The summer season was drawing to a close, with the only remaining event being in my “backyard”: Grand Prix Portland. I suppose that term was a bit loose considering that Portland is over a thousand miles away from where I live in the picture-perfect San Francisco Bay Area. However, when the broad travel schedule that I’d been subject to is figured in, the trip to Portland seemed like a casual stroll to the liquor store around the corner. To me Portland wasn’t the last task before a short break until Scars of Mirrodin Limited events started. Instead, it was the one opportunity that I’d have to redeem myself from my performances in Europe during the previous weeks.
I had flown to Europe a few weeks prior to attend GP Gothenburg and PT Amsterdam but with only minor success. Gothenburg had been a frustrating tournament because the first draft of day two had played out so poorly. I had drafted an above average Red/Black [card]Act of Treason[/card] deck that failed to attain the 3-0 goal that I’d set for it. Granted, going 3-0 with a deck is much harder to do than most people think, but this one was a beauty. Sadly, I’d taken the deck apart before starting this report because I figured that enough people had written about the trip already. After I had gone 1-2 with my first deck, I managed to 3-0 my second draft and sneak into the top-64.
PT Amsterdam had been a much bigger disaster than GP Gothenburg and basically mirrored my results from PT San Diego. I played the same Grixis deck that MJ had played and done so well with, and I could chalk up my 2-2-1 performance with it to a few mistakes and factors involving variance that aren’t worth discussing. The draft portion involved getting a mediocre White/Blue aggro deck and going 1-2 after it underperformed slightly. I finished 3-4-1 which didn’t even secure a top-200 finish for an extra Pro Point, but enough about Europe for now.
I had been looking forward to GP Portland for some time. A number of old college friends that I hadn’t seen in years had planned to meet up with us at the event and hang out. Additionally, the GP was only a thousand miles away and in the same time zone which translated into a plane flight just under two hours which was a huge upgrade to the flights to and from Europe that I had just finished enduring (an eleven-hour flight and a nine-hour time difference between California and Europe). The physical store of ChannelFireball.com (Superstars Game Center) had also secured a booth at the GP which meant that a bunch of my friends who didn’t usually go to events would be there and I’d have a place to hang out at.
Ever since I’d gotten back from Europe, I had been having trouble adjusting back to my local time. I’d never had a problem before, but this most recent trip had been the first time that I’d been there for two weeks which apparently made it much more difficult. I’d be asleep by 8 PM, awake from 2 AM to 4 AM, and then have broken sleep until 6 AM, at which point I’d get up. The pattern had been ongoing from the time I had arrived back in California up to the present. I had been worried that my success in the tournament would suffer because of my irregular sleep schedule but couldn’t do anything to remedy it. I didn’t want to take any sleeping pills and eventually went to my tried-and-true answer: a beer. I’d read that even though alcohol was a depressant, it led to shallow restless sleep. I had experienced results that pointed to the contrary (at least that’s what I thought initially) and decided to put stock in my corner case and ignore the scientists; what did they know anyways?
There were a few aspects about the GP that I had been excited about in addition to being so close and attracting so many of my wayward friends. First off, the GP was Limited which meant that I wasn’t forced to play Constructed to test for it. Constructed formats had never been as interesting to me when compared to Limited because of the repetitiveness and teamwork required to make a good deck. I may have perfect spelling and immaculate grammar, but can’t get “t-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-m-w-o-r-k” right. Success with Limited was more forgiving for my reclusiveness than Constructed and jamming twenty drafts a week by myself was all the help that I’d need to stumble through the format.
There were a number of artists who would be setting up at the GP to sign cards and sell artwork. Most people who’ve known me knew that I had an irrational affinity for signed cards, and the list of artists present at the GP would send me into sensory shock. Rob Alexander, Mark Tedin, Anson Maddocks, Pete Venters, Heather Hudson, rk Post, Franz Vohwinkel, Jaime Jones, Mike Drigenberg, Kekai Kotaki, and Corey Macourek were going to be there in addition to Dr. Richard Garfield (the dude who made the game). The lineup was amazing and basically equivalent to that of six normal GPs. The lineup was similar to that of last year’s GP Seattle but with a few awesome additions. I had been at that GP also but hadn’t had the time to make it through the lines of each artist, and that left me with a long list of cards that I wanted to get signed. By the time I had everything gathered, I had a box of about five hundred cards.
Normally the days before a trip were really busy. When I had gotten back from Nationals on Monday afternoon (August 23) after the event, I had spent the entire time writing my eleven-thousand word report from then until the next day. Tuesday had involved more writing along with driving down to Superstars in San Jose with Luis to drop off cards from Nationals, picking up cards for Amsterdam, and taking care of other business (including filming Magic TV along with other assorted nonsense). By the time we had taken care of everything, it was close to midnight and we headed back home. After finishing up editing my report and packing, it was off to sleep for about six hours before I went to the airport in San Francisco (Wednesday) to leave for Europe. That busy schedule had not been necessary this time which left me with slightly more time to breathe.
The flight to Portland was short and uneventful; I had brought along a book to read (“Tales” by O. Henry). Unfortunately the plane had propeller engines and they were very loud which made reading unbearably difficult. Instead of reading, I passed the time admiring the California landscape that I hadn’t seen ever since I had stopped going camping during the summers of my youth. Some of the more memorable sights included the San Andreas Fault, Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen, Lake Shasta, and Crater Lake. In no time we’d landed in overcast Portland and were on our way to the venue via the local railway tram.
We got to the site around 2:30 PM and that left us with a lot of time to durdle around before our other friends were arriving to meet up with us. I was happy to find that some of the artists had already arrived and were set up ready to sign cards which gave me something “productive” to do for the next few hours: stand in line. Eventually I managed to get about halfway done before our friends Ryan and Eirik had also found their way to the venue. Ryan had moved away to Oregon a while ago and had a house in the area which is where we ate for dinner; the lasagna that his wife had made was some of the best ever. We spent a few hours catching up before heading back to the venue to meet with PV, Wrapter, and Brad. The drive back to the venue was more scenic than not as we got lost a few times; it was then that Ryan mentioned how dangerous Portland could be and that he didn’t know his way around very well. “If something were to happen, it’d be in Portland; there are just so many meth-heads around here.”
After driving around in alleys and side streets we saw the light-capped towers of the convention center and knew that safety was close by.
We got back to the venue and went our separate ways to pass the time before our other friends made it there. Luis went off to draft while I went back to the artist booths to get more cards signed. Eventually Eirik and I went back to the hotel to grab a few drinks; I was still on Europe time and needed a few or twelve to sleep. We were staying at the Courtyard Marriot which was conveniently located only a few blocks away from the convention center. Unfortunately our room only had one king-size bed in it along with a couch that folded out into a twin bed that sagged in the center. We had originally planned to have four people in the room, but those plans soon changed as we picked up a few stragglers looking for shelter because the hotel had been fully booked; our comfortable room of four soon turned into a sardine-packed room of five. By the time we had finished our drinks PV and Wrapter had arrived.
As soon as PV got to the room he said to me, “Hello. Web, I was shopping at the airport for things and the sales lady asked if I wanted a big bag of things…. I couldn’t help but laugh, and that is all your fault!”
PV might have preferred a bag of big things but I suspect that he hadn’t asked for it and had gotten the downgrade. We all chuckled about the situation while we got settled in, PV included. We had the sleeping arrangements all figured out; five people in the non-snoring room (ours) and four in the other. A buddy of Luis (MattK) had brought an inflatable mattress with him and had decided to not use it and meant that we’d be able to use it in our room which was perfect. We’d have two in the bed, two on the couch, and one on the mattress. However, the mattress was soon repo’d by Matt because he had found the couch unsuitable for his highness. No one wanted to sleep on the floor so we put three people in the bed. All I can say is Wrapter and Eirik didn’t know how well they were running.
The night proved to be a difficult opponent because I still hadn’t adjusted back to the local time. Perhaps what had been published in multiple scientific columns relating restlessness with alcohol consumption had actually been accurate (NAH!!!!) and was the reason why I had been tossing and turning. Perhaps I was suffering from pre-tournament jitters and had adrenaline coursing through my veins; this wasn’t my first rodeo so I didn’t think so. I chalked the sleeplessness up to the lack of fluffy pink blankets and supple stuffed animals to cuddle with that had lined my crib at home for years. With those pleasant thoughts swirling around in my head I soon drifted off to sleep.
The morning came much sooner than I had liked. I had set my alarm for 7:30 AM with the hopes that it would wake me up but that had predictably not been the case. After being awake for half an hour I finally got up at 6:30 AM to take a shower and went down to the hotel restaurant to demolish their buffet. For whatever reason the elevator was out of commission and I had to take the stairs; that wasn’t a problem considering the incredible shape I am in (Greek God, etc). I had always tried to eat a big breakfast before tournaments because the location of the venue often prohibited further foraging expeditions; a good breakfast was necessary for me to get through the day. I had been eating for a while before the rest of the crew joined me in the lobby and told me it was time to go, “C’mon guys, just one more plate of bacon!” ANOMNOMNOMNOM.
There were 1,368 people playing in the Grand Prix and it was announced that there would be ten rounds of sealed deck with a cut after the ninth (people with a record of 7-2 or better would advance to round ten and beyond). In other words, we were in for a long day. After we had registered, verified, and swapped cardpools, this is what I had received to work with:
Sorcerer’s Strongbox is the only card that would make it into most decks. The card is rather mediocre but is quite flexible because it offers card advantage to any color. Elixir of Immortality and Jinxed Idol can be good in some decks. The Elixir needs a lot of card drawing to be useful whereas the Jinxed Idol needs something like multiple Act of Treasons, Reassembling Skeletons, and/or a very aggressive deck to be good.
White has quite a few good cards: two copies of Pacifism, a Blinding Mage, and a Serra Angel. The rest of White is average with the color leaning more towards midrange/control than aggro despite the Elite Vanguard and Stormfront Pegasus. It’s likely that White will end up being one of the colors played because the four cards that I mentioned earlier are so good.
Blue has one of the best cards for sealed: Mind Control. However, Blue is incredibly shallow in this pool with the only other good cards being Foresee and Azure Drake. Preordain and Augury Owl are both fine. Splashing Mind Control usually isn’t an option and unless the color that we pair Blue with is incredibly deep, it’s quite likely that Islands won’t end up our deck.
Black is incredibly deep. Doom Blade, Quag Sickness, and Necrotic Plague are all good forms of removal and there are some excellent creatures (Black Knight, Child of Night, Liliana’s Specter, Royal Assassin, Howling Banshee, and Nightwing Shade). Black is almost assuredly going to be one of the two colors that we play.
Red is deep but unfortunately is filled with Red cards (i.e. mediocre). The good cards are limited to Cyclops Gladiator, Lightning Bolt, and Pyroclasm. The first two are constantly good whereas Pyroclasm’s value has a wide range, swinging from actively bad because it kills more of your creatures than the opponent’s to being a one-sided wrath if set up properly. The majority of the remaining cards are slanted towards an aggressive strategy. Goblin Tunneler, Arc Runner, Fling, Thunder Strike, and Lava Axe are all playable, but they are all very situational and don’t play well when a game isn’t going your way. The more controlling cards (cards that would also fit into an aggro deck but are on the high end) include Chandra’s Spitfire, Canyon Minotaur, Fire Servant, and Earth Servant. The main problem with the Red curve is that there’s just too much high end to form a good balanced curve without leaning too much on the other color for early drops. Red is going to be a support color despite its depth.
Green needs one of two points to be true in order to play with it in sealed: it has bombs or incredible depth. This pool has neither. Two Sylvan Rangers means that there’s good fixing, but aside from that there isn’t anything attractive about Green. Plummet is decent against most decks, but there’s literally nothing about these cards that is enticing. Garruk’s Companion is good, but only early in the game in a deck that can take advantage of the pressure. Playing Garruk’s Companion reliably on turn two would require at least ten Forests and that is simply too many considering the lack of other cards that we want to play.
After analyzing the pool for a few minutes I came to the conclusion that Black/White was the strongest pairing. Red was deep but inferior to White because the good cards were outclassed (Cyclops Gladiator, Lightning Bolt, and Pyroclasm vs. Blinding Mage, Serra Angel, and two Pacifisms) which was also true of the rest of the color. The core of the deck that I was sold on running was the following:
The manabase needed to support being able to play Sign in Blood and Black Knight early. There was also a plethora of other Black-intensive cards (Royal Assassin, Liliana’s Specter, Quag Sickness, Howling Banshee, and Nightwing Shade). White didn’t have many double-color cards (Blinding Mage, Cloud Crusader, and Serra Angel) which paired well with having a lot of Swamps in the deck.
There were still a few slots left in the deck for the fringe cards to fight over. The cards included:
I wasn’t too keen on running Elite Vanguard or Mighty Leap. The deck could produce some fast draws with its multiple two-drops, but with the heavy slant towards Black, I didn’t want to focus too much on the aggressive side by including a White one-drop. I had run Bog Raiders in Gothenburg, but only because I was really short on playables. As it turned out, Black wasn’t popular enough in the small sample that I had experienced to make it worth playing Bog Raiders in the main. One Siege Mastodon was much more likely to make it into the deck than both because the curve would have become too top-heavy otherwise. I would have rather had an eighteenth land at that point to help cast my spells. Duress was something that would have gotten better as I advanced in the tournament because the number of bombs like Fireball and Mind Control that I’d be facing would increase. Stabbing Pain felt similar to Mighty Leap though better because it had synergy with Royal Assassin and would also serve as a removal spell by itself against problematic cards like Awakener Druid, Royal Assassin, Prodigal Pyromancer, and other one-toughness creatures. Diabolic Tutor was the last spell to consider, but it seemed too slow for the deck. Being able to fetch a Doom Blade or Serra Angel would have had been useful, but I’ve found that there’s too much tempo lost with the card. The eighteenth land was joined with having two more five-drops which wasn’t going to be the case. With only two card-drawing spells (Sorcerer’s Strongbox and Sign in Blood), I felt that eighteen lands would have caused me to get flooded more than the card-drawing spells would compensate for. In the end, I decided to play the Siege Mastodon and Stabbing Pain.
Here’s the final version of the deck that I registered:
Round 1-3: Byes.
Even though I wasn’t playing during these rounds, there was still a lot going on. I had taken the time to finish getting cards signed and that took a fair amount of time because many of the lines were slow. After a few rounds of sitting in line I found Matt Sperling who had brought his Vintage decks with him including Ad Nauseam, Sun Titan Oath, Combo Dredge, and Welder Stax. During the downtime in Amsterdam last weekend we had played with his decks; he had mentioned his desire to play against Trygon Tez and I had decided to bring along an updated version of my list.
The new list had a major change that I was trying: the more aggro-control orientated take on the deck. I had added four strip effects while taking out some of the restricted staples (Tolarian Academy, Thirst for Knowledge, Mana Crypt, along with the fourth Spell Pierce). I had (and still have) no idea if the changes were for the better, but it was something that I had wanted to try out for a while. The main reasons for adding Strip Mine and Wastelands was to give the deck an edge in the mirror which had been gaining popularity ever since Owen had won Vintage Champs. Red Elemental Blasts had been a popular sideboard card and most lists were only running one Volcanic Island as their Red source besides Mox Ruby and Black Lotus. Strip effects would also pair well with Trygon Predator because the deck would be able to attack the opponent’s mana base from different fronts while maintaining the effectiveness of Spell Pierce.
Matt and I battled whenever we could find time in between rounds. Each time we played a crowd would form around us and watch in awe as we slung spells. Vintage had always been a format that I’d loved and I looked at it as the format that I’d run away to in the same fashion that people run away to play in team drafts at any premier event. We had found just enough time to play a few games here and there and must have played about thirty over the course of the tournament.
Oddly enough, there had been a lot of time to “do stuff” at the tournament. I didn’t understand why at first, but then I realized that the rounds had been taking forever. To break it down, rounds were normally fifty minutes followed by time extensions, extra turns, result slip entries, errors, and pairings. From my experience matches at Limited events didn’t take as long when compared to Constructed events. However the rounds were still taking forever; the first two rounds took roughly ninety minutes each before the next round had been announced. I had found out later what had gone wrong (insider information, etc). Truth be told, an old inkjet printer may have been fired (that’s more than I should say).
After my byes ran out at the start of round four, I found that it was about 5 PM and time to battle. Unfortunately I didn’t keep any records of the rounds, and as a result the normally picture-perfect recount of said matches was a bit murky as I wrote this.
Round 4: Kelvin Young
Evil won the roll and chose to draw first while I kept a Plains/Swamp hand with Black Knight, Stormfront Pegasus, Sign in Blood, and five drops but I never hit a third land until it was too late. By the time I had found the land, I was already staring down an army of Blue/White flyers. Game two I chose to draw but was still outclassed by Azure Drake and Cloud Crusader. I had six lands to play spells but that wasn’t enough to play around the tandem of Mana Leak and Frost Titan.
Losing the first round wasn’t exactly the start that I’d wanted for my tournament. Losing the round meant that I didn’t have much breathing room for run-ins against busted decks and that I’d have to tighten up because there was any room for mistakes.
Round 5: Daniel Griffin
I don’t remember much about this match except that Evil killed me with Frost Titan game one. Game two I manage to win, but I go on to lose game three after resetting the board with Necrotic Plague and Reassembling Skeleton while holding two Pacifisms, Doom Blade, Quag Sickness, and Stabbing Pain. I was pretty low on life when Evil played a Sword of Vengeance followed by some creatures, each of which hit me for a few points before I could use a removal spell.
I was quite disappointed after losing for a second time (at least on the inside). On the outside no one would have been able to notice the tumultuous hurricane that was swirling around inside of me waiting to be unleashed on some unsuspecting person. I wasn’t about to let my flirtations with failure in Europe follow me back to the good ‘ol US of A. I needed a rebound girlfriend, and her name was….
Round 6: Guy Buckridge
I guess beggars can’t be choosers. In all fairness Guy played fine, though the pace of play was more akin to a slow Waltz rather than the feverish Tango that I secretly desired. I got tempo’d out pretty well game one by Ajani Goldmane and Frost Titan. Game two I played badly but still won. I had some flyers out along with a Blinding Mage and Royal Assassin. The Blinding Mage had been shut down with an Ice Cage early on and his creatures were just staring at mine while a Cloud Crusader chipped away at his life total. Eventually he found a Gargoyle Sentinel to halt my offense but I drew a Pacifism a few turns later which I should have just put on the Blinding Mage to melt the Ice Cage and start killing creatures with the Royal Assassin. I played too quickly and didn’t see it in time. Despite that egregious error, I still managed to win the game along with game three which was much less close than the first two.
I had just turned in my first result slip of the tournament around 8:30 PM and I felt awesome. Actually I didn’t. I felt terrible. I was making mistakes that I wouldn’t normally be making. I had to focus. There wasn’t any room for error and if I wanted a shot at playing on day two, I’d need to tighten up… a lot.
To be honest, I have no idea what happened during the next three rounds except that I won and won’t attempt to fabricate a sorry excuse for a tournament report. Simply put, I would have taken more care to remember what went on had I not started out 0-2.
Round 7: Seth Hendrickson
Round 8: Matthew Forner
Round 9: David Neill
And that was it. I had somehow managed to rattle off four wins in a row while I was against the ropes and save some face by making day two despite my absurdly poor start. I hadn’t missed day two of a Limited GP in a long time and hadn’t been prepared to end my streak here. Most of the other people from ChannelFireball were doing well. Nassty and PV were 9-0, TomM, Brad, and Jon Loucks were 8-1, Wrapter, Eirik, and BenS were 7-2. Luis had just missed after losing his last round which was unfortunate, but things didn’t always go your way.
An announcement had been made at the start of the round that the tenth round (that had originally been scheduled to be played on day one) had been moved to the start of day two. By the end of round nine it was midnight and we were all ready to go back to the hotel after getting a quick bite to eat. Luckily for us the CFB booth had ordered pizza ahead of time and it was awaiting us back at our luxurious palace of a hotel (piping hot even) with an entourage of PV’s Swedish lady friends ready to serve us. A slightly less believable story might have been that the CFB booth had ordered pizza, gotten No-Sir’d by the convention center staff when it had been delivered a few hours prior, and that it was cold in their hotel room. In either case we mised some pizza. We were ravenous and didn’t care about the details. After a quick shower I was off to sleep.
The morning came too quickly for me despite sleeping moderately well throughout the night. I had been the first one up and hit the showers to wake up before heading down to the lobby to get some breakfast. PV and Eirik had come down with me to eat also, though poor PV didn’t get enough time to finish because I was rushing him along; after day two of Gothenburg had started at exactly 9 AM, I had been a bit worried about missing the draft. I didn’t want to get jerked around because of coming in slightly late and wasn’t going to take any chances.
“You have five minutes left!”
“Really, you’re having another plate of bacon??!!”
“You only have thirty seconds to eat that entire banana!”
“Wow; that was fast!”
We managed to get out in the nick of time and have fifteen minutes at the venue where we were just sitting around doing nothing. At least we hadn’t missed the start of the round.
Round 10: Wardon Wiltsey
To be honest, Wardon never seemed like his heart had been in the game and had been defeated before the match had started. Both games weren’t very interesting and involved me attacking with a Serra Angel after manipulating the board with removal and creatures trading.
The 5-2 record that my sealed pool didn’t seem bad when looking back on it, though in reality I was still a bit disgusted with rounds four, five, and six because of how badly I had played. I wasn’t going to dwell on the matter and was looking forward to smashing some draft queues. After the pod pairings had been put up, I wandered over to find a relatively easy pod awaiting me.
Draft 1, Pod 9:
The draft was obviously the first rodeo some people and it was easy to tell because of some of the distressed remarks that I heard around me as soon as the draft had started.
“Judge, this pack had a backwards card in it!!11! What do I do?”
“Turn the card around, son.”
For those of you who aren’t familiar with premier-level drafts, there’s a complicated process that takes place before the packs reach the grubby hands of the drafters. The packs are opened, foils are removed (and replaced with cards of the appropriate rarity for a normal ratio), all cards are stamped to prevent tampering, and finally the cards are repackaged into packs of fourteen with one card facing the opposite direction from the rest (in order to prevent information from being leaked) before being wrapped in a makeshift paper band.
The draft started out well enough for me; I took Pacifism first pick over nothing and got passed an Air Servant second. I took a Squadron Hawk third and thought at that point that White/Blue was going to be an open color combination. Unfortunately Blue got cut really hard afterwards and I struggled to pick up playables after the sixth pick. By the end of pack one I had (roughly in this order):
After reviewing the first pack I knew that the second pack was likely to have a lot of good cards for me because of how well White and Blue had been cut off from the drafters to my left. Unless one of them had opened up a really good Blue/White card, it wasn’t likely that I was going to encounter the same drought that I had experienced in the first pack. The second pack didn’t begin as well as the first, though that benchmark wasn’t easy to match after getting Pacifism, Air Servant, and Squadron Hawk. Most of what I took in the second pack was limited to White creatures (mainly flyers). I had passed up on a few Roc Eggs which I had hoped wouldn’t come back to bite me because I knew that they were overvalued and that people might put too much stock in White after seeing them so “late”. The frustrating part about the pack was that Blue was also being cut from me which left my deck lacking. By the end of pack two I had the following (roughly in this order):
Between the first two packs I only had fourteen spells that I wanted to run in my deck which meant that the third pack needed to be very deep in order for me to be able to scrounge twenty-three spells together. Thankfully I opened Sword of Vengeance along with a plethora of other White cards including a White Knight, Silvercoat Lion, and Infantry Veteran. I wasn’t happy about passing the Veteran, but I thought that I’d at least be able to wheel the Lion when the pack came back. Again, there was literally no Blue at all which meant that the Cancel that I had picked up in the first pack was going to be rotting in my sideboard. Most of the White cards I picked up were much worse than what the second pack had given me, though I did wheel the Infantry Veteran (somehow). By the end of the pack I had picked up this following:
I didn’t have quite enough cards to make a deck that I wasn’t ashamed of and ended up playing a few bad ones: Palace Guard and Jinxed Idol. I had included the Idol under the theory that my games would play out such that my ground creatures would become terrible after a while and that they’d be as small if not smaller than what I was going to against. Jinxed Idol would allow for my smaller creatures to become useful again and be able to generate those last few points of damage necessary to win the game. Cancel ended up in my sideboard because I had felt that with only two other Blue spells in my deck, running the number of Islands necessary to support Cancel at a reasonable point in the game would have led to too many mulligans because of not having enough Plains. The only other option was to include Palace Guard.
Round 11: Andrew Braun
The first game was pretty close thanks to Evil having an early Garruk’s Companion and a Giant Growth when I blocked. However, I was able to get ahead slightly until Evil summoned an Awakener Druid and bashed me for a trillion. I had Inspired Charge in my hand and could have blocked, but I needed all of my creatures to be lethal on my next turn; I also needed him to not block anything with his Awakener Druid. I took the damage, drew for my turn (a blank), dejectedly played my land, and attacked with everything knowing that if he blocked with his Druid I would die on the backswing. He didn’t block and I used Inspired Charge to deal exactly enough damage. Game two wasn’t close at all because Evil didn’t have a fast opening while I had a normal curve along with my Infantry Veteran.
Round 12: Brian Kowal
This was my first feature match of the event and symbolized the changing of the tide. Throughout the entire event I had been X-2. People would come up and ask about my record with my response always being the same, “X-2.”
Their responses began with, “Oh… that sucks” or, “Rough beats.” and began to gradually elevate to, “Not bad.” and, “Sick.”
All the while I had been my normal cool and calm self on the outside, giving nothing away about what was going on inside. People had said that I was a hard person to read, and at first I didn’t believe them. My match with Brian was covered by GGsLive and I’m sure the video of it could be found somewhere on the internet if one tried hard enough to find it.
I knew that Evil’s deck was Blue/White with every trick under the sun: Mana Leak, Negate, Cancel, Mighty Leap, Diminish, and Unsummon. I didn’t mind the counterspells too much because my curve was pretty low and would be able to leverage the board well enough and force Evil to tap out to summon a creature after which I’d be able to summon my creatures freely. I had an Infantry Veteran and another creature out when Evil summoned a Scroll Thief. The Thief got shut down by my Pacifism while I summoned a Squadron Hawk. Then for a while Evil would simply play a land and pass with five cards in hand (presumably all tricks and land) while I beat down in the air for three (two Hawks and Infantry Veteran). Eventually Evil had to Unsummon a Hawk and Cancel it, but I was able to deal enough damage with my remaining creatures without playing the Inspired Charge in my hand and deal the final points with Jinxed Idol. The second game was less odd and involved Evil summoning multiple Roc Eggs presumably to combat my Jinxed Idol that I had sideboarded out. The Roc Eggs didn’t do much because most of my creatures were flying and eventually I won in the air.
Round 13: Zachary McCourt
I had watched the other undefeated match right after I had finished my round against Brian. Much to my disappointment the deck that won had two Black Knights in it (i.e. bad news for me). I considered the deck matchup unfavorable for me while the player matchup wasn’t as bad…
Game one he played an early Royal Assassin and I just stared at it. I played a few fliers and used Excommunicate to get a bunch of damage in along with Jinxed Idol, but a Corrupt made my plan less good and eventually I had nearly no creatures and was behind on the board. I drew my Sword of Vengeance later on which made my initial plan terrible because I had thrown away so many creatures. Not even the Sword could have saved me from the second Corrupt that burned my face off.
The pace of play up to this point had been glacial (taking ten seconds to count your mana ten times a turn will do that) and we only had twenty-five minutes left on the round clock. I knew that I’d have to coax Evil along to make his plays which people might have perceived as rude, but the pace of play was simply too slow so I was within my rights.
Game two was quite comedic and involved two of my fliers getting Corrupted for six and seven respectively while Evil missed on drawing cards with his Sorcerer’s Strongbox four times while using it at what seemed to be the most awkward times possible. After Evil’s life total got reset by his two Corrupts, I found my Sword of Vengeance with Augury Owl and began to remount my offensive. At one point Evil was on eight life with Liliana’s Specter in play against my Stormfront Pegasus (equipped) and Augury Owl. I had attacked with both and he went back and forth about which to block for an entire minute. Eventually he decided to trade with my Owl and take four instead of chumping my Pegasus … and take four damage. I won the turn afterwards.
Up to this point Evil hadn’t seen a Black Knight and I wasn’t complaining. We went into game three with twelve minutes left on the clock. Evil missed his third land drop but summoned a Black Knight instead. My draw was mostly flier-based and was able to ignore it for the most part; I had a Silvercoat Lion that couldn’t get through as well as a Siege Mastodon in my hand. Evil had summoned his second Black Knight a turn later but refused to start attacking; again I wasn’t complaining. The game got the point where I had just summoned my Siege Mastodon and he had tapped out to cast Diabolic Tutor. I drew Mighty Leap, and when combined with the Inspired Charge in my hand, the two were more than enough to finish the job.
I had managed to 3-0 the first pod, though I felt lucky to escape with that record in light of the End Boss deck that I had to play against to do so. I had propelled myself to near the top of the standings along with a few of my other friends. PV, BenS, and Juza were all in the hunt for top-8; PV only needed one more win to get in while the road was a bit more difficult for the rest of us. After standings had been posted, I saw that the next pod was going to be a bit more difficult than the first one had. Soon we were seated and ready to draft.
Draft 2, Pod 2:
My first pick was pretty good: Overwhelming Stampede. I didn’t normally like to play Green, but Overwhelming Stampede was one of the cards that would put me into it (along with Garruk Wildspeaker). I had to pass a few good cards in that pack: Doom Blade, Quag Sickness, and Squadron Hawk. My next pick had Wild Griffin and Chandra’s Outrage as the two best cards. I was happy with going into White or Red depending on how open Green was. If Green wasn’t super-open, I’d be more likely to try and go into White because it was a deeper color than Red and would pair well enough with it. However, between the two cards themselves Chandra’s Outrage was better than Wild Griffin, although the Outrage would put me squarely into Red. I picked a Giant Spider third over not much and then Red dried up along with Green becoming very mediocre. I found no Llanowar Elves, Garruk’s Companions, or Cultivates. All I was seeing was expensive stuff like Greater Basilisk and Duskdale Wurm which wasn’t where I wanted to be with Red/Green. I wanted Act of Treason, Vulshok Berserker, Garruk’s Companion, and Giant Growth. It had turned out that White was the correct color to go into because that was all that Juza had been passing. Oh well. I had figured that Green was a safe bet. Pardon me! I meant “choice”. By the time I had figured out that White was a good color to be in it was too late. This is what I had by the end of pack one (in rough order):
The second pack gave me only one choice: Awakener Druid. I was more than happy to take the Druid because it fit well into the aggressive Green/Red archetype that I had been aiming for and would be a starting point for turning my deck around from the clunky direction that pack one had sent it in. The second pick was the toughest I had in the draft: Mitotic Slime vs. Llanowar Elves. In an underpowered deck, Mitotic Slime was a better card because of the crazy value that it provides over the course of a game. However, in a more focused deck Llanowar Elves would be more important because acceleration was at a premium compared to random five-mana monsters. I ended up taking the Slime though I’m still not sure on the pick. I got a Lightning Bolt third but Red dried up after that leaving me with Green picks that were better on average when compared with pack one. By the end of the pack I had these:
The third pack opened up with Garruk’s Packleader and Giant Spider. Deep down inside I knew where this draft was heading and scooped up the Spider. The Packleader would have been nice if I had a more aggressive deck that could race against Blue/White decks, but this was not one of them. I knew that I’d be the Big-Red/Green deck that churned out fatties in a clunky fashion and would need the Giant Spider in order to survive. My picks were abysmal as Red wasn’t open at all and Green dried up much sooner than I had hoped. By the end of the pack I had drafted these cards:
I wasn’t exactly happy with how the draft had gone. My deck was slow, the Awakener Druid was at the front of my curve, and I hadn’t been able to pick up any acceleration. To put it simply, I was in trouble. There were still a few interesting points that I had to go over in deck construction. I had a moderate amount of low-end flak in the form of Goblin Piker and Sacred Wolf and would be able to get some moderately aggressive draws with them when combined with Giant Growth which made Prized Unicorn and Volcanic Strength more appealing. However, I figured that Volcanic Strength on a Sacred Wolf wouldn’t be good enough against decks without Mountains because I didn’t have enough tricks to back up the plan. Prized Unicorn would be “good” with the two Giant Growths that I had, but I figured that most of the games would play out where I wasn’t the aggressor. Eighteen lands was a no-brainer because I needed to hit my drops all the way up to six mana. I knew that Sorcerer’s Strongbox was going cause problems for my curve, but I wanted to be able to find Overwhelming Stampede as easily as possible. Plummet is a card that I could have played in the main and it would have been good as I had seen a moderate amount of flyers. The last card that I wanted to run was Bloodcrazed Goblin because I wanted another cheap creature that would fit into my curve at any point to help me against aggressive draws.
Round 14: Ian Jackson
Evil was playing an aggro Red/White deck with a moderate amount of flyers. In game one we exchanged attacks/creatures with Silvercoat Lion, Manic Vandal, and Vulshok Berserker with my Goblin Pikers and Sacred Wolves. Eventually Evil summoned a Hoarding Dragon and exiled a Warlord’s Axe with it. I traded a Giant Growth plus a Sacred Wolf for the Dragon along with him taking five damage in the process while he was tapped out. From then we traded more creatures until the game got to the point where I knew he had nothing and used my second Giant Growth to kill him.
Game two involved a much less complicated board and was mostly him playing flyers (Wild Griffin, Cloud Crusader, and Assault Griffin) against my Giant Spider. I had beaten him down a bit and was at fourteen life myself. After I attacked him that turn, I summoned a Sacred Wolf and put Volcanic Strength on it (because my mana worked out better that way). Giving him the extra information wasn’t ideal, but the trade-off had been worth it. He went to alpha strike and hit me down to seven followed by tapping out to summon another Assault Griffin which put him dead to the Giant Growth in my hand.
At this point I found out that Juza and BenS had both won their rounds along with BrainWongsEvilTwin which meant that one of us would be paired against Brian and hopefully smash whereas the other two of us would be paired against each other. A draw wouldn’t have worked out for the two buddies because of how the next round’s pairings would end up so we just had to battle. The winners of next round would be able to draw into top-8 and the others would have to win the third round to make top-16.
Round 15: Ben Stark
BenS and I got a feature match this round and it was covered by GGsLive again. I knew that Ben’s deck was pretty good and that I’d have a tough match to win in order to earn a spot in the Top 8. Game one I played out some early dorks and Giant Spider while Evil summoned a Squadron Hawk (recruiting three more from his deck!). I continued to clog up the board with a second Giant Spider while always holding up Giant Growth because I had sensed shenanigans due to an odd attack earlier. I summoned a Garruk’s Packleader that got Excommunicated once before its card advantage engine kicked in as I churned out a Greater Basilisk and Yavimaya Wurm. Evil tried to kill a Giant Spider with Fireball but I had Giant Growth ready to save it. The Basilisk had been attacking for a few turns and was joined by the Packleader immediately afterwards and took Evil down to seven life. After that I was able to use Chandra’s Outrage to kill a Palace Guard and alpha-strike with everything for the win.
Game two I got completely run over despite opening with Bloodcrazed Goblin. Evil had an Infantry Veteran to make blocking really hard for me and I took a bunch of damage because of it. Elite Vanguard was joined by Silvercoat Lion and Juggernaut. I was never really in the game.
Game three was the opposite as I opened up with Sacred Wolf on turn three and suited it up with Volcanic Strength on turn four which put Evil on a really fast clock. I followed up those two plays with a Goblin Piker and Bloodcrazed Goblin on turn five. Evil was stuck on Red mana and could only play Goblin Tunneler and Fiery Hellhound on turn two/three. He tapped out for Juggernaut and attacked with an unblockable Hellhound on turn five; that’s when I knew I had made it to Top 8. I used Chandra’s Outrage to kill the Juggernaut and attack with the Bloodcrazed Goblin, Goblin Piker, and Sacred Wolf.
I had done it! I had rattled off ten wins in a row and would be able to draw into Top 8 next round. As far as I knew, no one else had a longer streak of real wins in the tournament than I did. I had walked over to Juza’s match and saw him win a close game three against BrianWong(sEvilTwin) meaning that he was also in the Top 8; Juza had drafted a Green/Black deck after opening a Fauna Shaman. We had both thought that Green was a safe choice for the draft, though he had been feeding me and had left me with sloppy seconds. We showed each other our decks and laughed about how the draft had gone.
Round 16: Martin Juza
BenS ended up winning his last round and finished in tenth place. After the Top 8 had been announced, we immediately got down to business and began the draft. The draft started well enough for me. I took Quag Sickness over nothing and then took Lightning Bolt over Pacifism and Angelic Arbiter. I wanted to set up for the Act of Treason deck and by shipping the two White cards would help clear a path for the second pack being open for me. The next pick was probably the most controversial of the draft. I saw Gravedigger, Foresee, and Conundrum Sphinx along with another Blue card. I took the Gravedigger and passed the Blue cards in the hopes that Juza (directly to my left) would take the Sphinx and then have to fight over Blue with the people to his left in pack two, leaving me with whatever Black and Red was available in the pack. My plans were coming together well, though I wasn’t seeing as much Red as I had wanted to; there was a ton of Black including several Bloodthrone Vampires, Viscera Seers, and Rotting Legions that I had to pass early for my better spells. Unfortunately none of the Vampires wheeled and I thought I might be in trouble because I hadn’t seen any Act of Treasons either. By the end of the pack I had the following:
The second pack was rather mediocre for me. I opened up Assassinate (and nothing else) which I wasn’t happy about taking. The next few picks were as “astounding” as my first pick and included Child of Night, Nightwing Shade, and Sorcerer’s Strongbox. At one point a few picks later, I had the choice between a Terramorphic Expanse and Dragonskull Summit. I ended up taking the Summit, though with the lack of Red in this pack as well it may have been better to take the Expanse. The wheel provided nothing of value and I figured that I was being cut which was unfortunate considering the lengths that I had gone to set up the draft in pack one. By the end of the pack I had the following (in rough order):
The third pack was as frustrating as the second. There had been too much Black floating around in pack one and too many people had gone into it. I opened up Black Knight and nothing else and followed it up with some mediocre spells like Mind Rot. I took a Foresee third and Call to Mind later on intending to play Blue and splash the Lightning Bolt. I managed to pick up a few more spells and ended up with this:
Considering how poorly the draft had played out after my attempts to set it up during pack one, I still ended up with an okay deck. My creatures were pretty bad, but my spells compensated for them with the ability to grind out the opponent fairly easily.
Quarterfinals: Philip Bau
The Event Coverage team did a good job of capturing what happened in this match and can be found here.
Game one was long and drawn out and involved a lot of creatures trading. However, I was able to get ahead because I had a Gravedigger thrown in the mix. Evil got out a Bloodthrone Vampire, Viscera Seer, and Fire Servant to my Nether Horror and Gravedigger. I played Foresee and saw Lightning Bolt, Dragonskull Summit, Rise from the Grave, and a land. My Horror attacked and I played the Summit and passed after he didn’t block. Evil’s team came in on his next turn and my Gravedigger jumped in front of the Bloodthrone Vampire. After Evil sacrificed his Viscera Seer to keep the Vampire alive I killed the Fire Servant with my Lightning Bolt. I was able to get back Gravedigger and Nightwing Shade with a Rise from the Grave to get ahead even further. The Shade ended up going the distance to capture game one.
Game two Evil had an early Liliana’s Specter that I killed with Stabbing Pain. The Gravedigger I summoned on my next turn got back the Cancrix that I discarded to the Specter in the first place. Evil summoned a Nether Horror and Reassembling Skeleton while using Chandra’s Outrage to clear a path and make me take a bunch of damage. I played a Sorcerer’s Strongbox and drew some cards with it on my first try while Evil made the same attack from his previous turn.
I didn’t feel like taking any more damage and killed the Horror with a Lightning Bolt, untapped, and flushed Evil’s hand with a Mind Rot. Then I summoned my Nightwing Shade. The Shade died to a Chandra’s Outrage and I had to settle on a pair of Armored Cancrix for offense against the Reassembling Skeleton. We both got flooded for a few turns while I drew my Mystifying Maze. Evil found a Fiery Hellhound but I killed it with a Quag Sickness so that my Cancrix duo could continue their onslaught. Evil found a Child of Night which wasn’t much help against my 2/5s and Mystifying Maze. I was still drawing lands and the game went south for me when Evil cast a Chandra Nalaar and incinerated a Cancrix with his Reassembling Skeleton preventing me from doing anything. Chandra pinged me for a few turns and then Liliana Vess joined the party. I finally drew Sign in Blood into Foresee into spells but it was too late at that point.
Game three I chose to draw and kept…
… played the Child of Night and then discarded five times before I died having never played another spell. Such is life.
After PV and I both lost our matches we went out to eat dinner. I wasn’t too hungry because I’d eaten roughly two pounds of bacon at breakfast along with everything else under the sun. Still, I was there for the times and after we had rounded up a bunch of friends (BenS, Eirik, LSV, EFro, PV, and Brad) we went out looking for a place to eat suitable for the kings that we were; we immediately made a B line towards Red Robin… Ah yes, let the good times roll. I got an IPA microbrew which was a punt because they’re too hoppy for me to thoroughly enjoy, especially without any accompanying food. The food that came seemed rather mediocre, and as it turned out was quite so. The group decided to Next-Level Game the bill which (in the end) didn’t thrill EFro for some reason.
We walked back to the site to see how the Top 8 was playing out and also to find a draft but found that the venue was shutting down and that most of the other people had been kicked out. There were only a few people left besides the people who were involved in the Top 8 of the GP. Juza ended up winning the whole thing which was nice for him considering that he needed the Pro Points pretty badly and is now where I am sitting, on a healthy twenty-nine. We decided to go back to the hotel and look for something to do. When we walked in we saw that the PTQ that had been going on since 9 AM in the morning (270-280 people) had been moved to the lobby and that the top-8 draft was underway in the restaurant area. I saw some familiar faces registering their draft pools but didn’t pay any further attention to it.
Eirik and I went to the bar in the lobby and bought a few pints right before last call (apparently last call there was 10 PM on Sunday) and talked for a while before we saw GerryT wandering by, at which point he joined us. It’d been a while since we’d seen each other in person (the month prior at Nationals) and there was a bit a catching up to do. After a while Brad walked up and dragged Gerry out to smoke while Adam Shaw, Jeff Morrow, and some of the other judges came by to relax. There had been many high and low points of the Grand Prix, and after chatting about the weekend, we decided to head back up to the room and get some sleep.
Most people had flights at different times; Wrapter and PV left early in the morning to catch a 6 AM flight; Eirik had an 8 AM flight; and Luis and I had a flight at 2 PM. The day passed by quickly and I soon found myself back in the San Francisco Bay Area chipping away at another eleven-thousand word report. The last four weeks had produced fourteen pro points which was roughly what I had been expecting, though most of them didn’t come from the Pro Tour which had been a disappointment. My finish in Portland had reignited the fire inside of me and soon I found myself looking into travel info for Sydney where I would be visiting in the not-to-distant future.