Journey to an SCG Open Top 8 Finish

I love to compete. Ever since I was a child and picked up a basketball, I wanted to be the best I could be by competing. And compete I did, playing countless hours of basketball each day from the age of 10 through high school and into college. But the sport took a toll on my right knee, and my means to compete physically was taken away from me. I needed something to satisfy my desire to compete. I began coaching high school basketball, and did so for 13 years, with many successful seasons, winning championships and becoming better players, coaches and people. However, that too came to end due to life’s other obligations, namely career and family, taking precedent. My daughter was born, and I needed to be there all the time.

It had been more than three years since I hung up the coaching whistle, and the knee wouldn’t allow me to play sports like golf, tennis or even bowling. I was itching for a new fix. I needed something else.

Then came December 2013. My brother Dan had been a casual player of Magic: the Gathering, and suggested I give it a try. He came over with a duel deck, Heroes vs Monsters and I was HOOKED. I started researching everything online, watching videos about the mechanics of the games, learning about the concept of the stack and the different formats. In my research I found there was a pretty robust competitive system between local gaming and tournaments held by Wizards, and I saw an opportunity to compete.

My first deck was the Theros event deck, and with my schedule at the time, I could not make it to FNM but I wanted to play Magic, so my first sanctioned event was me playing a Standard event deck in a Modern tournament. Needless to say, I got crushed, but I had a blast even when I lost to an infect deck on turn four. Poison Counters? What the hell are those? I had to a lot to learn. I went 1-3 my first night playing Magic at the store.

Over the next few weeks I spent a lot of time learning more about the game and modified my Theros Event Deck into a White/Red Heroic deck and made my standard debut at Gamer’s Gauntlet on January 3rd 2014, going 4-2 and finishing 9th in a 39-player FNM. I was pleased with my results, but was itching to learn more.

In the coming weeks however, my lack of knowledge of the format showed and I took my lumps. I had to get more games in and play with different decks. That’s when I started playing on MTGO, playing different decks and getting better.

I began traveling to some larger tournaments to get my feet wet including the TCGPlayer Diamond in Flint in February, the Grand Prix in Cincinnati and Chicago, and the SCG Opens in Novi and Columbus. I was improving as a player with each passing week and event. Prior to the SCG Open in Indianapolis I really starting playing well at Gamer’s Gauntlet and online. My best performances were finishing 3rd and 4th at two different M15 Game Days and going 4-0 and 3-1 in quite a few MTGO Daily Events. I also got into the Top 8 in nine different standard events in the months of August and September.

As the SCG Open in Indianapolis was fast approaching, I prepared by proxying all the new cards from Khans of Tarkir as they were being spoiled in the weeks leading to the Open. This tournament in Indianapolis and the SCG Open in New Jersey happening the same weekend were to be the first major tournaments post rotation. The Magic world would be watching to see how the metagame shakes out and even Magic pros were keenly interested as these would be the only major tournaments for reference prior to the ProTour in Hawaii.

I had been playing Mono Green Devotion quite a bit in the weeks leading to the Open and doing well with it and having fun. In my testing with and against other Khans of Tarkir decks such as Mono Black Aggro, Rabble Red, RG Monsters, Temur Monsters, Abzan Midrange and Dredge Decks, Mono-Green consistently came out on top. Besides, I like casting big monsters, and that’s what Mono Green does.

This is the deck List I sleeved up for the SCG Open.

The announced attendance for the Open was almost 600 players, meaning 10 rounds before the cut. I was feeling good. I felt my deck was in a good place. and I was hoping for a strong performance, improving upon my tournament results during the summer. In early September I had set some short term goals and long term goals. Short term goals included get better every time I played Magic, learning from my wins and losses, and learning from others. Also, to keep learning at Gamer’s Gauntlet, and improve at larger tournaments. Longer term goals for 2015 were to Top 8 a major event, and learn to play and compete at Modern and Legacy. With that in mind, the event began.


Round 1 : Jacob Harris – Black Aggro

These were easy games for me. He could not handle turn three Polukranos followed by Heir of the Wilds and Reverent Hunter in game one. He had played a lot of enchantment creatures, and in game two I had Back To Nature in my opening hand. Once he over-committed I killed his whole board and finished him off.

Win 2-0; Record 1-0


Round 2: Stephen Garcia – Jeskai Control

Steve had a  deck with a lot of Khans of Tarkir cards, and I was a little surprised to see a control deck. In game one I survived an End Hostilities to finish him. In game two I was done in, mulling to five, followed by poor draws, and could not catch up. In game three he Banishing Lighted my Polukranos, then I played a Nylea, God of the Hunt with a Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic on the battlefield. On his end step I played Back to Nature after he tapped out for Sarkan the Dragonspeaker to free Polukranos and attack for a lethal 14 on my turn.

Win 2-1, Record 2-0


Round 3: Julie O’Brien – Black Aggro

This was the better Black Aggro deck, but again she could not get past an early Polukranos and I made quick work.

Win 2-0; Record 3-0


Round 4: Joe Bernal – Temur Monsters

Game one was a great game of Magic. He stalled the board with two Hornet Nests and two Savage Knuckleblades vs my board of mana guys, two Coursers, a Polukronos, a 13/13 Genesis Hydra and two Arbor Colossus. Eventually, I went for it with Setessan Tactics, trying to kill his Nests with Mystics, then clearing out the bugs with Polukranos, but he had his own Tactics for the blowout.

Game two he stumbled, and I capitalized with turn three Polukranos and turn four Arbor Colossus.

Game three he stumbled again, and Polukronos and Nylea, God of the Hunt ended things quickly.

Joe finished Finished 21st, so he turned things around at least.

Won 2-1 , Record 4-0


Round 5: Josh Dickerson – Jeskai Tempo

Game one he declined to kill my ramp cards, or didn’t have anything, so I allowed him to attack with his two Seeker of the Way past my two Coursers of Kruphix, letting Polukranos and Hornet Queen show up early to lock things down.

Game two I played two Nylea’s Disciples for a total of 16 life, game over.

Win 2-0; Record 5-0


Round 6: Daniel Duan – Abzan Midrange/Aggro

He was on the list with Fleecemane Lion and Rakashasa Deathdealer, but he did not draw removal, and I just went much bigger.

Win 2-0; Record 6-0

Daniel Finished 82nd


Round 7: Peter Tragos – Green Devotion

Game one almost went to time. We both had Nylea, God of the Hunt with many creatures on board. He had more creatures, but I had Hornet Queen and more life. We also both had Nissa, but I was able to ultimate her first for 13 4/4 trample elementals with Soul of New Phyrexia in play and enough mana for its indestructible ability. We started Game two, where I got a quick start. Time was called, and he conceded.

Peter finished 9th.

Win 2-0; Record 7-0


Round 8: Ranjan Pradeep – Green Devotion

Both Ranjan and I were 7-0 with only one other person undefeated. The winner was almost assured of drawing into the top 8.

Ranjan stumbled on mana in Game one, and I wiped his board with Setessan Tactics of Elvish Mystic and two Courser of Kruphix, leaving him with three lands and a Karametra, God of Harvests, one card in hand, and the top card revealed as Hornet Queen which he never got to play, and I had a 7/7 Reverent Hunter, Polukranos, Courser of Kruphix and two Elvish Mystics, and defeated him in two turns.

Ranjan finished 10th

Win 2-0; Record 8-0


Round 9: Justin Crandall – Naya Midrange

Being the only undefeated players in the room, we agreed to draw.

Justin Finished 4th

Intentional Draw; Record 8-0-1


Round 10: Samuel Valentine – Abzan Midrange

We were both in a position to draw in the final round to both make the Top 8.

Samuel Valentine was the eventual winner of the tournament.

Intentional draw; Record 8-0-2


So that was the end of day one. I finished 8-0-2, one of only two players undefeated in the tournament, and the 3rd seed entering the Top 8. It was a great feeling to make it to the Top 8, especially considering how long I had been playing Magic, and that this was a goal I set for myself for 2015. It in a lot of ways validated all the time I spent on Magic in the past nine months.

That night, my brother and I crashed with Dan Cato and Brad Morissette, and I had access to my opponent’s deck list for the Top 8. There were four cards in his deck list that stuck out as a big challenge – a full set of  Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The minus ability wrath effect could devastate my board, and would be hard to remove if I didn’t have Nylea, God of the Hunt, Hornet Queen or Phyrexian Revoker.

However, in testing with Cato, he stumbled on mana quite a bit and I was able to cast spells on time, with big creatures each turn. I was able to deal with Elspeth in two games and not in two others. Overall, I think I went like 18-2 vs the deck and was feeling confident I could win the whole tournament.

Quarter Finals – Bill Comminos

I was on the play looking at three lands, an Elvish Mystic, a Sylvan Caryatid and two Arbor Colossus. I started Elvish Mystic into Sylvan Caryatid into Arbor Colossus. Bill stumbled on mana a bit and played two tapped lands, then missed a land drop, but played a Sylvan Caryatid. Turn four I attacked him to 13 and cast a second Arbor Colossus. He played a Siege Rhino, upping his life to 16. I sent both Arbor Colossus in and there were no blocks. So do I monstrous Arbor Colossus with his mana tapped or do I cast Polukranos? Leery of a potential Elspeth, I activated monstrous on an Arbor Colossus to put him to 1. He untapped and attacked with Siege Rhino and played a Brimaz. I cast the Genesis Hydra for four, hoping for Nylea, but I missed and got a Reverent Hunter instead. I shipped with both Arbor Colossus. One ate a Hero’s Downfall, the other was chumped by a Caryatid. He slammed Elspeth, ticked down, and I never recovered.

Game two I mulled to five, and was stuck on two lands with an Heir of the Wilds in play. He played an Elspeth on five and that was it.

Bill went on to lose in the Finals.

End of the road for me. I went for a long drive home with time to reflect. My brother was very proud of me, but I was a little disappointed. I felt I could have won the tournament when I went to bed Saturday night. But as the drive’s long hours passed, I began reflecting on the great run I had, and become increasingly proud of myself. Although I believe I’m getting to be a very good Magic Standard player, a lot has to go right in having a run like I did. In addition to playing the right spells at the right times and playing skillfully, there were still times I won because my opponent stumbled or misplayed, or I top decked better. Call those parts luck, call them variance, but there are some things you cannot control in the game of Magic.

Next for me is to continue to improve my game, and the best way to do that is to play as much as possible, whether it be at Gamer’s Gauntlet, on MTGO, or other tournaments. There will always be ways to improve to become the best possible Magic player I can be and to have more success in tournament Magic. With my entry into an SCG Invitational secure (Likely going to Columbus in June), I now have another nine month journey ahead of me to learn a new format, the beast that is Legacy.

Note: Special thanks to my brother Dan for play testing with me and to Dan Cato for his kind offer of hospitality Saturday night, and the time spent to test with me for Sunday, and assisting in determining whether I could draw going into the final two rounds.

Sam Jakimovski