Cincinnati Dreamin’: A Taste of the Big Game

At 3 hours and 50 minutes, the drive down to the Cincinnati area was reasonable. Months ago, my friend and I made plans to meet up there and play in the SCG Open with countless other “real” players in the hopes that we would do marginally well (read as .500 win percentage). That was the quest – what we experienced was much greater.

In preparing for the tournament, Tom and I spent some time on the phone while each scouring the internet for decks that might be a good fit for each of our playing styles. He was set on B/R Vampires because, well, he had most of the cards for it. Originally, I was going to play Mono-B Control, but that plan was tossed out the window when I had an absolutely dreadful showing at ARG’s case tournament. Despite my absolute love for that build, it was not going to cut it (or come anywhere near our .500 win percentage goal) in Cincinnati. Back to the proverbial drawing board.

Shuffling through the pages of my binder I noticed an alarming amount of cards that fit into Red Deck Wins. After some thought, this seemed like it would be the most likely vehicle to pilot. Through some trading and single shopping, I acquired the rest of the cards that I needed (and made several tweaks to remove things that drove me nuts – Shrine of Burning Rage, I’m talking to you) and was ready to go.

Now, I would love to sit here and recount how well we did and what a terrific job both of our decks did at mopping up the field. But that would be a lie. Tom and his vampires finished 6-4 and ended up in 83rd and my RDW version landed in 166th at 4-6 (just shy of my .500 goal). Those numbers are a bit misleading, however, as the tournament provided me with something more valuable than the record indicates: big game experience.

Keeping detailed notes about my matches Saturday. Saturday started against B/U Control, faced a total of six RDW style mirrors, moved on to a U/W equipment deck, had me square off against a B/W Lifelink, and I closed against a Valakut build.

Looking back at my notes Saturday evening, I realized something. Once, in ten matches, I misplayed. Once. It was costly (against the Valakut build when I was up 1-0 and poised to win game 2 – only to drop game 2 and subsequently game 3) but it was a single misplay. Not only that, but I was “in” almost every game and had a chance to be competitive in every match. This showed a huge improvement in my game. Over the past six months since returning to Magic, my games have been riddled with mistakes. Suddenly, my 4-6 felt a bit better than… well… 4-6.

Sunday morning I continued my quest for big game experience by watching the finals of the SCG Open with Pskowski’s Caw-Blade against Farney’s R/B Vampires (a build that looked eerily similar to Tom’s… or maybe it was the other way around). It was great to watch the match and allowed me to do something that I had never really done before. I watched a competitive match and had the advantage of watching the winning player’s hand the whole time. Being able to see each choice and then to consider why the choice was made was something that I could not pay someone else to teach me. I watched every play. Following the match, we signed up for some Standard side tournaments and that previous experience of playing the day before and watching the finals really paid off.

In all, we played in three Standard eight-man tournaments on Sunday. I won one (defeating three Caw-Blade decks in a row). The other two saw me matched up against the same B/R Vampires in the first round of each which did not end well. I never feel bad losing to the deck that ends up winning the tournament, though.

Between the competitive experience (15 total matches) and being able to watch the Standard final live, I was able to gain knowledge about the game that would have taken me much longer had I needed to figure it all out through smaller tournaments. The list of things (in no particular order) are:

  • Hold your bombs until they will win you the game. My old self loved to try and play the big stuff to put the opponent on a clock with a reduced life total. That rarely worked.
  • If you do not need to play a land, don’t. Period.
  • If you do not want someone to know that you are sideboarding (or that you are not sideboarding), shuffle the sideboard into your deck and then pull 15 cards back out. This leaves the opponent unsure as to whether you boarded in or out anything. Amazingly effective.
  • Using pen and paper instead of spindown dice is 200% more effective. Not only do you know exactly what is going on all the time, but you can keep a record of what did (or did not) work. Yes, I should have figured that out before this weekend, but I did not. I am okay with that.
  • When there are 430+ Magic players in one place there are bound to only be a handful that is not extremely annoying. That has little to do with the game but it IS something that I learned this weekend.
  • Side events are more fun (and generally more profitable for most people) than the main tournament.

The ultimate question with any decision is, “Faced with the same situation again would you make the same choice?” In a heartbeat I would make the choice to drive to Cincinnati again and play the whole weekend over. It was a great time and made me a better player.

That is all any of us really can ask for.