Every year, I make an effort to attend the Australian/New Zealand Grand Prix, for a few different reasons. The biggest is the relative size compared to every other GP, which is much smaller. The somewhat remote location generally holds the attendance to less than 450 or so, which is a far cry from the 1000+ that is typical of every other Grand Prix. Almost as appealing is how fun the far east GP is. New Zealand and Australia are awesome places to visit, and I’ve had a great time every time I’ve gone. I expected no different this time, and the generous offer extended by Aaron Nicastri made it sound even better. Aaron offered to host a bunch of players at his apartment by the Darling Harbor in Sydney, with Shuhei, Kazuya “Chief” Mitamura, Martin Juza, and PV already confirmed. After some thought, the Ocho and I decided to go, as did Brian Kibler.
Finding tickets was no easy task, and I think we spent probably around 4 hours each checking all of the usual websites for deals. The cheapest option ended up being booking a round trip from Los Angeles, then separately booking a round trip from SFO to LAX, which was actually kind of sweet. We decided to go a day early to LA, since we were promised drafts from dusk till dawn. My former sidekick on MTV, Mashi Scanlan, picked us up at the airport, and took us to this sweet Peruvian place. After he repeatedly told Kibler that we were “almost done” while we were still ordering our food, we had a filling meal of seafood fried rice (Peruvian style) and sauteed meat and veggies. An awesome start, to be sure.
We rolled into Devon Miller’s place fashionably late, and were suitably impressed by his awesome downtown apartment, complete with an impressive selection of food laid out by his girlfriend. Soon, we got down to drafting, with the following crew: Paul Reitzl, Gary Talim, Kenny “gui” Hsiung, Matt Sperling, Brian Kibler, Devon, Web, and myself, with Mashi and Dan Burdick also in attendance. Most of us were on zero to two drafts, with only Kibler having more than six under his belt.
I drafted three very similar decks in the first three, each time going some combination of blue, white, and red metalcraft. Spellbombs were crucial, as were Myr, which is pretty much what I expected. I also found a nice pet card in Furnace Celebration, since many metalcraft decks are just naturally set up to take advantage of it. I didn’t pick the Celebration until late pack three, but I already had Barrage Ogre, multiple Spellbombs, Trinket Mage, and a Ferrovore. Let’s just say good times were celebrated, and throwing Perilous Myr with Barrage Ogre and triggering Celebration is hard to beat.
We finally wrapped up the evening with a nice little Tempest-Stronghold-Exodus 2v2, and Devon and I took down Kenny and Reitzl. I forced UR control, as I tend to do in the format, and Devon had a nice WG beatdown deck. I know the format isn’t relevant, but it still sure is fun. We staggered out at around 6 am, with most of the attendees already passed out on various couches, and soon were asleep in Mashi’s nearby apartment. Before we left, Devon gave us each a good luck charm of sorts, though we weren’t allowed to see what it was. He stashed them in our various bags, and said it would ruin it if we saw it before the GP. I just went over to my bag right now and dug it out, and it turns out that it was a troy ounce of silver, in coin form. I guess it worked!
Those first few drafts were interesting, and were actually very useful. You learn so much from the first couple times you play, and with the three drafts at Devon’s I was up to five drafts total, which is enough to start thinking about the format. I mean, with a 16 hour plane ride on the horizon, what else was I going to do?
Cut to 18 hours of travel later (typing this does the ridiculously long flight no justice, but I guess that’s the advantage of reading about it), and we were in sunny Australia. After a slight delay due to an address confusion, we arrived at Aaron’s place. He also had a very impressive apartment, with a sick view of the Sydney Harbor. It easily fit all of us, and we were many indeed. Paulo hadn’t arrived yet, and Kibler was delayed by a day due to his nice Carlsbad->LAX->SFO->Australia itinerary, complete with a ton of connecting flights.
Of course, since we arrived at around 10 am, it took a while for everyone else to wake up. Soon, we had a draft, the first of many. The majority of our drafts were run as straight 8-mans, with all three rounds being played, random pairings and all. We then picked the rares in order, which really meant you had to make the finals to get a chance at a good one. All of the drafts pretty much had Web, myself, Shuhei, Kazuya, Martin, and Aaron, along with Kibler and PV once they arrived. The roster was filled out by various Australian Magic players (Oliver Oks, Justin Cheung, Garry Wong, among others), and the overall quality of the drafts were quite high. I probably did around 10-12 drafts myself, with another 10-15 happening over the week. I only won one of them, which wasn’t spectacular, but we all were learning a ton about the format. The biggest takeaway is that you really want to be metalcraft or poison, which wasn’t a huge surprise. Being an un-themed deck just cuts you off from a ton of powerful cards, and for no real benefit. Of course, I then immediately draft two un-themed decks at the Grand Prix, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
Here of course was when the catchphrase of the week was uttered. In one of the games, Aaron Yu (I believe) asked his opponent: “What’s your poison status?”. That phrase soon became the standard way to determine how many poison counters the opponent had, and “what’s your poison status?” could be heard in almost every draft. It even stretched to include other things, such as “what’s your hunger status?” and the like.
After four days of drafting, burdling, and cooking (Aaron has a really nice kitchen, so I went ahead and cooked a bunch of meals even), the Grand Prix was set to begin. We tried to make it to the zoo on Friday, but unsurprisingly got out the door too late, and didn’t have time to go. We settled for visiting the amazing Sydney Opera House instead, with Ray (blisterguy) leading us and taking pictures for the coverage.
On Saturday, we woke up around the usual time (Web, Martin, and myself had actually been rising at around 7-8 AM the whole week), and headed to the site. After a nice credit card game in the taxi (thanks, Martin!), it was time to build some sealeds.
Sealed With too Many Playables
Sealed in this format is hard. Like, really hard. I think it is tougher than draft, even. You have so many playables, and so many of them are colorless, so you can build almost any combination of colors. In normal sealed formats, you can usually pick your strongest color easily, and then narrow down the rest until you have a secondary color. In Scars, you don’t have that luxury. I re-built my deck almost every game, and no two games did I have the exact same combination.
A result of almost every color being playable means that you have no excuse not to play your best cards. I played black in every version of my sealed deck, despite the fact that I had 2 and a half playable black cards. They just happened to be Skinrender, Carnifex Demon, and Moriok Replica, and there was no way I was benching the two colored cards. If you have a ridiculous bomb, you will be able to play it, even if it means playing only a couple cards of that color. There are by far enough artifacts to make up for that.
It is also tough to really give too much advice about building sealeds, or even practicing them. Each sealed is unique, and no amount of practice sealeds will perfectly prepare you for the one you open at your next Grand Prix. I can explain the errors I made with mine, and what I did right, but there is no perfect formula.
The first deck I made, and the one I registered, was poison:
The combination of 4 two-drop evasive poison guys plus Trigon of Rage, Darksteel Axe, and Untamed Might was the main reason I built the deck this way, as well as the fact that infect in general takes advantage of Asceticism and Contagion Clasp quite well. The reason that it was a bad call was that every deck I played against just had too much removal. Trying to poison them out when they all are going to play pretty much all the removal they open is just a bad plan. After every game one, I switched decks, though at that point I had more information, so it wasn’t always to the same post-board configuration.
Here is the blue-black base I started with, and always switched to:
This was definitely a better build, and even had a ton of flexibility. By playing UB, I got to play all my powerful cards, and even though this was less aggressive and a little less focused than poison, it was much more powerful and resilient. The last 5 cards varied each match, and bring me to another important point.
Sideboarding is more important in this format than in almost any other sealed format to date. Ben Stark wrote an excellent article about sealed in general, and his emphasis on sideboarding is even more true in Scars. Because you can switch to basically any color, you really need to keep in mind what cards you see from your opponent, and sideboard accordingly. Here are the main three packages I used to fill out my UB deck:
This was the baseline, and came in most of the time. Arrest is the best removal spell possible, since it deals with the big artifact bombs and the colored ones, which is quite important. The Gold Myr was also the best fixing I had, as you will soon see.
Horizon Spellbomb is much worse than Gold Myr for off-color fixing, and Shatter is generally worse than Arrest. I boarded this package in when my opponent’s deck had good Shatter targets, was vulnerably to Arc Trail, and most importantly did not have any huge colored bombs that I would need Arrest to deal with.
This last one I never boarded into, though I definitely considered it. All of the decks I faced were powerful enough that I felt I needed the off-color removal. This is the weakest option, but definitely the most consistent, since it involves no off-color lands.
Round 4 vs Aaron Nicholl
My first round was a featured match, and the coverage can be found here.
I played Aaron at Worlds last year in Rome, and he was one of the two unlucky souls that I beat on day one. This time, we were playing in better circumstances.
This match wasn’t too complicated, and most of that was due to his draws. In game one, he mulled to five and didn’t play a second land until way too late, so I killed him with Carnifex Demon, showing him no poison guys.
I boarded into the UBw deck for game two.
In game two, I thought I was winning when I used Volition Reins to take his Trigon of Corruption, since all he had was Myrsmith and some tokens. Unfortunately, he then played Steel Hellkite, and I soon died to it. After seeing that he had both Myrsmith and Steel Hellkite as his big threats, as well as a black Trigon, I decided to board in the red plan instead. Shatter seemed pretty important.
Game three was pretty lopsided as well. I turbo’ed out an Argent Sphinx, while he wasn’t doing much of anything. At one point, he played a Bladed Pinions, his third artifact, then shipped the turn without equipping it to his only guy. I declined to attack into his obvious Dispense Justice, and just waited a turn until I had metalcraft for the Sphinx. At the end of the game, he still had the Dispense in hand. I don’t think he could have done much else, since I had two guys I was going to attack with, which meant he needed metalcraft for Dispense to be good, but it was just too easy to play around. He didn’t do much else that game, and afterwards showed me the Masticore that had been hiding in his deck.
Round 5 vs Martin Juza
It was pretty lame that Martin and I had to battle, especially this early, but what can you do? This match was also covered, here.
I ran pretty good this match, though it didn’t really kick in until game two. Game one was a massacre, as I snap kept this:
I would still keep it, but it just didn’t work out this time. I was even on the draw! I never drew green, and died to his random guys. I knew Martin had a foil Masticore (so lucky), and a good solid deck, so I boarded in the white plan. Arrest deals with Masticore, after all.
Game two was almost as bad as game one, and he was even casting spells. I just had the Grand Architect nut draw, and went off. Turn three Architect plus Myr into turn four Skinrender, turn five Sphinx plus more guys was just brutal.
Once again, we were off to game three. We both started with a mulligan, and I ended up with a decent hand. Again, I had turn three Skinrender, this time killing a Riddlesmith. He followed that up with a Neurok Invisimancer and a Masticore, which was trouble. The turn he played the ‘Core, I bashed with the Argent Sphinx I had played the previous turn, but couldn’t do much else besides play a Myr. I had a Lumengrid Drake and a Neurok Replica in hand, but not enough mana to really make use of them, and no metalcraft.
He ditched a guy and smashed for six, then killed my Sphinx with the Masticore. He didn’t play a land, which was good at least. I then drew a Gold Myr, and a plan formed. I tapped my five lands to play and use Neurok Replica on his Masticore, and smashed with Skinrender. I figured he would replay the Masticore, and if I just peeled a land, I could play Gold Myr and Lumengrid Drake, which would then bounce Masticore. Hopefully that would be enough pressure, and would at least give me some turns to draw something.
Things all fell into place, and not only did I draw the sixth land, I even peeled the Arrest a turn later, which pretty much sealed the game. I even drew the second Arrest the turn after the first, which actually killed him on the spot. I got pretty lucky to win that game, but at least I played into my outs.
Round 6 vs Yuuya Watanabe
This was also a featured match…or would have been, had I not been featured twice already. I’m kind of glad it wasn’t featured, since Yuuya just crushed me. His RW aggressive deck had Embersmith on turn two twice, and there was just no coming back from that. By blanking all my Myr, as well as a bunch of other guys, he got way too far ahead. Even though I was able to eventually kill the Smith, it set me back multiple turns at no cost to him, and that spelled doom. I even sided in the red, since Arc Trail and Shatter were both awesome against the RW equipment deck with a bunch of small guys. Myr are so important, and any card that kills them for free is just ridiculous.
Round 7 vs Justin Cheung
Ok, this was just getting ridiculous. I didn’t come to Australia to play a master every round, and that is exactly what happened. Every opponent I had played thus far had played in multiple Pro Tours, if not Pro Tour Top 8’s, and Justin happened to be a member of the Australian National Team that got second at Worlds in 2008, as well as winning a MOCS last year. At least my tiebreaks would be good!
Unfortunately for Justin, our games weren’t very interactive at all. I know I said in my Top 8 profile that I won zero games with poison, but while writing this I realized that I actually beat Justin with poison in game one. I had a draw involving double Plague Stinger and Darksteel Axe, and those combined with my two Arrests allowed me to easily outrace him.
I sided into UWB, since he was RG with some big dudes. Game two was equally short, as he played a turn six Wurmcoil Engine and I immediately peeled Volition Reins. What can I say, I was running good. It devoured him shortly.
Round 8 vs Matthew Rogers
Now this was a frustrating match. I thought game one was looking pretty good, as I had Contagion Clasp going and he was on a pretty short clock, but a few rares later and I was dead. I dealt with the Myr Battlesphere via Arrest, and had a few guys out to stop the 1/1’s, but he slammed a True Conviction down and I just died.
Game two was one of those games. You know, the games where you are dead the entire game, but just keep hanging in there by the skin of your teeth.
He started with t1 Darksteel Axe t2 Shikari, and I soon found myself at 4 life to his 36. I was forced to Volition Reins the Shikari, which isn’t exactly a power play, and it soon traded for a token with an Axe. The uphill battle began, and I was aided by a few key misplays on his part. First, he tried to Arc Trail a Myr Galvanizer and swing for lethal, but I just used Grand Architect to make it blue in response. He compounded his mistake by not attacking at all, which let my Galvanizer strap on the Arbalest that was keeping the Architect tapped, and just killing his guy for free. If he bashed, I would have been forced to trade.
The game wasn’t over yet, though I was clawing my way back into it. He played a Darksteel Juggernaut, which was a bit awkward, but I thought I had a solution. He smashed with his 5/3 guy and I put Neurok Replica into play. He sighed and passed, for some reason thinking my guy didn’t die. I of course told him to wait, and made the following sequence of plays. First, I Shattered his Tumble Magnet with zero counters, since it was the only non-indestructible artifact he had. Then, I used Architect to make the Relica a 2/5, which then lived through the assault. He then played another artifact and shipped the turn. If I was forced to chump with something that turn instead of having Replica survive, I would definitely have been dead. He then peeled Sunblast Angel (foil) and I countered it with Stoic Rebuttal. He actually tapped a guy with Tumble Magnet and then played Angel, which wasn’t the right order. He can play Angel, see if it resolves, and use Magnet in response to the trigger, as not to waste a charge counter if I stop the Angel.
I was about a turn away from winning when he slammed down True Conviction, and attacked with a 6/3 Juggernaut. I had already used my Neurok Replica, so I blocked with a Palladium Myr. He went to mark his life total up, but I stopped him. I once again used Shatter in an odd way, this time Shattering my own Myr to prevent him from gaining any life. I was able to kill him on my next attack, which concluded this ridiculous grind of a game. Winning a game like that is always a confidence booster, though it is annoying when you go to all that trouble and get crushed game three…
Game three also started out poorly, as he once again had Axe on turn one, though no Shikari this time. He did have a Sunchaser, but I peeled the Mountain to Arc Trail it to death. I smashed with everything and left UU up, ready to counter his Angel. He once again used Tumble Magnet first, and I had the counter for his foil Angel. I untapped, played Grand Architect, tapped it to play another guy, and bashed with everything. He was down to 9, and I had 4 guys in play to his none.
So what happened?
Sunblast Angel is what happened, non-foil this time. Not only did he peel the Angel (based on his reaction, that’s what it looked like), the Angel he played earlier in the game and the last game was the foil one, so I had no clue that he had two. I couldn’t have really played around it, since if I didn’t swing I would still lose to a 4/5, though I clearly could have minimized my losses somewhat. After getting my board Wrathed, I just died to the Angel, and ended day one with a sour taste in my mouth. Winning that absurd game two only to lose to double Angel was just the worst, and I was pretty miserable afterwards. I don’t mean to complain too much; after all, I obviously did well at the Grand Prix, but I still want to convey how the tournament felt while I was playing in it. I’m clearly happy now, but I sure wasn’t then.
Results were ok for the rest of the house, with our average record being exactly 6-2. Nicastri was 7-1, Web unfortunately finished 5-3, and the other six of us were 6-2. We had predicted either one or two of us in the Top 8, so we had some ground to cover on draft day.
Next time…how to draft poison and not poison anyone and a primer on the underutilized Moriok Reaver/Dross Hopper deck. I’ll actually leave you with a possible opening hand from my second draft deck before I go, in honor of Tim Aten (see, Tim likes to play this game with my draft decks where he pulls out the most ridiculous hand of land and spells possible):