Last weekend was big for me.
I took down the championship of the very first Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series, which I qualified for as the 6th at-large bid (out of six) on the points leaderboard. Not only was I the last man in to the championship, but I had to weather a Top 8 of seven Championship Trial winners, as the other at-large players fell short of the elimination rounds.
This was a fear that I had going in. I did not want to be underestimated just because I came in at a low points seeding, and I didn’t want to flame out early and give people a reason to say I didn’t deserve to be there. I may not have won any of the Championship Trials that I Top 8’d, but I did consistently well at these events, in multiple formats.
I knew the field was going to be tough, so I was quite nervous. The play skill ceiling — and even the floor — of this tournament was higher than the average tournament, so, yes, my hands were constantly shaking. I know that I am a solid player, but I had to put lots of work into my deck choices.
The pressure was on from the start, but I was the player with the best Swiss record, locking up the first seed for Top 8. A quick recap of the tournament:
Round 1 (Standard): 2-0 vs. Noah Cohen (Naya Aetherworks vs. RG Energy)
Round 2 (Standard): 2-1 vs. Daniel Unger (Naya Aetherworks vs. BG Delirium)
Round 3 (Standard): 1-2 vs. Peter Tragos (Naya Aetherworks vs. Naya Aetherworks)
Round 4 (Modern): 2-0 vs. John Karavitis (Bant Eldrazi vs. Naya Burn)
Round 5 (Modern): 2-0 vs. Will Hochman (Bant Eldrazi vs. Jeskai Control)
Round 6 (Modern): 2-1 vs. Noah Cohen (Bant Eldrazi vs. Jeskai Control)
Round 7 (Legacy): 2-0 vs. Matt Dow (Miracles vs. Death and Taxes)
Round 8 (Legacy): 2-1 vs. Silas Waltzer (Miracles vs. Burn)
Round 9 (Legacy): Concede to Noah Cohen
Overall record: 7-2
Quarterfinals (Standard): 2-1 vs. Chris Smith (Naya Aetherworks vs. Mardu Vehicles)
Semifinals (Modern): 2-0 vs. Daniel Unger (Bant Eldrazi vs. Bant Eldrazi)
Finals (Modern): 2-0 vs. Noah Cohen (Bant Eldrazi vs. Jeskai Control)
Testing for this tournament was not easy. I do not live as close to the Nerd Rage Gaming area as I wish I do. This limited my playtest group to playing with a couple friends around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and also lots of playing online. My advice for you, considering I will be seeing you in the 2017 Nerd Rage Gaming Player’s Championship, is to play something you are comfortable with that is both powerful and resilient, with a sideboard (or maindeck) slightly skewed toward the metagame that you will be suspecting. All three of my deck choices fit into this category and thus led to my success.
Standard was a wildcard format. Anybody could be on anything. I had been playing Aetherworks Marvel since the SCG Tour Invitational in Atlanta and thought I should just stick to my guns spinning the wheel, ultimating Nahiri, the Harbinger, and casting my inevitability spell — Emrakul, the Promised End — on turn 4. I was a bit worried that Esper Aggro would be a popular choice, but I did not let Spell Queller scare me.
Naya Aetherworks, Ben Meine
1st place — Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series
Modern was a different story. The metagame I had been planning on looked something like this:
~1 Jeskai Nahiri/Jeskai Aggro
~1 Abzan Coco
I didn’t have as much information as I would like to make a decision, but I still had to make one. I went with the most powerful option in Modern that gets to capitalize on Engineered Explosives.
I was worried about how good this deck really is. After playing five rounds of Modern and going 5-0 against the field — granted, three were against Jeskai Control, a good matchup — I love this deck going forward in Modern and would just traditionalize the sideboard, going with more copies of Natural State, Disdainful Stroke, possibly Stony Silence, and less Ravenous Trap. The list is as follows:
Bant Eldrazi, Ben Meine
1st Place — Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series
But the real spice happens in Legacy. The field I was ready for:
~2 Death and Taxes
~1 B/W Eldrazi
I would bet that not a single person in the tournament would expect me to be playing Miracles. I have played it in the past, but have shown zero interest in the deck in a year around the players in the tournament.
Mostly, I play Lands in Legacy, but decided to make the switch for this tournament. I wanted something that could be as redundant and powerful as Lands, but Miracles offers Force of Will and is much more resilient to hate.
You do not need me to tell you that Miracles is a good deck, but you might need my help explaining the two maindeck copies of Blood Moon.
Miracles, Ben Meine
1st Place — Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series
I mentioned to a friend of mine that Blood Moon is a house against Lands. Of course, he was asking about cards for his Burn sideboard against Lands and had no idea that I would be referring to my Miracles deck as well in the conversation. Not only is it good in the aforementioned matchup, but it has splash damage in plenty of other matchups across the board while having a favorable opportunity cost for us. I won a game against Matt Dow (Death and Taxes) because I flipped a Blood Moon to counter a Flickerwisp with Counterbalance and played it the next turn to lock him out of Cavern of Souls sliding in Humans. Miracles is a deck that is hard to play against, while at the same time, very generically powerful. My kind of deck.
Winning didn’t feel at I like I thought would have felt. I thought before the tournament that if I won, I would gain more confidence in my skill as a Magic player. Instead, as soon as I shook Noah’s hand after the finals, all I could think about were the mistakes that I had made in the tournament. Everything I had done wrong flooded into my mind.
In the finals, for example, I cast a Stubborn Denial that I knew would just do absolutely nothing in the face of Mana Leaks and Logic Knots that were going to be dead cards in his hand, thanks to my Cavern of Souls. The very last turn of the tournament I cast a Reality Smasher that didn’t do anything in the face of six Timely Reinforcements tokens.
I also started to get really sloppy with my wording and everything “micro” when it comes to game play. This could have just been me becoming more and more exhausted as the night dragged on, but it was still loose play. I strive to improve on this every time I play, but thankfully I made the correct choice when it came to the decisions that were the differences between wins and losses.
It’s possible you think highly of your skill, and that is fantastic! As long as it doesn’t go to your head, confidence is a valuable asset in being a good player. But winning isn’t easy, and you need to learn from your mistakes. I would like to think that I played rather well to win this tournament. But, those questionable plays that I made were, and still are, on my mind. They didn’t cost me the tournament, but they could have.
No matter what you win, it won’t feel like a win unless you feel like you earned it. I strive for not only premier level wins, but wins that I can be proud of. That is what I am really playing Magic for.
TL;DR: Winning is great, but even better when you feel you’ve earned it.
With the benefit of a couple days of seeing the big picture, I am very proud of myself for this achievement. Every win should be taken with a grain of salt, but they should also be appreciated. I may not have been ecstatic at the exact moment I won, but now is a different story. If I am going to be more confident in my abilities, I have to win, right?
Well, winning is what I plan to do moving forward. I will top eight Opens, I will top eight Grand Prix, and I will make it to the Pro Tour. I am not sure how soon all of that will happen, but I need to have that mindset if I am going to come at all close to my goal.
My good friend Josh Revord said to me during the PTQ days, “You have to play your tournaments by going to your assigned table and saying to yourself ‘I’m going to win this game.'” In other words — one game at a time. Don’t think about how many wins you need to make Top 8, or even cash. Just think about playing well and winning the round.
I am not sure if me winning this tournament will cause other players to look up when I walk in and think “oh crap, Ben’s here,” but I plan to make that happen eventually.
Wrapping Up (Christmas Pun Fully Intended)
I want to thank everybody involved with this tournament at Nerd Rage Gaming for making it such a great time. We had great local food catered to us, t-shirts, playmats, and a free tournament. This next year is going to be fantastic for Magic! If I am not flying to a GP or driving to an SCG Open, there is a good chance you may be seeing more of me in the commentary booth for these Championship Trials since I am automatically qualified for the 2017 event. #perks
Like always — I’ll see you in Top 8.
Ben Meine is the champion of the 2016 Nerd Rage Championship Series. Follow him on Twitter @UrzasMeine.