“So listen to this one. I had something really odd happen during registration.”
“You forgot your headphones?”
“Ha, no. No, I remembered them. So I’m registering a pool, and I see a person a few chairs away from me call a judge. When he comes over, the guy tells the judge that one of the cards in his pack is missing. Like, not that he lost it, but that there was a fourteen-card pack.”
“So he took a rare.”
“Right, except it was a common that was missing, so it’s probably a foil that he just couldn’t pass up. Like, foil Elspeth or something. So they can’t find the card anywhere, because they didn’t look in his pocket, and the judge signs off on the sheet and they move on. I immediately know that’s going to be my pool. And of course, it was.”
“So you’re playing an 83 card pool?”
“No! I call a judge over as soon as I notice the notes in red, and I say there’s no way this is fair. There’s 1,900 other people in the room that all make decks with 84 cards, and I get to be the one guy with a smaller pool? What if it were a Wingsteed Rider or a Gray Merchant, you know? Something that changes the way I build my deck?”
“Yeah, of course they can’t just give you 83 cards. So what did they do, give you a new pool?”
“Well at first the judge just said, ‘It’s been signed off on, so we’re just going to leave it that way.’”
“Yeah, he did, so I obviously appealed to the Head Judge. I expected them to either give me a new common or to switch me to one of the Sleep-in Special pools that was already on standby. So, the judge goes up to the front desk and talks it over with the Head Judge, and comes back and rules that they’ve given me a random common from Theros.”
“What was the common?”
“Oh. Well that’s unexciting.”
“It is, I know. The good news is, while he was up talking to the HJ, I took a look at my pool, and I think it might be the best Sealed pool I’ve ever seen. The whole time he was up there, I was thinking ‘please don’t give me a new pool, please don’t give me a new pool…’”
Here was the deck I registered for GP Philly this weekend:
A few of these cards are low on the power curve. I would much rather be playing a good spell rather than a Nyxborn Rollicker, or a sweet threat over the Felhide brothers or Ragemonger. And yet, I have six on-color rares and a swath of removal that should keep me in nearly any game. I tried to temper my expectations for this deck, but as my former Team Sealed partner Brad put it: “I think your chances of making Day 2 just tripled.” He’s a math professor, so I’m going to take his word on this one.
I sat for round one, and pile shuffled my deck. A discerning audience will note that my deck as listed above is 41 cards. I was not aware of this prior to that pile shuffle.
The way deck registration works for Limited GPs with 2 sets in the pool is that one side of a sheet of paper is Theros, and one side is Born of the Gods. Your basic lands are listed on the front. Because the Temple is from BNG, it was listed on the back, and I just forgot to factor it in when I was making my land calculations. I think this is a pretty easy mistake to make, but it’s even easier to correct it if you actually count your deck before turning in your registration. I consistently make bone-headed mistakes like this in registration, because I’m usually in a hurry to get away from the table as soon as I can. I need to fix this, badly. So I was stuck with 41 in game 1 every round. And I paid for it.
I rattled off a quick pair of wins in the first two rounds to get to 2-0. In the third round, I was paired against Brendan McKay, an old-school pro who has recently returned to the game.
In our first game, I mulled to 4. Our game lasted some turns after the initial onslaught, largely due to Brendan being stuck on a pair of Islands for mana, but eventually he drew more lands, and his four card advantage was demonstrated. Our second game looked great for Brendan as well, until I finally hit my seventh land and put Overlord on the stack. He considered for a moment, and then conceded. Our third game was an epic battle back and forth, leveraging for position, as I ran him out of cards hoping to leave him facing an Overlord once again. When I did land the Demon, Brendan answered back with Anger of the Gods, wiping both boards and forcing me to sacrifice the Demon to itself. I knew I had Whip coming, so I hoped to be able to move through turns until I could put him on the back foot with a whipped Overlord. We jockeyed more and more, and we got to a position where I had a Herald and Whip to his Arena Athlete. I went for the Whip, and he had the Sudden Storm—but I was left with six fliers to get to work on his life total, which was low. His draw step provided him with a Scouring Sands, clearing the 1/1 fliers off the table. He played a Benthic Giant, and passed. On my turn I got in with a Herald, putting him to 3, and played an Akroan Conscriptor rather than Whipping, because I felt like it set me up to win next turn with the Rollicker in my hand.
The last card in Brendan’s hand was a Nullify. I’d been playing around it as much as I could all game, but I couldn’t afford to anymore. If he had it, I could play the Rollicker to block if needed (I was at 8), and then kill him with the Herald. I could Whip the Conscriptor as well, so I play around any trick he may have.
He drew Fearsome Temper. He played it on his Benthic Giant, activated it targeting my blocker, and attacked for 8.
I was pretty devastated, and was certain I made a mistake somewhere along the line to lose the game. The two of us talked it over a bit, and sorted out some of the scenarios that would have changed had I made different choices along the way. That’s when his friend asked him, “Doesn’t Fearsome Temper say ‘can’t block this creature?’” We both leaned in to look at the card, and I deflated. Had he played the Temper on the Athlete, he wins if I don’t have a trick. If he plays it on the Giant, I can block the Athlete, but neither of us knew that—so he just tried to play around a trick. I lose, and the day rolls on.
The mistake die just keeps ticking on up.
My fourth round opponent had nearly as little interaction as could be. I mull to five in game one (41 cards haunts me again), and he hits a turn 4 Polukranos. I don’t have the Asphyxiate or Downfall, and die. Our second game I mull to six and he curves Thoughtseize, Sylvan Caryatid, Nylea, God of the Hunt, Centaur Battlemaster. He hits with Nylea and passes. I’ve curved out with Spiteful Returned, and my attack puts him to 5. I have a lethal Bolt in hand if I can take the damage next turn rather than using it on his Battlemaster. I do the math, and calculate that even with a land, he can only pump twice with Nylea, which puts me at 1. I pass the turn. He attacks with both his creatures, and casts a Boon of Erebos targeting his Battlemaster, for exactly 14 damage. Bolt is a sorcery.
And just like that, I’m 2-2.
To say that the second loss in round four was disheartening is an understatement. I was devastated, and tilted as tilt gets. I needed some air, and I needed to get away from the scene of what I consider to be one of the worst wastes of an insane pool I’ve ever seen. Friends are passing me and I’m largely ignoring them, making excuses as I rush outside to just get away. Fortunately it was a beautiful day in Philly, and I got to spend a moment basking in the sun’s warm rays to try and clear my head and leave the match behind me.
I strung together another pair of wins against unsuspecting opponents in rounds five and six, including Pascal Maynard, who had not won a game on the day until our round. Both of these opponents were surprised to find me in the X-2 bracket. My deck was good.
My final round, round seven, paired me against a very cordial opponent who was relatively new to competitive Magic, who had a reasonable UW deck. Our first game, he blew me out with an Akroan Skyguard that was suited up over and over again. The turn before I got Akroan Conscriptor online to steal the lethal flier, he added a Hopeful Eidolon to the array of Auras and put the game out of reach. Despite attacking with his 12/14 flier twice on my side of the table, I never found the Hero’s Downfall to level the playing field. After his final lethal attack, I looked at the top card—Hero’s Downfall. 41 cards strikes again.
The match went to three games, where in the third he had transformed into a Naya monstrosity, and beat me over the head with Skyguard again. In this game, I had an opportunity to kill the Guard prior to him enchanting it, but his curve was Favored Hoplite into the Skyguard, and I used my 1-turn window to kill the Hoplite instead. Perhaps this was a mistake, as the flier was marginally more difficult to handle, but if I managed to fade an enchantment for another turn, I had my own sideboarded Scouring Sands to clear the Skyguard as well. I think I was in bad shape either way, but once he managed to pants-up the flier I was drawing to limited outs once again, and didn’t find them.
And so my tournament ended, with a disappointing record for such a strong deck. This called into question all kinds of things for me, as I tend to be retrospective and introspective in these situations, but all of my teammates agreed that they would have built nearly identically, so at least I could avoid second guessing that part. There’s always next time.
One of the things that’s become increasingly frustrating for me as I’ve participated in Grand Prix events has been the tournament structure itself. As the size of these events expands, it becomes more and more difficult for me to justify going, as the odds of success are so slim that I’m finding myself less and less focused on the main event each time. In fact, more than one person I know decided to skip the main event altogether this weekend, and focused their time on the side events and Cube instead.
The issue for me, as it always has been, is the bye system. I’m not a fan. Even in the situations where I had two or three byes, I felt like something was broken with a system that allows some number of the players to have 1/3 less rounds to play in order to make the Day 2 cut—and gives them a significant tiebreaker advantage over those players who actually played all 9 rounds. I’m not against some #TRGR (the rich get richer) when it’s appropriate, but having to go 4-2 in a six-round event as one of the best players in the game is significantly easier than having to grind out a 7-2. Add to that the sheer mental energy required to play 9 rounds, and the fact that a player who starts in round 1 begins their day at 9 a.m., while a player with 3 byes and a Sleep-in Special starts after 2 p.m. sometimes, and you’re starting to see where the advantages for players with three byes are compounded.
Because I’m starting from such a disadvantaged position, it’s difficult to continue to justify struggling through nine rounds over and over in an attempt to spike a tournament. And as we move into this new era of the MEGA GP, that will continue to be the case. The fact that you need astronomically fantastic results to even make Day 2 at a Grand Prix (7-2 is a 78% match win percentage, which is literally better than the lifetime win % of every member of the Hall of Fame) means you need a day for the history books—and then your back is still against the wall the next day. It’s simply not the kind of odds I can get behind.
Twitter was afire this week with discussions about the entry fee increase at Constructed GPs, and how it impacts the player base. Many Pros were for the increase, as it limits the number of entrants and gives them better EV. Others were upset that prize support was not increased along with the entry fee. Personally, I think the general public is largely unaffected by the increase, and upping the prizes means nothing, because in a 1,900-player GP like Philly, less than 1 in 20 players sees a dime. For most of us, we can consider that entry fee a sunk cost, and just try to enjoy playing Magic all day. It’s by far the most likely end goal within our reach. To me the best investment that can be made with that increase in prize support is to the player experience—make these 2k+-player events feel intimate and welcoming, and you’ll continue to see growth regardless of the price.