It’s not often that I fly to a Grand Prix where I’d be satisfied with an 11-4 finish (the bread and butter of the Pro Magic life, according to Owen Turtenwald), but the last 2 GPs I attended fit that description.
After Madrid, I had 53 Pro Points and was in good shape for a Worlds slot. I also only had 4 Grand Prix finishes, and your top 6 count, so I decided to look to New York (New Jersey) and Minneapolis to fill the void. Calculations varied wildly as to what point total was good for Worlds, but I was aiming to hit 57 before Pro Tour Sydney, which would then guarantee me at least 60 for the season. That meant I needed two 11-4 finishes, or some combination that added up to 4. I had a goal and was ready to rumble.
Prelude: Grand Prix Minneapolis
I rattled off the first such finish in New York with Atarka Rites, which was a last-minute brew thought up by Pat Cox and worked on by myself, Josh Utter-Leyton and Matt Nass. Here’s that deck in all the Atarka + Eldrazi Skyspawner + Loam Dryad glory:
This deck is still good, by the way. Josh ran it back in Minneapolis, with the only change being to cut the Skyspawners for Matter Reshapers, and he racked up his own helping of bread and/or butter.
My tournament in New York was one of extremes: I lost to every control and ramp deck I played except one*, and beat everything else. That’s not a terrible place to be, but I left the tournament feeling like I wanted to play a more interactive deck. Rites certainly isn’t bad, but I wanted to do more than just play out my cards and see if I won.
*I only beat Anthony Conta because he called a judge on himself and got a game loss for drawing a sideboard card in game 1. I want to thank him for his honesty once again.
The Rise and Fall of Black/White Control
So, what was I to do? I wanted something interactive, and decided to start with Black/White Control.
I got a list from Owen Turtenwald, who would go on to Top 8 Minneapolis with said list, and decided to stream it. I was 1-1 in a League, and got the following as an opening hand:
I decided the best plan with this hand was to right click, concede match, and drop from the League. I was off of Black/White. I just couldn’t see myself playing it, though the deck was clearly a fine choice. I’m big on not playing decks you hate, and I knew I’d have a miserable time playing it.
With Matt Nass and Wrapter both on the side of just running back Rites/Company, Owen on Black/White, Gaby on Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Oliver Tiu sending me 5 Grixis decks a day, what was I to do?
The Democratic Process
The only logical thing: ask Twitch chat to vote on what I should play.
I guess that settled that.
I went back to Oliver, got his latest Grixis deck, and went 2-0 on stream before calling it a day. It was Thursday night.
Given that I’d played a grand total of those 2 matches on stream, I decided I needed to educate myself on the deck Twitch chat decided I’d play. I started talking to Oliver (despite him savagely knocking me out of a MOCS slot by beating me in the finals of a qualifier last year, I’m becoming a fan), who had rattled off a PT Top 16 and a GP Top 8 with Grixis. It turned out that my teammate, Andrew Baeckstrom (henceforth referred to as BK, not to be confused with Brian Kibler, Brian Kowal, Brian Kelly, or Burger King) was also a stone lock to play Grixis. When I realized we’d both been chatting with Oliver, I decided to cross the streams.
The Grixis Cabal
I was going to write something about how the Grixis Cabal had a humble beginning, but given that I founded it, that would just be a bold-faced lie. It started as just myself, BK, and Oliver, and we were debating the merits of various Grixis-flavored cards. Mmm, Grixis. At some point late on Friday night, Oliver asked if he could add Shahar, presumably so the children could have as many votes as the adults. Shahar was added, and immediately asked if he could add Jon Finkel (henceforth referred to as JFM for simplicity). Given that nobody in the world has the authority to deny JFM anything, we added him as well.
The rest of the night was spent discussing the last points of contention, which boiled down to the following:
• The 3rd Transgress the Mind main deck.
• The 4th Read the Bones main deck (this was insane not to play, in my opinion).
• The number of 2-mana removal spells main deck.
• The last couple of sideboard slots.
After much discussion between the Grixis masters (BK and Oliver), theorycrafting from the Twitch chat representative (me), observation by JFM, and requests to borrow cards from Shahar, we had a list.
BK ended up playing 3 Kalitas main deck, which I still think is crazy, but who’s the one who finished 11-4? (Spoilers: both of us.) I also paid BK back for all the Grixis help by giving him a room to sleep in when he realized he just didn’t have a place to stay on Friday. The Grixis Cabal watches out for each other.
Tips and Tricks
My extensive 2 rounds of preparation led me to figure out some of the more interesting lines of play from Grixis (and 12 tournament rounds later I have an even better idea). Here are the ones that come up most often:
• Jace + Goblin Dark-Dwellers lets you discard a 3-drop removal spell then cast it via Dark-Dwellers on turn 5 if you have nothing else in your graveyard.
• Likewise, Dark-Dwellers lets you manage how many cards are in your graveyard so that you can keep from flipping Jace if you want more loot.
• Sequencing your lands is hard—you often will have the choice between an untapped land on turn 2 and one on turn 3, so you need to predict whether it’s more important to have removal on 2 or Read the Bones on 3.
• You can do all sorts of nonsense with Kolaghan’s Command—using it to loop Dark-Dwellers and Jace is a significant edge in the late game.
• When you have Kalitas in play, you always feel like you are either winning or are 1 removal spell away from winning. I like to aggressively feed him Zombies and am happy running him out on 4 with the hope of untapping with him.
An Uninspired Choice
Once Gaby had settled on playing Mono-White Humans, she had to decide if she wanted to play the Battlefield Forge + Needle Spires version. The red splash is solely for activating Needle Spires post-board, which come in when you board in Gideon. Making decisions like this is tough, and she did what I’ve done many times—look at recent results, and see where other people landed. As it turns out, every Humans list that 5-0’d a League had red, so playing the red made sense.
Of course, the result was that all I heard about all tournament was how bad Battlefield Forge was, and how she didn’t activate a Needle Spires even once. I tried to help by saying that I played against a WW/R player who attacked me with Needle Spires and it was great, but in reality they attacked me from 16 to 12 and then conceded. Friends don’t let friends play Needle Spires.
Actually, speaking of Needle Spires, what is it with people and playing uncastable spells in their deck? Shota Takao made Top 8 with a deck containing Reckless Bushwhacker off 8 red sources, and Raph Levy won GP Manchester with a deck that had 2 Chandra and only 4 Oath of Nissa with which to cast it. Do these people carry around a bag of golden horseshoes and eat 4-leaf clover salads for lunch? How are these decks functional??
The Tournament: Day 1
I kicked things off by losing to Company Rites. I’ve yet to be on the correct side of the matchup, which amply demonstrates how much luck I have. I also sided in Infinite Obliteration, which I immediately regretted as soon as I drew it.
Playing against Humans, I was able to cast Goblin Dark-Dwellers, flash back Kolaghan’s Command, kill a creature and get back Pia and Kiran Nalaar. I tried to count up the card advantage, but stopped when I started to need scientific notation.
I was facing down a Thought-Knot Seer and a Shambling Vent at 2 life with no cards in hand. I was about to scoop up my cards, but my last draw was Pia and Kiran Nalaar with 10 lands in play. All of a sudden, my opponent was down a Thought-Knot. I drew another card and I came back to win that game. Look, when you get in trouble, sometimes you’ve gotta call your parents and have them bail you out.
I had an interesting interaction against a Ramp opponent. I won a game 1 where he had a million mana, and remarked that Ulamog would have been tough to beat. He explained why his team had cut Ulamog and I actually believed him. As a result, I didn’t side in Infinite Obliteration (which to be fair is also because the card sucks). I don’t know for sure that he was Ulamogless, but I got the read that he wasn’t trying to game me.
I played a pretty funny match against Owen in the last round of Day 1 when we were both 7-1. It kicked off with a deck check, after which we got our decks back sorted. I forgot to shuffle and just presented, at which point Owen just stared at me.
No, that didn’t happen. It’s impossible for a professional Magic player to forget to shuffle.
He beats me game 1 because I got stuck on 5 lands and couldn’t cast Chandra, but game 2 was where I got to display the full extent of the embarrassing Grixis mana base.
He’d seen my hand and knows that I have 2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers, but I am stuck on 4 lands. I draw my fifth land, an Evolving Wilds, and pass the turn. He does nothing once again, and I crack Wilds end of turn. The problem was that I had already drawn the 1 basic Mountain, and it was my only red source. If you scroll back up to the deck list, you will see that there isn’t a second Mountain. I got an Island with a sheepish grin, and Owen couldn’t contain his laughter. Look, sacrifices had to be made.
A few turns later, he made Ormendahl off Westvale Abbey and I was in real trouble. I was at 7, he was at 24, I had Dark-Dwellers out and no cards in hand. I peeled Pia and Kiran Nalaar, which let me chump Ormendahl and throw a Thopter at Owen to prevent any life gain. My next draw was also Pia and Kiran Naalar, and all of a sudden I was back in the game. Sadly, he found 2 removal spells and I still lost, but my estimation of Chandra’s parents just kept going up.
I finished Day 1 at 7-2, which didn’t displease me. The crew I went to dinner with all made Day 2 as well, with various records. BK needed a lone Pro Point to qualify for the next 2 Pro Tours by hitting Silver, Wrapter needed to pick up 2 to give himself the best shot of hitting Gold in Sydney, Web had some undetermined number of Pro Points that neither he or I knew, and Gaby was lucky enough to get to play with Needle Spires for another 6 rounds. A fine Day 1 showing by all.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
One of the folks in our group was my college roommate Eirik, who decided he wanted to play some Magic again. That’s both great and dangerous for me. See, he lived with me and Cheon back when we started getting into the pro scene, and as such is incredibly well-acquainted with my various shenanigans. He and Cheon developed a defense mechanism pretty quickly, which was to punch me whenever they felt I was getting out of control, or when one of my jokes crossed the line. We had a standing agreement where if I thought I was punched unjustly, I would get to retaliate by punching them back. I’ve punched Eirik back twice in 12 years and Cheon never, so you could say that the system is working as intended. Still, I’m glad he’s making it out to the odd GP here and there as we don’t get to see each other all that often (and I need to build my pain tolerance).
The Tournament: Day 2
After beating Bant Humans to start things off (he whiffed completely on Collected Company, which is pretty hard to come back from), I made my worst mistake of the tournament against Green/White. My opponent flipped Avacyn on my upkeep, dealing 3 to everything, which killed their Hangarback Walker. I then cast Radiant Flames for 3, wiping the board, which I immediately realized included my previously-damaged Dragonlord Silumgar. I actually had the mana available to cast Flames for 1, which would have left me with a Dragonlord, and would have likely won me the game. Instead I lost a close one and had only myself to blame.
I played against another Humans deck, and my opponent had two 3/4 Thraben Inspectors out, while I had a Goblin Dark-Dwellers. He slammed Thalia’s Lieutenant and immediately smashed with both Inspectors. I just looked at my opponent, and he instantly said “wow, I didn’t put counters on, that sucks.” He hadn’t moved the dice on his Inspectors at all, or even said that they got +1/+1 from the Lieutenant. It seemed pretty clear that’s what happened, and given how he was even the one to state it, I didn’t contest his assessment. I blocked, took 3, and won a game that would have been very different otherwise. It was unfortunate for my opponent, but he did miss that trigger, and that’s not something either of us disagreed on.
I battled against a Mardu Midrange deck, and my opponent cast the most Painful Truths I’ve ever seen—he tapped Swamp, Battlefield Forge, and Caves of Koilos, taking 5 for his trouble. I don’t think that’s likely to be beat anytime soon, as the triple painland draw is the only way.
After a loss to Andy Boswell in round 15, I ended the tournament at 11-4. I came into Minneapolis saying I wanted 2 Pro Points, and 2 Pro Points was what I would leave with. I would say that I can’t complain, but those who know me are aware that I’d be lying if I did.
Final Record: 11-4, 2 Pro Points, $200, and a sense of medium accomplishment.
Wrapter also finished at 11-4, getting the 2 Points he desired, as did BK, meaning that he was now qualified for at least the next 2 Pro Tours. The silver lining of losing multiple GP win-and-ins this year was that he got to 18 points the hard way, and gets to battle on the PT once again.
We decided to celebrate our (moderate) successes with an Escape Room—they are pretty sweet if you haven’t done one. You have an hour to solve a bunch of different puzzles, and it takes teamwork and communication, plus a lot of quick thinking. Unfortunately, the room we went to was about as medium as they come. Wrapter, BK, Gaby, and myself were put into a room that had 8 other random people, making it both gigantic and full of people we didn’t know. We ended up failing the room, and the only saving grace was that none of the people who went 11-4 had to pay for it.
“Was Grixis great? What would you change about it?”
Grixis was solid, but that’s about the best you can do in this current Standard. That’s not a bad thing—Standard is very diverse, and you can pretty much play whatever you want. I would play Grixis again, but I’d love another answer to Ormendahl. The addition of a Silumgar’s Command is a start, but it would be nice if there was one more cheap card in that role.
I’d make the following changes:
I played Infinite Obliteration despite hating this type of card, and guess what? It was awful. I also want to note that Pia and Kiran Nalaar overperformed wildly. I wouldn’t play them main deck because they mostly replace cards that are great in some matchups and dead in others, but as a general-use sideboard card I was very impressed.
Did you really let Twitch chat choose your deck?
Well, kind of. I’m loathe to ruin a good narrative, but I can’t in good conscience say that I gave Twitch chat all the power. I put up a list of decks that I thought were plausible and was definitely leaning toward Grixis. It then won the vote, which did push me toward it. After Black/White was miserable to play, I figured I might as well run Grixis. I’d say it was a combination of Oliver bombarding me with lists, Gaby telling me to shut up and just play Grixis like I wanted to, and Twitch chat voting for it—probably in that order. So yes, I would like to thank the chat for steering me in the right direction, but I might be singing a different tune had something like Black/White won the poll.
I do plan on exploring more poll-based decision-making in the future, and did actually abide by numerous polls in my last stream (such as keeping or mulling a hand). Wisdom of crowds even applies to Twitch, right?
What is this ORATSmas you keep talking about?
ORATSmas is a national holiday that occurs every time Owen Turtenwald (the ORAT) makes Top 8 of a premier event. It’s celebrated at least once a month.
The return of the sample hand: