I just got back from Grand Prix Houston and the week was interesting to say the least. I didn’t really want to go since tickets were expensive, but I like GP’s and I love River of Tears, and it just happens to be legal in Extended. After a little more searching, I found a couple of friends that live somewhat close that were trying to drive. Pat Chapin was spending some time in Wisconsin and invited me to hop in the car he was taking that included Brian Kowal, Owen Turtenwald, and Misha Gurevich. I was more than happy to except.
There was a PTQ in Minneapolis the week before the GP, so I planned to just ride back with some Madison gamers, crash at various places during the week, and obviously game a bit. The PTQ was pretty nice. I brought my laptop along and managed to get some OTJ going and also battle in a DE with the following deck designed by Winter King Bobby Graves:
The idea is to play a bunch of lands and cascade into Treasure Hunt, which hopefully finds you another cascade spell. Cruel Ultimatums and overwhelming card advantage are your win conditions. The sideboard and mana base could probably use some work, but I had fun with it. I monied a DE which was pretty nice.
Nate Siftar and I drafted players and wagered pizza on who would have the most in t8. Despite my sick sick last pick of Jeremy Shapiro that I KNEW would table, it my first pick Justin Meyer who carried me to free pizza victory heaven. He made it all the way to the finals before he decided to concede like an idiot. Boo!
There isn’t much to say about the ride to Wisconsin. I slept nearly the entire way. Most of the gaming while I was in Wisconsin was done in the OTJ queues on Magic Online, as it is probably the most skill intensive format I’ve ever seen. BK and I couldn’t get enough of the OTJs, much to Chapin’s disappointment.
You see, Patrick needs at least three cyborgs to playtest against. He wants to jam games against every deck in the format, pre and post board, over and over again, all the while trying out different strategies and technology. Sadly, neither BK or I could provide that, but I felt like after I played 15 games with Scapeshift and 10 with DDT that it was time to call it a day. I’m an old man, and playing those types of sessions (especially on the floor) really tire me out.
On Wednesday we hit up a bar called Chaser’s, where there are frequent drafts to be had. When we got there, there was a six man chaos draft going on with two other players waiting for the four of us to start another draft. Awkwardly, none of us really wanted to draft, leaving those two players with no gaming to be had. Someone, somewhere, punted in the communication department.
I had waited all week to do my laundry, but that suddenly became an issue when BK and Chapin decided to leave after we were done with the bar. At that point, Chapin was dead set on Grixis while I was obviously brewing various River of Tears strategies. I felt like with Damnation and Smother you could beat up on Zoo, and Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, and things like Chalice would easily beat combo. I was even going to go as far as playing Cranial Extraction in the sideboard, but it was later pointed out that Sadistic Sacrament might actually be better!
The night before I had a revelation. I was trying to decide on Thopters or no, Depths or no, or just playing a good ole UB control deck, but that I remembered the deck I gave Michael Poszgay and immediately started brewing a Fish style deck.
BK woke up at 6 AM and was extremely jealous to find me in the middle of an OTJ draft where I opened Shower of Coals, Violent Eruption, and Swelter. And by that I mean I took Genesis over the Swelter in pack three. Sometimes you run good!
Naturally, I won the draft, which was especially satisfying considering I was waiting in the queue since I had gotten back to the house at about 11 PM the night before. What can I say? I’m dedicated to OTJ.
Anyway, I played a bunch of games with my Fish list against Ben Rasmussen playing Zoo. I won the first couple games pretty easily since he didn’t know what to play around. After a couple games, he basically saw my entire deck and was able to make more informed decisions. We were splitting the preboard games, but I imagined that would be different in the GP considering most opponents wouldn’t play around maindeck Damnation.
When I happily Wrathed away two one drops, Ben dropped a pair of Tarmogoyfs. At that point, I knew he had more or less figured out how he had to fight me. There were a few underperformers maindeck, namely the equipment. Jitte would rarely connect and Sigil was basically embarrassing, but they weren’t really there for Zoo in the first place. Sword of Fire and Ice would have probably been better than Jitte (and it gives you a way to bust through Thopters), but in the end I didn’t test it.
Here’s what I decided that I would probably play at the GP:
I was pretty happy with the deck. First game against a Zoo player who knew your list was 50/50, and post board was much better. Combo decks seemed like they would probably be easy. Maybe I could have used some Repeals or another Needle main to help against Dark Depths, but I planned on figuring that out later.
The drive down was far more interesting that my ride to Wisconsin. Not only was it longer, but it contained Pat Chapin who, to put it mildly, is full of entertaining stories.
At one point, I opened my computer out of sheer boredom. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but it was probably going involve brewing. I had my DS, I had a book, I could probably start writing an article, but instead I opened up my computer that I could do basically nothing on.
Pat asked me if I was going to play Magic Online, but I replied that sadly, I didn’t have the means. He had a glimmer in his eye and wicked smile crept across his face (although to be fair, that’s his normal smile), and he asked, “Would you like to?”
I wasn’t entirely sure what this deal with the devil would entail, but I felt like I got off relatively cheap. All I had to do was provide Pat with three hours of solid playtesting. Just like that, I was fiending. I wanted MODO up and running as soon as possible and was incredibly frustrated when I couldn’t get it to work at first. Once that queue fired, that wave of calmness came over me. My addiction was being fed.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though. Apparently they have yet to conceive a perfect portable wifi device, seeing as how in the two Saga drafts I did, I missed over half my picks. A man can only take so much. This wasn’t true MODO and my addiction would have to wait. I put my computer away and as frustrated as I was, decided to go to sleep while I passed the magic internet box to Owen.
We were doing the routine gas/beverage stops and had just gotten back on the road after one when we started up our conversation from before. It was getting kind of heated and Chapin went on tangents about quantum psychics (or something similar) in his attempt to explain that luck doesn’t exist and rather what you perceive as luck is simply your lack of understanding in a situation. The argument had managed to wind down a bit, as Owen was starting to realize that he couldn’t win and Pat would just argue circles around him.
About 20 minutes after we stopped at a gas station and during a dead silence that had followed the argument “ending,” Misha, who was silent during the entire argument, asked, “Did anyone else find it ridiculous that that gas station didn’t have Diet Mountain Dew?”
Finally, we checked into our hotel and most everyone passed out, while I fired up MODO and played some legacy. I knew the trials started at noon and I wanted to get my third bye, but I also wanted to sleep in a bit. If I did that, my sleep schedule would have been completely opposite of the GP, so I made a compromise and set my alarm for 2PM. Somehow, I got up and headed down to the site.
At GP Oakland, I played in a GPT to get my third bye, but by the end of it, everyone had scouted my sideboard with Leylines, [card]Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/card], Exile into Darkness, and Gifts Ungiven. While those cards might not be particularly appealing to the average player, I liked them and appreciated what they added to my deck. I didn’t expect everyone to adopt them, but by then everyone knew what I was up to, which was a huge disappointment.
I didn’t want to repeat that, so I joined a GPT with UB Thopters instead. Game one against Grixis, I had Jace in play for a while, but couldn’t shuffle my deck so I kept drawing the same lands over and over. I could have probably beaten any card in his deck except Nicol Bolas, but he played that, killed my Jace when I had a Chalice on four, and eventually I conceded.
Second game wasn’t exactly a blowout, but I was always ahead the entire time and eventually took it down with Bob, Jace, and Thopters. In the final game, he snuck a Night of Soul’s Betrayal into play, so I was on the “remove all his threats” plan. He had a Jace in play, but I had a Tar Pit to keep it in check. I resolved Sadistic Sacrament and took Nicol Bolas, Sorin, and a Jace, leaving him with 2 Cruels and 2 Jaces in his deck, with I assume another Cruel in hand.
The turn after that, had I drawn any land or any black card, I would have been able to Beseech for Duress and then Extirpate his Cruels, but his fateseal put Sword of the Meek on top, and I conceded rather than attempting to play on. I still technically had outs, but I decided to head up to the room and just say eff it and build the fish deck.
After the GPT, I got a call from Gabe Walls asking if I could register him and Martin Juza for the GP. He texted me their DCI numbers and I got it done. No big deal.
On my way out of the room I saw Kyle Boggemes and DJ Kastner brewing in the corner of the room and stopped by to say hi. I saw a Congregation at Dawn, then a Bloodbraid Elf, and then the wheels started turning. I wanted a decklist and asked if I could play it in a GPT. They said yes but then I thought better of it. No, I was just going to play the deck in the GP with two byes and spend the rest of the day brewing.
Had I gone insane?
Perhaps, but this is what I played:
The concept is to basically cast Congregation when you have four or five mana, and put Bloodbraid, a hate card, and Eternal Witness on top. You untap and BBE into said hate card, putting five power on the board, and probably attacking with four which makes up for your skipped turn. After that, Eternal Witness lets you continue the loop.
Once you cast Congregation it’s very rare that you get a draw step that you didn’t play already. Because of that, you need to be sure that you already have ample mana in play. You’ll see about ten to twelve cards, and you desperately need four mana by then at least. That’s the reason I’m playing 24 land and two Selesnya Sanctuaries. You basically want all the mana you can get, since once you Congregate, you’ll have plenty to do for the entire game.
The Finks and Baneslayer package are for Zoo or other aggro decks. There are basically three game states you need to be aware of. The first is when you are dead on board and need to gain life immediately. At that point, you Congregate for BBE, Finks, and x, where x is hopefully Baneslayer. Finks might give you time to stabilize to land the Baneslayer and ride that to victory.
The second is when the board is stable, but you want to be able to start gaining life to put yourself out of burn range. That’s when Rhox War Monk is better than Finks by a wide margin. However, I don’t really like fetching blue lands vs. Zoo unless I need to cast a Bant Charm, so Finks is a better natural draw than War Monk.
The third is when you have plenty of time, and you want a big ole fattie life linking machine. That’s where you want Baneslayer. I thought about it a lot and determined that most of the time you’ll want Finks. The situations where you want War Monk, you can get Finks or Baneslayer most of those times, so there are few times when War Monk will actually be better than either of those.
I like the mana base, but I took a lot of damage from my lands and lost five or so games straight up to Blood Moon. You probably don’t NEED the Steam Vents, and the Horizon Canopy was godawful. I would probably add another fetchland, Forest, or Plains.
The sideboard was mostly good, but with some unplayable cards sprinkled in. I don’t know what I was thinking with the [card]Sunforger[/card]. With typical Zoo vs Zoo, and from my experience playing Boom/Bust Zoo, I could remember various game states where I’d have a ton of mana but nothing to do. Jitte would have been incredibly bad since all of their guys are huge, but Sunforger fetching up infinite Paths would have been insane.
Sadly, that situation never happens in this deck because you cast Congregation. You stop at four or five mana, and never have enough to be equipping Sunforger. I would cut the entire Stoneforge Mystic package as it was entirely dead weight.
The Trinket Mage package was awesome. Pithing Needle was mainly for Depths to give you outs to both of their combos depending on what you were scared of.
I was pretty scared of Scapeshift going into the GP. MJ and I determined that our best course of action was Teeg + Forge-Tender, since it shuts off the majority of their bounce and removal. Meddling Mage and crew all just die or get bounced easily, especially since Congregate Zoo has a slower clock than most Zoo decks.
As I said, I lost a lot of games to Blood Moons, but I also lost two games straight up to Academy Ruins, in matches that I think I otherwise could have won. If they have the Foundry combo and Ruins, there is nothing you can really Congregate for that will save you. You basically need to get Magus and then Pridemage, but by then they’ll make like eight guys which will beat you anyway. You might not even be able to cast Pridemage after you Moon yourself.
Boggemes ran a Kataki in his sideboard, which I dismissed but I guess I wished I ran, especially since I almost lost to Affinity. The true answer would be a Samurai of the Pale Curtain or Yixlid Jailer in the maindeck.
The removal package may look a little suspect, but I was definitely going to play four Paths. I wanted some number of Helixes for the Zoo matchup and was going to board some, but I was somehow talked into only “needing” one Helix to go with my Sunforger. If that was the case, the other one should be a Bolt. Regardless, they both kind of sucked although I would have loved to have more 1cc removal against Zoo. The Lightning Bolt also killed a Magus of the Moon for me.
The night before I got a text from John Penick asking me if there was any reason he shouldn’t play DDT. I responded with “I’m playing Congregation at Dawn in the GP.” He immediately called me, I shipped the list, and gave him the rundown of the deck. In the end he chickened out, but it was still funny to have him send me that text knowing full well that he wanted a reason to audible but wasn’t expecting any.
In the morning I got a call from Cedric Phillips asking me to register him as well. I didn’t mind of course, and got that done as well.
During the byes, I tried to get my laundry done, and approached the group of bell men. They asked when I was checking out and then told me they didn’t do laundry until Monday. I asked when they stop doing it, but they told me they only start doing it Monday. Frustrated, I walked away, and dropped my stuff off in the room.
I did manage to get some clothes from Luis though. In San Diego, I left a hoodie at his apartment and managed to lose a pair of jeans when I did laundry at his mom’s house. Luis told he found them both and that he brought them to Houston. Excellent! Imagine my surprise when I get to his hotel room and he hands me not only a different hoodie, but different jeans as well.
Look, these aren’t mine, but I’m taking them anyway. The jeans were even my size somehow.
Still, I needed to get my laundry done and bemoaned my luck to Chapin. Yet again, he proved that he is the man that makes things happen. He told me to wait in the lobby and headed outside. After about two minutes, he walked back in with a bell man who handed us a card and two bags. Pat told me that a woman would be meet me in the room in ten minutes to collect my clothes. I have no idea what transpired between Pat and the bell man, but I didn’t care.
It later dawned on me that Cedric had used all his money to get to the tournament. I had completely forgotten for some reason and realized that I probably wouldn’t be getting paid for my good deed. I approached him and was like, “So, About that entry fee?” He immediately shot back with, “I’ll give you 40 tickets on MODO.”
After all that and a quick breakfast, it was back to business. My rounds went as such:
Round three: 2-1 vs. Tribal Zoo
Round four: 0-2 vs. DDT
Round five: 2-1 vs. KCI
Round six: 2-0 vs. DDT
Round seven: 0-2 vs. Jund
Round eight: 2-1 vs. Affinity
Round nine: 2-0 vs. Living End
Round ten: 1-2 vs. DDT
Round eleven: 2-1 vs. AIR
Round twelve: concede to Cedric with Dredge, win all the fun games
Round thirteen: 1-2 vs. Blood Moon Seismic Swans
Round fourteen: 0-2 vs. Bant Zoo
Round fifteen: 0-2 vs. Scapeshift
Would I play the deck again? Well, it’s hard to argue with the sheer numbers that DDT has been putting up, but since I’ve been literally playing it since day one, I wanted to play something different and new. Congregation Zoo certainly provided that for me, and I had a lot of fun, but I wish I would have had a more tuned deck than what I ended up playing. Winning is nice and all, but I really hate going through the entire tournament thinking about what I should and shouldn’t have in my deck. It feels like I punted all of my matches away before the tournament even started.
Still, the deck is viable. If I had a few cards different, I would have had more than a fighting chance in each of my matches and certainly would have won a lot more.
Before day two, I would have given you insane odds if you wanted to bet me that I wouldn’t make money. Now, while my concession may have been the reason for that, it was still sickening.
Once the GP was over, most of us were ready to leave. I didn’t want to go eat with the various groups inviting me because it would be pretty awkward to get left behind, but it turns out the rest of my crew went out to eat anyway, leaving myself and Misha (who was PTQing) behind. I had to struggle to find some people to share pizza with, but thankfully the master Travis Woo obliged me.
Misha sadly lost in t4, but even by then we still couldn’t leave since members of our group weren’t around. Chapin finally tracked down BK who had apparently decided to party with Alex West and turn off his phone rather than allow us to leave. It wasn’t all a loss though, I got to hang out in the hotel bar with some of my favorite people in the universe.
Finally we all got rounded up and headed out, this time with Cedric on board. You see, Cedric decided to buy a last minute one way flight with his MODO riches, but didn’t exactly account for a way to get home. We decided we could drop him off in Chicago, which is on our way, but no one knows if he got home or how. It’s been a couple days and I haven’t heard from him, but I’m sure he’s fine.
I woke up about an hour away from BK’s house. My flight home was at noon Tuesday, leaving from Milwaukee. Chapin and BK had both offered me rides, but apparently had both backed out while I was asleep. Patrick told me that he had Google Mapped it from Owen’s to the airport, clicked on public transportation, and there were some buses that would get me there pretty easily.
The situation wasn’t very appealing, but I wasn’t about to argue. I had faith in my ability to navigate the public transportation system, even if I’d rather not be a part of it. Owen and I headed up to his place, where I hopped in a Standard DE with Open the Vaults. I’ve been trying out some weird things in the deck, but I’m happy with it still. If I attend the 5K in Hotlanta, I’ll be playing either OTV or tapout UW for sure. Either way, I’ll probably have the maximum copies of Wall of Omens.
Anyway, I tried some maindeck Steel Winds to really hate on Jund. If they insist on Blightning-ing me, I insist on punishing them for it. Still, after adding them and playing roughly 20 matches in Des and 8 mans, I didn’t play against Jund once. I sold them, since they were pretty clunky against everything else, but now all I’m playing against is Jund again. Grr.
Anyway, in the DE I was Sphinx-less and went 2-1 vs. Jund, 2-1 vs. Naya, 1-2 vs. Jund and 1-2 vs. Jund to narrowly miss cashing. Pretty standard for the weekend really.
After that, I got some sleep. Unlike Nick Becvar’s cat, which literally attacked Steve Sadin and me in our sleep relentlessly (when do you ever sleep you stupid cat?!), Owen’s cats mostly left me alone. Unless I was awake, in which case they really liked jumping on my chest and putting their butts in my face while I trying to MODO.
I got up at 9AM, which should give me plenty of time to make my noon flight. I did exactly what Chapin told me to, copied down the bus directions exactly, and went outside to wait. I brought a track jacket and very thin hoodie with me, but both of them were pretty dirty at this point and covered in cat hair. Thankfully, I had LSV’s mystery hoodie to give me a little protection from the mild rain and slight breeze.
I bought a Snapple from a gas station and stood at the stop for a good twenty minutes, well over ten minutes from the scheduled time. Now, I understand that these things aren’t an exact science and there are delays and stuff, but over ten minutes is kind of weird. I double checked the schedule on my phone and was content to wait. After another ten minutes or so, it showed up and we took off down the street.
I didn’t recognize any of the street names and finally asked if this bus would transfer me to bus 76 at some point, which he informed me we passed a while ago. Hrm”¦ Time to get off and walk 20 blocks in the cold with two giant bags I guess.
The wait for 76 didn’t take long, and I even got to sit in one of those bus stop structure thingies. Still, disaster struck again when the bus took me to a mall, everyone got off, and the driver turned off the engine. Awkward
I asked for help, and she was more than happy to give it to me. Turns out I was going in completely the opposite direction and to basically throw away the directions I had and she wrote me up new ones. I don’t remember the lady’s name, but she had a very fierce mullet.
I was dropped off and told to wait about 20 minutes, so I decided to grab some food in the meantime. Taking Noodle and Co to go would have been somewhat awkward, so I just went for Burger King instead. Both were probably a mistake considering you can’t have food on the bus apparently. Gotta love it when some people ruin it for the rest of us.
By the time I was at the next transfer stop, my food was cold and to top it off, I had to wait in front of a Culver’s, easily in the top five of places for me to eat. Why oh why did I get Burger King? What is wrong with me.
At that point, it was already approaching noon, and I ended up getting to the airport ten minutes after my flight had left. They booked me a new one for three hours later, so that meant I had just enough time to get in a Saga draft. I swear if I lose to one more 2/2 pro black flier”¦
I made it to the finals, which ate up enough of my time that I didn’t get a chance to write this article. Granted, I probably should have done that in the first place, but meh. These Tolarian Academies don’t open themselves.
The tl;dr version would basically be: Don’t play any of the decklists I put in the article. Just play Dark Depths. Don’t use public transportation.
PS I would like to thank Bill Boysen for always having 75 cards for me when I need em.
I would also like to congratulate Kenny Ellis on an excellent performance. The man went through more hell than most in their lifetimes just to get to his first Pro Tour, and I’m glad to see him continually hitting the PT stops.