I awoke the following morning and one phrase kept ringing in my head, “Don’t sabotage yourself.”
The previous day I was sitting down with Ben Stark and Wrapter, and Ben looked over at me. Ben has never been very good with words, regardless of intention, and this moment was no exception. He said, “If I have one piece of advice for you, it is to not sabotage yourself this tournament. Do whatever the team does and don’t be different.” The moment sent rage through my body like I have never felt before. Upon further investigation, it came out that Ben thought that on occasion, it was possible I lost “on purpose.”
Now, in retrospect, I obviously realize this was just an act of a teammate trying to help me out. Ben has never been a wordsmith and although his message came out clunky and full of implication, his intent was pure. For good or for bad though, I walked away from that brief conversation with a chip on my shoulder. I had been on the Sunday stage before, and yet I felt like I had something to prove. Maybe it was to show my teammates that I wasn’t some sort of fluke, or maybe it was to show myself, but I needed to get back into fighting form.
The success I had had outside of the tournament area had left me content with where I was at. I had the support of the community and I had made a name for myself. I had a healthy job and good friends, so winning was just a bonus on all of that. Not today. Today, winning was the end game, and I set off to prove that, angry, solemn, focused.
I had gone 6-0 before, many different times, so I did not wake up with some sense of accomplishment about me. I was still hungry, and I planned on pushing supper back for another day, but there was still the matter of the chase.
My first draft pod was covered by the coverage team, so you can go look through the draft viewer at my picks, as well as those around me, and I also did an official draft walk through for coverage, which can be found on Youtube.
Amongst my first draft pod were a few strangers, and then the likes of Patrick Chapin immediately to my right and Craig Wescoe across the table. Safe to say that I would much rather see these guys in this setting rather than day 1 or 3, but good players are still good players, even if this didn’t happen to be their area of expertise.
I won’t go into too much detail about my first draft, as it was recorded already and I talked about it for the coverage guys, but it felt good to end up with a GW deck, even if it was a mediocre GW deck. Blue was pretty open at the table, but I didn’t really see the rewards from that until later in the draft, and despite never obtaining the key GW stuff, like [card]Travel Preparations[/card], at any point, my deck still ended up fine and I mentally chalked it up as a 2-1 list. In particular, I was not thrilled about the two [card]Village Bell-Ringer[/card]s in my stack, but they would end up showing up in force.
My first round of limited was also covered by the coverage team. I played against Andrew Cuneo who had a pretty decent UW build, although after the draft portion, I would have assumed it better, with him being Blue all but two seats to my left. My Village Bell-Ringers showed up to mock me for ever making fun of them, as they helped my team fight through Claustrophobia and untapped my Galvanic Juggernaut when it otherwise would remain asleep. I lost game two with a hand full of Green cards and no Forest, but it was a fun match to play regardless and Andrew was a cool cat (No, I have never used that phrase before now…)
This was my first run in with Craig Wescoe and I had gotten the info from other people beforehand that his deck did not seem all that exciting. When they began to list off cards that were in it though, I got a little more worried, as [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] and [card]Silent Departure[/card] seemed like the kinds of cards that matched up well against me. What I had forgotten about though, is that the [card]Village Bell-Ringer[/card] never [card feeling of dread]Feels Dread[/card], and he once again made himself known and overworked himself. Craig missed a lot of land drops in our first game and mulliganed to 5 in the next though, so I can’t say that this match was all that exciting.
This was my first of 3 different matches against David Caplan. I knew this was going to be a tough match up as I had the scoop ahead of time that David was packing cards like [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] and [card]Charmbreaker Devils[/card] in his deck. Luckily for me, I managed to dodge them both during any relevant time during out match as I had some fairly aggressive draws that were able to outrace his draws with ease. I ended game 2 with a flurry of plays that made Rich Hagon take note, even though at the time, I did not deem them to be anything special. Some well thought out combat math, trick assessment, and a little information obtained when Cappy went to play a spell and played the wrong one led to a quick win the turn before I was fated to die.
Rich pulled me aside and said something along the lines of, “You can tell when a player is in the zone, because he uses his cards as weapons, as tools.” At the time, I was still in a bit of trance, so it didn’t sink in very well. It seemed all around me, people were taking notice of things that I was just doing. It wasn’t that I was not doing them intentionally, as I clearly was, but I was declining to take part in the spectacle of my own play, and looking back, I think that was an important distinction to make that week. Getting caught up in any one play or moment turns good play into something of a shrine, rather than a benchmark. If you pat yourself on the back every time you make some insane play, you come to view those plays as extraordinary, and be that as it may, you can subconsciously convince yourself to make those plays less often because they are not expected out of you often. If, only the other hand, you decide that that is the level of play you expect out of yourself time and time again, and register the moment as good play, but nothing out of the ordinary, you are going to return to that place much more often, as it is expected out of yourself.
I had another draft to get ready for though, and this time I would be joined by a teammate in Wrapter. He sat two seats to my right and Craig Wescoe sat immediately to my right. This draft was an interesting one, as I tried to take advantage of the politics that double-faced cards allow for the first time at a high level, and I was met with mixed results.
Three seats to my right, David Caplan opened an [card]Instigator Gang[/card], and took it. Two seats to my right Wrapter opened a [card]Kruin Outlaw[/card], and as a result of seeing the Gang snapped up to his immediate right, he passed the card to his left. I was fortunate enough to open an [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], which meant that I would like nothing more than to be Red Black this draft. Craig Wescoe opened a [card]Reckless Waif[/card] and passed it to me, so now I had to act and act fast.
Wescoe had just been passed a [card]Kruin Outlaw[/card], which is likely the best card in the pack, or close to it. That said, two seats to his right, Cappy was clearly going Red, which in my estimation, is close enough in proximity to possibly sway Wescoe out of Red, assuming there was a card worth taking in the pack. I decided that since I knew Wescoe, I would try to sway him out of Red even harder, and so despite [card]Reckless Waif[/card] not being the best card in my pack (it sat next to things like [card]Chapel Geist[/card], [card]Blazing Torch[/card], and [card]Deranged Assistant[/card]) I snapped it up very quickly and noticeably so that Wescoe my take note. I wanted him to realize I was in Red to his left, which, coupled with Caplan two seats to his right, might convince him to pass the Outlaw and cement me as the next Red drafter, which would go nicely with my Vampire queen.
I figured even in a worst-case scenario, the Waif was not THAT much worse than the Assistant or Torch, which I otherwise would have taken, and the potential payoff was quite high. Unfortunately for me, Wescoe still took the Outlaw, and when I asked him about it later, he said he didn’t even notice that I took the Waif, so it ended up backfiring on me a little big. Luckily, Wescoe did not stay Red for long, so despite me moving into Blue for a few picks, Red picked back up nicely later on. Oh yea, and I opened [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] in pack 2 as well, so people avoided Black around me from there on, so my deck ended up pretty sweet.
[deck]1 Olivia Voldaren
1 Bloodline Keeper
3 Markov Patrician
1 Kessig Wolf
1 Falkenrath Noble
1 Reckless Waif
1 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Hanweir Watchkeep
1 Pitchburn Devils
1 Walking Corpse
1 Disciple of Griselbrand
1 Moan of the Unhallowed
1 Rage Thrower
1 Dead Weight
1 Victim of Night
1 Corpse Lunge
1 Brimstone Volley
1 Into the Maw of Hell
2 Feral Ridgewolf
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Night Terrors
1 Stromkirk Patrol[/deck]
I was a little heavy on 3-drops, which is part of the reason the Disciple made the deck, to smooth out the curve. I also figured I could get some decent combo potential with [card]Rage Thrower[/card], or double [card]Ghoulraiser[/card], [card]Falkenrath Noble[/card], or [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card], so ultimately I put it in over the Patrol, since my late game seemed pretty nice already.
This round I played against Fabian Thiele and the match was pretty fun. In game one, I deemed the board neutral after playing a [card]Rage Thrower[/card], leaving me with a [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] and a [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] to his [card]Darkthicket Wolf[/card] and [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card]. I thought it was about neutral due to the second [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] in my hand that could start looping 2/2s in and out. He thought differently though, as he cast a [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] on my [card]Rage Thrower[/card]. I was a bit puzzled at first, so I stared directly at him, and his demeanor was pretty clear; he made a mistake and did not realize it yet. I wasn’t about to give it away though, as I thought that element of surprise would be useful later, so I made sure not to touch the [card]Rage Thrower[/card] at all other than sliding it over, leaving the Bonds where it sat, conveniently covering up the creature type line. He attacked with the Wolf, which I took (His Juggernaut was tapped). I played a 3/1 vampire, traded it and the [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] for the Wolf, and then put him in a [card]Ghoulraiser[/card] lock where he was forced to attack with the Juggs every turn and I constantly dealt 2 to him, turn after turn. Finally, I triple blocked the Juggernaut, dealing 6 to him and killed his last creature with a [card]Corpse Lunge[/card], before untapping and attacking with the Rage Thrower for the win. He looked up, puzzled. “It’s a human.” He sunk in his chair, had a laugh to himself, and shook my hand.
Game 2 was not quite as exciting for me. I ended up getting a clunky hand after I bricked on a few lands after hitting my 3rd. I had some [card]Markov Patrician[/card]s, but they did not stick around long enough for me to race properly, and his large creature, Spiders and [card]Lumberknot[/card], did me in.
Game 3 got off to a bad start when I mulliganed to 5, but I ended up keeping 3 lands, [card]Reckless Waif[/card], and [card]Feral Ridgewolf[/card] (I brought in both to deal with things like [card]Lumberknot[/card] and [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card]). My Waif got in 6 damage before trading with a [card]Darkthicket Wolf[/card], but my [card]Hanweir Watchkeep[/card] was in flip mode at that point. He blocked with a [card]Somberwald Spider[/card] and cast [card]Spidery Grasp[/card], which did not work out as he had intended, as it was only a 4/8 and did not kill my 5/5. Meanwhile my unblocked Ridgewolf got pumped for 5 more damage to his face. I drew a few removal spells and my pair of 5 power guys ultimately did him in.
This was my first round against a teammate in Wrapter. I don’t remember too much from our match other than that it went to 3. The games never came down to a bomb, as the only time I played a [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] I died before it got active. In game 3 Josh kept a sketchy hand and missed some land drops, allowing me to pull pretty far ahead. I remember making a mistake with a suspect attack to throw away my [card]Kessig Wolf[/card] on his [card]Doom Traveler[/card], just so I could [card]Corpse Lunge[/card] his freshly played [card]Deranged Assistant[/card] as he had missed 2 land drops. Luckily, I caught myself before going through with the plan and although I had to time walk myself to give the Wolf first strike, it was a better save than 2 for 1ing myself on what was a bad play. Ultimately, he climbed back into the game but never got over the hump of the slow start and I drew enough removal to hold him at bay.
This was my second time running against David Caplan, and to my surprise, just like in the first draft, he once again had [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] and [card]Charmbreaker Devils[/card] in his deck. This time though, he had the added threat of [card]Instigator Gang[/card] that would cause me problems, as he would cast it early in both games and I would never find a removal spell for it. Instead, I managed to race it both times.
In game 1, we were racing back and forth, but I had gained a small edge when he had to spend a turn and 2 removal spells to deal with my Olivia. I had built a small board presence, but his 4 or 5 creatures coupled with a flipped [card]Instigator Gang[/card] was close to doing me in. Luckily, I managed to play a [card]Rage Thrower[/card] plus [card]Disciple of Griselbrand[/card] and then block enough creatures to prevent from dying. On the following turn, I attacked and then sacrificed 6 creatures to kill David from 14 the turn before I was dead.
In game 2 I managed to stick a [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] the turn after he stuck an [card]Instigator Gang[/card]. We went back and forth, with each of us casting [card]Moan of the Unhallowed[/card] and playing more creatures. I felt like I was pulling away, as the board was getting clogged, but I was pumping out Vampires in the sky, and was up going to be up to 3 tokens this turn when he tried to flip the end game from game 1 and played a [card]Rage Thrower[/card] and then attacked with 6 creatures plus a flipped [card]Instigator Gang[/card]. Normally my blocks would kill me exactly, despite being at a high life total, because I had to block everything and I couldn’t not kill most of his creatures. Luckily, I had a [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card], and he had attacked with an [card]Abattoir Ghoul[/card], so I lined up my blocks, let first strike damage resolve, and took out the [card]Rage Thrower[/card] with my 3 damage before the rest of combat happened, leaving me at a healthy life total and an active [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card], so he packed it in before passing the turn.
I walked away from the table happy with my play, but I never really let myself fall into the moment. For one thing, we still had to work on a Modern deck, so there was no coasting allowed at this point, and on top of that, I remained, for lack of a better term, numb. I was focused and never let the idea that I had accomplished something sink in, because, well, I hadn’t.
I remember the year prior, going 8-0 on day 1 of Amsterdam, and that entire night, I was singing jingles about how I was undefeated. I was on cloud 9, and yet I went to bed the following night coming off of a 3-5 day 2, and a 20th place finish. I was not about to let that repeat itself. I had been there, and I was not going to feel that way again. Cheering, relief, relaxation, it would all come Sunday night. Now was a time to continue working, and continue staying focused. I was certainly not the most outgoing person that night as a result, but I am proud of how I handled the situation regardless. Stay humble, stay focused. Period.
That night was a mish mash of experiences as we had to work on Modern, but I will save that for the day 3 report, as it ties in better as a whole there. Don’t Sabotage Yourself. The words continued to ring in my head…