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Stark Reality – Tales from Nashville

Despite being one of my oldest friends on the Pro Tour, I had never been to Gabe Walls’s place before. So along with a cast of the usual suspects, this time consisting of Martin, Luis, Web, and GerryT. I decided to spend a couple days with Gabe in Indy before the GP. I had a one way direct flight from Fort Lauderdale to Indy on Tuesday morning leaving Florida at 12:30 and getting to Indy around 3. As per my usual, I got to the airport a little after 12 and rushed through security to get to the gate at about 12:20. They then informed me that they didn’t have any seats left on the plane. I then in turn informed them that I wasn’t flying standby and I had purchased a seat. I was told the flight was oversold and they had already been taking volunteers to take a flight leaving later in the day for 2 free round trip tickets and that to get me my seat they would go on the plane and get another volunteer. No need I said, you have such a volunteer right here. That was that. So as a reward for showing up at the last possible second, I received 2 free roundtrip tickets to be used within 1 calendar year. For those of you who make sure to get to everything early and plan ahead, all I can say is sorry — there really is no justice.

Indy

The flight to Indy was pleasant. We had Internet and it was only a couple hours. I landed in Indy at 11:45 where Gabe had said he would pick me up. He didn’t. Not because he was too lazy or something; I know he had been picking people up all day and my flight now coming in so late made it extremely inconvenient for him, but because he and the rest of the crew were already completely smashed at the living room lounge. No biggie — it was my own choice to change the flight to such an inconvenient time and I did it for 2 free round trip tickets, so I didn’t mind spending a little money on a cab. Actually Gabe even offered to pay me back for the cab like 5 different times but considering he was already being a super gracious host to like 6 of us, I wasn’t going to accept the money for the cab. So I arrived at the lounge and had a drink while everyone finished up hanging out there. We left around an hour or two after I got there and with me being the only sober one, we piled about 10 deep into Gabe’s Escalade and I drove us back to Gabe’s.
Wednesday was a pretty sweet day.

I did a few Magic Online drafts, mostly drafting some great decks that never reached the finals. Martin also did a few Magic Online drafts and also never reached the finals with some really good decks. Luis drafted mono Sky-Eel School and reached the finals of his Magic Online draft. As usual, there is no justice. Then Kyle, (Gabe’s awesome roommate) Gabe, Luis, and I went to the local LA Fitness for some sweet games of basketball and working out. One of my goals for the past month has been to get into much better shape. This might seem ridiculous to some who have seen me in passing and would probably consider me in shape but I reached about 175 earlier this year and I am not a very big guy. I was just a little guy with a big gut and that isn’t in shape no matter what your total weight is. I dieted and exercised pretty hard all month since Toronto, and I am down to 158 and feel much healthier and better. I didn’t intend to lose weight on this Magic trip, but I did want to maintain exercising so I was extremely happy that we were able to go play ball and workout on Wednesday and Thursday. After our workout we showered and went to Gabe’s parents’ house where his mom and dad cooked what can only be described as a feast.

Filet mignon spiced with the best rub I have ever tasted, chicken and broccoli casserole, potatoes with cheese and bacon, fresh rolls and a homemade peach cobbler dessert with vanilla ice cream. This wouldn’t be good for the diet, but you only live once so I did my best to have moderate portions and feasted away. Gabe’s parents are super nice and were awesome to host all of us and if this can get back to them from here, thanks again for the hospitality.

Thursday was a lot like Wednesday with a little Magic Online and working out but we went to Massage Envy for massages to satisfy our sloth and gluttony instead of feasting. Martin always likes to get some shopping done, so we did meander over to a local mall where we bought a few things, and more importantly we saw a bright pink store called JUSTICE. Friday it was another quick workout in the morning for me while Luis got a haircut, then it was off to the country music capital or what I like to think of it as the birthplace of Miley Cyrus.

The car ride went by pretty quickly. We had the usual good discussions about the format, who the best player in the world is, what makes different people and Magic so awesome, and then we arrived in Nashville. About the most eventful thing on the car ride was I didn’t lose the credit card game for gas. Everyone who knows me knows I run awesome in the credit card game — wait let me correct that — ran awesome. I have been credit card gaming things for around 7 years or so and I have to be up between 5 and 10k. No I don’t keep track, but I virtually never lose. That is until recently. Starting in Portland, Martin Juza and I flipped a coin for just about everything. I lost just about all of them. Mind you most of these were us splitting a footlong or getting fast food, so I didn’t care one bit and it didn’t even feel like losing, but the problem was that it didn’t end in Portland. In Toronto, I lost for dinner the first two nights we were there and I was getting ready to throw in the towel. Having to pay for stuff sucks, especially when you get too used to getting it for free for years and years. I didn’t really lose any more after those first two in Toronto, so I thought I was back on the right track until Nashville, when I must have lost something like 8 out of the 10 games we did and probably paid around $1000 for the 8 games I lost. Oh well maybe I’ll run well in the GP.

I opened my deck and was immediately disgusted. My only good rare was a Skithiryx and who wants to be poison in Sealed? I had virtually no removal in any color. This was going to be a long day. What I did notice was I could build a very controlling deck that would try and lock up the board. I had the Skithiryx to win with as well as a Genesis Wave (a card I think is unplayable in normal poison decks in draft btw), but would work quite well in my green black poison control do nothing.dec. I did have a Tower of Calamities which Martin had convinced me previously was good, and he was right (like he usually is), and 2 Trigon of Corruptions. I felt like If I could stalemate the board I could win. I did not have any Slice in Twain, Grasp of Darkness, Sylvok Replica, Flesh Allergy, or any other real removal. Actually the non- permanents in my deck ended up being 1 Instill Infection and 1 Genesis Wave, which as you could probably imagine, allowed for some busted Genesis Waves over the course of the day.

I don’t generally think round-by-round analysis of Limited play is very interesting but basically since I had no removal I couldn’t beat rares. My first lost came in round 6 I believe to Steel Hellkite one game, and Masticore the next. Luckily other than that round, I managed to dodge most of the sick game ending rares in the format all day. My other loss was in round 9 to mana flood game 1 and mana screw game 3, thought the screw was probably my own fault I didn’t mulligan a 1 land hand which I probably should have. We were running low on time and I had both of my Corpse Curs which I felt would be the key to me winning the matchup, because he was playing red/white aggro ground beaters.dec. I also had a mana Myr and another 2 -or 3-drop. I don’t think I would keep a hand with 1 land and a bunch of 4-drops but even so, keeping the hand was probably wrong and he rolled me.

In round 10 I made a series of plays to win a game I was extremely proud of. My opponent had a Kemba’s Skyguard that was a 1/1 because I had shrunk it once with a Trigon of Corruption I had out and 1 or 2 artifact creatures and a Sunspear Shikari with no equipment out. I had a Tel-Jilad Fallen, the Trigon of Corruption, and a Blight Mamba or something and I drew Skithiryx. I knew he could be holding Arrest or Turn to Slag since I hadn’t really given him a reason to use one of them yet in the game, or even Sunblast Angel since we were 7-2. I had out 3 Swamps so rather then play a hasty Skithiryx, I decided to pass the turn. He hit me for one with the flyer. At the end of his turn, I shrunk the Shikari, then I untapped and finished it off, and then gave him 3 poison counters with the Fallen. He untapped and Arrested the 3/1. I had to recharge the Trigon so it would have been 2 turns before it could even hit him again, but his play was definitely right because I had passed the turn with plenty of untapped mana so he had to assume I didn’t have any better creatures to cast, and he held unto the Arrest through the early game to make sure I didn’t. I untapped, drew a Swamp, played the Skithiryx with regeneration mana open and Arrest out of his hand now, and rode it to victory. He did draw some colored creatures and obviously his play of Arresting my guy was probably right for him but I definitely felt like I won myself a game I might not have otherwise so I was pretty pleased with myself. I was also pleased to be 8-2 with a horrendous Sealed. Martin went 8-1-1, and Wrapter, Eirik Aune, and GerryT went 9-1 I believe, so it wasn’t too bad a day overall.

So it’s no secret to everyone who knows me that I think poison is the best draft deck in this format. I don’t believe in forcing anything, but I am always hoping to see infect creatures. After the first draft, things were looking up I had Plague Stingers full of Cystbearers full of Ichorclaw Myrs and all the usual fixins. 3-0, and I don’t think I lost a game with this deck but I could be wrong. So now I was 11-2 headed to draft 2 needing around 2-0-1 to make top 8, just like Portland and just like Toronto. I started off the draft with Indomitable Archangel over Arc Trail. I still don’t know which of those I think is better since they are both really good. I do feel like Arc Trail is slightly overrated. It’s not hard to minimize the effects of opposing Arc Trails if you want to; you just have to play with them on your mind. The Archangel, if played early and unanswered, spells almost certain death for the opponent because the format really isn’t fast enough for people to race a turn 3-4 4-4 flier. That said, there are plenty of commons that kill it (Arrest, Grasp, Turn to Slag, and Blast sometimes) so I am not really sure where I stand on this pick. The rest of the draft just flowed magically. There was endless removal. I ended up RW with an Arc Trail, Contagion Clasp, 2 Arrest, 2 Galvanic Blast, Shatter, Scrapmelter, and Turn to Slag. My creatures were a little lacking though with my main ways to win being a Golem Artisan and the Archangel.

Round 14 was a really tight match against Owen Turtenwald. I was disappointed we weren’t a feature match as we both have pretty good resumes and we were still live for top 8, but whatever. We had 3 pretty long close games. Game 1 he had a Rusted Relic that every time I wanted to kill it, he was able to expertly shrink it with Spellbombs and the like. I did know it worked like that, but Scrapmelter and Shatter were in hiding so all I had were Turn to Slags and Arrests to try to stop him with and they failed. Game 2 was about the same but my Shatter and Arc Trail showed up and I was able to take it by blowing up most of his stuff. Game 3 went super long. We were both sandbagging a couple removal spells while we had out some really crappy creatures. Then He played Rusted Relic, forcing me to blow all my removal on his other guys to also nuke the relic. Luckily, this forced him to blow all his removal on my random 1/1s and whatnot because he was down to about 8. Then from there, I outdrew him while my deck coughed up Indomitable Archangel and Golem Artisan, while his only gave him a Razor Hippogriff, which was just quite not enough I was able to sneak it out.

Round 15 was one of my more embarrassing moments in the Grand Prix. While I honestly have been playing great lately, I didn’t know Auriok Replica sacrificed to prevent damage from spells; I thought it was just creatures. So I tried to set up a Galvanic Blast for the win and he just prevented it. I did honestly still win this match pretty easily on the strength of very good draws both games. I am sure I got pretty lucky. I just pretty much had it all and more both games.

So now I was in a weird spot. I was hoping to just be able to draw in since I was x-2 in a 16 round GP, but my tiebreaks stunk so I was not a lock. Basically my situation was this. If I play and lose I get 16th/17th, and if I win, I make top 8. If I draw I make top 8 with either Martin (the best Limited player in the world) losing to John Sonne. OR Wrapter (our current national champion and very good player) losing to Gerrard Fabiano who was playing to help try and get Sonne in. OR if my tiebreakers jumped about 1 percent, which isn’t very likely in the last round of a 16-round tournament. So on paper it seems like a pretty easy choice. 2 matches + tiebreakers are better than 1 match. Especially since I didn’t mention yet I had 24 pro points going in, so if I got 4 or more I would lock up level 6 for the year which is worth quite a bit of money. T12 is 4 points so the draw locked up the level. The only thing that sucked is being in a position to have to root for 2 friends and teammates to lose, but my rooting doesn’t change anything. I took the draw and left the site so as not to watch anyone’s matches. I didn’t want to cheer for what I needed and against my friends or vice versa so I just figured whatever is going to happen is going to happen ill come back in 50 minutes and find out who won. Martin and Wrapter won and I didn’t get any tiebreaker miracles so I found myself in 9th place.

Obviously if I knew I would get 9th I wouldn’t draw but if the round was about to start again, I would definitely make the same decision and take my chances for Martin or Wrapter to lose. It was the highest chance I had to make top 8 and now with level 6 locked up I can have some peace of mind for the next month, instead of having to sweat out an extra point or 2 at Worlds. So I finished our Limited GP season with 10th, 4th, and 9th in the 3 GPs and level 6 locked up for next year. No complaints here.

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