After the conclusion of Pro Tour M15, the next thing to look forward to was Grand Prix Portland. It was going to be a Team Limited Grand Prix, which made me especially excited for it. Since it was only a few days between the Pro Tour and Grand Prix, many Magic players decided to just to spend the week in Portland rather than fly home and then back again. Reid, Owen, and I spent much of the week practicing Team Sealed deck and hanging out with Matt Costa, Shahar Shenhar, Jamie Parke, Jelger Wiegersma, Andrew Cuneo, Jacob Wilson, and Nathan Holiday. As usual, I found our preparation to be exceptionally valuable. I think we made a lot of mistakes in our initial cracks at M15 Team Sealed, and that we were able to learn from those mistakes and do better because of them.
Soon enough, the week of hanging out had come to a close and it was time to get down to business. On Friday evening, Owen, Reid, and I gave a seminar on Team Sealed:
After the seminar, a group of us went out to a rather nice dinner at a restaurant called Imperial, then went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep for the tournament.
After registering the packs we opened and getting ready to pass, the team across from us started talking about how lucky we were going to be to get their pools. Of course, there was no guarantee that we’d necessarily agree on what would constitute an exceptional pool, and also there was no guarantee that the pass was only going to be across to the other team at the table. Well, luckily for us, the pass was at the same table, and the pool was, in fact, exceptional.
The white was absolutely outrageous. Owen ended up playing more or less mono-white including three copies of Triplicate Spirits, Avacyn, Guardian Angel, and Spirit Bonds. His deck is probably the best Sealed Deck I saw all weekend from any team.
The black was great as well. Reid ended up with more or less mono-black, splashing for a Nightfire Giant. Reid’s deck featured Ob Nixilis, the Unshackled, Indulgent Tormentor, Soul of Innistrad, and a nice suite of black removal. The green was weak enough that we decided it was virtually unplayable. Reid took the green cards for his sideboard, and actually sideboarded green a fair amount, largely on the back of multiple copies of Netcaster Spider in matchups where the reach was very important.
I played a blue/red deck. Here is the list :
My deck had some big things going for it, most notably Soul of Shandalar. Also it had a good removal suite with two copies of Heat Ray and a copy of Lightning Strike. The deck had some nice early aggressive plays and a Dissipate, which is one of the best answers to bombs in a blue/red deck. But, the deck had some flaws. It wasn’t quite focused enough. A lot of the cards wanted to be aggressive, and others wanted to be controlling. Luckily, my high end was powerful enough that I knew I’d have a chance to win every game. The average power level of my cards was high, and I was happy with the deck overall. I had reasonable sideboard options, particularly against green decks where the aggressive red creatures weren’t that good. Often I’d find myself sideboarding out a Mountain, the Frenzied Goblin, and the two copies of Altac Bloodseeker in favor of an Island, Wall of Frost, and two copies of Encrust. I also had a Negate in the sideboard which proved very valuable, as it provided me with another answer to Triplicate Spirits which could be a problem for my deck.
The deck played about as I expected it would. I won the games where I cast Soul of Shandalar, I won a lot of games where I drew lots of aggressive creatures and removal. I lost a few games to bombs when I didn’t draw Dissipate, and I lost a few games to Triplicate Spirits. The play that I remember most on Day 1 was in Round 7, Game 3 against Tom Huteson. Tom’s team and my team were both 6-0 at this point, and Owen had already won his match. I had a decision to make. I was slightly ahead on the board, and Tom had just played his 5th land, and had an Elvish Mystic in play. I had Dissipate in my hand, and Nimbus of the Isles as my only viable play. I had Dissipated Hornet Queen in game one, and lost to it in game 2. On my 5th turn I basically had to decide whether to cast Nimbus and lose to Hornet Queen if Tom had it and another land to cast it, or to leave Dissipate up for the rest of the game and use Rummaging Goblin to find lands and cheap spells that I could cast while leaving Dissipate up. Owen and I decided to cast the Nimbus, but Tom had the land and the Hornet Queen and I promptly lost. Reid ended up winning his match, though, so we moved on to 7-0.
We ended up splitting the last two round to finish the day at 8-1. Our pools were great, so we were really hoping for the undefeated Day 1, especially after starting 7-0, but 8-1 is certainly nothing to complain about.
Our Day 2 decks were pretty good. Not as good as our Day 1 decks, but obviously that was unlikely. Owen played a white/green convoke deck, Reid played mono-black with two copies of Nightfire Giant and blue cards in his sideboard, and I played mono-red touching some green for Kird Chieftain. Here is my Day 2 deck:
No Soul of Shandalar this time around, but overall I think this is a much stronger deck than my Day 1 deck. It has a much more focused plan—to be very aggressive and burn the opponent out. The top-end cards; Cone of Flame, Stoke the Flames, Lightning Strike, Kird Chieftain, and Scuttling Doom Engine are all great premium cards. The deck has a lot of synergy with the two copies of Scrapyard Mongrel being enhanced by Scuttling Doom Engine, two copies of Bronze Sable, Juggernaut, and an easy to play Darksteel Citadel, since the deck is more or less one color. The two copies of Generator Servant are particularly strong with Scuttling Doom Engine since if the opponent ever taps out, a hasted Scuttling Doom Engine can hit for 6 damage, and often, even if the opponent has a removal spell, they won’t be able to afford the subsequent 6 damage hit.
After starting off the day at 3-1, including a loss in round 11 to the then still undefeated team of Ben Yu, Jameson Painter, and Matthew Katz, and we’d have to play the final around against a team comprised of Sam Black, Gaudenis Vidugiris, and Matt Severa in which the winning team would move on to the Top 4 draft. Sam and Gaudenis are teammates of ours on the Pantheon, but we weren’t familiar with Matt. Matt was the B player, so he would be my opponent. After splitting the first two games, there was an interesting situation that came up in Game 3. I had a Scuttling Doom Engine in play, and nothing else. Matt had a brief discussion on his turn with Gaudenis that went something like:
Matt: “I guess I just pass.”
Gau: “Play that card”
Matt: “It literally doesn’t do anything”
Gau: “It blocks.”
Matt: “No, it doesn’t”
So, because Matt had a creature that he could have played and chose not to, I was able to deduce he had Forge Devil in his hand. I then used that information to not play an Inferno Fist, but instead a Bronze Sable, so that he would Forge Devil it, and I’d increase the clock on his life total by a full turn. Certainly it was no insane play that won me the game or anything, it very likely didn’t matter, but it could have, and a good lesson about being very careful about what you say to your teammates in ear shot of your opponents.
Reid also won his match against Gau and we were going to be on to the draft!
I was very happy to hear that the team of Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Eric Froehlich had won their match and would also be advancing to the Top 4. All of them are good friends of mine, and I’m super happy for Paul getting back on the Pro Tour. I was particularly happy for him, as it obviously meant so much to him. I was very unhappy to hear that of the three possible teams we’d have to play in the first round, it would be against that team. I would’ve rather saved it until the finals, but was still looking forward to the match.
The Top 4 Draft
I started out with a Triplicate Spirits, which is easily the best common in M15. I followed it up with an Oreskos Swiftclaw out of a weak pack, and then a Selfless Cathar out of another weak pack. I found this draft particularly difficult to read, largely because the first set of packs just didn’t have very many good cards, of any color really. I thought there was a decent chance that EFro who was passing to me was white, but it didn’t really matter, there just wasn’t much to move in to. I anticipated Paul to my left was black, but wasn’t sure of his other color, since, like I said, I wasn’t passing much of anything. In pack two, I picked up an early Chasm Skulker, as well as some more white creatures, including Geist of the Moors, but again I felt the packs weren’t particularly strong. For the rest of packs two and three, there weren’t any particularly interesting picks. I picked up cards for my deck when I could, and hate drafted when appropriate. Here’s what I ended up with:
I would be playing against Luis Scott-Vargas.
I was on the draw and had to take a mulligan. Luis was playing a very aggressive R/G deck, and I was unable to really muster much of a defense, never mind an offense of my own in game one. He made very quick work of me, and I’d have to win two in a row.
Game two was a bit closer. Luis and I traded a couple creatures early on. There was a crucial turn where I made an attack with a Geist of the Moors with Divine Favor, Kinsbaile Skirmisher, and Midnight Guard. Luis had two creatures: Paragon of Fierce Defiance and a Netcaster Spider. He blocked my Geist with the Spider, as expected, but also my Midnight Guard with his Paragon and played Crowd’s Favor. This left me with just a Kinsbaile Skirmisher, and Luis with the Paragon, but only at 8 life. At the end of Luis’s next turn I played Hushwing Gryff. I drew Ephemeral Shields for my turn, which was crucial, since I was able to stop my Gryff from being destroyed with it. On the following turn I drew a fifth land to cast my Nimbus of the Isles and there was nothing Luis could do to stop my flying army.
In game three I opted to keep a one-land hand on the draw. My hand was something like: Island, Chasm Skulker, Pillar of Light, Oreskos Swiftclaw, Preeminent Captain, Into the Void, Kinsbaile Skirmisher. I basically asked my teammates for permission to keep my hand. I felt like if I drew land, that I’d win the game. I felt like the hand was good, the curve was good, and the two-drops, Chasm Skulker, and Preeminent Captain in particular were super strong in the matchup. My teammates and I decided to keep the hand, and after bricking in my first draw step, I was able to roll off three Plains in a row, and win the game very easily on the back of Chasm Skulker. As every interaction with him is, my match with Luis was a real pleasure. We joke with each other a lot, but Luis is truly the epitome of class and sportsmanship.
Owen lost his match to Efro, but Reid won a crucial game three against Paul, and we’d be on to the finals!
The Final Draft
My first pack was quite interesting. The most notable cards were: Stoke the Flames, Stab Wound, Flesh to Dust, Covenant of Blood, Sunblade Elf. This meant that a lot of people at the table were going to be put into black. I was going to take Stoke the Flames, the player to my left, Eric, would take Stab Wound, and then Reid to his left would very likely take Flesh to Dust. This is unfortunate, as you don’t want to put your teammate in this sort of position. Unfortunately, if I take Stab Wound, Eric will probably take Stoke the Flames anyways, and it could create a problem with Reid and I fighting over black. Also, at least if Ben, to Reid’s left, ends up taking Covenant of Blood, then maybe he’ll be in black to Reid’s left. So I took Stoke the Flames and knew that I would likely have to cut black from Eric whenever I could.
The pack I was passed was interesting. It contained Lightning Strike and no other premium cards. There was an uncommon missing. I was quite worried that Josiah had taken Cone of Flame, and passed a Lightning Strike, but certainly there are other cards it could possibly be. Given that there were no other great cards, and I first-picked a red card, I took the Lightning Strike anyway. I didn’t see too much red after the first few picks, except I had passed a Borderland Marauder or two, and since they are sort of a middling card, I thought it was possible that they made it to Owen and he was in red two to my right. Still, it was likely and more probable that Josiah was red on my immediate right. So after one pack, I had a somewhat even mix of red, blue, and white cards.
In pack two, I had what I feel is the most difficult draft decision that I’ve had in a long time. I opened a pack with Cone of Flame and Soul of New Phyrexia. Cone of Flame is definitely the better card, but it’s more complicated than that. If I take Cone of Flame, I know with 100% certainty that Josiah to my right is getting a very good card for his deck. If I take Soul of New Phyrexia, I am only maybe 80% sure that Josiah is getting a very good card for his deck in Cone of Flame. If Josiah is not red, and I take Cone of Flame, it’s a complete disaster. If he is red, which I do think he is likely to be, like I said, it’s not quite as bad to give him a slightly better card as it would be to give him a great card over nothing. I thought about this pick for a while. I also realized that Josiah’s opponent would be Reid. Reid has a tendency to play very slow black control decks. Given that I would bet that Reid had third picked a black removal spell in the first pick, I thought that in this specific instance, Soul of New Phyrexia was likely to be very good in the matchup. After thinking for what seemed like a couple minutes, I chose Soul of New Phyrexia. I am still not 100% sure it was the right pick, although in the end, Josiah was in fact red, however, Cone of Flame was not particularly good against Reid, and Soul of New Phyrexia would have been great. I did vow, when I took the Soul and passed the Cone, that I wouldn’t pass a single additional good red card to me right, and I was committed to playing red in my deck.
Nothing else too exciting happened in the rest of the draft, other than when I opened Ob Nixilis, Unshackled in pack three, and opted to take it rather than pass it to Eric, since I was fairly sure that it would make his deck if I passed it.
Here was my deck:
I’d be playing against Ben Weitz.
In game one I got off to an excessively slow start. The only creature I played before turn 6 was a Rummaging Goblin. Ben was able to put a few small white creatures into play as well as a Paragon of New Dawns. I played Soul of New Phyrexia on my sixth turn, despite knowing that Ben was going to be able to play an Oppressive Rays on it, which he had just searched up with Heliod’s Pilgrim. I opted to chump block with my Rummaging Goblin in order to play around Sanctified Charge, which it turns out Ben did actually have. Unfortunately over the next couple turns Ben drew a Sunblade Elf and a Raise the Alarm, which was enough to push through the defenses I had mustered and close me out.
Game two went much better for me. I got off to a much better start, drew some of my removal and was able to keep control of the board. This time, when Soul of New Phyrexia got into play, Ben answered with Avacyn. Luckily, Avacyn can’t prevent colorless damage, and the Soul of New Phyrexia in combination with Amphin Pathmage was able to finish Ben off before Avacyn became too big of a problem.
Game three was another game that really wasn’t very close. Ben curved out perfectly and I was a bit choked on mana, and drew too many Quicklings. I was able to get Rogue’s Gloves online, basically out of necessity, but had already fallen too far behind. On the last turn I was able to attack with a Rogue’s Glove equipped Welkin Tern, and if I drew a land, be mathematically still in the game, but I didn’t, and Ben made really easy work of me in game 3.
Our game ended just in time for me to see the final turns of Owen’s third game…. It turns out that one of the many great things about having the two best Magic players in the world as teammates is that sometimes you lose the finals of a Team Grand Prix, and still go home with a trophy. I really couldn’t be prouder of our performance over the weekend. I am elated to have won a team Grand Prix with these guys, and I can’t wait to try to win another one.
This weekend, I’m going to the World Magic Cup Qualifier in Oakland, California. I haven’t settled on a deck yet, but I’ve narrowed it down to a couple contenders. It looks like its shaping up to be a really fun weekend presented and covered by ChannelFireball, including the WMCQ on Saturday and a PTQ on Sunday. Owen is the captain of the U.S. team, so it would be especially cool to get on the team this year and join him in the World Magic Cup. #PGO4USA?