GP Costa Rica, and the GP Race

From the start, I did not want to go to this event. I had booked a ticket for the GP in Costa Rica almost a month ago, but I’d been regretting that decision ever since. While I have been doing quite well in Magic recently, a number of things in my life were starting to fall apart. I skipped the Grand Prix in Minneapolis the previous weekend because I couldn’t see myself flying out to play Magic while the world around me burned.

Had I not booked in advance for Costa Rica, I likely would have skipped this GP as well. There was no real reason for me to go to Costa Rica. Flights were expensive enough that I’d need a Top 16 or better finish to break even. Anything short of 1st place didn’t mean anything for my chances to hit Platinum. I hadn’t played Standard in about a month and had no clue what to play. All signs pointed to this GP being a waste of time and money.

Then Fabrizio Anteri got banned. Suddenly, the Grand Prix Pro Points Leader race, a race I had given up on, a race that Fabrizio had a giant lead in, was up for grabs, and I was within reach. Suddenly, GP Costa Rica actually meant something again. My decision to skip Minneapolis seemed like a huge mistake, even though I don’t regret my decision to stay home. At the time, it seemed right to prioritize personal matters over Magic.

The Grand Prix Pro Points Leader is the player who amasses the most points from Grand Prix over the course of the year. Going into GP Costa Rica, Tomoharu Saito had the lead at 44 points, Reid Duke was in second at 42 points, and I was in third place at 40 points.

I tested all week in preparation for this event. I tried out BW Control, but immediately knew it wasn’t the deck for me. I tested some with GW Tokens and while I was winning a decent amount with the deck, I felt like I could maybe do better. In hindsight, there’s no way to do better than GW Tokens, which has established itself as the single dominant force in Standard.

The deck I initially settled on was Bant Humans. Bant Humans is basically a Bant Company deck that doesn’t play some of the more powerful cards like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Sylvan Advocate and instead plays Human synergies with Thalia’s Lieutenant. Andrew Elenbogen and Yuuya Watanabe both made Top 8 of GP Minneapolis with the deck last week and it seemed like the new breakout strategy.

I didn’t end up playing Bant Humans, though. In testing with Brad Nelson, he used his voodoo Magic to somehow convince me to play regular, boring Bant Company, a deck that he has a personal love affair with. Neither of us really knew if Bant Company was actually a good deck, or if Brad was just latching on to another one of his projects.

But in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, “You only live once.” I decided the night before the event to swap to Bant Company.

Lately, I’ve had this mentality where I haven’t cared too much about Magic. That’s not to say that my preparation is lacking or missing, but that I’m not too worried about any particular tournament and I try to not let losses frustrate or bother me. I play a deck that I think is the best choice, play it to the best of my ability, and hope that I win some matches of Magic, but I don’t stress over it if I don’t.

Even with the GP Player of the Year thing looming, I didn’t care that much about this GP or if I was making the perfect deck choice, or if I had exactly the correct 75. I played a deck that I thought was good and tried to play it to the best of my ability. If it worked, then that’s sweet. If it didn’t, then on to the next one.

Bant Humans

I ended up registering this 75. No-frills Bant Company. None of the cutesy stuff. Just the best cards at every mana slot and enough creatures to hit reliably off of Collected Company. Sometimes, simpler really is better. Just play the best cards. Don’t mess around. Just play the best cards.

Despite being capped at 500 players, I knew GP Costa Rica was going to be a really tough tournament. A significant portion of the field was comprised of pros or aspiring pros. It ended up being significantly harder than a normal Grand Prix. I actually played a tougher mix of opponents than any Pro Tour I have ever played on, and I don’t think it was even close. It’s certainly possible that I played the hardest mix of opponents of anyone in the event.

On Day 1, I played:

  • Andreas Ganz, winner of GP Charlotte. GW Tokens.
  • Ryoichi Tamada, made the finals at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Mirror Match.
  • Brandon Fischer, made the finals of this GP. Naya Planeswalkers.
  • Saul Alvarado, made Top 8 of this GP. BW Control.
  • Emmanuel Ramirez Sanchezz. BW Control.
  • Yuuya Watanabe, one of the best of all time. Bant Humans.

I finished the day at 8-0-1, drawing the last round with Yuuya unintentionally. As a result of our draw, there were no undefeated players after Day 1. Instead, there were 4 players at 8-0-1. Yuuya, myself, Brad Nelson, and Ben Rubin. Of course, this meant that I was pretty likely to end up playing all of them at some point in the event. Lucky me.

Games of Standard in this format can be extremely grindy, and this tournament was a grim reminder of that. There was an astronomical amount of draws, and I narrowly avoided drawing a few other times in this event.

On Day 2, I played:

  • Chris Fennell, Platinum Pro. Bant Humans.
  • Brad Nelson, Platinum Pro. 75-card Mirror.
  • Josue Feng, my only opponent actually from Costa Rica. GR Traditional Ramp.
  • Ben Rubin, Hall-of-Famer. BW Control.
  • Oliver Tiu, Platinum Pro. Bant Humans.
  • Michael Derczo, Made Top 8 of this GP. GW Tokens.

When it was all said and done, I was the 1st seed going into Top 8. Despite playing a murderer’s row of Platinum Pros and Hall-of-Famers, I managed to only lose once—to Brad Nelson in the mirror.

That didn’t last long. Seth Manfield barely snuck into Top 8 as the 8th seed, which meant that my reward for being first seed was that I got to play against Seth in the quarterfinals. I can’t say that it was my preferred pairing. Seth had nearly perfect draws both games and dispatched me in extremely short order. Seth then went on to win the tournament, which propelled him into the thick of the GP Player of the Year race himself.

When the smoke cleared, Seth was sitting in first place at 45 points, tied with Saito. I was in 3rd with 44, and Reid was in 4th with 43.

No matter what I do, I can’t seem to escape the fate of being 3rd place in the race. Throughout the entire year, I trailed Fabrizio and Saito. By the time Fabrizio got banned, Reid had passed me, which meant that I was still in 3rd place. I ended up passing Reid in this tournament, but Seth jumped me, leaving me in—you guessed it—still 3rd place.

Don’t take that as a complaint, though. I’m only 1 point back and it’s anyone’s game. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’m going to keep going to events, playing what I think the best deck is, and not worrying about how well I do. If I don’t get there, then I can be happy that I had a great season and a hell of a run.

If I do get there? Well, I have to say, that’d be pretty swell.

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