Smart and Thinvitational 2016 – The best Magic event of the year

For the last two years a bunch of my friends have gotten together to get away for a weekend of gaming and just disconnecting from our regular lives. Technically speaking, this is only the second annual such event, but it was loosely organized prior to that. However, I believe our roster is mostly set going forward, though obviously we expect substitutions will be a regular thing. The people involved are:

  • David Bedoll, actuary (main organizer, getaway used to be in his parents’ house on Anderson Island in Washington State)
  • Steven Birklid, owner of Fast Signs in Shoreline (main Magic organizer, tournament designer, and card stock / proxy printer)
  • Max McCall, Game Developer @ Blizzard
  • Zac Hill, Chief Innovation Officer @ The Future Project
  • Cedric Phillips, Media Manager / Main Voice @ Star City Games
  • Brian Wong, best limited Magic player to never play on an individual Pro Tour (also works on like vaccines and more important stuff than any of us)
  • Jesse Wilke, poker professional
  • Peter Beckfield, software developer @ WG Cells
  • Me, owner of Driveline Baseball

Our interests and professions are varied, but the one thing that brought us all together was Magic: The Gathering. We’re a collection of has-beens and never-were gamers who all generally love the Retirement Home Format for Old Magic Players – Cube Draft. So we get together and do that, but we also play archaic and invented formats, arrange it into a grand tournament, and play the hell out of it a bit too seriously.

Here was this year’s grand prize and poster for the tournament, as designed by Steven Birklid:


If you’re complaining about the logo being impossible to read, then congratulations, you officially understand the whole point of the name of the event.

Last year’s winner was Zac Hill, and as the defending champion – and guy who generally has the most ridiculous Facebook pictures usable for exploitation – Steven selected him to be the face of the event for at least 2016.

To take a look at what events Steven planned for this year’s tournament, go to the official Smart and Thinvitational 2016 Tournament Google Spreadsheet.

To summarize, this year’s Magic events included:

  • Bring Your Own Standard – two large expansions, four small expansions, one core set (cannot select more than one set per block)
  • Legacy Rotisserie Draft – included three rounds of banned cards, all current Legacy-legal cards were available for selection
  • Set Sealed – participants were randomly assigned 9 sets to build a deck. All cards that were ever banned in ANY major format are banned in this format.
  • Racial Draft – participants were randomly assigned a race to build a deck around. All cards must have the race’s name in the rules text, title, or type line. Three cards per person are allowed to be “drafted” and were “raceshifted.” For example, I took Heritage Druid and all instances of “elf” were translated to “merfolk.”
  • 3v3 Cube Drafts – standard moneydraft format, participants were randomly assigned a team of three and players got 1 extra point per team win. My teammates for the weekend were Max McCall and Zac Hill; the other teams were Steven Birklid/Brian Wong/Cedric Phillips and Jesse Wilke/David Bedoll/Peter Beckfield. These ended up being surprisingly balanced, I thought Birklid’s team was the clear favorite, my team being 2nd best, and Wilke’s team being the worst. However, all teams won one match in the round robin competition.

Let’s go into the strategies I took into each format!

Bring Your Own Standard

Delver of Secrets

I’ve played a fair amount of BYOS-type events in the past at Origins (a regular tournament there back when I played) as well as online in #apprentice, but not any time in the last decade. Given the restrictions on bannings and the “no two sets from the same block,” I was pretty sure I’d just play some form of Delver since I was expecting at least 2 and probably 3 players to make some ridiculous combo deck, 2-3 others to play control, and the rest to play midrange/aggro/Delver themselves. I tried to build an Eldrazi deck but it didn’t seem good, and when Cedric submitted his, I realized I totally forgot about Ancient Tomb, which would have made the deck insane (and it did, spoiler alert).

Since Delver is easily built with Innistrad + New Phyrexia + any reasonable core set, I decided I wanted to play maindeck Meddling Mage in a format where the decklists are face-up to begin the tournament, especially since I’d also certainly be slamming four copies of Gitaxian Probe. It seemed like a slam dunk considering I figured some would be playing combo, and if an Eldrazi list was out there, it’s extremely good against them too (Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are the only cards you care about, the former often moreso than the latter).

Ponder was banned, so I had to choose between Portent and Preordain to fill it. I decided to go with Magic 2011 to get access to Glacial Fortress, Mana Leak, and Preordain. Instead of Force of Will, I went with Nemesis to take Daze and took Ice Age to get Swords to Plowshares and Adarkar Wastes. I took Betrayers of Kamigawa so I could have access to Umezawa’s Jitte, a card everyone else forgot about besides Cedric. With Planeshift for Meddling Mage, I also got access to Gainsay, which I decided to play maindeck since I knew most of my opponents would be slinging blue spells.

I ran Swords to Plowshares over Vapor Snag maindeck, which overall was probably a mistake; I could have chosen a different large set if I was willing to drop Adarkar Wastes. Oh well.

After the decklists were submitted, I felt really good about my chances. I felt I was only a dog to Cedric (Eldrazi) and potentially Jesse (UWR Delver), because while he had worse mana, he had access to Pyroblast and Gut Shot after sideboard.

Set Sealed

When I saw the list of sets I was randomly assigned, I nearly threw up.

  • Fate Reforged
  • Shards of Alara
  • Invasion
  • 8th Edition
  • Nemesis
  • Battle for Zendikar
  • Mercadian Masques
  • Prophecy
  • Legends

Force SpikeWe had to play at least TWO separate cards from each set in our maindeck. Fuck. I considered playing some sort of Blue Skies deck but after filtering through the card pool, I ended up going with a mono-blue griefer control deck that used Tasigur to kill. The biggest mistake I made was running 4 copies of both Daze and Force Spike, but anyone who knows me also knows that I can’t help myself sometimes. I should have run a 4/2 or 4/1 split of Spike + Daze and more cards that generated card advantage maindeck instead of relying on just Tasigur and 4 Fact or Fiction.

After the decklists were submitted, I felt my Set Sealed deck was one of the weakest decks in the pool, but that no one had a very good deck anyway.

Legacy Roto Draft

Truth be told, I had Steven Birklid do my bans since I couldn’t care less about them. Going into the draft I figured I would not likely be able to play a decent blue deck considering the makeup of the participants, the bans, and my order in the snake draft. After the picks went:

  • Entomb
  • Shelldock Isle
  • Vendilion Clique
  • Snapcaster Mage
  • Grim Monolith

Noble HierarchI knew that I was done for. I took Noble Hierarch expecting to move into G/W or Naya and potentially splash for light blue cards if it cleared up downstream, and when the people on my left went for mono-white (Cedric), reanimator (Peter), and a value black deck (Steven), I settled into a zoo-based strategy that seemed wide open. The idiots on my right continued to fight over blue cards, and I got unfettered access to the best removal spells in Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, got both Armageddons, and overall felt good about my creature selections minus forgetting about Voice of Resurgence being a card. My only real regret is not drafting anti-red/black cards vs. Steven’s aggro deck; a card like Absolute Law would have been a solid choice instead of loading up on a ton of redundant anti-blue cards.

Racial Draft

I had no idea what the hell to do here, so I had Peter Beckfield more or less ship me a list. I made some modifications and it was his suggestion to go with the Elves raceshift strategy, considering the two very good cantrips blue Merfolk tends to have in their deck (Aquitect’s Will, Silvergill Adept, and my raceshifted Gempalm Incinerator). For those unaware, the “combo” is:

  • Turn one: Play Nettle Sentinel
  • Turn two: Attack for 2, play Nettle Sentinel 2 (untap Sentinel 1), play Heritage Druid, tap them for mana, play any green card, untap, repeat with that green creature + two Nettle Sentinels

With the cantrips plus a huge mana sink in Coralhelm Commander (plus Mirror Entity for the Fireball kill), I really liked my deck and how it turned out.

Cube Draft

As stated before, I felt the team of Max-Zac-Me was the 2nd best team but that’d we’d be competitive in any draft we played in. Given the opposition, I consider myself at least an average player in this field (a lofty claim) and probably slightly above average. The only players that I felt that were definitively better than me at both 3v3 drafting + playing are Brian Wong (likely the best player) and potentially Zac Hill, but he was on my team. I’m not saying I’m definitively better than the other 6 players, but it’s at least close in combined drafting + playing skill, and I had been a regular cube player on MTGO while some of the others were not.

In both drafts we used Steven Birklid’s cube, which gave me another advantage, since I had played Steven’s cube quite a bit. It is a very well-designed cube that prioritizes combat and has minimal equipment. Green mana ramp is intentionally a thin/poor strategy, and blue-based do-nothing control decks are weak. In my opinion, the absolute best card in the cube is Massacre Wurm, since black is very strong AND it is often an insta-kill condition – most of the combat is 2/2-based.

Hero of Oxid RidgeOur first match was against Peter/David/Jesse. I opened a generally weak pack with Hero of Oxid Ridge as the only red card in the pack. Despite the brief saga of Boddy Red, I traditionally play blue-based control decks in both constructed and cube formats, and this is pretty well-known amongst my friends. (Earlier this weekend, we played a cube draft for funsies and I went a solid 0-3 with a shitty blue deck in this very same cube.) So I decided to cut the red hard since there were no prototypical red aggro drafters in this cube and hopefully end up in a surprise mono-red deck. In this draft, my red deck lacked the critical mass of one-drops to be an S-tier deck (you want 7+ one-drops of ANY quality in a good cube red deck), but it made up for it with the two best four mana game-enders in Hero of Oxid Ridge and Hellrider plus Koth of the Hammer for staying power and inevitability. I went 2-1 in this cube and none of the matches really stood out to me, Zac went 3-0, and Max picked up a match and we won the first cube.

The second match took place when I was in the lead in points and a few others were right behind me – Zac and Cedric, namely. Playing against Cedric/Brian/Steven, I knew I had to play exceedingly well and draft a good deck to pick up a 2-1 here; while 1-2 was potentially in for the final two slots, it would largely depend on how the others played – if Cedric 3-0’d and Zac 3-0’d, I’d probably be out.

I opened Skullclamp and took it, passing very good blue cards in the process. With my second pick, I again took a red card and started cutting the red hard, as blue dried up quickly from my right. Each pack continued to have 1 insane red card and 1 decent one (at most), which made it clear that I’d be cutting mono-red cards hard and being able to loop critical cards like Kargan Dragonlord and Shrine of Burning Rage if necessary. I ended up with both Skullclamp and Bonesplitter and seven one-drop creatures including Goblin Guide, and even had Fireblast, Burst Lightning, Rift Bolt, and Lightning Bolt. I also had Wasteland. This was probably the single best red deck I had ever drafted in Steven’s cube, and potentially one of the best in any non-powered cube I had ever drafted.

I played three tight games against Cedric, who had a superb Splinter Twin deck with a lot of redundancy. Game one was very close, game two he took after I emergency Fireblasted his Deceiver Exarch, and game three I took the tempo lead and kept it, finishing him off with my excessive burn spells.

I don’t really remember my match against Brian, but I’m pretty sure I just ran him over with two explosive starts.

Steven beat me with a very good white deck, and I went 2-1 in this cube as well as the last, which I was happy with given that I went 0-3 in my first cube draft last year. Zac won the cube draft portion going 5-1, and Jesse and I tied for second at 4-2. Our team won 10 matches, Cedric’s team won 9 matches, and David’s team won 8 matches. All in all, very close and fair teams this year.

Actually Playing the Constructed Matches

The majority of the fun of these tournaments is in the deckbuilding and the drafting, not so much the playing, so I won’t go into deep detail. Here are some of the highlights:

  • I successfully maneuvered Max McCall into resolving a Dictate of Karametra and having just one Island up after it landed. I then cast Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Dazed his last Memory Lapse, 5’d Ugin, and that was that, since I had let him counter my previous Counterspells with Memory Lapses and would be drawing them over the next two turns.
  • Cedric embarrassingly outplayed me in the finals during Legacy Roto. He opened on Isamaru, Hound of Konda and I opened on Elvish Mystic. He played Mother of Runes on turn two and I untapped and attempted to cast Path to Exile, running directly into his Brave the Elements. He then untapped and played Phyrexian Revoker blind-naming Elspeth, Knight Errant, stranding it in my hand.
  • I made a critical play error against Cedric in the finals of BYO Standard. I was beating him down with two Insectile Aberrations converted on turns 2 and 3 and I had just cast Geist of St. Traft, and he had Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper in play. He cast Reality Smasher into my three mana, and I let it resolve. He went to attackers and I cast Swords to Plowshares on his Thought-Knot Seer to cantrip, and when I did, I drew Mana Leak. I should have cast it on Thought-Knot Seer prior to Reality Smasher resolving, but since I had Daze in my hand and he had a mana open, I completely forgot about the idea of countering his spell. I lost due to that play error in combination with the fact he drew two of the lifegain Eldrazi colorless lands, leaving him at 1 life to end the game (Vapor Snag would have won the game instead of StP as well here). He also almost lost the game himself by casting Phyrexian Metamorph into my Gainsay which he knew I had, but he had temporarily forgot that it was a blue spell – he later said he feared that I had drawn Mana Leak. Damn.
  • I combo’d Peter Beckfield’s Soldiers deck with my Merfolk deck in Racial Draft on turns 2 and 3 and he got slow starts, so that was fun. However, Brian Wong’s Zombies deck was by far the best deck considering Ghoulcaller’s Bell was returning a raceshifted Tarfire + 1 other Zombie spell all day. It was a massacre.


I lost in a close two matches in the finals to this year’s winner Cedric Phillips (who ALSO won a PTQ while on vacation), but was generally happy with my play.

Kyle and Cedric

Overall, it was a hell of a weekend and one I can’t wait to repeat on a yearly basis. I highly suggest BYO Standard, Set Sealed, and a Roto Draft for inclusion with your friends. The Racial Draft thing was fun but ended up being a goldfishing experiment between us all, and while it was fun to design and build, the games were non-interactive for the most part.

The final standings are below for your amusement – and again, you can see all the detail on the official spreadsheet.


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