This past weekend I headed to the City of Brotherly Love to play Grand Prix Philadelphia. Limited Grand Prix are always fun. I’ve also continually heard good things from other Magic players about Reading Terminal Market. The last time I played a Magic tournament in Philadelphia was probably around 2002 or so and if Reading Terminal Market existed at the time, I didn’t make it there. I had the sleep-in special for Day One, so I arrived at the site to check in a bit early and then headed over to Reading Terminal Market to see what all the buzz was about. It certainly did not disappoint! After having a nice breakfast/lunch I headed back to the site to build my Sealed deck.
Here was my pool:
I quickly eliminated red as it was both too weak and too shallow. White was clearly my strongest color with Phalanx Leader, Hundred-Handed One, and two copies of Akroan Skyguard. I knew I would play white, but had to decide which of the other three colors would be best to pair with it. Green had a lot of solid cards, but ultimately I decided that due to the three copies of Swordwise Centaur the mana would be too intense and the green just wasn’t as powerful as the black or the blue.
I spent quite a bit of time deciding between white/black and white/blue. Black had a few very powerful cards: Herald of Torment, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Triad of Fates, Asphyxiate, and Shrike Harpy. One thing you’ll notice is that all those cards, with the exception of Triad of Fates, have two black mana in the casting cost. Black was sure to be my second color, and I definitely wanted to have nine Plains with three white 1-drops and a Phalanx Leader. Although the black cards are likely better than the blue cards, many of them didn’t really mesh with what the white cards were trying to do, which was be very aggressive. Gray Merchant probably wouldn’t have a ton of devotion, Asphyxiate would be unlikely to be cast in the first few turns, and due to the fact that I’m trying to attack, Triad of Fates might too often be a Hill Giant. Scholar of Athreos is another good addition, but it isn’t exactly what you want to follow up a Loyal Pegasus with. So while Herald of Torment is a bomb that I really would like to play, I decided to play this blue/white deck:
With four fliers, a heroic creature, and three heroic enablers, the blue played really well with the white. I especially wanted to play Ephara’s Enlightenment in my deck. The card is great with heroic creatures because of the ability to recast it, but also, my deck had three 1-mana creatures and three 2-mana creatures. This would make it very easy to play creatures and recast Ephara’s Enlightenment in the same turn. I knew the fliers would work well after the aggressive white creatures to apply further pressure. The two major decisions I had to make with this deck were: “What should my 23rd card be?” and “Should I play Hold at Bay or Crypsis?”
After laying out the deck, I had settled on 21 cards. The 22nd card would be either Hold at Bay or Crypsis. I didn’t want to draw both, since most hands with both of those cards are somewhat similar and situational. Crypsis tends to be a little better against green decks, since the creature combat is more relevant. It also has the upside of making one of your creatures unblockable to get through a bunch of damage. It can also effectively “counter” an Excoriate on one of your creatures. Hold at Bay tends to be better against red decks, since most of their removal is damage based. Also, Hold at Bay can prevent 7 damage to yourself, which makes it very strong in race situations. Ultimately, I decided that since most of my creatures had flying, I wouldn’t be too likely to need the Crypsis for evasion. Also, because I had two copies of Loyal Pegasus, I’d often be in race situations where all my creatures were attacking. I expected preventing 7 damage to myself to come up fairly often, so I played Hold at Bay.
The decision between Divination and Prescient Chimera as a 23rd card was a tough one. Prescient Chimera would provide another 3-power flier, and help further apply pressure. Divination is typically not a great early game card in aggressive decks. In this case, however, I thought my top-end card quality was so high, that in games where my opponent started to gain control, Divination would often be a better card for me than the Chimera. I also feared draws where I had something like three or four heroic creatures and no way to target them. In this case, I just wanted to be able to have a way to dig deeper into my deck. I still think this was a close decision and among those I asked, it was roughly split.
Round 5 vs. Corey Burkhart (4-0)
Corey was playing a blue/red tempo deck. In game one I got off to a good start with Phalanx Leader, but unfortunately Corey was able to eliminate it with Magma Jet. The rest of my draw was pretty slow other than having drawn my copy of Hundred-Handed One. Corey got some damage in before I was able to play the Giant, and once it was in play, continued adding creatures to his board. I couldn’t seem to find any more creatures of my own, which was alright, as I did have a 6/8 creature that was capable of blocking 100 attackers. Unfortunately, Corey used a Sudden Storm to lock down my Hundred-Handed One for two turns. Using Hold at Bay to prevent 7 damage on Corey’s second attack bought me an untap step and the chance to block the following turn with Hundred-Handed One, but Corey had another copy of Sudden Storm and I was toast.
Game two was pretty exciting. Both Corey and I had pretty quick starts, and were trading blows very early on. The game evolved to a point where I was at 2 life, and Corey was at 8. I had two creatures, one of which was a 3/3 Akroan Skyguard enchanted with Ephara’s Enlightenment. Corey had four creatures including Archetype of Aggression. Corey attacked with all his creatures which forced me to trade my second creature, block with Skyguard, and be scheduled to take 8 damage, including one trample damage. I was able to cast Hold at Bay, leaving myself at 1 life. My last card was Battlewise Valor. During my upkeep, I tapped two of my seven lands to cast Battlewise Valor on my Arkoan Skyguard and trigger heroic. At this point, I’d need to scry away any card that was unable to directly or indirectly increase the power of the Skyguard. Because I had five mana, I would need any card that targeted the Skyguard or a creature with casting cost two or less in order to play it, return Ephara’s Enlightenment to my hand, and put that on the Skyguard again. I think at the time, I had 23 cards in my deck. Seven of them would win me the game. None of the cards would be able to keep me alive for another turn, so if I missed I would lose for sure. If I’m not mistaken, the math has me at about a 52.5% favorite to win the game, but alas, I lost what was effectively a coin flip and Corey took the match.
I ended up finishing Day One at 7-2, which at least gave me a chance to make a run in the draft.
I was heading into Day Two in 97th place. My draft pod would consist of: Me, Steve Rubin, Alexander Hayne, Valentin Mackl, Todd Anderson, Jo LaFreniere, Alex Bertoncini, and Bruce Swiney. Not the easiest 7-2 draft pod that I’ve ever seen!
In the draft I was sitting to the left of Alex Bertoncini. I opened a pack with the best card being Searing Blood so I took it. Alex passed me a pack with an uncommon missing that had virtually no playable cards except an Akroan Skyguard, so I took that as well. I ended up picking up solid red cards in Born of the Gods, including a sixth or seventh pick Fall of the Hammer, which led be to believe red was open, but didn’t see anything special in any other colors.
In pack two, I opened a pack with Fabled Hero. Fabled Hero is a stupid card. It’s very rare to lose a game in which you untap with it in play. Given that I already had an Akroan Skyguard and the power level of Fabled Hero, it was an easy pick. This solidified me into white/red, so I was happy to see both a Favored Hoplite and an Akroan Hoplite over the next few picks. After that there really weren’t too many picks of note. Here is the finished product:
Round 12 vs. Alex Bertoncini (9-2)
It turned out Alex, who was on my right, was also playing white/red. I was a bit surprised to see him in red, due to the fact I got that Fall of the Hammer so late, but him being in white didn’t really surprise me. I hadn’t seen much white in packs one or three, and was mostly white due to the strength of Fabled Hero. The winner of our match would move to 10-2 and likely be put in a situation to make Top 8 by winning his next pod.
In game one, both Alex and I got off to pretty quick starts. Alex had Akroan Crusader and a Gorgon’s Head equipped toTwo-Headed Cerberus. When I tried to remove it with Lightning Strike, a Gods Willing intervened. This made it difficult for me to attack, because the combination of first strike and deathtouch would destroy my creatures before they were able to deal damage. Rage of Purphoros was able to finish the Cerberus for good, but there was another problem. Alex was able to trigger heroic on his Akroan Crusader. 1/1s aren’t a major problem, but they are when they have deathtouch. I traded off a creature for one of Alex’s 1/1s and played a Fabled Hero. Alex decided to use his mana to cast a Ghostblade Eidolon. Alex still only had 3 or 4 mana at the time, so he was unable to equip and create another first striking deathtouch creature. With Alex at 12 life, I attacked with Fabled Hero. Alex decided not to block with his Crusader or his Eidolon, I cast Titan’s Strength, and we were on to game two.
Game two was pretty similar to game one. We both got off to reasonable starts. I was a bit more aggressive with Akroan Hoplite, Traveling Philosopher, and Satyr Rambler in play. Alex was able to play a Scholar of Athreos and a Great Hart. While neither of those are particularly strong cards, they are good at holding the ground against a red/white aggro deck. The board was at parity, and it seemed like we both drew lands for a couple turns. Unfortunately for me, Alex drew Ornitharch before I was able to draw anything that would have major impact and it made quick work of me.
I played a turn three Fabled Hero on the play. On my fourth turn, Alex had only played three Mountains and a couple red creatures, which led me to believe that he didn’t have any Plains in his draw. I attacked with Fabled Hero, and Alex opted to not chump block. I cast Titan’s Strength and did 12 damage to Alex putting him to 8. Alex drew and played another red creature leaving up two Mountains. On my turn, I could cast Gods Willing naming red and attack for lethal. I thought briefly about whether or not it was worth going for it. I ultimately decided that if Alex had a Lightning Strike in his hand, he would have cast it immediately to kill my Fabled Hero while I was tapped out. There is always the chance he just drew it, but of course thats unlikely. So, I decided to go for it, cast Gods Willing, there was no Lightning Strike, and I won the game with two attacks from a single creature.
I was especially proud of winning that draft with such a high level of competition. Now I would just need to win one more draft to have a chance to make Top 8!
In Born of the Gods, my first pick was again Searing Blood. I didn’t end up seeing any more playable red cards, and in fact, very few playable cards of any color. I ended up with a couple Loyal Pegasus that I took in the middle of the pack, when it was clear that red wasn’t going to come and I’d need another color to pair with the few blue cards I had taken. I also took a couple of middling black cards, when that was all that was available, so going into pack two I had the option of any of the Esper colors. I got a Heliod’s Emissary and a Battlewise Hoplite relatively early in the second pack which solidified me into white/blue. I felt like the card quality in this draft was really weak, so although my deck wasn’t perfect, I was happy to be aggressive.
Here’s the deck:
Round 15 vs. Oliver Tamajko (14-2)
In Round 15 I would be playing the role of Goliath; I had to play a win-and-in for Top 8 against Oliver Tamajko. Oliver is thirteen years old, and I heard that he has had a fair amount of success playing other collectible card games. Before the match, I wondered whether or not our match had the biggest height or weight differential in Grand Prix win-and-in history.
Oliver had to start by taking two mulligans and beginning with five cards. To his credit, even after that he played me to an extremely close game one. On the final turn, with both of us at 3 life, Oliver had in play an Agent of Fates enchanted with Fearsome Temper, a Fate Unraveler, and a Fleshmad Steed. I had out a Loyal Pegasus, a Cavalry Pegasus, and a Nyxborn Triton, which were all untapped. I also had a tapped Heliod’s Emissary. Oliver drew a Nighthowler, but unfortunately for him, had no line that would allow him to survive the following turn. If he simply attacks with all his creatures, he dies on the swingback. If he bestows Nighthowler, forcing me to sacrifice a creature, I can sacrifice the Pegasus, tapping his Fleshmad Steed, and block with the other two creatures. If he casts Nighthowler and leaves all his creatures back to block, he dies to the two fliers. If the Fleshmad Steed didn’t have to tap, Oliver would have been able to win the game because he would have been able to get through for two damage and then I would have died in my own draw step to the Fate Unraveler. It was a super close game, and I was very worried about Agent of Fates making a return in the rest of the match.
Everything broke right for me in game 2. All my cards got maximum value, and everything that Oliver did ended up not working out. I was able to destroy his Baleful Eidolon with Fearsome Temper on it by using Ray of Dissolution. I drew a Breaching Hippocamp and was able to flash that into play and eat Ashiok’s Adept. At one point Oliver was holding Asphyxiate for a few turns, and the turn I finally played a creature, a Battlewise Hoplite, and he was able to cast Asphyxiate, I was able to cast Sudden Storm tapping Oliver’s only creature and saving my Hoplite from dying while also triggering heroic. All of these incrememental advantages, combined with Oliver not drawing his best card, Agent of Fates, proved to be too much to overcome.
I was very impressed with both Oliver’s play, and the way he handled himself during and after the match. In fact, I’d say that Oliver definitely had the best deck at our pod of the four or five that I saw, including my own. I fully expect that if Oliver continues to devote time to Magic, he will put himself in more potential Top 8s in the future, and I certainly wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him in the Top 8 one day.
I was on to Top 8 as the sixth seed. Joining me would be none other than my oath brother, Reid Duke. Also, the pairings broke in such a way that Reid and I could not meet until the finals. It would’ve been cool to battle with Reid for a Grand Prix Championship, but unfortunately, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.
The Draft went really poorly. I first picked an Oreskos Sun Guide out of a bad pack, and followed it up with a Retraction Helix and an Elite Skirmisher. Arguably, I should have just taken a second Sun Guide over the Skirmisher, but decided that because I had a Retraction Helix I’d take the Skirmisher. The rest of pack one didn’t go very well for me. I could’ve tried dabbling into some black for some Nyxborn Eidolons, but I’m not a huge fan of that card and also feel like black isn’t the best pairing with white. It’s possible things would’ve gone better for me if I had selected either Searing Blood or Bolt of Keranos over Retraction Helix second pick, as well. Anyhow, my deck was a disaster. I’m not 100% sure what I should have done differently, but it certainly should have been something. As it turned out, Reid on my right ended up playing black/green, so maybe the packs broke a little poorly for me, but it’s really hard to say. I didn’t see any heroic creatures that actually get +1/+1 counters in the whole draft. Maybe since I’d played three white decks in a row, I got too comfortable. Maybe I drafted poorly. Maybe I got a little unlucky, or maybe it was some combination of all these factors. In any case, here’s the deck I drafted:
In the quarterfinals, I was playing against Frank Skarren. I have a lot of respect for Frank’s Limited game and, other than Reid, he is the player I least wanted to face in the first round.
In game one I opted to take a mulligan and kept a pretty slow hand. Frank’s draw was good and my only hope to ride Daxos of Melitis to victory. Frank had too much tempo, and a well timed Voyage’s End after we traded combat tricks, a Savage Surge from Frank, and a Battlewise Valor from me ended up costing me two turns, one for the attack, and one to get Daxos back into play. I was never able to mount anything or get Daxos through, and I was quickly defeated.
Game two I kept a decent hand on the play with two lands, Island and Plains, Wavecrash Triton, Elite Skirmisher, Chosen by Heliod, and a couple other cards. Unfortunately, I missed my third land drop on turn three and only hit it on turn four after casting Chosen by Heliod on Frank’s creature. After I once again played Daxos on the following turn, Frank attacked with all his creatures. I had to let two through, and double Aspect of Hydra on his Setessan Oathsworn was more than enough damage to finish me off.
Frank went on to win the tournament, defeating Reid in the finals. Congrats to both of them, as well as everyone else who made Top 8. I don’t think I’m going to be playing any major Magic tournaments for the next few weeks. Instead I’m going to take some time to relax, start preparing for Block Constructed, and get ready to head to Atlanta with the rest of my teammates from the Pantheon to meet up before the Pro Tour. I’m really excited for this Pro Tour as I haven’t played a Block Constructed tournament since my return to Magic. It’s always interesting to see what kind of decks pop up with such a limited card pool. Thanks everyone for reading and I’ll see you next week!