The Grind – SCG Las Vegas

Greetings AZMagicPlayers! The beginning of March marked another stop for the StarCityGames Open Series in Las Vegas, and despite the fact that I’ve had better tournament weekends there, it was a lot of fun to see Arizona as a whole collect some prize money. We can lay relative claim to 3 and a half to 4 of the players who made the Top 8 in Standard, my personal favorite being Gary Wong, breaking my heart by not becoming my Vegas trophy buddy.

For those of you unfamiliar, my name is Jonathan Kornacki. I had an all-around unexciting weekend, but played well, and was rewarded fairly well for what were relatively unorthodox deck choices for me. In Standard, I was on Jund, basically abandoning my instincts to play what I know well, and taking advice from a number of respected sources, not the least of which was Adam Percy, or my coworker Sam Meyer, but also a man I hold in the highest possible regard, Reid Duke, in his article earlier in the week, calling it the best deck.

Creatures (14)
Olivia Voldaren
Huntmaster of the Fells
Arbor Elf

Spells (22)
Tragic Slip
Abrupt Decay
Bonfire of the Damned
Rakdos’s Return
Mizzium Mortars
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Liliana of the Veil <3

Lands (24)
Kessig Wolf Run
Overgrown Tomb
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Woodland Cemetery
Dragonskull Summit
Rootbound Crag
Sideboard (15)
Underworld Connections
Rakdos’s Return
Acidic Slime
Grafdigger’s Cage
Ground Seal
Pillar of Flame
Staff of Nin

If I had to play this deck again I would certainly want another copy of Acidic Slime in the board, but this deck lived up in every way to what Reid said about it, as well as my friend Adam who handed me the deck (I did not play it a game before the Open, and haven’t since an FNM in Bloodbraid Standard). Awkward control matchups(where I’m used to being the control player), where the removal all sucks game one, but your threats are powerful enough to win on their own if you can grind them down with one for ones. And the sideboard helps in large part to just transform and be playing the right type of deck against any given opponent. Hopefully this tournament will spare me, ease on in so I can learn how to operate the deck.

Round 1- Feature match against Travis Woo, on Monoblack Crypt Ghast Jund

Travis traveled even further than I did to be here today, and was looking to impress with his latest brew. We were awkwardly moved to the camera area sometime in the middle of my turn two, and told to wait several minutes while they caught up with the recording equipment. During this time, we joked and I told him I had too much respect for him, and that I had to stay on my toes, he had most assuredly accounted for my deck, and I had most definitely not accounted for his. While we were frozen in the aether, he asked if I had the Farseek to continue for my second turn, and he was delighted when I responded that I actually did, and that it was probably going to be a good game.

On the play, he’d started with a Sign in Blood on his second turn, and when we got the flag-drop from the judge I slammed my land + Farseek and went hunting while I shipped the turn. I had some slow starting aggression to follow up my Farseek: The replays will eventually have to remind me exactly what combination of creatures applied the pressure, but I remember telling him just how good I’ve found Mutilate to be in this format moments after he got me with the powerful sorcery. My Kessig allowed me to pressure him down pretty low, but a Crypt Ghast allowed him to cast the worst-case scenario for my board state, a Griselbrand. Sick way to lose on camera to be honest ^_^
Game two I landed a Duress plus a smidge of ramp, which wasn’t quite enough to spare me from a pretty devastating Rakdos’s Return from him before I was able to land my own. I was able to keep the pressure on, and did work with Kessig Wolf Run, but it was Travis who cast the Sign in Blood on himself for the final two points. Game three, I vaguely remember pacing out my threats and setting up a longer term game plan, but having it be mostly for naught as he hit me with another Rakdos’s Return. Still having a board, I followed up with what Danny Smith would call the sickest rip of my tournament, my homegirl Liliana of the veil, which put the pressure on his hand. as well as setting up awkward ultimatums for creatures like Crypt Ghast and Vampire nighthawk. My draws held up: The final turns of the game saw him play a Crypt Ghast plus Vampire Nighthawk against my Thragtusk and Liliana with counters, I topdecked my own copy of Rakdos’s Return, allowing me to just make him sac the Nighthawk to try and get Griselbrand into play (he’d otherwise been planning to Kessig his nighthawk for a million), attack with the Tusk, and Return him out of the game.


Round 2- Richard, on U/W/R

He won the roll, and revealed himself to be some kind of U/W/R deck, but one that was getting a less than stellar draw against me. He was so threatlight game one that I was just able to develop my mana and apply soft pressure, but his removal did very little against my cards, whereas I was able to dispatch anything resembling a threat from him. I had him on boarding in some kind of planeswalkers given how unable to muster any action he’d been game one, and brought in Duress and a little bit of control hate accordingly, probably close to standard operating procedure, at least if people play this deck like I do. Game two I’m able to ramp into a Rakdos’s for four, but it’s at that awkward stage in the game where we’ve traded off a few cards each, him on Augurs and Restoration Angels, and able to Sphinx’s into more copies of all 3 of those cards, making it look easy. He actually made it look as though my Return didn’t do anything at all, but he did reveal himself to be on planeswalkers as well as Supreme Verdicts.

Game three, I cast an early Duress, revealing a pretty shaky keep, very light on disruption of any kind. I take his Jace and play around his Supreme Verdict, biding my time and drawing a million extra cards with Underworld Connections, with Arbor Elf. Without time or resources to cast Sphinx’s while dispatching my threats, he was buried in card advantage, and I was starting off 2-0 for the first time in what feels like years.


Round 3- Joe, on Jund Aggro

He started on the play, me taking a mulligan, but was slow, readable as a mirror match for the first couple turns of the game. He revealed his decks true style with a Falkenrath Aristocrat on 4, precisely the reason Percy had suggested I play so many Tragic Slips, but they were nowhere to be found. A couple of Thragtusks bought me some draw steps, and made a game of it, but he wrapped things up with a Ghor-Clan Rampager activation, even though I was actually dead on board and tapped out, to his Dreg Mangler + Falkenrath with scavenge.  Game two, I have a fairly optimal draw, dispatching his threats while on the play, with time to ramp, which puts a Garruk on my battlefield. His Hellrider might have done stuff, but the singleton Murder drowned him in a sea of 3/3 beasts. Game three we both took a mulligan, and I’d like to think it was as close as I could have made it. Through a series of Huntmasters and Thragtusks, I gained a substantial chunk of life, but it could not stand up to his mono 4-drop draw (again a little slow, considering). On turns 4 and 5 he player attacking Falkenrath Aristocrats, plus protection, then he dropped Olivia, and was then nearly as stunned as I was to see himself pull the third aristocrat off the top to hit me for 16. I remember him making a highly questionable block on the turn before, possibly putting me in the game, but it was a tricky board state. I was left with the decision to play Liliana and make him sacrifice a creature (which may have saved me given how the game played out), or play Garruk and draw 5 cards, basically hoping to hit a tragic slip, Dreadbore, Pillar of Flame, or Mizzium Mortars to do the same thing, and make far more efficient use of my mana. I drew the cards and it wound up costing me, although I’m still not 100% sure it was incorrect. We acknowledged each other as tiebreakers and wished each other good luck.


Round 4- Juan, G/W humans

We get our first deck check of the day, and presumably the first Juan’s had in his decades on this planet. No big deal. He wins the roll, and we trade mulligans, me taking two and him one. He leads with a Mayor of Avabruck on turn 2, me having only an Arbor Elf in play, and all lands in hand. I consider myself just as unlikely to beat his draw on four cards, so I stand by the keep, but after I drew another land I scooped, to his confusion, before showing him another card, not content to watch him kill me with a Howlpack Alpha. Games two and three are much better executions of Jund’s matchup against creature decks, a pair of Huntmasters providing all the breathing room I needed to pick off his creatures and get value out of my planeswalkers in game two, and more of the same in game three, despite being on the mulligan, on the draw.


Round 5- Nick, B/R Zombies

Nick wins the roll, and it winds up being one of those matchups where I really wish he didn’t. He doesn’t have a one drop, me placing him firmly on another jund deck, just to see the old B/R A-team come out with knight of infamy, and a Geralf’s Messenger that my draw is pretty ill-equipped to deal with. He hits me with a Nighthawk after I Mizzium Mortars his Knight, I am then re-introduced to the now familiar site of a pair of Falkenrath Aristocrats trumping my None of a kind Tragic Slips. Game two was a solid repeat of the first, fighting valiantly through slow ground beats with Huntmasters and sorcery speed removal, only to watch him attack me for four with an Aristocrat, and then eight with a second copy. GG contention.


Round 6- Cory, Naya Midrange

Cory’s list looked a little funny…I remember at one point seeing him discard a terminus in game one, despite having all the apparent pieces of a strictly aggressive deck, with Boros Reckoner, Restoration Angel, and Thragtusk. His Domri + Reckoner proved deadly in our game one, with him on the play, but in game two I was able to cast my first miracle Bonfire (like, ever). That version of the card certainly appears to be standard playable in my humble opinion. Game three, his judge playmat was outweighed in my eyes by his apparent rage issues…it can be tough to hand someone their second-third loss of the day, but it happens to most everyone in the tournament. I did have some early aggressive lifegain against a manageable aggro draw, but my Bonfires are both what kept the game within my grasp, and contributed to his deteriorating mood. I could tell he was a nice guy, and felt bad, which speaks even more volumes about how stressed he was, over something as simple as losing a game. One of my Bonfires (non miracle) had to hit a pair of Boros Reckoners, killing my Garruk as well as leveling down a Thragtusk, but also got the last semblance of action that he would find this match.


Round 7- Lloyd, Esper Control

Game one I found myself wondering frantically how in the world this matchup could be winnable. A bunch of clunky removal spells in my hand kept me so threat-light that he dispatched me with ease, casting multiple Forbidden Alchemies, and reaching the all important seventh land drop with 20 life left. I packed it in, earning a thank you from him for scooping, but I assured him that it was a simple matter of I was drawing dead, and mostly sick of watching him think.

Our anti-control threads came in, and my faith in Reid Duke’s approximate list gained momentum…peeking at his hand and developing a single-threat gameplan, with access to Kessig Wolf Run to help insure that one of the few permanents I did assemble in play would do good work, while his Sphinx’s Revelation was long discarded.

Game three, only Lloyd is on the mulligan, and my keep turns from slightly awkward into the stone nuts when I find an overgrown tomb, to start turn two-ing threats that cost 1BB… Having only two awkwardly costed Dissipates in his hand was too easy to play around, just playing out one mediocre thing that he had to do per turn. I had a pair of underworld connections out when he had to detention sphere, but that left my planeswalkers, as well as my Staff of Nin, which despite not being able to target him, was picking off every spirit token he assembled. We had a time extension (this was my second deck-check of the day), but managed to pick him down with Kessig just as the final moments wound down. I made not of the fact that despite my generosity game one, he did not give me the courtesy scoop :p he made me attack and activate my Kessig for the second turn in a row.


Round 8- Roy, Bant Control

For the second round in a row, I get a nice steamrolling game one while I stare at the tragic slips I’ve been missing all day against Aristocrats. He plays, and I mulligan, but it doesn’t matter in the least when my game one configuration is trying to beat average sized Sphinx’s Revelations. Also for the second round in a row, games two and three are a precise example of adapting a suitable game-plan out of the sideboard (in this case, be the fast, midrange deck), and play around all his cards to make them worse. Underworld connections was an absolute house in these matchups, And despite his Witchbane Orb limiting my Liliana to one ability, that ability is thoroughly plenty to fight through his limited resources, me having plenty of chaff to pitch, since he has hexproof. Game three saw me Duress him, seeing a real land-light keep, and basically me waiting for him to miss a land drop, then make it for Witchbane Orb, so I could just Acidic Slime one of his dual lands and put him too far behind.


Round 9- David Williams, Naya Blitz

My homie Eddie had played Dave earlier in the tournament, but I’d forgotten what he was on, when I made a keep that was either very good, or very bad, depending on his deck choice. I had him on something aggressive (he’s a player I’ve known of and admired for a decade), and surely enough, he was on his good buddy Efro’s Naya Blitz deck, making my 3x Tragic Slip, Murder, Abrupt Decay, 2 Land keep look stellar. I mainphased my first tragic slip on his Champion of the Parish, an attempt to play around the Giant Growths that I read the poker player for. Sure enough my second slip on his second champion was done away with Giant Growth, but again on my turn, negating the extra beats I’d have taken if I played more textbook competitive  magic. His one drop plus lightning mauler plays kept him looking okay going into the late game, but I was able to play an Olivia on 8 life that could not be denied by his remaining cards. Game two he was able to get me down to six life with a Boros Charm in hand, but while I was searching for land 5 to cast some thragtusks, we were trading off cards, while whittling down with Liliana. He found too much land for his deck, and I eventually found my fifth in time, locking up Top 32.


All around, Reid said all the same things about the deck (I think), very powerful stuff, but definitely a ramp-ish style deck that relies heavily on its sideboard to shore up otherwise appalling matchups, specifically against Sphinx’s Revelation decks. I’ve yet to have the opportunity to try and cast Skullcrack out of this decks sideboard, and I think it might be real, although it is just another blank when they jam a Witchbane Orb.

I also chose to askew the greatest basic land type of all time for my Legacy deck, choosing to play a list very similar to Sam Black’s zombies, a deck that had looked like a good time for months prior.

Creatures (20)
Carrion Feeder
Deathrite Shaman
Dark Confidant

Spells (20)
Tragic Slip
Faithless Looting
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lingering Souls
Cabal Therapy
Goblin Bombardment

Lands (20)
Polluted Delta
Marsh Flats
Verdant Catacombs
Bloodstained Mire
Undiscovered Paradise
Sideboard (15)
Oblivion Ring
Nihil Spellbomb
Engineered Explosives
Tidehollow Sculler
Orzhov Charm
Pithing Needle

This deck was a blast to play. On the card choices, I liked the Bobs main over the Tidehollow Scullers, and also opted for Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize for a couple of different reasons. This deck doesn’t have much for blockers, so there are a number of scenarios that present themselves where that two life can matter a whole lot more than your ability or desire to actually take something like a Force of Will or expensive planeswalker with that particular spell. I did my best to find an Innocent Blood on site to replace the Tragic Slip, but found myself unable (foreshadowing). I wanted to try the Orzhov Charms in the sideboard, they seeming marginally better than the go for the throats that were in the list prior…and I would have loved another copy of Engineered Explosives I think…it is an incredibly diverse card in this deck, capable of coming into play with any of 6 different numbers of counters (just in case…).

Round 1- Jacob Kory, RaisinBrand reanimator combo

I know Jacob to be a man with more Legacy chops than Standard, and he proved it once again all over this tournament. On the play, I start off our match with a turn one Inquisition, seeing Dark Ritual, Entomb, Chrome Mox, Brainstorm, Shallow Grave, Tundra, and Swamp. I took the Entomb, opting not to give him the brainstorm plus shuffle effect for free. It was no bother, because he untapped, lotus pedaled for brainstorm, cast entomb for Griselbrand, drew 14 cards and played a Children of Korlis before I scooped. My deck felt a little too fair. Game two he had to mulligan, and I stuck a Deathrite Shaman and found a moment to get my Bayou in play, but with the awkward dilemma presented by Shallow Grave not targeting a creature, just taking the top one. Despite that, my Deathrites plus hand disruption, coupled with a timely Nihil Spellbomb locked the game. Game three I had an aggro disruption hand, leaving him with only a Tendrils of Agony left in hand for ‘action’ at one point. I’m swinging with some Gravecrawlers, and eventually have him at 8 in do or die mode against my potential responses, and he does manage to sneak Griselbrand into play + a hit to easily combo me out. During this match, this deck felt a little too fair for this format, but certainly capable of ripping up an opposing hand, whether or not it can capitalize and make it matter.


Round 2- Mark, NicFit Junk

He starts off the match with a pair of Veteran Explorers, which stem my beats completely for fear of the monsters in his hand, only confirmed when I get an Inquisition, revealing Sun titan, Primeval titan, and a nice, old school Deranged Hermit. I took the only card I could, a Skeletal Scrying, and played a game to give me ample time to find sufficient pressure + a Cabal Therapy to buy all the time I needed to grind him out, eventually a Goblin Bombardment and 2 Bloodghasts. I only ran three Bombardments on the word of my boy Eddie, and it was so worth it, card is great when it’s good. Game two I keep another hand heavy on hand disruption, but my plan to Cabal Therapy his Swords so I can play my Bob out when he turn 1 Cabal Therapies me, naming Bob. Instead I hit a Green Sun’s Zenith, and see an awkward draw that contains only a Swamp and a Volrath’s Stronghold. The game is fairly uneventful as I drop a bunch of two power guys, and he misses on a land for 2 or 3 turns.


Round 3- Arthur, Dark Depths combo

Arthur wins the roll on me, good stuff. He leads with Urborg, pass, and I play a carrion feeder. He then plays dark depths and casts Vampire Hexmage, embarrassing the hell out of the tragic slip in my hand, that would otherwise be able to break his combo momentarily if I’d been able to trade it out. Game two, I lead off with an Inquisition, see a Reanimate combo hiding in his hand, but incomplete, so I’m feeling fine and take a card, and he untaps, plays his Dark Depths, and drops the topdecked Vampire Hexmage, masterfully. One of my opponents later in the day recognized Arthur just by the sound of his deck, so I imagine I was neither his first nor will I be his last victim.


Round 4- Richie, High Tide

This felt like the first of 3 combo decks where my discard disruption was going to be fast and effective enough to lock him out of the game. In game one I got a peek at his hand with Inquisition, he hid with Brainstorm, but I still got to pick off two Meditates with a single Cabal Therapy, feeling really good. I had to hand it to him though, his hidden High Tide into Time Spiral was enough to get him game one, but not without a whole lot of doing on his part. Games two and three were mildly challenging, but mostly in the form of next level Cabal Therapy games, that come really naturally to me (I played that card the first time it was in standard, and loved it ever since). He was basically never on able to go off remotely in games two or three.


Round 5- Simon, Buddy of mine from Vegas, on Enchantress

I win the roll, and am stoked to see another slower combo deck, I feel like I can salvage a good matchup out of. My early Inquisition nabs his Sterling Grove, leaving him with a Serra’s Sanctum that doesn’t do anything, an Oblivion Ring he can’t cast, an Energy Field, and an Enchantress’s Presence. My next discard spell hits the Presence, destroying the Energy Field he played in the meantime in a desperate attempt to get white mana. He was busy drawing the useless half of his cards, and couldn’t compete game one.

Game two I openly wonder how many mulligans it will take him to find a Leyline of Sanctity: The answer was zero, negating many of my cards off the bat. I wind up having to oblivion ring his sterling grove while he’s tapped out, and then try one on the Leyline, but he strikes back with a ring of his own. I need my Bob to dig to get rid of his fresh Rest in Peace to complicate things…and bob comes up with Engineered Explosives, which although it kills my Bob, it also gets his Argothian Enchantress. By the time I find creatures he assembles the Energy Field/Rest in Peace combo again, and we play some very brisk draw go in an effort not to waste each other’s time finding a kill. He found it before I did. Game three he again had a Leyline, but stumbled on mana on a very aggressive creture draw, one of the more explosive possible including faithless looting into free early Bloodghasts. My good friend Simon could not recover in time.


Round 6- Vidi, Grand Prix Champ, on Esper Stoneblade

Vidi wins the roll, but takes a mulligan to four against my seven. He takes the time to Thoughtseize me and see what he’s up against, but he quickly scoops and goes to sideboard. Game two we both get seven, and it is a long, drawn out affair. My discard is taxed trying to keep him off of equipment, play my Gravecrawlers around Zealous Persecution and Surgical Extraction, never knowing quite what he shuffled away with Brainstorm, or if my Oblivion Ring was safe from his Vindicate. I reach a board state where I am able to trade down to nothing, and have a half a Lingering Souls in my yard, we both acknowledge advantage me. His blue deck produces a Lingering Souls of his own off the top, and that alone is near enough to steal the game from me, but he followed up with more action and I was crushed. Game three I mulligan, seeing a decent aggressive hand but not feeling great…he shows me why he’s a master, casting Surgical Extraction with admirable precision, as a man who’s put a lot of thought into how to cast that card. He stopped me on draw step to Darkblast my turn one Gravecrawler, then cast Surgical, hitting the second copy in my hand, as well as the one I drew for the turn. Biggest dagger was that I’d actually boarded down to three, having learned that it was a card he was afraid enough of to Surgical in the early game from game two.


Round 7- Chris, with U/R Delver

My usual go-to Legacy deck is a U/R delver deck, so I recognized what Chris was up to pretty quick. He had a turn one Goblin Guide on the play that didn’t want to serve up the lands, and it didn’t help that I was on an Undiscovered Paradise, double Faithless Looting draw, that I realized half way through looked remotely like Dredge, so he just went out of his way to counter each one and I never hit a second land. Game two he takes a mulligan, and casts a more ill-timed Surgical than my last opponent to at long last get a solid look at what I’m doing and what my game plan is, with much less devastating effect. Still, his burn spells being drawn by blue spells were doing a lot of work, and I had to survive at three for one fateful draw step, which I did to lock the game up the next turn with Goblin Bombardment. Game three I was never really close to in it…he led off with two Delvers that did the old standard trick of flipping, and no defense that showed up that day was close to fast enough to stop the insectiles.


Round 8- Chuck, from East Phoenix, on Infect

I’d never met Chuck but I briefly recall a feature match he may have had with StarCityGames. I heard someone say he was on Infect earlier, and my seven had just about everything I could ask for, a blind Therapy that missed, but set me up for next turn, and a pair of Gravecrawlers to go with my Goblin Bombardment (thanks Eddie). He was a great sport, all he could do was malign his luck and say ‘I like that’. Game two found him with a multitude of answers to my pesky enchantment, both Phyrexian Revoker (which hit naming bombardment) and Nature’s Claim left in his hand . He assembled some slow poison beats, this time my blind therapy hit his Invigorate, the only pump spell in his early game. Ichorclaw Myr and Inkmoth Nexus made a go of it (especially since i didn’t draw a Pithing Needle until the last turn), but I dodged pump spells to the point Charles correctly deduced that his only chance of winning the game was to attack me with his Revoker down to 11, and hope my two bobs finished me off. Clearly that’s not possible, but given how his draws came, neither was anything else. Great sport though, lotta fun playing him.


The Legacy portion of this event was almost comically small, about 140 people, meant my mediocre 4-4 showing was good for Top 64. As stated, the deck was a lot of fun, but I did play a lot of explosive combo decks, always present in Legacy, that gave me fits. I would definitely be fidgeting more with the list before I tried to run it back.

I’d like to thank Manawerx and my homies on the road and in Vegas for making this trip awesome…I was super stoked to see Arizona come back with as much money as we did, including several people in my own van. Keep winning or top 8ing the other states events, and eventually they’ll have to come back to phoenix for a weekend. Thanks to the Abong Brothers and Ed for letting me write about it, and thanks to anyone who finds the several minutes to read it.