At first, I had no intention of going to Nashville. As much as I like team tournaments, tickets to the US were pretty expensive, and I felt it would be much more convenient to just play GP Santiago instead. With the news that my mother, my aunt, and my girlfriend were going to accompany me to Honolulu, it then became feasible that we would just extend our trip in the U.S. and I would be able to play GP Nashville before coming back to Brazil.
Even then, I still had the choice of going to GP Santiago. I could just as easily stop there on the way back. Latin American GPs are notoriously smaller, which is good, and I also really like the atmosphere and people in them, and hadn’t missed one in many years. In the end, what drove me toward Nashville was not actually playing in it, but trying to do video commentary.
I’ve done commentary twice and that was incredibly enjoyable for me. It’s also something that I felt I did pretty well, even though I obviously have a lot to learn. I wanted to explore doing it full-time in a tournament, rather than just for one round, and GP Nashville seemed to be the perfect candidate, because I would already be in the U.S., I didn’t have a team, and I knew that every one of the pros who usually does it would like to play in the tournament instead, leaving little competition for an analyst. When I decided that I would rather do that than play in either tournament, I messaged Greg, the coverage coordinator, offering my services. He told me he still hadn’t figured out who was on his coverage team for that event, but he would let me know as soon as he knew.
Time passed and I got no response from Greg. I messaged him again, and he still didn’t have an answer for me—he said that, if I wanted to be safe, I should just assume he wouldn’t need me. It was time to book my ticket and decide whether I wanted to risk going to Nashville and not be able to do coverage, or whether I wanted to just go to GP Santiago. I decided that I wanted to go to Nashville. I really wanted to do coverage, I thought there was a decent chance I got to do it, and the worst-case scenario of playing a team tournament wasn’t that scary. So, I booked for Nashville, not sure whether I was playing in it or not.
Eventually I found out that I wouldn’t be able to do coverage. I wasn’t super devastated about that part because I still had the World Magic Cup to look forward to, but it turns out that is not going to happen either, which doesn’t bode well for my future coverage prospects. If I can’t get the gig when I’m already at the place and already have a hotel (so it costs zero money to have me) and when I bring unique knowledge on the many Latin American teams/players at the event on top of the Magic analysis, then it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to get it at all.
Anyway, back to Nashville. With a plane ticket and no coverage in sight, I had to go find myself a team. The first person I messaged was Shahar Shenhar, who said he’d be happy to play with me. That was great for two reasons; one, Shahar is very, very good. It seems silly to say this, considering he’s the current World Champion, but I think Shahar might be one of the most underrated players on the Pro Tour right now. I think most people who don’t personally know him don’t have him on their short list of “best players in the world,” but I think he absolutely is one. Even on Team ChannelFireball we often forget him in our fantasy drafts—eventually someone will remember him and pick him and the previous five people will all say “oh man I should have taken Shahar.” And he’s right there in the room!
The second reason is that I feel like I get along with Shahar really well. We’ve been on a team together for a while and we’ve roomed together multiple times, and it was always pretty good. We argue a lot, but our goal when we argue is to convince the other person that our point is correct, and those arguments I do not mind at all. Those are the arguments I want to have on a team. It’s different, for example, than when I argue with Ben. I argue with Ben all the time and it seems like we always know we’re not going to change each other’s opinion, we are just arguing to show people around us that we are right. Those are arguments I actively do not want to have on a 3-person team. As much as I respect Ben’s ability as a player (and I really do—a lot), I don’t think we’d make for a good GP team at all. I thought Shahar and I would make for a great one.
Once that was settled, we needed to find a third. That proved to be considerably more difficult than finding a second, because most people we would like to team with were either not going or already had a team (or had a second they were not willing to part with). By the time PT Honolulu came, we still didn’t have a teammate, and we were getting kind of worried about it. Once we got news that Tom Martell was teamless, we decided to ask him. After making sure he could get reasonable flights, Tom said he was in. After trying unsuccessfully for a month to get someone we were reasonably happy with, getting someone of Tom’s caliber was a miracle, and it left us with one of the best and most high profile teams in the tournament.
After Honolulu, we went to Las Vegas for four days and then to New York for a week, and after that I flew to Nashville. I arrived Friday afternoon, and once my teammates got there we did some practice Sealeds. We were pretty tired and didn’t want to go to sleep very late, so we had the choice between building a Sealed and playing it, or building a Sealed and then swapping with another team and building their Sealed as well. We chose the latter, because we figured we needed more experience with the builds. Both Sealeds were pretty interesting, and I think one was “solved” when we realized that there should be two BW decks—one control and one aggro—and the other when we gave in and built RG beats.
Arriving at the tournament, we opened what I think was a very average sealed pool. We had a whopping 20 non-basic lands, but our cards weren’t excellent, and the lands actually matched up pretty poorly and left us with little choice of what to build—but whatever it was that we’d build, it’d probably have good mana. We decided on one very good Mardu deck, with multiple BW Warriors and a light red splash for Mardu Charm, two Ponybacks, and Butcher of the Horde. I’d say that deck was an 8 or an 8.5, but it had to stay together. The nature of the lands and the gold cards meant that we couldn’t really split BW. That was Martell’s deck.
The other two decks were considerably worse. After much debate, we settled on splitting the blue into aggressive and, well, slightly less aggressive. It feels weird to have no control decks, but we had neither the means nor the incentive to build one—we simply lacked the late game that those decks need.
Instead, I got Jeskai. A build with multiple fliers and two Arrow Storms. And Shahar got UG splash R, with three Force Aways, two Savage Punches, and some blue morphs. Force Away is very good in Jeskai, but I couldn’t play all the spells—I was already playing Kill Shots and Arrow Storms and Master the Way and Winterflame—and Shahar couldn’t play the red cards. Those decks seemed close in power level, but I think the Temur deck ended up being much better. I’d give it a 6 or 6.5 whereas my deck would be a 5 or 5.5. We tried to make Martell’s deck worse and make mine better by stealing a couple of white or red cards, but there was just nothing I actually wanted from his deck.
Most of the rounds were pretty uneventful, but I’m going to highlight the ones that I thought were interesting.
Our first interesting game happened in round 5. I’m playing against another Jeskai deck, but his is much better equipped for the late game than mine, with more removal, Savants and Dig Through Time among other things. I lose game 1 and decide that I lack the sideboard cards to beat him in the long game (or we would have played control to begin with), and instead decide that going even more aggressive is the best approach, and I board in Valley Dasher.
I win game 2 in a way that doesn’t betray my aggressive approach (which is good, because he might still keep cards like Cancel in his deck and they won’t be good against what I’m trying to do). Then, game three, I’m presented with an opening hand of Arc Lightning, Winterflame, and five lands that include multiple of all my colors. My match is the last one, so everyone is playing with me. I look at Martell and say “Mulligan, right?” He says something akin to “never” and Shahar also says he would never mulligan that. They had all the information I had (they watched all of game two as well, and my sideboard strategy), and their advice had been very sound throughout the tournament—every time we disagreed, I later came to the conclusion that they were right, so I’m not feeling very confident in my own judgment skills at that point. Outvoted, I keep the hand.
I think that was a mistake. If you take the hand without context, it’s keepable, but I don’t think I should keep it in context. I am playing against a deck that’s better than mine in the late game, but one that seems slow and clunky. I think that, to win, I must kill him quickly. I boarded in Valley Dasher. There’s no way a deck that wants Valley Dasher wants to keep this hand.
To add insult to injury, my first four draws are lands. My fifth draw is Valley Dasher. We still have a game of it, because my opponent doesn’t have white mana and has only managed to play two morphs (one of which I killed with Winterflame). We get to a scenario where he has UUURR up and a morph against my Dasher. He attacks with his morph and passes. I draw another blank and know I want to Arc Lightning his morph before he draws a white mana, but how much do I Arc Lightning it for?
Playing it safe would be doing it for 3. If I were playing a super controlling deck, I would have. But I’m playing an aggro deck with multiple burn spells—even if we are already in the late game, 1 point of damage could matter. We talk and figure out that, if his morph was anything he could unmorph and have survive Arc Lightning, he would just leave it back to block Valley Dasher. So I play Arc Lightning for 2, and he unmorphs Ainok Tracker.
At this point I want to bang my head on the table for being so stupid, but settle for just attacking for 2 instead. On his turn, he attacks for 3, which was very weird, since if he sits back he just eats my guy. This gets repeated for a couple turns, and I suddenly think I can win the game. If he sits back just once, I think the game is over. I end up finding a lethal Arrow Storm, but that gets countered by Disdainful Stroke, and I end up losing the match.
Looking back, his first turn made sense. He didn’t want to sit back and unmorph because he wanted to play Disdainful Stroke. The possibility that he had things he wanted to do with the mana rather than unmorphing didn’t occur to me, and I wonder what the correct play there was—2 or 3 damage. His next turns, however, don’t make much sense. He should definitely have blocked once to kill my guy, especially since he was lacking white mana and would surely be able to play more spells than I did if he eventually drew it.
Another interesting spot happened next, when we’re in a position where I have Horde Ambusher and RRWW into my opponent’s Abzan Falconer. I can attack, bluffing Feat of Resistance, or I can sit back and wait to play a fifth land and Arrow Storm it.
I think that, normally, I would have attacked, but this tournament had an important caveat that made me not want to—it was teams and Tom had the better Feat of Resistance deck by miles. It was game two for both of us, and our deck styles were already known. It seemed clear to me that unless we had an incredible amount of Feats in our pool (3+), he would have all of them.
This is an aspect that I don’t think people explore as much as they should in Team Sealed. In normal Sealed, for example, it’s conceivable that your aggressive opponent is going to have End Hostilities or Kill Shots. Those are still fine cards, even if not exceptional. In Team Sealed, however, if there is an aggro Mardu deck and a slow Abzan deck, you don’t need to play around End Hostilities from the Mardu guy. If that card is in their pool, it’ll surely be in the Abzan deck.
We ended the day at 8-1, which was pretty awesome. We went to a Chicken place to eat (Heddy B’s or something similar; it was pretty good, but Chicken Tenders can only go so high) and then went to sleep relatively early for Day 2.
Our second pool felt better than our first one, but was also much harder to build, since we had very few lands. We had the makings of an insane Abzan aggro deck, with High Sentinels, Siege Rhino, Abzan Ascendancy, Falconer, three Kin-Trees and other outlast guys, but the mana for that was poor. We also had some good aggressive red cards, some good blue cards, some good black—we had a little of everything.
In the end, we came down to two possible builds: Abzan aggro, RGu aggro and UBx control, or Abzan control, UGr aggro-ish, and RW aggro. The UG deck was better than the RG deck, but not by an incredible amount. The Abzan aggro better than RW aggro (though RW aggro also seemed good, since all the white cards were good), and it was a better use of our Abzan cards than Abzan control (which wasn’t even using the Ascendancy, for example), but it could lose more games due to its mana being bad and it left us with UB as the third deck.
The UB deck was a big question mark. I myself thought it was incredibly bad. It was super expensive, sporting three Throttles, two Rotting Mastodons, Pearl Lake Ancient and Empty the Pits, and it didn’t even have a very good late game. Or early game. Or any game really. Shahar seemed to think the UB deck was better than the Abzan control deck we had, and was actively looking forward to playing it.
I told my team that I thought the UB deck was not playable, but that I wasn’t 100% sure of it, and if they both thought it was serviceable, I was willing to listen to them. Martell said he didn’t really like his deck (Abzan control), but he had no clue how good the UB deck was, and didn’t want to risk giving Shahar a deck that could potentially never win. He thought we should stay with our solid 6s rather than getting one great deck and risking having a 2. Shahar conceded the point and we built the first configuration, with me being UGr.
Our first setback happened in round 10, when I morphed, well, a Forest. We were on a somewhat stalled game that favored him, and I drew a Temur Charger, which I played morphed. Then, next turn, I drew a land, adding it to my hand of… Temur Charger. At this point I realize I must have morphed the land I had in hand as well, so I call a judge and end up getting a game loss because they weren’t sure if I actually had that morph when I played a morph. I think I had a pretty decent argument in “what could possibly have happened other than me just picking the wrong card?” since I’d have to be a maniac to just morph a Forest and then hope to draw a morph the very next turn so that I can then say I was mistaken and flip them (to gain no advantage mind you, since I certainly wasn’t attacking or blocking, and god forbid he kills it), but I fail to convince the judge of it.
I win game two in a normal way and then game three he stalls a bit on lands when I start my turn with 6 power in play, one card in my graveyard and four lands. My turn goes Force Away your blocker, discarding a card and triggering prowess, Force Away your other blocker discarding another card and triggering prowess again, attack and play Become Immense for 1, dealing 15. Bam!
At this point Shahar has already lost, so we sit to watch Martell, who seems to be in a pretty commanding position. We get to a point where our opponent is at 2 and we have Archers’ Parapet, another dude, two guys with Singing Bell Strike and some cards in hand, and there’s a small discussion on what to do. Since we are all on different mindsets and have different courses of action in mind, we end up making the play that accommodates everyone, which is doing nothing and passing with Throttle mana up. Our opponent promptly plays Sage of the Inward Eye and Force Away, getting back a lot of life.
The game still wasn’t over, though, and we manage to fight back. At some point during a discussion Shahar goes, “NOW THEY CAN ATTACK AND USE MARDU ROUGHRIDER ON THE GUY WITH SINGING BELL STRIKE SO EVEN IF WE UNTAP IT WE CAN’T BLOCK.” I use caps to illustrate that he said it very loudly. That was, I think, a very big mistake. Tom and I are both aware that this can happen, but I don’t think our opponent is, and he’s just going to use Roughrider on something we don’t want to block with anyway. As it is, the guy does exactly what Shahar so graciously suggested, which puts us even further behind on a game that, had Tom been playing alone, he would probably have won five turns before.
In the end, though, our opponent draws a sequence of lands and we manage to win the game. Justice, etc.
I have some pretty sweet games the following round, losing one in which I go Sagu Mauler and Become Immense when he triple blocks (he ends up killing me with a second Arrow Storm the turn before I finish him off) and winning one in which my first play is a Glacial Stalker on 3 and unmorphing it on 5, facing my opponent’s three attackers. He attacks again, representing Ride Down, but I feel like I have to block because I’m in the “can’t beat anything anyway” mode. Turns out he doesn’t have it, so he just plays more guys. I play another 4/5 and he plays another guy and a Hordeling Outburst. I attack with one of my 4/5s, and he laughs and takes it, going to 16. On his turn, he attacks with everything, which at that point is around nine creatures. I play Dragonscale Boon and untap my 4/5, blocking two of his guys. He unmorphs Efreet Weaponmaster, pumping one I blocked. With my remaining two mana, I bounce his guy, making sure my 4/5 survives. I go to 5 and on my turn I attack and cast Become Immense, hitting him for exactly 16.
After lamenting that maybe he should have left back one of those Goblin tokens, my opponent mulligans to 4 and we have a pretty quick game.
We then beat Sam Black’s team in the feature match and unintentionally draw with Pat Cox’s team, which was great for us anyway. We get paired against Matt Nass, Jacob Wilson, and Jesse Hampton and offer the draw. They realize that the only way they don’t make it is if 1) Sam Black unintentionally draws his match 2) Pat Cox’s team wins and 3) two different teams jump about 2% in the breakers. Since all of that happening is pretty hard, we ID and decide to go somewhere to eat.
We find a random place and order burgers to go. It takes way longer than we expected, and we find ourselves a bit short on time, so we take them and hurry back. Jacob, Matt, and Jesse are pretty sure they made it, but it’s the “I really want to make super sure before I start celebrating” mood. Matt keeps checking coverage, as any result from Sam Black’s match—win or lose—means he’s in.
We start going back when Shahar gets a text from Martell, who was at the site, saying that Sam unintentionally drew. At this point, Matt Nass starts to get a bit worried, and really just wants to get to the site to make sure they’re in (though to be fair so do I since we’re late). We try going back the usual way, but it turns out the road is blocked by cops for some reason, and we can’t cross it. We end up having to go all the way around the building, which prolongs Matt Nass’s suffering even more. When we get to the door, Matt asks someone “do you know who the Top 4 is?” and the guy goes “yeah, they just announced it… it’s PV/Shahar/Martell, Sam Black/Gaudenis/Matt, Sharfman/Pat Cox/Orin, and the fourth team is…”
Matt looks at him with wide eyes. Is? Is???
“Sorry dude, I don’t remember what the fourth team is.”
It wouldn’t have been any better if we had set it up. Matt Nass gives him a look of utter misery and runs to the main tables, when, at last, someone calls their team on a microphone. Phew.
Our first draft was to be against Sam Black/Gaudenis/Matt Severa. Before it happened, I made it clear to my teammates that I didn’t really know what I was doing. It would have been better for me to tell them before the tournament, I suppose, but, hey, what are the odds we’re hitting the Top 4 anyway?
You see, it’s not that I’m awful at drafting or anything—I’m decent—but I really never team draft. Now it only happens in the Top 4 of GPs, and I don’t have many opportunities to do it. So though I understand the basic concepts (hate drafting is more important, etc), I lack the finesse necessary to do something truly masterful—such as passing the likes of Wingmate Roc because you know the guy on your left absolutely cannot play it, instead of just hate-drafting. Since I don’t have that much control over what is going on on the table, I’d rather just hate the Roc myself rather than risk disaster.
There was one specific premise that I had regarding this set, and it was that it’s hard to push someone off a color. Some people can never be pushed out of anything when a multi-colored format is considered; they take three dual lands and think the world is their oyster, and they’re just going to play whatever it is that they want. The nature of the format also makes it much easier to splash something. If you have a great red card you want to play, I can take all the red I want and you’re just going to play it in Jeskai or Temur or Mardu, whatever red combination I’m not at. You don’t even have to decide what your colors are until much later in the draft.
With that as my only guideline, I opened pack 1 and took a Highspire Mantis, which I quickly abandoned. The draft went well for me, and I ended up with a solid GB deck splashing nlue for some morphs. After the draft, Martell said, “oh yeah your opponent always drafts Mardu tokens, I forgot to mention,” which was kind of badly timed, but luckily I had taken a Death Frenzy pretty early anyway. The last card we debated on my deck was Dead Drop. We knew it was likely to be bad against him, but it seemed better than Feed the Clan, which was my only on-color card left. After game two I decided it was not better than Feed the Clan, and swapped them.
Both my matches went similarly, with him playing a lot of tokens, some Rush of Battles, and me eventually stabilizing and winning. Martell lost his match, but Shahar won his so we advanced. You can find the semifinals here.
My finals draft was covered and you can find it here (starting at around 3:18). I agree with most of what the commentators said, but I’m going to go over some of the points we differed:
After my first pick Heir of the Wilds, I get the choice between Debilitating Injury or Tuskguard Captain. For Marshall and Randy, this is a pick between power or staying on color. For me, however, Tuskguard Captain is a much better card than Debilitating Injury. I was always going to take the Captain from that pack and didn’t even remotely considered anything else—I only took my time to make sure I knew what I was passing.
Around pick 7-8, I have the choice between Jeskai Windscout or Arrow Storm. Randy says he likes Jeskai Windscout more, since it goes well with the BG I already have. That is true, but at that point I’m not really married to any color, and I think Arrow Storm is a better card. If I do go BG, I’d rather be Abzan anyway, and I can just splash my blue morph if it comes to that. More importantly, I am pretty sure that Jesse is red, since I passed a lot of packs where the next best card was red. So, even if I end up not playing Arrow Storm, at least I take it away from Jesse, which tips the scales in its favor in my book.
The rest of the draft was basically me trying to go Jeskai but not finding an opening to do it. Randy said he would have been Jeskai in my seat and would have had a great deck, but I’m not sure that was actually possible. Later in the draft there are multiple Jeskai Windscouts, for example, and Randy talks as if taking that previous Jeskai Windscout would have put him directly into Jeskai, ready to get his reward. The thing is, other than having Jeskai in the name, Jeskai Windscout is no more of a Jeskai card than Arrow Storm. By not taking the Windscout, I did not leave myself closed to the opportunity of drafting Jeskai—I drafted a Jeskai card! Even then, pack two had no Jeskai or white or blue or red cards—all I saw was BG—so I can’t imagine how to conceivably have a Jeskai deck in that spot. I suspect that, were I Jeskai, my deck would have ended up with 12 excellent cards, 6 off-color morphs, and 22 lands.
The other pick was a UW land that they mentioned but I ignored, and that was my fault. I knew I was going to splash blue and white, but for some reason my brain did not register that a UW land was actually fixing.
Finally, we have the Pearl Lake Ancient pick. I could have hated it, but instead I took Smoke Teller, which I ended up regretting because Martell lost the match in part to that guy. My reasoning for not taking it was threefold:
- I needed playables. I was sure I was not going to play Pearl Lake Ancient.
- When it’s team draft, everyone knows about it and a lot of its effect is diminished. As long as one of us sees it, we can pinpoint exactly where it is, and without ambushing attackers it’s not that great of a card.
- The card is not actually that good. 7 mana is a lot, and I thought Martell leaned more toward aggro decks. It’s conceivable that Matt Nass does not even want this card against Martell’s deck, and he might even side it out.
In the end, though, I think I should have taken it. It’s possible Matt doesn’t want the card, yes, but this could also turn out to be his best card against Martell. Since I don’t know if that’s the case or not, it seems better to not take the chance and hate-draft it, since I’m taking such a weak card for myself anyway.
My deck was serviceable, but Jesse’s deck was very good, which is kind of my fault since I was passing to him.
I had the best draws in the world against Jacob game one, but it felt like by the time I was done writing “me” and “you” in the lifepad, Shahar had already lost his match. Our game two took a while, but I felt heavily favored. I had more creatures, more cards, more Sorins, and I had just blown him out by flipping Mistfire Weaver on his Rite of the Serpent. I look to the side and I see Matt Nass making the worst double-block in the history of Magic (two morphs against a 2/3 that got Dragonskull Boon’ed), and then Tom following it up with Incremental Growth to get two roughly 50/50 creatures in play (with deathtouch!). At this point I’m already wondering what I am going to have to move to make room for my new first-place trophy.
In the end, however, it was not to be. Matt drew a bunch of good cards in a row and Tom had the classic “I’m mana flooded but I still can’t play any spells” combination, which happens when you keep drawing lands but they are not the colors you need (though Tom did make that scenario more likely to happen than normal by playing roughly all the colors in Magic both drafts).
In my match, I was attacking with a 3/3 deathtouch when Jacob found an unlikely answer in Molting Snakeskin, which not only let him defend from my guy but also let him double his clock in the air with his vigilant Kirin. Still, I only needed 1 point of damage to finish him off. I drew a blank, but outlasted my Ancestor—now I just needed him to draw nothing. He drew and played a creature, and I drew and played Dutiful Return, guaranteeing guys for two turns. He matches me with another creature and I draw another blank, but I have a second guy from the previous turn, so I force him to match me again. He draws a red/black dual land, which gains him 1 and puts him outside of my attack range. Next turn, he has mana to flip Ponyback Brigade thanks to his new red land, and I finally succumb to his air assault.
So, we got second. I was still pretty happy with it, and it did not feel at all like I had just lost the finals. I had a lot of fun playing with my teammates, and I was also very happy for Matt Nass, who got back on the PT.
So, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week.