This week instead of the usual content, we'll be taking a step toward the lighter side of things. I'd like to share a couple of funny anecdotes from my trip to Grand Prix Anaheim, and some general thoughts on the now defunct Block format.
GP: Anaheim was... odd from my standpoint, at least so far. The format was surreal to actually play—while there were creatures crowding up tables in nearly every single match, playing the games felt much like the combo mirrors of olden times.
Anyone who has tested Bant could tell you that deck wasn't even pretending to play Magic. It just wanted to hexproof you out of the game. Kai compared it to playing High Tide in a field full of anti-creature control decks and that sounds about right. While things had changed by the GP, and Bant had become a known quantity so cards like Rolling Temblor got some maindeck action, in large part the lesson learned was to race everyone in this format.
In fact, even the normally plodding midrange decks could kill from out of nowhere. That's why I think the real story from the GP is the Jund deck that broke through. It either was just crushing people with Falkenrath Aristocrat backed by Wolfir Silverheart and Zealous Conscripts, or went to plan B which was to slam an Olivia Voldaren and take over the game.
It even got the best answer to these cards in Tragic Slip, since almost every other removal spell of note was hindered by sorcery speed!
Very few players seemed thrilled to be playing Block and many people wondered why this couldn't just be a Standard tournament. It didn't help that some people felt a bit flustered by buying 200-400 dollars in cards—only to see them drop by 1/3rd to 1/2 their price the minute the tournament actually started.
In fact, if you came down with a good Block deck you bought immediately after the PT and just sold it to dealers on-site, you probably doubled whatever you paid for it. I will thank the dealers who were buying Sigarda at nine and ten bucks a pop though.
Writing about the tournament itself would be rather silly at this point, as the majority of the matches I played (or anyone that I watched) were mostly straightforward affairs with little in the way of interesting decisions.
My friend Sean Gold started 7-0 and looked completely miserable the entire way. I asked him why and he told me this, “I haven't played a game of Magic yet! I'm in hexproof hell!” He went on to cash the GP and still complained on the car ride back to his place about only playing one real game of Magic. Another Golden quote: “That's why the most important thing over the weekend was acting: "SIGH I HAVE 3 MANA OPEN AND OBVIOUSLY NOTHING TO CAST WITH IT GO AHEAD PLEASE ATTACK ME, I'LL PICK UP MY PEN."
Moving on to some spicy tech from Anaheim—the most important part of all tournaments is focusing on what matters, which in Tom Martell's case meant focusing on leaving the event hall with his own possessions. For those of you who aren't aware, recent Grand Prix events have been trying a few new methods to prevent theft from happening, largely by just being reminding you that you should keep an eye on your own stuff.
At GP: Anaheim this meant that when you walked into the main event hall with a bag, you and your possessions were tagged with a numbered wristband. Then, when you left, a security employee would check that they both matched.
Multiple people have told me this story, so I believe it happened—though it would be an amusing anecdote, even if I was just being trolled. In Tom's case, he was tagged, but they missed his his bag. So, when he attempted to leave the hall he was stopped. Yes, they wouldn't let Tom Martell leave the hall with his own bag.
When he attempted this at all the exits, he finally caved, and asked what he would have to do to prove this was his bag so he could leave the hall with it. The security personnel were stumped and provided no useful answer to his question.
Having had enough of this silliness Tom proceeded to ask if he could leave with the bag if it was empty. This they apparently found reasonable enough. From what I'm told, he proceeded to take out all the belongings from his bag, stuffed them into his pockets and finally was allowed out.
Yeah, the system being used at Anaheim mayyyyy have needed a little bit of work. Personally I turned in two bags of stuff: one of which I didn't even bother looking through for identification before turning it in, and the second had multiple decks from Block and Standard which I probably could have sold for a grand on-site.
This is what I found from one day at a GP while just walking around, let alone actively trying to seek out loose bags and decks. This isn't an isolated event either. I turn stuff in at almost every major event I go to nowadays, and a couple of the WC judges know me purely from the lost and found.
The system employed is useful if the person stealing stuff has the smallest bag in the room, or he/she doesn't simply realize they could empty one bag into their own and just leave the 30 dollar backpack behind. Otherwise, it only provides a false sense of security, and makes for slow trawls in and out of the hall if someone has a problem at the door.
Let me be clear, it sucks that people are getting their possessions stolen at these major events. I've had things stolen as well and can empathize with the difficulty of keeping an eye on your belongings at all times.
With that said, a fair amount of stolen goods are the result of people leaving it behind and being shocked when someone took it when they remember it an hour later. I've known more than one person who just left stuff at an event and over the course of a few hours. It went from: 'I lost my stuff because I left it at a table and went to get food and came back thirty minutes later,' to: 'I wasn't watching my stuff for a minute and someone swooped in and nicked it off the table.'
Does the latter happen? Yeah. Does it happen anywhere near as often as the original story? Nope.
If you are dead set on bringing a large chunk of cash in cards to a Grand Prix, SCG Open or other large event, treat it as such and keep it attached to your body at all times. I won't rehash all the tips people have given over the years, but seriously just always be in contact with your bag and most of the time that'll be enough.
Moving on, as for the more relevant Constructed format, Standard—I'm sure some saw the SCG Open results, linked them to GP: Minny, and declared the end times. I still feel that the format is pretty fun. I honestly think there's a reasonable argument to be made for three decks as top-tier options and there's at least seven that can win on a given day. Yeah, I suspect that many of the best players will default to the deck with Ponder and Snapcaster Mage—that's a given. It doesn't mean every other strategy is garbage though!
It wouldn't surprise me if Delver remained at the top of the food chain until rotation came around, and I'm perfectly OK with that. As long as there's still room in Standard to metagame and make significant advancements in archetypes (Hi Grand Architect!), then I'll be happy with it. Maybe having Jund and Valakut around for an entire season just scarred me that badly compared to the current blue menace.
I'm glad Restoration Angel took off in Delver, I figured she would (http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/silvestri-says-avacyns-standard-metagame/) once people actually tried her out and made the effort to use her. I think some of the other Avacyn cards will make the same leap, much the same way that they dominated in the bulk of Block decks. It just leaps out more in Angel's case since she ended up in the best deck.
I also hope that if people suspect their local SCG Open or WCQ is going to be Delver dominated that they lean toward the best aggro or Lingering Souls strategies available. Unless of course you want to play Delver, in which case I fully support Twisted Image as a one or two-of to kill Birds of Paradise, Blood Artist, and Phantasmal Image. It can fill the cheap cantrip role and occasionally leads to blowouts, such as saving a Delver from a Shock or turning off a lethal Kessig Wolf Run pump.
If you want to go big though, learning from the Block reanimator strategies and adopting certain cards into Standard seems like a fine way to go about things. Overloading on some removal cards and abusing Lingering Souls is hardly the worst thing you could be doing against Delver decks. Further, It gives you one of the few strategies in the format that can still take easy advantage of planeswalkers, which seem to be waning in Top 8s over the recent weeks.
Conversations from the car:
How Surgical Extraction created Batman
Me: Yeah, Frites seems pretty powerful still. You could even try to do the Human—Glorious Angel route if Zombies is a thing.
Sam: Yeah, but every random is going to start his sideboard with four Surgical Extractions. Doesn't matter if the card is an actual blank in most matches, we've got a plan and we're definitely sticking to it.
Michael: Oh, good call. Yeah just like the SCG Open where I started Copperline Gorge and Birds of Paradise and my opponent snap called me on playing Frites. I thought *blank*, but then I looked at my hand, and reality set in that I really was playing Frites and not just killing them with RG Aggro. My first two opponents had something like 17 Nihil Spellbombs and 200 Surgical Extractions between them.
Sam: They definitely next leveled the Mulch players.
JJ: Yeah people just hate losing to stuff that's really unfair.
Sam: Like Delver.
Me: Nah, that doesn't leave enough of an impression.
JJ: Drawing seven with Griselbrand on turn three, and then killing them on turn five just makes a way bigger impact in people's heads.
Michael: People are strangely OK losing 20 games to the best deck in the format without changing their strategy. Blow them out of a handful of games with your sweet seven's and suddenly they hate you even if they match up well against you.
Me: That one tournament loss to Reanimator is their “dead parents” moment and then they become the night by snap adding four Surgical Extractions to the board.
JJ: So Batman is Surgical Extraction.
JJ: Batman is a dick.
Good night everybody!