Notes From the Coverage Booth: Houston and Detroit

Welcome to my Grand Prix Houston/Grand Prix Detroit tournament report! You may be wondering if it’s truly a tournament report if I didn’t play in either, but I was inspired to write one nonetheless. Plus, my last tournament report didn’t have tons of strategy, so why bother with the pretense? It’s a hassle to split up reports into the nominally strategic, found here on ChannelFireball, and the absolutely not strategic, posted on Facebook, so I’m skipping that step. I am afraid that some strategy will creep in, but I’ll be sure to keep it to a minimum.

On Coverage Prep

Marshall, Gaby, and I were going to be in the booth for both Houston and Detroit, so we started prep early. The majority of our first communications went roughly in this order:

• I start an email thread with thoughts.
• Gaby responds saying we should start a Skype group instead.
• I agree, then post more thoughts in the email thread.
• Marshall responds with his thoughts, also in the email thread.
• Gaby suggests a Google Hangout instead of Skype.
• Marshall stops responding, and relies entirely on texts.

We eventually figured things out, and I had ample time to playtest my jokes, which wasn’t itself a joke. I actually do tailor my commentary greatly, depending on who I’m working with. So many of the things I want to say are bizarre, confusing, or examples of really clever wordplay (I assume), and I need to know my co-commentator well enough to know how they will react. You don’t just run out the Jace ultimate line without knowing that Marshall will dismiss it rudely, and figuring out what I could get away with was very important for the upcoming weeks. Was Gaby going to go the route of William Jensen or Ben Stark and ignore/reject all my great jokes, or was she going to appreciate them for what they were?

In either case, I felt good about the upcoming back-to-back coverage weeks.

On the MOCS

Meanwhile, Paulo Vitor was staying with me for the two weeks before Houston. Besides eating dessert much more often than normal, we talked a little about Magic, and a lot about nonsense.

The day the most Standard got played was the monthly Magic Online Championship, and we even got Josh Utter-Leyton to come over. The plan was for all three of us to battle, and I’d stream. It was going to be great!


We each played different decks, with me on RG Ramp, PV on Esper Dragons, and Josh on Hardened Scales. After the MOCS, Josh said “Well, Hardened Scales seems awful.”

A week later, I was asking on Twitter for Abzan Falconers, as every single person in the world was playing Hardened Scales, and none of them had brought Abzan Falconers.

On Jace Ultimates

Not even one?

On Playing the Best Deck

One lesson from these last two weekends: when there is clearly a best deck, you should play it. Sometimes there isn’t a best deck, and you have a lot of options. Sometimes Reflector Mage or Eye of Ugin are legal, and you should put them into your deck.

We had a falcon’s-eye view of Owen running the tables (and streets) on his way to a fourth GP title, and Reflector Mage made so many of his opponent’s cards look like a joke. I also found it especially funny how the Hardened Scales deck spread (and “Hardened Scales” does sound like a very unfortunate disease). Owen went into it in his article, which you can take a look at here.

On Detroit

That brings us to the Motor City, where all signs pointed to an Eldrazi-filled weekend. Most people I knew were on Blue/White Eldrazi, a deck that was likely to do well for itself over the course of the event.

On Sam Black 7000

There were two Samuel Blacks in the tournament, and the scorekeeper’s solution was to put one of their DCI numbers at the end of their name in order to differentiate them. Thus, we got Sam Black 7000.

I can’t think of a better person to get the -7000 designation. It certainly made my weekend better.

On Ben Rubin

Ben Rubin is always someone you can count on to bring a spicy deck. He recently got 2nd at Grand Prix Oakland with a 64-card Standard deck, and I was told by none other than Kai that Ben had a very unique deck for Detroit. I immediately requested that we feature Ben in round 4, and told Gaby how lucky we were to see Ben’s brew in action. As it turned out, Gaby had a well-prepared sheet of every card she expected to see, and Ben had a large number of cards not on that list. Death glares ensued—apparently, this was not the way the day was supposed to start.

Ben’s deck included:

1 Mishra’s Bauble
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Molten Rain
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Mana Tithe (Full art, of course)
2 Chained to the Rocks
2 Forked Bolt
(And much more)

On Escape Rooms

We went through the Thraben Chapel escape room experience at the GP, and it was great. I’d highly recommend checking out escape rooms in general, and I bet you can find one near you. They are really fun and a fantastic way to spend time with friends while challenging yourself to think and solve puzzles. Plus, if you go with a big enough group, you can alternate doing the same room and mercilessly mock the other group if they can’t solve it.

On Lantern Control

PV chose to play Lantern Control in the tournament, which led to two firsts:

  1. We switched off of game 3 of our main match while there were still many turns left. Coverage never leaves the main match, but in this case, I made the call. PV had the game locked up, the bells were tolling for his opponent, and we didn’t need to watch the grim remnants.
  2. PV played in a way that slightly lowered his win % in order to finish his match. Technically, when you have the Lantern of Insight + Ghoulcaller’s Bell lock, you shouldn’t mill them when they have a blank on top, but PV was just going HAM every game. I don’t think he did so without thinking about it, and he maybe made a game that was 100% go to 99.99%, but I sure appreciated it.

On Discarding Turn One

David Ochoa found himself paired against Living End late in the tournament while he was on Blue/White Eldrazi. He determined that the optimal strategy was to discard on turn 1, on the draw. By discarding something like a Drowner of Hope and an Eldrazi Displacer, he made future Living Ends very weak and completely got around the opposing deck’s strategy. Granted, Faerie Macabre was an out for the opponent, but this was still a very creative (and smart) way to defeat a bad matchup. Looking for things like that can really help you increase your win percentage.

On Burritos and Their Division

One of the people who is a mod on a bunch of Magic Twitch channels is named squirrel_loot, and he very kindly brought us sustenance over the course of the weekend. He was even nice enough to procure burritos, and as such, he brought me a burrito, Marshall a burrito, Gaby half a burrito, and me another half of a burrito.

On the Demanding Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall specifically requested a King-sized bed and made me sleep on the couch in our room. I slept poorly and was sore all weekend.

On Not Going For It

Game 3 of Ben Friedman versus Eduardo Sajgalik was the best game I watched.

The really interesting part of this game is that Ben Friedman has a Chord of Calling that can get the last piece of the Viscera Seer/Melira/Kitchen Finks combo, but he declines to do so for many turns. He had a very valid reason to do that—Eduardo was short on mana the entire game and was representing Dismember. By keeping the Chord in hand, Ben forces Eduardo to keep mana up, and there’s nothing Eduardo can do to kill Ben in one turn, so worse comes to worst Ben can just go for it.

Until Eduardo plays Training Grounds.

All of a sudden, Eduardo has a win that can get through infinite life, which is Eldrazi Displacer + Drowner of Hope for infinite Scions and Thought-Knot Seer + Displacer to deck Ben. Not knowing that Eduardo had a one-shot win made Ben’s play much riskier, and it ended up not working out.

I liked Ben waiting on the combo, because the presence of Training Grounds was very unlikely. Against a normal UW Eldrazi list, his play made a lot of sense, and it’s unfortunate for Ben that this didn’t work out. He could have played his Path to Exile differently and hit Displacer over Thought-Knot, but that’s a different discussion.

On Voice of Resurgence

For whatever reason, I kept wanting Evan Buchholz to cast Path to Exile during his opponent’s turn, despite the presence of Voice in play. Gaby correctly surmised that I wasn’t trolling (for once), and managed to point out why he shouldn’t do that multiple times. In my defense, Voice hasn’t been cast in Modern much since Birthing Pod left the building.

On Prop Bets

Marshall took me for a nice sum of money when betting on our prowess at shooting wadded-up balls of duct tape at garbage cans. Look, we get a little punchy at the end of a long weekend, and I’m pretty sure I just ran bad.

On Bonesaw

On the Finish Line

This brings my stint of GP coverage to an end. I actually find myself with a decent amount of Pro Points this season thanks to everyone’s favorite gang of Eldrazi, and I should probably play in some GPs. Coverage was a ton of fun, and I enjoyed being in the booth with people who tolerate, if not get, the things I find funny. I also have to give credit to Gaby for doing an amazing job for her first couple turns in the booth, and to Marshall for performing adequately. He definitely met expectations.

In an ideal world, I do well enough in the next Pro Tour that I can do more coverage this year, as I really enjoy both. Either way, I’ve liked writing about my experiences, and will likely be producing more of these nonsense-filled reports this year. I do enough strategy elsewhere that a light sprinkling will suffice here, and it’s refreshing to write about whatever comes to mind. Here’s hoping that GP DC goes well, and that Ben S. provides at least one notable quote for me (I’ll settle for EFro providing a large bounty of wins as usual).


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