I’d been waiting for GP São Paulo since it was first announced. Not only was it a Brazilian GP, the only chance I have to see many of my friends, it was also a team GP—the best format in Magic. The fact that this was a teams tournament meant a lot of players came back from retirement to play with their friends, and I got to see people I hadn’t seen since the days we had Nationals, which was pretty cool. I understand why they got rid of it, but killing Nationals really did a number on Brazilian Magic. It used to be the event where everyone got together, it used to be super fun, and instead we have WMCQs that aren’t exciting at all and don’t gather nearly as many people. With GP São Paulo, it felt like Nationals all over again.
Originally, my team was going to be myself, Willy, and Carlos. It soon became clear, however, that Carlos couldn’t commit as much as Willy and I would. He hadn’t gone to any events in a long time and probably didn’t know what most of the cards did. Since both Willy and I needed Pro Points and this was almost the last event of the season, Carlos agreed to step back so we could team with someone else. That worked perfectly because one of our friends, Pedro, had to step back from his own team to take the Bar exam, which was on the same day as the GP. With their team then disbanded, we snatched up Allison Abe. I really like Allison and I think he is very good, so I was happy to play with him and I thought our team was very strong.
I arrived in São Paulo on Thursday with the intention of going to Willy’s new store, Bazar de Bagdá. He’d be holding a practice Team Sealed tournament and we’d be doing some coaching and explain the format to whoever wanted it, since it was probably the first time most people in the tournament played a team event. That turned out to be pretty cool, and it also helped me practice a little since I got to see several pools and to try to build them in my head. Other than talking about how Team Sealed would work at the GP, we also gave some opinions on the format as a whole:
• It’s generally better to build three balanced decks than two very good decks and one very bad deck. I think this is the case because it’s easier for a good deck to beat a great deck than for a bad deck to beat a good deck.
• If you do have a deck that is much worse, do not give it to your best player. You might be tempted to “even things out,” but at that point it’s just a waste of talent.
• Do not, at any point, yell at your teammate for something he did wrong. He clearly wants to win as much as you do, he obviously did not mess up on purpose, and yelling at him will not be good for anything. In a team tournament, you win or lose as a team. Some people are more worried about assigning blame than winning—they care way less about losing if everyone around knows it was not “their fault.” Don’t be this person.
• In this format specifically, I think colors break down as follows:
• White is a main color. Almost every pool will have a heavy-white deck, and the white cards complement each other well.
• Black is also a main color. The black cards are color-intensive, which makes it hard to play it in a regular two-color deck. There’s also some black devotion going on, which means they’re better with each other. The black cards seem very hit or miss to me, so it’s possible that you will just not have a black deck.
• Green is the deepest color in the format, which means you will either have a massive green deck or two green decks. The fact that it has many cards and it lends itself to two different strategies (heroic/dudes) means it’s a good color to split. I would find it almost impossible for a pool to not have a base-green deck.
• Red is a little like black in the sense that you will either have a heavy-red deck or very little red. Red cards cost a lot of specific mana and they are all very aggressive, so they go well with each other. The difference is that red has some good removal spells that you might splash, and it also matches well with white, even if I don’t like this kind of deck as a whole.
• Blue is the support color of the format. You will almost never have a base-blue deck because its best cards are much better than its worse cards. Bounce is very important in this format, and evasion to a lesser extent, but you don’t necessarily want all your bounce in the same deck. If you have, say, six cards between bounce and Sudden Storm, you are not going to play all six. For this reason, blue is the best color to split, it’s much better to have two decks with three bounce each than one with all of them.
On Friday, we went to the event to register and play a Team Sealed of our own. It quickly became apparent that this tournament was going to be much better, from a logistics point of view, than any previous Brazilian GP. The venue was nice and the side events were running very smoothly. We opened a pretty broken Sealed deck which culminated with Willy playing almost mono-red aggro, Allison playing UW with Prognostic Sphinx and Dictate of Heliod, and myself playing BG with Polukranos, Arbor Colossus, and Setessan Tactics, among others. This would continue to be our main trend in the tournament. I’d play our green deck, Willy would play our beatdown deck, and Allison would play our tempo-oriented control deck. We quickly 3-0’d the event and got the box and VIP ticket we were playing for, and I hoped for a pool as good as that one in the actual GP.
On Saturday, after waking up at an ungodly hour due to being very far from the site, we arrived at the GP without many complications. The tournament organizers actually provided a free shuttle from the metro station to the venue, which was very awesome. It was also announced that the tournament would be eight rounds on Day 1 and five rounds on Day 2, which was very weird. In almost 20 years of Magic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a GP Day 2 have 5 rounds. Sure, there were less players (315 teams), but that’s supposed to be a good thing! Less teams means you can afford more losses, and therefore reduce some of the variance. If you cut a round because there are less teams (and it’s not that many less) then you go back to only being able to lose twice. I think a 400-team GP would have 9+6 rounds, so it seems weird to me to have 8+5, which is two less, but I’m sure that was not their decision, so whatever.
The tournament started without big delays and we were seated to receive our pools. After we got them, we were moved to a separate table because coverage wanted to feature us.
At this point, we were told to verify the contents of our pool. We had 20 minutes to do that, and we did so. Then, came the deck swap—except it didn’t. Everyone in the tournament got to swap their decks, but we didn’t because we were on a separate table. This put is in a very awkward position, and people were already accusing us of being sketchy. It makes no sense that one team doesn’t get to swap and that is only decided after they see their pool, after all. The way I see it, this gives us two possible conclusions: either our pool is very good, and people are going to think we cheated or the judges cheated to help us (and don’t tell me they won’t—they were already accusing us without even looking at our pool. To this day I get random people yelling at me because I was 9th place when a guy got DQ’d in Paris), or our pool is going to be bad and people won’t suspect anything. So, basically, it’s a scenario in which we cannot win.
It turned out to be option number 2. Our pool was bad. We weren’t cheating, then, I suppose.
The biggest problem with our pool was that black was just abysmal. It had a King Macar, which is great, but nothing else to go with it, and it didn’t complement any color. Blue had a horrible curve and would likely need to be paired with white just so it would have a two-drop that was not Vaporkin, and red had a lot of cards but was very weak. Green, on the other hand, was pretty decent and by far our best deck. This is what I played:
This deck was very good, though it had some flaws. It didn’t have the easiest time in the world against blue, since it was weak to fliers and bounce spells stop Hopeful Eidolon. I couldn’t imagine losing to a deck that didn’t feature either blue or black, though, as I figured my creatures would just be better than theirs all the time.
Willy’s deck was mono-red splashing for two green bestow guys, which I did not need, and Allison’s was UW. Both their decks were significantly below average and every iteration of them we played against was much stronger than our own builds.
Round 1 we get the King of the Hill feature match, and it comes down to Allison’s game three. We get into a scenario where he can either play for the very likely kill but loses to a topdecked Bolt, or he can play it safe and be ahead on board—he’d still win if both players bricked, but he would lose if his opponent drew a creature and he didn’t (but not Bolt). He chose to go for the kill and sure enough his opponent topdecked the Bolt, and we were off to an 0-1 start.
The next couple matches were not very eventful, and we manage to win most of our rounds without dropping matches. By round 5, Allison wins his match, I’m going to game three, and Willy is in his game three. Here’s the situation:
Willy is at 10 life and has a 6/4 Purphoros’s Emissary (via Nyxborn Wolf). His opponent is at 14 life and has a 5-power flier. Willy’s hand is Spirespine and an Anvilwrought Raptor that he boarded in. Willy wants to cast the bestow guy to put his opponent at 4, but I stop him and say that play loses to Portent of Betrayal, so I like playing the 2/1 flier better, since his clock doesn’t change. He does that and then his opponent has Fated Conflagration to win the game, whereas we would have won if he had just bestowed the guy originally.
I still don’t know which play was correct, but I’m inclined to think his play was better. It loses to Threaten, but it also beats Rage of Purphoros, which is a common. Granted, it’s not a good card and I would expect people to play Portent of Betrayal more than Rage in their aggro decks, but Willy was playing mono-red and there is a decent chance the guy sided the card out even if he does have it. Regardless of which play was correct, though, we lost that game because of what I said, which made me feel pretty bad. Then my game three started and I had pretty bad draws which, coupled with Silence the Believers, meant we couldn’t afford another loss.
We won our next match and then played the final round for Day 2. Willy won his match, and Allison lost to a superior version of his own deck, so it was on me again. My opponent was playing an excellent RB deck that seemed very good against me. He had the 2/3 Deathtouch Minotaur, a bunch of other Minotaurs, some removal, an Agent of the Fates, ways to target it, Stormbreath Dragon, and a Mogis. Game one I had a good draw, but he killed all my creatures and I could never get past his deathtouch dudes.
Game two I was really behind. I had an Arbor Colossus that was monstroused, but he played the deathtouch Minotaur again and I had to stay back. Then he played Stormbreath Dragon and enchanted it with Cavern Lampad, putting me on a three-turn clock. I found some convoluted sequence of plays that included bestowing the right guys and sacrificing a lot of my dudes to Scourge of Skola Vale, which resulted in attacking for exactly the kill if he did not draw a creature in the last turn. He didn’t, and I won. I was very proud of how I played this game because it required identifying exactly what I had to do three turns before I actually had to do it—the moment he bestowed that Dragon, I had to find a plan to kill him and I did.
Game three, on the other hand, was a disaster. We were both stuck on four lands and whoever hit the fifth first would likely win. I attacked my 3/3 into his 3/3 and gave it +1/+1, but he had Coordinated Assault. Then I had the choice between playing Nessian Courser or the 3/1 heroic that taps, and I played the 3/1, only for it to get promptly Eye Gouged. Eventually he found his fifth land, and so did I, but my Raised by Wolves wasn’t as good as his Dragon. We got to a point where I had two turns to draw Arbor Colossus or Hopeful Eidolon. My first draw was Nessian Game Warden—at this point I’m really liking my odds. I see four cards: Forest, Forest, Plains, Voyaging Satyr. I take the Satyr and pass. He attacks me down to 3 and I know the entire tournament, for myself and two people I like, is going to come down to this draw step. I draw… Hopeful Eidolon! I attack for a bunch, gain a lot of life, and he ends up dead the following turn. Phew!
On Day 2, we get seated like everyone else. Then judges go around with deck boxes distributing them to each team, except that all those pools are preregistered and all the boxes are numbered. A judge gives us a deck at random, at which point another judge stops him and says “No, theirs is box number 25”—he then swaps the box we were given with the one with the number 25 on it.
We are not really comfortable with that, because it creates the same issue we had before—if our pool is insane, then people are going to think something shady is going on. There’s absolutely no reason why we must have exactly pool 25, so we tell the judge we want a random pool. He calls the head judge who refuses and says each team is preassigned a pool because they have all the deck lists numbered already. We argue that those things have nothing to do with each other, and it’s simple to give each team a box face down and then just write down who got each numbered pool—they need not be pre-assigned. That is before we ever see the pool, mind you, so we are arguing because we really think this is wrong on a fundamental level, and not because “this pool is bad and we want another one.” All our arguments fail, however, and we’re stuck with pool 25.
Pool 25 turns out to be bad—really bad. I guess no one is going to think we cheated again. We have triplets of every bad common in the set: Necrobite, Revoke Existence, Grisly Transformation, Aspect of Hydra (with very bad green). Our best card is likely Hypnotic Siren, and the second best card is Phalanx Leader. Of the premium commons, we have very few. No Lightning Strike or Fall of the Hammer, no Voyaging Satyr or Golden Hind, no Voyage’s End, one Gray Merchant that we almost ended up not using, no Asphyxiate or Spiteful Blow, basically no way to deal with any permanent.
At this point, we are kinda unhappy. Obviously there would be no way of knowing the pool was bad, and theoretically random is still random, so we could have switched a good pool into this, but, had the judges made the (in my opinion very reasonable—in fact almost mandatory) choice of actually randomizing the pools, we would probably have had much better decks. The whole “no, theirs is 25” episode, and the fact that we complained before we saw the pool, were denied, and it turned out horrible, left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths.
After staring at our pool for 20 minutes, we come up with a plan. We’re going to build UG, because this is the only color combination that supports both of those colors, and we’re going to build BW because we have Triad of Fates and two of the 3/3 flying vigilance regenerate. The next deck will be either red/white or red/black.
If we build red/white, the BW deck will play black’s two-drops. The BW deck will be worse, but the RW deck will be better. If we play RB, they will be closer in power level. We decide that we’re dealing with something like a “7.5” and a “5.5” versus a 6.5 and a 6, so we go with option number one and build the best deck we possibly can (RW).
This was my deck:
At first, I thought it was below average. The main issue with it was that the curve wasn’t great—it had no acceleration, which is necessary in a blue/green deck, and no real two-drops to block. Then I played a match and it seemed much better. Then I started playing versus rares and/or aggressive starts and couldn’t really win, though I do think it turned out better than we first imagined. I also think that the pools we played against on Day 2 were overall much stronger than the ones we played against on Day 1, which might give us a skewed perspective of how bad our decks were.
Our first match was interesting; it’s game three, and my board is the Prescient Chimera (tapped), War-Wing Siren, a 100/100 Heroes’ Bane and a chump blocker. My opponent is at 4, and he has a flying Harpy and a bunch of big attackers. My card in hand is Retraction Helix. My opponent attacks with four guys, any two of which kill me. So I have to chump block one, eat another with Heroes’ Bane, and then deal with a second somehow—either by blocking or by bouncing it. If I block with the War-Wing Siren, I need to bounce his Harpy and draw a pump spell to win. If I bounce it with the Helix, then I need to draw another removal for the Harpy so I can attack for 4.
The solution here is pretty simple—you play Retraction Helix on Heroes’ Bane before blockers. That way, you scry (because of the Chimera) and then see if you are going to draw a pump or a bounce. If you get one of those, your decision is automatic. If not, then you need to count how many of each you have in your deck. It’s very important, however, to target the Heroes’ Bane and not the War-Wing Siren. Heroic doesn’t help you, and if your top card is a pump spell, you will need to block with the Siren, and it will die. You can’t, then, bounce his Harpy at the end of the turn (and if you bounce it during combat, he will just replay it post-combat).
In the end, I played Helix and scried into Griptide, so I just bounced one attacker, bounced the Harpy on my turn and won.
The match next to me was also interesting. Willy’s opponent was at 2 life, and Willy’s hand is a Threaten that kills him (by stealing Archetype of Imagination), a Labyrinth Champion and a way to target it. Willy has four Plains in play, however. The game is stalled and he’s still at 20, so we’re feeling pretty good. His draws then are, in order, red card, red card, red card, Plains, red card, Plains, red card, red card, red card, red card. We get to a point where the opponent can alpha-stike him to kill him, but understandably doesn’t do it, because he can’t imagine our hand is seven uncastable red cards, and he doesn’t want to put himself dead to any white trick. In the very last turn, when the opponent would surely attack, Willy draws a Mountain and kills him with Portent of Betrayal, keeping our hopes of Top 4’ing alive.
The following round, we get paired against some friends and I get deckchecked. It turned out I wrote the wrong Siren on my list (they both start with the same name in Portuguese), so I get a game loss, which was very disappointing. It ends up being some sort of double-game loss, as I am stuck on two lands for multiple turns, but my opponent’s deck fails to deliver anything and I’m still in the game. He plays an Akroan Conscriptor and I have the Dakra Mystic plus Griptide combo to deal with it, but here I mess up hugely. I Griptide his guy, giving him the opportunity to Fall of the Hammer my Mystic in response. Luckily for me he targets his War-Wing Siren, and not the Conscriptor, so I can play Retraction Helix to bounce it, but if he targets the guy I’m Griptiding, I’m pretty doomed. If I bounce it to fizzle Fall, it will go back to his hand rather than the top of his library. What I should have done, however—and I realized it the moment I played the card—was to activate Mystic and then, with that on the stack, play Griptide; this way he can kill Mystic but the ability will have already gone off.
After that I manage to stall the board for a little while, but he plays Archetype of Imagination and kills me. We end up losing the match and it was somewhat disappointing because I think that my deck was actually better than his and if I hadn’t gotten a game loss and/or mana issues I would have won. To my teammate’s credit, they did not utter a single word about my game loss—they acted as if I had just lost a normal game, for which I’m thankful.
Now out of Top 8 contention, we were playing for cash. We win a match and lose the other two in some games that were not very interesting, and end up outside of the Top 24 and with no money. That was very disappointing, considering how good I think our team was, but I think we played well and probably did as well as we could with the pools we were given. In the end, the tournament was a lot of fun if you take out the part where we did badly, and I was happy to see many friends and familiar faces coming back to MTG and most of them actually doing very well.
GP São Paulo was my last GP of the season, and, since I failed to get any extra points, I now need to Top 8 PT Portland to hit Platinum. It’s certainly not going to be easy, but I’ve done it many times before so I know I at least have the ability to do it again if things break my way.
See you next week,