It is kind of odd to be writing this article on Monday, yet getting it up before my Sunday deadline (time travel!), although the extra day makes it much easier compared to my schedule at a normal tournament. An extra day to write my article aside, I had other reasons to travel to this Grand Prix. I wanted to go on a trip with my brothers (who don’t play Magic), and I wanted to take a shot at remaining in a good position for the Player of the Year race. The trip part was accomplished quite well, but instead of regaining the lead in the POY race I fell to fourth.
At least Day 1 was fun!
On Friday, I went to the site to check out the GPT’s and hopefully get some drafts in. Olivier convinced Shuhei, Kazuya Mitamura and myself to join a sanctioned 8-man, which was kind of funny. He figured that instead of doing an 8-man among ourselves, we could do one with a 5-3-2-2 payout instead! I drafted a pretty sick UB deck, with 3 Hideous End, Malakir Gatekeeper, and Mind Sludge, as well as 3 Ior Ruin Expedition and Lorthos to finish things. I ended up 3-0ing, winning a cool five packs for my troubles. I felt ready to battle, and after watching APL (who graciously let myself, Gerry, and Cheon stay at his house during GP Auckland last year) win his 3 byes, I went to bed early.
I sat down for my fourth Zendikar sealed, with no particular plan in mind. I did want to play Black, but that would all depend on my pool. My pool wasn’t particularly hard to build, but there were definitely some decisions.
Green and Red were just flat unplayable; no good cards, and not even enough decent playables. On the flip side, I knew I was definitely going to play Black, since it not only had a ridiculous bomb, it had a good number of solid playables to go with it.
First, the artifacts:
Artifacts and Lands
A few good ones, though the Adventuring Gear was only likely to make an appearance in an aggressive deck. The Refuges were something worth considering when deciding whether to splash or not.
These cards lent themselves to either aggro or control, and that was the main decision I had to make. White provided the aggressive option, with a bunch of low drop dudes and a couple good finishers.
I didn’t like the way the mana would work out, since I had Malakir Gatekeeper alongside three Kor Outfitters. Still, a light sprinkling of removal spells and a Needlebite Trap as a finisher made me consider playing the aggressive W/B deck. The other option was the more controlling Blue/Black deck.
Despite thinking about it for a while, I soon came to my senses and decided to build the control deck. I felt I had enough good cards, and with the two UW duals I could easily splash the more powerful White cards. I decided to even get a little greedy and splash the Emeria Angel. The Angel is pretty powerful, and between Expedition Map and Khalni Gem I had a little leeway. Plus, I could always loot it away if needed. I figured that even if I did lose consistency, the power level of the card was ultimately worth it. The Shepherd and Journey to Nowhere were of course an easy choice to splash, and I never considered not doing so.
My final list:
Even with 17 lands plus Expedition Map and Khalni Gem, I sided out Vampire Lacerator for another Island against most decks. The one-drop was really only good if they had a number of early guys he could trade with; otherwise, he really didn’t fit in the deck.
After deck construction I wasn’t too pleased with my deck, but it played out pretty well in practice games. The first three rounds went quickly, which was to be a feature of the tournament as a whole. I guess a much smaller event does lend itself to faster turnaround times, but either way I was happy. I often choose power over consistency, but that is because I have alot of experience determining at what point that is appropriate. I’m not recommending you often splash for a double-color card, but when you have enough fixing, and it is powerful enough, sometimes you just need to go for it!
Round 4 vs Jacky Zhang
Game 1: Jacky played Trusty Machete on turn one and Vampire Nighthawk on turn 3, which was quite unfortunate. I didn’t have either my Paralyzing Grasp or Journey to Nowhere, and was forced to get hit four times until I could kill it with Heartstabber Mosquito. The 4 to 36 life difference was too much to overcome, and I died when he cast Hideous End and Into the Roil to remove both my blockers for his Vampire Lacerator. Being down a game against a good UB deck piloted by a competent player wasn’t exactly how I wanted to start the Grand Prix.
Game 2: Again Jacky had a quick Nighthawk, which got me a few times. I tried to kill it with Disfigure plus Sky Ruin Drake, but he had his own [card]Disfigure[/card] to stop those shenanigans. Luckily, he never drew Hideous End or Into the Roil, so I was able to Paralyzing Grasp his Nighthawk and stabilize at 2 life. He appeared to be pretty flooded, but he was at 29 life so killing him would take a while. There were a number of turns where I had a Reckless Scholar with Blazing Torch on it, which I wasn’t using because it was my only [card]Hideous End[/card] target, and I needed to be able to kill it with the Torch in response. Ob Nixilis made an appearance, and finished the game shortly.
Game 3: For the first time, I actually had a fast draw. He led with turn 3 Stonework Puma, turn 4 Nighthawk, but I had Windrider Eel and Sky Ruin Drake to race. He played an Aether Figment, but I had a pretty nice Whiplash Trap to bounce the Figment and the Nighthawk, setting him back a fair amount. I peeled Emeria Angel, and the race was on. Blazing Torch’s first ability was relevant for once, as it let Emeria Angel fly past his Vampire Nighthawk. I finished him by dropping Crypt Ripper, hitting with everything but a 1/1 token, and using the token to throw the Torch at his face. This was a tough round, and I was relieved to come out with a win. Of course, Jacky ended up making Top 8, so it didn’t hurt him too badly in the long run.
Round 5 vs Gareth Pye
Game 1: Gareth has a pretty slow draw, which suited me just fine. When both decks did nothing, I generally assumed that my deck had a better lategame. He missed his third land drop, but soon drew a third and Harrowed into more mana. By the time he started dropping threats, I had a Sky Ruin Drake bashing in, and then a Giant Scorpion. I Disfigured his Hookmaster, Heartstabber Mosquito ate his Kor Cartographer, and Gatekeeper of Malakir killed his Terra Stomper.
Game 2: This game didn’t go much differently, as I drew more removal spells than he drew creatures. The GW big creature deck just wasn’t at its best against my UB removal deck, particularly since I had a number of good finishers he had trouble dealing with.
Round 6 vs Graham Croucher
Game 1: The only spell I could cast in my opening hand was Giant Scorpion, but Island plus two Swamps was close enough to casting Cancel and Gatekeeper, so I kept. He didn’t do much, playing a Hagra Diabolist and eventually a 5/6 Wurm. Again, slow starts really favored me, so I was able to beat his lackluster draw.
Game 2: I sat behind a Scorpion for a while, since I was missing the necessary lands. Graham wasn’t playing much either, so when I dropped Ob Nixilis I figured he was just going to die. Surprisingly, he survived until I untapped, and I even peeled a land to make him a 6/6. I declined to send him into a Nimana Sell-Sword plus Diabolist, and just sat waiting for another land. The next turn delivered, and I sent in my 9/9. Graham blocked with Sell-Sword, and cast a Vines of Vastwood. That only did 7, so I simply passed the turn. He of course had Punishing Fire at the end of turn, which made my Cancel particularly back-breaking. After getting 3 for 1’ed, and still having to deal with a 9/9 demon, he packed it in. I found out later that he had Burst Lightning the turn I played Ob Nixilis, but forgot he could kicker it to kill him. Oops.
Round 7 vs Andrew Eckermann
Game 1: Andrew was also playing UB, which seemed to be one of the better combinations. The two best decks I faced were UB, and both were piloted by two of the better players I played against. Andrew had a pretty aggressive draw, with Welkin Tern and Umara Raptor in the first few turns. I managed to Gatekeeper and Disfigure my way out of it, but Quest for the Gravelord stopped me from launching a counterattack, especially after my Ob Nixilis got double Disfigured before he could do anything. My Giant Scorpion and Surrakar Marauder started down his 5/5 for a few turns, with him at 10 and me at 5. I drew another Scorpion and a Lacerator, but I still couldn’t do anything. He added to his forces with his own Scorpion, and then a [card]Halo Hunter[/card]. I still wasn’t dead, but after he drew a Whiplash Trap I died shortly. This was the only game where I really felt flooded, which wasn’t too bad. This format makes it pretty tough to really get flooded, even with 18 or 19 mana sources, which I like a lot.
Game 2: I chose to draw, even though his deck was pretty aggressive. Normally I think playing is good in this sealed format, but my deck had severe enough mana requirements that I preferred to draw first. I had no trouble with mana this game, even dropping Emeria Angel on turn five. She made a few tokens before Halo Hunter ate her, but by then it was too late. The Angel plus Windrider Eel had done too much damage, and I was able to kill Andrew fairly quickly even without the Angel.
Game 3: Andrew decided drawing was better against my deck, despite choosing to play in game one. I didn’t like that, and was even less happy when I didn’t draw a third land. After discarding five times, I packed up my cards without casting a single spell.
Round 8 vs Cameron Veigel
Ray does a good job of covering this one here, even mentioning how I kept making fun of him for only featuring New Zealanders prior to this round. Ob Nixilis is pretty good, especially against an opponent who is manascrewed and/or mulls to five.
The other Americans who came over for the GP, Tom Raney and Alex West, were also 7-1, so Day 1 went pretty well. Well enough in fact, that I think this is a good place to conclude this report.
Fine, I’ll talk about Day 2 also, if I must.
Going into Day 2, I was pretty set on drafting UB, preferably control. In our practice and team drafts, I had been having the most success with UB, and it fit my playstyle best.
I was in Pod 1, which was pretty stacked:
1. Hinz, Levi
2. Eckermann, Andrew
3. Saitou, Tomoharu
4. Tian, Kuan
5. Nicastri, Aaron
6. Watanabe, Yuuya
7. Scott-Vargas, Luis
8. Mitamura, Kazuya
I first-picked a Hideous End, which was conveniently the card I told blisterguy I wanted to open. I followed that up with Vampire Hexmage, then Khalni Gem. A fourth-pick Whiplash Trap made me reasonably confident that Blue was open, and a late Crypt Ripper indicated Black might be as well. Going in to pack 3 I had a decent UB deck, but pack 3 was insane. I took, in order, Sphinx of Lost Truths, Marsh Casualties, Hideous End, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and Vampire Nighthawk. After the draft I was very happy with my deck, which made the following rounds even more disappointing.
Draft 1 Deck:
Round 9 vs Yuuya Watanabe
Game 1: Here is where my whole day went down the drain. He was on the play, and played Luminarch Ascension on turn two. I answered with a Vampire Hexmage, but he had a Kor Sanctifiers to block with. My Windrider Eel looked like it would keep the counters off the Ascension, but he eventually got out a Shepherd of the Lost and a Kor Skyfisher, the latter which bounced his Sanctifiers to kill my Quest for the Gravelord. I threw the game when I failed to put a counter on a Soul Stair Expedition after playing Jwar Isle Refuge. I guess the gaining a life kind of distracted me, although that of course is no excuse. Yuuya peeled a second Sanctifiers, and killed the Expedition while it was on two counters. That prevented me from getting back Hexmage to again take the counters off of his Ascension, and I died to the horde of Angels. If I had another three turns before the Ascension got active I probably would have won, since I had a huge [card]Crypt Ripper[/card] and had just peeled Sphinx of Lost Truths.
Game 2: Sadly, I didn’t get to play this game. I chose to play, kept a two lander, and never saw a third land. It was pretty annoying, but since I likely would have at least had a game three to go to, I couldn’t really blame anything but myself.
Round 10 vs Aaron Nicastri
Game 1: This was a pretty frustrating round as well. All Aaron did game 1 was play Gigantiform on his Bladetusk Boar, and I just died to it. I had Whiplash Trap in hand, but lacked the second Blue source with which to cast it, and couldn’t draw an Island or Hideous End in order to stay alive.
Game 2: At least one game went according to plan, as I dropped a Gomazoa and a Scorpion, holding off his troops until I cast a kicked Marsh Casualties. I also sacrificed my Hexmage to finish off his 4/4 Oran-Rief Survivalist, so he lost his entire board. After that, I was able to kill him with a motley assortment of beaters.
Game 3: My first two hands were one-landers, and not the good kind either. My five card hand was unexciting, and when he played Turntimber Ranger and two Survivalists, I died rapidly.
To say I was displeased with this turn of events was an understatement, but I had to shelve that and continue playing. Magic tournaments don’t give you much room for error, and had I not missed that trigger against Yuuya, who knows what would have happened. As is, all I could do was concentrate on the rest of the tournament.
Round 11 vs Kuan Tian
Game 1: I was battling against the creator of Aussie Storm himself, a pleasant guy by the name of Kuan. We were the 0-2’s of the pod, although he only had two losses in the tournament. He had a pretty slow start this game, and my defensive creatures led us into a stalemate. He also was stuck on only Plains until like turn 10, which was bad news for his aggressive R/W deck. My late Ior Ruin Expedition found me a Sphinx, which found me Marsh Casualties, and that was that.
Game 2: This game I was the beatdown, with a turn 3 Nighthawk and a turn 4 Eel. I traded the Nighthawk for his Cliff Threader plus Bold Defense, then got it back with Soul Stair Expedition. A few hits from my 4/4 Eel and Nighthawk later, and I had at least salvaged a win out of the draft. Kuan ended up sweeping his last pod and t16’ing, which qualified him for PT San Diego next year.
Draft two was a trainwreck. I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but something certainly did. I opened Sphinx of Lost Truths, Hideous End, and Marsh Casualties, which wasn’t exactly ideal for my plan of drafting UB. After some deliberation, I took the Sphinx, and followed it up with a Whiplash Trap. The trouble started pick three, when the only good cards in the pack were Mind Sludge and Gatekeeper of Malakir. I made a pretty terrible pick, and took the Mind Sludge. I really don’t know what I was thinking, but I regretted the pick as soon as I made it. I don’t think this pick is what screwed up my draft though, since I was taking a Black card either way, and my deck ended up pretty awk regardless. It certainly made my deck weaker, but I don’t think taking either card would significantly impact how the draft went.
I was pretty sure I was going to be cut on Black during pack 2, but I wasn’t passing any good Blue, and I figured that would be enough. UB seemed to be open on my right, so I wasn’t feeling too bad after pack 1. The next two packs were just terrible for me, and I ended up with a pretty weak UB aggro deck. I don’t know where I could have jumped out of UB, since it was open during pack 1 and dry in the next two packs. In any case, here is the deck I ended on:
The only removal spells I had were Whiplash Trap, Into the Roil, and Trapmaker’s Snare for Whiplash Trap. I was pretty unhappy after the draft, and even less happy once I started playing with the deck. I thought I might be able to get people with an aggressive start and bounce plus Blood Seeker, but the games didn’t play out that way.
Round 12 vs Merlyn Evans
Game 1: Merlyn was sitting to my left during the draft, so if I couldn’t beat the guy I was cutting on Black, I probably had little chance. I kept a hand of Surrakar Marauder, Whiplash Trap, Needlebite Trap and lands on the draw, and didn’t see another spell until turn 5. By that time, his team of Steppe Lynx and Hagra Crocodile had beat me down, and when he killed my Windrider Eel I didn’t have a shot of doing enough damage.
Game 2: My opening hand of Mind Sludge, Swamp, Island, Adventuring Gear was not enough to vanquish the powerful wizard I faced. A deck full of situational cards does not fare well with mulligans, not that I expect to win off a mull to 4 with pretty much any deck. A downside of landfall cards is that they get much worse when you mulligan, since it becomes difficult to trigger them and still have spells to cast when you only get a small number of cards to work with.
Round 13 vs David Marshall
Game 1: I got an aggressive draw of t1 Lacerator t2 Blood Seeker, but his Plated Geopede with Adventuring Gear made it quite a close race. I played another Blood Seeker, and he had no plays for a few turns. He eventually dropped Umara Raptor and Geyser Glider, and put me in the unfortunate position of being dead to him drawing a land (with no cards in hand). He unfortunately hit a land, and killed me with fliers while on 2 life and facing two Blood Seekers and enough creatures to swarm him. It wasn’t that unlikely, but it would have been nice for him to miss.
Game 2: My curve was even better this game, with Lacerator into Surrakar Marauder applying quite a bit of pressure. His first play was a Molten Ravager, and that resulted in me getting in enough damage that a 1/1 Aether Figment plus two Blood Seekers killed him before he could really mount an offense.
Game 3: He mulliganed, and my hand was pretty good, although land-light. I kept Lacerator, Marauder, Machete, Soul Stair Expedition, and Reckless Scholar, along with Swamp and Island. Again he didn’t play anything until a t3 Ravager, but I still hadn’t drawn a third land. I finally drew a third land on turn 5, but never saw a 4th, which meant I couldn’t kill him with my six power Surrakar Marauder. I had the (almost) nut draw, my opponent mulliganed, and a land for three turns would have won me the game, yet it wasn’t meant to be. Not the most fun part of Magic, but definitely a part of it.
Round 14 vs Aaron Nicastri
Aaron was having about as bad a day as I was, and we discussed trying to ID into t64. We were 56 and 57 in the standings, and thought that a draw would potentially knock us both out of t64. Sadly, it turned out that a draw would have been safe, so we basically played for no reason.
Game 1: Aaron’s deck was pretty good, so him starting 0-2 was surprising. He just railed me with t2 Welkin Tern, t3 Tern, t4 Kor Outfitter plus Welkin Tern. My draw wasn’t nearly fast enough to keep up with that, and I died promptly.
8-6, 66th place
This is about as disastrous as a tournament can go, but dealing with that is all part of playing Magic. I mean, going 1-5, not drawing into money, and dying on t4 in the final round is pretty rough, but luckily the next couple weeks are busy. I have Austin and Tampa to look forward to, which is good, since if this GP was the last event for awhile it would be much worse. As is, I have too much coming up to really dwell on it, although remembering what went wrong is pretty important. You can’t slip up at pretty much any point, and even if you are doing most things right, the thing you get wrong will kill your tournament. I still like UB in draft, and am even happy how I played most of the tournament, but sometimes there is very little margin for error, and this was one of those times.
Next week, Austin, and hopefully a better record! I still have another day in Australia, and I already ate kangaroo (tastes like steak), so now I’m off to meet up with my brothers and APL and his wife.