Grand Prix San Antonio was quite an event, but my *SPOILER ALERT* 9th-place finish and Twitter feed @_DavidOchoa don’t tell the complete story.
After Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir and Grand Prix Los Angeles were over in mid-October, I lost sight of Standard and focused more on whatever Limited formats were available. Khans was still fresh and I enjoyed drafting it, figuring out my preferences more, and seeing how deep into the format I could go. I delved pretty far down the rabbit hole, to say the least.
The schedule for November and December had a few Limited events that I wanted to attend. GP Nashville, Ottawa, and Baltimore were all Khans Sealed. Figuring exactly who I could team with was a more complicated process than it had been in past events, and I eventually managed to Tron with Brock Parker and Andrew Cuneo, both of whom I enjoyed playing with. We placed 20th overall, going 7-2 with our first pool and 3-2 with our second. The past few Nashville tournaments had been held at the Opryland hotel, which was quite stunning but a tourist trap. Changing venues to Music City Center in downtown Nashville was refreshing because I hadn’t gone on a proper adventure to bring back tales of restaurants, scenery, and local vibe there before. The area proved quite pleasant, more than I had hoped for.
GP Ottawa was much less enjoyable. Canada is a beautiful country that I’ve frequently visited, but the winter weather has always proven too abrasive for my delicate California sensibilities, thus, I’ve never had much desire to appreciate the local scenery when the mercury drops. Additionally, the tournament venue was in a government building in a not-so-popular part of town, and the majority of businesses were shut down, leaving minimal food options. One of the more exciting aspects about the trip was finding the singular door that would let us access the event hall. The flights were long and sleep was difficult—just typical complaints about traveling to the east coast.
I’d told myself that this tournament was going to be different. This time I was going to prepare properly. Procrastinating and distractions be damned.
And then I discovered that Cube drafts were back up on Magic Online. “Oh well, at least I tried…” I said, consoling myself. After incinerating time in Cube drafts, time that had originally been set aside to sharpen my talons for Standard, I acknowledged that I should probably be social and take part in Thanksgiving-related activities, and that I wouldn’t have any time left to play. San Antonio was Cube, right?
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone to San Antonio. I had a few reasons: I missed dinners with relatives that I don’t see very often, the flight was very expensive, and I wasn’t comfortable with how “prepared” I was. I literally hadn’t played a game of Standard in over a month or even looked at lists from tournament results, and here I was investing a considerable amount of resources into a format I didn’t have a stranglehold on. Granted, there is a certain amount of muscle memory involved with Magic, so I wasn’t going to be completely screwed.
I talked with Wrapter about what would be a good deck to play, and he said that the Jeskai list from GP LA was still good, a comforting thought because that’s what I had the most experience with by far. The list that I settled on was only two cards off what I played back in October.
The main difference between the ChannelFireball Jeskai and everyone else’s came down to one card: Nullify. The card is great at handling a lot of problematic cards like Siege Rhino and has more impact than most other 2-mana spells.
The change from the LA list was in the sideboard: -2 Erase, +2 Magma Spray. Jeskai Ascendancy combo didn’t seem like it was going to be popular, so I wanted to make room for some cheap removal against the hyper-aggro decks.
The general strategy for sideboarding is the same for every matchup: minus bad cards; plus good cards. Simple enough, right? Well, here is a rough guide:
(And x Lightning Strike.)
(And x Disdainful Stroke.)
Sideboarding against Mardu/Abzan is complicated because there’s a wide range of midrange options available to them. Versions can be aggressive, controlling, trying to go big after sideboard—so it’s important to be able to combat every style of play. This guide isn’t rigid, and should be adapted to suit the specific cards you’re playing against.
My sluggish work ethic as a planeswalker ended just there, thankfully, and hadn’t corrupted my sense of trip-planning with apathy. I’d booked my flight and hotel long ago and managed to help convince one Paul Cheon that staying with me was a great idea, not just a good one. I certainly fooled him good. I had even managed to schedule a Sunday evening return which would have only been complicated if I managed to somehow break into the Top 8. The only bad part of the deal was waking up on Friday for a 6 a.m. flight, a strategy that I avoid whenever possible. However, I preferred getting into town around 2 p.m. rather than 11 p.m. because it was the only day that I’d have an opportunity to go out.
San Antonio had hosted a GP two years prior which left me with a bit of residual knowledge regarding the city’s attractions. I’d visited the Alamo, the San Antonio River Walk, Mission San Jose, and a “few” restaurants. The Alamo was a bit overrated, honestly, and I think people who don’t geek out over history would agree. I understood its historical significance, but it wasn’t as visually stunning when compared to other sites in the area such as Mission San Jose. The River Walk was a nice way of getting around downtown while being able to circumvent traffic intersections, for the most part. It’s a connecting walkway that runs below street level, next to the San Antonio river, and has its own level of shops and restaurants. Mission San Jose was the most impressive site that I’d been to on the last trip, and was a short ride away from downtown. It was one of five missions in the area and worth visiting.
My flight landed early in the afternoon without trouble, and I quickly made my way to the site downtown to pick up cards, check into my hotel, and catch up with my friends from out of the area whom I hadn’t seen in a while, after which I decided to go exploring. Normally, I would look for a restaurant, but it was still early, and so I decided to pass the time at a local brewery. Eat local, drink local; that’s what I say. Understanding an area, getting a feel for it, in all mediums possible, is important. The River Walk took me to Blue Star Brewing Company, which I can’t say was good, unfortunately.
On my way back, I stopped at a popular Mexican restaurant, Rosario’s, which I remember having visited the time before. It had a macro, chain restaurant feeling, shallow and somewhat fake, like TGIF or The Cheesecake Factory, with lots of glowing neon lights and prohibitively loud music. The wait time for a table was upwards of thirty minutes, but the bar was open, and I seated myself immediately. The drone of the blenders behind the counter wailed to no end, churning out margaritas, but I managed to ignore it, mostly, becoming lost in my thoughts about Standard as I munched on the tasty salsa and chips before my entrée arrived. The food was solid despite the atmospheric shortcomings, and I’d certainly go back again for the chicken breast with mole. Large groups beware.
Saturday morning meant it was time to play some Magic. I was quite excited, actually, but it was more of the pre-tournament anxiety that always happens. Paul and I went out to breakfast after the player meeting to a nearby spot, Schiloh’s Delicatessin, which had a ton of reviews, making me nervous about the potential line. If there’s one thing I dreaded about brunch, it was waiting to get in. You usually can’t make reservations, and it’s a good ol’ fashioned live queue. We had to get back to the site in an hour, which gave us about 50 minutes to take care of business.
The line was out the door, but it was moving. The turnaround time for a table seemed quick, which gave us some hope; the anticipation was palpable. We were inside after a short wait, and quickly ordered. I decided on the German potato pancakes with apple sauce, a side of bacon, coffee, and a cinnamon roll tacked onto the end, something light to finish the meal off with. Everything was fine, exactly what I’d expect. The cinnamon roll was obviously the best, but I was biased. Paul finished up quickly and headed back to the site before me because he had to play in round 2.
The tournament was quite small, just 1,167 players, but that is what I had expected for an event on Thanksgiving weekend. Many players were busy with their families. Tickets were also expensive, and everyone involved in the World Championship and World Magic Cup scheduled during the following week was adjusting to the time zone at GP Strasbourg. The best players in the event hall weren’t playing in the GP, they were doing coverage. BenS, EFro, and LSV, together having the GP easily covered on lifetime Pro Points, were chilling in the booth, commentating, so that the masses on the net could have a slice of the pie from home to go with their literal pie. Long story short, the tournament was going to be softer than a poached egg, and I was there to take advantage of it.
I won’t go into too much detail about my rounds, even though more than a few were on camera, mainly because I don’t remember everything about them; there are, however, a few highlights:
Round 4: I won, 2-1, barely, against Mardu, but should have lost 0-2. What actually happened was that in game 1, all my opponent had to do was to attack me for the win. He knew my hand from a Thoughtseize, which included a Reverse, Poker rules card, and a 10% off my next purchase coupon from ChannelFireball. A stunning grip, no?
Round 6: Game 1 I’m on the draw against turn 2 Caryatid, turn 3 Polukranos. I hit him with a Mantis Rider, setting up for a Time Ebb with Jeskai Charm followed by Nullify. However, he plays Wingmate Rock on turn 4 after smashing me with Polukranos. He had no white-producing lands prior, so I thought he was just some Red/Green Monsters deck. Well that’s certainly an interesting development. I missed my fourth land drop and won that game seven turns later. The exact sequencing I don’t remember, but it involved a Prognostic Sphinx, Mantis Rider, Jeskai Charm, Stoke the Flames, Seeker of the Way, and a whole lot of heart.
Round 8: Playing against R/W tokens. This round was one of the more difficult because my spot removal wasn’t great against cards like Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst, and to a lesser extent, Brimaz and Wingmate Roc. The highlight of this match was a nice tempo swing in game 3. I played Brimaz on turn 3, and he answered in turn. On turn 4, I played a Rabblemaster and was able to Stoke the Flames his Brimaz thanks to my Brimaz, Cat token, Rabblemaster, and fourth land. It was quite gross.
Round 9: I had evaded the mirror until now and wasn’t exactly thrilled with seeing what my appearance had been like all day. The match wasn’t pretty either, at least for my opponent, and I can’t say there was much Magic going on. He never found red mana in game 1 and mulled to five in game 2.
It had been a while since I’d emerged unscathed from Day One of a GP without a loss, more than a year, if my fading memory serves me correctly. By no means had I won the tournament yet, and I wasn’t going to let myself get distracted; it was only halfway over, and a lot of Magic was left to play.
Saturday was my last night in San Antonio, and I wanted to spend my time with friends at a decent restaurant nearby. After a bit of searching, I settled on Acenar, a semi-upscale Mexican place, and went there with Ben, Luis, EFro, and Cheon. It was getting late, and I wasn’t looking for a ton of food, or else I’d have additional trouble sleeping. I wasn’t disappointed with the food, but wouldn’t call home about it. The braised goat was forgettable, and the service was, unfortunately, worse. It was quite late by the time we had finished, and, uncharacteristically, with great restraint, I declined going on an ice cream hunting expedition afterwards. The last I heard was the group rolling a 1 and getting lost in a swamp.
I may have mentioned before that I’m a light sleeper, but in case I didn’t, I was, and am. My curse. Sleeping at events is tough for a few reasons: for me, the main one is adrenaline. I’m constantly amped up from playing, and it takes forever to fall and remain asleep with a mind, and stomach, that is churning constantly throughout the night.
Dawn arrived on Sunday. I’d been awake for over an hour. Breakfast was an even quicker affair that it had been yesterday, and I didn’t even have to go hunting outside on the streets. The Westin had a restaurant, Italian, named Zocca, attached to it on the River Walk, and I made my way down there, sluggishly, noticing, tucked away in a corner, an espresso bar along my way in the lobby that had quite a selection of pastries. Restraining myself, I managed to power past the coffee shop and made my way down to Zocca to enjoy some French toast. Cinnamon swirl brioche with caramelized apples, balanced with blistered cranberries. It was a delight, and I was seriously considering skipping a round to run it back.
Day Two was starting with the normal Player Meeting, and I made my way there, espresso in hand. I’d generally had a tough time winning matches on Day Two, but, hopefully, that problem wouldn’t come rear its head to haunt my perfect performance from yesterday. Sadly, things were just not going my way. Not drawing a fourth land in time, flood, color screw, mulligans. Many matches played out with two real games, and a non-interactive one. I went 3-3, winning my last two rounds, ending up in 9th place.
My flight was scheduled for 6 p.m. which left less than two hours before I had to leave for the airport. I decided to hang around the site, catching up with friends and winding down. I don’t see a lot of my friends in person except at these events, and so it’s nice to see what they’re actually up to. Facebook and Twitter just aren’t the same. Time passed quickly and it was reaching that point where I had to leave.
Adieu, San Antonio.
I’ve received many requests about my thoughts on a few cards for the Jeskai list:
If it weren’t for green devotion, namely Polukranos and Courser of Kruphix, you could replace Suspension Field. Glare of Heresy interacts with cards that Suspension Field does not, Jeskai Ascendancy, Elspeth, and Sorin, while still dealing with Siege Rhino, Butcher of the Horde, Fleecemane Lion, Hero of Iroas, Brimaz, et al. It doesn’t get trumped by opposing Glare of Heresy and fills the graveyard for Dig Through Time. It should be in every sideboard.
Threats are becoming resilient to spot removal. Hordeling Outburst, Raise the Alarm, Goblin Rabblemaster, Wingmate Roc, and Hornet Queen deploy multiple threats that are resilient to traditional removal like Lightning Strike. Including a few copies of Arc Lightning in the sideboard seems quite reasonable.
Yuuya’s list from the World Championship seems quite strong, but I haven’t had the chance to play with it yet. The card itself, Jeskai Ascendancy, is similar to Dig Through Time, albeit much slower, but also it allows your smaller creatures to become much more meaningful. Ascendancy does make you want to play threats like Hordeling Outburst and Raise the Alarm over Mantis Rider because you get more interaction with the enchantment. Mantis Rider still seems good, and is a great source of quick damage.
I’ll be prepared next time. For real.