This past weekend I played back-to-back Standard events, trying to get in some games before GP New York, er, I mean, GP Secaucus New Jersey. I played GR Ramp for game day and a PPTQ in Abington, MA. I went 4-2 and 3-3 respectively. The deck felt reasonable but I played pretty poorly on both days. My punts included incorrectly zero-ing Chandra for the majority of Saturday (I discarded and drew that many cards), missing a crucial Kozilek’s Return flashback, and incorrectly sideboarding basically the whole time. For an exact list, I played Nick Furno’s first place deck from SCG States Massachusetts. He posted the list, an overview of the deck, and some sideboarding guidelines on r/spikes and since I was locked on ramp I ran his 75:

RG Ramp

Creatures (12)
Jaddi Offshoot
World Breaker
Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (23)
Chandra, Flamecaller
Kozilek’s Return
Oath of Nissa
Explosive Vegetation
Nissa’s Pilgrimage
Nissa’s Renewal
Lands (25)
Cinder Glade
Sanctum Of Ugin
Shrine Of The Forsaken Gods

Sideboard (15)
Eldrazi Obligator
Thought-Knot Seer
Clip Wings
Spatial Contortion
Warping Wail

For the GP, I think I’m going to shave down some of the high end for a few Elvish Visionary and retool the sideboard a little bit. While I really enjoyed the colorless spells in the board, they feel a bit clunky given that you’re casting them off only nine colorless sources. Perhaps the deck could play some Evolving Wilds to ensure access to the Wastes but it might, in turn, slow the deck down a little bit. I have another two days of playtesting so let’s hope I can settle on a list.

Play #1

Regardless of my own mediocre performance at Game Day and the PPTQ, I wanted to talk about a game I watched my friend Tim play as I think it is reinforces the notion of always playing to your outs. I will do my best to construct the board:

20 life
2 cards in hand
In play:
5 lands (1 Shambling Vents, 4 other black and white producing lands)

ArchangelImage (4)Image


2 life
2 cards in hand (Chandra + Untapped Land)
In play:
5 lands (2 Needle Spires, 1 Wandering Fumarole, 2 colorless lands)

Image (1)pAT2ZVOJYcImage (3)Image (2)

It’s Tim’s turn and he draws Chandra, to go along with an untapped land in his hand. The situation looks pretty bleak. Tim could play Chandra but can’t kill the six toughness Archangel of Tithes. Just playing Chandra and zeroing or plus one-ing is bad because it means that he can’t pay mana to block the opponent’s creatures and will die. Tim could not play anything but would be at risk of dying immediately if his opponent had a kill spell. Best case scenario, he would chump the Archangel with Skyspawner and then need to draw another answer to Archangel. The problem with this scenario is that he’s out of answers: Eldrazi Displacer is too mana intensive and the deck doesn’t have any spot removal that lines up 0ne-for-one with Archangel.

Tim decides that his only out is to get the opponent to block with Archangel, play a land from hand, sac the scion, play Chandra and -4, leaving only a Vile Aggregate that could block the opponents Shambling Vent on the following turn. Despite the opponent being at 20, he does in fact block with Archangel. This is a marginally better play if you put Tim on having Planar Outburst. If Tim has only Tears of Valakut, blocking with Archangel isn’t so bad since the opponent can activate Shambling Vents and attack with all creatures for lethal the following turn. But Tim of course had Chandra and went on to win the game.

Watching this game I felt that Tim was about 5% to win when making the Skyspawner attack. Yet, 5% is better than nothing, the opponent didn’t play around the out, and Tim went on to take the match.

Always play to the out.

Play #2

Since this is a Modern oriented column, I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the SCG Open this weekend in Milwaukee. While the top 32 decklists look great, with reasonable diversity, the thing I was most interested in was Joe Lossett’s games. While I’ve watched him play Miracles in Legacy with considerable skill, I was blown away by his ability to pilot RG Tron. While I know Tron isn’t considered to be one of the most skill intensive decks, this dude played like a master and managed to make the finals of the Open after defeating Death’s Shadow Aggro and Burn, both of which are pretty terrible match-ups for Tron.

The match I want to discuss was against Jory White, on Burn, in the semifinals. Joe had tron assembled but no action going on and was at a dangerously low life total. In order to get back in the match, Joe had to Nature’s Claim his own Expedition Map, play an actual threat, and hope that White drew multiple lands. After White launched a Lava Spike at Joe’s face, he passed the turn leaving up a land and a fetch land. White should have cracked his fetch on his own turn before playing the Spike in order to hold up his Skull Crack. Conversely, he could have passed and not cracked the fetch, just waiting until his turn. This of course is not what happened, White cracked the fetch, and Joe seeing the narrow window to Claim his own Expedition Map responded to the fetch and gained a few life.

Despite the fact that Joe saw the opening, he was still in a lot of trouble, and at seven life, meaning his Skullcrack and a Boros Charm off the top was lethal. Joe did manage to play a Wurmcoil Engine, but needed to connect in order to put the game out of reach. When he attacked White had the Skullcrack, and put Joe to four. Joe played a Spellskite post combat. White drew a Destructive Revelry on his turn and opted to blow up the Spellskite. Had he waited until Joe’s turn and targeted the Wurmcoil, it would have been impossible for Joe to redirect (since the phyrexian mana plus the two damage off Revelry would have killed him), and Joe would be at two, meaning any burn spell off the top would do the trick.

I tell this story not to disparage White, who by all accounts had to play very well to make the semifinals of such a big tournament, but to point out that small mistakes matter. Joe played to his outs, he needed Jory to make mistakes and for him to draw poorly, and it just so happened that it went down just like he drew it up.

While I don’t often get into specific plays, after 12 hours of playing Magic and a solid four watching on Twitch this weekend, these two moments stuck with me as I sat down to write. It’s easy to complain about variance in all its forms but it’s always more worthwhile to look at what angles you have available to you when sitting across from a bad situation. Tim and Joe played to their outs and were rewarded; games, matches, and tournaments are decided on minute details and small decisions.

In terms of Magic, Shawn Massak is a Modern enthusiast, with a penchant for tier two decks, counterspells, and pre Eighth Edition frames. In terms of life, Shawn lives in Brighton, MA where he works as an employment coordinator for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and spends his free time reading comics, complaining about pro-wrestling, and wishing his apartment allowed dogs as pets.

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