I rarely ever write tournament reports. I haven't liked reading them I haven't liked writing them; they never seem interesting enough.
The bad thing is I didn't do well in Pittsburgh this last week. The good news is the tournament had so many good stories that a tournament report had to be written.
There wasn't much time to test for Grand: Prix Pittsburgh with the Pro Tour around the horizon. Instead of spending hours on finding a deck we'd just have to theorize and go with it. It's a good thing the best in the world were around to help with the discussion… But was it good enough?
I wanted to play Caw-Blade just like most of the people in the test group. We were all camped out in Pittsburgh for the week testing Modern before the Grand Prix. This Grand Prix and Pro Tour was very important for me because the year was coming to an end and I had yet to get anything going in the form of Pro Points. Standard has always been one of my best ways to collect on these points so I really wanted a good finish.
The conversation about the tournament turned into how Mirran Crusader seemed very good right now. With U/B Control Birthing Pod and Valakut gaining rank this creature would be able to get under the opponents' defenses and get some serious damage done before the games got out of reach for the Blade.
The deck we decided to play is this:
I really liked this version of the deck — but without testing I couldn't really know what its weaknesses were. All I knew was that I wanted to equip Swords bash with Crusaders and get as many Pro Points I could get my hands on.
The night before a Grand Prix that precedes a Pro Tour is always fun. So many people you know are in the events people all across the globe and a sense of excitement is in the air. This is especially true with the Pro Tour being a brand-new format the way it is this time. People are talking about Modern Standard and of course drafts.
Patrick Chapin came up to me while I was watching Wrapter drafting and asked me if I wanted to get in one. I told him sure but didn't really want to do the work setting one up. He left and I thought he was getting bodies to start it up.
Ten minutes later this guy he was with said that the draft was happening and Paulo told me to tell you to find your third. I thought this meant that Chapin and this guy wanted to do battle and he confirmed this. I found Yuuya Watanabe and Paulo and got ready to draft. Chapin? Was nowhere to be found.
This guy said Chapin wanted to draft with him so I gave Chapin a call.
Brad: Where are you? Draft!
Chapin: I left the site.
Brad: I set this up and you're not here?
Chapin: Call you back.
By this time the guy had found another person before I got a call from Pat so it was getting awkward. Pat called back and said he was on his way so now I find a fourth to even it up. We sat down in the correct spots and waited for Pat.
Pat got there sat down got a draft set and cracked his pack before realizing that he wasn't on my team. The teams also looked very unbalanced since it was Ben Seck Chapin and two people I didn't know against Yuuya Shuhei Paulo and I. I guess this whole time he was trying to draft with me and this friend of his got everything confused for both of us. Chapin was somewhat surprised by what happened but it really did look like I conned him onto the other team.
We drafted and ended up pushing anyway. It was a fun draft in the end but it was time to go to sleep.
The next day was tournament time and I was ready to do battle. I always feel really good with Caw-Blade in my hands.
Round 4: U/B Control
It's turn 5 of game two. I had two Squadron Hawks in play as well as four lands; one of them was Tectonic Edge. My opponent had Jace Beleren and five lands untapped. His Jace was bleeding out from the Hawks and would soon be dead. It's only been a Howling Mine for the whole game.
There was an interesting play I could try to make that has zero downside: I've already Preordained this turn so I have three lands up. I had lands in hand to make my drop as well as a Spell Pierce and Mana Leak. I won't even think about countering a Consume the Meek since next turn is Titan mana and hasn't played any spells to tell me it won't be there.
The play was to tap both colored sources leaving Tectonic Edge up all alone. This might get my opponent to Edge my Edge letting my Celestial Colonnades matter in the late game. This play shouldn't benefit my opponent — except that he'll think it's the smart play thanks to the way I tapped. I then just played my land after the Edge resolved and still get to Pierce. I don't need Mana Leak any more because he doesn't have six mana on his board. This just lets me keep the land count down while I try to kill his Jace.
This play ended up working for some reason and I go on to beat him. I don't know if I would have lost but it was simply a free roll that worked. I really liked the play since it has never come up before.
Round 6: Oscar (Edgar) Flores
It was really cool to see this group of kids pop up from the StarCityGames.com Opens around the US. I met Edgar after I already knew a ton about his Magic accomplishments. That's a rare thing when you're going to almost every Grand Prix and Pro Tour!
After meeting the kid I found out I kind of liked him. He seemed like a nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. Obviously he needed to learn a couple things here and there but don't we all?
This was going to be fun. He's in the lead of the Player of the Year race for the StarCityGames.com Opens and is a leading man in that tournament series. I was glad to welcome him to the big leagues. His format my tournament.
The games went exactly the way I wanted them to. Game one he made a small mistake that many people make for some reason: I was on the play and didn't play a Squadron Hawk on turn 2. I hold up two lands and pass.
In the old days this meant I most likely had Mana Leak. The new twist to this is that I could also have a Phantasmal Image and am waiting for his birds to get my own. (If you Image you can only get three hawks. Remember this!)
He had Mana Leak and Spellskite in hand. He decided to hold up mana for a spell that I might play. This was correct. The only problem is he valued getting the Spellskite into play a bit too much after that. He finally played it on turn 4 and I was then able to play a fifth land Tectonic Edge one of his lands that were up and resolve a Mirran Crusader in my second main phase. That Crusader got me to the finish line and he was left with multiple dead Mana Leaks in hand.
Game two was more of a straight-up bashing. I got Titan into play and he followed suit. The problem is I also had a Sword and a Phantasmal Image which let me blow up four lands of his that turn and deal him eight damage. Edgar untapped with three lands and no outs.
I will continue to enjoy beating him as much as possible now because I feel this kid will be a real threat in the next year…. Once he learns how to play Limited of course.
Round 8: Adam Yurchick
Adam is one of the best guys on the tour. We haven't spent quite enough time together to be called good friends but we always enjoy being around each other. I've also played Adam four other times in professional tournaments. We are 2-2.
The game was me drawing lands and playing Hawks while Adam sent his Jace higher and higher. Both of us were fine with this since I needed the cards and he needed the time. I would send enough Hawks at Jace that he would have to tick it up or I could kill it. This meant a lot of split attacks.
Attacking a planeswalker like Jace Beleren can be very tricky at times. You don't want your opponent drawing extra cards but yet you want to kill them. I think the most important thing to remember is how important that card is going to be. It's not a question that you can always answer correctly but is better than taking an inevitable line of always or never attacking them. In this situation I wanted the cards as much as he did but I also wanted to pressure him. Attacking the Jace until it died seemed like a poor choice. I would get the value out of him ticking it up as well as dealing him damage.
The problem with this is that I was only drawing lands. I had four Hawks in play and one Dismember in hand. He Probed me earlier to see nothing but since then I had three fresh cards.
At the end of his turn he was at twelve life and had five lands in play with a Spellskite ready to protect his combo. I had five lands in play one a Celestial Colonnade and that Dismember in hand. I point it at Spellskite and he had the Dispel. I untapped and had options.
- I can clock him with hawks for three turns.
- I can attack with Colonnade and threaten two turns.
- I can attack Jace and kill it.
The only reason to activate Colonnade is to pray he doesn't have anything. I can still bluff for a turn since he'd wait for as long as he can. I don't threaten lethal next turn if I don't attack with Colonnade this turn since he can tap it with Deceiver Exarch on that turn.
I spent multiple minutes thinking through my plays until I decided to try to read him. I'm not able to read someone perfectly most of the time but Adam is different. I might be able to since I've played against him so many times and have gotten used to his play style. I decided to look at his eyes for the answer.
I looked up and saw him not looking at me. He was instead looking frantically all around the board trying to piece together information. This did not look like a person who had it all figured out. I knew this because most people will look at their opponents for reactions to what they're going to do if they have it all. Adam's wheels were still cranking. That means he didn't have it.
He looked up at me surprised I was staring at him and I just activated the Colonnade to send eight at his face. He untapped drew all the cards he could and conceded.
Game three was a very close one that I wound up taking because of his very weak draw. I won't say that I outplayed him in either of the sideboarded games; I'll just admit that I got lucky and move on.
Round 9: Joshua Wagener
Josh is an opponent who was a big stepping stone in my career last year. I played him in the semi finals in D.C. on my way to my first (and only) win in a Magic tournament. Obviously this tournament was my favorite of all of them and holds huge sentimental value to me.
I remembered the conversation I had with Josh in that match and used it to try to get a feel for what he was playing. He tried to use mind games on me in that event but that didn't really work. I also knew he didn't play much and he made that very clear.
I put him on Mono-Red and kept a hand with Dismember Squadron Hawk and Sword of War and Peace. Every burn spell he played was at a Hawk — until big daddy Sun Titan hit the table. I took the game and match since losing to Mono-Red in two post-sideboarded games in a row is somewhat difficult.
Round 10: Yuuya Watanabe
Are you serious?!
Not only was I paired up but I had to play against the hottest player in Magic right now. He was on his game and fresh off a win. Luck skill and pretty much everything were on his side right then.
We were in a somewhat of a mirror match except he had Blade Splicers where I had Mirran Crusader. I kept a land-light hand with no Hawk and two Preordains. I searched for lands but failed to find many while he kept a “double-Island Inkmoth Nexus” hand. I know this because he played a Sword on turn 2 off of those lands. He got out of it before I do and we are off to game two.
Game two is where I kept a hand I thought was fine. It was three lands two Preordains and two Swords. This wasn't very good but it also wasn't a mulligan if I could find a Phantasmal Image or Squadron Hawk. I found neither and wound up losing to Yuuya.
Round 11: Gerry Thompson
It was exciting to get to play against Gerry in an event. I'd never done it before but love playing good players — especially in the Caw-Blade mirror. Our games were taped on GGslive and I would suggest watching them when they get put online. It was a very great match that involved way too many situations to talk about all of them. Gerry made a few small mistakes that were hard to see but they ended up deciding the match.
Round 14: Conrad Kolos
I was 9-4 at the time fighting for the last pro point I could get my hands on. It was sad that I started the day at 8-1 and now had to 3-0 just to get one of those damn Pro points. They are so much more difficult to get this year than last. I ended up with 66 last year and if I could trade Player of the Year for the extra sixteen points I would do it.
Conrad is a very strange guy. I don't know it's is just how he works or he actively cultivates it but he's sometimes a very unpleasant person to play against. Well actually he's been very unpleasant every time I played him.
We were having a friendly game — or at least I thought — making some jokes and laughing a couple times. He ended up with a Primeval Titan attacking me with an Oracle of Mul Daya in play. The board said that if there was a land on top of his library he won or he'd lose if there is not. I asked him while I was shuffling his library if the kill was already in his hand or on top of his library. This way we can slam it. There was no more play to the game. He kills me or I win.
He said nothing. The tension in the match spiked from casual laughs to him being stone-cold. I asked again to see if he didn't hear me and he responded with a sharp “We are in post-combat correct?” This was kind of annoying since he just turned all business; I felt disrespected. Of course I know what his list looks like and there isn't any hiding of information. He could have Lightning Bolt Rampant Growth or Explore in hand to get him the extra damage. He already showed me a Bolt to tell me it was in his deck so I didn't see how this question could affect the game.
He actually slow-rolled me in an almost irrelevant match? I was actually starting to like this guy.
I lost the match and the dream of getting any value from the event was all but dead. I might be able to win two more to sneak into the top 64.
Round 15: Christian Valenti
There's nothing exciting to say about this match but I do have things to say about the person. I won two games I had no business winning but played one of the nicest guys out there. Christian is what Magic should always be; he's nice both winning or losing and always has a good time. He didn't play amazingly in our games but still has the fire to make in big time. I hope all the best in the world for this guy because he reminds me why we all play this game: to be challenged and have a good time.
I won round 16 but my mind was pretty much shut off at this point. I was out of the money and just played a fun match trying to do cool things. Good thing I got away with it all and still won. Thank you Phantasmal Image for letting me do all the fun things I wanted to do.
This version of Caw-Blade wasn't perfect for this tournament. It didn't have enough hate for Splinter Twin and Mono-Red. I think Mirran Crusader was great but I needed more cards for those matchups in the sideboard. Ladies and gentlemen I think it's time to pull out the Kor Firewalkers.
The last story of the weekend (and my favorite of the tournament) was in Day One. It was almost time in the round. Player A was way behind and his opponent actually had lethal damage on board. He passed the turn letting the guy finish him off. He staying in the game makes me think that will end his tournament as well since he is dead on board and it is very obvious.
His opponent looks at the board confused since Player A is tapped out and he has exactly lethal minus the Creeping Tar Pit in play. His opponent activates the man-land anyway and sends everyone.
The problem? He doesn't pay mana for the land.
Player A trying to do anything to stay in the tournament calls a judge on the action. There's already a table judge because they are in turns and she has to survey the situation. What's the situation? Player A is fishing for a game loss.
I then look straight at the match slip — and sure enough it has writing all over it. I am guessing Player A's opponent has been making sloppy plays all game and this has frustrated him to the point of trying to steal a game win that he thinks he deserves. This happens all the time in Magic. I don't think I would do something like this ever but I don't fault anyone for trying.
Player A wanted a win and would try to do anything for it. You can say whatever you want about the situation — but the fact is that it's legal and people do it. I don't have any problem with this since it's up to the judges and Player A is not cheating. Doing something in front of the judges is infinitely better than cheating away from them.
The ruling gets a bit heated when Player A argues with the judge trying to get one more violation on his opponent's tournament for the win. His opponent seems very calm and answers the judge the best he can. You can tell he's not particularly sharp with tournament procedures.
Whenever someone's trying to do this to me I wind up feeling a bit heated myself. It's not a situation I want to be in and obviously I always want to win the ruling. My opponent may have a right to do this but I won't like him too much.
Anyway the ruling does not go through and Player A extends his hand in defeat. His opponent without missing a beat sighs in relief extends his hand and yells “Good games man!” He had a huge smile on his face. It was like he didn't even get that Player A was trying to steal a win from him. I burst out laughing at this and the crowd began to stare at me. It was so funny to see his opponent react that way since it has never happened like that. Ever. That was by far the funniest thing I saw all weekend.
The tournament was a bust but I'm staying positive for the Pro Tour. I want at least one top 8 under my belt this year. Wish me luck.