Grand Prix Houston Report Part 1, *14th*
Grand Prix Houston may have gone well enough for me, but that success didn’t reflect the troubling concerns that I had leading up to the event. I had played Thopter/Depths at Grand Prix: Oakland seven weeks before and finished in the top sixty-four, a lack-luster performance. Day two had been rough; I went 3-3. I played against a bunch of Zoo decks and had gotten thrashed. As a result, my confidence wasn’t as high as it had been beforehand. Also, I hadn’t been playing Extended at all recently. I was going to get around to it eventually, but certain circumstances prevented that; grinding Pauper two-mans and Urza’s Saga release events on MTGO had been too important.
I expected that Zoo was still going to be the most popular archetype (on day one at least) and that the matchup had to be addressed. Gerry and Wrapter had been busy playing all flavors of Blue/Black Thopter decks; enough to compete with Baskin Robbins. They had been posting their thoughts in a super-ultra secret forum that no one knows about. Leeching a bit from that, I was able to stay in the theoretical loop but was out of it regarding actual game play. Most people that know me understand that I procrastinate with testing “from time to time”, focusing on more important formats.
The Thopter/Depths deck that we had piloted at Oakland had undergone some changes. We had abandoned the giant monsters out of the sideboard for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which was awesome. Wrapter had recently won (finally) an online PTQ for San Juan with Thopter/Depths using the eventual list that I blatantly copied for Grand Prix: Houston. I was going into the Grand Prix cold and figured that I’d just use Wrapter’s list because he was one of the best people with the deck.
Up until a few days before the Grand Prix, I was almost certainly playing Thopter/Depths; that was until Wednesday night when Luis talked with me about how he’d been fooling around with UG/r Scapeshift. He said that it had a good Zoo matchup and that he’d never won against it when playing with Thopter/Depths. With Scapeshift boasting those results, it was something that demanded further testing. We went down to Superstars the following day to get cards and test. I played Thopter/Depths and got browned by Luis playing Scapeshift roughly 3-15. However, many of the games were atypical. Wrapter showed up later and had opposite results, winning the majority of the games; Jace was a problem for Scapeshift.
It was getting late; we were flying out of SFO in the morning on Friday and I needed to get back soon and get to sleep. We packed up the necessary cards and headed home. I brought cards to make Thopter/Depths and Scapeshift with enough sideboard options to cover everything that I could think of. If worse came to pass, I had a backup plan of playing in the Vintage event on Sunday with this deck:
Luis and I were on the same flight and met up with our friend Eirik at the Houston International Airport. We took a taxi to the site hotel and got everything in order with our room.
Before I go any further, it’s necessary to inform those of you whom aren’t familiar with Houston, Texas. When I compare the three major cities in Texas that I’ve visited to each other (Austin, Dallas, and Houston), Houston is the worst of all of them. It boasts the worst weather because of its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s incredibly humid, and thus quite an uncomfortable place to be stuck in. Luckily, the Grand Prix was being held inside of the site hotel made it possible to stay in an air-conditioned environment all of the time.
We got to the site and started doing stuff. I went to dealers looking for deals, found that the artists were there already, and went to say hi to some people. Wrapter showed up soon afterwards and went to go play in trials along with Eirik; Wrapter won one of them with his Thopter/Depths list against none other than the master himself: C0DEX.
We were having second thoughts about their deck. Luis was thinking about playing Elves, I was just clueless and out of it because I hadn’t gotten around to testing post-games with Scapeshift against Zoo. There was some other talk about playing Hypergenesis or Blue/Black Thopters. Eventually, I decided that I’d just fall back on what I knew and play Thopter/Depths.
By that point it was late; around 11 PM. Power had gone out in the event hall because the lights had apparently been on a timer. We decided to get some dinner at Spencer’s, the restaurant/bar inside the Hilton (the site hotel). Luis, Gabe Walls, Ben Stark, Kyle Montgomery, Chris Fennell, Eirik, Martin Juza, and I were seated in the bar area because the restaurant portion had closed. The place seemed nice enough at first glance until we looked at the menu. Everything was incredibly expensive and served a la carte; the bill was going to be quite high. Faced with no alternative, everyone but I decided to order while I held out for breakfast on the next day. The food was very mediocre and left most people unhappy. They decided to play the Next-Level CC game. Luis was nice enough to pay for the meal.
For those of you that don’t know what the Next-Level CC game is, let me explain. After a meal, people throw in their credit card to the pool to determine who pays. For those people who aren’t degenerate gamblers, there is another option: to buy out; they pay their fair share. As I said before, the people that don’t buy out all put their card into the pool. Cards are then selected at random; the owner being safe. The last card remaining “wins” and gets stuck with the combined tab of the people who gamed. With the new version of the game, the card taken out second-to-last gets the money from the people that bought out and the “winner” has to pay the entire bill. Yes, it’s degenerate.
I went up to the room content with the idea of playing Thopter/Depths. Even though I hadn’t played in nearly two months with the deck, I still had a rough idea of how to play the deck. Step 1: Thoughtseize them. Step 2: Make a 20/20. Step 3: Win! It didn’t seem like it would be that hard. In all seriousness, I knew that Thopter/Depths was one of the most difficult decks to play because of the abundance of complex decision trees that the deck requires its pilot to navigate during each game. After sleeving up my deck and filling out the registration sheet, I was off to sleep.
Sadly, the night wasn’t restful for me. I woke up constantly after 5 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I decided not to wait for the rest of the room to wake up and went down to the lobby to find a place to eat at 7:30 AM.
At Magic tournaments, it’s common to not get enough food to eat. Many people won’t notice that they’re hungry because they’re amped up on adrenaline all day long. Frequently, people won’t eat over the course of a day and have a huge crash at the end. The day of a tournament, I’ll eat a big breakfast to prevent fatigue from setting in.
The tournament was much smaller than I had expected; there were 662 people. I had expected between eight hundred and nine hundred. Day one was going to consist of nine Swiss rounds. Luckily for me, I had three byes thanks to my rating and pro level. We had planned to draft before the tournament, but there was an audible to get breakfast instead. This time, I went just for the company. The breakfast was a large affair. Our party had eleven people. They decided to game the bill again. We absorbed another table to make it fourteen before starting. It was an epic game. Because nobody bought out, there was going to be no second place prize, so they had to take it a step further and have everyone kick in 5 bucks for second. Martin Juza walked away with 70 dollars and Ben Lundquist had the unenviable position of paying 300 dollars for a breakfast buffet.
Round 1-3: Bye
Round 4: Kyle Boggemes, Congregation Zoo.
This round was a feature match and can be read about in further detail here.
Game 1: I played first and he mulliganed to five. I decided to make a 20/20 on turn two before he got to three mana because I didn’t have a Muddle in hand and he wouldn’t be able to use Bant Charm. I figured that his hand wouldn’t be very good because of his double-mulligan and wouldn’t have a Path; he did. I was fine and quickly recovered from the card disadvantage with Thirst/Compulsive Research and two Dark Confidants. However, I wasn’t able to draw into much of anything and died to a Wild Nacatl and Stirring Wildwood after trading a bunch of cards. The flood of lands had caught up to me.
Game 2: We both kept our hands and I led with Thoughtseize, taking Bloodbraid Elf; he had two Bant Charms, Plains, Stirring Wildwood, Wild Nacatl, and Noble Hierarch remaining. I played Dark Confidant on turn two and he played both one-drops off of a Misty Rainforest and the Stirring Wildwood. However, I was ready with Smother and Deathmark. The Confidant beatdown continued for a while as I added a Vampire Hexmage to the mix. One of the Bant Charms took out my Confidant, and I added a Gatekeeper of Malakir to the board which killed off a Noble Hierarch. Slaughter Pact killed off his Tarmogoyf as I continued to pressure him. However, he set up a Congregation at Dawn for two Tarmogoyfs and an Eternal Witness which stopped me. I used Engineered Explosives to kill the Tarmogoyfs after his board outnumbered mine, but the Witness set up another Congregation for Bloodbraid Elf, Gaddock Teeg, and another Tarmogoyf. I wasn’t able to find anything after Damnation cleared the board. His Bloodbraid Elf killed me.
Round 5: Patrick Vicini, Faeries.
Game 1: I Thoughtseized him and took his Spell Snare, leaving him with two Spellstutter Sprites, Vendilion Clique, and some lands (including a Mutavault). I played a Hexmage and he played one of the Spellstutters to be able to counter my more expensive spells. He played the Vendilion Clique in my draw step on turn three and took the Thopter Foundry that I had just drawn; I had Sword of the Meek in hand also. I drew a Muddle off the Clique and used it to find my Thopter Foundry again. The game turned into a race of him trying to kill me before I found a way to get rid of the Spellstutter Sprite in his hand. I wasn’t attacking with my Hexmage because of his Mutavault. I resolved the Sword of the Meek and then drew Jace. However, it was countered with Spell Pierce. At five life I drew a Smother and killed the Vendilion Clique with it during his upkeep. I drew a Dark Depths which halted his offense. I made a 20/20 and forced him to block with his Sprite. At that point I played the Thopter Foundry. He tried to counter it by making his Mutavault a creature and then playing his Sprite. Before the Sprite came into play, I destroyed the Mutavault with my Ghost Quarter. He scooped.
Game 2: I kept Island, Chrome Mox, Thoughtseize, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, and Thirst for Knowledge. He played Thoughtseize. After a bit of thought he took my Chrome Mox. I drew Sunken Ruins but played the Island and passed. He played a Bitterblossom while I drew a second Sunken Ruins and played the Thopter Foundry. He played a land and a second Bitterblossom. I Thoughtseized him before playing the second Sunken Ruins; it got Spell Pierced like I had hoped. Then I played the Sword of the Meek. He died after a few turns of trading tokens.
Round 6: Tyler Arceneaux, UG/r Scapeshift.
Game 1: I Thoughtseized his Scapeshift, leaving him with a Cryptic Command and some other Blue spells. He found a Boseiju which made my Muddle bad. However, I was able to assemble Thopter/Sword and start making tokens. He had about four draw steps to find a Scapeshift, but didn’t.
Game 2: This was similar to the first game. He had Boseiju to make sure his spells resolved while I was making Thopter tokens. However, he wasn’t able to find a Scapeshift after I Thoughtseized his first one.
Round 7: Lee Steht, BG Depths.
Game 1: I played first and kept Muddle the Mixture, Thoughtseize, Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths, Chrome Mox, Sunken Ruins, and Academy Ruins. He mulliganed to six before keeping his hand. I played the Chrome Mox and imprinted the Muddle so I could Thoughtseize him off of the Sunken Ruins. His hand was bad, but had a Vampire Hexmage (the only way for him to disrupt me). He didn’t draw a Thoughtseize or Dark Depths on his turn so I killed him by immediately making a 20/20 on my turn.
Game 2: He played Urborg and Chrome Mox, imprinting Nature’s Claim to play a Bitterblossom on turn one. I played a Chrome Mox, imprinting Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and played a Thopter Foundry. He didn’t have a land after that and passed back after Duressing my Compulsive Research (leaving me with Jace, Sword of the Meek, and a land). I played the Sword and Thoughtseized his Shred Memory (leaving him with Rite of Consumption and Grim Discovery) to make sure the coast was clear to start making Thopter Tokens. We were both stuck on lands, but I was being more productive. Slowly, my board began to grow against his diminishing life total. He was able to make a 20/20 thanks to Grim Discovery getting back a Dark Depths that I had killed with the Legend Rule. Maelstrom Pulse destroyed my tokens, but I made more. I was out of range from Rite of Consumption which was good. I finally found a fourth land to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He conceded after I bounced his 20/20.
Round 8: Hunter Burton, Doran.
I won the roll, but had to mulligan to six. I Thoughtseized him and saw Kitchen Finks, Knight of the Reliquary, Doran, the Siege Tower, Sword of Light and Shadow, and three lands. I took the Sword because my hand was slow, with only a Tolaria West, land, and Sword of the Meek. I drew into a Muddle and transmuted it for Thopter Foundry. With Tolaria West in hand, Thopters would be more resilient to his hate since I could get Academy Ruins to grind out his removal. He played Doran and I played the Thopter Foundry. He drew into a Qasali Pridemage and bashed me for six, down to twelve. Then he sacrificed his Pridemage to blow up my Thopter Foundry, which I was happy to have him do at that point. I made a token in response. I transmuted Tolaria West for Academy Ruins, played it, and tapped out for Sword of the Meek, ready to recur the Foundry during my upkeep. I chump-blocked his Doran with the Thopter and he played the Knight of the Reliquary and a freshly drawn Tarmogoyf. I only had one card in hand, Compulsive Research, and couldn’t recur my Foundry anymore because it would require me to tap out and put me dead on the board to his fourteen-power team. I Researched myself, but didn’t draw into anything that could save me.
Sideboard: : -3 Thopter Foundry, -2 Sword of the Meek, -1 Vampire Hexmage, -1 Dark Depths, -2 Muddle the Mixture; +3 Deathmark, +2 Damnation, +1 Slaughter Pact, +1 Gatekeeper of Malakir, +2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Game 2: I had to mulligan again. Thoughtseize revealed Thoughtseize, Extirpate, Noble Hierarch, and four lands. I took his Thoughtseize because I had Compulsive Research and Thirst for Knowledge in my hand. I Researched on turn two after playing a Chrome Mox because I had no other lands. He played a Great Sable Stag and started attacking with it. Thirst for Knowledge didn’t yield much for me. I was forced to discard Smother and Slaughter Pact. I needed to find Damnation. Qasali Pridemage made the Stag hit hard as I played Jace and Brainstormed. Finding nothing, I wasn’t able to do anything else except die.
Round 9: Haibing Hu, Thopter Depths.
This was the round that I totally forgot about. The Thopter/Depths mirror matches tend to blend together. I just remember that I won quickly in two games.
I had done it. I limped into day 2 at X-2. I knew that I’d have to tighten up and not lose if I wanted to make it into Top 8. Many of my friends had also made it to day 2, but not all. There were definitely casualties. Luis had been executed by the Faeries deck with [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] (to shore up its Elves! matchup). Ben Stark, Phil Yam, Matt Nass, and many others had also been knocked out. The stories of Day 1 were told. None of the bad beats, topdecks, and other outrageous happenings were left out. At the end of the day, everyone was happy that it was over.
Next week I’ll be bringing you the thrilling conclusion to my tale…