Going into Grand Prix Montreal, I was feeling pretty down about Magic. I had just played GP Richmond and PT Amonkhet, and failed to make Day 2 of either. I had practiced a lot for both tournaments, spending most of my time outside of work testing with friends or playing Magic Online. It was frustrating not to see results after putting in so much time. I was considering skipping Montreal since I was so far from Silver and not qualified for any more PTs, but I had already booked my flight, so I decided to still go.
Endless practice hadn’t been effective so far, so I decided to try winging it for Montreal. I copied Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister’s Mardu Vehicles list card for card. Their list looked incredibly smooth and basic—the Pumpkin Spice Latte of Mardu lists. The strategy fit my play style and it looked as though the Magic community had decided that Mardu was no longer a viable deck.
My theory was that there would be fewer Manglehorns and Dissenter’s Deliverances, so Heart of Kiran would be that much more likely to go the distance. And with Zombies being so popular, I expected most people’s anti-aggro sideboard cards to be sweepers, which are not very effective against Gideon and friends. I knew that Marvel would still be a tough matchup, but with a little luck I might be able to beat it a couple times (spoiler: I did).
Friday morning I wake up at 7:00 a.m., grab everything I thought I would need for the GP, and head to work for the day. My plan was to Uber to the airport directly from work so I could avoid having to take time off. Everything ran smoothly until I got to the kiosk to check in. They asked for my passport and I froze. Somehow I had forgotten that passports even existed. I’ve driven to Canada dozens of times and never forgotten my passport—how could I have forgotten it for a flight of all things? My passport was at my house, which was 30 minutes away and my flight left in less than an hour. I tried calling some people to see if anyone could bring it to me, but there just wasn’t enough time.
At this point I had 3 options: Skip the GP, find a later flight, or drive infinite hours through the night. After some quick flight research, and bolstered by my love of Veteran Motorist, I decided to make the drive. I took an Uber back to work, drove home, got my passport, threw a bunch of pillows and blankets into my car, and began the drive with my ETA being 5 a.m. I ended up getting in closer to 4:30. I couldn’t sleep thanks to the amount of Redbull I had consumed to make the drive. So I slept about 2 hours before round 3, but felt surprisingly ready to battle.
To start the day off, I lost an extremely tight game 1 race in the mirror where I would’ve won if I had chumped with one less creature on a key turn. I’m still unsure if I actually messed up, as the damage would’ve left me dead to a Walking Ballista or a Chandra. I ended up winning the match by Fatal Pushing my own Thraben Inspector to flip my Archangel Avacyn for lethal in game 3.
I then lost convincingly to some quick Ulamogs out of a Marvel deck. At this point I was feeling pretty bad about my deck and life choices that would lead me to being half awake in a Marvel dominated field. I was napping in between rounds, and from what I could see from the top tables, I was going to have a rough Ulamog-infested road ahead of me. I was lucky enough to dodge Marvel for 4 rounds in the X-1 bracket, rattling off 4 wins against 3 U/R Control decks and a B/W Zombies deck, both of which I believe to be good matchups.
I managed to beat the second Marvel deck I played near the end of Day 1. The key to this matchup game 1 from the Mardu side is early pressure and praying your opponent misses on hitting Ulamog with Marvel once or twice. The sideboarded games get a little more interesting as you can take their Marvel with Transgress the Mind and play a less variance-based game of Magic. Also, if they either miss on Ulamog once or cast a Marvel without enough energy to use it, you can answer their Marvel with Anguished Unmaking or Release the Gremlins. I ended Day 1 at 8-1, which felt pretty amazing after how the previous 36 hours went.
Day 2 started well as I actually got a reasonable amount of sleep and defeated two Marvel decks. I then took a loss to Ethan Gaieski playing Mono-Black Zombies, beat a U/W Flash deck, and found myself at 11-2. I was pretty sure that my next round was a win-and-in since the tournament had fewer than 900 players, meaning that I could likely draw at 12-2. You can watch game 2 of this match here.
The game starts around the 5:23:30 mark. I think there were a few interesting decision points. I started off with a turn-2 Transgress, took Whirler Virtuoso, and saw a Glimmer of Genius and a big Chandra. They top decked and played Rogue Refiner. On my third turn I had the choice between the mana efficient play of Pia Nalaar and the damage efficient play of Heart of Kiran. Those were my only two spells in hand, so the mana efficiency was less appealing than usual. But ultimately I decided I would be too rewarded for drawing a 2-mana spell next turn. Even if I didn’t, I could play Heart of Kiran and pump my Thopter token for an extra damage. I was massively rewarded when I drew probably the best card possible: Transgress the Mind. I cast it, they were forced to Glimmer, and I took an Aetherworks Marvel they drew into. I also saw a copy of Radiant Flames, so I was heavily incentivized to play my threats one at a time and keep jamming Heart of Kiran.
A couple turns later, they Radiant Flames away my Pia and her token friend. I untap and play Veteran Motorist, I see a Gideon and Thraben Inspector on top, which are basically the two best cards I can see. I attacked for 5 with Heart of Kiran and then I made a terrible mistake. My last two cards in hand were Toolcraft Exemplar and Unlicensed Disintegration, I had enough lands to play Toolcraft and still hold up Unlicensed, but I decided not to. I got too cute trying to play around Chandra, when really my opponent playing Chandra and killing two creatures would almost assure my victory. Instead, they aren’t under enough pressure, play Chandra and 0, discarding 3 blanks and drawing 4 new cards—what a disaster. Luckily they drew all blanks and I won anyways, but this was a spot where I really learned something.
After checking standings with some off-site help from my good friend Andrew Elenbogen, I drew into the Top 8! For the quarterfinals I was up against Ethan Gaieski, the Zombies player that defeated me in the Swiss. This time I came out on top, and that 1 additional Pro Point from making Top 4 meant locking up Silver. Kevin Jones beat me handily in the semifinals, but I got what I came for: A flight to Kyoto and another year of Silver Pro status.
I had fun rooming with Tyler Hill (locked up Gold in Montreal and helped me drive home), Tyler Echevarria (first GP Day 2 and went 12-3), Bryan Carey (woke up at 4:30 a.m. to let me into the hotel room), Jake Maheu (happy birthday), and Matt Stoloff (overall quality dude). I’d also like to thank RIW Hobbies for being a great sponsor.
I think this deck is likely still fine going forward and as of now I wouldn’t change any cards. It has good game against Zombies and U/R Control. The Marvel matchup is hard but gets a lot closer if they don’t have Dissenter’s Deliverance or Manglehorn. I’ve been asked how I sideboard a few times, so here’s my general plan versus the top decks: