Saturday, March 7, 2015

Deck Tweaking: Kevin Jones's UWR Midrange (Standard)

While the Timmy and Johnny players are over there drooling over spoilers, I thought I'd share some thoughts on a deck I played last night and found to be highly enjoyable in Standard.
Kevin Jones took second place at the SCG Premier IQ last weekend in Baltimore with this deck and, to me, one key element of being a Spike is recognizing a good list and tweaking it to the current meta, then piloting it successfully.
The following is what I shared on the r/spikes subreddit this morning. I'm hoping their feedback helps me nail down the ideal UWR Midrange list for the SCG Open this coming weekend in Fort Worth.
So I really liked Kevin Jones's deck from the Premier IQ last weekend in Baltimore (
I played it last night at a semi-competitive FNM and did some extra playtesting against tier 1 decks afterward.
Here are some thoughts I have on the list. Please share some feedback--this deck is definitely on a precipice of being competitive. It has all the SB tools to take its unfavourable matchups and make them winnable in games 2 and 3.
The deck is all about spells that are fairly versatile (burn is removal and burn, walkers are threats and defense, Mantis is a wall to little aggro and a clock... etc.)

Land I had some classic variance-induced land screw last night. Just stalled at 3 land a couple of games. No big deal--that's variance. However, I noticed I had games where all I drew were tap lands and some where I could only draw pain lands. This is probably just the nature of Standard right now but I wouldn't mind reducing the number of CIPT lands by 1. Will experiment.

Creatures Seeker of the Way was underwhelming. Mantis Rider was a champ. Rabblemaster was his usual self--lightning rod for removal and occasionally an easy win. Soulfire... I barely ever drew him.
I'd like to cut the Seekers to add 1 Soulfire and 3 more spells--probably two Jeskai Charm and another counterspell.

Spells The one of Disdainful Stroke needed to be a two of. I would love to have a Jeskai Charm or two, as well, as it makes blocking with Mantis Rider stellar and is a great way to gain life with Soulfire. Also, I didn't like having 4 delve draw spells. I think 1 Cruise and 2 Dig is plenty. I'm going to test that to get in an extra spell (Negate or Dissolve.)

Walkers and Enchantments LOVED having Elspeth and Sarkhan in the main. This deck is all about versatility and these walkers did a great job. No changes here. Outpost Siege is, as we all know, amazing. I'd like to run two but don't think there's anything to cut for it.

Sideboard Being able to go full control-burn is excellent. I often just cut Rabblemaster for the board wipes and play into them with my Mantis Riders. Treating the Riders as disposable forces your opponent to commit to a board state. Brimaz is a nice option in the aggro matchups because you get to Anger away their board and keep your guy.
I'd like some artifact hate but it's just not good in Standard... it may just be the local meta but Obelisk of Urd is a power house. I have to counter it (thus the increase in counterspells main deck.)

At this point I'd probably put two Dissolve in the board over 1 of the Negates and 1 of the Strokes since they're in the main now.
Anyway, that's my jumble of thoughts on the deck. Let me know, please, what you all think of my updated list here:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

MTGO: A Few (More) Observations

So it's been about another two weeks and I've made a few more observations from playing MtGO. Some are specific to online play and others are just good common sense practices.

Watch Your Stops
If you're not familiar with the Magic: the Gathering Online client, it has a feature called "stops" which are exactly what they sound like--a point in the turn where the client stops to ask for your input. The stop location options are all at priority passes as you leave phases and steps, of course, so you have a chance to act.
Some people will set every stop on so they get every chance to act and others will be selective. Personally, I have a few that are on all the time (opponent's end step, opponent's enter combat, my enter combat, etc.) Then, if I need to act during my opponent's upkeep or draw step I enable it on the fly before we get to that point.

Basically, what I've learned is that if you're not thinking ahead you'll miss the right time to act. Also, if you're a real scrub, you probably have all the stops on (like my upkeep) and you're draining your own clock when you walk away after your turn thinking it won't stop until my main phase!

Don't Tilt
This is probably the most often repeated phrase and one of the most written about pieces of advice--don't go on tilt when you are losing, when you are drawing poorly, when your opponent "just has it," or when the numbers just didn't add up (locked out of top 8 by 0.02% on breakers.)

It does you no good to tilt. Just find your out (see observation #3 further down) and play to it. Granted, you have no real "out" if you've just been locked out of top 8. In that case your out is running for coffee or playing side events.

Learn Your Outs
There is a "way out" of almost any situation. The way you learn them is by playing and by thinking about playing through as many situations as possible. Honestly, this is my main goal with playing extensively on MtGO.
I've played against a number of opponents lately who just scooped up when they still had a very viable out worth playing to (drawing Path to Exile, finding the combo piece before I can draw Lightning Bolt, etc.)
On the other hand, I've had some opponents who--rightly--have forced me to walk through my win so that they get all the draw steps they are entitled to in order to find their out. In fact, I've been doing that lately. Even if I know the only out is a weak one, I want to see how hard I have to work and what things I should do to optimize my odds of drawing it.

That's how you win at Magic, after all: you play to your outs. If you get to them, great. If you don't, don't tilt (see above.)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Report: Winning a GPT (29 Jan 2015)

Here's my round-by-round write up on the GPT this past Saturday (the 29th of January) at Sci-Fi.

Event: GPT for Auckland
Format: Modern
Deck: Junk
Deck List: DeckStats
REL: Competitive
Structure: 5 round swiss with cut to top 4.

This event is primarily advertised as a "Win-A-Goyf" event--my FLGS runs them every last Saturday of the month. It's always a Modern event and they piggyback it on a GPT to help turnout and so that it's at Competitive REL.
None of us were planning to go to Auckland (that I know of, anyway) but it's always fun to have a Win-A-Goyf event!

Round 1 - R/G Through the Breach
Result: Loss in 2.
I played against my good friend Jason in the first round. Jason is the reason I built Jund 18 months ago when we went to GP Richmond and I owe a lot of my knowledge of the Jund/Junk archetype to him.
Unfortunately, he just flat out drew me in this match! Liliana and discard spells are  my biggest weapon in this match and I drew a few of them... but not enough. I even drew the clutch removal for Primeval Titan but, unfortunately, the ETB triggers got him Valakuts... and the next turn he played another Prime Time. I died to Valakut triggers one game and to trample damage in game two.
We went and grabbed coffee after the match and I was determined to win out.

Round 2 - UWR Twin
Result: Win in 2.
One of the fun things about playing your friends/teammates is that you know their decks. Matt was  playing UWR Twin--specifically the deck two or three of us had put together to test out the white splash just the day before.
Junk is a rough matchup for any Twin deck but the UWR one seems to have a decent leg up--Path to Exile does work against Rhinos and Tarmogoyfs, after all.
I took two mulligans in game one and ground a win out of him then ran it back to win game two as well (without mulligan.)

Round 3 - RG Tron
Result: Win in 3.
I knew what deck he was playing before I walked up to the table and joked that he was probably just getting the win. Well, he won a game, at least. Game one he played Sundering Titan on turn four and I just couldn't recover.
In game two he took two mulligans and kept a decent five card hand... which I proceeded to shred with discard spells. His out was Sylvan Scrying in hand and his only green source was to crack Chromatic Sphere. Naturally, I took the Sphere with an Inquisition.
Game three wasn't much different. He had a better hand (no mulligan) but I had Fulminator Mage in my opening hand to keep him off of Tron.

Round 4 - Junk
Result: Loss in 3.
Oh the mirror match. I won game one by playing my spicy meatball one-of... Tombstalker. In game two we traded for a while until he resolved a Thrun and then we lost board state parity. Game three was tight--lots of back and forth--until he played Sigarda. Thankfully I had Tombstalker again but he drew more threats over the next couple of turns and I drew land instead of removal for his other creatures.

Round 5 - UWR Control
Result: Win in 2.
This is usually a very interesting match but Alex stalled on land in both games. In game one he really needed a second white source for the Wrath of God in hand. I even held back a couple of creatures to rebuild after the Wrath.
In game two it wasn't much better and I held a Fulminator Mage to blow up any extra land he might have played after four. He bought time with two Cryptic Commands but I took it in the end.

Cut to Top 4:
I thought I had very low odds of making top 4 after the last round but was surprised to see my tie breakers were better than the other player with 9 points. I was the bottom seed but I was in!

Semi Finals - RG Through the Breach
Result: Win in 3.
I took this in three games. Discard (when you draw it) is too good against this deck. Then in game three he kept a shaky hand and couldn't draw any green sources for his ramp spells.

Finals - Robots
Result: Win in 3.
On paper, I gave the win to my friend Chris. I have four Tarmogoyfs and he could use the trade value to finish his Robots deck (he borrows most of it for events like this. Good player.)
He won the first game as I drew no removal at all. In games two and three we traded blows but I was able to keep him from critical momentum with Creeping Corrosion and judicious use of spot removal.

Good Things Happened this Weekend

Good Thing #1 - I passed the L1 Judge test!
I had passed the Rules Adviser test some time last year and had, off and on, thought about taking the L1 test as a self-measurement. About two months ago a couple of friends in the local community started working to convince me that it'd be valuable to get the L1 certification, even if I don't want judge an event every weekend.
Well, I did a lot of practice tests and scored well on them... I botched a number of easy questions on the actual L1 exam but still passed. The L2 giving me the test was great and gave me tips on what to  focus on to strengthen those areas. (It all boils down to being ADD... I read a question once and come up with a solution. If I were to re-read the question I'd see how I misread it the first time!)

Anyway, I judged two Monday Night Magic events at my FLGS (MnM is basically FNM but on Monday. We average 18-26 players though where our FNMs are usually 40-50.) Judging two Regular REL events is a prerequisite for taking the L1 test.
I had a blast judging. I don't enjoy playing Standard much but judging Standard events allows me to enjoy some Magic vicariously and to maybe play some side games of real formats ;)

Good Thing #2 - I took first place at a Modern GPT!
Once a month, the FLGS hosts a Modern GPT. I've played in many of them and have made the top X cut several times but hadn't won one until this past Saturday.
Granted, it was a Trial for GP Auckland and, much as I'd like to take a trip to New Zealand, I doubt that's happening this year. The  prize support at these events is what's great:
First - Byes at the GP and a Tarmogoyf.
Second - $75 worth of non-Standard singles from the case (or $50 cash/credit.)
Third/Fourth - $25 worth of non-Standard singles from the case.

I was playing a deck with four Tarmogoyfs so on paper I conceded the finals to a friend of mine who could use the trade value. We played for fun and fun was had. I won in the end mostly due to him having some terrible hands that he had to mull.

I came away with some awesome cards between my winnings and some store credit-- a NM Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and a Japanese Snapcaster Mage. I'm happy.

Look forward to a full tournament report soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MtGO Stats: RUG Twin 13 Jan to 27 Jan

Some interesting stats from my last two+ weeks of playing RUG Twin on MtGO.
I'm being fully transparent here--I have just under a 50% win rate right now. A lot of that is due to misclicks, F6'ing inappropriately, and such. I'd guess a 65-68% win rate would be more accurate had I not made those mistakes.
However, I do 100% deserve the losses (the misplays, misclicks, and the variance) and am learning from it. I'd like to post this type of update every once in a while to  track my progress with real data... we'll see if that actually happens or not.

MtGO Stats with RUG Twin
13 January to 27 January 2015

Games and matches won/lost against various decks. I have a breakdown of  all the "Homebrew" decks too.

(Edit: For clarity... the first row on this second chart is my total MWP and GWP for all Modern matches. The following rows are for individual matchups.)
MWP: Match Win Percentage -- GWP: Game Win Percentage

Playing MTGO: A Few Observations

As you may have seen, I recently bought a Modern deck on MTGO in order to get more practice and  play time in. It's allowed me the opportunity already--just in two weeks--to improve my skill and to know my deck better.

In the two weeks that I've been playing, I have put in a lot of games. I've played a handful of practice games, a handful of  2-man queues, and about half a dozen 8-person single elimination events. All of these matches were Modern format and I played using Patrick Dickmann's TarmoTwin list from GP Omaha.
(I made one change in the side board, though, because Batterskull is double the price on MtGO. I replaced the two Batterskull with two Thragtusk and have actually really benefited from that difference in the Burn heavy meta. Honestly, I should have just bought the Batterskulls. What's $80 to finish a side board when the other 73 cards already cost me $600?)

Observation #1 - Plan Ahead
This should be obvious--in any match, in paper or online, you should always plan your turn and your next turn. You should be considering alternative plans for the few likely scenarios based on what your opponent could do. This type of planning is even more critical in MtGO because you can so easily hit F6 and miss a critical priority pass or be blown out by an unexpected card choice in your opponent's deck.
You are also on a different  kind of clock online. It's much harder to stall out game two (assuming you won the first game) since you and your opponent have individual clocks rather than one round clock. It's very important to plan several turns out to make sure you can close a game in a timely manner--putting the pressure on your opponent to have to close a game while you hinder them. Again, this seems obvious but is amplified by the digital medium.

Because the consequences for not planning well are so much heftier online, I'm becoming more aware of my (lack of) planning in paper Magic too.

Observation #2 - People Can Be Jerks...  or Awesome
I played a match against Bogles where, in game two, he had his Lifelink aura going and got up to 20 something  life. I knew blocking with that guy (Vigilance) would gain him 12 life so the combo was going to  require more copies. Well, he forced me to go through the combo. I jokingly asked if he was really forcing me to step through it and his response was, essentially, that he was punishing me for  playing too slowly in game one. Well, I went on to lose game three (yes, I finished the combo in time) because he just had the nut hand on the play.

(Note that I can't really blame him for forcing me to combo. It's my clock and my combo. However,  he does not have to  be a jerk about it. We can be polite even when delivering bad news to our opponents.)

On the other hand, I played against a Pod player who actively wanted to discuss my list, play decisions, and to ask for feedback on how he could play better against RUG Twin. He added me to his buddy list so we can play again.

As is the case in real life, people can be awesome or terrible. I'm choosing to be a nice guy as much as I can.

Observation #3 - Know Your Deck!
The more experience you have piloting your deck the better you know your outs... and when you are out of outs.
Knowledge of the meta is definitely important and can increase your percentage chances of a win. However, there's a much higher expected value for the time you invest into learning your own deck. Both are essential but knowledge of the meta is more useful when you know your deck inside and out.

I thought I knew Twin pretty well before these last two weeks--and I did, compared to many Modern players in my area--but I'm now revealing interactions and intricacies that can't be revealed except by more extensive testing against more decks and with more variance.

Bottom line, I'm loving this experience and I hope it's making me a better player on a technical level.
I plan to keep playing on MtGO and to share more of my results, observations, and hopefully cool plays I've discovered on both sides of the table.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Grinding the Games

Obviously, the best way for me to improve is by playing more... Well, I can't always play an event every week.
As of tonight, though, I have another avenue of  getting in games...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Report: GP Omaha Last Minute Trials (Grinders)

Event: GP Omaha Last Minute Trials (aka Grinders) x3
Format: Modern
Deck: U/R Delver, U/R Delver, Burn
Deck List: U/R DelverBurn
REL: Competitive

This past weekend I flew up to Omaha with two of my friends, Jason  and James, to play in GP Omaha. I love the Grand Prix experience and I love getting to spend  a weekend with good people.

Last year I quickly earned byes by playing at GP Richmond and carried those byes for most of the year unable to use them. I changed jobs in November and so between my work, family, and the switch to yearly points earning byes I had a whopping zero going into this GP.

Normally there's at least one GP Trial in the DFW area for any GP I intend to go to--possibly just for any GP happening in the country--but somehow there wasn't one for Omaha, so I had no chance to earn two byes that way. Upon arrival in the frozen tundra of Nebraska, I decided to just hit the Grinder events and try to gain some  byes that way. What follows is a rough accounting of a rough series of events for me.
(Not to steal my own thunder but variance was high on Friday.)

The First Grinder
I scribbled my deck list and signed up for a grinder. My first round opponent, Kevin, was a really nice guy who made some comment about how he wasn't very well prepared for the Modern meta. You never really know  what to  expect  in these last minute GPTs--sometimes it's people who just lost byes because they stopped playing for 6 months and sometimes it's random amateur or casual players. I thought maybe Kevin was a casual player.

Kevin wrecked me.

Let's just say I hadn't exactly prepared for Naya Zoo to be a deck at the GP. I think we all know that 4-Colour and Domain Zoo type decks did pretty well overall this weekend, but I can say that I had no way to deal with double Ghor-Clan Rampager when I drew ZERO copies of Lightning Bolt in game one.

"No worries--I'll just run it back in the next grinder" is what I was thinking...

The Second Grinder
I already wasn't super hot on Delver for the weekend. I knew Pod was going to be a big thing so I was trying to convince myself to play Delver instead of Burn.
Ironically, my opponent in round one of the second grinder was on... Burn. Good old RB Burn, actually--so no Boros Charm or Helix in favour of Bump in the Night. He had splashed blue for Treasure Cruise, thankfully.

I couldn't flip a Delver to save my life.

I faded three land in a row on one Delver. Still, I managed to get him to 5 life in game one and 10 life in game two.
But mostly I drew land.

The Third Grinder
At this point I said something to the effect of "forget this--I'm going to play Burn and just roll through a grinder." Well, I nearly did.
Daniel was on an interesting RW Midrange deck I have seen a few variants of. When I saw Arid Mesa and Rugged Prairie I feared the worst-- Soul Sisters splashing for Norin.

I nailed him down to 6 life twice but he kept casting Lightning Helix and I never drew Skullcrack.

I ended game two with 6 land in play and 3 in hand. I'll let you guess who took the match.

I had fun playing these grinders. After each devastating loss I talked with Jason and James and we concluded there really wasn't anything I could have done--sometimes you just draw land, sometimes you just don't win the race to twenty, and sometimes you just draw land again.

We had an awesome dinner with a buddy of mine who lives in Omaha (steaks, beers, and bread pudding), then retired to the hotel to prepare for the main event.
I settled on playing Burn and tweaked my side board a little bit (the list posted above has the 60 from the grinders but the 15 from the main event. I couldn't remember what I registered for the grinder as a sideboard.)

I'll post about the main event soon enough.

First Post!

I firmly believe that the first post in any venue on the internet should contain no real information of use...

First post!