My tale begins at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. My alarm went off and sent me, bleary-eyed, about my business of showering and throwing clothes in a bag for the weekend GP. In my tired state, I forgot to eat, and before I could even finish my morning game of League of Legends, my roommate Jeremy arrived to shuffle me out the door and into Rob Vaca’s car. We made one stop to grab Sam Kuprewicz before hitting the highway.
At this point I began to voice my hunger. It didn’t take long to burn through their sympathy. After about 15 minutes I was coaxed (like a small child) into eating a Cliff bar, and after an excruciating drive we pulled over for KFC, where I ordered three actual meals (but only two with drinks).
Once we arrived in Indy, we checked in before walking back outside, braving the cold for about 10 feet to get to Applebees. While I view Applebees as a void of good eats, I still ordered a pile of mashed potatoes and chicken (because I hadn’t had enough of that yet). The over-eating isn’t pure gluttony, of course, but also to help me sleep. Rest is a big deal in a long tournament where endurance plays such a huge role. I even had a few drinks. I make a point to abstain before Magic events, but my sweet tooth got the better of me.
The next day, we got up early and walked to the convention center through the sky walk. The architect that designed those things deserves a medal or something, because it was freezing out and we walked right past an in-hotel Starbucks.
Registration was painless. I shipped my playmat and promo for $16, making the actual entry fee $24, which is very reasonable for a giant Limited event. I didn’t pay for the sleep-in special. No matter how cheap and easy the sleep-in becomes, I’ll always want to get up early and start handling Magic cards. I’m slow to wake and, like an old car in winter, my brain needs time to warm up.
I registered an excellent Bant Control pool with a Sphinx’s Revelation, and noted a variety of traps in the pool. I always hear people talk about how Sealed events are giant luck-fests, but in my experience that’s rarely the case. A pool has tons of possibilities, including sideboard options, and it’s hard to know what strategies are best against what archetypes.
In this specific event, I knew that Selesnya had a ton of raw power and good matchups. Cards like Gatecreeper Vine offer better mana, letting you play more of your bombs and removal. With games going later in Sealed than in draft, the populate mechanic has more time to take over a game.
My pool offered a reasonable but unexciting Selesnya deck. I knew that in order to make Day Two I’d have to beat some busted pools near the end of the day. I had a few bombs that would help out, including a [card trostani, selesnya's voice]Trostani[/card] (with a mere three token enablers) and a Deadbridge Goliath.
I wanted a way to win the mirror. In the end, I splashed a Mercurial Chemister off of two Azorius Guildgates, a Gatecreeper Vine, an Izzet Guildgate, a Transguild Promenade, and a single Mountain. I wanted a comes-into-play-untapped land that could cast Chemister, to hedge against situations where I had a Guildgate in play and a Chemister stuck in hand. The Mountain meant I would be able to use a topdecked Gatecreeper Vine to cast my bomb a full turn earlier.
When asked about my deck, I told people it was, “Selesnya splashing Mercurial Chemister.” My friends were not surprised by my greed.
“Remember that prerelease pool you helped me with?” Rob asked.
I grinned. The story starts with Rob at a prerelease, looking for advice on his build. First he finds Joe Bernal, who takes his three-color deck and hands him back a four-color monstrosity. Rob comes to me for a second opinion. I add the fifth color, and Rob 5-0s the event.
Over the course of the day, my greed payed off yet again, and Chemister did a lot of work. My loss came to Jway (of 65-card Valakut fame) piloting five-color good stuff. A value deck like that gets to play all of its removal and evasive threats, making it a bad matchup for a deck like mine, which needs to milk one of its bombs.
Car results: Sam 8-1, Me 8-1, Jeremy Dead, Rob Dead.
Notes from Day One:
1) You’ve probably heard it before, but not from me. Deadbridge Goliath is stupid good, and I would’ve been much happier with my pool if I’d known how bomby this card is.
2) If you untap with [card niv-mizzet, dracogenius]Niv-Mizzet[/card], tapping UURR to cast Inspiration is a questionable play.
4) I’m not sure how many Rootborn Defenses are too many. Five?
That night, we went to St. Elmo’s for steak. Sam didn’t come, since he’s a vegetarian, but we picked up a few others with the allure of fine dining and alcohol.
I made my usual mistake of ordering the Prime Rib medium-rare instead of rare. I don’t get Prime Rib often, and when I do I forget that it’s slow-cooked throughout the day, and any extra cooking just removes the flavor. In any case, it was excellent. I’m loath to spend more than thirty dollars on a meal, but at a fine steakhouse I’ll happily go up to a hundred.
I ate for the itis. The others ate to relieve tilt. We all left satisfied. We had planned on a round of Cards Against Humanity, but our exhaustion got the better of us.
Sam and I woke far too early, and we walked to the event site to sit around and play Chinese poker. In this game, you need to split thirteen cards to make a five-card high, a five-card low, and a three-card side hand (with the high always being better than the three). Since aces are high, the lowest hand possible is 2-3-4-5-7. The goal is to not only beat your opponent 2/3, but preferably 3-0, and most of the strategy comes from knowing when to balance and when to sacrifice. Once you get the hang of it, the game is more fun with a timer.
After a while, others gathered around us, and we were taught how to play Big Two. The deck is dealt among four players, and the object is to get rid of all your cards first. 2s are high (hence the name) with typical rankings after that, including suits (spades high, clubs low, hearts over diamonds). Whoever gets the 3 of clubs leads, and can open with the single 3, a pair, or a five-card poker hand (the lowest being a straight). After that, you play a higher hand of the same type (singles on singles, pairs on pairs) clockwise around the table until everyone passes, and whoever made the last play gets to clear the board and start over. The strategy comes from following cards, denying opponent’s plays, and after that knowing when to split up certain card groupings as they lose their viability (say splitting up a full boat to take control of a run of pairs).
Our game broke up as they announced the player meeting. After I sat down, I made idle chit chat with the guy across from me. At one point, he mentioned how he thought the D’s looked “stacked.”
“How do you figure?” I asked.
He started listing the names of people he saw around him, and I tuned him out as I gazed over the rest of the room. Ringers, pros, grinders. I recognized almost half of the 128 players, most of which I wouldn’t want to face on Day Two of a Grand Prix, and not grouped around any particular part of the alphabet.
The guy across from me was listing writers like Reid Duke, Brian DeMars, and myself. Strong enough players, to be sure, but it takes a different set of eyes to see the grinders that, while making money at the game, don’t have their face on a major web site week after week. Just as a painter could tell you why the Mona Lisa doesn’t suck (I have no clue), I could go down the list of Day Two players and rattle off personality ticks, strengths, weaknesses, and locations.
For example, in my first pod I sat across from Joey Mispagel, a local grinder. Joey likes his seat to be comfortable, and once he picks his car he drives it as long as possible. I can count on him to be playing Reanimator in Legacy and tapping black creatures in Standard. While he isn’t the next LSV, he isn’t in the business of giving away matches either, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the Pro Tour soon.
I was passing to Dan Jordan, who’s more of a name. While Dan can tilt as much as the rest of us, he makes an effort to be a “good guy” opponent, which is admirable. Dan has a reasonably broad range, but he prefers consistent decks with acceleration, cantrips, and sweepers. He has less of a grip on Legacy, and is more likely to tap guys in that format. I don’t know Dan as well as Joey, but I like him as much as the next guy, and even if I didn’t I don’t see what use there would be to declaring my dislike on the internet.
I felt unusually competent while drafting my first pod. I exuded patience, passing multiple bombs to send good signals, resulting in a focused deck. I ended up with Deadbridge Goliath again, as well as the [card korozda guildmage]BG Guildmage[/card]. I 6-0′d the pod by drawing well and controlling the board, despite a few loose plays.
The next pod was tougher. LSV posted the list for Twitter:
I’ve had some tough draft pods before, but none like this. Even Sam, the least known of the bunch, I’m roughly even against at Limited.
At this stage in the game, Fennel was the only undefeated, and locked for Top 8. Adam, Sam, and Josh were all X-2, and needed to win two rounds in order to have a chance at drawing in. The rest of us were X-1.
I pack1pick1′d a Pack Rat, and once again BG was open. I nabbed a guildmage, some lifelinkers, and some scavenge guys. A pack three Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord gave me a much needed boost in power. Unlike my first draft, however, I wasn’t happy with my spot. Rather than picking my target and calling my shot, I was being swept along, and while my deck looked great on paper I felt uneasy. This draft was high powered, and I don’t do as well in those drafts. I prefer when people have to scrap for playability and get creative. Still, I had a Rat, and hopefully that was good enough to get me a win. After all, I only needed one in two rounds.
I picked the short straw and had to face Ben Stark, a hard lock as one of the best Limited players in the world. I mulled on the play two games in a row, and two-for-one’d myself with Launch Party a few times. Ben boarded correctly, and had a pile of 0/4 walls to stymy my aggression in game two. Had I been on my game, I would’ve predicted him getting more defensive and chosen to draw, but I wasn’t and didn’t.
Fortunately, I had a second win and in. Unfortunately, it was against LSV.
“You know, the last time we played in one of these I won the event,” he said, referring to an intense match we had in Kansas City which featured multiple deckings and a turn three [card tezzeret, agent of bolas]Tezzeret[/card].
“So you’re saying I’m due,” I said.
“I guess that’s one way to look at it.”
In game one, I mulled on the play, but kept a fine six including a Jarad. I took a reasonable line, trading off creatures and filling my graveyard, but stalled on green mana.
“Right on time,” I said.
Luis played a Loxodon Smiter on three. I spent my next turn making a Rat, but declined to block, as a combat trick or removal spell this early would destroy my position before the Rats got going. Luis passed the turn with four mana up.
I made my first clear mistake here. Rather than leave my original Rat back to double-block with my Beetle, I left a token. That meant the Jarad in my hand was less powerful, as the token doesn’t leave a body in the graveyard. Fortunately, this small slip didn’t matter, as I discarded the Jarad the next turn.
On my end of turn, Luis cast Eyes in the Skies before untapping and cracking in. I considered triple-blocking his Smiter, but double-blocked instead, trading a Rat. I made a Rat and Luis made a [card sunspire griffin]2/3 flyer[/card] before passing with two mana up.
I untapped, made two Rats, and attacked in again. Luis cast Druid’s Deliverance, populating a Bird, before taking his turn and dropping Phantom General. He swung in with all of his flyers but the 1/3, dropping me to 3. I stared at the board, feeling a twist of nausea hit my gut. I’d gone from winning the race handily to losing it.
If you’re going to spew, spew into this
I went to my draw step.
“It would take a pretty good card here,” Luis said.
I drew Daggerdrome Imp, my only real out. I floated three mana, sacrificed two lands, and returned Jarad to my hand to make a Rat before attacking with four 5/5s. Since Luis was at 18, this forced him to block with both of his creatures or take lethal to me discarding my last card.
On my second main phase, I cast the Imp.
“That would be that really good card I mentioned,” Luis said.
In retrospect, I played this turn incorrectly. I should’ve flashed him the Daggerdrome Imp, saying something like, “Got there,” or, “Didn’t get there.” It doesn’t matter what I actually say, just so long as it appears the flashing is for emphasis.
With the information that he can’t crack back to kill me, leaving himself at mercy to his draw step, it’s possible he would’ve rolled the dice to see if I forgot the Jarad in my graveyard, letting me win on the spot.
He attacked me with his 2/3, which I blocked to go to 4. He cast a Seller of Songbirds and passed the turn with exactly five blockers for my Rats.
In the last round of the tournament, I got paired down to Sam, who scooped to give me an outside chance at Top 8 at X-3. I got 12th.
After the GP was over, I played a bit of Big Two before grabbing some dinner at Noodles to Go and birding my roommate Jeremy in a Standard side event. If he Top 4′d, he’d play in another draft, the winner of which would get an expenses-paid trip to Seattle to troll Wizards R&D and play in a 20k. The rest of the draft Top 8 would be made up of a Sealed event.
I’d given him the GW deck that I’d played at the Invitational. While I didn’t perform well there, I feel that was mostly due to bad beats, poor play, and above average opponents. I’d tested the deck to death and I knew that it was a strong choice and that Jeremy could do well with it.
Here’s the list he played:
This deck is not the typical pile of midrange stuff it may appear to be. It has a ton of unique strengths, and I believe it’s one of the strongest choices for the current field.
Gavony Township decks require a ton of fast mana in order to work effectively, and between the Farseeks, Borderland Rangers, and one-drops, we’re running 36 mana sources. This is the engine, the backbone of the deck.
Three Sunpetal Groves look strange on paper, but there are a few one landers that you’ll want to keep with this deck, and not working with Arbor Elf is a big deal. After all, the Elf is one of the main reasons to stick to two colors in the first place. After a turn one mana guy, you can go turn two 4/4 or Triumph of Ferocity with ease. Curving out with Centaur Healer into Restoration Angel into Thragtusk gives this deck a draw that beats the Rakdos nut draw, which is strong main deck. Hands with a flurry of mana generation tend to do silly things like turn three Thragtusk or turn five Angel of Serenity.
The Farseeks are an addition by James Buckingham, who worked with me for the Standard portion of the Invitational. At the time, I was getting frustrated with [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card], which was awful against opposing Farseeks, Izzet Staticasters, Pillar of Flames, [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmasters[/card], and low-cost sweepers. Farseek is a better two-drop because it gave the mana base some resiliency to removal.
Like the Naya decks, you also want to play a fast Thragtusk and blink it with Restoration Angel. The format reminded me of the old Naya Pod mirrors, and I knew I wanted a similar approach to breaking it. In that format, I added [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] at the top of my curve and played as many Gavony Townships as possible. I knew that if my opponent and I had the same creatures in play, I wanted trumps that made my threats bigger and better. The logic works in this format too, and the only good answer to an Angel of Serenity is another Angel of Serenity.
Gavony Township is a powerful engine, and can turn losing board states into winning ones in a few short turns. I’ve seen a 1/1 Spirit token trade with a Drogskol Reaver due to this land.
I get a headache every time I try to figure out the correct number of Selesnya Charms. The card can be amazing or mediocre, depending on what you’re playing against. Note that Kessig Wolf Run and Runechanter’s Pike can give you targets out of nowhere. I make a 2/2 roughly one game in thirty.
Oblivion Ring performs in any deck in any format. I’d run more, but Township requires a high level of creatures and I don’t want to overload on non-threats.
Buckingham added the Garruk Relentless, and it solves a lot of problems for the deck. Its most important job is to munch on opposing Staticasters and, more importantly, Huntmaster of the Fells. Sometimes you can tutor up an Angel or a Geist-Honored Monk, and that’s amazing.
I’m still not sure why Naya decks are playing Huntmasters when Garruk wins the mirror. They might need Huntmasters for Rakdos, even though everyone’s running plenty of Pillar of Flames without many other targets. If the Naya players ran more acceleration, they could speed up to Thragtusk while making room for midrange trumps like Garruk and Angel of Serenity.
Triumph of Ferocity has the potential to absolutely dominate a game. This is a green Phyrexian Arena, or Jace Beleren for you newer players, and it’s much more consistent than it looks. If you’re facing a control deck, a turn two Triumph will trigger off your mana dork. Against Naya, you can both have Thragtusks, but yours will draw you cards. After I used it to win a few games against Rakdos (the one matchup it gets boarded out in), I was sold.
Garruk, Primal Hunter is another way to beat the control decks, and I wish there was room for a second in the sideboard. Often, it bins for five immediately, though if I have an answer to a Detention Sphere I’m more likely to tick it up. As with Garruk Relentless, the most powerful thing you can do is find Angel of Serenity.
All in all, I think this is one of the best decks for the current meta, and I recommend it for any event, including the upcoming GP Atlanta. There are a few flexible slots in the deck, but I would keep it at least 58/60 and 71/75.
Back to our story.
Despite my best intentions to bird, Jeremy finished most of his matches 2-0, ending games around the same time he got to seven mana. He did lose to Esper Control, which I didn’t test against. Apparently the guy hit a turn two Terminus, eating two mana dorks, which sounds realistic. I imagine that planeswalkers, uncounterable Angels, and Nevermores are all roughly as important as they are against Bant.
I did get to live a few rounds vicariously, which was a lot of fun. I even noticed him making a sequencing error, which he doesn’t do often. He mulled to the following six on the play:
He led Forest into Avacyn’s Pilgrim, and I had to swallow real hard to not give anything away to his opponent. Had he opened with the Arbor Elf, turn two he could drop the other two dorks (naming Human with Cavern of Souls) and play a turn three Geist-Honored Monk without needing another land. With his line, he can’t play both mana dorks on turn two, as Cavern needs to name Human.
Naturally, he ripped the white source into a Rest in Peace to crush his Reanimator opponent.
At some point, Rob found Sam and myself and convinced us to go to Steak and Shake. While I detest the place, and had already been there that morning, and had already eaten dinner, I remembered my good buddy Rob and how he’d made a special trip for KFC at the start of the trip.
By the time we’d returned, the convention center had closed, and the Top 8 of the event had been moved to the lobby of the hotel across the street. We wandered in while the Top 8 was drafting, which I had little interest in watching. Sam passed out on the couch while Rob and I wandered around.
Bored out of my skull, I started giving loud, ridiculous suggestions to anyone that would listen.
“Why do they have to draft? Why don’t the Sealed players use their Sealed decks and the Standard players play Standard?”
“I don’t think the single-invite payout structure is top heavy enough. How about, instead of the second place product, they give it all to first and ban the second place guy for three months?”
Finally, the quarterfinals started, and Jeremy faced off against Morgan Chang, the other titan in the pod. I’d looked over both of their decks before the round, and noted that they were both blue based with a reasonable mixture of evasives, bombs, and disruption. Despite being close with Jeremy, and only talking to Morgan at a few events, I didn’t give either information or tips on how to board.
After an intense round of [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] activations, [card niv-mizzet, dracogenius]Niv-Mizzet[/card] taking an Avenging Arrow to the knee, and a Cyclonic Rift running into Dispel, Morgan emerged victorious and we could leave. Jeremy collected his eighth place winnings, a box of Return to Ravnica, and I woke up Sam with an oversized pillow. It was time to go home.
It was a weekend of near misses. As always, it was the friends that made it all worthwhile.