Hello. My name is Andrew Steckley, and I’m a Magic punter, er, player. Recently I traveled to Richmond, VA, to play in the SCG.com Invitational. Somehow, I ended up having a decent run- so today I’ve been asked to discuss how I prepared for the event.
Preparation starts off prior knowledge- let’s start by examining the Standard events I played in leading up to the Invitational. First, let’s talk about States… Wait, I didn’t go to States. Okay, let’s talk about the Kentucky Open… Whoops, I didn’t make it to that one either. How about a recent FNM? I haven’t played in a Constructed FNM in years. Hmm, where to begin then? Okay, I’ll be honest: I had not played in any Standard events, paper or digital, since GenCon in early August. Up until very recently, I had no exposure whatsoever to Standard with Scars of Mirrodin. I knew I needed to test the format thoroughly before my trek commenced if I was to have any success, because I came in with very little experience.
Since the Invitational is like a mini Pro Tour (at least in prize payout), I told myself that I would properly prepare for it. I was convinced that I should start testing a few weeks before the event. I would play all the “Tier 1″ decks in the format and figure out which I could reasonably pilot over the course of 13 rounds of play. Luckily for me, I have access to every Standard card online so I can build any deck and play against a variety of opponents at any hour. So did I maximize my available resources? Of course not! I decided that my time would be better spent watching hours of TV via the magnificent service of Netflix streaming.
When did I actually get my first glimpse of the Standard with Scars environment? On the Monday before the event, obviously! I got a call that afternoon and joined my first live testing session later that evening. There were four other guys testing, and they met at 6 PM- I showed up fashionably late at 8:30, without a deck or any cards for that matter. I birded their games, and we chatted about what I had read about the format the previous week and the decks that I thought had separated themselves as “Tier 1″ quality.
I, like many other players, feel that the best decks allow you to interact with your opponent while allowing you to create advantages that you can capitalize on in most phases of the game. Naturally, I was drawn toward the two decks that split in the finals of the Kentucky Open just the week prior, BUG and RUG. Of course, RUG isn’t a deck you should just pick up and pilot in a major event, but I was comfortable with the deck since I played the same basic engine in ZEN/WWK/ROE Block Constructed. I just needed the low down on how the deck fared in Standard with Scars. I was in luck, because the RUG player that split the finals of the KY Open, Chris Andersen (Chrandersen on MTGO), was already present and testing. He was currently running BUG, but the games against his testing partner repeatedly told the same old tale- BUG gets smashed by Valakut.
The group also ran some games with a WUG list, Quest for Holy Armor (White Weenie with Argentum Armor and Quest for the Holy Relic), and, I think, a Vampires list. The testing ended at 11 PM, so I didn’t really see all of the possible scenarios, but I thought that the UGX engine decks were receiving all they could handle (and more) from the net-decked Valakut gauntlet list.
Since I didn’t want to play a deck that would just lose to Valakut nor did I want to play a deck that relied on playing men that died to the quad Pyroclasms sure to be present in every red deck’s 75 cards, what was I left with?
Generic Standard Valakut Ramp
I decided that instead of trying to fight against what I thought would be the boogie man of the tournament, I would just conform. I’m a sucker for “bad” decks- so after M11 was printed, I actually played Valakut in several ALA/ZEN/M10/M11 Standard events. I had a fair idea how to battle with the deck, so I wasn’t running completely blind going into my sparse practice regimen.
On the Wednesday night before the tournament, I put together the deck on MTGO and started to run some matches. I had not run any games online in a while, so I decided it would be best to start out in the Tournament Practice room the get used to the mechanics of the interface. I ran about five matches and about five single games to work up my courage to join an outrageously overpriced 2 ticket, 2-man queue. In a cruel joke, I got paired against Valakut- how lucky! I won Game 1 rather swiftly as I resolved the first Primeval Titan on my Turn 5 (on the play) after my opponent passed his Turn 4 (without playing a Titan of his own). Then, Games 2 and 3 went how you would expect (with a Valakut player skillfully resolving a Turn 4 Primeval Titan when they were on the play). Luckily for me, I went first in the third game and took the match with its precious Scars of Mirrodin Booster reward.
After that stressful mirror experience, I decided that I would go back to the more leisurely and infinitely less informative Tournament Practice room to complete my testing. I played another five or so matches and a similar amount of single games against random decks before I once again got seduced by streaming Netflix. As such, my testing basically ended after the marvels of modern technology dominated my attention, but at least now I would go forth with a few actual games of Magic under my belt.
Like any self-respecting person, I didn’t really want to fly half way across the country to battle with a deck that’s primary game plan is lay lands and resolve fatties, but I didn’t see any comfortable, real alternative considering my (in)experience with the format. Since I’m not really an active player (or an innately talented player) and did not test thoroughly, my deck choices were really limited to Standard decks that had grown out of decks that I had played previously in pre-Scars Standard or ZEN/WWK/ROE Block. I knew I had to end up in either Valakut or UGX (both ramp camps), and I just felt Valakut had a stronger plan against the field. Plus, I felt that only a few players actually respected Valakut enough to actually prepare a proper game plan against a decent list- which was the sort of edge that I would need.
I flew into Richmond on Friday with about 100 Magic cards, all relevant to Valakut. By the time I got to the tournament site, it was around 8PM- just enough time to walk around, watch a few of the grinder rounds and try to get a feel for what people would be playing in the tournament the next day. I also needed to try to find the last few cards I needed for my own list; which resulted in me having to pay SCG $6 for a Gaea’s Revenge and two Acidic Slime. What a blow out! After getting a pulse on the room, this is what I decided to register for the tournament:
Valakut, SCG Invitational played by Andrew Steckley
My tournament list is actually pretty standard. I really feel Valakut plays better with at least 28 lands, with at least 12 of those being virtual green sources, so that’s where I wanted my list to start. I don’t think Raging Ravines or Khalni Gardens are necessary for the deck to accomplish its goals, so I didn’t include any of either. I know I was losing a small bit of value by forgoing extra nonbasics, but I also didn’t want to allow any decks running Tectonic Edge or Goblin Ruinblaster to gain an advantage over my list by exposing my green sources to easy destruction.
I decided to play ten fatties in my deck to make sure I would never whiff on a Summoning Trap. I knew playing Overgrown Battlement would give me an advantage in the mirror (and some decks absolutely cannot beat a double Battlement draw), but I didn’t want to lower the EV of my Traps at all by removing threats to run them. Also, I felt I was running enough traditional ramp, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving Battlement or Oracle of Mul Daya out. Of course, both of those cards are useful against blue decks to enable earlier possible Summoning Traps or to ensure resolution of ramp spells, but I felt with my game plan against blue decks, it wasn’t completely necessary to win in the early turns since most blue players are willing to sit back and wait instead of aggressively developing their board and pressuring you into action. Since I was already adding more value to my Traps, I decided to run a third main over the usual two, cutting a Cultivate.
I choose to change up the fat in my deck as well to add more utility. I didn’t want to run six 7+ drops, so I cut an Avenger and a Terastodon for a pair of Inferno Titans to help mop up the board against the creature-based decks. With the prevalence of the Vampiric tribe in the grinders, I chose to follow GerryT’s lead and swap two Pyroclasm into the main in exchange for two of the Lightning Bolts (which were regulated to the board to help me fight against decks that might overwhelm me before I could set up a stable board position). Also because of the overwhelming aggro feel of the grinders, I ran a full set of Obstinate Baloths in my board.
As you may notice, this list contains exactly zero Scars of Mirrodin cards because, well, I don’t actually own any beyond a few Sealed pools (nor did I feel any were necessary to borrow or purchase for my deck). If I had tested the format more, I would know that was a poor decision… but that can be a topic for another time.
Anyway, thanks for bearing with me through my first article- part 2 will focus on what I learned through the ten plus rounds Standard Magic. I hope you enjoyed it.
(You can read and watch SCG’s coverage of the Invitational here.)