A Day in the Life
The weeks leading up to Grand Prix Providence were pretty brutal. Let me show you!
7:49 PM feb31st is being attacked by: Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker, Syndic of Tithes, Rakdos Drake
7:49 PM feb31st casts Burn targeting Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker, and Syndic of Tithes (Fuse).*
7:49 PM Warmind Infantry blocks Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker.
7:50 PM caesar607 casts Rapid Hybridization targeting Warmind Infantry.
7:58 PM feb31st casts Progenitor Mimic.
7:59 PM Crazycow: value 🙂
7:59 PM Turn 8: Crazycow.
7:59 PM Crazycow plays Island.
7:59 PM Crazycow casts Detention Sphere.
7:59 PM Crazycow puts triggered ability from Detention Sphere on the stack targeting Soulsworn Spirit (When Detention Sphere enters the battlefield, you may exile target permanent not named Detention…).**
*If it’s unclear from the MTGO transcript, I cast Turn on Mirko Vosk and Burn on Syndic.
**I copied the only other creature I controlled with my Progenitor Mimic—a Soulsworn Spirit.
Or, if you still need more definitive proof:
If you ever need a reason to completely ignore everything I ever say for the rest of my life, just consult the above chart. Suffice it to say that when your shtick is transparency, that means that no run of bad luck and even worse play is off the table, this one included. That chart is the result of forcing archetypes that may or may not exist, downright sloppy play, outlandish bluffs, and more than one good ol’ fashioned Tilt Draft™. My Limited rating on MTGO went from the slightly-above mediocre 1750s range (thanks, MTGO Cube!) down to a harrowing 1629.
In other words, reality had hit.
The Best Laid Plans
I stayed at my friend Brad’s place in Southern New Jersey for the week leading up to GP Atlantic City in January. A January GP was perfect for Brad; he chose to parlay his doctorate in math into a teaching position at nearby Stockton College, which means that while his falls and springs are pretty tied up, his winters and summers are still totally free. We decided then that we were going to be teammates for GP Providence no matter what.
I assumed (correctly) that Adam Barnello would want to team with me for Providence also, and I assured Brad that we were a package deal, because I only get to see Brad roughly twice a year (as opposed to every week, when I was in high school in Cortland and he was in grad school in Ithaca) and I like Brad better. So if Adam was to team with me, he’d inherit Brad, which is exactly what happened.
My main goal for Providence was always to have fun first. That just seems like the correct logic behind a team event—you ideally want to team with two friends, but also two people whose games you feel comfortable with. Early on, I knew I wanted to be the B seat, because I have this weird notion that I’m good at this game, plus Brad plays very slowly, rendering him no help to anyone on either side, and Adam plays actual Magic about once every two months. Plus, I knew I would be able to do what the other two wouldn’t, and that was trust them.
In team events, it’s really tempting to take advantage of the fact that there’s open communication and try to micro-manage every little thing. This makes your teammates a thousand times more likely to spew information as a match goes on. One of our opponents discussed a play so much during the main event that Brad and I were able to deduce that he was holding a [card]Toil // Trouble[/card] and plan accordingly. Also—you know your teammates; if you don’t trust them, what’s the point of teaming with them? If they need help, they’ll ask for it.
I looked at myself like I was Erik Spoelstra: I had a couple of studs on the squad, so I if could just let them do their thing and not undermine their confidence by nitpicking every decision they made, they’d perform better. Brad and Adam having never met each other also made me the natural bridge between the two, even though they happen to be closer in ages (32 and 30, respectively) than I am (24) to either of them. They talked about their undergrad experiences the whole ride up, which contained lots of Pixies and John Hughes talk. 1988 was a crazy year.
Brad stayed at my apartment in Syracuse for the week leading up to the event, during which he watched me lose on MTGO quite a bit. We also opened up some Sealed pools and figured out some rough stuff about the format, mainly that all the decks were insane and that there was usually a Gatekeeper deck featuring 8-9 Gates in it that looked terrible on paper but was actually the best deck of the three. Here are the three decks you’ll ideally see in an average RTR-block Team Sealed pool:
• Base-red aggressive deck
• Base-green midrange deck
• Base-black 5c deck with all the Gatekeepers (except for the red one)
We also hypothesized that the middle player should be the midrange deck. The logical choice for the middle deck should’ve been aggro, so the middle player could get done with their match sooner and help the players on either side of them, so we wanted to be “set up” for that matchup. Oddly enough, we never got it—people usually just parked their best deck, which was never aggressive, with their best player, who always happened to be right in the middle. I decided early on that I wanted Adam to be the Gatekeeper deck, since I know he likes to play control and would be able to not just play, but build the deck best. This left Brad with the aggressive deck, which, despite popular opinion, is usually the hardest deck to play, especially in a bomb-laden environment like Team Sealed.
We wound up playing in a 16-team grinder before dinner that was scheduled to start at 1 but wouldn’t start ’till 3—it wasn’t until after we signed up that we found out about the infinitely-easier-to-spike 4-team grinders—whereupon we hit our ideal marks, deckwise: Adam got the 9-Gate special, Brad got an excellent Boros deck, and I got saddled with a rareless Golgari pile. We cruised through the rounds until we got paired up against Alexander Hayne’s team; I was able to pull out the first game on the back of a [card]Rubblebelt Rhino[/card], but his [card]Lavinia of the Tenth[/card], [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], and [card]Stolen Identity[/card] were simply too much for me to handle, and despite Adam’s convincing win, Brad fell to Jon Stern’s Simic deck full of [card]Beetleform Mage[card]s and [card]Frilled Oculus[card]. We performed well and didn’t give anything away—Simic is naturally a tough matchup for Boros—so even watching Alex & co. eventually agree to a prize split with the other team that made the finals and give their superfluous byes away for more packs wasn’t that big of a dagger.
We immediately checked in and went to dinner and a sweet brewpub in downtown Providence, whereupon we got pretty drunk and ate some excellent food. We all shared each other’s food because we have no shame or pride, and I can say the best parts of the meal were Adam’s mussels and the braised steak tips that Brad ordered. I ate really, really fast and got a tummyache, which is a gentle way of saying that I thought I was going to die for the rest of the night.
Upon our return to the hotel, we discovered by happy accident that some of our fellow Syracuse natives were two doors down from us, and after Adam drunkenly bragged about his decadent, meat-filled dinner to a room full of vegans, we decided to set up a team draft in the lobby.
Earlier in the week, we’d had a discussion of how many players on a given team should be going out of the way to totally screw their neighbor in the draft, by giving them mixed signals/cutting them off of their color, etc. The conversation is interesting because A) your efforts may very well be in vain if they open well, and B) screwing someone over comes at a real cost—a teammate’s deck quality. We eventually landed on “one,” because if we could lock one of their team members into a 0-3, then the rest of their team would ostensibly only have one match to give.
My friend Aaron fed me in the draft. He later told me that his strategy in team draft is to put his neighbor squarely into an RTR guild, in order to make it easier to screw them over during pack three. He successfully put me into a base-Rakdos deck after passing me a [card]Morgue Burst[/card] and [card]Spike Jester[/card] early, but I opened a [card]Desecration Demon[/card] after getting passed a [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] and a [card]Gift of Orzhova[/card] (4th!), so my deck ended up just fine and I 3-0’d. Brad, meanwhile, very successfully gave his neighbor the worst deck at the table, despite Adam’s best efforts (he passed two [card]Mugging[/card]s) and managed a 2-1, so we went to sleep comfortable with how the day went. Our playstyles seemed to complement each other’s perfectly, and Brad and Adam got along as swimmingly as I thought they would. As I went to sleep, I had a good vibe about the next day.
And an Island Never Cries
I hadn’t played a team GP since my first GP ever, in Fitchburg (I think?), Massachusetts, in 2007. It was 2HG Limited with Time Spiral and Planar Chaos, and I teamed with Brad there too. The story of that GP is that the best cards in our pool were [card]Magus of the Disk[/card] and [card]Mangara of Corondor[/card], and that those two cards represented exactly 2/3rds of our white playables. I was certainly too young to appreciate how awesome team events are compared to individual ones.
All the notable people that you’ve seen in coverage or whatever always stand around between the main stage and the seating for the event in between rounds and mingle with each other there, which is nice for them, but if you don’t know any of them, simply trying to find the friends you came with amidst a huge east coast GP that smells like feet even though it’s only round five is the worst. If you’re not known in the community and you’re at a GP, you are basically an island unto yourself unless your friends randomly happen to find you. I did not realize GPs were like this until my second GP—Brad Nelson’s DC in 2009, and while I’m more or less over it now, it makes me appreciate team events that much more. Because with team events, you’re bound to your teammates, you get to hang out with them all time, and while the pressure to win is still there, it is possible to live the dream—the dream, of course, being that you lose your match but you win the round thanks to the play of your teammates.
On the morning of the main event, we got up early enough and headed down to the site, where we built our Sealed decks. This part is pretty embarrassing—we thought our decks were really good, but it turned out that while Brad’s Boros deck was indeed quite good, my Selesnya deck splashing for [card]Beck // Call[/card] and [card]Isperia, Supreme Judge[/card] was just mediocre, but Adam’s deck was not only completely terrible, but the tempo-ness of it all just did not suit his playstyle.
In hindsight, I should’ve played it (tempo decks/plays are always my favorite; when I met Brad I was very Selesnya but I’m pretty sure I’m more Simic these days), but alas. Adam’s deck was a mill deck that we thought was quite good but wound up being quite miserable, which in turn made him quite miserable. I surely got a little too excited about the presence of triple-[card]Paranoid Delusions[/card] and triple-[card]Pilfered Plans[/card] in our pool, and maybe sold going all-in on the mill plan much more aggressively than I should have. Our losses usually hinged completely on me, since Adam couldn’t win a game and Brad couldn’t lose. We managed a 4-3 exit, albeit with two byes, smack dab in the middle of our tournament.
How’d we manage two byes in the middle of a tournament, you ask?
The VIP package is a great concept, even if it is a little flawed (what happens when two VIP-holders get paired?). In case you don’t know what the VIP package for GP Providence entailed, the sole reason we got it was because it ensured that our seats would never change, because checking pairings is the worst part of a crowded Grand Prix and I was willing to spew infinite value to make sure I never had to do it again.
Our fourth round went to time, but we won it in order to sit firmly at 2-2 with our backs against the wall, figuratively speaking.
When our fifth-round opponents sat down across from them, I asked them, “hey, what’s your guys’ records?”
“Oh. Well, do you mind conceding to us? I only ask because you guys can’t possibly make Day 2, but at 2-2, we still have a shot. We’ll totally play the games out for fun if you guys want, but we’d really appreciate the scoop.”
They were relatively young kids, so, like a jerk, I figured that they wouldn’t understand and that we’d have to play for our tournament lives against a trio of kids that had literally no shot of making Day Two. Luckily, they totally got it and were really nice guys to boot, so they gave us the concession we needed to keep our tournament hopes alive.
In round six, we got paired up against some guys that were, as luck would have it, 2-2-1. So I asked them for the concession again.
Their B seat player agreed, but was pretty sure we had seven points.
Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “we shouldn’t.”
When you have VIP seats, and thus, aren’t required to physically check the standings sheet, you tend to just assume your match slips get processed correctly. Brad insisted on due diligence and went to check the pairings sheet.
He came back and informed us that we had seven points, so he and Adam went to discuss it at the main event stage while I chit-chatted with the three guys from Queens we were to play against. Eventually, the people running the event were able to track down where the mistake had been made and rectify it, the pairing stayed intact, and they graciously conceded to us.
We immediately lost the next round anyway, so the whole thing’s moot, but it’s a fun story to tell.
Here’s to next week’s story.