Q&A: August 2017 CT Winner James Bush

James Bush has a number of pretty impressive Magic achievements.

Among them are winning an SCG Open (Indianapolis, 2010); making day 2 of his first Pro Tour appearance (Puerto Rico, 2010); a number of PTQ top 8s, a bunch of 5k-type event top 8s and wins; and, most recently, qualifying for the 2017 Nerd Rage Gaming Championship by winning the August CT.

Oh, and he once traded a Rishadan Port for a booster pack. Achievements don’t always have to be positive.

But in this case, we’ll stick to the CT win and what it means for James. He won with Standard U/W Control a month after finishing second with Modern U/W Control. But as you’ll learn, while those archetypes may be his first choice, he’s not afraid to switch things up.

James explained his deck selection thoughts, his thoughts on the championship and a few other things in this Q&A. First, a look at his winning decklist:

James Bush, U/W Control, 1st place, NRG CT, August 2017


Casey Laughman (CL): How long have you been playing Magic? What got you into the game and what keeps you interested in playing it?

James Bush (JB): I’ve been playing Magic for roughly 18 years now. I fell heavily into the Pokémon craze in the 90’s and began playing the trading card game. At an event one evening, I won a random door prize, which just happened to be a MTG starter deck. I found a few friends at school that played, and was hooked. From there it was just kitchen table games. I remember thinking the “X” in casting costs really stood for the number 10. After building numerous mono green decks, I decided to find a tournament to play in. Luckily the Urza’s Destiny prerelease was approaching. It was there where I got destroyed, but fell in love with the competition the game had to offer. It’s that competition that keeps my fire for the game burning.

(CL); You finished second at the June CT with Modern U/W Control and won the August CT with Standard U/W Control. Are control decks and those colors your preferred archetype, or did you view them as good choices right now?

JB: It’s no secret to those who know me that I prefer blue decks. Control and mid-range style strategies are where I feel the most comfortable. However, you will rarely see me playing a deck because I like it, or if it’s fun to play. I’m as spikey as they come, and generally my main goal when I play in a tournament is to win it. I’ll play whatever deck I feel gives me the best chance to win for that current metagame. If it just happens to be a U/W control deck, all the better.

CL: What are the biggest differences between the Modern and Standard decks you had success with? How do the different formats dictate card choices and play decisions?

JB: Standard seems to be an ever-changing, flavor-of-the-month type format. What I mean is, you really need to have a good grasp of the metagame. Keeping an eye on Grand Prix decks that have had success, MTGO winning decklists, and other higher-level event lists allow you to dictate where the metagame is. Knowing how to correctly plan for or “level” that metagame leads to a successful tournament. I’ve gone from playing mono red one week to U/W control the next.

I feel like Modern has some level of this, but not nearly as much. I don’t believe you can go to a Modern event and be ready for everything. From combo decks to highly aggressive strategies, you can just run into a bad matchup no matter how tuned in you are to the current meta. Being up-to-date on recent winning decks is important, but knowing what you plan to play inside and out is the key to success in Modern.

CL: How do you feel about the championship being three formats? Is there one format where you feel you will be at an advantage or a disadvantage?

JB: Having a split format event is exciting. While there is a lot to prepare for, I think there might be some cat and mouse games to be played as well. I know some of the people already qualified for the championship and where they tend to go as far as decks. It’ll be exciting to see if anyone strays from their usual paths to throw one of us off.

I think I’ll have a slight advantage in Standard as I feel I play that format often. It’s easily the most popular format on MTGO (where I do 90 percent of my testing). I’m at a disadvantage in Legacy though. I know the others qualified play the format regularly where I am just recently getting heavily involved.

CL: You’re married, have a full-time job and have a young child. How do you see yourself balancing all of that with preparing for the championship?

 JB: It’ll be tough, that’s for sure. I’m lucky and have an amazing wife who supports me playing almost whenever I want to. In the same respect, she deserves my time and I don’t want to miss a second of my (now 1-year-old) daughter’s development. I manage to squeeze in Magic well enough now to stay competitive, so I hope I can keep it up to prepare for the championship.

CL: What does being qualified for the championship mean to you?

JB: It’s awesome! As I previously said, I love the competition this game has to offer. The higher the stakes, the bigger the event, the better! I was late to the Championship Series overall, having just played in my fourth event at the time of writing this, but it’s nice to be qualified and have a larger event to look forward to.

CL: Finally, what are your thoughts on the championship series overall? Is there anything that you would like to see done differently?

JB: The series is great. Having tournaments to play in of all formats is great for Magic. Being a new father with a demanding job, traveling every weekend from city to city is no longer an option. The Championship Series gives me an opportunity to play competitive Magic close to home. My hope for the future of the series is that there are even larger events! Larger payouts, higher stakes … I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Championship Series’s future.

James Bush won the August CT to qualify for the 2017 Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series. Casey Laughman is editor of Nerd Rage Gaming. Email questions and comments to casey@nerdragegaming.com.

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