Black Magic - No Sleep 'Til 7th Place: Grand Prix Gothenburg!
I'm sitting on my bed in a Stayokay hostel in Amsterdam. It's Wednesday night here and I'm pretty tired. I flew into Europe on Friday just in time to miss the end of Friday evening registration so I'm still recovering from jet lag. This could easily be a report about “How I should know better than to try to beat jet lag by getting in tired at night.”
When I arrived on Friday I was tired and I went to sleep at around 10:30. Then I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and that was basically the end of my night's sleep. My body just wasn't interested in being asleep at what it thought of as 6:30 p.m.
The rest of the weekend went much the same way. I'd go to sleep early and very tired but I'd wake up way before I had to and not be able to get back to sleep. I played Grand Prix: Gothenburg on no sleep and it just didn't matter.
I'm not saying this to brag — it's just weird. I wasn't sleeping. But while at other events my mind felt cloudy from lack of sleep and I wasn't able to figure out basic plays at Gothenburg it just never came up. I was fine like I always was a few years ago.
Just lucky I guess.
Speaking of just lucky:
Those were the highlights of my Sealed pool. Very good for sure… but when you compare it to the lists of rares you often see when you hear about Sealed decks that do well at Grand Prixs it's pretty modest. Make no mistake though: that Sealed pool is extremely lucky. I got to play U/B control with good mana and a good curve which is exactly what you want to do in this format. I had solid threats solid removal everything you need to win some matches. The full list:
I had a Diabolic Tutor a Deathmark a Harbor Serpent a Duress a Flashfreeze two Sorcerer's Strongboxes and two Call to Minds in my sideboard. I usually sided out the Barony Vampires and/or Stabbing Pain for Harbor Serpent Diabolic Tutor and Deathmark/Flashfreeze/Duress as appropriate… but not always. It's likely that they shouldn't all have been in my main deck.
My thinking was that my deck wanted to be on the draw because I had a reasonably high number of one-for-ones and Azure Drake is just a good card to be on the draw with because he's much better at stabilizing a board than beating down. Knowing that I'd be choosing to draw I wanted to be sure I wouldn't fall behind so I wanted to be careful with my curve. It turned out (not surprisingly in Sealed) that I was just playing against a bunch of other slow Blue decks and it didn't matter.
Luis Scott-Vargas and some other folks said I should maindeck Deathmark but that would have been pretty bad for me. I played against Blue and Black a lot. Green in M11 just isn't what it is in most Sealed formats and Blue really seems to be this set's Green. I'd rather maindeck Combust.
Most of my rounds of Sealed were very easy; I lost four games total. In one game against Shuuhei he attacked with a Duskdale Wurm and I could block with my Howling Banshee Black Knight Scroll Thief and Cloned Scroll Thief to exactly kill it — if he didn't have anything. We both had Scroll Thieves that had been staring at each other for several turns so I figured that meant he probably didn't have Giant Growth or Unsummon.
I'd just played the Howling Banshee…. And he had Plummet. In hindsight I probably should have just taken it that turn. I think I was at 21. I don't know that I would have won but I might have.
In the game that I lost to AJ Sacher I had Air Servant and a Clone of Air Servant against his U/W aggro deck. He couldn't attack but he had a bunch of Squadron Hawks and 2/1 fliers so I couldn't tap to attack without losing my much better creatures. He had Crystal Ball going but I still had three good cards including Mind Control in hand. Eventually I decided I was worried about him finding a Sleep (I didn't know if he had one or not) and decided to alpha strike. He blocked as little as possible and went to two so that he could kill me on his turn —and when I played Howling Banshee and he played Cancel. I should have waited until either he was tapped out or I'd played the rest of my good cards before making this attack.
The other two games I lost were in one match against a deck with 4 Liliana's Specters two Mind Controls Platinum Angel and a lot of good removal spells. Both games he'd Specter me a couple times then Mind Rot me and then the game would basically be over. His deck was like mine but dramatically better in the best possible way for the matchup.
I was pretty happy to be 8-1 after Day One obviously.
The draft started the next day at 8 a.m. I didn't have a lot of time before I needed to get to sleep if I wanted to get a good night's sleep or have any hope of doing that. Gothenburg is a lovely city though. (Actually the city actually looks more like America than any other European city I've been to which makes the architecture and stuff of the city much less impressive but there were a lot of people around and the city had a good friendly feel to it.) I was staying a five minute walk from the site at a bed and breakfast with two guest rooms so I had a bit of time.
(This was my first experience with a bed and breakfast and when it's the closest and cheapest option it seems like it couldn't possibly be any better. I highly recommend considering them.)
Alex West led me to a stand that had a bunch of fake meats and other vegetarian food — and it happened to be open later than most of the restaurants. So I ate there and then we wandered back to look at a parking lot full of classic cars that were apparently there for an annual convention that we'd passed on the way to get food. After that it was back to the bed and breakfast to sleep.
To my surprise in sixth place in one of the two sides of the tournament day one I was still in pod one —which was good news because it meant that I could win the first round of my draft and then play against a deck that lost. It also meant that my draft was covered —but since my computer was broken when I unexpectedly had to check my suitcase on the way here (thanks KLM) and I don't have internet in the hostel I haven't checked the coverage to see how much was said.
I first picked Honor of the Pure in a relatively weak pack where the other cards I was considering were Gravedigger and Quag Sickness.I figured neither of those cards were that exciting they were both black and Honor of the Pure could be excellent. Also the pack had an Infantry Veteran that I hoped might come back around.
The next two packs had more or less the same terrible commons and I took Infantry Veterans picks 2 and 3. At this point my cards looked a little underwhelming by judged on pure power level… but I was still optimistic about my deck coming together since all the cards I had were all-stars for the deck I was trying to end up with.
I picked up some unimportant cards in other colors late in the packs but most of the White cards that I was hoping to come back didn't.
Throughout the rest of the draft I kept my options open in potentially splashing another color most likely Blue because I wanted as many fliers as I could get to go with my Infantry Veterans but I also tried to stick to mono-White where I could.
I got a late Armored Ascension in pack 2 and that sealed me into hoping for mono-colored. In the middle of pack 2 I took a Squadron Hawk over a Mighty Leap; that was one of the more difficult picks of the draft. Mighty Leap is better than one Hawk… But since I had Honor or the Pure and all those Infantry Veterans I thought Squadron Hawk would be better if I found a second one. A third was extremely unlikely given that I was getting my start this late but that would be amazing. I figured my deck was solid enough that I could gamble a little —and I ended up getting a second Hawk late in pack 3.
Pack 3 pick 1 was between White Knight and Lightning Bolt and that's where Rich Hagon said he was surprised by my White Knight pick. I explained that I wanted to be mono and that White Knight really is that much better than the other creatures like it in that deck so it's worth taking aggressively. That White Knight single-handedly won me my match against Raphael Levy's excellent mono-Black deck. (As Levy himself admits – T.F.)
A lot of other things went very well for me —like picking up a second Honor of the Pure late in pack 3. The deck I ended up with was:
2 Ajani's Pridemage
2 Blinding Mage
2 Cloud Crusader
2 Honor of the Pure
4 Infantry Veteran
2 Inspired Charge
1 Safe Passage
1 Serra Angel
1 Silvercoat Lion
2 Squadron Hawk
1 White Knight
1 Wild Griffon
1 Armored Ascension
This deck was completely insane.
In my second draft I figured I just needed to win one round and then I could draw into the top 8. I opened Garruk so my first pick was pretty easy. From there I took some accelerators and mana fixing and some fatties —but only incidentally because I think Green has enough of them that you should never take them over something else early in the draft because you'll have plenty of chances. I ended up with a lot of fixing early and was looking for cards to splash —but the best card in every pack was Green! That was frustrating but not a real problem.
Conley Woods passed me a second Garruk in pack 2 and in pack 2 I opened Obstinate Baloth so my deck looked pretty good. It was a slightly clunky green deck so I knew that fliers would be my biggest problem so I took two Plummets early in pack 3 with the intent to play both main. The deck that I ended up with was:
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
3 Garruk's Companion
1 Garruk's Packleader
1 Greater Basilisk
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Obstinate Baloth
2 Runeclaw Bear
1 Sacred Wolf
1 Spined Wurm
2 Sylvan Ranger
2 Yavimaya Wurm
The debate here was 16 or 17 lands. I built the deck and took several test draws during deck building and it felt more heavy on mana than light so I erred low. I think that worked out pretty well. I probably should have played the Negate over the Cancel.
Conley sculpted a few awkward lines of play to give me our match in the first round of the draft. It was a Feature Match but I'm not sure what the coverage says about it. (See for yourself – T.F.) On his third turn he decided to sit on Cancel rather than developing his board only to determine that Cultivate—the best spell I could play on my turn —wasn't worth countering.
Later he knew I had something because I played Garruk and untapped two lands rather than making a beast and then passed with two mana up. He attacked Garruk with a Water Servant and me with a Scroll Thief when I had Runeclaw Bears and Garruk's Companion. Blocking his Water Servant with my Bears and his Thief with my Companion seemed obvious especially since I had a Negate —but he acted surprised when I declared those blocks and passed after my Bear and his Thief died. Later I found out he had Doom Blade and Ice Cage that he could have used before combat that turn.
I was pretty sure I could draw into the top 8 from there but I was paired up against the last remaining undefeated player in the tournament and he wanted to try to knock me out to help some of his friends. I wasn't too worried because I was pretty confident that I could draw in even if I lost —but there were certainly ways things could go wrong.
He had an R/B Act of Treason deck and he stole game 2 with a Shiv's Embrace when I couldn't find either of my Plummets. Game 3 I mulliganed to five and led with a turn 2 Garruk's Companion. He had the unconventional answer of Jinxed Idol so I knew my guy was going to get Act of Treason'd on his next turn. I played a Sacred Wolf he took my Companion and sacrificed it to give me the Idol then I attacked and played Garruk and made a Beast to give him the idol back and from there he was too far behind.
With the top 8 actually locked up I was paired against Nicolai Herzog. When we sat down he said he promised his friend he'd play and I told him it didn't matter because I was also x-1 —but we could play if he wanted. We did and his aggressive Red/White deck full of fliers with Prodigal Pyromancer and three Serra Angels was about my worst possible matchup. He won in three games after I stole a game 2 I thought I was out of long beforehand because he didn't block conservatively enough.
The top 8 Draft was awkward and defined entirely by rares. My first pick was between Gaea's Revenge and some more reasonable common; unfortunately I don't remember what it was. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about Gaea's Revenge but I took it. Rise from the Grave was by far the most powerful card I was passed so I took that and then Deathmark and then I got a fourth-pick Chandra's Outrage as the clear best card in the pack.
From there I wasn't sure what colors I'd be but I didn't take any more black cards in that pack.
Pack 2 I opened Baneslayer Angel and I knew that since I was green it wasn't too late to make it work. The next best card for me was Sylvan Ranger so I figured if I didn't see any other White at all I could just not play it and I wasn't giving up that much. I hadn't seen a lot of White in pack 1 so I thought I might see some in pack 2 or I could just skip the angel. I didn't see any for the first few picks so I took a Cyclops Gladiator to have “going back to straight G/R” as a backup plan.
Late in the pack I started to get some White and found myself with a couple Condemns and a Stormfront Pegasus. In Pack 3 I opened Sword of Vengeance and it was starting to look like my deck could get there on power level — even if it wasn't the most coherent deck.
I ended up with this:
I envisioned myself as something of an aggro deck that could close with any of a number of bombs despite the fact that it could also be seen as a deck that's just trying to ramp to a fatty off the Elves. I figured a large amount of mana would also make the equipment good.
In my games I basically just drew lands and bears —and looking at it now the threat density is pretty low. This is probably a good example of how bombs don't make a deck in M11. This deck is about as all over the place as possible which is basically how the draft felt and it didn't really deserve to win.
I'm exhausted now and I still have to take a walk to find somewhere to send this from. I have one day left to prepare for the Pro Tour this weekend and I'm still not entirely sure what I'm playing. I've been excited about a number of decks leading up to this event —but now that I'm really testing the format there are just a lot of problems with everything. I hope I can figure it all out tomorrow.
Thanks for reading