought I must have been paired down, but I wasn’t sure. There was a judge standing at table one watching as I sat down. I think you only have three minutes after pairings were posted or something. I inquired with the judge if we could see a standings sheet, but he said he thought we should begin playing. However, I was confused as to why I was playing someone with a loss and realized the pairings board for the low alphabet was a few feet away. I walked over, found Ben in 12th and me in first, and walked back, realizing there were no other undefeated people. I got a warning for slow play, which wasn’t too big of a deal, but it irked me a little that I had followed the person posting the papers and I didn’t have enough time to read all the information.

Secure in the knowledge Ben could not draw into the top eight, we started playing and I won game one. Before game two, they stopped us and we were deck checked. Despite staring at my deck registration sheet for a fair amount of time before handing it in, I had managed to leave a line blank, although it had the number two next to it. Turns out I had not written down the Watery Graves, only their quantity. While it’s never fun to get a game loss, it was a lot better to get a game loss here, in a round that didn’t matter that much, than later on in the top eight. Ben and I shuffled up and went to game three, where he managed to Pack Rat me out. I might have just scooped to him if I’d understood exactly how the standings were, but in the end it worked out fine anyways.

Round 10 – Mitchell Gross with Mono-Blue

I was still in first place and actually checked the standings this time, and determined I was able to intentionally draw the last round.

People had already been congratulating me for a couple rounds, but I had kept my focus on just playing games of Magic, trying not to drift off with dreams of taking it all down. It was getting late by that time, so my mind wasn’t nearly as sharp anymore. I talked a bit with Justin out in the hall about how my luck had been pretty strong this day, and we both agreed we probably should have mulliganed in our match.I found the banana I bought earlier and ate it, hoping to get a little extra energy. Ben had to play again and won, making him the first seed going into the top eight, meaning I was going to be matched up against the Junk deck in the quarterfinals. People were saying it seemed like a bad matchup for Black Devotion, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for it, but after having time to think about it, I don’t think it was as bad as it seemed at the time. We all had our pictures taken and milled around waiting for the quarters to start.

The Top Eight

Quarterfinals – Jesse Harper with Junk Midrange

I had a sinking feeling as I sat down, with the comments about the matchup and Voice of Resurgence echoing around my brain. Game one started fine. I got out a Demon and handled his Voice tokens, but he found a Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Obzedat, Ghost Council, which won before I could find an answer. In game two, Erebos shut down his Blood Baron lifelink shenanigans and he succumbed to an army of rats despite his two Blood Barons as blockers.

In game three, my opening hand consisted of a Thoughtseize, five lands, and a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Two of the lands were Temples, so I ended up keeping, which was a mistake in retrospect. I cast the Thoughtseize on turn one, revealing Jesse’s hand of four lands, Sylvan Caryatid, Voice of Resurgence, and Courser of Kruphix. I opted to take the Voice, although now I believe I should have taken the Courser. I proceeded to draw lands and put non-business cards on bottom (although I missed one scry from a Temple), but I couldn’t find an answer for the turn-four Obzedat Jesse drew. If we played again, I think I would mulligan for a more aggressive draw, as my removal wasn’t going to match up correctly every time, and he had only a few answers to Pack Rat.

After packing up, I confirmed my prize would be mailed to me. Riki Hayashi shook my hand and congratulated me on making top eight and getting to go to an invitational. That’s when it hit me: I now have to play Legacy. The last time I played, it was still Type 1.5 and the competition level was…lower. Perhaps I can borrow a deck.

The Takeaway

I think the deck choice I made was pretty good, mono-black or black with a splash has a small amount of variance, and if you are better than me, you’ve probably already decided whether you want a splash or not. The amount of variance from scry lands and a splash is low enough that I don’t think most people will notice, especially if you are FNM’ing or the like. I think Duress in the main deck is the way to go, especially if you want to go down to 25 lands. I would probably run another Pharika’s Cure or Lifebane Zombie in the sideboard over Master of Waves, but the rest I’d probably let ride. A lot of people are playing more Bile Blight or Ultimate Price over some number of Devour Flesh, so I don’t think I’d actually change the main deck at all if you want the blue splash.

The two “unusual” decks that made top eight are going to be fun to play, but they look to me like they have a lot more variance. The next couple of weeks of Standard might be stale, but the silky-smooth reliability of the black deck is a lot more to my taste. M15 might shake things up a little, but so far, I still predict a lot of Pack Rats and Desecration Demons until September. I do want to play some M15 Limited, though. However, I might just be grinding online with Legacy. I only have about five months to prepare…

I’d like to thank all my opponents for being outstandingly nice the whole day, and SCG for running a really smooth tournament.

–Quillian Rutherford

P.S. Also, I’m fairly certain half the top eight was over 30 (*cough* 29? *cough*): take that, youngsters!

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