Grand Prix: Manchester Report *24th*
Last weekend (October 7th and 8th) saw my home town of Manchester play host to only the third Premier event to be held in the UK - GP: Manchester - and something would have been going seriously wrong if I had failed to crawl out of bed and make it the full five miles to the venue. For those interested in these sort of things, my travel itinerary was:
Leave house, walk 100 yards, get on the No. 82 bus. Twenty minutes later, get off No. 82 bus, walk 200 yards, tell Carl Crook my DCI number. How good is that? (Very.)
The Grand Prix was held in the New Century House building (which was pretty nice compared to the warehouse that was GP: Birmingham), although the main room did have something of the feel of a school assembly hall. Having said that, I don't think the UK has anything to compete with some of the great venues of the past, such as PT: Boat or GP: Island - maybe we could do a PT: Stonehenge or something, but GP: Isle Of Dogs doesn't quite have the same ring to it, somehow.
Originally intended to be one of the closing events of MBC, the shakeup of the Pro Tour system over the summer means that Manchester is in fact the inaugural Invasion Limited event to qualify for PT: LA (not held until February, apparently) and that suggests that you'll be seeing a lot of this format over the coming months. The first day will be Invasion Sealed over seven rounds of Swiss competition, for which my pretty poor Limited ranking only gives me a first-round Bye (or a first-round breakfast break, as those players who had byes all shot off to find food). There were 250-plus players there from all over the world, but there seem to be more Americans than is usual for a European event, and far fewer players from continental Europe (the attendance at GP:Porto was 600-plus). I spoke to a few people about why that was; it seems that it was easier to fly to Manchester from LA than it was from Paris, as most European flights land in London. Weird. A hell of a lot of the big US names are here - Price, Kastle, Schvarstman, Mowshowitz, Le Pine - and naturally the best of the UK and Europe made the trip as well - Ruel, Budde, Dobson, Ormerod...
Before the main room opened up I was sitting in the side events hall downstairs and arguing with a bunch of UK players that you'd pass a Plague Wind if you opened it in a M/N/P draft - I say you pass it because you want to pitch extra land you draw to Spellshapers, they say you take the broken card and win with it. As they outnumber me 5 to 1 I'm losing the argument pretty badly, then Zvi sits down next to me, concurs that you'd rather be playing a deck that doesn't want a Plague Wind and the argument is mine (well, mainly his I guess, but I get to feel good all the same). I'm also telling anybody who will listen that I'm hoping to continue the tradition that the British Grand Prix is won by somebody playing a deck I designed (Craig Jones won GP: Birmingham with my Rath Cycle Sligh deck), especially as this is a Limited tournament - so the only person who can play my deck design is me!
Sealed Deck (pre-logged... HURRAH!)
These were my cards in each colour, in order of wheaty goodness. Cards in normal type were in my deck, cards IN CAPITALS were not in my deck.
Armadillo Cloak x2
WHIP SILK X2
WANDERING STREAM X2
Angel Of Mercy
Samite Ministrations (terrible, thought it could save a creature)
STRENGTH OF UNITY
REWARDS OF DIVERSITY
Distorting Wake (B-OMB! The only broken rare in Invasion limited)
DREAM THRUSH (SB IN FOR THE MINISTRATIONS)
PHANTASMAL TERRAIN X2
DO OR DIE
PHYREXIAN REAPER X2
DEFILING TEARS X2
HYPNOTIC CLOUD X2
SAVAGE OFFENSIVE X2
I'm really happy with this deck overall, the Springs and Fertile Ground mean I might actually get to Malice as well as Spite occasionally. I feel I'm missing a Sunscape Apprentice as I'm running low on critters (twelve) and would like to defend them if necessary, I'd also like to have some sort of U/W land (either Coastal Tower or Irrigation Ditch) to make it easier to cast Distorting Wake as I'm only running six blue mana sources - but you can't complain with two Cloaks and a bunch of flyers! My one real mistake was playing with Samite Ministrations, which I had misread and thought I could use to defend a creature. I ended up using it incorrectly in the second round against Alan Mai, but Olivier Ruel spotted it in the fourth round and from then on I sideboarded it out for a Dream Thrush.
Round One: TEAM BYE
(Team Bye are terrible, but they always seem to make it to tournaments. I have never failed to beat a Team Bye player 2-0 - in fact, the only players I have a better record against are green players!)
Round Two: Alan Mai (UK)
Alan was playing R/B deck that slowly developed through an array of sacrifice lands into what looked to be a 5c deck full of unexpected tricks and big monsters. He gets slightly screwed in the first and we stall up with him removing my flyers, then I cast a Distorting Wake for seven and drive my creatures home. In the second game I come out much faster and cast a three-card Distorting Wake on the sixth turn to seal the victory, as he cannot keep up with my tempo after that and never stabilises the board.
Round Three: Joseph Cristophe (France, I think)
He was playing a R/W/G deck, but in both games I simply Armadillo Cloaked a monster and rode it home. First game I Waked a win after Cloaking up my Crimson Acolyte (which he couldn't realistically stop) and followed it with the Angel of Mercy. In the second I made a DIY Morphling with Cloak/Glimmering Angel, and that was game over. This was the first time I put the Angel/Cloak combination together but I would be seeing many more games won by it over the course of the Grand Prix.
Round Four: Oliver Ruel (France)
In the first game he gets badly manascrewed with his 5cG deck, but I am far too slow to capitalise, as my only beatdown is a Llanowar Cavalry and Benalish Trapper. He soon recovers then Harrows up some basic land and smashes me with a 6/6 Serpent and Nishoba Sabretooth - I scoop when he comes down. Second game, he gets two land all game and I quickly crush him. Third game, his mana comes out nicely and the quality of his spells is simply overwhelming - I firmly believe that the 5c deck is awesome when it works and I get horribly crushed by his monsters, which entirely outclass mine. Plus his 5/2 Kavu Scouts and the Trumpeting Armodon reprint are a bit of a beating.
Rnd Five: Nield Sanders Jensen (Denmark)
Angel Of Mercy + Armadillo Cloak = beatings. I finish game one at 33 life, and game two on 39 life. BEATINGS! Oh, and Distorting Wave on five monsters is quite good as well.
Rnd Six: Mark Brian Humphreys (UK)
I screw out in the first.
He screws out in the second.
I lose the third game because I'm really good at Magic (actually true - one of the freak occurrences when the correct decision gets you killed, and the wrong choice would win the game). This is worth going into detail for:
I have just finished my attack phase. I have eleven life, a Glimmering Angel+Cloak, a Crimson Acolyte, and UUUWWWGG mana available. I am holding Distorting Wake and two non-island lands.
He has three life, a Phyrexian Battleflies, Shivan Zombie, Vodalian Zombie, two Phyrexian Defiler, (ten damage total) and at most BBBUWR available next turn. He is holding two cards and will draw a third.
Question: Do I Wake all his monsters back to his hand? The game ends next turn regardless - if I survive his attack I win, but if he can find extra damage he wins. So do I Wake?
Pros: I avoid the potential that he might find an extra point of damage. In fact, my Acolyte can happily chump block a 2/2 monster so he has to find THREE extra damage to stop me. Plus to this he has to save BB for the Battleflies so it can only cost four mana at most. This means he wins if he has a Tribal Flames (which I haven't seen from him yet), or Breath Of Darigaaz forces a draw (he cast that in the first game).
Cons: If I Wake, then I tap out of blue mana and can no longer protect my Angel from the black removal I know he is playing with (Agonising Memories and Exotic Curse for certain). If I let the Angel die by Waking, then I will lose because he simply puts his creatures back down and kills me. The Angel is the only good card I have available; if I lose it, I lose the game.
So do I Wake and possibly lose to several cards I know he has in his deck, or not Wake and possibly lose to one of the few cards he can have, but I haven't seen yet in three games?
Answer: Don't Wake. Sit on the Angel and hope he can't find the extra damage, this is the right play.
Result: He casts Skizzik and beats me. Casting Wake would have won me the game, as his hand was only a Mountain and a Breath Of Darigaaz.
That puts me on 4-2 so far, but 5-2 should get me into the second day as my tiebreakers aren't terrible. I'll scrape through in something like 64th place, but I'll be in. All that I really care about now is who I'm drawn against - who do I have to beat? The pairings go up and I wander over, this is what it says 'Table 5: Sutcliffe, David vs Budde, Kai.'
We sit down and chat for a little while as we shuffle up, as there is a little bit of, well... not exactly a history between us, but it's the sort of thing that sports commentators love to bring up to add 'flavour' to an encounter:
"This doesn't look good for me, as in Birmingham I was in a similar position of having to play off to make the second day - and then I was drawn against another big German player and he knocked me out. I've forgotten his name; I think it was Marco Bode."
"Yes, that was it. I knew it wasn't Marco Bode because he plays for the German football team."
"Oh - do you want to talk about football?"
(Germany had just beaten England 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier that afternoon, and the England manager had resigned)
"Not really, no."
(I feel I'm losing the mind games war here. He's currently 2-0 up, simply by virtue of being German. Time to throw in a little equaliser.)
"The only other thing between us is that when Craig Jones beat you in the final of GP: Birmingham he was playing my red deck."
(There, that'll give him something to think about, eh? No, probably not.)
Round Seven: Kai Budde (Germany)
In game one I am forced to double Paris in search of two land, then I don't draw a third and concede turn 3.
In game two I'm amazed at how little opposition he is putting up and I just make a fifth-turn Angel Of Mercy, then put an Armadillo Cloak down on the sixth. He sticks down some fatties on the ground to race me but the Armadillo Cloak is all the answer I need. His lifetotal read 20, 15, 10, 0... and I took 27 damage but still had 16 points left when the game ended.
I get the feeling he was horribly mana flooded in the third game because I normally wouldn't expect a Crimson Acolyte with a Cloak to go all the way - but with Exclude and Prohibit in hand, it does just that (with a little late-game assistance from my Griffin). I think he got a pretty dreadful screw and all his blockers were red, so the Acolyte sailed through.
I'm SO relieved, but have to chew my nails for an hour before the standings are posted and I find I sneaked through in 60th place, and then I leave early to get home to my own bed - a rare luxury for any Magic player on a tournament day. When I get home I log onto the net and see an article on Invasion draft by Paul Arti on New Wave, which makes for some very interesting reading. In particular I remember his recommendation of R/G beatdown, although I'm far from convinced about Scarred Puma.
8.00 start. Joy.
Draft One: R/G/w
Hooded Kavu (can use Nomadic Elf to activate the 'fear')
Tribal Flames x2
Fires Of Yavimaya
Thornscape Apprentice x2
Nomadic Elf x2
Pincer Spider x2
Verdeloth the Ancient
Strength Of Unity
SB: Orim's Touch
Pretty quickly into the draft I knew what I was playing, as I grabbed Nomadic Elves in order to play 5cGreen then found people passing me outrageous red spells - suddenly the list of signature cards for R/G beatdown from Paul Arti's article is sitting in my draft pile, along with a brief splash of white in order to make the best use of the abilities of my Green spells and a little fatness. This should be good, really good, possibly 3-0 good, although I did spend all draft watching bombs drop into other people's decks and none for me - but none of my cards are bad, and that has always been good enough in the Invasion Limited I've done so far.
Round Eight: Phil Pettifer (UK) with W/U/B fast flying beatdown
I win the first in a hurry, with Green monsters overwhelming his Shoreline Raiders. The second goes right down to the wire - he is beating me from the air and summons up his Dragon Legend to finish the job - looks like I've got to win this turn, then. I attack with everything - get him to 7. Canopy Surge with Kicker, get him to 3. Tribal Flames him for 3 - he is holding one card, and has one white mana available so the only thing he has to save him is an Orim's Touch; anything else and I win. There were only two Touches in the draft pod, I got one and I know Phil got the other, but don't know if he is playing it or not. I'm feeling really confident when I cast the Flames, and my face must have been quite a sight when he showed me the Touch in his hand. Pants.
Third game is close as well; he is pummeling me down again while his Protection creatures hold the ground. I am forced to try to race him out by burning his Shoreline Raider, then attacking with everything but my Treefolk Healer and Nomadic Elf (I have no Plains and have to filter white for the Healer), preventing two damage to go to one life, then hoping to topdeck an extra point of damage to kill him. I get a land. My next card was Fires Of Yavimaya. Had I drawn an actual bona fide white mana source earlier I would have won comfortably, but having to filter through the Elf cut my attackers down and I couldn't pull the win.
Rnd Nine: Bye
There were only seven players in my draft pod, as a Frenchman turned up late and missed out, so each round somebody in the pod got a bye.
Rnd Ten: Ralph Ristedt (Holland) U/B/R
MAJOR PANIC! Where's my deck gone? AAAAAARGH! I run around like a headless chicken, hoping I left it in the side events room. Nope. Fortunately, somebody finds it in the main hall and I get to the table in time to avoid a game loss. But this has destroyed my concentration and the first game is marked by my repeatedly making stupid mistakes, each making me more error-prone than the last. I lose badly and deserve to.
Fortunately, I then pummel him down savagely in the next two with my pile of fat and burn. His main trick is a Phyrexian Infiltrator and this keeps all three of my fatties in my hand in the second game, but all the Apprentice tricks and my removal give me the win regardless. In the third game I'm slightly screwed on three land and he is going for a quick aerial kill, but I'm fortunate enough to topdeck a fourth land to Canopy Surge away his Urborg Drake and Zanam Djinn, and then it's plain sailing. Fires Of Yavimaya gave my deck SUCH a head start on him as I raced for the kill.
Draft Two: G/W/U
This draft was really weird, because the first booster had a Prison Barricade and a Kavu Climber in, but otherwise every other card was blue or black - no red cards at all. I was picking in the 6th slot for this booster and sensibly chose not to fight over the Black stuff (which was all good, I think Vodalian Zombie went as the fourteenth card) and take a Repulse as my first pick and a Prison Barricade as the booster makes it's way back. The Kavu Climber went to the guy sitting opposite me, so that means while everybody else is fighting over who will stay in Black and who will dominate the red that starts to appear, I am free to pick up the Green he doesn't want. I make a strong G/W deck, while grabbing a couple of blue power cards when I get the chance. Overall, I come out with a deck almost identical to what I played in the Sealed yesterday, only slightly better and that should be plenty good enough. Normally you don't want to draft a deck that looks like your Sealed deck, but my Sealed was so good I'm happy to see it again.
Armadillo Cloak x2
SB: Orim's Touch, Prison Barricade, Traveller's Cloak
Round Eleven: Gordon Benson (UK), U/B/R
I make beatings on Gordy in the first with monsters and a big Wash Out on his three Shoreline Raiders, then he takes the second in the same way with a Distorting Wake on my blockers. In the third he makes the white Djinn and then Wakes my monsters and attacks, next turn I make the Wash Out and then we get really bad deja vu for a few turn as we cast our monsters again. He gets the edge because I have yet to see green mana, and he is laying the smackdown when I finally get wood (I'm holding two Cloaks, Nomadic Elf, Serpentine Kavu, etc., and have trying been all game to get wood). Unfortunately, unlike on Day One, this time I lose a game for being absolutely terrible at Magic, not for making the right decision - I totally scrub out:
I have GWUUU available, a Tower Drake and an Obsidian Acolyte in play, I am on 3 life.
Gordon has a Ravenous Rats, a Phyrexian Slayer and a 3/2 Kavu Scout in play; he has two cards in hand and plenty of mana available, Gordy has nine life.
Afraid of black instant removal killing the Cloak, I stick it onto the Acolyte and send him in for an attack. This takes both of us to six life, and next turn I get to Cloak up the Drake and win. On his turn, Gordy bangs a Cursed Flesh on my Tower Drake and attacks for six. I lose.
Initially, I thought I had made the right choice, and that I had to put it on the Acolyte to be sure he wouldn't Agonising Memories in response. But in that case I'm playing as though I assume he has the Memories, yes? But if he has Memories, doesn't he just give me the lifegain and then kill the Drake and attack for 6? I was playing to a redundant situation because if he had a Memories or other black removal I had lost anyway - my only choice was to Cloak up the Drake, attack for four and go to seven life, which would take me clear of his attack.
Turns out I'm a scrub, and that mistake will cost $250. Ouch.
Round Twelve: Ross Edwards (UK) U/W/B
I roll him over really quickly because he got totally screwed over by the French guy who was seated to his right in the draft, and his deck is really quite poor. I didn't really follow his draft too closely, but I think he started U/B (like everybody else because of the starting booster), and then the French guy took heavy black. I was seated to Ed's left and already set in white and green, so Ed was forced to move over to pick up red - but then the French guy got screwed by the guy next to HIM switching into black and had to step into red as well. Overall, Ed got a bunch of crap with a few standout cards, but not enough of them to stop my deck from going through him in no time at all.
Rnd Thirteen: Kevin O'Connor (UK) W/U/B
An old Confucian saying seems relevant in this match, and it goes like this: "Don't overextend, he's got a f***ing Wrath Of God in his deck." Worth bearing in mind, I feel.
Game one, I make a Glimmering Angel and Cloak it up; he takes twelve from it before deciding he has to Rout it away, but in response I Repulse it back to my hand - then replay it, stick the other Cloak I had been holding back onto the Angel, and he folds. Game Two I make the Angel again and Cloak it up; he Routs earlier this time, but has nothing else to say. Although I don't get to save the Angel, the two 4/4 Kavu in my hand are plenty good enough to claim this one after the fear of Rout has passed, as he keeps seeing land.
Final Score: 9-0-4 (27 pts)
Which is good enough for 24th place and $250. Had I not screwed up versus Gordy, I would have made the Top 16 ($500) - and had I been bad on the first day and won against Mark Humphreys I would have made the Top 8 ($800-$2500). Oh well. When you play at this level the margin of error is really small, and my error against Gordon was pretty scrublike, so I can't feel too hard done by. And if you had said prior to the GP starting that I would be 24th, I would have been pleased, so I've got to be happy really. I drafted decks that should have been good enough to give me 6-0, but lost two VERY close matches against Phil Pettifer and Gordon - so I'm frustrated that I came so close to real glory and got relatively little. My teammate Neil Rigby went some way better than me, but just failed to emulate his Semi-Final appearance at GP: Birmingham by taking a place in the Top 8 and then losing to Le Pine.
Interestingly, Neil and myself achieved great success playing precisely the colours that have been so widely disparaged - namely, W/G. I played U/W/G in the Sealed, then W/G/R and U/W/G in the Rochesters. Neil, meanwhile, played U/W/G on each occasion and I think that our record shows that the combination is extremely strong (not least for Glimmering Angel/Armadillo Cloak). W/G has probably got the best array of monsters (the best two Apprentices, curved fatties in green and flyers and Protection in white), but it also has lousy tricks. If you run a third colour for the tricks (R or U) then you'll do fine, but you HAVE to get the tricks.
My MVP over the tournament was certainly Glimmering Angel - myself and Neil both spent the whole tournament hitting people with untargetable four-point Drain Lifes, and we also agree the Angel is the better of the two cards. Cloak is good, but it HAS to go on something they cannot kill easily or you waste it. The Angel is by far the best, but a Pro:Black guy or a Rainbow Crow (which Neil double-cloaked to beat Zvi's black removal deck) are also pretty good. Just dumping the Cloak onto the board first chance you get is a waste.