Going into Day 2 of Grand Prix Charlotte, I was 7-1-1, playing at the top of my game and in a solid position for a high finish. Five rounds later, I was checking the drop box after going 1-4 and wondering where it all went wrong. SCG Charlotte was in many ways a challenge of redemption for me; while I had been working on Grixis Control for a while, had written multiple articles and shared numerous opinions and advice both on my Twitch stream and on this very site, I really had nothing to prove to anyone but myself.
At my best, I’m confident, playing tight, crafting the game to a point in the future of my own divine choosing. I’ve qualified for a Pro Tour, decimated an rPTQ field with probably the best deck I’ve ever constructed, and played the pants off of opponents while doves rained from the heavens. At my worst, I’ve punted away innumerable matches, I’ve doubted my abilities and my successes, and wondered if I should even continue devoting time, money, and energy to this incredible but demanding game. To most people, SCG Charlotte was just a tournament, but to me, it was an opportunity for validation. This is my tournament report.
Leading up to the event, I expected a relatively diverse field with no clear direction. Grand Prix Charlotte and the Modern Festival series results were relatively dated, and I expected many players to just play their favorite deck. My own preparation for the event consisted primarily of streaming and tuning my pet deck, Grixis Control, while keeping an eye out for trends and new tech from MTGO Daily results. While there was some interesting developments (primarily Wild Nacatl in Burn lists) it’s telling that most event results from days before SCG Charlotte looked relatively the same compared to results from Grand Prix Charlotte a few months ago. If I had to pick a Public Enemy #1, it would probably be Grixis Control, as the deck had received a lot of attention from major writers and I had seen it a bunch both online and at some local events. Maybe this should have scared me off the deck, but I knew that Grixis had the chops to compete in a relatively hateful field, and I planned on doing some things that people wouldn’t necessarily be prepared for.
Grixis Control, Trevor Holmes - SCG Charlotte 2015
2 Gurmag Angler
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
3 Kolaghan’s Command
4 Thought Scour
2 Cryptic Command
2 Spell Snare
2 Mana Leak
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Serum Visions
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
1 Sulfur Falls
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Izzet Staticaster
4 Fulminator Mage
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Leyline of the Void
1 Engineered Explosives
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These “things” were, of course, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in the main and some sideboard trumps in the form of Bitterblossom and Leyline of the Void. Minor changes, for sure, but I knew my deck was solid and lean and I had built up a lot of value in just grinding out matches and knowing my role in every matchup. Grixis Control is one of those decks that one player can pilot to an X-2 finish while another player with a different playstyle might go 0-2 with the same list. Knowing when to turn the corner, when to aggressively cast Lightning Bolt to drop Snapcaster Mage quickly for value, when to fight over protecting Gurmag Angler/letting it die are all complex interactions that aren’t immediately clear to new players picking up the deck.
Michael Majors debuted an interesting take on Grixis Control that dropped most of the counterspells, upped the land count, and played a full four copies of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and two Liliana of the Veils. While interesting, I wasn’t swayed to play that version, as it’s basically built like Jund, but with Jace instead of Tarmogoyf , and Serum Visions instead of discard spells (more on this later).
Day 1 of SCG Charlotte played out very similarly to Day 1 of GP Charlotte. Every round I faced a deck whose matchup I would describe as somewhere between “even” and “poor”, but tight play and the strength of my strategy tipped the match in my favor. I rattled off a quick 3-0, beating Burn, Affinity, and Elves, before dropping two matches against UR Twin and Affinity to put me at 3-2. For the wins, there’s not much I can say other than my deck performed and executed its gameplan well; Dispels did work against Burn, Anglers gave me a solid clock to race Affinity, and Jace decimated Elves board over and over until they scooped. My Affinity loss to Phillip Lorren (a very strong Atlanta player) was unfortunate, as I failed to find my third land game one, or my fourth land in game two with Damnation in hand. I’m ok with losing one match a day to bad luck, as I’d be ecstatic to go into Day 2 X-1 with perfect play.
The UR Twin matchup, on the other hand, was winnable, but I threw it away. Delving a Gurmag Angler in game two, I tapped an extra mana to leave a spell in my graveyard for Snapcaster Mage with my opponent on six lands and two cards in hand, letting him Deceiver Exarch, tapping down one of my two mana sources and letting him untap and cast Splinter Twin while I had a Mana Leak in hand. If he hit his seventh land drop the game wouldn’t have even been close, but I definitely gave my opponent the opportunity to win immediately by playing loose for no reason. Game three was unfortunate, as I died to Blood Moon and Keranos, God of Storms (which I continue to argue are bad against me), slammed on turn three and five into open mana when I had neither counterspells nor fetchlands to fetch basics. Shrug. My own fault for allowing a third game to happen in the first place, I guess.
While 6-3 could Day 2, I had something to prove, and won my next four matches against Scapeshift, Elves, Jeskai Control, and Temur Twin to advance to Day 2 with a record of 7-2. My draws weren’t insane, and my opponents played well, but my deck did its thing. Grixis Control rewards planning ahead and playing towards a line more than any other deck I’ve played recently, and I love the cohesiveness that comes from dropping a quick Snapcaster to get some hits in, only to return it with a Kolaghan’s Command after baiting removal to gain more value later and cobble together scraps of damage to turn Gurmag Angler into a blistering two turn clock. Decision trees with Grixis Control can be long and complex, and seeing a line through to the end is both very satisfying and skill intensive.
After starting Day 1 3-0, I quipped to a passing Ken Crocker that we should make a deal: “I keep winning, and he gives me a feature match.” He replied with “I’ll make you a deal. IF you keep winning, EVENTUALLY you will get a feature match!” 7-2 seemed to be good enough, as I got a small table feature match to start Day 2 against U/W Control. Thanks Ken!
His deck was interesting, eschewing the Sun Titan/Pilgrim’s Eye/draft deck shambles for Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, and maindeck Celestial Purge. Weird. Game 1 saw me fall to an (avalanche??) of Faerie Conclaves and Snapcaster Mages while I floundered.
Game 2 began with draw-go for the first few turns until my opponent flashed in a Restoration Angel. With a hand full of lands, Gurmag Angler, and not much else, I had to let it resolve, only to draw Cryptic Command for my turn. What follows is an interesting line:
I pass back, with seven mana available. My opponent swings, I take it, he plays a land and passes (none of us have tapped mana at this point). I go to draw a card, touch it, it doesn’t touch my hand, I say “hold on” and put it back on top of my deck (opponent nods). I cast Cryptic for bounce/draw, and my opponent thinks for a second and casts Mana Leak (which I pay for). He nods and picks up Restoration Angel, I draw, and then go to untap, at which point my opponent calls a judge. The Head Judge answers our call, and my opponent argues that he thought we were in my upkeep. While, as the judge put it, it makes no “tactical sense” to tap all my lands in my upkeep, my action to draw a card shows intent that we are not still on my opponent’s turn, and it’s entirely reasonable for my opponent to believe that we are instead in my upkeep. The conclusion is that all of my lands are tapped, and I pass and die to my opponent’s Rest in Peace + Snapcaster Mage + Restoration Angel windmills. RIP.
While I guess it’s normal for players to get tilted after something like this, I don’t normally get that upset. Sure, I should wreck U/W Control, but whatever. My deck is great, I’m 7-3 and still in good position for Top 8 if I win out and get good breaks. What followed was a whirlwind of losses that I still can’t explain.
I faced Chris Yarbrough (another local NC player) in Round 11, playing Amulet Bloom. The ONLY Amulet player to Day 2. He crushes me, as my draw of Deprive/Spell Snare with Gurmag Angler and lands does nothing against his double Cavern of Souls/cast Primeval Titan on Turn 6 the fair way draw. Round 12 I die to Burn unspectacularly, and Round 13 I take a heartbreaker of a loss to Devon Teague (Charlotte represent!) playing Abzan. With him topdecking and me stabilizing at around 7, his board is Plains/Forest/Godless Shrine with Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Scavenging Ooze to my Tasigur/Snapcaster Mage with four land and another Snapcaster in hand. For his turn, he draws Lingering Souls, which he plays and passes. I draw Damnation, at which point I tank and eventually pass, electing to activate Tasigur and cast Damnation next turn once he flashes back Lingering Souls. At that point, he has few relevant draws, as any removal spell/Liliana/ground creature/land does nothing, and he’s heavily incentivized to flashback Souls as Tasigur can grant me removal spells to grind down his Spirits. Instead, he draws Thoughtseize, nabs my Damnation, flashes back Souls, and I die to his flyers a couple turns later. Shrug.
It’s hard to explain why things don’t work out sometimes. My deck executed on Day 1, and things just didn’t break my way Day 2. That would make sense in a hateful field, and while I rarely faced any cakewalk matchups, I didn’t really see a lot of hate either. Naya Zoo and Jund packing Chokes were nowhere to be found around me, instead, all I saw was a bunch of Twin and Grixis mirrors that I wished I was playing myself. One of the losses on Day 1 was absolutely my fault, and I blame the other on variance, but Day 2 just seemed to fall apart for me, and it was definitely not because of tilt. I consider myself to be pretty self-critical when it comes to my game lately, and besides communicating clearly in the UW match I don’t see much I could have done differently. It’s slightly frustrating, as my takeaway from the event is strangely “I still think my deck is awesome, but it didn’t pan out” but I specifically remember thinking the same thing after Grand Prix Charlotte, where I went 7-1-1 on Day 1 and 1-4 on Day 2. Some stats for the history books: my Day 1 record between both events is 14-3-1, while my combined Day 2 record is 1-8. Those numbers are hard to ignore, and something definitely needs to change, I’m just not sure what it is.
The dark corner of my mind says that I can’t hang with the Day 2 crowd, and while Day 2’s are tougher I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I can confidently say that since Grand Prix Charlotte I have played more Modern and practiced more with my deck than any of the 509 players that showed up to play (between streaming and just jamming games, I’ve played at least 40 matches a week since GP Charlotte, almost all with Grixis). While by no means FNM, the SCG Open series isn’t the Pro Tour either, and I did OK there. Some players struggle with the drop off after making Day 2; they feel that they’ve “made it” so they let off and start coasting. I’ve never really had that problem, as I rarely find difficulty with staying focused during events, or losing sight of my goal (which is always to win the event, not just Top 8). I don’t look ahead either, instead taking things one match at a time, even to the point that I often don’t know what record Day 2’s or Top 8’s until somebody tells me sometime during the day. Part of me wants to say that it’s just variance, I could have just as easily went 0-2 and spent the weekend with my pants off on my couch eating Cheetos, and instead I went into Day 2 X-2 and tied for 13th basically. I guess it’s all about perception and what I choose to take away from the event.
Michael Majors’ take on Grixis looks fun to play, but as mentioned by Patrick Sullivan, is probably worse in the Jund matchup. This isn’t necessarily a knock against the deck, just something to keep in mind as Majors DID lose to Joe in the quarters and Joe went on to win the Open. While this probably won’t make many Merfolk players rush out and purchase playsets of Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil, his win probably translates into a slightly larger representation of Jund online as people try out his list. Again, not a reason to not play Majors’ deck, just be aware that more lands and less counterspells will not line up well against the attrition based tap-out deck. As for which list I think is better, it’s hard to argue with Majors’ Top 8 versus my drop, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little biased towards my deck. I would be doing everyone that values my opinion a disservice if I snapped off an uninformed opinion without playing the deck myself, so I plan on doing that before making any uninformed statements. Exercise in restraint accomplished!
I hope my writing doesn’t come across as dejected or negative. While I am my own worst critic, I also am very self-aware, and I know that I owe much of my recent success in Magic and streaming to my ability to step back, analyze what I could be doing better, and then do whatever I can to fix it. This article is that mental conversation is physical form, and I hope you were able to take something from it. As always, I’ll be back at it immediately, constantly looking to improve and anxious to play some more paper Magic!
Big congrats to Joseph Herrera for winning his third SCG Open trophy; I’ve watched him put that sweet foil Jund list together over the years and it was awesome seeing it crush on stream. GOT’EM! For all of you, thanks for reading my thoughts this week! I plan on bouncing around, trying a few new decks in Modern, but I’m not abandoning Grixis Control or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy.
If you have any comments/opinions, feel free to let me know in the comments or stop by my stream at www.twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Hope to see you there!
The_Architect on MTGO