Normally, I can’t justify flying all the way to the U.S. to play GPs—tickets alone range from $1,200-$1,500, and once you add in transportation, food, and lodging, I have to Top 4 the GP to make it worth it. Sometimes, however, I manage to chain multiple trips with one ticket—this time, I’d hit Orlando, San Antonio, and Mexico City before finally going back home.
I arrived Friday night in Orlando, which meant my trip basically started at the tournament. My pool was lacking in the bombs department, but it was solid overall, with a good curve and some removal. My deck ended up U/W, with 2 Spire Patrols and 2 Bastion Inventors to top an array of solid creatures, but not much else. It was mostly a tempo deck—I didn’t have enough power to beat the other bomb-heavy decks, but I was consistent and could overwhelm them if I had a good draw. I predicted I’d go 7-2 with it.
Day 1 was uneventful, and I finished at the solid-but-unspectacular 7-2 I assumed I’d finish. Shahar and Thiago, my roommates, were both 6-3. Bolovo’s last round was particularly beautiful, as he lost to an opponent who went turn-2 Mana Crypt, Untethered Express, and I made sure to laugh at him a lot because I am a good friend. Shahar decided he wouldn’t even show up for Day 2 since he was already GP capped, but Thiago needed points, and would be joining me on Sunday.
On Day 2, everything that could possibly go wrong did. It started with our Uber ride—Thiago called an Uber on his phone, and it showed the car as 1 minute away. 5 minutes later, the car was still 1 minute away. 5 more minutes, it was still 1 minute away. We canceled, and I called an Uber on my phone, with explicit instructions to take us to the “North Concourse” of the convention center, where the tournament was being held.
Our Uber took a perhaps slightly longer route than it needed to, and attempted to drop us off in a place that was clearly marked as West Concourse. He tells us this is the place, we tell him that no, it isn’t, and he has to go around and drop us somewhere else. Going around takes a very long time.
Eventually we reach a familiar entrance, and we tell our driver it’s fine to drop us off here, which he does. Upon climbing the stairs, though, we find ourselves facing not a Magic tournament but a cheerleading competition—it turned out that we were dropped off at the South Concourse. It’s remarkable how many times Magic tournaments have been held in the same venue as cheerleading competitions, now that I think of it—this might have been the 5th one I’ve seen.
As interesting as cheerleading is, we really want to get to the tournament, so we ask someone about the North Concourse. They tell us it’s a bit far. We have to go all the way across, pass through the double doors, and then turn right. We do that, except that the double doors happen to be closed. We ask someone else, and they say we have to go all the way across in the other direction, and then exit the convention center and go all the way around it. Great.
At this point we’re already running late, and I tell Thiago that we should run. He says he’s not going to run, and I decide that I will then run myself.
You might not know it from my incredibly athletic, olympian-like physique, but I suck at running. I can sprint quickly enough—long legs and all that—but if I run for 30 seconds I feel like my lungs are going to be ripped out of my chest. Whether that’s a factor of my having asthma when I was little or my completely sedentary, Nutella-fueled lifestyle, I’m not sure, but the fact remains that I am very bad at running, and the North Concourse was very far.
I ran and ran, until I couldn’t run anymore. Eventually, I resigned myself to the fact that I was probably going to miss the Draft. I alternated short sprints with fast walks until I eventually made it to the tournament at about 9:10. The pods were already seated, and I grab the first judge I find to tell him that I’m late and my friend is not far behind me. I drink about a liter of water, and then find my seat where my table is waiting for me. I’m breathless, sweating profusely, and seeing stars, but I’m ready to draft.
Thiago, unfortunately, didn’t make it. They felt they couldn’t hold the tournament any longer and started without him. He ended up being 7 minutes behind me, and arrived as the first card was being drafted.
Luckily for me, my Draft was basically a no-brainer. I started with Untethered Express, then some black cards and some green cards. I opened a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in pack 2, and then got a 4th or 5th pick Winding Constrictor to make sure I couldn’t stray from the right colors. In Kaladesh, I opened Smuggler’s Copter.
My deck turned out well, despite the miserable state I was in while I drafted it. It was basically all decent cards with a couple of bombs thrown in there, which is always a good recipe. I thought it could definitely 3-0 the pod.
The matches, unfortunately, didn’t go as well as I hoped. I went 1-2. In one of my matches, my opponent led with Augmenting Automaton, and I led with Smuggler’s Copter. Staring at a hand of two creatures, a land, and 2 Hunt the Weaks, I didn’t think there was a way I was going to lose, but my opponent disabused me of that notion very quickly when he tapped out on turn 3 to play Sword of Feast and Famine against my B/G deck. That’s karma for laughing at Thiago for losing to Mana Crypt, I guess.
At this point I was 8-4, and had to win my three remaining matches to get 2 Pro Points.
I opened a somewhat irrelevant pack, and got passed a pick-2 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary with a common missing, which I thought was pretty weird as, in my opinion, the card is easily better than any common. I took it, and then took 2 Trophy Mages to go with it, and never really strayed from U/G. Opening an Aethersphere Harvester in pack 2 to go with my 2 Treasure Mages didn’t hurt things, either. So, yeah, I got very lucky.
I won rounds 1 and 2, and then played against a pretty good U/W deck. Game 1 took a long time, and the key point of the game came when my opponent played Dawnfeather Eagle and attacked with everything. I lined up my blocks in a way that I thought were quite good for me, but killed his Treasure Keeper in the process, which promptly flipped Decommission to kill my Renegade Freighter and gain 3 life, at which point I couldn’t win the race anymore.
I won game 2 with a good draw, and then in game 3 I made a mistake that probably cost me the match. I had Aethersphere Harvester in my opening hand, as well as a Negate that I had sided in, and I had the choice between playing the Harvester on turn 3 or waiting for turn 5. I decided to play it, and my opponent immediately played Decommission. I ended the game without casting the Negate. I think that was a spot where I should have been more patient, as I wasn’t under a lot of pressure and his U/W deck had a lot of trouble getting through the Harvester. If I had waited, I would have probably won.
I wasn’t too worried about doing badly in Orlando, though, as there were still two more tournaments to go and we were going to have fun at the parks anyway. Our plan was to meet up with Ondrej and his two sisters and go to Universal on Monday, and Islands of Adventure on Tuesday.
In practice, our plan almost worked. Shahar decided he was too tired to go, and Thiago left one hour after arriving because he was feeling extremely ill. Poor Thiago—it wasn’t a great trip for him. We joined up with Chris Mascioli and Rudy Bza at the park, except that Rudy also wasn’t feeling well and left shortly after arriving.
We spent two full days in the parks, arriving early and leaving by the time they were closing. The lines weren’t long, the place is just enormous, and we wanted to do everything. Ondrej’s sisters were also big Harry Potter fans, and we spent a while in Hogsmeade and the Diagon Alley, as well as riding the Hogwarts Express from both parks (since the ride is different depending on which direction you go).
We did most of the rides, though I skipped some because I’m not a fan of heights. I don’t mind it once I’m already on the roller-coaster, but the ride up the incline at the beginning is agony to me. I feel like cattle going to the slaughter. I really like The Hulk because it speeds up during the initial launch, so it basically skips the part I don’t like, but something like the music roller coaster, with its vertical, slow, torturous launch, is not for me.
I know you’re begging for me to tell you, so here are my Top 8 attractions from Universal:
Top 8 Universal Attractions
8. Jurassic Park
7. Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges (Ondrej foolishly dismissed their “you will get soaked” warnings and kept his phone in his back pocket. That did not go well for the phone. It survived, but it now takes one day to charge and runs out of battery in a matter of hours)
6. The Hulk roller coaster
5. King Kong
4. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
3. Spider Man
2. Revenge of the Mummy
1. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (though it’s a bit nauseating)
On Wednesday, Ondrej’s sisters left to go back home, and Ondrej joined us in our room. We went to an outlet and to a mall, and we watched Power Rangers. All of us thought the movie was medium minus, except for Shahar who at one point laughed so much that he spit out his drink all over me.
On Friday, we left for San Antonio. You may have noticed that, among the things we did, “playing Modern” wasn’t one of them. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake given that Grand Prix San Antonio was Unified Modern, but I guess there’s no way to know for sure.
For Unified Modern, my team was Shahar and Thiago (Ondrej was playing with Oliver and Jason Chung). We knew we would likely have a Jund-type deck and a Snapcaster-type deck, but the third deck was up in the air.
In Team Modern, I’ve found that the hardest part is always splitting the black cards. There are many proactive decks in Modern that don’t share cards with anybody because they have such unique strategies (Affinity, Tron, Ad Nauseam, Scapeshift, Living End, Cheerios, Storm), but those are not the decks I like to play—I like to play the “generic answers” decks (Grixis, Faeries, Lantern, Abzan), as does Thiago. In Modern, most of the generic answers are in black.
To be able to play two generic-answer decks, one would have to be base black and the other base blue. Our initial idea was to play U/W and Abzan, which would work out except for the fact that Abzan would get no Path and you’d have to split the white sideboard cards. In the end, we decided that Unified Modern pushed fringe archetypes (e.g., we were more likely to play against something like Ad Nauseam than in a normal event), which made U/W a little bit worse. That was, I believe, a mistake, as U/W was a perfectly fine deck for everyone that played it.
Throughout the week, we talked with our teammates, and Sam Pardee said they had come up with a version of Abzan Death’s Shadow that they thought was quite good and could be played alongside Grixis if you weren’t married to Fatal Push in the control deck. I don’t love Death’s Shadow as much as everyone else seems to, but it has much better game than Abzan against the big-mana decks, which we thought was very important because Grixis was already using Fulminator Mage and Surgical Extraction.
That would work with our configuration, but it suffered from the problem that none of us wanted to play Death’s Shadow. Thiago and I had no experience with it, and liked straight Abzan more, but we didn’t think we could have both straight Abzan and Grixis. Shahar then said he didn’t mind playing the deck and thought he’d be able to pilot it well, so that was settled.
We then had to find a third deck. It couldn’t have Snapcaster or any of the black spells. It could have Path to Exile (which was another somewhat problematic card for Unified), but that would make Abzan worse.
In the end, I think we had two real choices: Eldrazi or Merfolk. I hate both decks with a passion, since I think they’re good but not spectacular when they draw their most important card in their opening hand (Eldrazi Temple and Aether Vial, respectively), and quite bad when they don’t, but they seemed to be the best we could do against an open field. Since Thiago also strongly disliked Eldrazi and some of our team members reported doing well with Merfolk, we decided to go for that.
Here are the 3 decks we played:
Abzan Death’s Shadow
The hardest part of the tournament by far was getting cards. We went to the site on Friday with the assumption that we’d just buy anything we were missing, but the dealers were actually out of many of the key cards, and the ones they did have were so expensive (Mishra’s Bauble for $45?!). Modern Masters sets are great for lowering the price of some cards, but they have the consequence of making everything else quite expensive. It reminded me of this cartoon from Cardboard Crack.
After going through all the dealers and talking to every single person I knew, we were still short on cards like Big Game Hunter and Unified Will. We managed to find the Big Game Hunters, but the Unified Wills eluded us. Eventually I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I needed 4 Unified Wills (2 for my team and 2 for Ondrej’s). After a couple of hours, someone I don’t know messaged me and said they had a friend that could lend me 2 Unified Wills. And those were the only 2 I got!
I ended up meeting said friend on Saturday morning to get my 2 Unified Wills, but Ondrej’s team actually couldn’t find them, and played Glen Elendra Archmage instead (it’s questionable whether more Negates would have been a better choice, but oh well). They actually lost a match in the tournament due to not having Unified Wills, which sucks.
The morning of the tournament, we’re driving to the site when Shahar nonchalantly starts a conversation:
“You know, I don’t think I know what Mishra’s Bauble does…”
“Are you serious?”
“Well, I know most of it. I know it puts a card from your graveyard on the bottom of your library. I just don’t know if you draw a card immediately or not.”
“Shahar, that’s… the other Bauble.”
“Oh… nevermind, I’ll just read it when I draw it.”
“Sigh… Just please don’t draw a card immediately.”
The tournament itself was full of highs and lows for us, with way more lows than highs. I don’t want to say who dragged the team down because that’s impolite and I’m not one to ever assign blame, but see if you can figure out who the least valuable member of the team was based on the result slip:
Kidding, kidding. We all actually did horribly, and combined three 3-4 records for a total record of 3-4. We’re nothing if not consistent.
There were many reasons for why we did badly, but the main problem was that none of us were very experienced with Death’s Shadow Zoo or Merfolk, which resulted in poor mulligan and sideboarding decisions, even when the three of us were involved. My Grixis games also didn’t go very well, though that was mostly a factor of bad in-game play than inexperience, as I’ve played this style of deck a lot before (for example, I had a turn in which I forgot to remove a counter from Ancestral Vision and almost lost because of it. The only reason I didn’t was that there wasn’t a land in the top 3 cards anyway, so I would have died regardless. Yeah, I peeked, I’m a masochist).
We had two main decision points that could have changed the outcome of our tournament. The first was in one of my matches against Affinity. My opponent played an Arcbound Ravager and I was given the choice of responding to it with a Bolt, or Bolting Ravager itself. I chose to Bolt Ravager, and my opponent sacrificed some permanents to keep it alive. Then, the following turn, I Bolted the Vault Skirge, assuming my opponent would just sacrifice it, but instead my opponent moved all-in on it. I assumed my opponent would not do this against a deck with Terminate, Cryptic Command, and Kolaghan’s Command, but in retrospect I think it was the right decision from him, as he likely wasn’t going to win the game through those cards anyway. When I failed to produce a way to deal with the huge Vault Skirge, I lost the game. I think if I had Bolted a creature in response rather than Bolting the Ravager, I probably would have won.
The second key point was in Thiago’s match, Merfolk versus Eldrazi. We had two 2/1 Silvergill Adepts in play (one tapped) and a Cursecatcher, and our opponent had a Noble Hierarch, an Eldrazi Displacer, an Eldrazi Temple with Spreading Seas on it, a green land of some sort, and an Engineered Explosives on 2. Our opponent attacked with the Displacer (which was a 4/4 because of exalted), and we had to think about whether we wanted to chump or not. After some deliberation, we didn’t chump. On our turn, we attacked and the opponent blew the Engineered Explosives.
I think this was a pretty big mistake on our part, because the opponent, having mana problems, is bound to sacrifice the Engineered Explosives anyway to get rid of the Spreading Seas. The only question is when the opponent is going to do it, and how we can best capitalize. If we block, then the opponent is surely not going to sacrifice it during combat. They’ll wait until the end of the turn because 2 damage is not a lot, and they want to stop us from playing other Merfolk. If we don’t block, then he might do it immediately, taking no damage but freeing us to play other Merfolk. When I analyzed the play, I assumed we’d want to play 2-drops, so the scenario in which the opponent sacrificed the Explosives immediately wasn’t bad for us.
In practice, after we attacked, we realized our best play was to pass the turn and play Vendilion Clique instead, which was something we could have done even if we had chumped. By not chumping, we took 4 extra damage, and we failed to deal 2. Many turns later, our opponent killed us for exactly enough damage when we could only attack them down to 1. The game would have played out differently, but I think that, had we chump blocked, we would have won. This type of play is pretty tough, as chump blocking early in the game when you’re at a high life total is almost never correct and completely not intuitive, but I think it was definitely right this time around.
As I’ve already previewed, we ended up 3-4 dropping at the event.
After the tournament, Shahar left to go back home, and Jason Chung joined us in his place. Our remaining time in San Antonio was spent mostly eating and playing League of Legends, though I don’t think we won many games.
On Wednesday, we flew to Mexico City. I’d been to Mexico once before (to Guadalajara), but for only two days, so I was looking forward to doing some sightseeing. At least that was the plan.
In practice, I just wanted to go home. I was tired and I felt very sick. This is a continual problem when I chain multiple trips together. In the last one, I almost never want to do anything. I enjoy sightseeing a lot, but I think about two weeks is the limit of how long I want to stay away right now, and Mexico was after that.
So we mostly stayed at our hotel, watching League of Legends and 13 Reasons Why. Ondrej loved the show and binge watched it in two days. Thiago kept saying he hated it, but sometimes I’d wake up at 7 a.m. and he’d be watching it already, all the while complaining about how bad it was over and over.
We did go out to a fancy restaurant once, where we had, of all things, guacamole with grasshoppers. My main dish also had flowers in it. It’s intriguing to me that, the fancier the restaurant gets, the more disgusting the food usually is.
The grasshoppers weren’t bad, exactly—they didn’t taste like anything—they were small and crunchy. Still, they certainly didn’t add much to the dish, which brings up the question of why you’d ever eat them to begin with.
All in all, I think I’m just not built for fancy food. Perhaps there is a defense mechanism in my brain that prevents me from liking it because it knows it’s just too expensive and nothing good can come out of loving it. I notice a difference in expensive food, but not nearly enough to justify how much more expensive it is. I’ve had $100 steak once (courtesy of opening a Tarmogoyf in a Modern Masters tournament), and though it tasted better than $20 steak, it didn’t taste that much better. Certainly not $80 better. I’m fine paying for the experience of eating something that is supposedly amazing, but I’ll certainly never come back, as the food itself simply isn’t worth it for a guy with simple taste like me. Just give me Olive Garden or Cheesecake Factory and I’ll be happy.
Saturday arrived soon enough, and we found ourselves staring a pretty mediocre Sealed pool. Nothing in it was appealing. We had no bomb rares, little synergy, and we were mostly lacking the good commons.
It was immediately clear that we wanted a R/W deck since we had a Depala, another R/W gold card, and some Vehicles. Past that, we would have to find a way to make our blue artifacts deck work. We had 3 Aether Swoopers and 3 Bastion Inventors, and that had to be the core of the blue deck because it had nothing else going for it.
Eventually, we settled for U/R, R/W, and B/G. Ondrej likes the clunky, “do a lot of things that amount to very little” decks, so he got U/R. I like being aggro and killing people (at least in Kaladesh Limited), so I got R/W. Thiago doesn’t like anything, so he was left with B/G.
All three of our decks were mediocre. Ondrej’s was good if he drew Aether Swooper and it lived, but nonfunctional if he didn’t. Thiago’s was just a B/G deck with creatures and removal, but no particularly great late-game. My R/W deck was probably the best, but it had to rely on killing the opponent quickly, as we didn’t have many good late-game cards other than Release the Gremlins.
We ended up 6-3 on Day 1, losing to the number 1 and 2 ranked teams per LSV’s official rankings: Owen, Reid, Huey and EFro, Ben, Cuneo. We were disappointed, but knew that we could still Top 4 due to the size of the event, so we were excited to open our second pool.
The excitement was short lived, as this pool wasn’t that great either. It was better than the first pool, I thought, but it wasn’t a 5-0 pool.
As soon as we sorted the cards by color, Thiago deemed white unplayable. So naturally, we ended up with not 1, not 2, but 3 white decks.
The main challenge we had on the second pool was the low number of 2-drops. Blue had none, red had one, and black had a few. Only green was self-sufficient when it came to 2-drops. Except that white had a bunch of them, so we paired red with white for 2-drops, added some control cards to the black deck, and decided to play U/G in the third one. We had plenty of fixing (2 Renegade Maps, 1 Unbridled Growth, 3 Attunes), so we splashed 2 Spire Patrols because the deck was lacking 4-drops.
Another challenge we had was how to build the Bant deck, exactly. We had a ton of good 1-mana cards, but we couldn’t well play 10 lands, so we had to cut some of them otherwise we’d be flooded. The deck had Longtusk Cub and Deadlock Trap for energy, so it wanted Attune, but it also had 5 revolt cards, so it wanted Map, Growth, and Implement (plus Implement is an actual card). We ended up settling for 2 Attunes, 2 Maps, the Growth, and only 1 Implement, along with 14 lands, which ended up being excessive—Thiago took out a land on the draw most of the time.
We won match 1, but had a soul-crushing defeat in match 2 when our opponents overextended into the Fumigate they knew we had. We todecked the Fumigate to get back in the game, and then drew a couple of lands in a row to lose anyway. At this point, we were out of contention, but could still get 3 Pro Points, which would have been very good.
It was not to be. We won the next 2 rounds, but lost the last one in what ended up being a very complicated game that I’m sure we could have won if we played differently. We finished 9-5, which was good for money because of the size of the event, but not good enough for Pro Points.
Overall, it was a very disappointing trip, Magic-wise. We played in 2 team events, which are normally easier to do well in, and didn’t get Pro Points in any of them. The Modern one I understand, because we didn’t practice for it, but I was really hoping we’d do well in the Team Limited event. That said, the rest of the trip was a blast. I got to do a lot of nice things with my friends, so as long as I saw it as a vacation and not a business trip, then I still enjoyed it.