The Nerd Rage Gaming Championship Series attracts a number of strong Modern players, but Chris Smith can certainly lay claim to being one of the best.
Not only has Chris won Modern CTs both years to qualify for the championship, he’s done it with completely different decks. He won the first CT last year with U/R Eldrazi before Eye of Ugin was banned, then won the first CT of this year with Abzan Company.
In between, he played R/W Prison at last year’s championship, which means he only had about a month — and in reality, much less than that — to get familiar with Abzan Company before running the table with it in a 99-player CT. If that’s not a strong endorsement of his ability as a player, then nothing is.
As part of a series of Q&As with CT winners (and a couple other surprise guests), Chris took the time to answer some questions about his Magic history, Abzan Company and the NRG Championship.
First, his winning deck from January:
Chris Smith, Abzan Company
1st place, January 2017 CT
Casey Laughman (CL): How long have you been playing Magic? What got you into the game and what keeps you involved in it?
Chris Smith (CS): I’ve been playing Magic on and off since around 1995. One of my friends introduced me to the game and I got hooked. My first deck was a 40-card mono-black deck with a Demonic Hordes, Royal Assassin, and Nightmare. More recently, I started playing Magic again during Theros block.
I really enjoy the competitive and social aspects of the game. I have met so many great people over the years because of Magic.
CL: You won a Modern CT last year with U/R Eldrazi before Eye of Ugin was banned, then played R/W Prison in the championship. This year, you won a Modern CT with Abzan Company. What made you settle on Company as your Modern deck of choice?
CS: I have always thought Abzan Company was a good deck. It can combo out aggressive decks and grind out the mid-range and control decks if needed.
Abzan Company isn’t really my style. It plays green cards — the color that I correlate with unexciting games of magic with boring board stalls, but I figured I could forgive all that because I could infinite. I felt like a lot of the graveyard hate that was in the format for Dredge also hurt Abzan Company, so when Golgari Grave-Troll was banned I expected there to be less Dredge in the format. I predicted that with less Dredge in the format, Abzan Company would be able to put up solid numbers again.
I actually built Abzan Company the night before the CT that I won. Before that, I had never played a game of paper Magic with the deck, which says just how good the deck is. It wasn’t me going undefeated on the day, it was the deck. The deck might have carried me just a little.
CL: Company is a deck with a lot of different lines and decisions, and you had a relatively short period of time to prepare for the first CT this year. What did you do to get yourself comfortable with the deck before the first CT?
CS: I played around 20 games with the deck on Magic Online during the week leading up to the CT. I didn’t have very much success with the deck, but it is impossible to go infinite with the deck on Magic Online. I decided I would give the deck a try anyway because I felt like it was still a strong choice. I was still learning the deck as I was playing it during the tournament, and by the end of the tournament I was mentally drained.
CL: What are the untouchable pieces of Abzan Company? What can be changed up based on what you expect to see at a tournament? How do you go through the process of deciding how to tweak it?
CS: I honestly just found a list that I liked online. I didn’t want to tweak the deck without having any experience with it at all. I wanted to play the version that played Saffi Eriksdotter over the Murderous Redcap, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on a Saffi Eriksdotter. Luckily I was able to borrow some of the missing cards the day of the CT, including the Murderous Redcap. After playing the deck, the version that I played desperately needed a Fiend Hunter. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was such a problem to deal with without having any main deck answers.
The untouchable cards would be the core combo pieces like Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Viscera Seer, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and Kitchen Finks. I was also very happy with how Murderous Redcap and Renegade Rallier performed.
CL: What would have to change in the Modern meta for you to decide that another deck would be a better choice than Abzan Company?
CS: There would need to be another resurgence in graveyard hate like Anger of the Gods, Rest in Peace, Ravenous Trap, and Relic of Progenitus. When Tron is playing cards like Relic of Progenitus main and Ravenous Trap in the sideboard, you know it is going to be a rough day.
CL: So far, all but one of the competitors in this year’s championship played in last year’s. Do you see any competitive advantage in knowing a number of the championship competitors?
CS: I don’t see any real advantage to knowing the other competitors. Everyone at the championship is going to be a solid player. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be there.
CL: You’ve qualified for both championships so far. How will your preparation for this year’s change based on your experiences from last year?
CS: I feel like I tried too hard to predict the meta last championship and play decks I thought would be good in that predicted meta. This championship, I think I am going to worry less about the predicted meta and focus on getting in more practice with what I believe to be solid decks at the end of the year. This means I am 100 percent positive I will not be playing Nic Fit in Legacy again!
Chris Smith won January’s Modern CT. Casey Laughman is editor of Nerd Rage Gaming. Email comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.