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According to Webster – Grand Prix Pittsburgh Tournament Report *10th*

I’ve been in a lull lately, in Magic and elsewhere, so it’s been more difficult to dot my “i’s” and cross my “t’s.” I’d like to think that I’m Superman, capable of and invulnerable to almost everything, and that I’d even beat Ken Jennings on Final Jeopardy. *SPOILER ALERT*: Some things just aren’t possible.

Hazy pastel: a mix of grey and blue is what I’d use to describe my recent outings in the professional Magic circuit. The world finally caught up with me, waving as it passed me by, in regards to the Pro Points race to determine the sweet 16 for the Players Championship. Hopefully I’m still in the fray as the finish line approaches. It’s going to be close.

I enjoyed some modest success at the end of the calendar year, nabbing Top 32 finishes at GPs Charleston, Indianapolis, and Atlantic City—but missed a fair amount in between, and a lot afterwards. I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t the best player, the second, or even close to the top ten at any of those tournaments, simply because I didn’t put enough time into practicing. I’d audible at the last minute, put off testing, and my performances suffered as a result. I told myself to be more diligent about preparation, and that had been true, but only to an extent, and I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be.

Carpe Diem. Seriously.

I started to test more, and for the last few events I was somewhat content, even if it hadn’t yet translated to success during the actual tournament. The elimination round had been my bane—Reid Duke being the last person to play the role of executioner—and I found myself with a bit more time on Sundays to mosey around in my slippers and PJs at the hotel instead of donning my CFB apparel and Azorius guild pin on my way to work (gotta represent). Regardless of how lackluster my last few performances were, I was ready to wade through the sea of competitors at GP Pittsburgh, making sure not to be overcome by its treacherous undertow.

Ticket prices to Pittsburgh were high, and I knew it was a limiting factor for a lot of people. Paying more than $400 for a ticket to a GP wasn’t really where I wanted to be, so I looked to my coffers of Delta frequent flyer miles for relief. In this case, tickets were $575, so I was more than happy to cash out 40k miles for a free ticket.

I’d had a few weeks off from my otherwise busy travel schedule, and that left me with a bit more time to draft and play Sealed. Okay, let’s be real. I would have drafted even if there hadn’t been time. I had a reasonable grasp of Gatecrash Limited, its trends, strengths, and weaknesses. Orzhov and Boros were going to be the most popular guilds in Sealed, and having a good curve would usually trump having bombs. It didn’t take very long before I was ready to go.

I booked my ticket over a month in advance, and forgot about it until a rude awakening on Wednesday night. I’d been out in the evening at a party and bottle share, and was greeted at home with the buzz from my iPhone.

“Hmm, this is strange. I shouldn’t be getting a check-in notice until tomorrow.”

I checked my itinerary, and sure enough I’d booked my flight a day early. Okay, so what were my options? I looked through the Skymiles program and found that I wouldn’t be able to change my flight without a moderate penalty unless it was within three hours of the original. Fortunately, I was rather mobile, and I could work from anywhere as long as I had some jumper cables, a lemon, my laptop, packs to draft with, and a burgled Wi-Fi connection. Looks like I was going to the steel city ahead of schedule (or exactly on time, depending how you looked at it).

I wasn’t happy about having to eat the cost of a hotel room alone. I found a cheap option near the airport, but just before I booked that, I saw a deal on Hotwire outside of downtown. The stars had aligned, and I was just beginning to see their grand design. Earlier in the week, the Gatormage himself, Chris Fennell, had messaged me asking if I knew anyone who was in Pittsburgh on Thursday night, and that he was going to be there. I didn’t, but I’d look out and let him know. And so it turned out that we would be splitting the room on Thursday, as if it had been planned since the beginning.

Over the last few months I’d made an effort to spend more time visiting the city that I was traveling to, being a tourist, taking in what I missed so often in the past. I hadn’t done much sightseeing in many of my previous escapades, and I wanted to change that because it felt like I’d squandered my time to some extent. I could look at a trip solely as work, get in and get out, and be on my merry way, but I’ve enjoyed myself more otherwise. Unfortunately, I was rather occupied lately, and I wasn’t able to make sightseeing plans for Thursday, so I decided to just play it by ear.

My flight to Pittsburgh was a red eye, which I had taken once before, and swore to never take again. But, I wanted to give it one more try, just to see if my previous experience was a fluke. It wasn’t. Trust your gut folks. I had many tools at my disposal: sleeping pills, a fluffy neck brace thingy, blanket, pillow, and even extra-thick socks. Yet not even all those practical accessories were enough to successfully channel my inner MacGyver and construct the ideal sleep environment as I was transported across the country. I had a layover in Minneapolis, and by the time I arrived in Pittsburgh after that, I knew I’d be more than happy to catch up on my sleep Thursday night.

Mother Nature decided to throw yet another wrench in my tourist plans, sending freezing temperatures and chilling gales to greet me as I made my way to the hotel. As I walked across a bridge spanning the Monongahela River to the South Shore, my frozen ears caught the wind’s whispers that sightseeing wasn’t going to be a good idea today, and that it would be best to stay inside and take cover in a nice, heated room. And so there I was, cooped up in the Sheraton for the day. I managed to 4-0 a Sealed Daily, and patted myself on the back as I was able to successfully stack two [card]Angelic Skirmisher[/card] triggers properly. Good job, great effort! At least I was positively motivated.

At some point I had to get food, and I wasn’t really into what was around the immediate area. I was a few months early to go to the Texas de Brazil next door. There was also an Italian place called Alla Famiglia, but I couldn’t figure out if it was good enough to justify the price. There just weren’t enough national reviews for it. I decided to go on a trek to Fat Head’s Saloon while enduring the harsh winter air around me. The food menu looked fine, and they had a good tap list, which in truth is what I was really after, which many of my friends will swear to as I pollute their news feeds with bottle pictures. The food was satisfactory, as I expected (I ordered the Angry Cheesesteak Flathead: shaved steak, roasted red peppers, jalapenos, onions, mozzarella, goat cheese, spinach, and chipotle mayo accompanied by house-made chips),

and I managed to try a ton of regional brews that weren’t available to me back home in California, including Great Divide Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, Bells Hopslam double IPA, Dogfish Head ApriHop, and Fat Head’s Head Hunter IPA—all in moderate portions, mind you. Remember to please drink responsibly. By the time I was done browsing their bottle shop upstairs, twelve different bottles had found their way into my possession that I had to somehow find a way to transport back to the Golden state.

Friday’s schedule was going to keep me busy. I had to check out of the old hotel and into the new one, find a suitable place for lunch as well as a luggage shop for my newly acquired liquid assets, register for the GP, meet up with Frank Karsten (who was rooming with us), work on some articles, and hopefully sightsee (weather permitting). I slept soundly that night, catching up on the Zs that eluded me on the flight over, and thanks also to the three-hour time zone change, I woke up late at 11 a.m. The timing worked out perfectly, actually. We said goodbye to the Sheraton and moved over to the Westin, managed to check in early, and went out to the site to register.

I was eager to finally snag an elusive GP playmat that I’d missed out on for so many events on the east coast, but found to my dismay that all 600 were spoken for by the time we had arrived. “The site’s been open for only 30 minutes. Where did all the mats go!?”

“Preregistered people.”

I just shook my head. I’ve run so badly on playmats. I’d preregistered for the last few events, and that was when they were only handed out to the people on site. Having forgotten to preregister this time, it was obviously the one time that the mats were given out to those people as well. The universe was out to get me. We didn’t stay there long, and were soon making our way towards Meat & Potatoes for lunch.

Meat & Potatoes was my go-to eatery in Pittsburgh. I looked around on Yelp a bit prior, and hadn’t found too many other places I was interested in. The walk was short, and we found the place packed when we got there, a sign that the food was good if you’re familiar with the ancient Chinese proverb. The menu had a spin on it, seeing as how it was Lent (or somewhere close to it), and the majority of options were fish.

There was also the, “I’m not Jewish” bacon cheeseburger, which I eyed for a bit, and the several variations of Moules-frites on the “specials” menu on the wall which I missed entirely. I ended up settling for some cod, blackened, with chipotle slaw and caramelized onions, on some sort of roll (I don’t remember what kind, and it wasn’t a Kaiser). Everything was awesome per the norm, and I walked out content, splitting up with Gatormage so I could embark on my luggage search while he headed back to the site.

My search of luggage shops the night before yielded few options, and seeing as how there weren’t any malls nearby, I had just one store to check out in the downtown area. I needed a bag with a hard shell to protect my glass wares from other bags and overzealous baggage handlers. As it turned out, luggage was much more expensive than I thought. I found several pieces of varying sizes, and after talking with the salesperson, convinced myself that I hadn’t been talked into buying something, and gleefully sauntered back to the hotel with my shiny new toy.

When I got back to the hotel, I found that the check-in line had grown immensely, and was grateful that I’d been convinced to wait 10 minutes earlier instead of the hour that this new one would have taken to conquer. There must have been at least 70 people in it, mostly well-dressed middle-age women. It’s like there was some other convention going on, or something. I played around with my new luggage for a while, figuring out the best way to organize everything, and when I was content, made my way back to the site to meet up with Frank, a box of cards to get signed in hand to pass the time until he got in at 6 p.m.

Christopher Moeller was one of the artists, and I had a ton of his cards I hadn’t been able to get signed the last times we’d crossed paths (Hawaii ‘09, Columbus ‘11). Luckily the lines were very short, and I made several circuits through before he left for the day.

Frank arrived shortly afterwards, and as most people found out later, the reason why he had shown up to a seemingly random American GP was because he had actually been living here in Pittsburgh for about two months now for a research project at the university. I showed him the room, and he went off to get some practice drafts under his belt because he had not played a single Gatecrash event beforehand. Some people are up to more of a challenge than others. People were starting to arrive from out of town, and I met up with EFro down in the lobby at Original Fish Market to eat and watch some of the college basketball games, trying to get caught up in the action. Been there. Was average. I had forgotten.

Everyone else arrived safely, and I made my way to the player meeting at 9 a.m. With 1,626 other people there, I was hoping that the day would go faster than Charlotte. Starting an hour earlier definitely was going to help, and hopefully it wouldn’t be delayed by nearly two hours. The fifteen minutes it did take was acceptable. I wasn’t happy with my pool. Earlier during the meeting, I had riffled through a few land packets, setting aside matching Swamps and Plains, eight of each, just in case I ended up Orzhov. *SPOILER ALERT*: I didn’t need many more lands afterwards. This is what I had to work with:

Sealed Pool:

Land:
1 [card]Boros Guildgate[/card] 1 [card]Orzhov Guildgate[/card] 1 [card]Simic Guildgate[/card] 1 [card]Watery Grave[/card]

Artifact:
2 [card]Millennial Gargoyle[/card] 1 [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card] 1 [card]Prophetic Prism[/card] 1 [card]Riot Gear[/card] 1 [card]Gruul Keyrune[/card] 1 [card]Simic Keyrune[/card]

Hybrid:
1 [card]Biomass Mutation[/card] 2 [card]Bioshift[/card] 1 [card]Shattering Blow[/card]

Black:
1 [card]Basilica Screecher[/card] 1 [card]Gutter Skulk[/card] 1 [card]Wight of Precinct Six[/card] 1 [card]Corpse Blockade[/card] 1 [card]Slate Street Ruffian[/card] 1 [card]Syndicate Enforcer[/card] 1 [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] 1 [card]Shadow Slice[/card]

Orzhov:
1 [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card] 1 [card]Kingpin’s Pet[/card] 1 [card]Alms Beast[/card] 1 [card]Vizkopa Enforcer[/card]

White:
1 [card]Dutiful Thrull[/card] 1 [card]Daring Skyjek[/card] 1 [card]Syndic of Tithes[/card] 1 [card]Assault Griffin[/card] 1 [card]Nav Squad Commandos[/card] 1 [card]Shielded Passage[/card] 1 [card]Aerial Maneuver[/card] 1 [card]Hold the Gates[/card] 1 [card]Righteous Charge[/card] 1 [card]Angelic Edict[/card]

Boros:
1 [card]Truefire Paladin[/card] 1 [card]Wojek Halberdiers[/card] 2 [card]Martial Glory[/card] 1 [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]

Red:
1 [card]Bomber Corps[/card] 1 [card]Skinbrand Goblin[/card] 1 [card]Ember Beast[/card] 1 [card]Hellraiser Goblin[/card] 1 [card]Viashino Shanktail[/card] 1 [card]Ripscale Predator[/card] 1 [card]Furious Resistance[/card] 1 [card]Mugging[/card] 1 [card]Skullcrack[/card] 2 [card]Act of Treason[/card] 1 [card]Massive Raid[/card] 1 [card]Tin Street Market[/card] 1 [card]Structural Collapse[/card]

Gruul:
1 [card]Ruination Wurm[/card] 1 [card]Gruul Charm[/card]

Green:
2 [card]Spire Tracer[/card] 1 [card]Wasteland Viper[/card] 1 [card]Disciple of Old Ways[/card] 1 [card]Ivy Lane Denizen[/card] 2 [card]Adaptive Snapjaw[/card] 1 [card]Rust Scarab[/card] 1 [card]Burst of Strength[/card] 2 [card]Forced Adaptation[/card]

Simic:
1 [card]Shambleshark[/card]

Blue:
2 [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] 1 [card]Metropolis Sprite[/card] 1 [card]Simic Fluxmage[/card] 1 [card]Clinging Anemones[/card] 1 [card]Mindeye Drake[/card] 2 [card]Skygames[/card] 1 [card]Scatter Arc[/card] 1 [card]Way of the Thief[/card]

Dimir:
1 [card]Consuming Aberration[/card] 1 [card]Dinrova Horror[/card] 1 [card]Psychic Strike[/card] 1 [card]Call of the Nightwing[/card]

The cards that I actively wanted to play with were:

[draft]1 Alms Beast
1 Truefire Paladin
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Mugging
2 Cloudfin Raptor
1 Consuming Aberration[/draft] [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] is fine, one of those cards that “can win a game by itself,” but the popularity of white and thus [card]Angelic Edict[/card], a card that no deck playing Plains would ever have in its sideboard, makes it somewhat overrated. The common trait that all of the cards above share is that they are cheap and over-perform for their cost. Having a good curve in Gatecrash Sealed usually trumps a bunch of expensive bombs, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t construct a deck with a bunch of 4-drops if possible.

There were other good cards in the pool, mostly the 2-drops that did something, and the removal, which was a bit sparse. I looked at Orzhov first because that was where most Sealed decks end up. At first glance, the deck was a few cards short without having to dip into a group of more situational cards:

[draft]Shielded Passage
Hold the Gates
Shadow Slice
Glaring Spotlight
Righteous Charge
Riot Gear[/draft]

Orzhov, version 1.0 (21 cards)

[deck]1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Basilica Screecher
1 Daring Skyjek
1 Gutter Skulk
1 Syndic of Tithes
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Corpse Blockade
1 Kingpins Pet
1 Slate Street Ruffian
1 Alms Beast
1 Assault Griffin
2 Millennial Gargoyle
1 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Nav Squad Commandos
1 Vizkopa Confessor
1 Aerial Maneuver
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Angelic Edict[/deck]

As it was, the deck was already playing a few stainers ([card]Aerial Maneuver[/card], and the [card]Slate Street Ruffian[/card]/[card]Corpse Blockade[/card] nombo) and had a few too many 4-drops—but a lot of 2-drops, which was good. It was also possible to switch out the Blockade, and play three of the more aggressive options, namely [card]Shadow Slice[/card], [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card], and [card]Righteous Charge[/card]. Those would win some games throughout the day, no doubt, and the six 2-drops would certainly help the deck get to a point where those other cards became good, but that wouldn’t always be the case. It would be difficult to race a Gruul, Boros, or Simic opponent, and it seemed like playing for a slightly longer game was a better plan.

The Orzhov deck was a few cards short without splashing, and I didn’t really want to play the aggro version or [card]Shielded Passage[/card] and [card]Riot Gear[/card]. I looked to the sideboard for better options. [card]Truefire Paladin[/card] was pretty bad on the splash, but red also had [card]Mugging[/card] and [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] in addition to a [card]Boros Guildgate[/card].

Alternatively, blue had two [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card]s, [card]Mindeye Drake[/card], [card]Consuming Aberration[/card], [card]Dinrova Horror[/card], [card]Call of the Nightwing[/card], and [card]Watery Grave[/card]. Like the Paladin, the Raptors weren’t as good on the splash because their power came with being able to play them on turn one and grow them quickly to 3 or 4 power. [card]Mindeye Drake[/card] was outclassed by the expensive Dimir cards, so I looked at the [card]Consuming Aberration[/card], [card]Dinrova Horror[/card], and [card]Call of the Nightwing[/card]. The Dimir cards wouldn’t help the deck in the areas it needed.

[card]Assemble the Legion[/card] and [card]Consuming Aberration[/card] are very similar, but [card]Call of the Nightwing[/card] and [card]Dinrova Horror[/card] are much slower than [card]Mugging[/card], and speed/efficiency was my main concern. The deck didn’t have much removal, and stopping cards like [card]Sunhome Guildmage[/card], a creature enchanted with [card]Madcap Skills[/card], or encoded with something for very little investment seemed more important than a bit of value. There were only five extort creatures, but that didn’t mean I’d want to raise the mana curve a lot.

Oros (slightly better than metal-poison), version 1.1

[deck]1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Basilica Screecher
1 Daring Skyjek
1 Gutter Skulk
1 Syndic of Tithes
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Corpse Blockade
1 Kingpins Pet
1 Slate Street Ruffian
1 Alms Beast
1 Assault Griffin
2 Millennial Gargoyle
1 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Nav Squad Commandos
1 Vizkopa Confessor
1 Mugging
1 Aerial Maneuver
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Angelic Edict
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Mountain
7 Plains
7 Swamp[/deck]

With the Orzhov deck done, I looked at the other guilds to see if I had better alternatives. Boros was the next stop, and it had more than enough playables to keep me straight red/white, but there were quite a few situational cards.

Boros, version 1.0 (25 cards)

[deck]1 Bomber Corps
1 Daring Skyjek
1 Skinbrand Goblin
1 Syndic of Tithes
1 Truefire Paladin
1 Wojek Halberdiers
1 Ember Beast
1 Hellraiser Goblin
1 Assault Griffin
2 Millennial Gargoyle
1 Viashino Shanktail
1 Nav Squad Commandos
1 Ripscale Predator
1 Glaring Spotlight
1 Mugging
1 Aerial Maneuver
2 Martial Glory
2 Act of Treason
1 Massive Raid
1 Righteous Charge
1 Angelic Edict
1 Assemble the Legion
Other cards:
1 Shielded Passage
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Riot Gear
1 Skullcrack[/deck]

The Boros deck would need to be trimmed down a bit, and it would probably have to be some of the more narrow utility spells rather than creatures (because there were only 14). I didn’t have much experience with [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card], but it didn’t seem as useful because it took a lot of mana to use and required you to be ahead. Blanking a removal spell seemed unlikely in most cases because the deck would be tapping out so often, and there weren’t many creatures that were valuable enough to leave mana open for and protect.

The next weakest card seemed like either the second [card]Act of Treason[/card] or the [card]Righteous Charge[/card]. The curve was quite similar to the Orzhov deck, but it had fewer creatures and more tricks, and that was a concern. I was afraid that I would be forced to mulligan hands that didn’t have a creature or else I’d run the risk of extending the game too long to the point where the opponent’s spells would outclass mine, and it would be difficult to win. Also, many of the utility spells required creatures to interact ([card]Aerial Maneuver[/card]/[card]Martial Glory[/card]) or were bad if I wasn’t ahead ([card]Act of Treason[/card]/[card]Righteous Charge[/card]), and that made the Boros deck feel more fragile than the Orzhov deck with not much to show for it.

Gruul was the next deck to look at, but it soon became apparent that a straight green/red build wouldn’t work because the curve was far too high. There were just too many four/five-mana creatures, and no great cards besides [card]Mugging[/card] and [card]Gruul Charm[/card]. Even a white splash wouldn’t help lower the curve, and at that point it would have been better to just play Boros.

Simic started out looking promising, but fell completely flat after laying its one/two-mana creatures out. There was almost no depth to it:

Simic, version 1.0 (20 cards)

[deck]2 Cloudfin Raptor
2 Spire Tracer
1 Wasteland Viper
1 Disciple of Old Ways
1 Metropolis Sprite
1 Shambleshark
1 Simic Fluxmage
1 Ivy League Denizen
2 Millennial Gargoyle
2 Adaptive Snapjaw
1 Mindeye Drake
1 Rust Scarab
1 Burst of Strength
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Simic Keyrune
1 Biomass mutation
Other:
1 Clinging Anemones
2 Forced Adaptation
1 Scatter Arc
1 Way of the Thief
1 Glaring Spotlight
1 Riot Gear[/deck]

There were a lot of low-impact cards in the deck, and it felt like if you wanted to keep it two colors, it would be necessary to run three of the non-[card]Clinging Anemone[/card]s options (most likely two [card]Forced Adaptation[/card]s), and pray that you never played against a removal spell in seven rounds. The deck certainly had a low curve, somewhat. There were still four> five-mana creatures, but it could have some nice starts. Another problem is that the [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card]s were actually unimpressive because it would be difficult to grow them beyond a 2/3.

The Dimir deck had the same problem that the Gruul deck did: not enough playables, and moderately underpowered. In the end I decided to go with Orzhov.

Sealed Deck:

[deck]1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Basilica Screecher
1 Daring Skyjek
1 Gutter Skulk
1 Syndic of Tithes
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Corpse Blockade
1 Kingpins Pet
1 Slate Street Ruffian
1 Alms Beast
1 Assault Griffin
2 Millennial Gargoyle
1 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Nav Squad Commandos
1 Vizkopa Confessor
1 Mugging
1 Aerial Maneuver
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Angelic Edict
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Mountain
7 Plains
7 Swamp[/deck]

After constructing my Sealed deck, taking approximately 31 minutes to build as I normally do, I headed back to the Westin to meet up with my roused roommates for some brunch. Meat & Potatoes wasn’t available until 1 p.m., which unfortunately didn’t exactly work out with our schedule, so we went elsewhere and had a very bad experience. The place, Braddock’s American Brasserie, was some hotel’s restaurant, and not only was the food very mediocre, but the service was glacial. Multiple times we considered just leaving because it was taking too long for everything to come out, and it felt like a drawn-out tasting menu, except instead of delicious food with short breaks followed by more delicious food, we waited to be seated, get water, bread, order, food, and finally the bill, with 15-minute waits in between.

Everyone else hurried off to register their decks, and I made my way back over to the artists. It was the end of round two, and that meant I had about 90 minutes to get cards signed before having to play. I didn’t finish in time before having to pack up and go to work.

Rounds 4-10:

I went undefeated on the day against non-Platinum players, which is to say I finished 9-1, losing round five in graceful fashion to EFro. Some people are just the luckiest. In any case, I had finally broken free from underneath that frozen lake, gasping for air. The highlight of the day was a game in which my opponent and I both had [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], his a turn ahead of mine, each with ten counters. We were both at high enough life that one swing wouldn’t be enough to overcome each other’s defenses, but I was slugging away with some extort creatures and a flyer with [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card] for extra damage. It seemed like I only had a few more turns to survive when [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card] put an end to my hopes as I took approximately 70 damage.

A lot of my friends were doing well, and so the mood at the end of the day was light-hearted. On top of that, we finished at a reasonable hour (somewhere around 8:30 PM, I think) and were able to choose from a cornucopia of restaurants that weren’t Meat & Potatoes (reservations for 8 are tricky, especially when you want to go to sweet places that lots of other people want to go too). Sharp Edge Bistro had a decent tap list and bottle room that I was interested in, but they also had an hour-long wait. We went next door to Seviche, a Cuban tapas bar, and the hostess said a party had just left, and that we could be seated in a few minutes once they could set up the table. We were running hot, I guess.

Seviche focused small plates, was seafood driven, and had a Latin/Asian fusion element (think Latin sushi and Japanese ceviche). They had a ceviche menu, raw bar, tapas, bocadillos, and entrée-sized plates. I decided to get some corn and goat cheese croquettas and traditional Spanish paella along with a Troeg’s Troegenator doppelbock. Overall, it was a winning combination. The pacing of the meal was just right, and we were able to chat away into the night, re-ordering some of the more insane dishes, until we were one of the last tables to leave. I don’t remember who ended up paying, but I do know that I didn’t. Thanks!

The next day started at 9 a.m. again, which meant we didn’t have a lot of time to get breakfast before going to work at the draft tables. Instead of walking to another hotel for another very mediocre meal, we decided instead to just do it in our own, which is to say that the experience wasn’t memorable. At least I knew where to find the most inedible, chalky eggs. The best part was that I didn’t have to pay. At least I knew I wouldn’t be heading back there any time soon.

I was more than happy to start drafting as soon as possible. Drafting had always been my preferred method of playing, and I saw it as a reward after a hard day’s work of not-drafting. Starting with dessert didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. I was in pod two, and there were a few familiar faces to keep me company:

Pod 2:
Erik Smith
Gerry Thompson
Nick Moran
Michael Jacob
William Jensen
David Ochoa
Gaudenis Vidugiris
Maxwell Brown

The draft started out awkwardly for me. I took [card]Treasury Thrull[/card] over [card]Skyknight Legionnaire[/card], [card]Drakewing Krasis[/card], some mediocre two-drop, and a [card]Pit Fight[/card], and I wasn’t really happy about it. I’m not a fan of six-drops, although the Thrull is decent. It’s just not that way I wanted to start out the draft.

I could have just taken one of the cheaper cards, but I liked being Orzhov. I was passed [card]Simic Manipulator[/card] and twelve other cards. For the record, I did look at them, although I won’t say if it was for slightly less time than I normally would.

The rest of pack one was a mix between Orzhov and Simic, which was frustrating because each pack seemed to alternate on which guild was open. By the end of the pack, I had more Simic than Orzhov, along with a few Dimir cards, and would probably have to decide quickly on whether I’d be Simic or some sort of Esper concoction. I opened something Simic (sorry, old age and worms in my head made me forget exactly what) and got passed another [card]Simic Manipulator[/card] third or fourth.

From that point I didn’t look back, and ended up with a reasonable pile going into the third pack. Did I mention I opened [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card]? Last time I checked, Forests and Islands didn’t cast that guy very well. However, [card]Wasteland Viper[/card]—now that is a card! I wasn’t unhappy with my deck, although I certainly would have preferred to have Obzedat. I guess two Manipulators would suffice. Overall, it felt like Orzhov was right for my seat, but that there just weren’t enough cards to keep me in it during pack one because I also had the Manipulator. If that had been just another average card, I probably would have tried to stick with Orzhov. Pack three would have been quite good for me.

Draft #1:

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Spire Tracer
1 Wasteland Viper
2 Disciple of Old Ways
1 Greenside Watcher
1 Incursion Specialist
2 Shambleshark
1 Deathcult Rogue
2 Drakewing Krasis
2 Simic Manipulator
2 Keymaster Rogue
1 Adaptive Snapjaw
1 Leyline Phantom
1 Sapphire Drake
1 Simic Charm
1 Spell Rupture
1 Verdant Haven
1 Last Thoughts
1 Simic Guildgate
8 Forest
8 Island
Sideboard:
1 Clinging Anemones
1 Gridlock
1 Serene Remembrance
1 Illusionists Bracers
1 Skygames
1 Tower Defense
1 Scatter Arc
1 Coerced Confession
1 Shadow Alley Denizen
1 Deaths Approach
1 Devour Flesh
1 Undercity Plague
1 Mortus Strider
1 Dinrova Horror
1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Treasury Thrull
1 Debtors Pulpit
1 Furious Resistance[/deck]

The main problem I had with the deck, and an issue I knew that would definitely be a factor in a lot of mulligans, was the mana. Sure, I was playing a two-color deck, but it had a ton of green one/two-drops in addition to two Simic Manipulators that I kind of wanted to play on turn three every game. For that reason I ran the [card]Verdant Haven[/card], because it was one of the only ways I had to fix my mana. The three other cards that I had were [card]Gridlock[/card], [card]Tower Defense[/card], and [card]Scatter Arc[/card]—although, it was really just the first two.

I managed to 2-1, which put me back into the second pod again for the second draft, and needing to win both of my first two rounds to give me the possibility of drawing into the Top 8. Mike Rosenberg covered my draft, and that can be viewed on the Mothership here.

I opened up [card]Legion Loyalist[/card], [card]Experiment One[/card], [card]Elusive Krasis[/card], [card]Hands of Binding[/card], and [card]Daring Skyjek[/card], taking the Krasis. I’d been told that the Loyalist was good, but I hadn’t played much with or against him, and thought otherwise.

Taking a guild card over a mono-colored card has been better for me in pack one because it reduces the amount of competition you’ll have for that specific guild. By taking the Krasis and passing the [card]Experiment One[/card], that card slot will either go into a Gruul or Simic deck whereas the Krasis will most likely only go into a Simic deck. If I take the [card]Experiment One[/card], the chances that I can actually go into Simic decrease significantly. By taking the best guild card from the pack, it’s still possible to figure out what guilds are open and adjust. For the rest of the draft, I’d have less competition for the guild I’ve settled in because there are more mono-colored cards that the rest of the table is trying to play rather than guild cards.

My next pick saw me falter in my own judgment. Second-guessing oneself is dangerous, and often won’t be right depending on what level you are at. I didn’t follow my own advice, and took [card]Cloudfin Raptor[/card] over [card]Orzhov Charm[/card]. If Simic was open, the Raptor would have been a very good addition, but [card]Orzhov Charm[/card] was a better card with no information. The rest of the pack showed that Simic was indeed open, but Orzhov was even more open. Simic dried up as the draft progressed, and I ended up with a very mediocre pack three to compliment my very mediocre draft.

Draft #2:

[deck]Main Deck:
1 Cloudfin Raptor
2 Spire Tracer
1 Wasteland Viper
1 Frilled Oculus
1 Zameck Guildmage
1 Crocanura
2 Drakewing Krasis
1 Elusive Krasis
1 Crowned Ceratok
3 Ivy Lane Denizen
1 Scab-Clan Charger
1 Leyline Phantom
1 Burst of Strength
2 Pit Fight
1 Wildwood Rebirth
1 Miming Slime
1 Totally Lost
2 Simic Guildgate
9 Forest
7 Island
Sideboard:
2 Clinging Anemones
1 Bioshift
1 Forced Adaptation
1 Serene Remembrance
3 Skygames
3 Spell Rupture
1 Way of the Thief
1 Dimir Keyrune
1 Paranoid Delusions
1 Horror of the Dim
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Wojek Halberdiers
1 Martial Glory[/deck]

I lost my first round very quickly, although it wasn’t because my deck was terrible or my opponent’s was amazing. I just mulled to four in game one and had ten lands with four spells in game two. ‘Nuff said. After winning my next round, I discovered that I was paired down in the last round, tried to figure out where we’d both end up with a win/lose/draw, and gracefully accepted a concession. Making Top 8 was a long shot, so when I saw that I finished 10th, right behind Gerry, I wasn’t that disappointed. There were still some horses in the tournament to cheer for, Brock and EFro, and we stayed there to the very end, until only Brock was left standing when the dust had settled. Victory.

I was been excited about that night, because I’d gotten a reservation at Meat & Potatoes earlier in the week, but as the day progressed, it became more and more evident that we weren’t going to make it, and I kept pushing it back until having to cancel it altogether. C’est la vie.

It was pretty late by the time the Top 8 finished, and most places had just closed, so we made our way over to Sharp Edge Bistro, and managed to get a table for six, seated together after a great deal of negotiating. It was apparently against the fire code to arrange the tables in a certain way in this empty restaurant. Once we were all seated and managed to get some of the food we ordered, it turned out that the place was actually pretty good, although a bit on the expensive side, seeing as how I was the one who paid. It was only fair though, as my meal was one of the more lavish.

Dave and I split some baked brie, wrapped in puff pastry and prosciutto, drizzled with raspberry honey sauce as well as steamed mussels with blue cheese and Belgian ale. Both appetizers were quite good and better than the Belgian wellingtons (beef and pork wrapped in puff pastry, baked, and served with a mushroom bordelaise sauce) that I ordered as my entrée. I was torn over dessert, and had to choose between the Belgian chocolate pudding and the Lindeman’s framboise cheesecake. Being a sucker for cheesecake settled my internal struggle, and it ended up being the wrong choice as I managed to snag a bite of the pudding. Divine.

Weather in the area was supposed to deteriorate during the next 24 hours, if that was even possible, and soon the icy cold winds I’d endured throughout the trip would be accompanied by snow flurries and all that inhospitable non-California jazz. In any case, I decided to head to the airport early, just in case the weather decided to play interference with my plight.

I was concerned about my bottles freezing in the cargo hold, but they ended up being fine, which was good for me for obvious reasons. I wasn’t sure if the climate is controlled in any way. I would have hated to have been the proud owner of a beer-stained suitcase—although, I did manage to pick up a TSA love note saying that they had riffled through my stuff, but been uninterested in any of my brews. I guess they didn’t like IPAs. In any case, I had snapped my losing streak, acquired some shiny, new smuggling luggage, broke even on the trip, and even managed to have a good time too. Life couldn’t be better.

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