This past weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to San Antonio Texas to compete with “We Dem Boyz” in the first Team Unified Modern Grand Prix. For those of you out of the loop, We Dem Boyz consists of myself, PT Champ Alexander Hayne, and PT Champ and dead last finisher Steve Rubin.
The team name is the product of a constant back and forth singing of the song “We Dem Boyz” by Wiz Khalifa between me and Steve during our first experience playtesting together. Singing turned into exchanging videos between myself and Steve via Facebook. A short while later Hayne got involved in the video process, and it took off from there.
If you didn’t know, now you know.
My trip didn’t exactly start pleasurably. I was aware of a little weather coming into Boston, but before I left for the airport I got an update from my trusty Delta app that all was well and I would be departing on time. I got to the airport a little later than normal, but with plenty of time to grab a bite and board my plane with the last zone of passengers instead of in the priority line as I am so accustomed to. I generally don’t care about boarding early because I check bags. This time, since Steve Rubin was bringing all the decks, I only had a single deck box and not much luggage, so I decided to carry on.
Somewhere in between getting on the plane and scanning my ticket, the flight ran out of room for bags. I was told I could load my bag in the back of the plane when I was seated somewhere near the front. I declined and told the flight attendant that I had a tight connection and didn’t want to be last off the plane and asked if I could just gate check my bag. Big mistake. They obliged, and I was on my way.
Despite some light snow, the flight was about on time, only about 5 minutes behind schedule. I was connecting in Atlanta, and boarding a flight with Steve Rubin, so I wanted to let Dem Boyz know I’d be arriving just fine. I did tell them about a news story I saw on an airline TV about undetectable laptop bombs, a weird thing to be showing in an airport, needless to say. Steve brushed it off and told me that if it were to happen so be it—we’d just have to go down in a “Boyz of Glory” together. Foreshadowing.
About 45 minutes pass and I inform my team that my connection is going to be very close and ask Steve to try to hold the flight for me. About 2 hours pass while we wait on the plane, not moving, waiting to be de-iced (#CFBIce) before take-off.
By the time we take off we are scheduled to land about 20 minutes prior to my connection—I’m going to need to run pretty fast to make it on time. We land exactly 20 minutes before take-off and I message Steve asking about the flight. He said he just boarded but he was the last one on and informs me the flight attendant said they’ll be closing the doors in a few minutes. Surely I’m not going to miss my flight by like 5 minutes and they’ll wait for me, right? Wrong. My wife sends me a text that she called ahead for me and they already took me off that flight and put me on one leaving Atlanta at 8:30 a.m., getting me to San Antonio just in time to miss several rounds of the event. I inform Dem Boyz that I will likely be unable to make it and that they should start finding a third. Alexander Hayne isn’t having any of that. He informs me to take the morning flight, and they will fight on as two without me until I arrive.
When I arrive at the desk, visibly annoyed, I ask them what they can do. Their response was basically a shrug and a “nothing, sorry.” I told them that in fact, the morning flight had no value to me and if they weren’t going to get me to San Antonio on time, then I wanted to go home and be refunded for the trip. With a grin and a laugh, the help desk attendant informed me there’s no way I’d be getting to Boston from Atlanta tonight. Extreme frustration sets in and I ask to speak with a manager. While waiting for a manager, Hayne informs me that a small group is planning on driving from Austin to San Antonio. When the manager arrives, I ask about flights to Austin. They tell me there is one leaving in 30 minutes. I asked how far the Austin airport was from San Antonio and was told 69 miles. I wanted some time to ask who was going from Austin to San Antonio but with no time, I just snapped it off and got the ticket.
I run over to my gate where the door is about to close, but I forgot one thing. What about my bag with all my irreplaceable CFB Ice attire? The attendant informs me that I have to pick between getting on the plane or sorting out my bag problem—I couldn’t do both. I asked why we couldn’t just wait a minute for my bag and she said it’s stuck in “the cold room” (#CFBIce) and it’ll board the plane to San Antonio in the morning. I have no idea what that means, and ask if they’ll deliver my bag to my room and she says, “I don’t know.” I ask who does know and she says, “I can try and get a supervisor over.” I ask her to and she makes a quick call, but no one ever shows. She tells me I need to board, or figure something else out. So I reluctantly board the flight, hoping that I can at least catch an Uber to San Antonio if I don’t find this mythical car of Magic players going to San Antonio.
I notice on the flight that my phone is on about 15% juice and of course my charger is in my bag. I chose to use it for messaging anyway, and about halfway through the flight Mary Louke messages, informing me Josh McClain and herself would indeed be driving from Austin to San Antonio. When I get off the plane I run over to baggage where I’m informed that everything they told me in Atlanta was bogus and that they have to in fact wait for my baggage to board the plane before taking off as it’s Delta policy.
I feel vindicated, but still know I’ll be sweaty and smelly for another 24 hours. The baggage clerk informs me that they’ll send my bags to my luxurious room at Red Roof Inn the next day. Needless to say, I better get comfy in my sweaty, smelly clothes because I’ll be wearing them for the next 24 hours or so.
I meet Mary at the airport and eat some Waffle House for the first and last time in my life while we wait for Josh McClain and enjoy an hour of belting out late ’90s early 2000s music at 2 a.m., finally en route to San Antonio. Of course, my teammates were nice enough to share one of the two beds, leaving me my own bed so I could rest well.
Hold up, hold up, I’m lying. They were both passed out in each bed so I decided to see who looked more comfortable, and slept in that bed for maximum value.
I tend to do a lot of last-minute prep work for Grand Prix, and in this case, the night before an event. With no byes and arriving at my hotel room at approximately 3 a.m. before the event, none of this was possible. I basically had to lock in to whatever I played in my last League on Magic Online. Our team decided to play Grixis Control, Dredge, and I was battling with Abzan Death’s Shadow. We were considering Affinity as Hayne and I both have tons of experience with the deck, but were worried because we knew most of the top teams were playing 3 or 4 Kolaghan’s Command main deck, and Affinity has gotten weaker in game 1s against the field with it and Fatal Push being so efficient against the deck. It’s possible we would have talked it out and audibled last minute to Affinity but unfortunately, it was locked up in the cold room (#CFBIce) with all of my clothes for the evening, so we had to remove it from our list of options and stick with what we have.
Abzan Death’s Shadow
At the last minute, we decided to give Hayne all of the Fatal Pushes and that I would just play Path to Exile, something I tested and was fine with because of cards like Wurmcoil Engine, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Dredge. We realized that none of us had any extra Path to Exiles and, despite being reprinted for the 100th time, they were still somehow $12 each. Since we had three from Modern Masters 2017 and one from some other set with a different picture, we decided to all sign one of our freshly purchased Path to Exiles, each with a word from our team name, “We Dem Boyz.” Surely after winning the tournament we’d be able to auction these bad boyz off for thousands. Throughout the tournament I was obligated to keep a kill count with my “We Dem Boyz” Path to Exiles, and to no one’s surprise, the Siggy Path to Exile did all the heavy lifting as I would always cast it when I had two in hand, and always sideboard out the others when I wanted fewer than 4. The final kill count was still a measly 4-2-0, with Hayne being shut out. If Dem Boyz are going to make me play a stupid game with cards I signed myself in my deck, I am going to game.
I’d overall grade the deck as Deece-. It was okay, but the concessions I had to make to share sideboard cards with my teammates made the deck much worse against unfair decks than a Death’s Shadow deck should be.
Several rounds in I realized I needed more Tarmogoyfs, or the next best thing, Grim Flayer. Renegade Rallier was weak. I’d had poor experiences with Orzhov Charm in testing, but my peers sung its praises. In the end I think I should have stuck with my gut and played basically anything else besides the Charm, because it was merely a Vendetta that cost an additional white mana—which is by no means trivial in a deck with a basic Forest as one of its few mana producing lands.
Liliana of the Veil was so much better than Liliana, the Last Hope, I started to get nauseous every time I drew the wrong one. All in all, some last-minute deck tweaking really would have helped in this event, and I’ll keep that in mind next time I have no byes in an event and decide to arrive late. Even despite my travel issues I wasn’t supposed to get in until midnight anyway, a mistake I surely won’t make again.
By the end of the event, and after looking at Reid Duke’s deck list, I have to say that if I was playing an individual event I’d play an almost identical list to his. Giving up Collective Brutality against combo as well as Fulminator Mage was an issue, and an issue he didn’t have since they liked Eldrazi Tron—a deck that didn’t pass my eyeball test. One minor change I’d make to Reid’s deck list is that I’d like to keep the 2 Lingering Souls I had main deck instead of a Murderous Cut and move a Liliana of the Veil to the sideboard.
Abzan Death’s Shadow
Reid Duke, 2nd place at GP San Antonio
Abzan Death’s Shadow is much better against other fair decks than Jund Death’s Shadow because the red cards like Tarfir, Lightning Bolt, and Temur Battle Rage are just not that effective in the mirror or against Grixis and Abzan. The deck can stand to trade a few win percentage points against unfair decks to gain some against fair decks, and I think this is a good way to do it. In fact, even with the slightly suboptimal deck list I played, I didn’t lose a match to any other Death’s Shadow or Abzan deck throughout my testing and the event itself. Lingering Souls main deck was a huge reason for that.
Maybe sharing black among all 3 players was a mistake since it’s rather easy to play decks with no overlap. We did feel that the small concessions were minor and that this gave us 3 great decks, but I think the lack of sideboard cards for big mana decks like Scapeshift and Tron was costly, and Steve really felt the effects of not having Abrupt Decay in Dredge to kill off a wide array of hate. I will refrain from commenting on the Smoldering Marsh in Hayne’s deck. If you want to know about that, just take a peek at @Smdster on Twitter and I’m sure you’ll find something about it.
In the end we got maximally punished, as I was the only player on the team to play against big mana decks, and I did so for about 5 or 6 rounds. All the while, Steve not having the ability to kill both Rest in Peace and Scavenging Ooze in one card was a huge issue. As I looked over every round, I saw his graveyard exiled while not having the right answer to line up with the hate he was facing.
At 1-2, we felt defeated. The tournament was basically over for us. Our decks were bad, our morale was low. I felt awful and smelled worse in my 2-day old clothes. Then something magical happened. My opponent played a Kari Zev’s Expertise on my Tarmogoyf to cast a Breaking // Entering. My opponent hits only a Simian Spirit Guide and I go on to defeat him, locking up the win for the team. Back to 2-2, and we had wind in our sails. We manage to rattle off win after win. I am informed by my Delta app that my bag was delivered. Everything is looking up—the momentum is ours. We cruise through the rest of the day winning every match. High fives and chants of “We Dem” are had by all. We go out to dinner for nourishment, and get to bed early after a much needed change of clothes. I informed my team that nothing could stop us now. I wake up an hour early to deliver my team some fresh Starbucks, more high-fives, fists bumps, and “We Dem” chants. Nothing was going to stop us now.
We sat down for round 1 of Day 2 ready to battle. Surely we can rattle off another 5 wins to make Top 4 of the event.
About 11 minutes pass, and our opponents’ shake our hands, wishing us luck, as they take the match slip up. We got crushed. Out of the event. Playing for points now I guess boys. We end up going 3-2 on Day 2 for 1 Pro Point. That 1 point didn’t matter to anyone. Well, except me. It locked me for Gold, so I was happy to get that monkey off my back as I battle toward Platinum, but Dem Boyz fought round after round for me, despite not playing for anything but their teammate’s peace of mind. And now I can only think of the wise statement my teammate and friend said as we were en route to San Antonio: “We’ll go down together in a Boyz of Glory.” We certainly did. All in all, I had a blast.
At least I didn’t have to carry PGO trophies to Vegas.