Reflecting on SCG Dallas and the Future of Sultai

Hostage Taker
Anyone who has ever played organized baseball at any level has likely heard the following speech verbatim; “Baseball is a game of failure. If you get up ten times, strike out seven, and get three hits, then you’re a great player.”

Whether it was intramural, school, or travel and no matter the coach, I always heard this speech. It was drilled into me at a young age, and I was taught to learn from failure and savor success. Learning this early on has been integral to my success in Magic because, if baseball is a game of failure, Magic is a game of futility. Regardless of innate talent or effort expended, you’re not going to win a very large amount of the tournaments you enter. It’s simply the nature of tournaments and the nature of the game. This can be discouraging to many, but this is actually the reason why I think Magic is great. It’s a continuous grind to accomplish the improbable. And when your efforts are finally rewarded, the feeling is ineffable.

This past weekend I was able to accomplish the improbable, and win the SCG Dallas Standard Open. It really does feel great when you achieve what you set out to do, but it’s important not to become complacent. I won, I enjoyed it, but my goal is always to win the next tournament. So in an attempt to replicate my success in Dallas at future events, I’m going to analyze what I did right and what I could’ve improved on.

What I Did Right

As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite rare to get actually get a win in Magic. It’s nice to have the opportunity to reflect on what actually went right in an event. And, by doing so, we can get a better idea of what we need to do in order to succeed in the future.

The Deck:

At the time of my last article, I had pretty much resigned myself to playing Mono-Red at SCG Dallas before even playing a game of the format. The deck is basically everything I could want in a week one deck. It punishes clunky decks, it’s malleable after sideboarding, and it’s very consistent. But before I started sleeving up Mountains, there was one deck I wanted to test first; the Sultai Energy deck from my first article about Ixalan. I had been tinkering with the deck a lot since first writing about, and I strongly believed that the deck had potential. After two lengthy days of testing, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. I went 33-7 in matches, and I had a winning record against every popular archetype. I was locked in on playing the deck at this point, and I began convincing my teammates to play the deck as well.

I panicked a bit at the last minute because my final day of testing didn’t go nearly as well as the first two, but in the end I decided it was best to just play the deck I worked on the most. I came to this decision by waking up an hour before I had to submit a list, jamming more matches online with Sultai, and determining that my 3-0 start in my league was sufficient evidence that Sultai was great.


Good Decision, Andrew.

Between my win and Dan’s 3rd place finish, it seems safe to assume we had the best deck in the tournament. Although, Brad definitely hurt our case. The deck had game against all of the most played decks, and it’s very tricky to play against. Between the Blossoming Defenses and the saturation of high impact creatures, an opposing removal spell played at the wrong time will often result in a win on the spot. The deck is also able to adjust roles quite well which is something I value very highly. It’s capable of winning games on turn five and turn fifty.

As of late, I’ve generally just played good versions of stock decks. And while I’ve been successful doing this, this tournament was a good reminder of how advantageous doing something people are unprepared for can be. I’m not going to play any rogue decks without a very good reason, but it is something I’ll keep in mind more during my deck selection process going forward.

Sideboarding:

I’ve played two Standard Opens this year. They were both week one formats, I won them both, and the biggest edge I had in both was my ability to sideboard. I really can’t emphasize enough how important sideboarding is in Standard. In every single tournament you play, you’re going to play more postboard games than preboard games; you have to know how to sideboard with your deck. This doesn’t just mean having general plans for matchups. Having a default plan is certainly important, but your goal in sideboarding is to configure your deck in a way to beat your opponent’s postboard configuration. The majority of my opponents weren’t able to determine what cards mattered in the matchup or what role I would be taking after boarding, and this left them at a severe disadvantage.

I always preface sideboard guides with a disclaimer, but I’m really serious this time. If you’re trying to give yourself the best chance to do well at your next event, copying this list and guide is not in your best interest. The format is still developing and change is inevitable. The lists from Worlds will not be the lists in two weeks. This means that your list and sideboarding plans can’t be the same either. This is meant to serve as shortcut in catching you up to where the format is at currently. So, with that being said, if I were to play a tournament with Sultai tomorrow, here’s the 75 I would play and how I would look to sideboard in some popular matchups.


My Play:

Overall, I think I played well this tournament. I certainly made way more mistakes than I’m content with (I’ll address this more later), but I think my decision making was sound throughout the tournament. I was feeling burnt out for a while, and I was pretty disgusted with my play during this period. I took a two week break from playing any Magic around the release of Ixalan, and it definitely helped a ton. When I get back to the right balance regarding playing time, I expect to begin steadily improving again. If I’m winning tournaments while feeling 60%, I can’t wait to start playing when I feel my best.

What I Did Wrong

It’s easy to look for mistakes in failure, but it’s imperative to also reflect on your success. Despite doing the actual best I could in the tournament, my performance was far from perfect. I made mistakes, I lost games, my list wasn’t perfect, I could’ve done better.

My Play:

I said I was content with my play earlier, but there was ample room for improvement. I think my conscious decision making was satisfactory, but my play was incredibly sloppy throughout the tournament. This is something I’ve been dealing with for most of the year as well.

Despite being my most successful year in Magic to date, I’ve probably made more careless mistakes this year than I did last year. This can likely be attributed to my ratio of online to paper play. Since drastically upping the hours I put into Magic Online late last year, I’ve undoubtedly become a better player. But at the same time, my ability to focus while playing paper Magic has taken a serious hit.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several dumb mistakes I made at SCG Dallas; I tapped mana wrong, I forgot to Fatal Push a creature in response to a Fumigate (I’ve literally made this play at least 50 times), I forgot about the anthem effect on Angel of Invention, I forgot to resolve a trigger that I announced, and it’s possible there were others as well. This is unacceptable by my standards, and it’s something I’ll need to address if I want to keep adding to my trophy collection.

Fatigue:

This is something else that’s plagued me for more than just this past event. I’m a pretty low energy person to begin with, and I’m rarely mindful about taking proper care of myself during tournaments. I almost never eat while playing, and I don’t drink nearly enough. On average, my play is notably worse during the back half of the day. I was able to curb the effects of this at Dallas by overloading on caffeine, but I’d imagine that method isn’t sustainable. Winning a tournament is hard enough, so lowering my odds of doing so by neglecting something I actually have control over is pretty ridiculous.

The Future of Sultai

Despite zero World’s competitors bringing the deck to battle, I do think the deck has a reasonable chance of remaining a player in the metagame. Sultai has a passable matchup against every deck in the field aside from Temur Energy. The Temur matchup isn’t that bad, and I made some concessions to the matchup in my latest list, but it is unfavorable. Unfortunately Temur did win Worlds, and is likely the frontrunner for the best deck in the format. That sounds bad for Sultai fans out there, but there is hope. If {U}{B} decks reach a point where they’re a consistent foil to Temur, then Sultai should become the format’s Green deck of preference. Sultai is significantly better than Temur against {U}{B} while still boasting a favorable matchup against Mono-Red.

Sultai is in a weird spot where it’s not likely to be a fringe player. It’s matchups across the board are comparable to Temur’s, so it just makes sense to play the one that beats the other one. Right now Temur is definitely the deck to beat, but I’m going to see what I can do with Sultai to put it back on top in the upcoming weeks. But, if I do come up short, I at least had the one event with the deck. Building something from scratch, taking down an event with it, and helping my brother put up a solid finish too was definitely one of the better experiences I’ve had playing this game.


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