This week we’ll be taking a break from our usual Commander content in favor of talking about what happens when a no-longer-competitive player enters into one of the harder tournaments out there. That’s right, folks, I got an invite to the SCG Invitational in Sommerset, NJ, and I did not do all that bad!


I mean, I didn’t make it to day two, and I made some egregious errors along the way, but I went into this tournament knowing that I needed to set some reasonable goals. I haven’t played Legacy in a while, and I think the last time I played Standard I was rocking a BR Zombies list to Day 2 GP Atlantic City… and that was when Innistrad was still legal! In short, I was horribly out of practice, so it seemed like an absurdity to set the goal of making it to day two of this high-level tournament, beating out many players who take these formats super seriously.


But I had fun. I played Punishing Jund in Legacy and a deck I’ve been calling Tony Selesnya in Standard, after the local brewer and long time Hipster friend who’s been coming at these formats with his own brews ever since I’ve met him. I still remember the mono-white deck he was playing back in Alara block. It wasn’t the best deck ever, but mono-white control tends to stick in a person’s mind.


It’s not a downside when you get to recur Punishing Fire for a single red mana every time your opponent gains life. And sometimes, you get back more than one at a time.

Going in, I set some reasonable victory conditions for my day. I wanted to pull off the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows math challenge/soft lock. I wanted to cast Bloodbraid Elf and cascade into Liliana of the Veil. I wanted to dominate a game thanks to Deathrite Shaman. I wanted to win at least one game of Standard, and I wanted to avoid getting blown out in two games. I succeeded at these goals.


As I was playing, I found new victory conditions, things that after I did them I was so thrilled that I added them to my mental success list. That included things like Wastelanding my own Bayou to survive an otherwise lethal Price of Progress, and winning my second game of Standard (something I had absolutely not expected to do). Honestly, it felt nice to be live for day two up until round seven of an eight round tournament. I wish I had ended with an even record, and I wish that I had done better in Legacy, but the first achievement would have required me to play till round eight, and the second was very clearly due to my own rusty skills.


I’m also a little rusty on tournament reports, but I think here’s where I put in my Legacy decklist. Observe!


Punishing Jund

Creatures (16)
Bloodbraid Elf
Dark Confidant
Deathrite Shaman

Spells (21)
Abrupt Decay
Hymn to Tourach
Lightning Bolt
Liliana of the Veil
Punishing Fire
Sylvan Library
Lands (23)
Bloodstained Mire
Grove of the Burnwillows
Verdant Catacombs
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Red Elemental Blast
Pernicious Deed
Golgari Charm
Jund Charm
Toxic Deluge
Diabolic Edict
Pithing Needle
Ancient Grudge
Scavenging Ooze
Maelstrom Pulse
Life from the Loam


Protection. From. Everything.

Round One – Bob, Playing Elves


I’m rusty, right? And I just put Punishing Jund together the night before the tournament. So I only got to practice against the one deck we happened to also have together. That deck, of course, was Elves. Sub-optimal Elves, even! And it was not a particularly good matchup for me. So when I sat down and my opponent opened with a mana dork, I knew I was in trouble. 30 points of damage in a single turn later, we were on to game two.


I won game two. It was interesting, because I played a turn one Thoughtseize to see that his Progenitus was in hand, as was a Natural Order. I kept his board clear and I avoided using Liliana as anything other than an Edict, because even if he could drop a creature and Natural Order it immediately a Craterhoof Behemoth for six damage wouldn’t kill me. Progenitus, a much more dangerous threat in that deck, is usually a singleton, whereas there are usually two Craterhoof Behemoths. Then I killed him with a Bloodbraid Elf cascading into a Dark Confidant.


Game three was no contest, though. I kept a hand with Liliana, spot removal, and Pernicious Deed, and then died before my turn four. Turns one and two my opponent dropped a mana dork and two Deathrite Shamans, before casting Natural Order on turn three to get Progenitus. I untapped on my turn three, killed one of the two remaining Deathrite Shamans, knowing that my only out was to take a hit from Progenitus, untap, draw a Lightning Bolt, Bolt the Deathrite Shaman, and then use Liliana of the Veil to kill Progenitus when the board was clear. My opponent, realizing that giving me an extra turn gave me some outs, instead Natural Ordered away the remaining Deathrite Shaman for Craterhoof Behemoth, before killing me with a 12/12 Progenitus and a 7/7 Craterhoof Behemoth.


So that happened!


This is the key card in Imperial Painter. Painter’s Servant makes your deck all the same color, and then this mills you out.

Round Two – Jon, Playing Imperial Painter


I am embarrassed at how badly I threw this round away. Game one this involved wasting a Lightning Bolt on an Imperial Recruiter when I knew he had the lethal Painter’s Servant in hand. I have no idea why I did it, but it happened. Game three this involved getting cocky and not fetching at the very least a basic Forest, despite the fact that I knew he had Blood Moon in his deck and I had a Bloodbraid Elf in hand that could have cascaded into an out. Instead, I got nonbasics so I could cast Thoughtseize, Thoughtseize, Duress in the first two turns, and he proceeded to topdeck the Blood Moon and lock me out of the game.


But game two was amazing for me. I got Punishing Fire online, keeping his board clear, while my Deathrites kept plinking away at his life total. I got basics, so his Blood Moon actually would have helped me, had I not gotten it with Liliana of the Veil. In short, I played the match like I needed if I wanted to win it, and I did.


Afterwards, talking to friends (including new Hipsters of the Coast writer Derek, whose weekly column you should really check out), they were curious as to why I didn’t side in my REBs (I brought in Pulse, Duress, Grudge, and Needle for my ‘Goyfs). My thought on that, which may very well be wrong, is that it’s right for my opponent to assume I have them. Since they can use theirs to counter mine, they control when they drop Painter’s Servant, and they can name a color other than blue, it seemed like they could end up pretty dead. And in fact they would have been; game three, when I needed some sort of removal spell for that Blood Moon, my opponent named black instead of blue; they would have been useless.


Should have been reprinted in Return to Ravnica as a Gruul card. Perhaps it’s too powerful for Modern, though. Perhaps.

Round Three – James, Playin UR Delver


Blue/Red Delver plays like a burn deck, and that’s the side of the deck I managed to handle. I was less successful against his game one play of Delver of Secrets followed by Delver of Secrets, which both immediately flipped. I think I was constrained on resources or something on top of it, but no matter the cause, I lost that match. I took out my Hymn to Tourachs and my Tarmogoyfs for Red Elemental Blast, Jund Charm, Duress, Toxic Deluge, and Maelstrom Pulse, not wanting to die to those damn Delvers again.


Of course, UR Delver can’t handle Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows. So when I got that online in game two, the hit to my opponent’s morale was obvious. That was the game where he tried to kill me with Price of Progress; I had just dropped my sixth land while at ten life, in order to recur Punishing Fire twice a turn, and my response, Wastlanding my Bayou, still left me at two life. But that was enough to get there, as my opponent never drew a non-creature kill spell in the few turns he had left in the game.


Game three was just gross. He turn one Gitaxian Probed me, so I have my hand recorded for posterity: Abrupt Decay, Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, Jund Charm, Bloodstained Mire, Wooded Foothills, oh, and Abrupt Decay. Again, he just sighed. I untapped and Thoughtseized him, and his hand was Lightning Bolt, Lightning Bolt, Gitaxian Probe, Scalding Tarn, Scalding Tarn. He got me down to seven at one point, and I was in danger of entering burn range, but Deathrite Shaman did its job and I ended at ten life, safe and sound.


This card is never going to make it into Modern. Thank god.

Round Four – Charles, Playing Burn


Burn was a good deck even before they printed Eidolon of the Great Revel. And that card is bonkers. Bananas? Bonkers. Charles said he was primarily a Standard player, but he played that deck like a fiddle. He won game one at 18 life, with me having to scramble to kill his Eidolons and attempt to keep his hand size down before even getting a chance to go on the offense. I wanted to side out half my deck, but my sideboard wasn’t really prepared for it, so I ended up just taking out the Thoughtseizes in favor of Scavenging Ooze, Duress, and god knows what else.


I won game two. He got me down to six, but I got to go on the offense and Tarmogoyf proved its merit in this game. Eidolon of the Great Revel is both a creature and an enchantment! I hit him in increments of eight damage a pop, and that did it.


Game three was a heartbreaker, although on paper it doesn’t seem as close as it felt. My opponent was out of cards and down to two lands, I had a racked Liliana of the Veil and a Deathrite Shaman on the board, but I took a turn off to Bloodbraid because I needed to up my clock. There were a lot of things I could have cascaded into, but I was looking for a Tarmogoyf. Instead, I found a Lightning Bolt, and he topdecked a Fireblast for the kill. Had I not taken the turn off from Deathrite lifegain I would still have been dead, and my only out was to ultimate Liliana there, which was the wrong play. So it was an honest death, it just felt soulcrushing at the time.


It’s not a 1/1 creature like it says in the corner, and it screws up combat math. I can see why people would make errors around it.

I was one and three leading out of Legacy, and that was the format I knew. I had no high hopes for how Standard would go. I don’t really feel like giving the total breakdown of how it went, because I don’t even know how to properly name the opposing archetypes, but my first two opponents died to their misplays, usually surrounding Sunblade Elf. For some reason people forget about that card! One opponent thought his mana dork would trade with it, and the other opponent forgot about it and blocked a Wurm token with his Polukranos with no mana out. That opponent ragequit on the spot; he knew his mistake as soon as I moved my hand to my mana, but he had VERY explicitly said he locked his block… mistakes happen, you know?


Anyway, in round seven a Blue White Control deck, with victory conditions and everything, took me out. He was a nice guy, cold to start but he warmed up as we played. I took game two by sneaking underneath his pressure, but game three he managed to stabilize behind Jace, and then when he Fact or Fictioned and saw an Elspeth his excitement was palpable. Of course, he drew an Aetherling next turn and didn’t even need the Elspeth to kill me, but it was a fun match, well played.


So, if I learned a lesson from all this, it would be that you need to make your own victory conditions, in life and in tournament Magic. Had I gone there to win, I would have had a terrible time. Since I went there to do cool things, I had a blast. Don’t be afraid to lose, it’s part of life. Roll with the losses, and make the best of your bad hands… the strong oak breaks in the wind, whilst the slender reed bends and survives it.


Jess Stirba is all about the reed. 

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