You're always the hero of your own story.
It's raining in Baltimore as Cedric Phillips and I stop by the 7-11 on our way back to the hotel after a long weekend in the booth. My neck and shoulders are killing me as the back-to-back 12 hour days were taking their toll. I put a giant Gatorade on the counter as I ponder what exactly makes the grape so fierce. The cashier tells me that the large Gatorades are 2 for 1. I've been conditioned to appreciate a good 2 for 1.
We get back to the room and flop onto our respective beds. He quickly turns on Sports Shouting, and I listen to the seemingly never-ending discussion of the Miami Heat as I drift off to sleep.
"Everyone knows what Lebron can do. And even though Wade's taken a step back to let Lebron run the team, Wade is still one of the top players in the game today. But the last piece of the 'Big Three' could easily be a liability against the veteran Spurs. Bosh just isn't the player that he used to be. You don't see him crashing the boards or dominating the paint like he used to – he's just settling for 18 footers instead of taking it inside and hitting them where it hurts. He's certainly lost a step, and he could end up costing this superstar team the title they likely deserve."
The Team Sealed Grand Prix in Providence was coming up, and Cedric and I would be playing together. We had tried to build a Team Sealed deck during our breaks, but only came up with two decks and a pile of unplayables with bad mana.
“We'd probably just give this to Tim and let him get scrappy; do what he does best.”
The delightful Tim Aten is our third, and I've seen what he can do with some mediocre creatures and overcosted tricks.
“I don't know, I might want the garbo deck; I'll try harder. Plus, I'll know if I ever win then we probably win the match.”
Cedric plays the game with emotion and intensity.
“I actually kind of want the aggressive deck if we have one, but I'll play whatever. This format seems hard.”
“Yeah. At least we're practicing this time.”
At one point last season, I was something like five for six on Day 2ing individual Grand Prixes, which may not seem that bad until you learn that I had only one finish in the money in the form of my Top 8 in Costa Rica. It's like making it to the Dark World but never beating any temples there, let alone killing Ganon. In San Jose, I also teamed with Tim, but our third there was the one and only Charles Gindy. Thirty teams made day two. Twenty teams cashed. Guess where we fell?
This time around, even though it happened in a very roundabout way and was never our intention, we had essentially traded a Pro Tour, National, and Team Limited Grand Prix Champion for a guy who wears a stuffed dog on his head and listens to Katy Perry.
But when Cedric puts on his game face, he's a force to be reckoned with. I've never seen someone whose sheer determination has such a direct correlation with their win rate. And, for Providence, Ced wanted to win. So did I. Even Tim showed a spark rarely seen from him these days. Hopes were high, and confidence was higher.
Both times I got picked up by these teams, it was as if old Ben Kenobi was taking me from Tatooine to blow up the Death Star and restore order to the Force; I was being given an opportunity to fulfill my destiny, and I planned on taking advantage of it. It didn't work out the first time, as our pool was quite poor and Tim's luck was even worse, but it was a new hope for both of us. Even though they had struck back, we were making our return.
I'm kind of the ugly duckling of the team. Tim Aten is known by everyone in the know as one of the greatest limited minds to ever grace the game as well as one of the best writers to have ever penned on Magic. Cedric has a Pro Tour Top 8 and is held in high regard by just about everyone in the community. I'm just sort of some kid who may have had some chops as an arrogant youth but am now just another grinder with some lingering negative connotations surrounding his name to much of the public. I obviously garner some amount of respect from much of the pro community, but the from-out-to-in peepers are very “What have you done for me lately?” to which I have no legitimate reply. Anything I have done has been from behind the curtain, and the one thing I certainly haven't done is the most important: win.
But this was my chance to get back onto the main stage: My chance to show that I could play like I knew I could; that I could play like Wade, or even Lebron. That I was the hero of time. That I could take down the Empire. That I would grow into a beautiful swan.
SaturdayOur pool's not great, but it's not horrible either. An Orzhov deck manifested itself quite quickly, and the quintessential green-based deck had good tools, though it left a couple of powerful Gruul and Simic cards on the sidelines. There wasn't really a hyper-aggressive deck in the pool, but the mana in the remaining colors allowed some flexibility and became a semi-aggressive UWR “Good Stuff” deck with a lot of reach. Tim played the scrappier GWbr deck in the middle seat, Cedric got the duck'n'punch beatdown deck, and I got the solid, if underpowered, Orzhov deck on the other side. Very attuned to our respective styles. You can't ask for much more in these things.
We had no byes, which isn't even surprising to me anymore. The Planeswalker Points system is just ineffectual and asinine, and since no one even seems to understand it, it feels like a crapshoot every time I sign up for a Grand Prix. This time we rolled a zero.
Cue whining sequence...
...Whining sequence initiated.
The whole day was a blur of misfortune; every game felt as a Sisyphean act of futility. We were like zombies on an escalator.
You know those days where nothing seems to go your way? This was like two of those days, back-to-back, for three people at once.
My pokemon would've been asleep all day, because I couldn't win a coinflip to save my life. Ced and I were mulliganing to oblivion every other game. Tim would stabilize boards and have a substantial advantage going into a late-game situation and just get out-peeled time and time again. Cedric couldn't make a fourth land drop on time to save his life. Every hand I pulled up would be two lands and all of my expensive cards, or five lands and two cheap spells. In games where maybe I mulled once on the play and needed a critical mass of cards with which to develop the board while strapped on mana, I would immediately draw Debt to the Deathless. Then, in other games where I had a strong start but petered out due to slight flooding and we entered a stand-offish board and got 25 cards deep into our decks, they would close my 30 life before I finished off their seven or whatever it was. Needless to say, Debt to the Deathless never showed up in these spots.
A Kafkaesque helplessness washed over me, and with every frustrating, heartbreaking loss the water kept rising. I would have long drowned had my team not been there to help me keep my head above water, both in terms of our tournament life as well as my waning mental status.
All of my removal was lining up horribly against the threats I faced. When they had an indestructible creature, I had Launch Party. When they had a Keyrune or Gideon, I had Martial Law. I would draw my Devour Flesh after being forced to play my One Thousand Lashes. I'd be getting buried by a Guildmage with Avenging Arrow in hand. Multiple times throughout the day, I would clear my opponent's hand with Mind Rot and/or Vizkopa Confessor and then land Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts only to have it Angelic Edicted or Killing Glared shortly thereafter. In a series of unfortunate events all weekend long, it seemed like we kept getting ourselves into 60+% spots and lost every single one of them. I'm sure there were spots where I could have sequenced better, and I know a punted one game outright. I was playing around something I had no business playing around, giving him an extra turn. Then I missed a gambit line that Ced pointed out afterwards that would have narrowed his three-outer to a two-outer, and he hit the one card in between. But we thankfully (?) would have lost the match even had I won as neither Ced nor Tim won their matches. I also know that I missed damage on at least two other occasions. I was not playing my best Magic, but I was also running horrendously.
Our squad of Sisyphus, Gregor Samsa, and Violet Baudelaire picked up a second loss somewhat early, after which the quality of our opponents was such that I knew how disappointing our showing had already been.
And that it was largely my fault.
Playing against people who were playing in their first Grand Prix, or who couldn't find a third so they brought their friend who doesn't really play, and so on was truly disheartening as these were our equals in the tournament. That may sound like a pompous thing to say, but we are supposed to be professionals. I was supposed to lead the team to victory against the best teams on the world, not struggle against new-coming amateurs. Again, I'm sure that comes off as arrogant, but recall how high our hopes and expectations were before the tournament, and look where we were. Despair.
One round in particular was especially damning. We had to win a couple more rounds to make the cut for Day Two. My opponent played Boros Mastiff off of two Plains, then spent his third turn missing a land drop and playing another Boros Mastiff. He drew a Mountain and I braced for impact as he tapped three, but an unexpected Azorius Cluestone is all he had to follow up. I had traded for one of the dogs and cast a Vizkopa Confessor to see his hand of Knightly Valor, Knightly Valor, a second Azorius Cluestone, a Court Street Denizen, and a Boros Battleshaper. Needless to say, I was able to take that one down. I mulliganed and missed land drops in Game Two while he put a Knightly Valor on an Ascended Lawmage, and we moved on to Game Three. He asked his teammate if he should mulligan, and was laughed at for even considering it, “Really? You want to mulligan that? Do you WANT to start with six cards?” And so on. My opponent reluctantly kept at the behest of his team captain, then proceeded to play Plains and Mountains for the first four turns, then drew and played a Boros Mastiff while missing his fifth land, then died shortly thereafter and showed me a fist full of uncastable Blue cards.
Meanwhile, Tim's opponent (the one who scoffed at the notion of mulliganing the hand with zero castables) had tried to cast Mugging mid-combat, then later, in response to another spell. He missed at least three Lobber Crew activations. He Pit Fight'ed a Nivix Cyclops (now a 4/4, for those keeping score at home) with an Advent of the Wurm token (the official scorekeeper ruled it an error). In Game Three, he cast a Mugging at the correct, legal point in the game, and their third head insisted that Tim take three damage.
“No, I just mugged his guy”
“Yeah, he takes three. It deals three to a creature and three to a player.”
“No, dude, I cast MUGGING”
We were helpless to do anything against the Punish the Enemy we now knew was in his hand, and die to it on the following turn. That third head was playing against Cedric and forgot to blink out his Obzedat, Ghost Council, immediately realized it and brushed it off by saying that it wouldn't matter. Cedric, casually playing Supreme Verdict colors, sighed and died to the mythic rare despite him missing another blink-out a couple of turns later. Thankfully, his greedy manabase caught up to him in Game Three and we were able to take down the Yakety Sax Cup match.
Playing for Day Two, we're paired against a team of young guns. The trio of Shahar Shenhar, Matt Costa, and Dave Shiels. If you aren't familiar, you should be. I get paired against the guy who won the Grand Prix of the same limited format a week after, Shahar Shenhar. I pull up an awesome opener, by far the best hand I'd seen all day. I was excited that I was actually going to get to play Magic in this crucial round, and that I even had a good shot of winning with my strong start. And then Shahar's curve was:
Turn 2: Zur-Ta Druid
Turn 3: Bloodfrayed Giant
Turn 4: Ember Beast
Turn 5: Chaos Imps
It looked like I was up against a pretty sick Gruul deck with some nice rares. Then I look over at Shiels vs Cedric, and we're facing down a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and a Molten Primordial. Yeesh. We had our work cut out for us. Tim had a nice start while Matt Costa stumbled, and then Costa mulliganed to oblivion and we got a quick one. Nearly as quickly, though, I flooded out against a solid draw from Shahar and the match was even.
Cedric had gotten a game with Ral Zarek and Tajic, but got Aurelia's Fury'ed out in the other, and they were on to Game 3. We agreed that we wanted more countermagic against his 5c Bombs deck, and worked together to come up with a configuration we were happy with. We took out our more expensive spells for another cheap threat and a pair of Essence Backlashes to try and get underneath him. It worked, as we curved decently and had counter back-up and lots of reach to close it out. We did it!
This type of sideboarding strategy is something I feel isn't done often enough, and I think it is a good place in which to improve your Limited game. We knew we couldn't beat his deck going long, so we assumed our role of the aggressor to the fullest, boarding out our five- and six-drops for twos and threes, and using Essence Backlash as a sort of finisher as well as a countermeasure for his more powerful cards. I did realize after, however, that we likely should have also brought in a Mindstatic for our Boros Cluestone, since we no longer have things to ramp to, don't have time to play it let alone crack it, and it doesn't assimilate into our new strategy whatsoever. Plus, Mindstatic can get Aurelia's Fury. Thankfully it didn't cost us, and we were on to Day Two!
Except we still had a bonus round to play. You see, with the tournaments getting so massive, there need to be more rounds, and for logistical reasons they will often have the first round of “Day Two” on Saturday night. This is particularly bad for people at X-2, because you can lose the bonus round and still be in Day Two, but technically eliminated from Top 8 contention. This happened to me in Atlantic City, and I just no-showed on Sunday morning.
You can watch our match here. Only the end of my second game was on the main camera, as they mostly followed Tim's match. The games are there in the corner, though.
We get paired against Shaheen Sorooni's squad, and get featured on camera for some reason at X-2. Nonetheless, I play against Ryan Spring, who I first met in Chicago over six years ago. After some quick catching up, we begin playing. He has a pretty clunky-looking Esper deck that had some pretty good cards but serious identity issues. Game one, I just have too many expensive cards and am stumbling on mana and can't deploy them quickly enough. Before conceding to his overwhelming board presence, I Mind Rot him to try and see some more cards out of his deck. I get to see a Runner's Bane in addition to a land.
Game two, I have a couple of lands and a Teysa in hand on a fairly stable board when I get hit with a Mind Rot from Ryan, and he quips, “This was a good idea”. I pitch the lands and then draw mediocre spells for a while, one mana short of casting Teysa and taking over the game. He can't attack through Zanikev Locust because I could scavenge onto my Guardian of the Gateless that was Runner's Baned, so I have some time. I eventually draw my seventh mana source in the form of a Cluestone, but thankfully the Orzhov guild champion was still in time to win the game. The commentators suggested I could scavenge onto my Teysa to cut the clock, but not only would this not have changed my clock, it also would have been unnecessarily all-in since he had to kill Teysa anyway. Oh, and on top of all that, it's illegal, as Teysa has protection from creatures, preventing the scavenge ability from being able to target her. But threatening to use it to kill the Runner's Bane was enough to swing the whole game in my favor and Teysa closed it out.
Quick aside: What is the deal with Runner's Bane? I mean besides being comically bad (I think it's pretty unplayable, a niche sideboard card at best, even though I know a lot of people like it). It's supposed to be a trap of some kind—a snare for the maze runners—so how come it's so ineffective against them? I mean, the art is Exava being tangled up, but that doesn't even work when she's unleashed, which she almost always is. It only works on the Simic thing, who's not even that good, and Tajic, who just shows off his Madcap Skills or Pursues Flight or puts on a Holy Mantle or whatever and shrugs the Bane off anyway.
And while we're on the subject, how is Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts the Orzhov maze runner? She's just sitting there on her throne looking scheming-like in her non-athletic apparel. I bet I could beat her in a race, and I get winded going up a flight of stairs.
But I digress.
Game three, my draw is quite strong and fairly aggressive, which is good as we are low on time. His initial draw counters mine fairly well with an Armory Guard and an Extorter of his own, but I still feel pretty far ahead with a slight advantage on board and my hand being two awesome spells.
If that's not enough premonition for you, you may need to work on your reading comprehension skills.
A backbreaking Mind Rot left me Hellbent, and a Runner's Bane on my Kingpin's Pet greatly neutered my offense. I never recovered from this turn and lost the game, losing the match for my team. And just like that, we were out of contention.
I was as disappointed as a weather-balloon enthusiast who spotted a UFO. And the doubt begins to surge through my being.
What if I didn't Mind Rot him at the end of the first game? Would he have still brought it in? I mean, he cut a counterspell against me, which seems wrong. Did I mis-evaluate the matchup, or my role in it? How was I supposed to sideboard? Could I have sequenced better to mitigate the effectiveness of his Mind Rot in game three? Should I have mulliganed in game one?
I can't figure it out. Why didn't I win? It wasn't supposed to happen this way. I was promised more. How could I let my team down like this?
A dreadful feeling begins to set in: Maybe I'm just an ugly duckling that grows up to be an ugly duck. Maybe I'm the kid who stayed on the moisture farm for another summer to help his uncle with the harvest. Maybe I'm the kid who laid in bed at home sick and gave away his butterfly net. Maybe—oh god, please, no—I'm Chris Bosh.
Team GP Issues
Before going into what happened on Sunday, I feel obligated to discuss the elephant in the room regarding the tournament structure of these Team Limited Grand Prix. In case you are unfamiliar, the way that Day Two works is that you draft in the classical 3v3 style, then play two rounds with the same decks against the same team. Then you draft against another team and do the same, and finally a third time before the cut to the elimination brackets. You may ask why you don't draft each round instead of playing with the same team twice, and the answer is just logistics: it simply takes too long to actually physically draft, so they shortcut that part by having you play with the same decks.
The problem with this is that, to a certain degree, the tournament is single elimination at that stage in terms of making the cut for Top 2 (as was the case for San Jose. Providence was cut to Top 4) or for money. This is a slight oversimplification, but it's essentially true. What this means is that it is in everybody's best interest to say that whoever wins the first round wins both for that pod. This is because splitting a pod 1-1 only serves to eliminate both teams from contention. This is what happened in San Jose, and there were very few teams who didn't utilize this method. Presumably most of those was made up of inexperienced tournament-goers who either didn't understand the circumstances or cared more about cashing than about making the cut and thus didn't agree to this arrangement, likely thinking they were being hustled. Nearly every team made the equilibrium decision to have the loser of the first round scoop the second, as was simply correct to do from a game theory perspective. This meant that Day Two of San Jose was essentially three rounds with hours of downtime for a majority of the teams. This is obviously unacceptable.
So they had to come up with a solution to this for Providence. Cutting to Top 4 instead of Top 2 was a good start, and at the very least forced some of the teams to play out both rounds in one of their three pods, as both sides could afford one loss. Even then, it was still optimal to do the one-match-set for two of the pods for all of those teams in contention. The worst part is that, even with all of these concessions to logistics at the expense of the overall integrity of the tournament, the finals of Providence still didn't finish until about 2 AM!
So what else was done for Providence? Instead of changing the demonstrably flawed structure from San Jose, all they did was make an announcement on Sunday morning stating that predicating a result on something outside of that round is grounds for disqualification. The “example” used for this was that you can't agree to have a match's result based on the result of the previous match. They tried to make this announcement sound imposing so people would be intimidated into playing out their rounds (which is not exactly the healthiest, most inviting tournament environment possible, I might add. Being forced to play at gunpoint tends to make games less fun, as a rule of thumb).
This obviously didn't work, not only because gamers are going to game any system that is gameable, technically legal or not, but also because the rules do not actually work the way that they tried to make it seem like they did. The announcement they made was purposefully incomplete in the hopes of seeming absolute, but the rules are actually not in complete alignment with what was implied.
While it is technically illegal for a team to offer (or a team to agree to) having one match dictate the result of the other, it is NOT illegal to say something along the lines of “If we lose the first round, we will concede the second, and we hope you will do the same.” As long as you are not offering anything or making a concrete agreement outside of the realm of the match at hand, then you can't be disqualified. This isn't even a loophole; this is just how the rules are laid out. If the other team says they understand and/or reciprocate, then you've accomplished the optimized one-match-set without breaking any rules. After multiple people inquired about the semantics required for legality with the head judge, things played out similarly to San Jose despite their feeble attempt to curb that exact behavior. All the announcement did (besides try to intimidate the uninitiated into falling into line) was showcase that it was an honor system; if a team “agreed” to do one-match-set, then lost, they were not obligated to concede the second round of the pod. This was always the case, so that is no shock, nor an effective deterrent. If someone valued being able to play out the second round despite losing the first over their reputation not becoming that of a scumbag, then they are and always were free to renege on the deal.
So now that I've told you that it isn't outright illegal, you may ask why it isn't. The answer is, I assume, that it is impossible to enforce. It's similar to how they can't ban intentional draws outside of Magic Online: people could just play their games out to draws, and judges can't make discretionary calls about how one player should have killed the other or vice versa. This is obviously falling into the category of shady dealings, but since it is so unenforceable, they must simply allow intentional draws. The same goes for trying to outright disallow the one-match-set, because what's to stop the team who lost the first match to coincidentally all mulligan to four in the second match? It's impossible to enforce, so it can't be in the rules. Some say that these interfere with the integrity of the tournaments, but the true threat to tournament integrity would be if the rules weren't this way and it was optimal game theory to shadily manipulate the system. If you're not that into the tournament scene and this sounds bad, trust me when I say that it is far better than the alternative, and not really a big deal. The cuts to Top 8 are much cleaner with intentional draws than relying on the extremely ineffective tiebreaker system. If you don't believe this to be true, just look at some of the comical cuts in Magic Online tournaments.
Anyway, with the poor tournament structure still intact for Providence—even with the inane, vaguely threatening announcement—gamers gamed the system. I can safely say that I was not surprised.
The team of two-thirds of the reigning champions had a Day Two that went something like lose and scoop, win and win, then win and get scooped to. Ours was just as ridiculous, as you'll see shortly. Even the most upstanding teams of the whitest of knights were partaking in this side-stepping and legal collusion. It's not their fault, it's the fault of the people that created and employed such a broken structure. There's no real way around it: if a system can be gamed, gamers will game it. And this tournament structure is ripe for gaming.
Let's talk about real solutions, then.
Sam Black suggested making Day Two entirely Sealed, which would be a major bummer but would clean up a lot of these issues. Paul Rietzl and David Williams' idea was to cut much more harshly to 16 or maybe just 32 teams for Day Two, then running a deeper single-elimination bracket, drafting each time. They wanted to play out each draft as a best of nine, but that's far too many rounds. You can play one round per draft until you get further into the bracket to then start playing out the whole 3v3, round-robin style.
It's also worth mentioning that there is much less downtime this way. If you put two judges on each pod, one for each team, then you no longer have to wait for everyone else in the tournament every single round. If both teams are done with deckbuilding, they can start playing. Once they're done with their first match, they can switch and start their second round of the pod right away. You could even move through entire portions of the bracket while one pod is still in the round of sixteen, or what-have-you. There is a lot of upside to this style of running a tournament, and I can see very few, entirely negligible drawbacks.
The main problem with bracketing is that you're not rewarding people that went 10-0 over the people that went 8-2 enough with just the bracket seeding. Maybe the teams who did the best choose their opponents (awesome drama here, reminiscent of the GSL SC2 Group Selection Ceremonies, if you're familiar. This idea isn't actually feasible and would likely lead to profiling and other such negative things that are to be avoided. I just like the concept in terms of coverage. Maybe it has an application in the Player's Championship or some other type of special invitational tournament in the future). More likely, maybe the higher seeds get a modified play/draw rule and get to go first in all three matches. That might be too big of an advantage, depending, so I'm not actually sure. But it's honestly not that big of a deal, as the guy who went 15-0 doesn't get as big of an edge over the guy that goes 13-2 when they cut for Top 8; creating the bracket would simply cause this distinction-blurring to happen a bit earlier.
Speaking of Starcraft 2, another thought is to do a double-elimination bracket, MLG-style, with or without extended series. This would take the most hands-on set up, and I'm not nearly experienced enough with organizing such tournaments to see how it would work in this environment or if it would be at all viable logistically. My instinct is that it wouldn't be possible, but it's good to consider all of the options available.
My suggestion, which I think is the cleanest solution, is that you do draft each round (maybe even bring Rochester back) and play one match until a certain point in the tournament, where you can play out the whole 3v3, and have your bracket cut to Top 4 or maybe even Top 8. This sounds exactly like the ideal that isn't possible because of the logistics, so what's the catch?
You start on Friday.
Now, I know this is a big taboo for Grand Prix, but hear me out. There's already precedent for starting early; Pro Tours do it, as have the StarCityGames.com Invitationals for some time now. The hall is already being rented out on Fridays to hold Grand Prix Trials and the like.
You can start the tournament at, say, 3pm on Friday. You can still run trials in the morning beforehand. People with byes don't have to show up until after 6, making it so that people with jobs or what-have-you can actually make the event on time if they can earn a couple of byes. You play six or so rounds* on Day 0 (Friday), then play with your Sealed decks again on Saturday.
*It's actually theoretically feasible to just have three rounds on Day 0, and people with byes don't have to show up until the next morning, also giving more time for Grand Prix Trials and for people to get to the tournament site later in the day to play in the main event. This doesn't save as much time for Sunday as the alternative, but may just be enough to repair the currently broken structure of Day Two.
You can have an end-of-day player meeting where people turn their decks in, then pass them back out for Day One, or you could simply tell the players not to lose their decks, which has been done in the past. It was a Limited Grand Prix where Day Two had to be seven rounds, and you can't make seven with 3-round draft pods, so the first round of Day Two was with our sealed decks. This was, I believe, before the advent of the “bonus round” where that match was simply played Saturday night. I'm merely showing that there is precedent for having players be responsible for their Sealed decks until the next morning. And cheating by marking or changing cards isn't really a concern, as it is just as possible to do such things in drafts, with normal Sealed decks, by marking the sleeves beforehand, etc. If cheaters are going to cheat, it's not going to be because you let them hold onto their own pools. There will still be deck checks and the like, so it's really a non-issue.
You could even take it a step further and just have another deckbuilding period with a new pool Saturday morning after being 3-6 rounds deep. This would make the format much more skill intensive, rules out any of the above concerns, and would eliminate the temptation to spend hours playtesting and figuring out how to sideboard with your decks overnight.
I got sidetracked a bit there, excuse me. So, after that you play Day One as normal (after 3-6 rounds on Day 0) and then cut after the appropriate number of rounds, 9-12 based on attendance. Then you can do two drafts that night, and four more on Day Two before cutting to the Top 4. By playing on Friday, you save just enough time to be able to fit in the draft portions necessary to draft each round and not have to play the same team with the same pools twice, which is what induces the one-match-set disaster.
And yes, I recognize that some number of people wouldn't be able to attend if you started on Friday. That is unfortunate, but would actually help a lot of the problems solve themselves, seeing as all of these logistical concerns are due to the overwhelming attendance. Magic is changing, getting way bigger than it's ever been before. Tournament structures need to evolve in order to accommodate this influx of attendees.
I'm not saying every Grand Prix needs to start a day early and exclude a percentage of the audience and make attending harder on many more; simply the two or so Team Limited Grand Prix that are held in a season. I don't think that's unreasonable, and it would really legitimize these otherwise horribly structured tournaments.
With a bunch of no-name teams stuck at X-3, we obviously get paired against what I have to assume is the most accomplished in the form of Antonino De Rosa, Ben Lundquist, and Gerard Fabiano. We suggested the one-match-set before the announcement was even made, and Gerard instantly turned it down, saying he wanted to just play the matches out. We gave pause for his teammates to object, but neither did. After Gerard confirmed that we weren't doing it, we backed off, prepared to play out both rounds.
I draft a mediocre GW deck after getting a second pick Unflinching Courage from Gerard, getting bailed out in pack three by a stream of late Selesnya cards. I played against Ben Lundquist, who had quite a nice Grixis deck. At one point, when my board looked like the picture below, he told me that Gerard had said he didn't pass any Selesnya cards.
He ends up with enough removal to stem any aggression, and closes the games out quickly with the help of a Fluxcharger. We end up losing the match. For the second round of the pod, we get a text feature match, once again inexplicably (not that I'm complaining; I do like the attention. It's just strange to get multiple feature matches with such bad records). I play against Antonino, who Dragonshifted Tim out in the first round on the back of double Goblin Rally. I felt like I had a good match-up, as he was light on removal, and I even had a Riot Control in my sideboard.
I had a pretty solid draw and was quite far ahead on board with more creatures in hand. Then he played an Aetherling on turn six. I didn't have my Angelic Edict, so he went into “unbeatable mode.” Ant misplayed it once, allowing me to block it on the first turn, which I chumped with a 3/5 Crocanura at 18 life. This is because I felt I was far enough ahead that I could win down a creature if I could draw either my Unflinching Courage to race or my Debtor's Pulpit, which is one of the few answers in the whole format to Aetherling. I wanted to buy as much time as possible to give myself the most draws, but it was all for naught as I bricked and died.
Game two was anticlimactic, as I missed land drops and rolled over. Thankfully, Tim won his match and Ced had lethal on board. Ant asked us if we wanted to concede to them, and Ced turned it down. Ant was apparently upset by this and even complained about it to others. I don't think it's very cool to try and freeroll your friends like that, and if they wanted a concession, they should have agreed to the one-match-set like they were “supposed” to. Had we still been in Top 8 contention, things might have been different, but seeing as we weren't after both having lost our respective bonus rounds, I don't think it's reasonable to expect us to concede there.
After the match, before the next draft, we go to the little cafeteria area outside and talk to some friends. Somehow the topic of tardiness comes up, and Cedric goes off about how he's never been late to a round in his entire career, and thinks that anyone who actually gets a game loss for tardiness has to be a moron. I said that things happen, and that I'd gotten two of them before, to which he responds that I was stupid, which I can't really argue.
We draft again against a team of pretty nice guys, who we beat fairly handily, 3-0. Ced is the first done, and with both mine and Tim's matches looking well in hand, he runs up to the room to get some editing work done, promising to be back by 3:30 for the next round. The round ends at 3:25, Ced is nowhere to be seen. The last match finishes at 3:33, still no Ced. Pairings go up at 3:37, nothing. We sit down, and our opponents are coming over. Not many people are still making their way to their seats as the clock hits 3:40, and Ced is not one of them.
Thankfully, our opponents recognized the fact that they were mathematically eliminated, and gracefully conceded to us and dropped from the tournament. Ced still missing in action. 3:45 rolls around and he comes in. I try to play it up like I mulled to oblivion while he got match lossed and we dumped the round, but couldn't keep it up as we were only eight minutes into the round at the time. He holds firm that it doesn't count because we got scooped to anyway. I'm not sure I buy that. [Editor's Note: No tardy penalties on this record baby!]
The last draft, we're heads up against Max Brown, Ben Friedman, and Dan Jordan, aka The Bro Squad. The winner will get scooped to and likely cash the tournament. I first pick Exava, then get a lot of late Boros cards. My mana is shaky at best, but the deck was very aggressive with a high power level and a lot of reach. Ben misses land drops and I have my colors, so I rolled him quite handily. Ced loses, I don't remember how. [Editor's Note: I got crushed by the best looking guy I know, Dan Jordan. Sorry Reid!]
In flow with the undercurrent of tragedy that followed us all weekend, Tim is flooding out and getting beaten down. He draws one of his bomb creatures just to give us a glimmer of false hope, but they draw removal for it, a trick to take down our Azor's Elocutors that was threatening to win the game (Tim and I were immediately on the worst line possible but Ced thankfully talked us out of it). We drew a bunch of lands and do-nothings while they draw all spells and more high impact cards.
It couldn't have ended any other way. Another not-so-close-and-oh-so-far finish. A middling Day Two finish without a cash. Two days of work with nothing to show for it.
I am getting used to letting myself down in these spots: don't get me wrong; they still sting. And as soon as they don't sting, you'll see me hanging up my deckbox. The numbness has crept over me before, and I had to step away from the game. It was a brief hiatus concluding in a triumphant return. I'd rather have that negative feeling than the nothingness—the emptiness—when you numb your heart.
Keep your cool at the tables, but for heaven's sake don't numb your heart.
Emotional depth is nothing to fear. When you feel that sinking feeling, it means you care. The feeling I'm talking about comes from playing for hours on end every single day for long stretches of time in preparation for a tournament, taking extra care and focusing all of your time, energy, and willpower into a solitary goal... and then falling short. There is a tragic beauty to this emotional depth, and it's true what they say about only truly reaching the highest of highs after falling to the lowest of lows.
But this time was different: this was a team event. I wasn't just coming up short and disappointing myself, I was letting down two of my dearest friends in the whole world. I should have practiced more. I could have spent time looking at the pools Tim sent me, or opening my own. I could have drafted more online, read more articles, talked strategy more with my friends, studied harder, gotten to Providence earlier and worked with my team, or any number of other things. I could have done so much more. I could have. I should have. And I didn't.
In the end, the team we lost to playing to cash ended up in 21st; one slot out of the money.
Then I lost the credit card game with LSV, Cheon, Ochoa, Efro, and Luis's friend who I forgot (sorry).
When I could by far afford it the least.
And they were all drinking and got desserts and I wasn't.
That night, I couldn't sleep.
Then I missed my flight.
Then they lost my luggage.
...I should have practiced more.