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The Empire Strikes Back – A GP Hoth Report, *3rd*

A mere three days after getting back from Hawaii, I was on my way to Nebraska, of all places, playing in a tournament where I didn’t have the faintest clue of what to play. Playing in a Modern Grand Prix sure sounded like a good idea, when I booked the ticket weeks earlier, but seeing this once I landed gave me pause:

I happened to tweet about the similarity between Nebraska and Hoth, and the hashtag for the Grand Prix was born. #GPHoth was actually one of the most enjoyable things about the weekend, and Kibler certainly took the ball and ran with it, making every single tweet on the weekend a line from Star Wars.

In all fairness, I do have to say that Nebraska wasn’t nearly as cold as I expected, and once we rented a car, the transportation issues weren’t a big deal either. Our first impression wasn’t very good, seeing as how we landed, were directed to call a shuttle because there were no cabs, and immediately got ripped off, paying 20 dollars each (all five of us) for a ride to the site. Later, we took a 35.00 cab to our hotel, and it seemed like the weekend was off to a rough start. Luckily, I texted Josh Utter-Leyton, who arrived later, and he rented a giant SUV, enough to hold the seven people we had between our two rooms (myself, the Ocho, PV, Kibler, Martell, wrapter, and GerryT). We even had a selection of surprisingly good restaurants next to our hotel, and ate at the Oven, a very good Indian place, twice. Still, #GPHoth was just too funny to pass up, and the internet seemed to agree. If the tournament had been held in downtown Lincoln, or in Omaha, I bet that the vast majority of the complaints would have disappeared, but the Lancaster Convention Center was literally in the middle of nowhere.

Our pre-tournament prep was amusing as well. After going to the site and meeting up with various durdles, we had to decide what to play. Conley was on mono-U Delver with [card mystical teachings]Teachings[/card], [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], and [card]Blood Moon[/card], Owen was on 45% Zoo (45 percent of the time, it works every time), Kibler was on Doran, and wrapter was on a deck with the following as a potential opener:

[draft]1 vedalken shackles
1 cryptic command
seachrome coast
razorverge thicket
forest
plains
tectonic edge[/draft]

Gerry, PV, Ocho, and myself were all trying to figure out what to play…and PV wasn’t even there. He wasn’t arriving until 1am, coming straight from Hawaii, and told me that he would play my 75 in the dark. As long as I was willing to shoot myself in the foot, PV could go down with me.

Gerry and I had talked before meeting at the GP, and were both tentatively on UR Tron, with Through the Breach being the centerpiece. The removal was much worse than Path, but Breach gave the deck another dimension, one that was fast and could win through most typical anti-Tron cards (Blood Moon being the best example).

Here is the list I was considering:

[deck]1 Eye of Ugin
3 Island
1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Shivan Reef
1 Breeding Pool
1 Steam Vents
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Burst Lightning
1 Electrolyze
1 Flame Slash
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Expedition Map
3 Gifts Ungiven
4 Izzet Signet
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Pyroclasm
1 Snapcaster Mage
4 Remand
1 Repeal
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Through the Breach
Sideboard
2 Combust
1 Damping Matrix
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Dispel
1 Narcolepsy
1 Curse of Chains
1 Spellskite
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Lightning Bolt
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

Ultimately, the weakness to aggro decks, and Goyf specifically (that’s what [card]Narcolepsy[/card] and [card]Curse of Chains[/card] were for), made us want to switch back to the original white version. Also, by “ultimately” I mean “at 1 am”, since that’s about when we decided, after Gerry declared the red to be horrible. I was happy to agree, since UW was the version I battled with the most, and we went back to figuring out the list. The real tiebreaker was that the white version also had much better sideboard options, particularly against Storm. Note that none of us ever played against Storm in the tournament.

After some more brewing, here was where PV and I ended up (we changed the 4th Map to a Condescend about two minutes before seatings):

[deck]4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Eye of Ugin
3 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
3 Seachrome Coast
1 Tolaria West
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
4 Azorius Signet
1 Condescend
1 Day of Judgment
3 Expedition Map
4 Gifts Ungiven
1 Oblivion Ring
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
1 Repeal
1 Talisman of Progress
4 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Unburial Rites
1 Wrath of God
Sideboard
2 Celestial Purge
1 Disenchant
2 Dispel
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Ghostly Prison
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Negate
1 Pact of Negation
1 Rule of Law
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/deck]

Gerry also had a Spellskite in the sideboard, and one or two other changes, but the basic idea was the same.

The main difference between this list and the lists I used in the Daily Events I put up (Number 1 and Number 2) was the addition of the Gifts/Unburial Rites/Iona/Elesh Norn option. If you Gifts for [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and one of the two reanimation targets, both get put in the bin, and you can then flashback Rites and have yourself a nice turn four Iona/Elesh, or turn three if you are insanely lucky. Adding that instant-win button went a long way towards making the deck good, and Gerry insisted it was worth it. It was the only part of the deck I hadn’t really tested, and it performed quite well for me. It doesn’t cost a ton of slots, and of any deck, this is the one that can actually hardcast Elesh and Iona, and it adds another good angle of attack.

All the junk like [card]Mindslaver[/card] and [card]Academy Ruins[/card] got cut, and Gifts got upped to four. After a last minute dash for cards, since we switched decks completely (thanks to Martell and MattK for having almost a whole deck each for Paulo and I), we were ready to battle.

*cue Imperial Death March as pairings go up*

The decks I played against in this event can be divided into two categories: Melira and Other. Until I played against Jund for the second time in the Top 8, no other deck had doubled up, since even the two Delver decks I played against were substantially different.

All That’s Fit to Print from Day 1

I played against two of the five Melira opponents on day one, and as it turns out, this deck is quite good against them. It doesn’t care about infinite life, has a bunch of Wraths, can Gifts for Elesh Norn, and eventually will just Eldrazi them. In theory, them gaining infinite isn’t too bad, since you can kill their board with Emrakul every turn, and deck them by discarding Ulamog over and over, but in practice I imagine it’s pretty awkward. It hasn’t come up yet, mainly because they don’t bother going for the life combo, but it could be annoying if the round is nearly over.

Sideboarding against Melira

Out

[draft]1 repeal
1 condescend
1 timely reinforcements[/draft]

In

[draft]2 grafdigger’s cage
1 disenchant[/draft]

Even though Cage stops [card]Unburial Rites[/card], it’s still fine to leave them all in. If you have Cage, you are usually winning, so just Gifts for something else. If they kill Cage, Rites is back on.

After beating BW Tokens and Melira, I found myself paired against GerryT, who I scooped to. Gerry is trying to get back on the train, and I’m currently locked for Platinum, so I decided to concede to him. There wasn’t basically anyone else in the room I would scoop to in that spot, but Gerry and I have known each other for years, and we tend to take a big picture view of these sorts of things. It might be gaming the system, but we are gamers, and the fact remains that the win meant a lot more to him than it did to me, and he’s a good friend of mine. He ended up finishing 9th and I made Top 8, so I guess I was rewarded for my play (the last time I scooped to Gerry, I made Top 8, at GP Philadelphia, so there’s precedent for this sort of thing). This doesn’t come up very often for me, but it came up here, and I figured it was better to explain myself than let people speculate.

At 5-1, I had an interesting situation against Jund, and I still don’t know if I made the right call.

Here was his board:

[draft]2 dark confidant
bloodbraid elf[/draft]

with another [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] in hand. I was about to reanimate an Iona, and I had nine lives to my name. There were legitimate reasons to name each of his three colors:

– Red stops [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], which I knew he had, and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], as well as [card]Terminate[/card].

– Green stops [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] and [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card].

– Black stops [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card], [card]Terminate[/card], and [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card].

If I named black, I died to Elf into Bolt, or to him casting both. He missed a land drop the turn prior, and had seen only one unknown card since a turn where he would have cast Bolt, so I didn’t think it was incredibly likely that he had it. He easily could have had a Liliana or Pulse in hand, and I died to either of those unless Iona stopped them. I ended up naming black, and he had Bloodbraid into [card]Anathemancer[/card], which he couldn’t play. He also did have the Bolt in hand, but missed on lands on both his flips plus his draw step, so I won. Had I named red, I would have won easily, since his hand was all blanks plus Bolt, but I had no way of knowing that. Oh well, better lucky than good.

Sideboarding against Jund:

Out

[draft]emrakul, the aeons torn
condescend
repeal
2 remand[/draft]

In

[draft]2 celestial purge
wurmcoil engine
2 timely reinforcements[/draft]

Emrakul just isn’t needed here, since the game rarely goes that long. You are looking to stall until you Iona naming black or play a Wurmcoil, with Ulamog in there just to make Eye a little better. I like Remand on the play, but there is nothing else I really want to cut for it.

After Jund I ran into a 4-color [card delver of secrets]Delver[/card] deck, which was one of the reasons to play Tron. Any sort of midrange blue deck is really what we were looking to play against, since they usually didn’t pressure you enough to stop you from assembling Tron and crushing them under the heel of an Eldrazi. The most important thing to know in these matchups is how much time you have. If you are long on time, don’t run into [card]Mana Leak[/card], even to the point of just not casting Thirst or Gifts. You have the resources to blank Leak, so you should. You should also use [card]Remand[/card] mainly to bounce your own spells, since that’s the best way to pull ahead on cards. I routinely use it in response to their counters, netting myself a nice little 2 for 1 in exchange for spending a good amount of mana. This all changes if they are pressuring you, at which point you have to start tapping out recklessly, and just Remanding their Cryptics in order to resolve. Sideboarding completely depends on their list; the ones that are trying to Bolt you to death, you want Timely against, the ones with Geist of Saint Traft, you want Wraths, and the more controlling ones, you want neither.

7-1

I had a funny situation against Melira in the last round, where he had out [card]Birthing Pod[/card], [card]Phyrexian Metamorph[/card] (copying [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]), and [card]Viscera Seer[/card]. I searched up Emrakul end of turn with Eye, then untapped and slammed him. On my next turn, I said “attack?”, fully expecting my opponent to sac the Metamorph to Seer and return it as an Emrakul. Instead, he let Emrakul rumble in, and sacc’ed the Metamorph to Annihilator, then realizing his mistake. He basically decided to shuffle 5 lands into his library for no reason, though I think he was dead anyway. I had enough mana out to Eye up Ulamog and kill the ‘Pod, so I doubt he was doing anything that great on his turn.

8-1

I was happy to finish 8-1, especially given that I had yet to actually lose a match, and the prospect of getting back to our hotel and eating a real meal sounded excellent. We went to the aforementioned Indian place, the Oven, and between Martell, Kibler, and myself, ordered enough food for six people. Everyone else then ordered, and a delicious meal was had. PV and Web unfortunately didn’t day two with Tron, and Martell died a gruesome death while piloting Storm (three gruesome deaths, actually), but Kibler, wrapter, myself, and GerryT all made day two, as did Andrew Cuneo, who came to dinner with us.

Day Two

My day started in an excellent fashion, as I faced two more Melira decks in quick succession. In the first match, I had a [card]Chord of Calling[/card] for two cast against me while I had [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]. My only response was “that resolves”.

In the second match, against Martin Juza (Feature Match coverage), he mulled to four while I was up a game. Let’s just say I was feeling pretty good about the match at that point. He then went Birds into Hierarch into [card]Birthing Pod[/card], fetching up Thalia and [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]. My hand of Gifts and Expedition Map no longer looked very appealing, and I ended up dying to random beats before finding any sort of removal. Losing to a mull to four was kind of depressing, but beating him in game three more than made up for it. Even in game three, Mindcensor was getting me, and I was forced to Gifts for the top four cards of my library, which were:

[draft]thirst for knowledge
celestial colonnade
azorius signet
path to exile[/draft]

It was actually pretty good, since I needed lands, and got a land and a Signet out of the deal.

After the two Melira decks I was 10-1, and then I beat another Delver deck, this time with [card]Isochron Scepter[/card]s. His Delvers never flipped, and soon they were forced to try and race Emrakul (hint: that didn’t work out so well for them). He also had Mindcensor, which was still very annoying, but double Celestial Colonnade played defense long enough for me to stabilize.

At 11-1, I was just a win away from Top 8, and had two rounds in which to acquire it. I then got my worst matchup of the tournament, Affinity, piloted by Mary Jacobson.

The way our games went are exactly why the matchup is bad. In game one, I had a turn four Elesh Norn, except for the fact that I died on her turn four, and she was on the play. After siding out all the counters for defensive stuff, I got to be on the play game two, and even had the turn three Wrath for good measure. That was more than enough, and I got to play another game on the draw. I was forced to mulligan this beautiful hand:

[draft]thirst for knowledge
azorius signet
talisman of progress
urza’s mine
hallowed fountain
tolaria west
seachrome coast[/draft]

A great hand in most matchups, but not even close to keepable against Affinity. My six was marginally better, and PV even said he would have kept:

[draft]urza’s tower
urza’s mine
thirst for knowledge
wrath of god
path to exile
repeal[/draft]

I decided that a hand with no colored source was just too risky, and mulled to a hand of Path, Wrath, and lands, which was fine. I messed up pretty badly, and Pathed [card]Steel Overseer[/card] on turn two, which let her play and equip [card cranial plating]Plating[/card] on the next turn. Given that I was Wrathing in two turns, I should have just let the Overseer live, even if I still would have been in a bad spot either way. The Plating killed me way too quickly, and I picked up my first real loss.

In my win-and-in round, I got to face one of the risks of making videos: I was playing against a fellow named Austin Scarborough, who was playing almost the same 75 from my last Tron DE video. Whoops. Not only was that list different than the one I was playing, every change I made was worse in the mirror. He had [card]Karn Liberated[/card], [card]Mindslaver[/card]/[card]Academy Ruins[/card], [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], and possibly even [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card]. As he put it, if I lost to him, I had no one to blame but myself.

Feature Match coverage

Both our hands were awesome game one, and the game ended up hinging on two things: I had an Azorius Signet to go with my Tron, so I was way less constricted on blue mana, and he got greedy and Ghost Quartered my Tower instead of Eye of Ugin, and I had drawn two Towers. That let me play the second Tower and search up Ulamog mainphase, just in case he had his own Eye, and Ulamog made short work of him.

Game two was a little less exciting, since after his turn three Mindslaver, which I O-Ringed, he had no other relevant spell the entire game. His attempts to kill me with Colonnade predictably didn’t work, and Emrakul propelled me into the Top 8.

12-2-1 (after ID’ing with Cuneo)

Top 8

The Top 8 was a contrast of good and bad luck, with me getting the best draws of the tournament against Jund (turn three Iona, anyone?), and the worst against Melira. After a double mull to five and an action-light keep in game three, I was done, sadly out of the running for a GP win this time around.

I was still very happy with the trip, especially since I really only played Tron because I enjoyed playing the deck. It’s very important to pick a deck you like playing, since your attitude definitely impacts how much success you have. I liked playing Tron, had played a ton of matches with it, and knew the deck inside and out, even if it might not have been the best deck of the event. Storm, for example, seemed awesome, but I had no clue how to build it, and hadn’t played with this version at all. As much as it looks like we made our deck last minute, both Gerry and I had worked on Tron for a while, and were just narrowing down choices the night before.

I’ll skip the parts about running back the Indian place and waking up at 4am to escape #GPHoth, leaving you with this anecdote (it’s close enough to a sample hand):

In a 3v3 we did Sunday night, I cast [card]Mulch[/card] off of [card]Forest[/card] and [card]Island[/card], and flipped the following four cards:

[draft]falkenrath noble
kruin outlaw
faithless looting
harvest pyre[/draft]

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