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Stark Reality – GP Toronto Report, *4th*

I arrived in Toronto Tuesday night. Martin (Juza) had suggested we go a few days early to check out Niagara Falls and hang out in Toronto a little before the GP. The crew ended up being Gerry Thompson, Gabe Walls, Paulo too many names da Rosa, Martin Juza, and me. Gabe and Gerry drove up from Indy so we would have Gabe’s car to use, which made things a lot more convenient. He had a very plush Escalade, which made transport very easy and comfortable. PV, Martin, and I all arrived at the airport around 7:30 on Tuesday, so Gabe timed his drive to get into town around then and pick us up. We were a little early but Toronto Airport has free internet, and for those who don’t know me well, a chair, a computer, and free wifi is about the closest it gets to heaven on earth. After he picked us up we went looking for a hotel and found a Travelodge. They offered rooms for 70 dollars a night or so and had free Wi-Fi and a workout room. Despite my love of the internet I am trying to get back into better shape so I requested we look for one with a workout room. I only ended up going to it once but it was pretty decent.

The next morning we all got up early and went to Niagara Falls. Well, all but Gerry, who outplayed us by deciding a warm bed would be better than the cold falls. His logic was flawless but I lie in bed a lot so I did want to go. Truthfully, I’m glad I saw it, but there wasn’t much going on. There was a big waterfall that you could look at, but not get particularly close to. We wanted to make the most of it so PV suggested we do this Niagara experience package. After some negotiations we ended up agreeing that we would do two of the four options. The first one consisted of us going into a room and watching a cartoon, then going into a room and watching pictures of the waterfall while they splashed water on us. I think it was more meant for ages 4-6 or something. I know if I was any older than 10 I would have thought it was lame.

The next was a little better: we just got to walk this pathway that goes somewhat close to the waterfall. The view was pretty good but it was cold and wet. All and all, I would definitely have rather not done the cartoon thing but was happy with the 2nd one. I got a good view of the falls and we got some cool pictures.

As we were walking out I told them some story about when Dirve (David Irvine) was going to swim across a bay in Hong Kong in 2004 for like 1,000 dollars and Gabe decided to offer Martin like 13k to swim across the river and back. This is the part of the water after it falls so you’re not like going to go over the edge or anything but who knows what the current is like or whatever. When Dirve and I were going do it, Dirve was taking his shoes off and Antonino had to physically restrain him; this time Martin just kind of postured a little and said it wouldn’t be too tough but declined to do it. I don’t blame him as I like to say we are mental athletes not physical ones and I don’t think I could swim 100 feet in a cold river with possibly a very strong current. We drove back to Toronto and the next couple days were much more to my liking. Eat, modo, eat, modo, eat, modo … .. Grand Prix.

Sealed Fate

Normally I go into limited Grands Prix with quite a bit of confidence. Not only do I feel like I am much better at limited then constructed, I also think sealed deck is my very best format. Since the start of last year I have played in 7 sealed deck Grands Prix with my worst finishes being two 3-3 records (not counting the byes) and the other 5 being 2nd, 4th, 10th, 35th, and 47th. Part of my success comes from preparation. Whether doing drafts with the South Florida guys at Cool Stuff, the Vegas gang, or MTGOing away endless hours I usually do very well. This time, on the other hand, I couldn’t win…not even a little bit. From the day Scars came out in person until the start of this Grand Prix my total match record was something like 20-50. I was going to need a little help. Luckily for me I got it, since my sealed was really good. My pool was all green, red, and black. Not only did that make it easier to build but it meant I would have a lot of playable cards in whichever colors I choose to play. Most of those ended up in red:

 

Obviously that was an easy inclusion. The green and black were both good too, but about equally good, so the decision was much tougher.

Black had:

 

while green offered:

 

My artifacts included:

 

My initial thoughts were the black would complement the red better than the green because I already had 2 Shatters so I would want the Grasps and Flesh Allergy to take out the blue and white non-artifact flying creatures in the format, and Flesh Allergy is an additional solution to the plethora of bomb rare 6-drops and such. While I know that Slice in Twain is considerably better than Grasp in sealed I didn’t think Shatters 4-7 would be more valuable for me then creature kill 4-6. I was completely wrong.

My build ended up being

In 5 out of the 7 matches I played I boarded in the green. Not only that, but when I played the green version my deck felt much more powerful than in g1 when I played the red-black version. I left the Platinum Emperion in the sideboard because I already had Myr Battlesphere and felt like I didn’t need it. On the other hand, since it plus Asceticism is game over I included it most of the time in my green versions after sideboard. I don’t think that choice was wrong, because when you combine the mana cost with how many removal spells people have in sealed, I don’t think an 8-drop artifact that does nothing when killed is very good. On the other hand, if un-killed and they aren’t poison then you cannot lose while it’s out is a big upside. Therefore, while a powerful card I think it’s a mediocre card; not bad, not great.

I think play by play coverage for limited is pretty boring so I’m not going to go through each game and round, but I played a really good day of Magic. I went 6-1 after the 3 byes. The only match I lost was round 5 and I lost a very close game with 2 copies of Grasp in my hand and only 1 Swamp one game, then got mana stalled in game 2. After that I got paired against LSV in round 6. We had played a bunch of fun games at lunch so I knew it would be like 50/50. It sucked because my deck was much better than his but he was poison so my abundance of artifact kill was much weaker than normal. That combined with him being one of the best players in the room left me pretty unhappy with the pairing, though at least I would get to be a feature match…only they didn’t feature us.

I thought “Geez, I know I haven’t been winning like I used to be but I had 18 Pro points this season before this GP and am 90th in lifetime pro points. What possible criteria could they be sorting by that LSV and I are not a round 6 feature match at a gp?” I asked a random judge who happened to be passing by exactly that. He came back in a few minutes and was like “Ok, we’re going to feature you.” Neat, I guess I still have some clout, however small it might be.

I topdecked my Battlesphere to beat him in g1 in what was an extremely tight game. He had out a Tangle Angler so it was my only out, but I didn’t feel too bad because the turn before I had sacrificed a Moriok Replica so I did see a lot of cards. Magic just sometimes has a way of giving you things on the last possible turn to make the games more dramatic. He was at 8 and I had a Barrage Ogre, so I shot him to 6 at end of turn then untapped and attacked with the Battlesphere tapping the 4 Myr it gave me to put him to 2. I then flung one at him with the Ogre to kill him.

Tainted Strike it in response.”

Man, who is this LSV guy? He seems to know all the tricks. I hadn’t had that happen before or even thought about that at all, but luckily I had just drawn one of my [card grasp of darkness]Grasps of Darkness[/card]. If I killed my Ogre in response the Tainted Strike would never resolve, which means it would have to deal damage as normal right? I checked with LSV and he was like “Yeah, that is how it works” and I managed to win the game by killing my own creature in response to him Striking my creature. How many times was a game won like that on the weekend? Game 2 he had a weak draw and I won much more easily.

Round 7 I won pretty easily.

Round 8 was back to the grind. My opponent was playing a red-black deck that was light on bombs and heavy on removal and synergy. Game 1 he ground me to death with a ton of disruption and -1/-1 effects and Shocks. I boarded big. Bigger than that. In fact, into the biggest green I could go. Game 2 he was crushing me and had about 7 things out when I was at five life and definitely dead next turn. I slapped down the Emperion on turn 8, and I had Asceticism out so this pretty much locked it up…or so I thought. He had a Sylvok Replica but no green mana and I killed him before he ever found it. Game 3 I had Asceticism again and assorted 5- and 6-drops and won pretty easily.

Round 9 wasn’t too tough but I did make one of the plays that I was most proud of on the weekend. My hand for game 2 was:

 

I played Mountain and did not cast the turn 1 Elder, since I thought he might have an [card]Arc Trail[/card] and it was extremely important that my Myr lived to either allow me to play Elder and ping his turn 2 Myr or to cast the Bellowing Tanglewurm a turn earlier. I played turn 4 Tanglewurm and then played the Elder and shot something on turn 5 because I didn’t need the Myr anymore. He untapped and Arc Trailed the Elder and Myr and I felt pretty good about myself, especially after that game ended up being extremely tight. If I had played the Elder turn 1 I would have lost for sure.

In Round 10 he played a Battlesphere in game 1 and beat me, then I played it in game 2 and beat him. Game 3 I set up the Asceticism + Emperion combo and he said “here goes nothing” and Cerebral Eruptioned me. I flipped Myr Battlesphere. Some people have all the luck. Nah, I’m just kidding; that was the only 7 in my deck and there weren’t any 8 drops so while it killed all my non-Emperion creatures (of which there weren’t many) my life total couldn’t change so I didn’t take any damage and he couldn’t target the Emperion so it’s not like he could finish it off or something. This left me finishing day 1 at 9-1 and in ninth place.

We went back, ate some food and got into bed by around 1:30, then around 3:30 I went to sleep. One day I’m going to figure out how to sleep at Magic tournaments. That or I will steal LSV’s super power of being able to fall asleep any place anytime. So woke up around 8 on the solid four and a half hours of sleep. Yuuya and Chief made day 2 and were staying at the same hotel so we made plans to meet in the lobby at 8:30. After I showered and whatnot, I couldn’t find the Channelfireball t-shirt I thought I brought with me for Day 2 of the GP and it was my last clean shirt so I went downstairs to the hotel lobby shirtless with the intention to buy a t-shirt from the gift shop. The gift shop wasn’t open yet but Yuuya and Chief got a kick out of seeing me shirtless, a special treat for anyone to be sure, be it Magic players or teenage girls. I went back upstairs and put on a dirty t-shirt and it was off to draft.

My first draft pod ended up being Wrapter feeding Josh Ravitz feeding me. I first picked Darksteel Axe over Skinrender. I think that Skinrender is much better than the Axe but I don’t want to first pick a card I can only play half the time. Due to my relative inexperience in the format I planned on playing metalcraft or infect, and if I was metalcraft it would be unlikely I could play the Skinrender. I think if you’re a more experienced dBlackcleave Goblins after you could probably take the Skinrender there and draft a variety of Black Red good stuff decks, poison, or black metal craft decks but I just didn’t have the experience to delve into decks I didn’t know. Anyways, my deck ended up all poison and pretty terrible. Wrapter was r/w metal craft and Ravitz was u/w Golem Foundry so I should have been in a perfect poison seat. The packs just seemed to be filled with Blackcleave Goblins and not Plague Stingers or Cystbearers.

My matches were very uninteresting. I played Dave Williams first. He had a sub-par game 1 and I had a good one and he crushed me. Games 2 and 3, he got completely mana screwed. Then I played Kai Burnett who had an amazing b/w deck with Sunblast Angel, Skinrender and all sorts of good cards and he crushed me. In round 3 I played Ravitz whose UW deck had a decent rare or card or two and a Memnite/Golem Foundry theme. Obviously this kind of deck is going to look really good with some draws and really bad with others. Game 2 he beat me with Indomitable Archangel and a good draw. Games 1 and 3 he got terrible draws and his deck did almost nothing and I won. I was extremely happy to get 2-1 out of my deck and still be alive going into the second draft.

Pod 2 ended up being Efro feeding me feeding Brad Nelson. The only other big name in the pod was Kyle Boggemes and he was somewhere on the other side of the table. I am good friends with both Efro and Brad so I did expect a fairly cooperative draft. I opened a pack with Chrome Steed and 5 playable infect cards, the best of which was plague stinger. I really like infect but I figured with this pack having nothing but infect cards it would be a better idea for me to take the Chrome Steed. Boy, was I wrong. Efro sent clear green open signals to me as he passed me Sylvok Replica and Slice in Twain early, then a 6th pick Cystbearer. I knew I shipped Brad into poison, so I wasn’t willing to go into poison right in front of him. Therefore, I decided to draft a green metalcraft deck based around good artifact kill and metalcraft. My deck ended up fine, with 3 good artifact kill and multiple Chrome Steeds, Myrs and a Myr Battlesphere.

Round 1 my opponent had a fairly weak u/g deck and got a little flooded and I was able to win 2-0. Round 2 in my win and I get to draw in match I played Kyle who was x-3. He thought an x-3 could make it and had great tiebreakers so he wasn’t offering up any concessions. He then crushed me with Skinrender, Scrapmelter, and a plethora of removal. For the second straight GP I had lost my win and in. I thought “oh well let’s see if I can salvage another tenth place.”

When they called me and Steven Hicks for a feature match I told them I didn’t think I could make Top 8, and wasn’t there a match for it they could feature. They said no, not really, these were the only relevant matches. It was me versus Hicks and Boggemes versus Burnett. As we sat down Hicks said to me if he won he was in Top 8. I thought about it and realized if he was right that meant I could make Top 8. He was the only one with significantly better breakers than me. He was 75 percent, where as Kai was 72 percent and Kyle and I were 71 percent, so if I beat him I would be drawing live. I beat him and Kyle beat Kai which meant it was pretty much a tossup between me and Kyle. Luckily, in Magic head to head isn’t the tiebreaker, since Kyle had stomped me just a round before, but my previous opponents outdid his and they called my name in 8th place. Yuuuuuusssss. I have never Top8ed anything on tie breakers and was really stoked to get in after finishing 10th on breakers in Portland.

The Top 8 draft would be hard. Pat Cox is a great Florida player who you may not have heard of but was playing in his second GP Top 8 this year and Dave Howard is a modo ringer as everyone knows. Efro has always been one of the best booster drafters alive and Brad Nelson may be the best player alive right now. In addition I was already feeling exhausted and pretty out of it. I drafted a very average poison deck. I came up short on creatures and had to play some non-poison ones but I had 3 Sylvok Replicas, Trigon of Corruption, Contagion Clasp, and Skinrender.

I played a tough game 1 against Efro and didn’t play around Carrion Call + Trigon of Rage (both in his hand, not on board) and lost. I am sure it was wrong but it was hard and I just wasn’t firing on that level anymore. Luckily I managed to steal quick easy games 2 and 3, one with Tainted Strike on a fatty he couldn’t possibly afford to start chumping and one with an Untamed Might he definitely couldn’t have afforded to play around.

After that I played one of the worst matches I have played in a while against Brad in the semis. I thought creatures had more counters then they did and messed up, as well as just not timing or using my spells particularly well. While I really want a title I was extremely happy with how this tourney went. I am almost as happy as when my friends win as when I do myself, as it’s not really the winning that means a lot to me more the playing good Magic. I played really, really, well throughout the entire swiss of this tournament but was just really drained by the Top 8 so I wasn’t disappointed to lose in the semis. I was a little disappointed Brad lost the finals, but I don’t think It would have been realistic for me to beat Smithers either since I couldn’t kill 4/4 flyers.

All and all this GP was a lot of fun and I was very satisfied with the Magic I played. I worked really hard in a lot of matches playing around things I hadn’t seen, yet sideboarding a ton of cards and even colors in and out, and mulliganing extremely aggressively which both me and Brad feel is very important in this format. I hope I can continue my streak of success in Nashville as I am now 6 points short of level 6 with Nashville and Worlds to go.

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