I love sports. I believe that there is a metaphor for anything in life hidden somewhere in the sports world. And if you look hard enough, you can see a correlation to the gaming world as well. The universe is full of interesting parallels and tangents. All you have to do is connect them.
But I digress. (Wow, really? Already? Man, I just started"¦ awkwardddd)
Does anybody remember the 2005 National League Championship Series? The Houston Astros were up 3 games to 1 against the defending National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals Cardinals. With the Astros leading 4-2 in the top of the ninth, one strike away from going to the World Series, Astros pitcher Brad Lidge blew it. The Houston closer gave up a two-out-two-strike hit, and walked the next batter. And then Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols broke his spirit in half. He hit one of the most dramatic shots in playoff baseball history, and certainly the most defining of Lidge's career. The Astros went on to win game 6 and go to the World Series after all (Lidge didn't have to pitch in the game, since the Astros were pretty far ahead the whole time), but our story doesn't end here.
Lidge was (and still is, really) known for having electrifying stuff. Nobody in MLB history has a more strikeouts per nine innings, and his slider would have made even LSV look like he was playing his first game of Magic ever. But, because of that home run to Pujols, something happened in Lidge's psyche. For years after that, the man simply could not close. He had chances in games two and four of that year's World Series, and blew them both, after being nigh impenetrable the entire season. He gave up a walk-off homer to Scott Podsednik in game two. He allowed the only run scored (by either team) in game four, and the Astros got swept, four games to none. For the next two seasons, people thought he was done. I thought he was done.
He wasn't done.
Brad Lidge is a closer. He may have lost form for a little while, because one of the best hitters in the game rocked his boat, but the man closes. It's what he does.
Everyone has their Albert Pujols. Mine was Ari Lax in round 13 of GP Seattle last year. (This story is obviously not relevant to today's Standard environment, but I feel like the approach that can be taken because of what happened here is definitely worth it.) After starting 11-0, I dropped my first match playing for Top 8 against Michael Jacob. My second try was against Ari Lax. Deep into a very intense BW Tokens-versus-Faeries game three, I have maneuvered into a game state where Ari has exactly one out, and two draws to get it, or I'll Top 8 my first GP. And even if he does get there, I have a 12 out redraw.
Way back! (Land"¦)
Still have a chance, but now it has to be Ajani or Zealous Persecution.
At the track! (land"¦)
Ok, one more shot, Zealous Persecution or bust.
AT THE WALLLL!!! (Kitchen Finks"¦)
GONE!! IT'S GONE!!! A HOME RUN!!!
I unraveled. I lost my next round, knocking me out of contention for Top 8. I was shattered. I'd blown my career moment. Well, up to that point, anyway.
That's the point here: even though Lidge got smashed into a thousand tiny little pieces, and he was broken for a long time, he came back. In 2008, playing for the Philadelphia Phillies, he went 41-for-41 in closing opportunities, and 7-for-7 in the playoffs, including the final out of the World Series.
I know a lot of people, myself included, who have continually fallen just short when they get to the big one. Whether it's starting 11-0 at a GP and missing Top 8, or making a fatal mistake in the semifinals of a PTQ that you probably should have won, or simply losing your last three win-and-in matches, there is something to be learned from it.
Lidge took his struggles the next couple seasons, and used them. He didn't give up, as so many in his spot had done before. He took small steps back, took a little bit of pressure off of himself, and reevaluated.
And when he came back, he was more dominant than ever.
We have to go through the motions. We have to learn. We have to have a respect for the things that we have done in order to do the things we want to do. What does this mean to us gamers, to Magic players in specific?
Each tournament is a unique challenge. You can't think about the last time you were playing for Top 8 and lost. That was last season. It doesn't matter now. All you can do is go back on the bump and throw strikes.
Last weekend at the Nationals Qualifier, I played Gerry's Naya deck, and lost my win-and-in match. And you know what I'm going to do at the PTQ this weekend? I am going to hurl that Naya deck as hard as I can at the strike zone. I'm not giving up on it simply because I lost an important match, or because I gave up a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth, because this deck's slider can still make people look downright silly.
This is where I am at so far:
The last sideboard card is 1 Undetermined Slot To Bust The Mirror Wide Open.
I have been playing this deck non-stop since Friday night of last week, and the results have been nothing short of astounding. There are exactly three cards that you care about playing against with this deck. Everything else feels borderline unfair.
Gideon Jura: Out of UWr, Gideon is minorly annoying, and only devastating if they have a combination of two of the following cards in addition to Gideon – [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeth[/card], Path to Exile, and Baneslayer Angel. Otherwise, he is really just a 5-mana-Fog which, as I mentioned, is annoying, but not game-breaking. Out of Mythic, however, Gideon is a Real Problem. The best way to beat Mythic is with Cunning Sparkmage and Basilisk Collar, and Gideon trumps that plan pretty soundly. He is also a lot harder to kill since they have a lot more creature defense than UWx decks, and probably even Dauntless Escort maindeck now. The good thing about that matchup is that you are bringing in Oblivion Ring anyway, and your [card knight of the reliquary]Knights[/card] are bigger than theirs.
Baneslayer Angel: The problem with Baneslayer out of UWx isn't that she is insane against us all the time. It's that we have no idea whether they have her in their deck or not. Baneslayer Game 1 isn't a huge issue because of Sparkmage + Collar. However, after sideboarding, things get kind of tricky. We have Pithing Needle, Qasali Pridemage, Manabarbs, and Oblivion Ring that we are trying to bring in. Something has to go, and usually that's the Sparkmage package, which means that, unless we bring in Path as well, we are drawing much slimmer to a Baneslayer. But what if we didn't see a Baneslayer game one? Well, then we don't bring in Path, and are in a position to get wrecked by it in the second game. What if we do see Baneslayer in game one? Or even game two? How do we reconfigure the sideboard plan to beat it? Obviously Path is insane against Baneslayer, but it is unfathomably terrible if they don't draw one.
I also bring in the Adventuring Gear most of the time, but I always cut something different for it. UW straight up has been a pretty good matchup for me, but UWr has given me some trouble.
And lastly, Kargan Dragonlord: This card is pretty unbeatable game one. Usually, if they have Kargan Dragonlord in their deck, it means that your mana guys are probably not going to survive summoning sickness, so you aren't in a very good position to race them. Granted, the rest of your deck is well set up against theirs, with Mystic searching up Collar generally spelling doom for the red mage unless they have Kaagen Daaz. So, you just have to make sure you don't lose to that card, and you should be fine. I sideboard thusly:
+3 Path to Exile, +3 Oblivion Ring, +1 Pithing Needle (can also turn off unearth if the gamestate so demands)
-1 Wild Nacatl, -2 Ranger of Eos, -1 Vengevine, -1 Behemoth Sledge (just way too slow), -2 Cunning Sparkmage
Some people will probably question the removal of Ranger of Eos and a Vengevine against a red deck, but I think the two remaining Sparkmages are actually more valuable. Ranger isn't going to search up anything super relevant anyway, and Sparkmage can kill Plated Geopedes, Ball Lightning, and Dragonlord if you have a Collar. I honestly believe that if you can take the Dragonlord out of the equation, the matchup is definitely in your favor. If they are running black for Blightning, then you probably have to cut the Sparkmages and leave the Vengevine and Rangers in.
Naya has the best Knight of the Reliquary in the format, the best Lotus Cobra in the format, more punishing nut draws that other decks nut draws, is the second best anti-[card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] deck (Jund), and easily the best at fighting Blightning. It is incredibly positioned right now, and doesn't actually have any matchup that feels like a nightmare. Jund has Polymorph, Polymorph has Red, Red has Kor Firewalker, UW and UWr have Mythic, and Mythic has Jund.
I still haven't figured out how to beat the mirror, or even if there IS a way to beat the mirror. I think the Adventuring Gear is a step in the right direction, but with Oblivion Ring and Path to Exile in the sideboard, it might be correct to board the Sparkmage package out. I'm still not sure on that one, but we've got a couple days to figure it out, before we go back on the hill.
Bonus- a turn three kill.
I'm in the X-1 bracket at the NQ last weekend. I'm playing against Jund. It's game one. He wins the roll.
Savage Lands, go.
Attack with Leech. No Block. Pump (17). Land, Blightning.
Discard Vengevine, Vengevine.
In case you were wondering: Yes, it is very nice.
-Steven Birklid (Alaska)