How do I say this?
Azorius is the greatest.
I was looking forward to the Grand Prix last weekend for two reasons:
1) It was a Standard Grand Prix, and I was sick of my near misses.
At Grand Prix Orlando and Grand Prix Minneapolis, I was 11-1 with U/W Delver both times, and both times I failed to make Top 8. I was eager to put up another Top 8 and potentially another win. Recently, my "win-and-in" rounds had become "lose-and-outs," and that was mostly frustrating.
While this marks my ninth Grand Prix Top 8, it's more of a lifetime achievement award than anything. You play enough tournaments and eventually you'll make enough correct decisions and get lucky enough to find yourself in Top 8.
Of course, there was also the second reason:
Costa was involved in some game of casual Magic with his friends from home, but I like the kid and we don't get to hang out often. After presenting those points to him, he declined, but I don't give up easily and can be very persuasive. A few minutes later and we were on our way.
At the restaurant, we were eventually joined by The Ben Seck and Nicole Leister. Naturally, the conversation turned to Magic, and Josh was reliving his Pro Tour Avacyn Restored glory days. We talked about the pro point changes, how someone who just finished third in a Pro Tour only had two byes for the Grand Prix, and how he wasn't qualified for the next Pro Tour.
Cho spoke of his Top 4 match against Alex Hayne and the things he could have done differently, but that it ultimately wouldn't have mattered very much. Gaudenis, his finals opponent, was a horrible matchup, so there was probably no way Cho was going to win the PT. I pointed out that if Cho made the finals, at least he'd be qualified for the next PT, but Cho said he'd still be a point short.
I was incredulous. How does someone who makes the finals of a Pro Tour not get gravy trained? Costa disagreed and noted that in order to be gold level you need 25 points and the finals gives 26. Cho insisted it was 24, and Costa disagreed. A sly smile crept across Cho's face, he extended his hand, and asked, "Slap bet?"
Costa extended his hand, immediately retracted it before it reached Cho's, and then extended it again, blurting, "Yeah! No. Yeah!" in quick succession. As their hands came together, a wager was struck.
I quickly looked it up on my phone, paused for dramatic effect, and asked Cho which side he was arguing for, again for dramatic effect. Cho was correct, as second place in a Pro Tour awards 24 pro points, exactly one point short of promoting him to gold for the entirety of the next season.
Costa was shaken but eventually composed himself. That didn't last long though. All the talk of what he was going to do about school and his exams or how we were all going to try to get home through a hurricane was quickly met with, "It doesn't matter for you Costa. You're going to get slapped so hard you'll die."
I had abandoned my friend at the tournament site, as he had the gall to still be in the tournament. As I ran back to find him, I kept running into friends of Costa, such as Matty Gemme and Ben Friedman, and hurriedly told them of Costa's impending doom. They couldn't believe that a rational kid like Costa would make such an outrageous bet, but it made sense to me.
Kids these days think they know everything. For whatever reason, Costa got it in his head that the number was 26, not 24, and refused to believe that what he believed was reality wasn't actually the case. It's easy to trick ourselves into believing that everything we think is true actually is.
Everyone was looking forward to the following day, when we would film Costa being slapped in front of a live studio audience. In the afternoon, when the time finally came, Cho informed me it was time and I should round up whoever I wanted.
Cho found Costa and led him outside, but I could see the realization slowly set on Costa's face. The GP hadn't gone well, he had to make it home through a hurricane, which would surely be difficult and stressful, and he had exams coming up that he had been neglecting. Cho knew Costa would do anything to not make his situation even worse, so he offered a buyout.
Costa could postpone the slap in exchange for two slaps at the next Grand Prix—one with the right hand and one with the left hand in an order of Cho's choosing. Despite nearly doubling his pain and humiliation, Costa accepted.
While it was a letdown for some, Cho knew the anticipation would slowly eat away at Costa and the mental damage would far outweigh any physical pain Cho could deliver with a single slap.
Nicole Leister, the elected Slap Bet Commissioner, ruled the buyout was acceptable, and we were left with nothing but anticipation.
For weeks leading up to the GP, I tried out new U/W variants like the Snapcaster-less Archer list, Delver, and U/W/R Midrange. Then Adam Prosak posted his beautiful "Flash" deck, and I knew I had my deck.
Unfortunately, I had my deck about two weeks too soon. Flash was doing well, so players were adapting by adding Caverns to their decks, and I knew that I would have to adapt as well. For a while, I considered splashing red for Pillar of Flame and Izzet Staticaster, which would allow me to side out my counterspells for removal.
In the end, I decided the mana was a little too wonky and played what I was doing well with.
I stuck with the Rest in Peaces, as they continually overperformed. However, I did cut one because everyone seemed to be playing three or four, which meant Reanimator would probably be on the decline.
Angel of Serenity was added because I needed a big threat to kill Reanimator once I had Rest in Peace in play or when they sided in Rest in Peace against me. It was also pretty insane against G/W, which looked like a very good deck in the metagame.
Righteous Blow was my answer to the very aggressive G/W decks and Mono-Red Aggro, but it didn't solve all the problems. Thundermaw Hellkite, Hellrider, and Loxodon Smiter are all very good against Flash, but there aren't great answers to those cards. My theory was that Righteous Blow could buy you enough time that their "finishers" wouldn't be good enough. Counterspells and Azorius Charms are pretty good against cards like that after all.
My list was getting to the point where there wasn't much I could do with it. I figured out what cards I would consider playing depending on what I expected to play against and what I wanted to beat, but I couldn't figure that out until the Grand Prix was closer.
Thankfully, there are numerous things I can spend my time on. Unfortunately, sometimes those time sinks become something much more. On a whim, I bought Pokemon Black 2, despite not having played a Pokemon game in over a decade and being convinced that the game would be exactly as I remembered the originals.
In fact, the game was entirely as I remembered it: highly addicting.
Within two days, I had defeated the Elite Four, moved on to the post-game, and logged over 30 hours. I realized that playing 30/48 hours was a bit excessive and that I had a problem.
Cho drove down from the DC area to Roanoke on the Wednesday before the event, filmed an upcoming Versus video, and stayed the night so we could head out Friday morning. We went to dinner with Todd and Kali Anderson, who had the opposite version of Pokemon, so naturally we started trading at dinner.
Since Kali wasn't very far into her game, I only got to pick up some low level guys that I hadn't caught yet while I shipped some sick ones. Kali only uses "cute" Pokemon and was very upset that I don't give my Pokemon nicknames. From her, I picked up such hits as Ratsy, Batsy, and, of course, Blargh.
When our waiter came over, Cho attempted to make fun of Kali and me for playing Pokemon like children, but he needed to work on sizing up his audience. Our incredibly nerdy looking waiter was a huge Pokemon fan, brushed off Cho, and offered to trade with us.
Early Friday morning, our trusty Chouffeur took me, Kaitlin, and our new puppy Talia on a journey.
Talia (not Thalia) came into existence because of Cho's new-ish puppy, Bruce. Kaitlin and I knew we would be getting a puppy shortly after he did and that our puppy would certainly be Bruce's sworn enemy. Bane was the obvious name, but Kaitlin found an adorable female puppy that she just had to have and I couldn't say no.
Naming her Selina was a downright ridiculous idea, but Talia was perfect.
We brought Talia with us because Kaitlin's parents were going to drive up and hang out with her for a day. They hadn't met Talia yet so Kaitlin thought it would be a good idea. Overall, Talia's been relatively chill, so we didn't think a seven-hour car ride would be too painful.
Once we fired up Cho's GPS, we saw that the trip was going to be five and a half hours instead of the seven that Google told me previously. I wanted to thank the GPS, but Cho informed me that she didn't have a name. I told him to come up with one since you need to address it by name when you're thanking them for getting you out of a tight spot or when you yell at them for being unbelievably terrible and getting you lost.
He named her Blargh.
Cho correctly used "Game!" in that situation, but I just wanted to thank our new friend Blargh for looking out for us.
*Aside on Magic Lingo*
I mostly hate lingo, but occasionally I act like a Magic hipster. After I created the word "durdle," Gabe Walls spread it to Luis Scott-Vargas, and then suddenly everyone was using it. At that point, I hated it and stopped using it myself.
Usually, I would avoid using such terms as "DI" or "gas" or "casually" because I think they sound stupid. "Kold" might be the only one I've ever actually liked. At some point, they always seem to slip into my vocabulary. This whole "game" thing is no different.
At Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Tom Martell, William "Baby Huey" Jensen, and Owen Turtenwald were spouting off "Game!" after every little thing that happened. However, it's effective as lingo because it's so quick and to the point. Anyone can use it in any situation, so I fully expect it to hit the mainstream soon. People like AJ Sacher and Martin Juza use it incessantly, and it won't stop there.
Combining it with a hashtag is super annoying as well.
Some bad examples:
"Airport power nap. #game"
"Kept my opener. #game"
"Turn 1 Judge's Familiar. #game"
A decent one:
"My opponent missed four Thragtusk triggers, realized it, then missed another one. #game"
Blargh was indeed correct, and we arrived much earlier than we expected. Our hotel was a hipster paradise with weird neon decorations and a very modern atmosphere. You've probably never heard of it, but it was the Aloft Hotel. They allowed pets and even gave Talia a doggy bag containing a milk bone and mini tennis ball.
Once we checked in, we headed to the site. I purchased the sleep-in special since I figured I wouldn't get much sleep with Talia around. My decklist only had to be turned in before the player meeting, but I decided to fill it out right there. Those last few hours before turning in your decklist tend to do crazy things to you. People will switch cards, strategies, and even entire decks when given the opportunity to chicken out of something.
By turning in my decklist early, I didn't get the opportunity to talk to other players who were on similar decks, but I got to turn my brain off. Talia woke me up once during the night, and I woke up again when Cho's alarm clock went off, after which I couldn't fall back asleep.
It didn't help that Cho stepped on Talia in the morning, causing her to (rightfully) begin a whining fit. It was fine, though, as Talia later peed all over Cho's bed while playing on it.
While a good idea in theory, the sleep-in special was mostly useless, although who knows what kind of garbage I might have ended up playing had I been allowed to change cards?
Round 4: U/W/R Control
He had some miracles, some real sweepers, some big finishers like Drogskol Reaver. Flash is a leaner, meaner control deck that can get ahead on tempo, card advantage, and land drops, so typically it's a huge favorite.
Brad managed to trick Josh Utter-Leyton into running his Reanimator brew, and they both had camera feature matches. While Wrapter was busy nut drawing Sam Black (in a bad matchup no less) with turn 3 Angel of Serenity, Brad was casting Unburial Rites targeting Deathrite Shaman. Sometimes that's the difference between being considered the third best player in the United States and being considered washed up.
Round 5: Esper Control
I wanted to win this round, or rather I really didn't want to lose and winning would be a nice side benefit of not losing.
When I was testing for the Grand Prix, I played against several similar decks, got a feel for the matchup, and made some adjustments based on the expectation of several American players playing similar decks. As I noted earlier, Flash normally has a tempo and card advantage edge over the slower control decks, but Esper can beat you with Nephalia Drownyard almost by itself.
That's basically what happened in game 1, although I thought I had him. I used Angel of Serenity to get back my fallen Angel sisters and started throwing dudes with Pikes at him. On the turn before I was going to get milled out, he was dead on board. I didn't have it locked up, but it was close enough.
Even if he had something, I could use Think Twices and Azorius Charms to draw through my remaining eight cards looking for my last counterspell. As it turned out, he had a Snapcaster Mage for Ultimate Price with only four mana left. If I found the Syncopate, I could Unsummon the Snapcaster out of the way, but I could only draw five cards and Syncopate was the next one.
Thankfully, the next two games were easier. He tried to get me with some Geists out of the sideboard, but that went poorly for him.
Round 6: U/W Flash
My opponent was choked on mana both times while my 25 lands carried me to victory.
Round 7: Mono-Red Aggro
Round 8: Brad Nelson, Reanimator
On one hand, Brad is a friend of mine.
On the other hand, he thought his deck was sweet, but I thought it was a pile of blargh.
I didn't want to lose here either. Unfortunately, my only out to Lingering Souls plus Gavony Township in game 1 was my Angel of Serenity or Restoration Angel plus Runechanter's Pike, but I didn't find any of those cards.
In the second game, I mulliganed, cast Rest in Peace, Supreme Verdict, and then Angel of Serenity. Despite playing no other relevant spells, I would have won had he not peeled Craterhoof Behemoth on the last possible turn.
Round 9: G/W
He was pile shuffling very methodically, so I put him on some sort of blue deck which led to me keeping Runechanter's Pike, Think Twice, Moorland Haunt, and four other lands on the play. Unfortunately, he was G/W Aggro, and I got annihilated.
The second game was much easier, and in the third game he missed a couple of important triggers that would have made all the difference.
A few rounds earlier, Cho and I had been discussing the new trigger policies and our differing points of view. He thought they were mostly stupid and basically let his opponents have everything. If they missed a trigger, I wouldn't say anything, but if they remembered it in the same turn cycle, I'd usually let them have it but tell them they only get one.
On turn 4, my opponent cast Thragtusk, did some other stuff, and then noted that he gained five life. I decided to let him have it but didn't warn him of anything, turned to Cho who was sitting beside me, and rolled my eyes.
I was in such a bad spot that I was Azorius Charming his Thragtusk just to not die, hoping to peel Angel of Serenity, Sphinx's Revelation, or Supreme Verdict so I could get back in the game. When I Charmed, he didn't put a Beast into play. The next turn, I Charmed again, and again he didn't put a Beast into play. From there on, my lines of play got a lot easier, as I realized that he probably wasn't going to be making Beasts anytime soon.
Once another trigger was missed, the crowd started murmuring, and a floating judge did his best to keep everyone quiet so my opponent wouldn't hear them. Once he finally realized it, it was too late, and I had taken control.
Awkwardly enough, if I had told him that he got the first life gain trigger but needed to be more careful in the future, he probably would have made Beasts and killed me. Normally those types of things happen in the opposite way, so it was interesting to be on the beneficial side of it for once.
To his credit, my opponent never forgot a life gain trigger, and he took the whole ordeal in stride. He even had me sign a Beast token the next day, which he kept visible at all times so he didn't miss any more triggers.
I was excited to get back to our hotel and watch The Dark Knight Rises, which I obviously saw in the theater but wanted to see again. First, I went out to dinner with Brian Kibler and two friends of mine from Atlanta, George and Gina.
Kibler brought his iPad into the restaurant, so Cho and I demoed SolForge. Now, I don't really like things. Most videos people send me aren't funny, and I enjoy JRPGs but basically hate every other game. For the most part, things other people enjoy don't entertain me.
SolForge is something that I think could truly be great. Even just playing the demo decks with a UI that has a lot of kinks to work out, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Most of the problems I brought up were things that they hadn't fixed on the demo but planned to, so overall I had no major qualms. Y'all will have to check it out when it's released.
In addition to blurting out buzzwords at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Huey and Owen were avid railbirds of Jon Finkel, going so far as to yell "Jonny #$%@in' Magic!" at every opportunity. Kibler should now be known as "Brian #$%@in' SolForge" or, if you prefer, "Brian Blarghin' SolForge."
Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the hotel it was too late to watch Batman and expect to stay awake for its entirety. Instead, we watched Casino Royale, a movie that I actually hadn't seen. I'd heard good things about Skyfall and wanted to see the other Bond films before I watched that one, so it seemed like a good idea.
Whoever said that movie is good is an idiot. All he does is play poker and screw things up.
Round 10: U/W/R Midrange
I won the first game but mulliganed to four in the second. I stopped his attempts at early aggression but flooded out, never drawing a Sphinx's Revelation for the come-from-behind victory. Most of the reason I even had that time was because he sided in Rest in Peace and Supreme Verdict against me, taking a role he shouldn't have been interested in.
The third game was more of the same. He tried to kill me but eventually ran out of gas because he was drawing useless cards. Finally, he cast Sphinx's Revelation into Sphinx's Revelation and protected Geist of Saint Traft long enough to kill me.
As the pairings went up, I was chatting with Sam Black, and he told me he lost his round because his opponent was going to attack him down to five, which would allow him to Faith's Shield and attack for the win. Instead, his opponent drew Gavony Township and killed him. I ripped on him a bit by telling him he was the first person I had ever heard of that lost because their opponent drew something that killed them when they were going to win, and then went to my match.
Sam ended up sitting next to me and was chatting up his opponent, exchanging stories of their last round. He told his "bad beat" story, and one of the guys immediately started laying into Sam.
"Wow! Your opponent drew something that killed you! That's insane! I've never heard of that happening before!"
Round 11: G/W Aggro
Game 1 was awkward. As he was attacking me on what ended up being the final turn, I asked how big his guy was, to which he replied, "Seven." I was at eight, so I made a Moorland Haunt token and chump blocked, but he had Selesnya Charm to kill me. As I was scooping up my cards, I realized that his guy was only six power, but it was too late.
I was about to Angel of Serenity away his board if I didn't concede, but there was nothing I could do after the fact. It strengthened my resolve; I tightened up and won the next two games.
Round 12: Mono-Red Aggro
I lost game 1 in convincing fashion but rallied back and won the next two. Overall, the matchup is pretty easy and not very interesting.
Sometime on Day 2, I was entering the convention hall while hugging the wall, about to turn left, and almost slammed into Jackie Lee, who was on the other side also hugging the wall. We'd been at a bunch of the same tournaments but had never actually had a conversation; that near miss was enough to spark one.
Round 13: Jackie Lee, G/W Aggro
After never talking before, it made sense that we'd run into each other twice in the same tournament.
In the first game, she kept a very good hand with only a Sunpetal Grove for mana. If she'd had a second land at any point, I probably would have been overwhelmed. Instead, her draw was just awkward enough for me to kill her with Runechanter's Pike on an Angel. The second game I stabilized at six but died to two Faith's Shields off the top when she had no hand.
I thought I was going to lose game 3 from the start to the very end. She didn't overextend and played very tight against my tricks, and I was stuck on four lands for a while. Eventually, I was able to overload Cyclonic Rift, untap, and cast Angel of Serenity. The first one was Selesnya Charmed, but the second one stuck.
After that, I whittled her down with my Angel, careful not to drop her to five or less so I wouldn't get Faith's Shielded right out of the tournament. It was unlikely she had what would have been her third copy, but I had a feeling. Normally, I don't listen to those gut feelings and end up losing because of it, but this time I went with it.
When I was at four, she finally got all of her guys at four power thanks to Gavony Township and sent in the team, which was one more creature than I had. She left one mana open and knew about the Unsummon in my hand, my only trick. At that point, it was blatantly obvious she had Faith's Shield and didn't think I had a second trick.
My only out if she had Faith's Shield was to block, Unsummon my Restoration Angel, recast it Blinking Augur of Bolas, and hope to find one of my two Azorius Charms (for lifelink) or my last Sphinx's Revelation in the top three. Of course, I had some backdoor outs with cantrips, but it was the only thing I could do.
I managed to hit Sphinx's Revelation and kill her on the swing back.
Round 14: G/W Aggro
I somehow managed to win game 1 despite him having two Mayor of Avabrucks for a long time. Thankfully, Flash is a tricksy deck. The second game he nut drew me with Champion, Thalia, and Mayor and even if I'd had a Supreme Verdict, I wouldn't have gotten a turn 5.
In the final game, I got to cast Supreme Verdict twice, which his deck was very weak to.
After that, I was 12-2 and could hopefully draw into Top 8. I knew one person was going to get paired down, and I hopehopehoped it wasn't me. It had been so long since I'd made Top 8 of a Grand Prix, and I'd finally stopped choking on my "lose-and-out" matches, so it felt good regardless of what happened.
In the end, I was able to draw, while Sam Black was the lottery "winner."
On one hand, Sam got paired down and lost to a miser's Supreme Verdict.
On the other hand, Pat Cox made Top 8.
On the other hand, Brian Eason defeated Pat Cox and made the finals.
Wait, these are all the same hand. Let's try that again.
On one hand, Brad beat me in the tournament with his joke deck.
On the other hand, I finished higher in the tournament than he did.
There, that's better! One more.
On one hand, Brad lost two win-and-ins.
On the other hand, Martin Juza won the other Grand Prix playing Brad's deck.
Wait, those are the same again. Damn it, I suck at this.
Before the Top 8 started, I did a couple interviews and sat down to fill out my Top 8 profile. As I looked around, mentally noting what each player was playing, I realized that the entire Top 8 was bad matchups for me. None of them were unwinnable, but they were certainly decks I'd rather not play against. It was going to be a tough road...
Top 8: Matt Keene, B/R Zombies
His deck looked excellent, up to and including his four maindeck Knight of Infamy. Jon Bolden also had four maindeck Knight of Infamy. Apparently, you want that guy in your deck if you're playing Zombies.
First game, I mulliganed, and he destroyed me. Second game, he mulliganed to five and destroyed me.
In game 2, I kept a three lander with two Augurs, both of which missed and sent several lands to the bottom of my deck. I continually missed land drops, but he wasn't doing much except Searing Spearing my Augurs, which I was more than fine with. In the end, he found some action while I was struggling to make anything happen.
It was over very quickly.
I hung out for a little bit with people like Cho and Luis when a random guy interrupted our conversation and asked Cho to take his picture with Luis. As he walked away, Cho turned to me and chuckled. Knowing him, I knew something was up, and I wasn't disappointed.
He told me later, "Three times this weekend I was talking to someone like Luis and someone asked me to take a picture of them. Each time I just took a picture of myself and gave it back without them noticing."
Josh Cho, ever the prankster.
After that, we decided the best course of action was to high tail it outta there. Overall, it was a fine trip, obviously capped off by my finish. It kind of seems like I can only Top 8 the smaller Grand Prix, but I guess I'm ok with that.
Talia had been a good puppy, but she was excited to go home.
Going forward, I have a lot of ideas for how to update the Flash archetype, but that will have to wait until next week!
Matt Costa: I'm sorry that it's come to this, but we're going to alert the Slap Bet Commissioner on your no show. You can't hide forever. On your tombstone it will say "Got Slapped So Hard He Died."
Reid Duke: Every time I want to tell you you're a surgeon using a machete, you go and make a Top 8. Quit winning because you're making me look wrong.
Jackie Lee: I assumed you were cool. You are. Keep doing what you're doing.
Brad Nelson: Obviously it stung, but you did good man. You have reason to be proud, and you should be. Your deck still sucks though.
Josh Cho: Thanks for everything. You're the best.
Kaitlin Lindburg: <3
@G3RRYT on Twitter