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Stark Reality – Last Stop: GP Portland, *10th*

I really like how Wizards has started to run all the Magic tournaments in bunches. It allows me to focus on work (poker) when there isn’t going to be a Magic tournament for a month or two, then to get back in the swing of things by playing nothing but Magic for like a month. I know that for people with real jobs with bosses and hours it’s impossible to just travel from tournament to tournament and miss work all week, but I think it’s great for “pro” Magic players and it happens to work really well for me.

This time my itinerary was: fly from my home in Florida to Minneapolis for Nationals, go straight from there to Gothenburg for the GP, then fly to Amsterdam for the Pro Tour, and lastly fly to GP Portland without going home to Florida. Instead of spending the week in Portland I decided to stop in Vegas, which is relatively on the way, and spent the week with my girlfriend who just moved there. Quite the journey! I am not going to write reports for a bunch of tourneys where I went 3-3, but basically my finishes in Nationals, Gothenburg, and Amsterdam were 4-3, 3-3 (not counting the 3 byes), and 4-4, in order. That’s 11-10 for those who aren’t math majors or are too lazy to do the addition, which would make me the definition of mediocre.

Gothenburg

I actually felt like I played really well throughout all the tourneys and things just really did not go my way. After starting 3-1 in the constructed portion of Nationals with Valakut (which I think is a really sweet deck and I highly recommend to anyone looking for a t2 deck), I drafted green-blue with the guy passing to me playing mono-black and the guy I was passing to playing heavy white so it would seem like I positioned myself well, but I ended up with 17 playables, 0 bombs, and went 1-2. Then in Gothenburg, I opened a very mediocre sealed and pulled off 3 pretty hard wins with it before I ran smack into 2 Fireballs, 3 Mind Controls, 1 Inferno Titan, 1 Frost Titan, Serra Angel, Magma Phoenix and just the overall most ridiculous assortment of cards I have ever had to play Magic against in my life. As a result, I lost 3 straight rounds and missed day 2.

Then, in Amsterdam, it was virtually a repeat of Nationals. I didn’t invent the Doran deck by any means, but I got on board with it pretty quickly after I saw Kibler start playing it. Two days later Brad started playing it, and he too fell completely in love with it after a bunch of games. I practiced it plenty and felt like I got extremely unlucky to be 3-2 with it. I lost to Living End, a deck that while present wasn’t very popular and was one of our worst matchups, and to mono red, which is one of our best matchups. My draw game one was:

 

If I knew my opponent was playing mono red I would have shuffled it back into my library for a new six without a second though, but you can’t mulligan that against an unknown opponent. I then got a weak draw in game 3 and lost to a topdecked Bolt to kill me when he had a turn or two to do so.

In the draft I once again positioned myself well, going red/green between a white drafter and a black drafter. After finding myself 1-1 in the pod, I played for day 2 and lost to what has to be the worst overall draft deck that I have ever seen in my life. No disrespect to the kid who drafted it, since he seemed like a nice guy, played at a reasonable pace, and played the match well, but his deck was 4 colors off only a lone Sylvan Ranger as mana fixing. It had multiple double blue cards, not just Frost Titan, multiple double green cards, white for something like Safe Passage and Assault Griffin, and black for Disentomb and Duress. It even had Maritime Guard and Brindle Boar; I mean, it was just terrible. I did open an amazing sealed deck myself in the PTQ at Amsterdam where I went 7-1 but lost in the Top 8, with some rather mediocre draws out of my rather mediocre draft deck.

So, going into Portland I really felt like I was playing well and the ball just wasn’t bouncing my way. When I opened my sealed in Portland I felt pretty good for once, though I don’t really like having a “draft deck” in sealed. I will almost definitely write an entire article on this concept because it’s generally how I have won almost at will in sealed over my entire Magic career, and very few people understand it.

Basically what I mean is that if everyone is playing medium sized creatures and removal and bombs, essentially trying to play a curve-based 2 color deck, but that isn’t optimal even if it seems like a better deck. Generally in sealed people have a lot more access to bombs and removal then they do in draft, especially once you get through the first couple of rounds and you’re playing against decks that are winning. I’m sure you have probably noticed how almost all your opponents have Fireball, Mind Control or some Titan. Most wont have three copies of those cards unless they are the lucky ones or you are playing them at 8-0, but generally everyone in sealed is going to play the colors that their bombs are in so they will have them.

Anyways, my point is that in sealed you generally want cards that answer your opponents bombs and solve problems – cards like Mind Rot, Cancel, or Acidic Slime … cards of that nature tend to be much better in sealed then in draft, and are worth abandoning a “normal” curve-out deck. My deck was a standard blue white draft deck with 2 Infantry Veteran, a good curve, Mind Control and Ajani Goldmane. My two bombs couldn’t have been more awesome and both won me tons of games, unlike my Vengeful Archon, which couldn’t have been more terrible. I ended up wishing it was another Silvercoat Lion, since by the time I could cast it I was usually dead to better bombs or had already won because my opponent stumbled on mana or something. While I would prefer a deck with more solutions and less aggressive creatures I wasn’t complaining (much).

So, over the first couple rounds I got a win or two and lost two matches: once to mana screw/flood and once to Sleep and Overwhelming Stampede. I don’t get upset about losing often, but Magic was starting to get a little frustrating. I did manage to rattle off some pretty easy wins after that to finish day 1 at 7-2. There isn’t much of interest I could say about the matches; I mostly just beat people with good creature-based draws and Ajani.

I did make one pretty good play in when playing for day 2 when I didn’t play my War Priest of Thune on turn two with no other two drop in hand to play or Mana Leak or anything. I didn’t know anything about my opponent’s deck (besides that he had Island and Forest in play), but I figured there would be a good chance he had Mind Control. Sure enough, five turns later I used the War Priest to blow up a Mind Control on my Harbor Serpent. If I had played it, I would have definitely lost that game.

After that, I went to see if Juza (your eventual champion) had won since we were rooming together and he was also 6-2 and playing for it. He did, so we decided to hit Subway and then try and get a good night sleep for Day 2. Now I have roomed with Juza before and he is generally confident but fairly modest about his expectations and chances, so it was strange when he said something like “I think we are both going to top 8 this tournament”. I responded that while I thought we were both good at drafting the format, we were 7-2, so it was pretty unrealistic to think we were going to top 8. He told me a story about how Kai almost dropped from a GP once at 3-2 but then went on to win out make day 2 on tiebreakers (the system was different back then), 6-0 the drafts to make top 8, then 3-0 and win the GP. I told him that expecting a top 8 was kind of unreasonably; we are both good, though not on Kai’s level, and expecting to 7-0-1 is kind of unrealistic. He just kind of acknowledged my statement and said he felt great about his chances to top 8 tomorrow.

I won my sealed deck round 2-0 really easily and sat down to draft at a pretty easy first pod. The names I knew were Forrest Mead, who is a name you probably don’t recognize but I know him and knew he is a very capable booster drafter, Christian Calcano, who you may or may not recognize but has been doing quite a bit of winning lately. I know he cashed both Gothenburg and Amsterdam and definitely knows what’s up in m11 draft, but that was about it. I feel like I might be forgetting one person but either way the pod was definitely very reasonable and not filled with pros or anything.

The draft went very strangely for me. I first picked Honor of the Pure, and was ready to move in on any white creature I could get my hands on because I absolutely love the WW deck in m11 draft. Then I got passed a Pacifism 2nd pick and was as happy as a pig rolling around in the mud, but things soon got strange. I was seeing some clearly good white cards but a lot of packs just had none, so I ended up having to grab some Ember Haulers and a late Prodigal Pyromancer. This theme pretty much continued the whole draft.

I picked up a 2nd Honor of the Pure and a white creature here and there, but nowhere near enough to make a deck, so my draft deck ended up being 10 assorted white creatures, none of which were Squadron Hawk, which were completely nonexistent in any packs I saw the whole draft and then a fistful of good red creatures. I had 3 Ember Haulers, 3 Fiery Hellhounds, a Prodigal Pyromancer, a Cyclops Gladiator, and a Magma Phoenix. The only 3 non-creatures I played in my whole deck ended up being 2 Honor of the Pure and 1 Pacifism, though I did have 3 Ember Haulers and 2 Blinding Mages so I could disrupt opposing creatures.

Three rounds later I was 6-0 in games played, and I definitely felt like I ran well. I played Forrest in round 3 and he had a very good white black deck with better creatures than me, but stumbled on mana in g1 really badly, and in game 2 he didn’t draw any removal (which he had plenty of) and I was able to ride a Gladiator and a Blinding Mage to victory.

The second draft pod was slightly tougher. It featured level 8’s Shuhei Nakamura and my roomy Martin Juza, as well as consistent limited powerhouse David Ochoa (Web). There did seem to be some less seasoned players in as well, so for pod 2 I didn’t really have any complaints except I was hoping to not play Web or Martin because playing your friends with top 8 on the line isn’t really fun.

I first picked Fireball over Squadron Hawk, Quag Sickness and Cloud Elemental. Obviously, that’s a pretty easy pick, but I am actually only mentioning it because it’s of note that I passed a Squadron Hawk. I 2nd picked Crystal Ball, which is a card I consider a sealed deck all star and barely good enough in draft. I take just about anything good over it but I generally always play it. I consider it around 6th pick quality, not 2nd, but the pack was literally empty and at least with an artifact and a Fireball (easily splashable) I could still play any deck and just see what was going to be passed to me.

I spent the rest of pack 1 grabbing 2 Silvercoat Lions and 2 Aquadron Hawks as well as an Armored Ascension. The Squadron Hawk I opened didn’t come back, so I knew someone else had it and that I would have to take my Hawks early if I saw any more. Pack 2 provided 1 more Hawk second pick, and a small assortment of white creatures and useful cards, like a Chandra’s Outrage and an Infantry Veteran. Going into pack 3 I was around 15 playables and couldn’t have been happier with my deck. Then I opened Chandra, the planeswalker, not the 1/3 or the burn spell, followed that up with a Hawk (4) and I could already start to taste my first Top 8 in over a year. Then the pack ended.

Wait, I thought you said that was 2nd pick? Yep, no more playables.

For the rest of the pack white creatures didn’t exist and removal didn’t exist; I picked up like a Goblin Piker and a Fiery Hellhound and wanted to hang myself. My deck ended up around 17 really nice white and red cards and 2 Palace Guards, a Fiery Hellhound, a Piker and something else terrible to get to 22 cards so I could play 18 lands in a deck that only needed 17. I felt like I definitely could win but I couldn’t see too many of my bad cards.

In Round 14 I quickly 2-0ed a black/white player who had rather poor draws. Martin and Web won, while Shuhei lost.

Round 15 was a live video feature match between me and Ochoa.

The only other time I have played him was in Gp Tampa at x-3 with 2 rounds to go; that time we were out of contention whereas this time the winner of the match would be able to draw into the top 8.He beat me there in 3 tough games.

G1 I had a good draw with a Hawk to search up his brothers as well as Fireball. The problem was he played 2 Spiders so I couldn’t really get in. I tried to Fireball one but he had the Giant Growth ready. This was one of the more frustrating games I have played as I sat the whole game with Mighty Leap and Inspired Charge in hand and an array of creatures out knowing I could deal him 9 in the air at any time but that there was no way for me to deal the rest of the damage. If I drew Chandra or Armored Ascension I could win but otherwise he was amassing fatties and wasted no time starting to attack my life total. I ended up drawing the Ascension a turn or 2 too late and he was able to kill me with a timely Outrage plus alpha strike.

G2 and G3 couldn’t have been less interesting. I nut drew him on the play g2 and he won the game on turn 4 in g3 when he put a Volcanic Strength on his Sacred Wolf. Web and Martin drew in next round while I beat my opponent to finish 13-3 and in 10th place on tiebreakers. No complaints here; I ran really well the whole tourney, save the few matches I lost. I think that I actually 2-0ed all 10 rounds I won, but I’m not 100 percent on that. Martin went on to win the whole thing, which was awesome, and the 4 points I got put me to 18 on the year; since I’m qd for worlds that means I’ll definitely finish with at least 20.

I basically qualified for 4 Pro Tours from this Top 12 and it also restored my faith in my play a little. I made very few errors, won plenty of hard games, and played extremely fast throughout the entire tournament.
The epic journey was over, and while obviously I had hoped for more I wasn’t going home empty-handed. Sunday night wrapped up with a fun meal at Red Robin with the Channelfireball guys who are always awesome times, then finally a little drinking at a karaoke bar with Martin/Kibler/Sam Black/Alex West and a bunch of other gamers. I definitely had a blast over the 4 tourneys despite the lackluster results and while right now I am looking forward to some time with my girlfriend in Vegas then getting back to Florida, I know it will take me about 3 days before I start wishing GP Toronto is sooner and I can get back on the battlefield doing what I love.

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