The story of Mexico City begins well before the actual event. With one of the best teams you could assemble—Ben Stark and Luis Scott-Vargas—we managed to finish 2nd at GP Detroit to friends and teammates Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, and Jacob Wilson in our first event together. We reunited in Washington D.C. where we scraped together a min-cash after going 6-3 on Day 1 with what was easily one of the 10 weakest pools in the room. In the end, this felt like an incredible accomplishment, as finding wins with 3 decks that were each well below average involved some of the toughest matches any of us had ever played.
By the time the next team GP rolled around, Luis had retired to the coverage bracket, and Ben and I would need to find a new 3rd. Our list of candidates was short, and we were pleased to add Andrew Cuneo. Andrew is a criminally underrated player who would add a unique perspective and world-class play to our team.
Our first event together was GP Louisville, where we managed to earn 3 Pro Points after an x-3 performance (7-2 Day 1, 4-1 Day 2). A solid result, and we decided to join forces once again for the back-to-back Team GP weekends of San Antonio and Mexico City.
San Antonio brought us the first Team Unified Modern event, and I locked in on Ad Nauseam early. I firmly believed Ad Nauseam to be the best deck in Modern prior to the emergence of Jund Death’s Shadow, and though unfavorable, that matchup is winnable (especially against less experienced pilots). The real value of Ad Nauseam is that it takes no cards and no lands from any other deck, aside from Serum Visions. This allowed our Death’s Shadow deck to play any cards it needed, and Andrew ran back his trusty Infect deck without Gitaxian Probes.
We started poorly with losses in both rounds 1 and 4, leaving us at 2-2. At this point, we joked about dropping, as we would need to go 9-1 from here to even have a relevant finish. Ben took this a bit too literally, however, and decided to take his tilt on a little stroll around the block even though there were less than 10 minutes on the clock when he left.
Of course, it’s Texas and it’s Ben Stark, so he found his way into a Subway. I don’t know how late into the round he actually showed up, as I didn’t look at the clock myself and he claims it was only 2 minutes, but I do know I had a 3-minute time extension for using the bathroom before the match and had finished game 1 before he sat down. I imagine this would be less funny if Andrew and I didn’t end up winning the round.
We rattled off a few wins to get to 5-2 before losing out and missing Day 2 of the competition. Both of our non-Death’s Shadow decks had 6-3 records, which felt like an awesome recipe to go 8-1 or better, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Ben continued to tell us how he wouldn’t have left to get Subway if we were doing better in the event. On Sunday, Ben explained how it was higher equity to take walks and get some fresh air in the long run. Sure, he would get a game loss every 18 months or so for showing up late, but look how much value he’s getting! Andrew did not enjoy any of this.
On Sunday, we entered a 4-round Team Sealed event to practice for Mexico City. Our decks were pretty poor, but we managed to go 3-1 and win 60 packs for our efforts. In round 4, pairings went up and Ben was nowhere to be found. He showed up 7 minutes into the round once again.
Andrew pointed out how unlucky we were that we happened to hit the exact end of an 18-month period with the exact beginning of another 18-month period.
The plan was to spend the week between San Antonio and Mexico City in Las Vegas to prepare for the event and hang out. Of course, this meant casinos, which meant that Ben was playing poker virtually the entire time. We managed to drag him out on one day to do a Team Sealed and a 3-on-3 draft against Huey, Owen, and Reid of the PGO, but that was all we could muster.
The mornings of Team GPs for which I have to travel east are always rough. There are no byes, and I have to wake up at effectively 6 a.m. in my time zone to get there on time. Being sick only made this even more complicated, but that’s where it’s nice to have a team. I wanted to play the most aggressive deck we had on Saturday since I felt really under the weather, but we happened to have an excellent option. The deck I played was nearly mono-red, splashing black for an Unlicensed Disintegration and Weldfast Engineer. The deck featured some red Implements, 2 Sweatworks Brawler, 2 Aether Chaser, Enraged Giant, Quicksmith Rebel, Hungry Flames, 2 Chandra’s Revolution, Renegade Freighter, and 2 Untethered Express.
My deck was easily the best of the three. After the day, Ben proclaimed that our decks were basically average if not slightly above, but he had my deck rated as a 7/10. After giving it to professionals like Alexander Hayne and Owen Turtenwald, all of whom rated it as a solid 8.5, Ben readjusted his position.
The rounds didn’t start off so hot. In round 1 my opponent curved turn-1 Implement of Ferocity, turn-2 Winding Constrictor, turn-3 Gifted Aetherborn and use Implement, turn-4 Prey Upon plus another spell, and turn-5 Ridgescale Tusker on the play. My hand was incredible, but I got crushed. In game 2 I kept a hand of Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Unlicensed Disintegration, Hungry Flames, Chandra’s Revolution, and Untethered Express. I never drew a single creature at any point and he crushed me again. At this point, Ben was down a game and Andrew was getting destroyed, still in game 1.
Andrew ended up crawling back into the first game before taking it. Ben’s opponent had slightly less impressive draws than his game 1 Trophy Mage into Aethersphere Harvester into Quicksmith Spy, and we came back to win the match.
In round 2 against PVDDR, Ondrej, and Thiago, Ben and I were lucky to have good hands versus bad, but everything was going wrong for Andrew. At one point after Ondrej chump attacked his 3/3 into a 5/5 that he just didn’t realize was in play, he turned to Paulo and said “I made a terrible mistake but I’m still gonna win easily.” PV got me good with a Release the Gremlins for 3, but my hand had so much power that I couldn’t lose even when playing suboptimally, and we moved to 2-0.
In round 3 I again got crushed 2-0 against Trophy Mage, Aethersphere Harvester, and Baral’s Expertise. Despite having not won a single game vs. anyone with fewer than 11 PT Top 8s, my team was 3-0 and things were looking great.
We had about 15-20 minutes left in the round and hadn’t eaten anything yet, so Ben and I decided to venture next door to get some food between the rounds. On the way, we passed a Nike store and Ben wanted to stop inside to look at the sweatpants. I told him that we should get food, since that’s what actually matters, and if there’s time after we can go back to the Nike store. Ben agreed that this was an excellent idea and he never would have thought of it himself…
The rest of Day 1 went pretty well. I managed to roll off 6 matches in a row, and I believe I only lost a single game in those rounds. The deck was busted, my draws were consistently solid, and my opponents often stumbled. Both Ben and Andrew were doing plenty of winning as well, and we only dropped a single round to the team of Toru Inoue, Shota Takao, and Kazuyuki Takimura.
Sitting at 8-1 at the end of Day 1 was a brave new world. There was one team at 9-0, and we were the only team in the event at 8-1. At most individual GPs, you’ll see 5 or more people at 9-0 and over a dozen at 8-1. With only 5 rounds tomorrow, it looked like a 3-2 record would lock the Top 4.
Our Day 2 pools were not great. I ended up with another R/B deck, although this one was quite poor. It had plenty of copies of the common 4-mana removal spells, but I had to take a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Marionette Master from our U/B energy artifact deck just to have a way to win. This also meant that Ben’s U/B deck was poor. Andrew’s deck was an interesting 4-color base green deck with 3 copies of Unbridled Growth to help splash. There was also a Blooming Marsh for the Winding Constrictor, which led to a 9-3-3 mana base with the dual. The 3 Plains would help support a few white removal spells and some Dawnfeather Eagles, and the blue included a Skyship Plunderer, Rogue Refiner, and Empyreal Voyager. Luckily, the green included Rishkar, Nissa, and Ridgescale Tusker, so this deck had tons of power and some real bombs.
We started off with Andrew getting a bunch of really poor draws—either missing colors, flooding, or just getting run over by great cards. Luckily, our mediocre decks were firing on all cylinders. We managed to defeat the same Japanese team who beat us Day 1 to go to 9-1 before defeating our round 9 opponents in a rematch to get to 10-1. We lost a close match to Shuhei, Juza, and Corey as all 3 matches went to game 3, but locked out spots in the Top 4 as both Andrew and Ben were able to win tight games in a rematch against Joel Larsson, Corey Baumeister, and Huang Hao-Shan. At 11-2, we were into the Top 4 win, lose, or draw.
In the end, we got the dream scenario of having our friends and playtest partners Nass/Wilson/Pardee reach the Top 4 and we didn’t have to play them in the first round. This meant we would have a chance to meet them in the finals, and to ensure the integrity of the official LSV rankings, we had to make it happen.
The semifinals would be against Stern/Ogreenc/Neal, and it started perfectly for me. I first-picked a Ridgescale Tusker where the best card I was passing was green. I then selected a Monstrous Onslaught from another pack where the best card was green. I was able to stay mono-green, making sure Stern on my left was never getting a good card for the remainder of pack 1 while leaving my options open. With Stern locked into green, the fact that Neal was likely going to cut green from me on the right mattered even less, as it meant his teammate would continue to see no playables and I could maneuver wherever I wanted.
Blue ended up being the open color, so I could get a pair of Rogue Refiners, plenty of good flyers, and energy cards while passing very little. At the end of the day, we had some excellent looking decks on our team without giving them much to work with. It looked as if Stern and Ogreenc were well short on playables, and we were able to take both of those matches to move on to the finals.
My game 2 against Ogreenc was particularly insane as I mulliganed into a hand with 2 lands, Leave in the Dust, and three 5-mana spells, which Ben insisted I keep. I scryed to the bottom and didn’t find a land, 2-drop, or 3-drop in the first several turns. My turn 3 was Pacification Array, which I could start using, but I couldn’t find lands.
Luckily, his curve was turn-2 Torch Gauntlet, turn-3 nothing, turn-4 Maulfist Doorbuster, turn-5 Foundry Assembler. My Select for Inspection helped me find a land, and I used the Array a couple of times to stave off some damage. Leave in the Dust bought a bit more time, and I was able to play my first 5-mana spell in Ridgescale Tusker onto an empty board. He used the Doorbuster to bust through for 9 damage, putting me to 3 and adding a Deadeye Harpooner and equipping the Gauntlet to it. My next 5-mana spell was Monstrous Onslaught to kill the 2 biggest creatures, and he had nothing to break through my 5/5 the following turn. From there, I could cast a couple spells and use my Array to take the match.
Ben lost despite having one of the best decks I’ve ever seen in this format, as Neal’s deck was also very good and had a good matchup against him. Andrew ended up winning an insanely tight game 3 when a Hijack sealed the deal following Stern using Eliminate the Competition to clear the board.
Andrew was at 3 when I remembered that I had passed a Snare Thopter to Jon who had 1 card in hand and just killed all the flyers. I was sure we had lost, but he didn’t untap quickly and didn’t move quickly after drawing his card. I know they’re not going to slow roll us in this situation, and since we had the win next turn, we felt great. That’s when Jon played his Unbridled Growth and we had to sweat yet another draw! It was a pretty sick sweat.
The finals would be against Nass/Wilson/Pardee, proving the official rankings to be official. At this point, I was so exhausted and out of it that it was hard to remember what I passed in pack 1 while drafting pack 2. This is a huge part of team Draft, so it really hurt to be so fatigued.
In the end, I had a very solid G/B deck featuring a 4th-pick Ridgescale Tusker, Aetherwind Basker, Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, Yahenni, and Monstrous Onslaught. I had a pair of Natural Obsolescences in my sideboard, as my teammates reported Jacob as having little to no artifacts of note in his Sultai Energy deck.
As it turns out, his first picks were Aethersphere Harvester, Walking Ballista, and Animation Module. It was my first time ever sideboarding in a team draft Top 4. I ended up stabilizing a pretty sick game 1 before Ballista on 4 killed me instantly. I thought I had game 2 pretty well in hand, although it was still close, and I liked my matchup quite a bit after getting the Obsolescences into my deck.
In his game 3, Ben asked if we passed a Lifecraft Cavalry before blocking in a game where he was very far behind. Both Andrew and I were pretty sure we had each passed him one, and it turned out Sam had it. I had basically written off Ben’s match, but when I looked over several minutes later it looked as if he had barely stabilized.
Andrew was up a game, but his second game was looking somewhat close at a glance. As it turns out, my teammates are great and both locked up their victories. I wish I could tell you more about the finals, but I don’t even know how it happened!
Mexico City was truly fantastic. The event was run spectacularly, which is no big surprise for any CFB event. I wished more people had the opportunity to attend this GP, although I’m pretty ecstatic at the result. The venue was incredible with great chairs, perfect WiFi, excellent beds, and good food and drinks available at all hours. CFB really did an incredible job with VIP dinners on both Friday and Sunday, featuring open bar and incredible food for everyone who decided to join in. This was one of the most amazing events I have ever attended, and winning it only made the whole thing sweeter.
Thanks to everyone who made it possible, but especially my teammates Ben Stark and Andrew Cuneo. Ben is the best Limited player in history and I honestly feel it’s bordering on unfair to have someone this good at envisioning Team Sealeds and making sure we can maximize everything given to us. While my Day 1 deck was excellent, I don’t think we’ve ever received great pools together, but have always managed to eek every bit of value out of what we have.
Andrew is a great player and person, so it was extra awesome to see him get a trophy (even if he says it will sit in a closet and collect dust until he moves and inevitably throws it in the trash). He’s one of the most intelligent and funniest people on the Pro Tour, and it was awesome getting to hang out with him in Vegas and play these events together.
We may not be “dem boyz,” but we old men got the trophies!