This past weekend, I attended Grand Prix Denver with high hopes of returning to the Pro Tour. I'm fairly confident in my Limited abilities, but Sealed Deck tournaments can always throw you for a loop. While I do think that every Sealed pool has the capability to put you into Day 2 of a Grand Prix, some are much worse than others, making it more difficult for people like myself to surpass this threshold with an inferior deck. Sealed is always like that, but you can't go into an event thinking about "What happens if I open a bad pool," or "How do I win without bombs?" What you have to do is accept the fact that you can open the nuts and make it easy on yourself, but that it isn't always going to happen.
Kali finally got to come to a Grand Prix with me that involved flying, and we booked out of Atlanta, since it was around $400 cheaper for the two of us. We had some of our awesome friends Nick Gulledge and Prentice Osbourn take us into their home on the night prior to our flight, as well as give us a ride to the airport in the morning. To show our gratitude, the wife and I took them out to Chow Baby, a "create your own stir-fry" joint with a ton of ingredients and spices to kick things up a notch (bam!). It was all-you-can-eat, which spelled "awesome" for those of us who were starving upon entry into the establishment.
As an aside, most of my friends play a game called "u dum," where the sole goal of the game is to get the attention of another player, and once you have their attention, you say (or shout) "U Dum!" Yes, it may sound stupid (it is), but the best players will come up with creative ways to get their compatriots, causing them even more humiliation. For example, my wife once got her friend at work, saying "Hey Miranda, come look at this thing on the computer!" As Miranda came around the corner, she spotted big, block letters on the screen, spelling out "U Dum!" It was subtle, yet delicious.
Fast forward back to the restaurant, and you meet Casey Hogan, an ex-Judge from the southeast who still loves to hang out with us and will never turn down a meal at ye olde Chow Baby. Casey runs pretty bad at the "U Dum" game, as people tend to think of more and more elaborate ways to "dum" him, since he isn't around as much as he used to be. That way, the pains of "U Dum" linger for a much longer period of time. This, in turn, forces him to come up with his own crazy plots to get us. This night in particular was a night where Casey was going to be on the receiving end, and it began with him getting up to grab another bowl of stir-fry. When he returned from his trip to the stir-fry bar, he pulled out his chair, saw a napkin in his seat spelling out "U Dum," and almost collapsed. He was broken. Afterwards, when the waiter came by to clear away empty bowls, he took Casey's and underneath the bowl was another napkin with the inscription:
"No seriously. U Dum."
The "double gotcha" is one of much talk around the table when the game is in effect, and this one was quite classic.
But enough about our silly antics. Try playing the game. It has caught on in various cities around the southeast, and I hope it doesn't stop anytime soon.
After dinner, Kali and I retired to our guest bedroom for a few hours of slumber before we had to head to the airport. After an uneventful morning, a three-hour flight, and a handful of biscotti cookies courtesy of Delta Airlines, we were heading to the hotel to unload our stuff and head to the convention center. Upon arrival, Kali was greeted by multiple judges and went off to mingle while I sparked up a few drafts to get my beak wet. I hadn't played much with the new set and needed to try to learn a few things before the next morning.
After winning a draft, then going 0-3 in the next, I firmly decided that I didn't know what I was doing and tried to bird a few drafts featuring LSV and Paulo Vitor, asking them questions all the while to help my understanding of why they took certain cards, as well as why they passed others. Team drafts are usually a bit different from 8-man drafts, since there's much more "hate-drafting" involved, but the information is still useful.
I ended the day with a bit of Ascension with some new acquaintances, including Misha Gurevich and his famous hat, Nicole Leister, and a few other guys, which was a good time. Kali and I bought the game recently and haven't gotten bored of it yet, so that says a lot. I would recommend picking it up. Every game feels like you're in a draft, which is awesome, but I would recommend playing teams. It's much more structured, and there's a lot less variance.
Upon awaking the next morning after everyone else, there was no hot water in the shower and no large clean towels. That meant drying off with a hand towel. Blech. After getting dressed and heading to the site, I met up with Noah Koessel and Kenny Ellis to get some food. The tournament was running a bit behind but nothing out of the ordinary. There were less than 1,000 people at the tournament, which says a lot for the area of Denver, since almost every (if not all) Grand Prix in North America over the last year has broken 1,000 players. With such a small turnout, there would be only nine rounds of Swiss on Day 1, followed by six rounds of draft on Day 2. I sat down to open the following rares.
Well, Elspeth is great, but my white cards were rather lackluster. Phyrexian Crusader is a solid man but only really fits into an infect deck. I didn't have many other infect creatures, so that was out too. Genesis Wave was one of my four green cards in the whole pool, which was awkward and especially so considering I had five cards with WW in the casting cost. My red cards looked okay but nothing special. I had a Furnace Celebration and a few sacrifice outlets, but all of those cards by themselves are pretty mediocre, so I put those aside, while I tried to build a normal W/r aggro deck.
My "saving grace" with the pool was double Concussive Bolt, but my artifact count wasn't as high as I wanted it to be either. I took almost the full amount of time coming up with the best Sealed pool I could put together, but I wasn't extremely confident in my abilities to beat better pools. I had a single Arrest and Galvanic Blast as removal, so I would just have to hope I could get there being incredibly aggressive. I had a lot of solid, cheap creatures, as well as three living weapon equipment to help beat my opponents to death before they could cast their Dragons. Unfortunately, they all had Turn to Slag and Dragons, which sucked.
I made a few mistakes over the day that cost me, and I dropped after picking up my third loss in round 8 and decided to spend the rest of the day preparing for the Extended PTQ in the morning. I'd been playing Wargate nonstop over the last few weeks and felt like it was the best deck, and I could pilot it well. After a lot of testing, here is the "finalized" list I came up with for the tournament:
I gave my list to a few of my friends who were wanting to play it, but they kept trying to change important parts of the deck, even after I continually told them that doing so was incorrect. Kenny decided to cut Oracle of Mul Daya from the maindeck in order to dodge all creature removal, while another friend changed the sideboard a significant amount for no real reason. They ended up having two losses before the fifth round, but I digress.
With around 170 players, we were in for eight rounds of Swiss, followed by Top 8.
Round 1 against Time Sieve
This matchup is not one I've played in a long time, but I knew how the deck worked and knew that he couldn't really win without resolving an Open the Vaults. Game 1 I manually killed him with Oracle of Mul Daya and Prismatic Omen, countering his relevant cards.
The second game had me stumble a bit on relevant threats in the early game, and his Stoic Rebuttal did a great impression of a Counterspell. This shut off most of my pressure, since I couldn't find another Prismatic Omen, so I just beat him down with an Oracle of Mul Daya. After a few turns, he went off with Time Sieve and Open the Vaults, putting me too far behind to do anything.
In the third, it was much of the same, sticking an Oracle of Mul Daya and just going to town on his life total with Prismatic Omen. On his ultimate turn, I had Spell Pierce, Mana Leak, and two Cryptic Commands to shut him down, forcing the concession.
Round 2 against R/W/U Pestermite/Splinter Twin Control
I hate this strategy. Sure, it's a combo/control deck, which is one of my favorite archetypes, but it's a combo deck that's fragile to Lightning Bolt and Disenchant. A combo that fragile has no future in a world where everyone plays some form of cheap spot removal as well as where the main combo deck in the format plays an enchantment. Can we say splash damage?
In the opening game, I stuck an early Prismatic Omen while he seemed mana screwed. An Oracle of Mul Daya and a Cryptic Command later, and he was dead. Sun Titan made an appearance to finish off the last bits of his life total, returning a Misty Rainforest.
In the second game, he played an early Pestermite, which I let resolve, since I was going to kill it with Prismatic Omen in a few turns, and I had protection in hand should he go for the kill. After a few turns, I assembled the combo, cast Sun Titan with Spell Pierce on backup, and killed his team and eventually him. Oracle of Mul Daya helped push me too far ahead once again. Are you seeing a pattern here?
Round 3 against Naya
This match is always a little frightening, since they have hate-bears and a fast clock, but the first game went quickly with an early Omen, followed by Scapeshift while I was dead to his board. How lucky.
Game 2, he stuck a Gaddock Teeg on turn 3 off Bloodbraid Elf, which was quite annoying, but I stabilized with a pair of Kitchen Finks and eventually found a Path to Exile for Gaddock Teeg. He had Pridemage in play almost the entire game, so I opted to Wargate for Celestial Colonnade. After a few Cryptic Commands and beats later, he was dead to attacks. That hasn't happened much, but you can swap into a semi-beatdown plan after board once people know what you're playing and have a plan to disrupt you.
Round 4 against Faeries
This match was quite difficult, even though I won 2-0. My opponent lamented multiple times that he'd never played the matchup and made multiple mistakes. In the first game, he applied a lot of pressure via Bitterblossom, and my draw wasn't helping. Cryptic Command helped slow him down for a turn, but I really needed to topdeck Scapeshift or Oracle of Mul Daya to kill him. I topdecked Scapeshift off Cryptic, and that was all she wrote.
Game 2, he was in a much more awkward position when I stuck an early Omen with Spell Pierce backup, countering his Countersquall. We played draw-go for a long time with my playing lands and shooting him for damage all the while. He eventually went for something on his turn but left himself vulnerable to an Oracle of Mul Daya hitting play with Mana Leak on backup, killing him in just a few turns.
Round 5 against Faeries
Game 1, he drew his nut draw, and I was stumbling to find the right colors, so I just got annihilated. Thoughtseize, Blossom, Spellstutter, Mistbind. Wom wom.
Game 3, I made a pretty huge mistake, but it wasn't easily visible until later turns of the game. I used a Mana Leak instead of a Cryptic Command to counter a Vendilion Clique, and in a later turn, I really needed to be able to cast two counterspells, but I could only cast one of the two Cryptic Commands in my hand. This kept me from drawing a crucial card, and I ended the last turn of the game with no hand and a Cryptic Command on top, where he had a Cryptic Command to shut me down.
Round 6 against G/W Aggro
This matchup was quite odd, as I didn't know what he was playing, since game 1 involved him playing Honor of the Pure and a few dorks (including Noble Hierarch). I managed to kill him with Scapeshift on turn 5 before he could threaten lethal.
Game 2, he killed me on turn 4 with Wilt-Leaf Liege. Ouch.
Game 3 was quite a drawn-out affair with his leading off with a few hate-bears. I managed to Path a few of them while buying time to set up Prismatic Omen and Oracle of Mul Daya. He had other plans, topdecking Qasali Pridemage to set me back. Sun Titan showed up in time to save the day, acting as a huge threat, a wall, and recursion for my Omens and fetchlands. He's like Superman. So dreamy. But after a few topdecks from my opponent, I had to block and trade with some of his creatures, putting me in a position where I needed to topdeck something besides land to put me back in the game. A Wargate later, and he was dead.
Round 7 against Mythic
Game 2, he tapped his mana wrong, leaving up Plains and Flooded Grove, and tried to Negate my Prismatic Omen. After it landed, Oracle of Mul Daya went to town and killed all of his relevant threats and mopped up his life total afterwards.
Round 8 against Job playing B/R/W Junk
Job is a friend of mine who usually works as a dealer but decided to battle in the PTQ, since he'd been playing his pet deck for a few weeks now. It was solid and had a decent Scapeshift matchup, which sucked. We could draw, but there was a slight chance he wouldn't make it. If everyone else drew, he would get eliminated, but almost every table played out, so he opted to take the draw when I offered it.
Top 8 against Naya
This match began ominously with a mulligan. I hadn't done that much on the day, with such consistent draws through Ponders and Preordains. My six-card hand was keepable but slow, which sucked, since his draw was quite fast. On the last turn of the game, I had to choose between going to one life from his attack, blocking his Fauna Shaman with my Oracle and going to three, and chumping his Vengevine and going to five. If I got to untap, I was probably going to win, but still having Oracle made it certain. However, I didn't want to die to Cunning Sparkmage, which I knew was in his deck, so I blocked the Fauna Shaman and went to three. He then showed me Ajani Vengeant. Bah.
Game 2, I mulliganed into Prismatic Omen, Cryptic Command, and four lands on the play. I figured it was keepable, but I'd definitely need to draw some gas to win. I drew a Path to Exile for his Vengevine, as well as a Wargate on turn 5 after he had Pridemage to kill my Omen, so I fetched another Omen. His Tectonic Edge wasn't helping either, but I had a chance to win if I untapped and topdecked. However, his attack sent me to one life, and he showed me...Cunning Sparkmage. To be honest, that put me on tilt a little. The man who just beat me did so with Cunning Sparkmage, after game one, with a deck that played no creatures that died to its ability sans Basilisk Collar.
A bit disappointed, I left the area, collected my box, and prepared to get meat-drunk on Texas de Brazil. I know I probably made a mistake to lose that game, but I was so blinded by losing that I just needed to clear my head before I could figure out what I did wrong. Later, I found a few things I could have done differently that would have given me a chance to win, and I was a little sore about my performance, but it just goes to show yet again that the deck is just insane, and most losses come from pilot error. I rarely felt behind, and my deck could get me out of almost any jam.
Later that night, we headed out to a bar for some drunken Karaoke with Magic friends, including Brad Nelson, Brian Kibler, Patrick Chapin, Efro, Paulo Vitor, Martin Juza, Conley Woods, Sam Black, OwenT, and many more. We had about 30 people in our group, and all of us were getting hammered, since we were cabbing it back to the hotel. Kali got the party started with "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys, and I followed that up with some Journey ("Don't Stop Believing!"). We had an amazing time, and I would just like to say thanks to everyone that made it possible. Kali doesn't get to travel much, and it means a lot to her when the Magic community embraces us for a night of drunken shenanigans.
Later that night, we headed back to our hotel room, expecting to find a few people asleep, only to see a room full of people drafting. I stumbled around, looking for a spot to sit and heckle people, since that's what I like to do whether I'm drunk or not (was definitely drunk this time, though). Kali drank some more, and we finally fell asleep around 3:30 am. We caught our flight with no delays, landed in Atlanta, and headed home shortly after. It was a stellar weekend, and I thank everyone who made it as enjoyable as it was.
Next week, I'll be going over what deck you should play for your last few Extended PTQs, and it's not about Wargate (shocker!). Thanks for reading!
strong sad on MOL