I booked a one o’clock flight to Indianapolis. That may sound like an ideal departure time to some, but my sleep schedule at home has been pretty poor lately—Lots of going to bed at 6 a.m., and waking up at 2 p.m. While this meant I could only get about 5 hours of beauty rest, I felt fine on Friday.
Leaving 65 degree south Florida for 25 degree Indiana, however, was not as easy to take. I don’t mess with the cold. I really hate it. So I brought armor: A new scarf, gloves, lucky and stylish Channel beanie, and my trusty leather jacket. At least this would be the only winter GP scheduled in a dreadfully cold place, right? (The next two GPs are Denver and Atlantic City, and then there is the Pro Tour and a GP in Canada, naturally.)
When I arrived at the tournament site, I didn’t see anyone I know, but they were firing the last GP trial of the day. Even though I had 3 byes, the event paid pretty well, and despite having half the players this one would still offer full prize support.
This brings me to an important side note: Pastimes and the tournament organizers put on an all-around wonderful tournament—and I’m not just saying this because I won the tournament. Anyone who can remember my PT Paris report from a few thousand years ago knows that I hated both Paris and the way that event was run—specifically, no special allowances for the overlap between the PT Top 8 and the Grand Prix.
This tournament, on the other hand, was pretty smooth. They ran the sleep-in special in the best and most organized way I’ve seen thus far. You were able to show up on the hour, any hour, and build with a group, supervised by a judge. The play space was reasonably sized—I really hate when they pack you into cramped tables, and you can’t extend your arms without bumping elbows with your neighbor. They provided sleeves after every draft, and all of this made the whole experience more pleasant.
Back to the GP Trial. It was 4 rounds, with only 16 people. I ended up losing in the Top 4, good enough for half a box. My pool was horrible—the best thing I could put together was a Golgari beatdown deck, and as you may be aware, aggro decks are terrible in Sealed. I was happy for the practice nonetheless, and I raced from the trial to St. Elmo, where my comrades had spicy shrimp cocktail waiting on the table for me when I arrived. After dinner, I received a surprise gift from LSV—a gift not only for me, but for all of you. He came over to my hotel to set up the microphone and recording software on my computer for draft videos. I did a few drafts, and went to sleep a little before 4 a.m.
Pat Cox came back to the room around 12:20, and woke me up a mere 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off, and I left to see if I would win or lose the Sealed-deck lottery. I have had some great Sealeds in my life, in GPs Toronto 2010 and Montreal 2011, for instance, but it sure has been a while since I received a great deck, and haven’t had to depend on luck to help me claw my way into the draft portion.
This time would be no different. My broken rares were spread across every color, and I didn’t have any of the actual top rares—Pack Rat, Mizzium Mortars, Collective Blessing, Armada Wurm, Angel of Serenity, etc. I did have an [card archon of the triumverate]Archon[/card] and a Desecration Demon.
Unfortunately, Esper isn’t really a viable color combination, and I had very little removal if I didn’t play Auger Spree and Explosive Impact. So, 5-color it was. I did have a few of the cards necessary to play 5 colors. 2 Transguild Promenades and 1 Axebane Guardian helped, but without a Gatecreeper Vine, my fixing was far from ideal.
No problem, all I had to do was get lucky. My opponents consistently had better decks than I, but were forced to take mulligans or were stuck on 3 or 4 lands. I cast turn 4 Desecration Demon quite a bit, and before I knew it, I was 7-1. My only blemish was a close 3-game match against Seth Manfeld that I’m certain I punted away.
In Round 9 I was paired in a feature match against Tom Martell, and I promptly offered the draw into Day Two. “Wait Ben, didn’t you say u were 7-1 not 6-2?” Yep, but in my view, I am probably about 40 percent to win this round with my terrible Sealed, and around 75 percent to win rounds in the draft portion. I’m not to concerned with Top 32s or Top 64s, since it’s early in the season and the record required to make Top 8 at a GP of this size would be x-2-1. I figured that I would rather draw now and play six matches in which I am heavily favored, rather than play this 40 percenter and only get to play five meaningful (relevent for Top 8) matches in the draft portion. Tom said that while he didn’t disagree with my reasoning, he had a good Sealed and was a bad drafter, so he wanted to play the match now rather than in the draft portion.
He informed me that he would accept the draw if I won game 1, which I declined. This is common practice when one person is virtually locked for a Top 8 with a draw, and the other needs help from other matches, but is obviously not a good deal in this spot, where I was only offering the draw because I would rather play less Sealed matches and more draft ones. Regardless, I ended up drawing much better than he did, and finished the day at 8-1.
This left me pretty excited. I had been winning in MtGO 8-4s with all the different guilds for the past 2 weeks. Now that I knew how to draft every guild well, and I could just find whichever guild was available to me and run with it, I was confident that I would be able to draft good decks in each of the drafts. I ended the day with a fun dinner with Sam Black, Reid Duke, Rietzl, Kibler, Huey, Martell, and a few others. Watching football and eating crappy sports bar food is definitely underrated. After some good chats with Sam and Gau, we headed back to our rooms around 1 a.m. for a nice 7 hours of sleep.
0 hours and 0 minutes of sleep later, it was around 8 a.m. and Pat was waking up. In Paris, I slept terribly because I don’t do time changes well, and while my roommate Max is a great guy, his snoring sounds roughly like a nuclear explosion going off every minute. I did get in a few extra practice drafts I wouldn’t have gotten to do if I had slept, but I have been drafting almost constantly for the past 2 weeks so I don’t think they were really worth not sleeping for. To compensate, I started slamming coffee, Red Bull, and 5 Hour Energy—my 3 new best friends for the day. With that, I set off to play Day Two.
Pod 1 was pretty tough for a Grand Prix. The four 9-0s were not your usual random lucky guys who spiked the most broken rares. Ryan Carpenter is an old school acquaintance with PT experience, Chris Fennel is a friend of mine from Florida with multiple Limited GP Top 8s and a Team Limited GP win, and Adam Yurchick is a well-known, successful player with a GP 1st and 2nd, on top of some good PT finishes. Sam Black sneaked into pod 1 on tiebreakers, as well.
I sat next to Fennel and opened Call of the Conclave, Vhitu-Ghazi Guildmage, and some junk, so I knew this might be a tough draft, but I didn’t have any choice but to take the Guildmage. I consider the GW Guildmage one of the top 10 cards in the set. Basically a mythic rare at uncommon, this card represents more fine work by WotC designing balanced Limited cards. As it turned out, Chris read the draft pretty well and moved into a more controlling GWB populate-based deck, because I was drafting a more aggressive, low curve, and pump-spell-type Selesnya deck. This let us both end up with solid decks, despite my passing Call of the Conclave then playing GW. It’s amazing how lucky you have to get to win a GP, and it started right here. I know many drafters who would have not read what they were seeing correctly, and just tried to draft the same deck I was drafting, effectively worsening if not ruining both of our decks. Three rounds later, both Chris and I were 3-0.
Pod 1 for the second draft was possibly the hardest draft pod I have ever played in in a Grand Prix held outside of Costa Rica. LSV, Wrapter, Caleb Durward, Adam Yurchick, Fennel again, and Brian Demars. I wasn’t too worried though. Being x-1, I knew Chris would probably scoop to me if we played, since he was 12-0, and I only needed to go 1-1 if not.
Caleb was feeding me, and drafted a nice Golgari deck for himself that he seemed to be in the whole time. This allowed me to comfortably find Izzet and stay there the whole time. BDM covered this draft, but in short, I picked up an early Lyev Skyknight that left me thinking I would be splashing white and not black, so I incorrectly neglected a Rakdos Guildgate, and missed a light black splash that would have really put my deck over the top.
Even without the splash, my deck was quite good, though the draft did have a particularly high card quality. That was why I only rated my deck a 7—I placed it in relation to the available card pool. Relative to draft decks in the format as a whole, it was probably more like a 9.
I beat Caleb in a covered round 1 feature match. It was unfortunate that we were paired, since we worked so well together in the draft, but what can you do. Then I drew with Chris and scooped to Luis in the subsequent rounds.
This reminds me to give a big shout out to Wrapter. In one of the more selfless acts I have seen, he scooped to Luis in round 1 when he was x-1 and Luis was x-2, knowing that he was in no way locked for Top 8, and still would need to win his next match to get in. Most of us would scoop to teammates and close friends, knowing all we need is a draw that we will probably-but-not-definitely get in the next round, but most people would not give the scoop knowing they still needed to win their next round in order to make Top 8.
Wrapter ended up losing the next round and missing Top 8, so he definitely deserves acknowledgement for helping Luis, who had been having a rougher season than Wrapter and needed the points and finish more. While I’m on the subject, Dan Jordan scooped Martell into Top 8 in similar fashion. Nice to see people putting self interest aside and being community minded.
For the Top 8, I was seated between Yurchick and Luis. I found Golgari early on, and settled right in. I was seeing the Golgari-specific cards pretty late, which told me that no one passing to me was likely to be in the guild, and I would probably be able to assemble a very good deck.
Golgari is the kind of deck that needs all of its synergies, but if you can assemble them all, your deck is incredible. Basically, if there is one dedicated Golgari deck in an 8-man draft, that deck will be amazing. If there are two, both decks are probably not very good, and if there are three then everyone’s deck is a pile. As it was, Luis and I obviously didn’t hate much from each other, and Yurchick only hated Selesnya cards because that’s where he thought I was, I assume. I ended up being the only dedicated Golgari deck at the table, with access to endless good Golgari cards. My deck list ended was very close to an optimal Golgari deck, and even without much in the way of rares, 3 Stab Wounds and all the key Golgari synergy cards made getting past some very tough opponents pretty easy.
It’s about time. Just kidding—sort of. Obviously, I felt like I was overdue to win a Limited GP. Regardless, you have to run extremely well to win a tournament of this size, and I certainly did. I’ve always thought that people put too high a premium on 1st place finishes, in Magic and elsewhere. 1st is not twice as good as second, and second is not twice as good as Top 4. At least, not as a measure of skill. That said, this was my eighth GP Top 8, and some of my previous losses have left me a little salty. I got 2nd twice, and missed Top 8 in two Limited GPs this year when I was x-2. I’m not Efro unlucky or anything, but the ball definitely didn’t bounce my way. So, all in all, I ran good and played well, and even as a guy with 1st place finishes at a PT and now a GP, I would like to say that while I am fully appreciative of my finishes, people should place more emphasis on the consistent finishes, and care a little less about who wins the last match.