Hello everyone! A lot has happened since the last time I wrote. The topic on everyone's mind right now is the most recent Organized Play announcements. I'm sure that a lot of people are tired of it by now so instead of giving my opinion on them I'd like to tell you what I've been doing to make the most of the recent changes.
When the PWP system was announced I knew I could be in the running for a top 100 spot so I've been going to some events I normally wouldn't make it to. I'm already qualified for Honolulu via Pro Players Club level but I could certainly put the airfare prize to good use. This past weekend I went down to Georgia looking for a PTQ to steal. There was also a StarCityGames.com organized PTQ on Sunday in Charlotte so we could hit that one on the way back home easily. As it turned out this wouldn't be your average PTQ outing.
We left Greenville Friday afternoon to make the eight-hour drive to Atlanta making sure to hit up a sweet country buffet along the way and finish up with some Vortex Burger when we arrived before heading to the hotel. Lately I've been utilizing Priceline's new name your own price for hotel bookings which I can't recommend highly enough. For Philly I got a $160/night hotel for $35/night using it! They may be working out the bugs though because I could only get a $150 for $70 for Worlds.
Arriving at the site early the next morning I saw a few familiar faces but not as many as I expected. It was a smaller turnout only around 100 people for the tournament. Entry fee was $35 a little high—inflation I guess. When we sat down to start registering pools I opened what seemed like a rather strong pool but didn't pay too close attention to the contents since it seemed unlikely I would play against it. After passing the pools it worked out such that the person who registered my pool also got the pool I registered. I recall during registration that he was very verbal about how good the pool was so I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out the pool was quite mediocre with a lot of good green cards but not enough to really justify playing it. I ended up with an unimpressive U/B deck with a Skaab Ruinator but not many creatures to fuel it.
I got to my seat for round one and groaned when the player who registered my pool sat across from me since I figured he would have a strong R/W deck from the pool I passed him. Clearly I should have paid closer attention to that pool! I managed to win game one but my opponent was nice enough to show me who was boss by slow-rolling lethal burn spells in both of the final two games. Annoying but he seemed oblivious to what he was doing so I didn't think much of it. I lost the next round handily to screw and flood and was officially playing for PWPs (aka the love of the game).
Flash forward to a couple rounds later and I was 2-2 going through my pool to see if there was anywhere particular things went wrong. I randomly noticed that I was not playing any dual-face cards in my deck and while going through my sideboard I noticed that somehow there were only five DFC cards in my entire pool! If you know how Innistrad boosters are packed then you know that each pack contains a DFC and barring a mis-pack you should always have six DFCs in your sealed pool. During deck construction I had verified that all cards were correctly marked on the registration sheet and totaled up to 84 so I went through the pool to try and determine what the extra card was. Turns out the extra card was a rare. I had seven non-foil rares in my pool!
I decided to inform the judges of my discovery. They were equally puzzled and decided to deck check the guy who registered my pool (also my round 1 opponent) next round. When they swooped in for the check the player handed them his deck and sideboard separate from his deck box. The judge asked for the box also which the player protested saying that he was only using the box to hold some cards a friend has asked him to hold earlier in the day. The player handed over the box and inside they found not only good R/W cards like Mikaeus the Lunarch Brimstone Volley etc. but also a Garruk Relentless!
Now at this point everyone was suspecting something more nefarious than a little mis-pack. There was overwhelming evidence that the player had opened his sealed pool for registration pocketed the most expensive card in the pool and replaced it with another rare not knowing that he would need to replace it with a DFC instead. If the player knew the Innistrad pack structure or if it had been a different format this would have been totally undetectable; even so it was only dumb “luck” that I noticed it.
So not only was it likely the player was guilty of theft but the presence of good cards in his box that fit the colors he was playing meant he may have been adding cards to his pool after sideboarding. As strong as the evidence was it was all circumstantial and the judges did not feel comfortable with a DQ. The player received a game loss and became incredibly belligerent maintaining he had done nothing wrong. He ended up winning the match anyway and went on to narrowly miss top eight.
After I learned of everything I was pretty salty so I decided to conduct my own investigation. I approached the player and asked what had happened. He hadn't connected the dots of him being deck checked and my pool being incorrect so I spelled it out for him and asked if he knew how Innistrad packs worked. He confirmed that he didn't know that you got one DFC in every pack and got visibly nervous and dodgy when I brought up the fact that my pool was missing one. He ducked out of the conversation and I left it at that.
Now as both a person who plays in high-level events regularly and is a judge I feel like I have a unique perspective of the event. Some of you might be thinking the judges dropped the ball on this one and should have investigated further and probably DQ'd the player. Unfortunately without being in the judge's position at the time it's very hard to make that kind of assessment. Would I have had the player DQ'd? Probably but I think that the officials were really trying their best to resolve the situation appropriately which is all anyone can really ask. Also I am going to be biased here due to my direct involvement.
After the dust had kind of settled on the matter I expressed to the head judge my dissatisfaction with the whole situation. I was pretty disappointed to have driven eight hours to a PTQ only to have my pool tampered with which could have cost me a win. I felt like I had been cheated out of the tournament before it even began! If my pool had a Garruk in it I would have definitely played green and had an entirely different tournament. As it was I finished 5-2 and only had some PWPs to show for it. He said he would speak with the TO and see if anything could be done for me.
The next time I talked to the judge he said the TO had not been moved to offer anything to me for my poor experience. I was again disappointed but not deterred. I felt like given the situation it wasn't appropriate for the player to shoulder the burden entirely and that a partial refund was in order. I had used due diligence in verifying my pool and I don't feel like most reasonable people would ever catch such an error. I tracked down the TO and explained my position to him. He was eventually reluctant to offer any compensation but we were able to come to an agreement. I'm interested to hear what people think would be appropriate here. Is it right for the burden to be placed solely on the player here?
With that PTQ in the books we crashed Vortex Burger again and then headed on to Charlotte for the Sunday PTQ.
It was another small PTQ just over 100 again. This time though my sealed pool was quite good. Olivia Voldaren Bloodgift Demon Stensia Bloodhall two Dead Weight two Victim of the Night Geistflame Brimstone Volley Tribute to Hunger—basically everything I ever wanted. The only decision I had to make was if I wanted to play green and splash red since it would make my curve a lot better. I ended up playing just R/B filling some holes with Riot Devils and the like. The deck was going to be very good either way; the straight R/B version just seemed more consistent. In a lot of my rounds I would side out a Victim of the Night and bring in a Plains and Bonds of Faith if they had a lot of non-victims since I also had a Shimmering Grotto.
I was choosing to draw all day with my deck which was really a no-brainer because of all the removal I had. There are few sealed decks in this format that want to be on the play so if you're not choosing to draw when you win the roll you better have a good reason.
In game two an awkward situation occurred when on his turn five on the play he had a 1/1 Stromkirk Noble and a Blazing Torch in play to my Hanweir Watchkeep that flipped on his upkeep into the 5/5. I was holding a Brimstone Volley and feeling pretty good about my position when my opponent played Furor of the Bitten on his Noble and equipped Torch. I wasn't sure what he was up to but Volley had me covered for whatever it could be. He went to attacks tapped his Noble and audibly declared “three.” I paused briefly to think of what he could have (nothing) and about a second after he had removed his hand from the Noble he picked it back up and untapped it ponderously. I announced that I would be blocking the Noble and he said that he was still thinking about attacking. At this point I knew he had already declared an attack and I would likely be calling a judge to enforce that; however I chose not to call one immediately because if he just ended up attacking anyway it saved us the trouble. He then declared no attacks and passed the turn.
Now at this point it was unclear what was going through my opponent's head. I think the most likely thing was that he forgot the Watchkeep could now block the Noble realized it mid-attack and then forgot that Furor made it so Noble had to attack. I informed my opponent that he couldn't just pass; the Noble had to attack. He then thought some more and decided he wanted to use his Blazing Torch so the Noble wouldn't get eaten. I felt as though there had been significant miscommunication and decided to call a judge and explain what happened from the beginning. The judge ruled that the Noble must attack and my opponent was frustrated but did not appeal the ruling.
After I won a close game three my opponent began lamenting the match and my poor sportsmanship to his friend. Seeing as I value sportsmanship pretty highly I was insulted by his comments and once the conversation shifted more toward me I fired back accusing him of not playing by the rules. The conversation got a little heated and ended after he said he'd noted my name DCI # and local store (I was wearing a store shirt). I didn't take it much as a threat but more of an intimidation method. A bystander encouraged us to drop the conversation which we did. I felt I could have handled the situation more professionally but I think my pride got the best of me here. The guy approached me later in the day and apologized for what he said. I assured him there were no hard feelings.
The rest of the Swiss wasn't too eventful. Mostly it was an exercise in playing around removal for Olivia and Demon because I could more often than not afford to. With Olivia in particular it's easy to play around things like Brimstone Volley by playing it when you hit 6 mana Rebuke by not attacking or Smite the Monstrous by not growing her immediately.
Round two I played against a guy who was wearing some very reflective sunglasses. I didn't want to be tempted so before we started playing I informed him that I would likely be able to see the contents of his hand in the reflection and recommended that he remove them for the match. There isn't anything against the rules about it but it's not something I'm in the business of. He informed me that he played a lot poker and would be able to conceal his hand from me and chose to leave the glasses on. There were definitely times when I could have used this to my advantage but managed to show restraint.
At 4-0 I was paired with Brian Braun-Duin. He had actually registered my pool and I registered his so we knew a good chunk of the contents of each other's deck. I knew he had a solid U/R deck with a couple ways to deal with my bombs. With only three rounds remaining he offered an ID which would essentially delay our two win-and-in rounds. Brian being one of the better players in attendance I figured that I would have better odds against almost anyone else so I agreed. We played for fun and I won 2-1.
Next round I got a great pairing against a U/W deck I had watched play the previous round. I knew the only way he had to deal with my bombs was Dissipate since his white removal would be easily played around. The thing I was worried about was his Invisible Stalker Butcher's Cleaver combo which is exactly how he beat me. In game one I missed my third land for about four turns but was very much still in the game since he only had the Cleaver and I was able to kill all his guys. As I started drawing lands and applying pressure he drew his Stalker and I knew my time was limited since he had milled my only maindeck answer in Tribute to Hunger earlier. I almost raced him with a Rage Thrower but the last turn I had to Desperate Ravings and draw a land and removal spell. I drew both but ended up randomly discarding the land from my eight-card hand.
Game two he was stuck on blue and only played two spells; unfortunately those two spells were Stalker and Cleaver. I didn't draw the Tribute or Ancient Grudge I boarded in and that was it. Speaking of this combo two of my six match losses in this sealed format have been to it which seems kind of ridiculous. Brian lost his match too unfortunately.
In the last round I won a close match against a good R/W deck and then it was time for the top eight draft. Brian won his match also and was on my left during the draft. Drafting Innistrad in person is very interesting; there is so much open information to take advantage of it kind of reminds me of Rochester drafting. If someone next to you takes a flip card early to signal their colors it's usually in everyone's best interest to cooperate. It's important to note who takes what flip cards but you also want to make sure your vigilance is not mistaken for peeking. Unfortunately a player in our top eight was disqualified for just such a thing. I ended up drafting a rather mediocre G/W deck featuring such hits as double Abbey Griffin Spare from Evil Ranger's Guile and Thraben Purebloods.
Fortunately the Guile and Spare were very timely for me in the top eight and top four matches each winning me a game in each match. It was only fitting that I met Brian again in the finals. We actually had the same match results every round up until that point. Since Brian is a nice guy and I hate to see invitations go to waste I asked him if he wanted me to concede the finals to him. He confirmed and I told him I'd see him in Honolulu.
The finish gave me a good boost in PWPs so hopefully I'll be able to score a flight that way. I'm looking forward to my first World Championship next week! Unfortunately I'm afraid it will also be my last due to the recent rebranding of Worlds. I'll need a big finish if I want to make level six this year but I'm going to give it my best. I hope you enjoyed my tales from the grind; feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments!