It has been a ride, that is for sure. It might have been an uncomfortable ride in the backseat of a taxi, but it’s still a ride. Still. Counts. If you asked me a few months ago where I thought I would be right now, I don’t think I would have guessed that it would be writing this article from a hotel room in Brazil on a wild chase for a shot at Worlds.
It all started in Matt Costa Rica. Brad Nelson and I decided on a whim to book for Grand Prix Costa Rica last month and go play that GP for no reason at all. It’s like those Facebook posts where people are like “share this picture of a goat for no reason at all.” Only instead of a goat, it was us flying to a foreign country to play Magic. Neither of us had much to gain from it. We just wanted to play a sweet 500-player Grand Prix. Fabrizio Anteri had an enormous lead in the Grand Prix Player of the Year race, and I had enough Pro Points that I was Gold but pretty far short of Platinum. The incentives were not there. We just wanted to battle.
Suddenly, Fabrizio was out of the race and I managed to make Top 8 of GP Costa Rica—I found myself thrust into the thick of things for the GP Player of the Year race. It suddenly meant a lot to me. I wasn’t going to be able to skip any Grand Prix the rest of the season.
After Costa Rica, I made the decision to go to GP Sao Paulo Vitor Dama Da Rosa in Brazil. Tickets were about $1,500, and it was Team Sealed, so I was going to need to convince two other… um… less-than-bright individuals to make the trip with me. You have to be a certain kind of… person… to make a trip to Brazil where you have to get 2nd place to break even on the trip.
Thankfully, Shaheen Soorani was exactly the breed of individual who was willing to pull something like this off. Together, once our forces were combined, we were able to woo Pascal Maynard into doing something he would almost certainly regret. Pascal jumped on board the newly minted Team Degenerates, and we booked some costly tickets to Sao Paulo to play some Team Sealed.
Shaheen had never played a game of Limited in this format. Pascal and I were both a bit rusty from the Pro Tour. Where do we sign up? Oh, signups are online. Thank you.
We did manage to get some practice in before the event. Well, as long as Shaheen saying “I didn’t know that card was in the set” when his opponent would slam a weak card counts as practice. Groundskeeper, yo.
I decided to take a slightly worse flight plan just so I could be on the same flights as Shaheen. I haven’t always had success traveling in the past, and one of my biggest fears is being alone and lost in a country where I can’t communicate with anyone. I don’t like flying out alone.
For me, the trip involved getting up at 6 a.m. on Thursday, hitting the gym, doing a few last-minute tasks, and then driving the 4 hours to beautiful, exotic Norfolk, Virginia to fly out with Shaheen. We got some late lunch and then headed to the airport where we were greeted with a slight flight delay. Off to a good start!
By “slight flight delay,” I mean our flight was delayed 4-and-a-half hours and the reason for the delay was that the flight attendant forgot the safety information card. I wish I was making this up. Unfortunately, my imagination is not strong enough to come up with an excuse as ridiculous as that one was. “Dog ate my homework” just got outclassed, and it wasn’t even a competition. Our safety was not at risk, but information regarding it was not looking good. Apparently, they don’t have printers, and the safety information card cannot be reproduced without the express written consent of the National Football League, or something like that.
Eventually, we took off. Luckily, we had a 6-hour delay in Miami so we were still on pace to make the first of our connecting flights on this travel marathon. When we arrived in Miami, we had a good 30-45 minutes until the next flight boarded. Turns out, that was not really enough time. It was 1 a.m. and the shuttles were no longer open for business. So were all the screens telling us where our next flight was departing. We asked someone and she told us “Gate J.”
Gate J was like 2-3 miles away, and we had to go out and then through security again. Shaheen and I are not exactly exhibits of physical fitness, but we made record time booking it through the Miami airport. They flagged one of my bags going through security and stopped me. Shaheen took off for the gate to hold it for me. After I finally got my bags, I had to run through the J gate and got there right as they were about to close it off and deny me access. Just in the Nicholas of time.
We made it—to our first connecting flight! Two more to go. My shirt was drenched in sweat from running through the airport, there was someone in my seat, and then someone in the other seat they told me to sit in. They also had no space for my bags and were extremely rude about “where I could store them,” but we made it!
It was mostly smooth sailing from there. We flew to Lima, Peru, and then from Lima to Sao Paulo, where we took an Uber to our hotel. When it was all said and done, it was about 32 hours of consecutive travel for me. I was wiped.
Pascal had some issues getting through customs, and Shaheen had a few as well, but the entirety of Team Degenerates had made it and we were ready to battle.
My role on the team was to basically be the team mule. I did all the dirty work. I was the B seat and I filled out all the deck registration sheets, and played the cards and decks that nobody else wanted to play. I figured that I had played a lot more games of Limited in this format and was more comfortable playing bad decks because I frequently draft really bad decks. Look, every time I draft a bad deck, it’s on purpose for testing. It’s definitely not that I messed up every pick of every pack. It’s never that, and I object to any insinuation that it is.
We sat down to get our first pool and decided to spew off our “one time.” The tradition of the “one time” is that everyone has access to a “one time” situation where they get to open the nut Sealed pool, or draw the perfect out, or what have you. Just that one time, things will actually go right. It’s not something to take lightly or waste.
We took it lightly and wasted it. Our first pool was really strong, so it worked out. Shaheen built a nearly mono-black-splash-green delirium deck with 3 Tooth Collectors and The Gitrog Monster. Pascal put together a strong green/white aggro deck with Tireless Tracker as the only rare, but it had a lot of strong GW cards.
They left me to my own devices with our other cards, and I ended up building a UR deck, splashing Nahiri and Descend Upon the Sinful with only 3 Plains. Shaheen and Pascal basically gave me full reign to throw whatever cards I wanted into this deck. Classic mistake. I also had Thing in the Ice, Geralf’s Masterpiece, and Burn from Within. I had a lot of spells—instants, in particular. I built the deck based on some draft decks I had drafted in testing from the Pro Tour, where I played every Werewolf I had in red, even over some better creatures, just because I could frequently play a Werewolf and then pass the turn the next turn and play some instant on their turn. My opponents had no real clue what I was doing. I would tempo them out with some Werewolves in game 1, and in game 2 they’d board against that and lose to me playing a bunch of removal spells, Nahiri, and Descend Upon the Sinful. I even got to Fireball my opponent for 16 in round 1 with Burn from Within and Geistblast, after he took 7 self-inflicted damage from Westvale Abbey to drop from 23-16. Combat damage is overrated.
We ended Day 1 at 7-1-1, which, with how good our decks were, was actually a bit disappointing.
We had used our “one time” on Day 1, so on Day 2 we wished for a “two time” to the two-time gods. They answered our cries. We had an even stronger pool on Day 2. Shaheen put together a powerful RB Vampire deck with 2 Stensia Masquerades and Pascal ended up with an even better GW deck, complete with Archangel Avacyn.
I got stuck with the dregs and played a mediocre but serviceable GB delirium deck. I had some good cards, but overall it wasn’t my thing. I managed to draw extremely well and win most of my matches anyway. That two time life.
We crested pretty easily into the Top 4.
Since we had already used our one and two times, we wished to the three time gods for our draft. We took it one step too far that time. Things didn’t go so well for us, or the other team, for that matter. All 3 of us were in red, and all 3 of our opponents were in black. Shaheen and I were both RG Werewolves and we both played against BW decks. Pascal built a UR deck and easily dispatched a GB deck.
My opponent had Sorin and a bunch of creatures on the other side of the board to my completely empty board. Thankfully, we knew from the draft that he didn’t really have any removal and I was able to win by literally going ham with Kessig Dire Swine. It was certainly not a boaring game. I slammed the Dire Swine with delirium. Next turn, I crashed into Sorin and played Spiteful Motives to build a 9/6 first strike, trampling Dire Swine, killing off 3 blockers. The following turn I suited that beast up with a True-Faith Censer and a 10/7 vigilant, trampling, first-striking horror pig did the kind of things they do. They smash face.
I felt good after winning that game, but it was not to be. Shaheen got ranched in his match, and I easily lost game 2. Game 3, I thought I had under control. My opponent had again assembled Sorin and a big board, but once again Kessig Dire Swine had taken Sorin down and was mounting an assault on the life total. I got the opponent down to 2 life without much of a board, but he kept drawing random creatures every turn to barely not die. Finally, the last turn, he was down to absolutely nothing and drew his one out—Humble the Brute to kill the Dire Swine. I did not draw a spell the rest of the game, and we ended up exiting in the semifinals.
The crowd cheered as the local team defeated us foreign monsters. Personally, that is the kind of thing that I love most about playing in tournaments outside of the United States. People get excited when they win, and they celebrate their victories. I wish we could be more open to that kind of thing in the U.S.
By making Top 4, Shaheen qualified for the next 3 Pro Tours, Pascal hit Platinum, and I took a 1-point lead over Tomoharu Saito in the GP Player of the Year race with one event to go. Our degenerate decision turned out to be pretty smart after all. Hah. No. It was still dumb. It just worked out.
Brazil was pretty awesome, all things considered. The food was great and the people were friendly. The matches of Magic were fun.
Next stop: Sydney. Hopefully. I still haven’t heard back about getting a visa yet.