The GP Pitts

The last few weeks have been mostly Legacy, or, more accurately, Miracles themed for me. GP Columbus was Legacy and the following weekend I got to run back some hot Legacy action again. Legacy is a favorite format of mine, so I always cherish the times I get Stifled/Wastelanded out of the game or lose on turn 2 to Sneak and Show. I don’t get many opportunities these days to have my lands locked down by Rishadan Port, to never be able to resolve a relevant spell through Chalice of the Void, or to slowly drain the life out of my opponent’s eyes by soft-locking them with Counterbalance/Top. These rare and wonderful moments are something you can never take for granted and I try to make sure I really enjoy each and every one.

What all this Legacy time meant was that I hadn’t put much time into testing for Grand Prix Pittsburgh, which was Standard. I’ll save you some time in reading this article and get right to the heart of the matter: I’m not very bright. Curtain drop. Fin.

I should have played one of two decks. I should have either played GW Tokens, the best deck in Standard, or I should have played Bant Company, the deck I played to Top 8 at GP Costa Rica. Either of those would have been great choices.

I didn’t want to play GW Tokens mainly because I felt way behind with the deck. It had been months since I’d played with it, and since then there were a lot of innovations and adjustments to the deck I was unfamiliar with. I also used to feel very favored in the GW mirror match at the start of this format, but now I wasn’t so sure. I felt like I would probably be outclassed by people who had been putting a lot of time and thought into it.

I didn’t want to play Bant Company because I wasn’t sure the GW Tokens match was passable, and taking a deck into a tournament with a bad GW Tokens matchup isn’t a great idea. *Cue ominous foreshadowing music*.

What I ended up doing was playing the surprise choice behind door number 3.

Sometimes when you’re thick in a really tight Grand Prix race, you have to mix things up a bit and employ a little bit of a frog strategy. This was that time. Nobody ever respects a frog strategy. And, to be fair, nor should they.

Salty Sultai

In all actuality, while Sultai was actually putting up pretty good results on Magic Online, this specific list was a Brad Nelson creation. Brad had been working on Salty Sultai for quite a while. Brad’s special touch on the deck was the Deathmist Raptor sideboard plan, which was designed to go under a lot of decks that could out-grind Sultai and serve as a consistent source of on-board card advantage against decks like Bant Humans or Bant Company that always threatened to take control of the board.

The Deathmist strategy was definitely a success, if for no other reason than the surprised looks on my opponent’s faces when I casually slammed a Deathmist Raptor into play on turn 3. Also, I won a lot with it.

The tournament was an interesting one. I started out 7-0 after my 3 byes, and there were some truly wild games of Magic. I had a crazy match against Bant Company where Gitrog Monster was in play for about 10 turns and despite drawing many cards a turn, it was barely enough to hang on to win. At one point I had to steal Eldrazi Displacer with Silumgar so I could use Displacer to insulate myself from a lethal attack the next turn. Three different times in that game I was dead unless I drew a specific card, and I drew it all 3 times.

Another match involved me keeping a hand of Sylvan Advocate, Nissa, Vastwood Seer and 5 lands. I’m not actually sure if I drew a single spell for the first 5 turns of the game. My opponent was playing a sweet Grixis Dragons deck and he had a really slow hand with a few Read the Bones, so I was able to chip shot him a bunch until he dealt with my board. Eventually we got to a board state where I had 5 lands in play, 5 lands in hand, no board, and he’s at 6 life. He had just Duressed me, so he knows I’m running on fumes, and he had a full grip of nothing but gas.

He plays a Chandra and smacks me down to 14 life with the tokens. I untap and casually draw Dragonlord Silumgar, steal his Chandra, and hit him for exactly 6 damage. Stolen win.

During this time, one of my contacts was really starting to irritate my eye. It was getting progressively worse, so I had to bite the bullet at one point and just take it out of my eye and throw it away. That left me rocking the classic cyclops strategy, where I could only really see out of one eye, while the other eye was just kind of there to make things blurry. For anyone who has ever had to do this, the end result is that you get a really, really bad headache the longer and longer you carry on in this way.

As the day dragged on, I was getting brutalized by a headache, and I actually ended up losing both of the last 2 matches I played to finish the day out at 7-2. Who knows if the headache had anything to do with it.

On Day 2, my eye was still recovering from the previous day’s irritation and refused to accept a contact, so I resorted to a tried and true strategy, known simply as the cyclops strategy. Oh wait, you’re familiar with that one? That’s right, I ran back the cyclops on Day 2. It worked out all right on Day 1, so I figured, “What the hey. Let’s try this bad boy out a second time.”

I ended up finishing up with an 11-4 record, good for a Top 64 finish. Over the course of the event, I played GW Tokens 4 times and went 1-3 against it. In testing for the event, I felt like GW was a fine matchup, but if the tokens pilot is playing a Gerry-Thompson-style list and adopting his sideboarding plan of Nissa, Vastwood Seers and Den Protectors, and if they know to emblem their Gideons to play around Dragonlord Silumgar, then it is very hard for Sultai to win. That happened a lot. It was hard for me to win. I did not.

In testing for the event on Magic Online, I didn’t like Dragonlord Silumgar very much. I felt like he was one of the weakest cards in the deck and that was validated over the course of the event where he was one of the weakest cards in the deck. To me that signifies that the blue splash is unneeded, and I feel like a white splash for Sorin, Grim Nemesis would actually just be an upgrade. You even get access to Shambling Vent, which is a delight with Sylvan Advocate.

To sum it up, the deck is pretty nice, but needs to be able to beat GW to be a real deck in the metagame. I don’t think this list in the current iteration can do that.

The most “fun” part of the weekend was the drive home. A few cars had driven up from Roanoke, and some people were staying an extra night in Pittsburgh to see concerts or watch baseball games, so I ended up driving back with Eric Hymel, a local Roanoke Magic player, in tow. We had both played Sultai at the GP and both went 11-4, so we were basically Salty Sultai bros.

Eric’s major claim to fame at this point was his on-point navigational skills. Apparently, on the drive to Pittsburgh, Brad Nelson and Eric had encountered a flood that had engulfed a road. A detour was needed. Eric took lead on finding an alternate route and he led Brad to a road that slowly went from a paved road to an unmarked paved road, to a gravel road, and suddenly it was just an ATV trail on a random farm somewhere deep in the heart of Virginia, or maybe even West Virginia at that point. Who knows. Brad wasn’t particularly pleased as they had to backtrack.

I had driven up with Ross Merriam and our trip was full of sunshine, butterflies, and smooth sailing, as we encountered zero floods, zero closed roads, and no mishaps of any kind. We just ended up going a different route apparently, one consisting of highways and main roads.

Well, I am a firm believer in second chances, and more importantly, my phone’s GPS wasn’t working, so I gave Eric another opportunity earn his navigator badge. We started driving home from Pittsburgh and I noticed that we weren’t taking the same route Ross and I had driven on the way to the event. I asked Eric to make sure we were on the right route, and he confirmed that this was definitely the fastest route back to Roanoke.

A few hours later, deep in the heart of rural West Virginia, I hear the GPS pipe up with “In two miles, turn left on Arbuckle Road.” Excuse me? What was that? It sounded like it said Arbuckle Road. Pittsburgh is a major U.S. city. Roanoke is a medium-sized U.S. city, but it runs along Interstate 81, one of the largest highways in the Eastern U.S. When traveling from two reasonably sized cities, one would assume that the entire route would consist of nothing more than highway driving. In fact, Ross Merriam and I drove from Roanoke to Pittsburgh on reasonably-sized highways the entire time.

What the GPS should have said was, “In two miles, turn left on highway 60” or “In two miles, merge onto interstate 81”. But what it actually said was, “In two miles turn onto Arbuckle Road.” Not a highway. Arbuckle Road. This was just a random road in the middle of nowhere West Virginia. Not one to disobey the almighty GPS, I buckled up, buckled down, and turned on the famed Arbuckle Road. Thus began an adventure.

We missed the next turn, obviously. The GPS kept telling us to make a U-turn after our error, but Eric assured me that if we continued on, we could take a series of roads to eventually meet up with the road we were supposed to get on in the first place. Having flashbacks to Eric and Brad’s farmyard adventures of a few days ago, I came to a pretty easy decision. I made a U-turn. We got back on track.

Also, I decided at this point to inform Eric that I was driving while only able to see out of one eye, and that my depth perception might be slightly off. It’s no real problem, though. We were only on small, windy roads that didn’t always have lines marked on them, somewhere in West Virginia late at night when it’s dark outside and hard to see. It shouldn’t be an issue. The speed limit signs all said 55 m.p.h., but there were definitely some curves in those roads that you couldn’t really take at faster than 20. None of those curves were marked with signs letting you know that was going to be the case, so I got to employ some of my Tokyo Drift skills where I’d roll up on what looked to be a gentle curve in the road that ended up getting wicked. I’d have to liberally apply the brakes while maintaining deft wheel control to successfully make it through. You’d think I’d start to see those curves coming, but then again, I couldn’t really see much of anything at all.

After what seemed like, and actually was, hours curving our way through West Virginia’s finest, I saw an Exxon in the distance, and I knew we had once again made it to civilization. I loudly and openly rejoiced and wept, caring not for what others thought of my emotional display. We had made it. We were able to enjoy smooth highway driving the rest of the way, and we made it back safe and sound to beautiful Roanoke, VA, with nary a harm to our bodies.

I remained unconvinced the entirety of the drive home that Arbuckle Road was truly the fastest route. I made sure to plug it into Google maps when I got home. It was long past the point of mattering, but my curiosity needed to be satiated. According to Google, it was the fastest route for 2-eyed humanoids by a whopping 12 minutes, but when I swapped over to Google’s one-eyed humanoid driving directions, interstate 81 would have been a better route.

Lesson learned.

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