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Grand Prix Cleveland Report *Top 8*

It feels good to be back. The last match I played was the Top 4 of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, where Owen Turtenwald dispatched me thanks to a combination of incredible luck, well-honed skill, and a $700 haircut. Grand Prix Cleveland was a team event, so the first part of the tournament was figuring out my squad. It went through a few permutations, with roots going back to last year.

Making the Team

I was slated to team with Pat “T-Dubs” Cox and Paul Cheon at Grand Prix Louisville, but ended up being unable to make it. They teamed with Limited mastermind Rich Hoaen, then later picked up Tom Martell for San Antonio once I was firmly in the coverage bracket. Naturally, when I realized I could go to Cleveland, I was ready to hop back on. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your goals), Cheon was now potentially out. He was interviewing with Wizards for a spot on the Play Design team, which would take him out of the equation. For about two weeks, every day started like this:

Pat: Paul, did you get the job yet?
Paul: I don’t know, I’ll know in [X days, where X kept increasing].
Pat: We need to know if we need to find a backup Cheon.
Paul: Give me just a few days.

This repeated until Pat finally told Paul, “we really need to know if you are in or out,” and Paul eventually bowed out. That opened the door for Josh “Wrapter” Utter-Leyton, who had tons of fire and/or momentum on his side, thanks to wins at both GP Vancouver and the MOCS. Because Pat and Josh were both members of CFB Fire, it was only natural that I represent the squad, and luckily, I had just the jersey in mind.

The jokes just make themselves, so I’ll just leave it at “Cheon was there in spirit” (especially during our losses). Also, my mom, who literally doesn’t know anything about the Magic scene, told me that I had to be nicer to Paul. I don’t even know how she discerned that I wasn’t being nice to him, but I’m doing my best to be as nice to Paul as he deserves.

Prepare // Fight

Pat would text Wrapter and I each night that he was going to build a Team Sealed, and that we could join on Skype. I assume Wrapter did join him at least once, but I really have no way of verifying that. I certainly didn’t, since it doesn’t take practice to jam your 2 Glorybringers into a sick red deck. I did have Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, and Wrapter over once where we built a Sealed, and figured that wasn’t a bad start.

If I had to sum things up, it would be as follows:

  • Make an aggressive white deck, usually W/R, sometimes W/G. U/W is passable if you have a bunch of gold cards, but it’s going to be W/R most of the time.
  • Look for B/W Zombies. It won’t always be there, but it uses a bunch of cards that other B and W decks don’t really want, which creates a lot of value.
  • Make a green deck, usually G/R or G/B. It doesn’t have to be big green, though G/B usually will be. Don’t build U/G Ramp.
  • Try to dodge making a blue deck. It won’t always be possible, but blue sucks, and not playing blue cards is great. We played blue twice, obviously.
  • Play all your great cards, and maximize your Cartouche + Trial synergy.

Trial of Ambition

I got to Cleveland on Friday, and watched Team Fighting Irish (Gaby Spartz, Andrew “BK” Baeckstrom, and Andrew Parnell) play a Team Sealed side event. BK apparently wanted Gaby to cut Trial of Ambition from a black deck with 2 Cartouches of Ambition, which I was a huge fan of. Not cutting the Trial, since that’s obviously absurd, but that he took that stand, giving me tons of ammo for the rest of the weekend. Let’s just say that opening 2 black Trials and 3 Cartouches the next day was a detail I shared with BK once or twice.

After doing an exceedingly mediocre escape room and building an exceedingly mediocre practice Sealed, we were ready for the tournament.

Day 1

After negotiating when I could show up, a la Ben S., I settled on 8:55 (I wanted 9ish—Pat adamantly refused). Of course, I could have gotten there later and been fine, but who’s counting?

Our Sealeds were pretty average, and we settled on G/W Aggro for Pat, headlined by Trial of Solidarity and Regal Caracal, R/G Sweepers for Wrapter, with Heaven // Earth and Sweltering Suns, and U/B Trials for me, with the aforementioned double Trial/triple Cartouche action.

Here’s the deck I ended up with:

Notable nonsense from Day 1:

Pat’s opponent attacked him with everything, and Pat went in the tank. He came out with, “I don’t think you drew for your turn.” After a card count, it was revealed that the opponent hadn’t, and after drawing, cast the lethal Mighty Leap that was on top of his deck. Good beats, and that certainly won’t dissuade me from reminding an opponent to draw in the future. Plus, who skips their draw step? It’s the best part of the turn by far.

I had Commit // Memory in my deck, and I cast Memory 3 times, going 1-2 in those games. To be fair, any game where you cast Memory, things probably aren’t going great, and I was happy with my decision to Timetwister each time I chose to.

I cast 6 Trials of Ambition over the course of a game (on camera even, in round 2). I may have notified BK of this fact.

We finished a round early (well, we really finished all the rounds but one early), and darted out to a nearby Chipotle. The grill was broken (???), and we had to settle for vastly inferior meats rather than the clear first pick of grilled chicken. I didn’t know grills could break, but they managed to pull it off.

Pat had an absurdly long match to close out the day, and we ended up drawing our last round. It still clearly doesn’t count as me breaking my draw streak since I didn’t draw my match (I got smashed), but it sure did count as a team draw.

We finished Day 1 at 6-2-1, which is not the most inspiring record, but it let us come back to play Day 2. Thanks to all the practice involving Trials, Team Fighting Irish finished at 7-2, and our two teams went to a Mexican place that had a working grill (lucky), where Wrapter and I ordered something called a Chonger. That name seems… off, for some reason, but it was delicious, even if I can’t describe it on this website.

Day 2

Knowing we needed to rally, we decided to use all our luck on the remaining Sealed pool, which medium worked. Pat’s deck was absurd, as we gave him W/R Beatdown with Trial of Solidarity, 2 Trials of Zeal, and 3 Cartouches. Wrapter had a sweet W/B Zombie deck splashing Prepare // Fight, Destined // Lead, and Decimator Beetle off Scattered Groves, Forest, and Evolving Wilds. We even had him play Cradle of the Accursed since his mana was actually decent.

My deck, on the other hand, was what you weren’t supposed to build: U/G Ramp. The cards lined up right for it, I think, but I still didn’t love it.

U/G Ramp

I did like the top end of Glyph Keeper, Angler Drake, and Scaled Behemoth, with Channeler Initiate and double Vitalist as ramp, but I still felt behind against a good aggro deck.

Things of note from day 2:

We built next to Ben S’s team, and at one point they got into an argument about probability of having a 2-drop in the opening hand. A hypergeometric calculator would apparently have been a useful addition to deckbuilding in this case.

I sided out 10 cards in one of my matches, because my opponent was a good U/R Spells deck with 3 Magma Sprays. I sided out all my Spray targets, and sided in Drake Haven, 2 Hekma Sentinels, and a bunch of medium cyclers. The plan worked, and my opponent ended up pointing multiple Sprays at a Glyph Keeper. That’s a tough sell, and I was happy with the outcome.

I lost badly to a U/B Control deck with Liliana, multiple counters, and Lay Bare the Heart. Having a bad matchup against good aggro decks and good control decks is a problem…

Pat did some disgusting things involving multiple Trials and Cartouches, and summarily dispatched all his opponents. Pat went 12-1-1 or so (not sure how many matches went unfinished), and his first deck wasn’t actually all that great. I was a fan of giving him the white aggro deck and letting him cast all the Sacred Cats.

Pat’s opponent cast Compulsory Rest on his Pathmaker Initiate, but Pat stabilized, and won a long game by using Initiate on Sacred Cat every turn. It was an odd but sweet way to win.

Wrapter won a sick game involving the aftermath on both his green splash spells, and my teammates made up for me playing U/G Ramp. We finished 5-0 on the day, and finished 6th on tiebreakers. Granted, we knew we were dead unless the Top 2 teams dream crushed in the last round, so it was a satisfying 6th more than a brutal one.

I got to wrap things up by doing a Cube Draft with Team Fighting Irish on the shores of (whichever lake that was that I should probably know the name of), which was pretty neat. The deck was heinous, but getting to chime in on a Cube Draft and not play the games is the purest form of Magic that exists.

Final record: 11-2-1
Final standings: 6th place

As we all know, PGO defeated the (unranked) team of Nakamura, Juza, and Burkhart in the finals, somewhat laying to rest the debate about the current best team. I was happy with our Top 8 finish, and it felt good to battle again. Going 11-2-1 with no byes is not a bad record at all, and playing with Pat and Wrapter was a pleasure. I’m good friends with both of them, and we synergized well. Pat plays the beatdown deck, I play the bad blue deck, and Wrapter plays whatever is left. I also like that we are on the same wavelength in terms of play style and how we approach Magic, making the weekend a lot of fun and resulting in no real arguments the entire time.

You can’t keep nonsense down forever, and I suspect I’ll be playing in more tournaments in the not-too-distant future.

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