The incomparable feeling of winning a tournament is one of the best reasons to play Magic. Winning Grand Prix Nashville was even more special than winning a typical tournament because I got to share the victory with two friends, Matt Nass and Jesse Hampton. At the last team Grand Prix, I played with Matt Nass and Shahar Shenhar—we failed to make Day Two. When Shahar decided to team with PVDDR and Tom Martell, Matt and I were left to fill some big shoes (Shahar is ~6’5″ to be fair).
Every team event that I have played has been with Matt Nass and a rotating third member so we have developed an effective working method, which is to ignore the majority of what the other person says. I was delighted to hear the news that Nass coerced Jesse Hampton to team with us for Nashville. Jesse is not one to travel to events often—when he was a Platinum-level pro, the GP appearance fee was $500, yet he only went to three GPs the entire year.
In the week leading up to the event, Jesse messaged Matt and I nonstop telling us all about his 100 online Khans drafts (that week), hyperbolic card evaluations, and excitement for the event. When Matt and I landed in Nashville Friday night, Jesse had been rerouted to Durham, North Carolina and was without a possible flight in time for the GP. At 2 a.m. Saturday morning Jesse rented a car and drove 400 miles, some of which were through a snowstorm, to arrive at the Nashville Music City Center 15 minutes into deck registration. Fortunately we were still registering the Sealed pool we would pass to another team, so Jesse was just in time to take a 5-minute nap before the arduous day ahead of our team. Despite, or perhaps because of, his sleep deprivation, Jesse was the captain of morale for not only us but for our opponents, cracking jokes, and keeping everyone jovial in tense situations the whole weekend.
Sealed Day One
Going into the event we had a consensus that white was the best color by a wide margin, therefore we would likely play two white decks, if not three. We were fortunate enough to have the cards to back up our preference. 100% of our decks throughout the two Sealed decks and two drafts contained white cards. In Sealed, Khans of Tarkir in particular, people tend to play slow strategies that incorporate as many of their powerful late game spells as possible. With this knowledge I wanted to be playing a two-color aggressive deck, potentially with a light splash, to punish slower decks. We built the following three decks:
- Green/White – Featuring synergies of outlast creatures that granted bonuses to all creatures with counters combined with Dragonscale Boon and a splashed Armament Corps. One error we made was that we put Feat of Resistance in our white Warrior deck, since it was the most aggressive, but we failed to recognize the potential synergies with outlast creatures.
- Black/White – Highlighted by token generators and anthems. Herald of Anafenza is a card that looked good to me but not superb. After playing with it for nine rounds I can now attest that it is fantastic. Of course in order to make the most use out of tokens it is important to have pump effects, the best of which are Raiders’ Spoils and Chief of the Edge.
- Blue/Red – A motley crew of terrible creatures backed up by all-stars Icy Blast and Flying Crane Technique. Matt played this deck and decided he liked it so he also played Icy Blast in his next three decks and the Flying Crane Technique in all but one.
We finished Day One with a record of 7-2 which was just good enough to allow us to play Day Two.
Sealed Day Two
I have gone to several Limited Grand Prix and always hear murmurs of unbeatable Sealed Decks with an embarrassment of riches while I had never yet had one of these mythical pools. To say that Matt, Jesse, and I were blessed by the booster pack gods would be an understatement.
Our pool contained: two Duneblast, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, High Sentinels of Arashin, Icy Blast, Flying Crane Technique, and a bevy of premier uncommons. We put two unbeatable cards in each player’s deck and hoped that we would cast at least one each game.
We cruised through the first four rounds and were able to draw into the Top 4! Making it to the Top 4 was awesome in itself because it qualified Matt and Jesse for the upcoming Pro Tour—nonetheless we had two drafts ahead of us before we could celebrate.
My draft was covered in the Top 4. In pack three I selected Abzan Guide over Hooded Hydra which was an unacceptable mistake. I thought that my deck was mainly black/white with a splash of green but I was simply incorrectly remembering the contents of my draft pool. Fortunately I had a strong inclination that Pat Cox to my left was not green, based on what he passed me, so at least he would likely be forced to defensively hate draft Hooded Hydra and miss a high pick for his deck.
The finals draft worked out perfectly when I selected an Ainok Bond-Kin first pick over Avalanche Tusker because of my strong preference for black/white. It so happened that Shahar had first picked Butcher of the Horde so not only did I take away his ability to draft Mardu but the powerful Tusker made it to my teammate, Matt.
It is certainly strange to be in the midst of a close game and have your teammates tell you that they have won. I was fortunate enough to experience this in the Top 4 and the finals of the event. I am thrilled to have won GP Nashville, especially because of the caliber of competition in the Top 4. I certainly could not have done so without Matt and Jesse. Matt and Jesse made great decisions all weekend but they also had their moments…
Matt had the least experience with the new cards on our team and had many instances where he was surprised by a card’s actual text. My favorite one came in the finals while Matt was playing against Tom Martell’s Abzan deck: “Hey Jacob should I just resolve Pearl Lake Ancient while Tom is tapped out or try to ambush a creature on his turn” -Matt
Jesse was in a close game with an Incremental Growth stranded in his hand with one Forest on the battlefield playing with Abzan. “I boarded out two Forests for off-color Thornwood Falls. I didn’t ask because I knew you’d say no.” -Jesse
“Should I mulligan this hand?” -Matt *puts cards in front of Jesse’s face*
“I literally can’t see the cards” -Jesse (Because his contacts had been in for too long)
The other team then said to each other how we must be trolling or making fun of them because nobody could legitimately act this way.
Throughout the tournament my evaluations of certain cards changed dramatically.
- Kill Shot – This is a card that I would love to have at least one copy of in any deck that can cast it regardless of its aggressive or controlling nature. Cheap, instant-speed removal is not abundant in Limited these days and people will often expose themselves to Kill Shot by using a combat trick into three open mana. Even in an aggressive deck where you would prefer to have your removal be proactive, Kill Shot is great. The aggressive white decks of Khans often seek to amass an army and then cast Rush of Battle. Kill Shot will provide the time necessary against evasive creatures.
- Swarm of Bloodflies – It is easy to see Swarm’s ability and make a false parallel to the Vampire ability (Sengir Vampire). Swarm of Bloodflies grows whenever any creature dies whether it be token, nontoken, under your control, or under an opponent’s control. Once Swarm is on the battlefield the opponent is highly incentivized to avoid trading creatures in combat. Swarm can provide pseudo-evasion to your other creatures or act as a Moat. Another bonus of Swarm is that it starts with +1/+1 counters which has synergy with cards like Mer-ek Nightblade and Ainok Bond-Kin.
- Monastery Flock – Morph creatures in Khans of Tarkir cannot beat another morph in combat for less than five mana. Monastery Flock does not actually beat another morph, however it can often lead to your opponent wasting his or her turn using a combat trick or unmorphing a creature with the hope of your morph dying only to be surprised by the Flock. This same theory applies to the cycle of uncommon morph creatures that have the capability to unmorph for zero mana.
- Disdainful Stroke – We chose to sideboard our Disdainful Stroke in our first Sealed deck. On Day Two we included one maindeck and were happy to have an additional two in the sideboard. The power of Disdainful Stroke is simple: you trade two mana in exchange for four mana. In Sealed nearly every deck will play a multitude of expensive powerful spells which require an answer.
- Rush of Battle – In this slow format that often involves stalled board states it is great to have the potential to break through. In a deck with token producers and Warriors I would play up to three or four of this effect—even in a deck without tokens this card can act as an effective burn spell. When you use Rush of Battle as a burn spell it is not only the +2/+1 that you should attribute to its effectiveness. If you were able to attack a 1/1 creature into your opponent’s 2/2 then Rush of Battle effectively produced 3 power, not 2.
If you are planning to go to a team event—perhaps GP San Jose hosted by ChannelFireball—I would say that your foremost priority in forming a team should be mutual friendship and respect. Being friends with your teammates will not only make the event more enjoyable but it will increase your chances of doing well. If your team is unable to resolve disagreements in a sensible, calm manner you will be doomed for failure. Having respect for your teammates and trusting that they will make good decisions will grant you peace of mind during your matches—as opposed to being in a situation where you are trying to entirely play a game for your teammate or vice versa. I highly recommend team events as they are truly unique from any individual Magic event.
Thanks for reading.