With Pro Tour Austin in the books, I was looking forward to GP Tampa and what would hopefully be another successful event. I was happy with what happened in Austin, and Tampa ended up being no different. Despite narrowly missing Top Eight due to a few matches drawing, the trip was both rewarding and awesome. Still, there were a few dark clouds that loomed overhead throughout the event.
Unlike the trip to Austin, the trip to Tampa was more of a surgical military strike than a prolonged event. We flew in late Friday night and left early Monday morning. One of the first hurdles was actually getting to the site. Problems!?!? Really?!?! As it turned out, GP "Tampa" was actually being held far away in a town called Bradenton, which was about a forty-minute taxi ride away from the Tampa airport. Thanks to Tom Martell, we were able caravan in a Super Shuttle for a nominal fee.
The second hurdle was the "hotel" we stayed at. There were two places recommended by the tournament organizer. The Courtyard Marriot was the first; it was legit. However, there was a cheaper alternative: the Days Inn. Neither place was near the site. Both places required taking the free shuttle service to get to the venue. Now, I don't need to go and explain how much Magic players love getting value out of something. Sometimes it's just not worth it.
The Day's Inn was actually the seediest motel in the seediest town in Florida. Every cliche you'd expect from the motel scene in a B-rated 70's horror flick was present: Curtains that didn't close, a cigarette smell permeating everything in the room, broken faucets, a flooded bathroom, a TV that turns off when the volume is raised, shady patrons wheeling AC units from their room as we walk up, dim lighting, and cars vrooming off into the dark at 3 AM in the morning. I thought I was going to die.
Saturday morning came around and I was thankful that I had not been stabbed during the night. We made it to the site. After registering, Luis, Wrapter, and I walked around to meet with people and catch up from last week in Austin. It was nice to see everyone there. Steve Sadin had just turned twenty-one and had gone out the previous night with some friends, the effects of which were still resonating.
The site was pretty bad; the bathrooms were miserable and there were no places around to buy food from except for a 7-Eleven that was soon overrun by hordes of unkempt magic players. I lied. There was actually a decent concession stand. The old couple working there had some amazing homemade deserts like bread pudding and pumpkin tarts. Yum.
The actual Grand Prix gets underway. I received my pool and noticed the depth of Black. There were a lot of nice cards. The problem I had with building was choosing a second color to compliment the Black. All four remaining colors were options, and there was also the possibility of making a four-color Green-based deck because of good fixing. Here is the pool that I had to work with:
Black is incredibly deep and offers multiple ways to utilize the color. Only Mire Blight is unplayable. With so many low drops, it would be easy to make an excellent aggro deck depending on what the second color offers. Two Nimana Sell-Sword make a strong start for an Ally theme. Two Disfigures would allow for a powerful black splash in a green deck.
Blue has more cards that favor a long game than aggressive cards. Some cards function well in both decks; Whiplash Trap is good in either. Welkin Tern and Seascape Aerialist function better in an aggressive deck. While the Aerialist isn't the type of creature you'd normally want (a five-mana 2/3), it is good when there are many Allies in your deck; it allows you to force through the last points of damage. Reckless Scholar, Merfolk Seastalkers, Sphinx of Lost Truths, and Ior Ruin Expedition are all cards that want to be in long games.
Green allows you to go in multiple directions. Two Oran-Rief Survivalists let you get unbeatable Ally draws. Savage Silhouette is an underrated card. If you can play around the opponent's removal and make the enchantment stick, you're probably going to win most games because it's very hard to beat a big regenerator. Nissa's Chosen is also very good. Three toughness is important in the format because it's so hard to beat them with what's available. The value of Vampire Nighthawk, Giant Scorpion, and Nissa's Chosen would lower drastically if they had two toughness. Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition allow for the possibility of splashing colors for removal. Mold Shambler is an excellent utility card. Every deck is going to have multiple targets like Soul Stair Expedition and Adventuring Gear. Rampaging Baloths is a bomb. Greenweaver Druid and Grazing Gladehart allow you to accelerate/survive to the late game.
Red is also deep. Plated Geopede, Hellkite Charger, and Burst Lightning stand out from the other cards. Red favors an aggressive deck. Magma Rift, Mark of Mutiny, and two copies of Goblin War Paint help out aggressive decks more than others. Seismic Shudder is a good sideboard card against aggressive decks.
White is shallow, but there are still good cards. Two Ondu Clerics allow for a more defensive deck to get off the ground before being overrun. Kor Aeronaut and Kor Outfitter are fine aggressive cards, but require a heavy White base, which is impossible with the low number of White cards. The best cards are Shepherd of the Lost, Windborne Charge, and two copies of Kor Hookmaster. It's very hard to beat Shepherd of the Lost with creatures. Kor Hookmaster and Windborne Charge give aggressive decks the reach needed to win games. Kor Hookmaster is also an excellent defensive card. It will stop one creature attacking for a turn and trade with another.
Hedron Scrabbler is not very good. It is still playable in an aggressive deck with a heavy landfall theme. Stonework Puma always makes the cut. It will trigger your other allies and block problematic cards like Bladetusk Boar. Adventuring Gear is one of the best commons. It forces through so much damage making your mediocre weenie creatures into giants. Expedition Map is fine when you're splashing a color or need to find a land like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Explorer's Scope is more of a niche card. Without Landfall it's not worth including. Khalni Gem is an excellent card that enables landfall and color splashes. However, you must be careful to not get blown out by Kor Sanctifiers, Into the Roil, and Mold Shambler when playing with it.
Refuges are excellent at supporting splashes. For example, if a blue/green deck were to be constructed, it would be quite easy to splash Burst Lightning and Shepherd of the Lost. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is better in draft than sealed because it's easier to get a heavy/mono-red deck. In sealed, it's unlikely that you'll have more than eleven red sources, so it's going to be quite difficult to trigger Valakut. Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is a good card. There are eight green creatures in the card pool to use it with.
An aggressive deck is the most common way to go in Zendikar, because there are more cards that lend themselves to aggressive strategies than not. Black is clearly the best in our pool; it has lots of removal and cheap creatures. The question is what is the next best color? Including Stonework Puma and Adventuring Gear, there are fifteen slots filled in the deck (every black spell except for Bog Tatters and Mire Blight). That leaves roughly seven slots for other cards. Stonework Puma can be cut for a better spell depending on the number of Allies in the deck.
Blue offers Welkin Tern, Reckless Scholar, Merfolk Seastalkers, Aether Figment, Sphinx of Lost Truths, and two Whiplash Traps. One of the main problems about blue is that the creature curve is high. There aren't that many two-drops available which makes the deck really lean on its removal and Adventuring Gear for support. There are some good synergies within black/blue. Whiplash Trap is brutal when combined with Blood Seeker. In an aggressive deck like this, the tempo generated from the two cards will allow you to close out games easily. Aether Figment, Merfolk Seastalkers, and Sphinx of Lost Truths are excellent cards; they give the deck the staying power necessary to win after turn seven. Blue lacks synergy with Allies. There aren't enough to warrant playing Seascape Aerialist. There isn't an Umara Raptor.
Green has Nissa's Chosen, two Oran-Rief Survivalist, Grazing Gladehart, Mold Shambler, Rampaging Baloths, Savage Silhouette, and Harrow. The two Oran-Rief Survivalists give the deck another way to overrun the opponent. A draw that curves out with multiple +1/+1 counter Allies will win games by itself. Unlike Seascape Aerialist, Oran-Rief Survivalist is a card that would be played on its own. A Grizzly Bear makes Blood Seeker more of a threat as well as turning Guul Draz Vampire into a Bladetusk Boar sooner. Grazing Gladehart is excellent when facing other decks that want to race. Rampaging Baloths will win games on its own; it's so good when you can play it and a land in the same turn. Savage Silhouette functions as a better Adventuring Gear. One of the questionable cards is Harrow. Soul Stair Expedition, Adventuring Gear, Grazing Gladehart, and Rampaging Baloths are the only cards that have synergy with it, which is a bit light.
Red offers many cards. There are so many that it's possible to sculpt the deck so that it has a broad range of aggressiveness. Plated Geopede, Molten Ravager, Bladetusk Boar, Shatterskull Giant, Tuktuk Grunts, Hellkite Charger, Burst Lightning, two Goblin War Paint, Slaughter Cry, Magma Rift, Mark of Mutiny, and Spire Barrage are all options. That's a total of twenty-eight spells which means that six need to be cut. It's possible to run twenty-three spells, but with Plated Geopede and Adventuring Gear, it's important to have lands to enable Landfall. A more controlling deck would cut the two copies of Goblin War Paint, Slaughter Cry, Mark of Mutiny, Magma Rift, and one more card. However, the black low-drops lend themselves more towards the aggressive side of red. You could add Goblin War Paint, Slaughter Cry, and Mark of Mutiny back in place of other cards depending on what you wanted to do.
White doesn't offer as many cards as the other colors. It has: Kor Aeronaut, two copies of Kor Hookmaster, Shepherd of the Lost, Bold Defense, and Windborne Charge. Ondu Cleric isn't very good in the deck for a few reasons. It doesn't attack well and there aren't enough other good Allies that need the synergy. Kor Outfitter makes the mana awkward. You want to play him on turn two, but you also want to play a Vampire on turn one. The two scenarios are mutually exclusive. Bog Tatters would be a better card to play in the last slot.
Back to the Grand Prix,
As it turned out, I decided to run with Black/Green. All four colors had a good late game card: Sphinx of Lost Truths, Rampaging Baloths, Hellkite Charger, and Shepherd of the Lost. I felt that green had the most synergy with what black was trying to do. The Ally theme was the strongest with four +1/+1 counter Allies in addition to Stonework Puma. I was unsure about Harrow, Bog Tatters, and eighteen lands. Black is quite popular in sealed and I probably would have been better off running it maindeck.
I was fortunate enough to still have three byes off of rating. After a 3v3 against the Japanese (I'm surprised that Web doesn't mention that he and Josh both 2-1ed, while I sunk us at 0-3 - LSV), I went to go get cards signed and do some trading. After everything was finished, there was enough time to get a bite to eat before round four started. There were 831 people playing which translated into nine rounds of Swiss day one with a cut to top-128 or everyone with a record of 7-2 (whichever was greater).
Round 4: Gary Talim
We know each other back from California. After catching up for a minute of so, we get to playing. Game one I had turn one Vampire Lacerator followed by turn two Blood Seeker and Stonework Puma a few turns after that. His draw was very slow. Despite running out of spells and drawing lands for a few turns, I was able to go all the way with my men and a Disfigure. He played Hellkite Charger on the last turn, but it didn't matter because Disfigure cleared a path for the necessary last points of damage.
Game two was similar. He was stuck on only red mana while I played some Oran-Rief Survivalists. He used Burst Lightning to kill one, but he was still stuck on five mana and packed his cards up when I played a kicked Mold Shambler.
Round 5: Darryll Fish
Game one he mulligans to five, but has a really good draw and was able to climb back into the game despite being down two cards. He is playing a Red/Black deck with a lot of removal. I don't remember the exact details, but we traded back and forth, and I was able to win at six life.
Game three is similar to the first two games, but I was able to resolve [card]Rampaging Baloths[/card] on turn seven, making a token in the process. I could have played it turn six, but figured getting a 4/4 for sure was worth waiting a turn. He tried to race with Hagra Crocodile and Crypt Ripper, but I traded my token with his Crocodile and then counterattacked. He had no good blocks and died to Rampaging Baloths a turn later.
Round 6: Rob Dettman
Game one I ran him over quickly, because he had only one creature to play before turn five. He was Blue/White and couldn't deal with my quick double-Ally draw.
Game two was much closer. He played a Makindi Shieldmate, but nothing else. I thought the situation to be odd and decided to hold back on playing both my Sell-Sword and Lacerator when he chump-blocked my Stonework Puma that had Savage Silhouette on it. I only played the Vampire to leave regeneration mana open in case he had Day of Judgment. It turns out that he just didn't want to take damage, as he used Kor Skyfisher to make double-Blue from his lone Island and Whiplash Trap my two creatures and then play Shepherd of the Lost the turn afterwards. I was in trouble, but was able to use Disfigure and Adventuring Gear to make combat profitable. I won at one life after alpha-striking with Guul Draz Vampire plus three other creatures.
Round 7: Conley Woods
Game one was a war of attrition. I had quick beats like normal, curving out beginning on turn one. However, the game stalled and I wasn't able to break through a River Boa. I found a Disfigure to kill the snake and won after that with the help of Blood Seeker.
Conley decided to draw game two and I was forced to mulligan an awesome hand minus a Swamp. My six-card hand wasn't much better, but it was better than five. I had no plays and only one land for a few turns, but started to draw out of it. His hand was slow, but full of removal. My creatures started to die to Seismic Shudder, Disfigure, and Burst Lightning. My shortage of land continued while he was able to find some creatures to kill me with.
Game three I decided to draw. I don't remember much about this one, so perhaps Conley will be able to chime in on this one. I know that I lost.
Round 8: Jonathan Melamed
Game one was long and drawn out. I had two Blood Seekers against his Grazing Glazehart. Merfolk Seastalkers and Sky Ruin Drake were able to hold off my team for quite a long time. In addition to the Blood Seekers, I had Savage Silhouette on a Survivalist, two Sell-Swords, and a large Guul Draz Vampire. He wasn't able to tap down my team before I drew enough creatures to overrun him.
Game three was dominated by Rampaging Baloths, with not much else happening that I can recall.
Round 9: Olivier Ruel
Game one he curved out with Kazandu Blademaster and Kor Outfitter. I played Oran-Rief Survivalist followed by Giant Scorpion to block his guys, but he bought turns with Kor Hookmaster and Goblin Shortcutter. I played a Grazing Gladehart to gain some life back. He attacked with his creatures and I put my Scorpion on his Outfitter and my Survivalist on his Shortcutter, effectively playing around Bold Defense. He had Punishing Fire for my Giant Scorpion after damage. I put Savage Silhouette on my Gladehart to hold him off until I could tap out for Rampaging Baloths. He attacked into my team. I called and blocked, taking two damage in the process. Luckily, he didn't have anything. I decided to play around Pitfall Trap and hold back my Baloths, and two turns later the game was mine.
Game two he played Goblin Shortcutter and Kazandu Blademaster, but I had Disfigure for both of them. I made some men in the process and all he could do was draw and say go. A few turns later he was dead. He hadn't drawn any men to strap the two copies of Goblin War Paint in his hand onto.
With day one was over, I went to check around and see how Wrapter and Luis were doing. Sadly both of them lost the last round to not make day two. They had the fire and I decided to draft with them against some of the Floridians. Fortunately we were able to win that draft and headed to Chili's for a late-night dinner. Chili's was actually the best choice we had. There wasn't much around and open after 11 PM, but the chicken fajitas were still as good as I remember.
Day two arrived far too quickly. I knew that my first pod wasn't going to have many free wins and got ready to draft:
I opened a mediocre pack and took Welkin Tern. I would have preferred to start in Black or Red, but this was fine. Second pick I could have taken a Bladetusk Boar, but decided to wait for more signals and take Blazing Torch instead. I was rewarded with another Welkin Tern. Blue kept flowing, and by the end of the pack, I had three Welkin Terns, a Sky Ruin Drake, Ior Ruin Expedition, Kraken Hatchling, and Merfolk Wayfinder. Additionally, I had dipped into Red for a Hellfire Mongrel, Goblin War Paint and Magma Rift.
Pack two was insane. I opened Living Tsunami and got passed Trusty Machete second pick. Red didn't appear to be open on this side either, but there were two late Kor Hookmasters. I also picked up two Whiplash Traps, an Into the Roil, and an Adventuring Gear. My deck was excellent going into pack three. Pack three was very disappointing. I was only able to pick up four good cards. I opened Journey to Nowhere and got passed Sky Ruin Drake, Windrider Eel, and a fourth Welkin Tern.
I decided to play two copies of Hedron Scrabbler over Kraken Hatchling because they fit better with the theme of the deck: attacking quickly. If I came across another super-aggressive deck, then I would bring in the Hatchlings to replace the Scrabblers. Overall I was happy with how the deck had turned out and was expecting nothing less than a 2-1 record with it.
Round 10: Alex Majlaton
Game one I kept a hand with Explorer's Scope, Welkin Tern, Hedron Scrabbler, and four Islands on the draw. My remaining draws were lands and I am soon eaten alive by a Timbermaw Larva among other assorted green/white creatures.
Game two was looking good from the start. However, I got stuck on three lands and drew my Kor Hookmasters too early. He played Shepherd of the Lost and I couldn't beat through it. It took an extra three-four turns before I found a fourth land to play Living Tsunami. Vines of Vastwood destroyed it when I went to block with it. From there, I found another land and was able to play Sky Ruin Drake. He was starting to attack with a 5/5 Timbermaw Larva. I had set up a lethal two turns of attacking with four two-power flyers through his Shepherd of the Lost. My plan would have worked if he didn't have Arrow Volley Trap to utterly destroy me.
Round 11: Yuuya Watanabe
Game one I had Welkin Tern on turn two like every game. He threatened to play something scary on turn four with his turn-three Greenweaver Druid. I had Blazing Torch, but decided to delay the decision with Kor Hookmaster to see if anything developed. A turn later I killed off his druid after nothing had happened. Oran-Rief Recluse killed off a Tern, but I made another one. My Tern was able to attack through his Recluse with the help of Adventuring Gear, but that soon stopped when he played a Windrider Eel. I used Whiplash Trap to bounce his Eel and another creature and attack. His Recluse was forced to chump and he died two turns later.
Game two I had Welkin Tern again on turn two. Kor Hookmaster traded with his Oran-Rief Survivalist as I raced in the air with two Welkin Terns. He made Rampaging Baloths but I had the Journey to Nowhere. Relic Crush brought the Baloths back and he made a token. Whiplash Trap bounced the token and Baloths to buy enough time to kill him before he could trample me to death.
Round 12: Richard Hoaen
Game one he had an early Kazandu Blademaster, as well as Kabira Crossroads and Kor Skyfisher buy him time and gain life back from my early Welkin Tern beats. I'm able to break through his Skyfisher with a Hookmaster and Into the Roil. Adventuring Gear allowed me to keep the pressure up. Eventually I played a kicked Tempest Owl and it cleared the path.
Game two he mulliganed to five and never played a spell. At the end he showed me the two Tajuru Archer he had in his hand. Thankfully for me, he never drew a Forest.
With the first pod out of the way, I was in a decent position to make top 8 if the second draft went well. When the pod seating went up, I noticed that the second draft was likely to be similar to the first.
This draft was a train wreck. I opened Living Tsunami, Devout Lightcaster, and Kazandu Blademaster. I took the Living Tsunami. Afterwards I took a Kor Hookmaster out of a very weak pack. I didn't like the signals that I was sending for pack two. I should have gone into Green. There was an abundance of Green in pack one, but I didn't want to abandon what I had. I was looking to make another aggressive Blue/White deck, but the cards just weren't there. At the end of pack one, I had also gotten Blazing Torch, Paralyzing Grasp, Cliff Threader, Bold Defense, Windborne Charge, Nimbus Wings, Brave the Elements, and Tempest Owl.
Pack two yielded more controlling cards. This draft was abysmal. I picked up two Ior Ruin Expeditions, Summoner's Bane, another Paralyzing Grasp, Umara Raptor, Misty Rainforest, Sky Ruin Drake, Kor Cartographer and Noble Vestige. I couldn't decide betwKazandu Blademastereen an aggressive deck and a control deck. The packs weren't cooperating with me and as a result many of my picks were wasted on suboptimal cards.
The draft was a mess. After reviewing the pool between pack two and three, it seemed like aggro wasn't going to be as likely. I didn't have enough of the cards and would have to play some mishmash of mid-range/control. Pack three I opened up Roil Elemental and Journey to Nowhere. Normally I would have taken the Journey to Nowhere. However, I felt that I would need to mise to win. Therefore, I took the Roil Elemental. I got a Kazandu Blademaster, Makindi Shieldmate, and some other bad slow cards. Here's the monstrosity that I built:
Round 13: Mat Marr
Game one went extremely long. I put all three Paralyzing Grasps on his creatures, including a Terra Stomper. He had Frontier Guide searching out lands and I couldn't break through his Sky Ruin Drake with my Living Tsunami. I was able to regain a bunch of life with Kabira Crossroads and Living Tsunami.
I finally found my Roil Elemental and hoped to break through his flyer. The board was quite cluttered since it was at least turn fifteen. I stole his Sky Ruin Drake but he had Heartstabber Mosquito the turn afterwards. Hideous End killed my Living Tsunami and I was soon overrun his creatures. The rest of my creatures were too small and couldn't kill much.
Game two was over quickly. I don't remember exactly what happened, but I had a Summoner's Bane to stop his first play. Sky Ruin Drake took it all the way before he could find an answer.
Game three I had Noble Vestige and Sky Ruin Drake attacking him. He played Baloth Cage Trap and kicked Mold Shambler to destroy my Ior Ruin Expedition with two counters on it. I went to attack with my flyers and play Makindi Shieldmate and Paralyzing Grasp on his tapped Baloth Cage Trap token. My plan would have worked except for the fact that the Paralyzing Grasp landed on the untapped Mold Shambler instead. He queried about the play and I said I put the enchantment on the Baloth token. It was obvious what I wanted to do. He said it wasn't so obvious. The judge watching said that because [card]Mold Shambler[/card] was a legal target and that I hadn't announced a target as well as played another spell after Paralyzing Grasp, it would be impossible to back up the game. I appealed but the ruling was held up. I got hit for another four damage from the token and he played Terra Stomper. The Terra Stomper walked all over my team of creatures and ate me alive.
Round 14: Ben Stark
Game two was also one-sided, but not as much. I played Living Tsunami on turn four with two Summoner's Banes in hand. I got one hit in with the Tsunami before it got swallowed up by Journey to Nowhere. Summoner's Bane took out his next two creatures which generated enough tempo to mount an offensive. Neither of us had anything relevant for a few turns, but my tokens were enough to finish him off.
Game three he had a faster opening with Guul Draz Vampire, Blood Seeker, and Vampire Hexmage. I put Paralyzing Grasp on the Guul Draz Vampire and Vampire Hexmage. Living Tsunami got eaten by Journey to Nowhere again, but I had some backup, with Kazandu Blademaster and an Umara Raptor beating down. Roil Elemental showed up and started to steal creatures. Vampire Hexmage removed the counters from my Umara Raptor. Arrow Volley Trap also bought some time for him to find one of the few outs he had to Roil Elemental. He didn't draw Marsh Casualties or Disfigure to save himself.
Round 15: Lucas Siow
I'm at the top of the bracket going into the round and can make top 8 if I win and a few of the x-2s play it out. Lucas understood this and conceded. Sadly, nearly all of the matches figured out they could draw safely and I was forced into ninth.
Many people would say that I did a good job; ninth place, four pro points, and $600 should warrant praise. However, I was disappointed with this GP. I played poorly in nearly every round during both days. That isn't to say that I played terribly. Rather, I made minor mistakes. I missed multiple Blood Seeker triggers, an Ally trigger, and didn't have my head completely in the game like I normally do. There were many factors that contributed to this appalling display, none of which deserve to be blamed other than me for not dealing with them.
After the Swiss rounds were over, we did a few drafts. I was tired and only did one which we won (obviously). The shuttle service took about fifteen of us to Chili's where we ambushed them about thirty minutes before they were closing. I went to re-buy on the chicken fajitas and was not disappointed. Luis and Wrapter went off to draft the night away while I headed back to the seedy Day's Inn to sleep.
We met up with BDM in the morning to take a shuttle to the airport and even managed to sneak in a 2v2 before we left on our separate ways. The flight back was terribly long. I had to fly from Tampa north to Philadelphia. From there I had an hour layover followed by a six hour flight back to San Francisco. Needless to say, I was happy to be home. I was glad to have gone to Florida to meet up with my friends and play a bit of magic. Hopefully by the time GP Minneapolis happens, I'll have found the stuff I forgot to bring with me to Tampa.