The last two weeks have been kind of crazy for me, with a lot of bad beats and a few good ones to balance things out, but as I have found out, even the good ones come with a side of bad. Nationals had ended and I was feeling much better than I had been the week prior. What had kept me from playtesting seemed to be passing and I was fortunate enough to walk away with a 14th place finish despite a lack of preparation.
I left Minneapolis for Denver where I would be staying a day a half before leaving for Europe and another 3 week trip. I was excited, but still needed to finish fully recovering in order to be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Of course, as fate would have it, the night before we left, I had to head to the emergency room with a breakout of Shingles on my eye. Yes Shingles, and yes, gross.
This would have been bad enough except my lack of insurance was bound to make it sting even more. Still, things would be fixed over and the upcoming trip was worth looking forward to as a pick-me-up. As I pulled into the parking space of the emergency room though, another dagger caught me by surprise; my rear axle fell off.
My car had had issues before and I was waiting until after my trip to Europe to have them resolved but a needed trip to the E.R. meant I had to drive my car, and it didn’t appreciate that. 200 dollars in prescriptions and a tow later and things were back to being focused on the GP and PT to get my mind off the looming problems, at least temporarily.
The morning of our flight, we discover that the plane leaving Denver for Detroit is late and we will miss our connecting flight so we research some options and decide to take a plane leaving 1 hour before our planned flight, routing through Minneapolis. Things looked on the up and up as we landed in Minnesota and made our way to the second leg of our trip. Checked in. Boarded. Good to go. But the beats just kept coming.
As we backed out of the gate, the tow bar attached to the plane snapped, puncturing the tire. This called for us to pull back into the gate and get the plane fixed before leaving. An inconvenience but only a mild one as we would be out of the situation in 45 minutes or so. As scheduled, we backed out a second time, and as scheduled, something went wrong.
This time, some pin in the wheel mount fell out and caused us to once again pull the plane back into the gate and get it worked on. The plane was jacked up and examined for 2 hours before they decided that it was not fit for the sky. Instead, they would pull a different plane out of the work bay that needed a little bit of work first and we would use that one. For our inconvenience though, we were awarded 6 dollars at the McDonald’s in the airport. WORTH IT!
An hour or so later we made it into the air and arrived in Amsterdam where would we need to figure out a new transfer to get to Sweden. But, as we all know, when it rains it pours, so it would only make sense that my bag was lost by the airline. Luckily, the airline gave me a pair of way too small socks and a comb because those are the essentials after all.
We managed to avoid any other malfunctions and got into Sweden just fine, minus 3 quarters of my stuff of course. Limited Grand Prixs are always a little less tense than traditional Gps as you just have no idea what you are going to be working with until you sit down for that player meeting. It is here where most of the big variance occurs, although I am definitely not in the camp that claims you need to have the sweetest pool ever to make day 2. In Tampa, my pool was fine, although hardly the nuts, and I managed a 9-0 day 1, so while the help is appreciated when a good pool does come, giving up before ever playing when you get a bad one is just not my style.
That said, I may have opened one of the worst sealed pools I have ever opened. I was planning on grinding regardless, but would not be surprised if I ended up 6-3 or whatever despite the 3 byes that would have to carry me if I had any chance at all. For reference, here is my pool, my deck, and the deck I sideboarded into all but one of the rounds.
I had to consult some friends like LSV to get the courage to sideboard into the second deck, as its total lack of removal scared me, but it was a nice surprise in game 2 situations when my opponents put me on the play, since I could just get ’em. I had the deck laid out as an option for the maindeck but could not bring myself to run it. Neither deck was very good, but the white one did offer a higher chance of being able to curve out on people. I started the blue squad just because it came with removal and counterspells and I was afraid of the bombs I would encounter. [card]Ice Cage[/card] is not as good in sealed as draft, but it performed fine for me, probably more out of luck than actual card quality.. Still, the white was a better deck so I should have started it despite it having no removal of any kind.
I had considered red, as it has the most powerful cards in a vacuum, but my pool had zero ways to splash something and the red was both shallow and lacking guys to actually attack with. Pyroclasm could potentially steal some games, but the ways to close after resolving it were nonexistent and it actually hurt my own squad quite a bit beyond the top of the curve guys.
So I end up with this very below average pool and naturally ran into all the cards in the format that you would think to be scared of: Mind Control, Fireball, Grave Titan, Garruk Wildspeaker, Sword of Vengeance, Day of Judgment, and Overwhelming Stampede, yet all of those cards seemed to show up at the worst time for my opponents. I mean, you are never sad to see your Fireball, but when you already have Grave Titan in play and have resolved 2 Mind Controls, it is probably overkill. My opponent would win that game comfortably and proceed to see none of those cards in the other 2 games. This small combination of bad luck for the opponent, moderately good luck on my part, and what I would consider good play, some how lead to an 8 and 1 finish on the day.
I was just as surprised as anyone who saw my deck at the end result and I am certainly not one to be shy about my own skills or play ability. Sometimes the cards just aren’t there for you to work with. Sometimes this is true but you get there anyway. Regardless of the reason, I was happy with my day 1 results and day 2 would start out even better.
In a format where so many people have so many preferences regarding color and archetype, I find it best to just go with the flow and take what is coming. Sometimes this is made easier by a bomb rare in your first pack that happens to not be blue or white in this case, as those are the only colors that may be clogged up regardless. In this instance, a Garruk Wildspeaker was found staring back at me. I am a fan of green in this format as is, so taking such a powerful card would lead to good things.
By the end of the draft, I had an insane G/B deck with Overwhelming Stampede, Garruk, Protean Hydra, 2 Doom Blades, 2 Quag Sickness, Corrupt, and a bunch of awesome filler like Sylvan Rangers, Yavimaya Wurms, and Reassembling Skeleton. I did have one mispick though, right after Garruk. I was faced with a Corrupt versus Assassinate pick, and went with the weaker of the two removal spells as I figured green would be able to splash it regardless. The power difference between the two cards should have corrected me and had me end up with a second Corrupt, but I would definitely learn from that pick for the future.
I managed a pretty smooth 3-0 finish for that draft despite facing off against similarly disgusting decks. One even featured an [card]Inferno Titan[/card] that came down on turn 4 or 5 all 3 of our games. Despite this, it was off to the final draft with a loss or so to spare.
I opened Mind Control and without thinking about it much, snapped it up. The rare was inconsequential and there was really no decision here. I ended up with a pretty weak second pick as my choice was between Child of Night and White Knight. Both colors are fine to pair with Blue, so I just took the more powerful of the two in the Knight. As fate would have it, I would end up in Black over White anyway and could have used the Child, but oh well.
I cemented myself pretty strongly in Blue and Black with some picks like Quag Sickness and Azure Drake, which made my open in pack 2 that much more awkward. I had to ship a Garruk Wildspeaker in favor of an Azure Drake. I debated moving into Green, but it seemed too greedy. So after tanking, I just stayed on color and gave Sam Black a nice gift. Luckily I was shipped a second pick Mind Control in pack 2 that made up for my “lost” first pick.
The deck solidified with a 3rd pack, 1st pick Sword of Vengeance into Doom Blade and some much needed filler like Augury Owl. I never saw a Foresee or Jace’s Ingenuity, which was definitely the biggest weakness of the final build, but the deck seemed solid enough to get me into the Top 8.
I had to face off against Sam Black in the first round who got me with his double Garruk deck courtesy in part to me. I played pretty poorly overall during this match, and I am not sure why exactly. While recapping the game, I was able to recognize the correct lines pretty easily, but I think I just played too fast during the actual games and kept coming up with the second best line. This is probably my biggest weakness as a player right now and is something I have been working on but still needs improvement.
Basically, the speed at which I play will occasionally catch up to me in a bad way. There are always times to tank and I seem to not want to tank long enough to come out with the best possible line. I run through every scenario and line just fine, but hurry myself along before settling on the best one. This is just the result of bad habits dying hard, but I have been trying some breathing exercises among other things that will hopefully begin to erase this problem.
Meanwhile, there was still Magic to be had. I was squared off against Raphael Levy during the next round and was able to pull that one out without much resistance. He unfortunately had to mulligan more than I did and I always seemed to have a Mind Control at the ready when he looked to be recovering from a slow start.
Now the interesting part began. That win left me at 12-2 with a single round left. The big question at this point, is whether or not to draw. I had some friends look over the standings sheet, as did I, and things looked pretty good. At the time, 4 of the 5 X-2-1s would make the top 8 and I was sitting with the 2nd or 3rd best breakers. Things got even more interesting when I found out I was paired up.
My opponent did not quite understand the situation at hand though. Obviously he has the power to scoop me in, or to play it out in hopes of beating me. He was interested in getting a friend into the top 8, so these 2 lines really were the only choices. I tried to explain this to him when he offered the draw, as he was essentially leaving the outcome to fate when in reality he had almost full control over it. Either he was OK with me top 8ing, or he wasn’t and would try to beat me. After a few minutes of failed explanation, I took the draw as it seemed to be between 70-80% in my favor to top 8, where as playing probably was not that high.
I sat and waited for the top 8 announcement. They got to 6th place and announced that 3 of the 5 12-2-1s would make it in. I cringed but still felt fine. 6Th, not me, 7th not me, 8th…. not me. “And in 9th place, Conley Woods.” A crowd had amassed around me with a judge in its core for what I assumed was an inevitable reaction if I was announced in but instead, within 3 seconds of being announced 9th, the judge stepped forward.
“I need to ask you to move, we are having a draft here. You can’t stay.” Really? Dagger much? Oh well. I was visibly bummed out. It wasn’t 9th place that stung so bad, since if I had been fighting my way back from the bottom all day, I would have been fine with coming up a little short on breakers. Rather, it was the fact that I had control of my own fate and gave up that control with crossed fingers. I had gotten a virtual top 8 at my first ever Grand Prix in Dallas 2007 and it definitely felt a lot better than this one did.
Lesson learned though.
And then there was still a Pro Tour the following week! I knew the week would have some testing involved as no one on the crew was sure of what they would be playing. Luckily, I was flying out early Monday morning so I would have as much time as possible in Amsterdam to meet up with people and run some games. But the daggers were not done being thrown.
My flight was at 6:30 am Monday, which would be rough in a familiar city with transport at the whim, but making such a flight is even more difficult when your cab doesn’t show up and your running a little behind already. This resulted in a missed flight of course. We waited in a line for literally 4 hours to rebook our tickets. They had no sympathy towards us and basically said we wasted 300 bucks and had to get new tickets, currently at a price of $1300 for 2 one way tickets (myself and Sara). 500 miles, 1300 bucks; No thank you.
I checked out Expedia and managed to find 2 tickets out the next morning for 600, which was still not even close to the realm of reasonable, but was the best we could do, as train tickets were just as expensive and we would need to cab there for an extra fee. We spent the night in the airport which was an adventure within itself and finally got to Amsterdam the next day around 4pm. So much for that extra day of testing!
But that seems to be a good stopping point for now. Next week should have 2 whole parts dedicated to the Pro Tour which was most certainly a tale of 2 halves for me. Until then, thanks for reading!