It all started with a dream. As I sat in the Clemson University library for the last time, studying for a Thermodynamics final exam, I watched in awe in front of my tiny laptop screen as my friend Roshen Eapen, and his teammates James Lu and Alexander Ferzola raised the SCG Baltimore Open trophy above their heads in triumph.
I tried to stifle my excitement, and get back to studying, but I finally found my motivation to pass my exams: I was going to get my degree, and grind the SCG Tour.
Roshen and I were not so different. Roshen was a bright college student attending Johns Hopkins University, whereas I, myself, attended Clemson University. However, we both played together at the same local game store back home in New Jersey, and have often gone head – to – head in the Top 8.
When I had first begun playing, Roshen introduced me to the art of deck-building, and the importance of practicing every day until the deck became second-nature. I was so excited to finally witness him catch his break, and I’m very thankful for his positive influence on my Magic career. I wish him the best as he continues his magic career, and trust me, keep an eye on him, because he’ll be back on top before you know it.
Throughout my time at Clemson, I continued to keep in contact with other friends and Magic players who I admired. They were, and still are, my heroes, and each one of them has inspired me throughout the training process, and I give them a short shout out at the end of this article.
Fast-forward a month: I’m traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, a city which I’ve never been to before, with a group of people from Greenville, South Carolina, whom I’ve never traveled with before. As our late – night testing comes to an end, I feel I finally have a solid grasp on the Jeskai Control deck I’ve been working with for months. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. After going X-4, I decided it was best to reevaluate how I approached my matchups, particularly the combo matchup. Playing the Classic the next day, I was able to successfully go X – 2, but unfortunately missed Top 8 on tie-breakers, due to two losses to UrzaTron, a matchup I realized very quickly I was ill-prepared for, as you can see by my decklist below.
Jeskai Control – Robert Benson – SCG Louisville Modern Classic – 16th Place
Although I was arguably successful, those Tron games rattled me for a while. How could I let a matchup I knew was coming slip through my testing matches? It was time to go back to MTGO, and find a solution.
For those of you who may not know me, I have been a huge fan of Team Lotus Box since I played against Zan Syed in the SCG Charlotte Open. Fortunately for me, while I was going back to the workbench, Team Lotus Box member Jonathan Rosum was finding Jeskai success in the form of a 2nd place finish at the SCG Minneapolis Open.
Jeskai Control – Jonathan Rosum – SCG Minneapolis Open – 2nd Place
After spending some time comparing our lists, I noticed two distinct differences: Jon ran a 25th land in [mtg_card]Field of Ruin[/mtg_card], something I hadn’t even considered before, as well as running aggressive counter-magic in the form of [mtg_card]Disdainful Stroke[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Ceremonious Rejection[/mtg_card], rather than the preemptive big – mana hate I was running in [mtg_card]Damping Sphere[/mtg_card].
I immediately began a major overhaul of my manabase. I decided to cut [mtg_card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/mtg_card], as I wanted to lower the overall CMC of the deck. I also wanted to increase the number of spells I could cast in a turn, thus generating more situations in which I could aggressively [mtg_card]Field of Ruin[/mtg_card] my opponent, while still being able to cast spells.
However, because I still felt [mtg_card]Ceremonious Rejection[/mtg_card] to be narrow, I opted to add a third destructive land, [mtg_card]Ghost Quarter[/mtg_card], and instead, opted to replace Ceremonious Rejection with an [mtg_card]Izzet Staticaster[/mtg_card].
So the big question that I’ve been asked: Why Ghost Quarter over a third Field of Ruin? I had recently found success piloting a Jeskai Control deck with 24 lands. In my eyes, the 25th land is simply a flex slot, and is expendable.
I particularly liked Ghost Quarter, as on Turn 3, I’m able to both Field of Ruin my Tron opponent, while holding up [mtg_card]Logic Knot[/mtg_card] to answer their way to tutor another Tron land. This strategy paid off BIG TIME in my championship match, as I was able to execute this strategy perfectly, and buy myself enough time to beat down with [mtg_card]Snapcaster Mage[/mtg_card]s.
Jeskai Control – Robert Benson – SCG Atlanta Modern Classic – 1st Place
The deck piloted fantastic throughout testing, and I felt great going into the Classic. Here is a basic summary of my matches:
- Blue/White Control – I was able to successfully burn him out in game one, and utilize [mtg_card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Vendilion Clique[/mtg_card] plus aggressive counter-magic to win the second game.
- Humans – This matchup is fantastic for Jeskai, given how much single – target creature removal we have. I was able to successfully ride a [mtg_card]Teferi, Hero of Dominaria[/mtg_card] to victory in game 1, followed by a [mtg_card]Baneslayer Angel[/mtg_card] in game 2.
- UrzaTron – This was the ultimate test of my sideboard. I was able to aggressively [mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] → Snapcaster Mage → Bolt my way out of this matchup, and the Vendilion Cliques and Disdainful Strokes were incredible ways to put my opponent on the back foot in games 2 and 3.
- Abzan Company – I was unfortunately paired against my good friend Kristopher Long, and I knew his exact 75. As he was playing James Wohlmacher’s list from the SCG Invitational, I knew to play around Shalai and keep his combo off the board. We had a grindy, tight, game 2, but I was able to walk out of this one alive.
- Abzan Company – This Company player was a lot more aggressive post – board, utilizing cards like [mtg_card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/mtg_card] to try and take over the game. Unfortunately for him, he had gotten stuck on just two lands, and I was able to Clique away his [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card]. He never recovered as the Clique swung in.
- 8 Whack – This matchup was super interesting, as my opponent was utilizing a new Dominaria saga, [mtg_card]Flame of Keld[/mtg_card]. Post – board, I was able to take over the game with an Izzet Staticaster and a [mtg_card]Runed Halo[/mtg_card], but the matchup was quite tight.
- Tron – This opponent was the same player I played against in the championship match. I was able to [mtg_card]Ghost Quarter[/mtg_card] my opponent on his end step, and followed up with a Vendilion Clique after his draw, pushing away his only way to tutor another Tron land.
- Intentional Draw
- Intentional Draw
- KCI – At 7 – 0 – 2, I knew I was in a position to run the tables in Top 8. I was fortunate enough to dodge one of the numerous Tron players, and instead got paired against a KCI player, a matchup that I had tested numerous times with my good friend Thomas Cash Knight.The matchup went as expected, as I was able to successfully keep his Ironworks off the board using counter-magic in game 1. However, in game 2, my opponent was able to successfully assemble the loop, and recurred [mtg_card]Pyrite Spellbomb[/mtg_card]s to repeatedly hit me in the face for 2. In game 3, I was able to pressure my opponent with an early Snapcaster Mage, followed by a Vendilion Clique. The pressure went unanswered through my counter-magic, and I was blessed to be able to defeat my opponent and secure my first – ever SCG Invitational invite.
- Humans – I had played against this player in Swiss, and I was able to sweep my opponent’s board when I was at exactly 3 life, leaving my opponent with the opportunity to hit me with a TopDecked(tm) [mtg_card]Mantis Rider[/mtg_card] for lethal. Post – board, I knew my opponent ran a [mtg_card]Gaddock Teeg[/mtg_card], so I made sure to pull all my X-cost counter-magic, and instead brought in Vendilion Cliques and all my [mtg_card]Celestial Purge[/mtg_card]s. I Baneslayer Angel’ed my opponent to death in Game 2, followed by 3 [mtg_card]Lightning Helix[/mtg_card]es, 2 Snapcaster Mages, and 3 Lightning Bolts in game 3.
- Tron – This was it. This was my chance to really prove that I knew how to handle myself in the matchup. In game 1, I was able to successfully answer 2 [mtg_card]Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger[/mtg_card], 3 [mtg_card]Karn Liberated[/mtg_card], and a [mtg_card]Walking Ballista[/mtg_card], to leave myself with a [mtg_card]Logic Knot[/mtg_card] and a [mtg_card]Secure the Wastes[/mtg_card] in my hand, and my opponent hellbent with a live [mtg_card]Oblivion Stone[/mtg_card].My opponent draws and casts a [mtg_card]Karn Liberated[/mtg_card], with exactly 10 mana available. Pieter Tubergen’s words began to echo in my head: “Entice the opponent to make the play you want them to make.” I cast my [mtg_card]Logic Knot[/mtg_card] for exactly 10, forcing my opponent to tap out if they wanted to resolve their Karn.Now that their [mtg_card]Oblivion Stone[/mtg_card] was offline, I was able to successfully Secure the Wastes for exact lethal. Game 2 was grindy yet again, but I was able to beat my opponent to death with [mtg_card]Snapcaster Mage[/mtg_card]s to become the 2018 SCG Atlanta Modern Classic Champion!
In conclusion, practice paid off
Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my very first article. It was incredible to finally see all the countless hours of practice and deck research pay off, and I’m very proud of this accomplishment. I look forward to continuing the SCG Tour grind, and I will see everyone up in Worcester!
Thanks to the friends who’ve helped me get this far:
- Kevin Jones, the one and only Jeskai Daddy, my personal role model, and the one person who was willing to work with me for months until I felt comfortable on Control.
- Kristopher Long, for believing in me since day 1, and inspiring me to be a positive influence at the table, and never create a toxic environment for new players.
- TJ Poole, for becoming a friend to a lonely college student in a time of need.
- Pieter Tubergen, for always being a voice of reason, and teaching me the “game within a game”.
- Will Compere, for testing with me for countless hours, and putting faith in my tech even though we had never met before.
- Jody Keith, leader of the Goon Squad, for teaching me to fight for every game, and continue to work my tail off until my dreams became a reality.
- The Storm Bros, Caleb Scherer and Paul Muller, for introducing me to the Magic Grinder lifestyle, and for their unmatched friendliness to everyone they meet.
- Scott Spurlock, Captain Murloc, for reminding me to always have fun.