I hadn’t been to a big tournament since Paris so I was excited to see all of my friends again. My traveling companion was none other then former team world champion, Michael Jacob. Actually, he traveled with a Nintendo DS and I was the third wheel.
We flew standby again and the trip started out on a poor note. We listened to a Southwest Airlines employee on what plane to fly and she turned out to be not the most intellegent person in the world. Originally, the plan was to arrive in Dallas at 2:30 P.M. on Friday, but we instead we got there eight hours later. You would think that someone who has been working at an airport for at least a year would know how to book a flight without leaving us stranded in ARKANSAS for cryin out loud. The moral of this story is to listen to Josh Wludyka and travel the route he sets up for you. All I hoped was that this wouldn’t be foreshadowing to a terrible weekend…
Fortunately, I had a sicko room that included Gerard Fabiano, Adam Yurchick, Ben E. Beatdown, Dan Jordan, and Mike Jacob. I don’t think God himself could sculpt a better room for a tournament.
We arrived in Dallas late Friday night and discovered that the convention center was 30 miles away from the airport. It’s pretty standard to make a GP so far away from the airport because it’s not like anyone flies there right? I guess it’s not a big deal; we just pay a few bucks and we are on our way to fun!
75 dollars later, we finally arrived to the destination…
MJ was deciding on playing either Caw-Go or RUG, but had not played Magic in about a month. I suggested that playing RUG would be better since not only did he invent the deck, but Caw-Blade is not a deck you just pick up and grind.
My deck of choice was something I’m sure you can all guess.
This was a pretty standard list and I was confident in the U/W/B Caw-Blade matchup. There was obviously a metagame shift where everyone played U/W instead where my build is not as good.
I was confident in my RUG and Valakut matchup so expectations were still positive. My experience with this deck was playing it in various weekly tournaments against every kind of deck in the field.
Ari Lax and D.J. Kastner helped me design the deck over the weeks and I was not going to audible. The will of others was not so strong and Ari decided to change to Caw-Blade at the last second. It’s never a good feeling to be going into a tournament and you are the only one playing a deck. Nevertheless, I must press on because I knew my deck is good.
I had three byes due to Pro Level so it’s pretty reasonable that I’d dodge the random decks. This was a factor in deciding what cards to play because my deck has very specific answers to the format. A random homebrew could send me packing early, but that wouldn’t be very likely.
During the byes, I went to Starbucks, chugged a 5-Hour Engergy, and played “Everyone’s a Winner” with Gerard Fabiano. The game is simple: Gerard asks a question and those who answer it correctly win a predetermined amount of points. The first person to reach three points is the winner. I know the game is called “Everyone’s a Winner,” but there is only one.
He has the recording on his Facebook page so be sure to check it out. I answered the first question right by saying that Gerard has 218 Pro Points and was off to a good start. If you would guess that he likes Asian girls above all else, you would be correct as well. Just like that I was in the finals with Ben Lundquist, but he won by saying that Gerard’s favorite planeswalker was Jace Beleren. Apparently Gerard doesn’t fancy Jace, the Mind Sculptor as much as I do. =( Benny Beatdownz was rewarded with an MTG Mom sticker for his efforts.
The byes flew by and it was ready for round four. I squared off against a fellow midwesterner who piloted none other than Caw-Blade. Inquisition of Kozilek let me see what was in his hand when he was making decisions and there were some things I would have done differently. The matchup was very close, so a mistake on either side could have been the deciding factor in the match.
Round 5 was interesting despite me missing my third land drop the entire game. My opponent showed me Valakut, Viridian Emissary, and Forest before I packed up my cards. The sideboarding was for a standard Titan Ramp list, but it was far from it. My turn four Memoricide for Primeval Titan hit, but I saw Hero of Oxid Ridge and Bestial Menace in his deck. The first instinct I had was to panic because my sideboard was against a combo deck and most of the removal was out of my deck. The game was close, but I lost to a Lightning Bolt off of the top when I had two Precursor Golems and Jace TMS to protect me against the savage beats. It was unfortunate that I did not play more turns of the game, because I would have found out that he was playing a wild-ass brew rather than standard Valakut. It’s a lesson that I won’t forget after this match.
Round 6 was against a crazy Lead the Stampede deck with Primeval Titan. I got land flooded in the first game after a mulligan and lost. My Go for the Throats were going after Llanowar Elves and other early mana dorks because I had nothing else to do. The second game was pretty even until he played Lead the Stampede for three Vengevines and cast one of them.
This is where I had a revelation…
I lost two rounds and not three. I wasn’t out of the tournament so I shouldn’t act like I was. For as long as I can remember, I have been a terrible player when it comes to winning with my back against the wall. There are some players who can handle the pressure and keep a positive attitude, but it’s just not me.
This time was different, and I had a positive attitude and stayed focused. I haven’t made day two of any tournament this year, which is quite disappointing in my eyes based on my performance last year. I can obviously dominate a tournament, but I’m just not doing it and I wanted to make a change.
I took my 4-2 start and walked to round seven with a thirst for blood. My seventh round opponent was playing a standard Titan Ramp deck. I managed to kill all of his Valakuts with Tectonic Edges and Jace decked the first person of the day.
The second game offered this interesting scenario: my opponent had four lands, Khalni Heart Expedition, and Overgrown Battlement, and I had five lands in play, Darkslick Shores in hand and I cast Preordain. I knew his one card in hand was a Primeval Titan and I had no answer for it. My top two cards were Liliana Vess and a land. I could ship them both in hopes of finding an answer to the Battlement, Primeval Titan, or Tectonic Edge. It was too dangerous of a play in my eyes and I took the gamble of playing Liliana next turn. I drew a Duress the next turn after he drew a card and passed. The Duress hit a Summoning Trap and the Vess hit the Primeval Titan. He pretty much drew dead from there because I got to Vampiric Tutor two turns in a row.
After I beat Valakut, there was another one waiting for me. There were some play errors on the part of my opponent and pulled a game out of my ass. I was unaware of what deck he was playing when the match started, so my hand ended up being pretty bad against Valakut. Disfigure managed to kill a Lotus Cobra and Doom Blade snagged an Overgrown Battlement so things were starting to go my way.
My opponent got land flooded in the second game and ended on an anti-climactic note.
Ok this was it: the win and in moment. I could win fame, glory, and babes, but I could lose it all in fifty minutes. My pairings indicated that I was up against an unfamiliar face which was always a good start. The match began and some lands from his side showed that he was playing my favorite matchup: RUG. A rush of confidence came over me and I started to take over the first game. Jace Beleren kept him from landing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The Lotus Cobra was taken care of on turn one thanks to Inquisition. Inferno Titan was no match for Precursor Golem followed by two Grave Titans.
Now this second game could be what gets me into day two. I was expecting fireworks and a well fought battle on both of our parts, but that just didn’t happen. Inquisition took Lotus Cobra again and his Halimar Depths showed him three spells and only began with two lands in hand. Jace, the Mind Sculptor fatesealed him out of the game in the most boring way possible. My opponent was nice about his unfortunate luck and I must say he handled it better than I would have.
Rob Martin from “Men of Magic” interviewed me about my Day 1 experience. I will be working with him in the future so I gave him my card. He was confused because it was a Gruesome Encore…
I was dying to go eat with some sickos so my group waits for the rest of the room to finish their matches. Gerard was on the bubble, but managed to defeat Caw-Blade with his innovative Bant concoction. Benny Beatdownz, Dan Jordan, and MJ also manage to snag a seat in day two. We waited for Adam to finish his match that went to time since it was a Caw-Blade mirror and he also managed to get in on the bubble. The entire room made day two which was a first for me. To be fair, I roomed with some pretty good players.
We end up eating at this Italian place and got some pretty marginal pizza. The first indicator that it wasn’t fancy was that MJ actually agreed to eat there since he loves value more than any person I had ever met. He actually yelled at me for ordering a Chicken Caesar Salad at Wendy’s because I could make my own using the dollar menu. To his credit, that maneuver was also listed on 3thingstoknow.com.
On a side note, Christian Keeth made 3thingstoknow.com hats that will be available soon. They look pretty awesome, so be sure to pick up yours soon.
(product placement)The next day started much like the first since it included a Starbucks run and a 5-Hour Energy(/end product placement). The first round was up against Gaudenis Vidiguris and that’s usually good luck for me. My GP and PT top 8 was achieved by beating him along the way. This time I was not so fortunate, but would have top 8ed for sure if I had beaten him. He was on Caw-Blade as expected, and he smashed me with two pretty solid hands. My draws were pretty marginal, but the matchup was very dependent on who was piloting Caw-Blade and Gaudenis was no slouch. I could chalk it up to being tired, but I think I played pretty well in the match.
The next round was against RUG which was usually a pretty good thing for me. My mulligans and marginal hands continued and I was crushed 2-0. Blaming luck on a match was not something I like to do since there were a lot of decisions for me to make. I’m sure there was something better that I could had done along the way to force a game three.
My back was once again against the wall at x-4. 0-2 was clearly not the start I was looking for, but what’s done was done.
My rally wasn’t as strong as it was in day 1 and I pick up another loss to Christian Calcano (or maybe it was Anthony Eason, who knows) which knocked me out of the money. He was playing Caw-Blade and his Squadron Hawks just completely obliterated me. I’m pretty sure what those birds did to me was not only illegal, but also very disturbing. There was a two-drop creature each game on the second turn that was followed up with equally strong plays. (Oh caw-mon!) This game was for the birds. If anybody has more caw-go related puns I would love to hear them since they were just so fly.
I won three matches on the day, so don’t think all I did was get my ass kicked. RUG, Caw-Blade, and another RUG were defeated by me which made for a very diverse day two (not really). There were not any players who made the top 64 with an x-5 record because there were so many players who drew intentionally or unintentionally. I was rewarded with nothing more than my appearance fee for the fourth time this year.
Normally I would complain about how stale a format is when there are only two decks I face in six rounds, but it’s just so skill-intensive.
The top 8 was nothing but ringers with their respective decks. Look at the four players who jammed RUG: Owen Turtenwald, Orrin Beasley, Alex Bertoncini, and Michael Jacob. Those are some pretty dangerous players to have a Lotus Cobra on their side. Alex can be seen tearing up the SCG circuit with RUG on a weekly basis. Owen has been on a tear this year and has also been playing the deck on MTGO with very impressive results. Michael Jacob only invented the deck, no big deal. Orrin is the sleeper of the bunch, but he has been quietly grinding along the GP circuit for a while now and I’m glad to see he is finally breaking through.
I can say the same things for the Caw-Blade players as well. Josh Utter-Leyton is one of the big time ringers. Austin Bursavich is MTGO grinder: SneakyHomunculus, need I say more? Korey McDuffie is a grinder who is also just making it big time. David Shiels managed to win this stacked top 8 as well as having played in another GP top 8 in the past. I can guarantee that we will be hearing from all 8 of these players in the future assuming they stay with the game.
This is the sign of a good format when all good players make the top 8. You pick a deck, learn it, and get rewarded. People complain about Valakut, but the deck is not consistent, which is the reason it did poorly. Caw-Blade is fine right now because it can only be piloted well by a select group of players. Jund was annoying because anyone (including me) could win with it.
It’s true that there were 60 Jace, the Mind Sculptors in the top 16, but this is because there were fifteen rounds in the tournament. The more consistent decks will perform better because the library manipulation helps achieve better draws. The aggro decks may seem tempting, but they are not as powerful on a consistent basis as Caw-Go or RUG. PV was the only player in the top 16 to play something other than [card]Preordain[/card], Mana Leak, and Jace.
After the tournament was complete, I went to get some famous Texas BBQ. There was all-you-can-eat ribs for ten bucks, sign me up! They were so good that I would consider flying back to Texas just to get more.
I went back to the convention center to do a draft with Ari Lax and Dan Jordan. After the draft began, it was clear to me that Dan didn’t know much about the format and it was making me nervous. My first pack had a Sword of Feast and Famine staring back at me and I happily gave it a home. The following pack had a Venser, the Sojourner and I could splash it in my blue/red deck. I started taking white cards and went toward blue/white control. The final pack had a Hoard-Smelter Dragon and things were getting interesting. I was also passed a Volition Reins fourth. The deck went back to a blue/red control deck that splashed white for Venser and two Origin Spellbombs.
My first game featured an ultimate Venser, Sword, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, and Volition Reins, all in play. I still calmly was smashed in the next two games due to land problems. The next match involved me equipping a Hoard-Smelter Dragon with Sword of Feast and Famine. We took down the draft and I won the sword which was a good end to the day.
It turned out that many schools had spring break during this weekend so flying home on stand-by just wasn’t to be. Every Southwest Airlines flight to Detroit was booked solid on Monday. I didn’t feel like waiting until 6A.M. on Tuesday to fly home so MJ and I decided to try our luck at the airport. We flew from Dallas to Chicago and waited to see if some people would miss their flights. The first two flights of the day were filled and things were looking grim. In order to minimize our variance, Josh got us bus tickets to Ann Arbor. We walked out on our flight and ended up in downtown Chicago. To say this was a strange day would be an understatement. The Megabus was equipped with Internet so the ride went by quickly. If you don’t know about Megabus, you should definitely check it out since getting tickets in advance leads to road trips that cost less than five bucks.
Although I only won 24 dollars from Gerard due to a split, this was still a really fun tournament. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
– Pam (owner of RIW Hobbies) for driving me to the airport
-Ari for picking me up from Ann Arbor
-Get Your Game On for giving me sleeves
-Texas for feeding me good ribs
Thanks for reading.