The Dragonmaster's Lair - GP Bochum
Grand Prix Bochum will go down as probably the most miserable tournament experience of my life. It was by no fault of Wizards, who ran a great event, or my opponents throughout the weekend, who were all good sports in victory and defeat. It was really one singular event that soured the whole weekend. But I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself.
I arrived in Bochum in the early afternoon on Friday, taking the train in from Amsterdam with the rest of the Ascension team. We ran into LSV and Tom Raney arriving at the same hotel and grabbed dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant (where I obviously lost the credit card game) before jumping into a draft to help the other guys get up to speed on the format. Justin and Jeff joined in, but John decided he was so far behind the curve on the format that he'd rather go out with some new friends he'd made the weekend before in Essen than bother trying to catch up. The rest of us got in one draft and decided to call it a night.
Despite getting to bed at 10 pm, I had trouble sleeping, which meant that my week early arrival in Europe helped very little to aid in my alertness during the tournament. Prior to PT Amsterdam, I'd never done well in a European tournament – hell, I'd never so much as made money in a European event – and I attribute it largely to jet lag. I'd hoped that being in Germany for Essen the week before would allow me to be well rested for the GP, but it seems my body had other ideas, and I woke up periodically throughout the night and barely got any sleep at all.
When my alarm went off, I insisted my roommate Jeff take the first shower just so I could try to get a few more minutes of sleep. It was not to be, however, and I stumbled downstairs bleary-eyed and exhausted after a quick call to the other room to make sure John did, in fact, make it back to the hotel the night before. The event didn't actually start for another hour, though, as we had to wait for the full 1842 players to register.
An aside on the state of Grand Prix. I think it's tremendous that Magic is doing so well that Grand Prix events get such massive turnouts, but I have to say that I generally enjoy huge events less than smaller ones. It's obviously harder to do well in an enormous field, but that's not even a major factor in what I'm talking about. A huge part of my enjoyment of Magic events is the opportunity to hang out with my friends who I only get the opportunity to see at those events. In Bochum, there were so many players that it was virtually impossible to find anyone you were looking for!
I would literally go for rounds without talking to the people I came with simply because they were nowhere to be seen in the massive sea of players. This issue was particularly exacerbated because we were in Europe, and I couldn't just text message people to find out where they were. While it would be nice to have more prizes, more invitations, more pro points or whatever for huge events, I think it's more important that the events themselves somehow be more manageable. Honestly I have no idea how to handle it, but I think we're really pushing the line for when events are just too big.
Anyway, back to the event itself, where I'm about to have the opportunity to play Sealed Deck with nearly 2000 of my closest friends. I've had a great deal of success in Scars Draft, so I was mostly hoping for a deck that could at least leave me drawing live for Top 8 after ten rounds. I really wish there was a way to add rounds to a Limited Grand Prix without just adding more rounds of Sealed Deck, since each round of Sealed just makes it that much more important to get a good pool and diminishes the impact of the two drafts. It's not really realistic to add another draft for logistical reasons, but knowing that you need to squeeze eight wins (including byes) out of a Sealed pool to even have a chance at Top 8 is pretty disheartening if you don't open well.
That said, I ended up receiving a pretty solid, though unspectacular deck, for the GP. I don't have the full card list, but I do have the deck I played and the cards I sideboarded in and out. One thing that's interesting about Scars Sealed Deck is that the number of artifacts in any given pool means that you have a ton of options not only while building but while sideboarding as well. I actually played three entirely different decks throughout the tournament depending on my opponent's decks.
My maindeck was U/R:
1 Chrome Steed
1 Copper Myr
1 Darkslick Drake
1 Gold Myr
1 Golem Artisan
1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
1 Neurok Replica
1 Neurok Invisimancer
1 Oxidda Scrapmelter
1 Sky-Eel School
1 Trinket Mage
1 Vedalken Certarch
2 Vulshok Replica
No major bombs, but a decently synergistic deck. Turn to Slag is a card that is much better in Sealed Deck than it is in Draft, both because it deals with many of the major bombs in the format like Hoard-Smelter Dragon, Geth, and the like, and also because pretty much everyone has at least a few pieces of equipment that you can kill with it. I only had Scrapmelter for non-creature artifact removal, so I was afraid of losing to cards like Mimic Vat, but I didn't really have any other options – I had only one Revoke Existence in white and not even a Sylvok Replica to splash.
I did make good use of my sideboard, however. I had the makings of about half an infect deck in black, and sideboarded in these cards in a handful of games where I felt like I was better off playing a half-and-half beatdown deck than control:
I also had an Inexorable Tide in my sideboard, and once sideboarded into U/B Infect and once into B/R Infect, generally when I felt my maindeck matched up poorly against the general strategy or specific cards my opponent had.
Against my first opponent, I lost the first game to Tangle Angler when I had a hand of Vedalken Certarch, double Vulshok Replica, and a Spellbomb on the draw. If you look at my deck, you can probably realize pretty quickly that it doesn't have any way to effectively deal with Tangle Angler before it basically runs away with the game. He was playing Infect, so I decided that my U/B deck was the best choice against him, since he didn't have any specific big creatures I needed Turn to Slag to handle, and I wanted my blue fliers and Trinket Mage as insurance against Tel-Jilad Fallen. I managed to take the next two games on the back of how effective Instill Infection and Necropede are in the infect mirror, though game 3 showcased the issues with being a half/half deck when I had him at two life and eight poison counters, but thankfully I was able to get the double kill with a Blackcleave Goblin and Sky-Eel School.
My next few rounds weren't terribly interesting. I lost one match to mana screw followed by mana flood, which I wouldn't bring up except it highlights an issue about the format that I'm not a big fan of. The nature of metalcraft demands a certain density of artifacts in a deck and encourages cheating on land with Myr and Spellbombs. This translates into many more games being decided by mana problems than in most formats, simply because players are pretty much forced to keep hands that are reliant on Myr for mana, and then if the Myr dies they almost certainly lose. I think it also contributes to many players feeling like the format is particularly reliant on bombs, because they pick up so many wins from Shattering a second turn Myr that they do it probably more often than they should, leaving themselves helpless against the Mimic Vat or Steel Hellkite that follows.
Similarly, mana flood is particularly painful in a format where cards are so interdependent – when you draw too many land in most formats, it just means you have less spells to work with, but in Scars it can mean that you both have less spells and the spells you do have are less powerful because you lack metalcraft. The pressure metalcraft puts on having enough artifacts also means that players will often play artifacts that are individually lower impact than they'd typically run in another format, which makes mulligans more painful and generally increases variance overall. I love drafting the set, where you have much more control over the kind of deck you build, but for Sealed Deck the issue seems more egregious to me. What can I say? I miss scry.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah – I lost one match to mana troubles, then won two more, then lost another to my deck just not being able to handle my opponent's fast starts with my expensive removal. I had my back against the wall in the final round and felt pretty good when my opponent missed his second land drop in game 1. I wasn't feeling quite as good when he continued to hit every land drop for the next four turns, and I proceeded to hit my land drops for the next eleven turns, but Golem Artisan is a fine card to have when you're mana flooded, and I managed to win with my five total spells.
I decided to sideboard into my B/R Infect deck, since he'd shown me Embersmith in game 1, and my U/R deck was pretty much dead to it if it came down on the second turn. He'd also played a number of sizable creatures and equipment, so I wanted my Turn to Slags over the blue cards. Things were looking good in the second game when he once again stalled on land, and I killed his Palladium Myr, but he recovered immediately and dropped Indomitable Archangel, which went the distance. I had a good start in the second game, but my Plague Stinger died to Contagion Clasp, my Necropede to Revoke Existence, and my Corpse Cur to Scrapmelter. I was taking damage from a Salvage Scout and Myr token from Origin Spellbomb and was down to fifteen when I played Golem Artisan.
On my opponent's turn, he played Darksteel Juggernaut and then attacked with his Scrapmelter. With a hand of Plague Stinger, Tainted Strike, Blackcleave Goblin, Bladed Pinions, and Sylvok Lifestaff, I thought for a while and decided to block with my Artisan, feeling that I couldn't afford to keep two mana up to hold off the Scrapmelter each turn while taking damage from the Juggernaut. The next turn I drew a land, played out the Goblin plus Lifestaff, while my opponent returned his Origin Spellbomb with the Scout and replayed it, making his Juggernaut a 4/4. I blocked, leaving the Juggernaut as a 1/1, and then drew a land and played my Plague Stinger with Bladed Pinions and equipped both, begging “Please don't Turn me to Slag.” Of course, my opponent drew, looked at me with that look that I just knew I'd called his shot, and turned over the second Mountain he needed to play the Turn to Slag that was waiting in his hand, and like that, my tournament was over.
After the game, some of the spectators suggested that I should've just taken the damage from the Scrapmelter and then held up mana to fend it off with my Golem the next turn, while playing out Plague Stinger, and tried to race with the Golem + Tainted Strike + Plague Stinger (my opponent had two poison counters from my Necropede). I'd thought about it, but the math didn't work out how they were claiming – at best, I could hope to get my opponent to nine poison counters before I died, and I wouldn't be able to play out my hand because I was holding mana up.
Of course, that night while I was replaying the game in my head, I figured out the actual correct play. I should've taken the damage, dropping to twelve, and then on my turn played Bladed Pinions and equipped it to my Golem. This meant that my opponent's Scrapmelter would have to stay home, but his Juggernaut had to attack, and I could use Tainted Strike to give my Golem infect and kill the Juggernaut with first striking -1/-1 counters. That would free up all of my mana and let me play out both my Plague Stinger and Blackcleave Goblin the following turn, and my opponent would be in a position that he'd have to rip in order to get back in the game. Of course, he'd still draw the Mountain to Turn to Slag, but by that point I'd actually have him on the back foot with multiple flying infect creatures and he'd have to decide between stemming that tide or going aggressive by killing my Golem. It's possible I wouldn't have won, but it certainly gave me a better chance than the line of play I took.
In any case, I was out of the tournament, so the next morning when I couldn't sleep past 9 am anyway, I decided to make the best of my time there and play in a Standard side event to get some practice in the format for Worlds. I didn't really have much in the way of cards for the deck I wanted to play – the U/B Control deck I posted in my article last week – but thankfully, I'd put together a binder of pretty much all of my valuable Standard cards during some of my downtime at GP Sydney, and I was ready to venture into the trading world to try to pick up some Abyssal Persecutors and the like.
I made a few trades on the floor, in which I'm sure I got completely sharked because I have absolutely no idea what anything is worth, before deciding I was probably just better off taking my business to the dealer tables. A few minutes and a dozen or so cards from my binder later, and I was the proud owner of pretty much everything I needed for my deck. I went up to the side event station and signed up for my event, then wandered over to the coverage table to talk to Rich Hagon and Tim Willoughby while I waited for my event to be called. We were about twenty minutes into our storytelling when I looked down and had an awful feeling in my stomach.
“Uh… where's my binder?”
Somehow in the time since I'd signed up for my event and walked the twenty feet to the coverage table, my binder had gone missing. I looked in my bag. Nope. I looked all over the coverage table. Nope. I walked back over to the side event station and asked if they remembered me having it when I signed up, and yes, I had, but no, they hadn't seen it. Not in lost in found. Not anywhere.
I suddenly went from smiling and excited to play in my side event to feeling miserable that I'd bothered to bring my cards down from my room. I wandered around the room, looking around at all of the tables with people trading with stacked binders, hoping to catch a glimpse of mine. I kept checking back in at the lost and found, hoping that someone might have brought it by, but as the day went on, it became clearer and clearer that it was gone.
I suppose I'm much more fortunate than most, in that the sudden disappearance of pretty much my entire Magic collection doesn't cripple my ability to play in events. I have lots of resourceful friends who are willing to help me out with cards. Hell, up until PT Austin, I pretty much hadn't even owned cards since back when I used to play, since I just borrowed what I needed to play. After Austin, I decided to buy my deck since I wanted to keep it for sentimental reasons and then progressively decided to hold on to cards from drafts and buy more decks I played so I'd have a collection I could use to build decks for things like gunslinging or side events.
The binder probably had a few thousand dollars worth of cards in it, all told, but it's not really the monetary loss that bothers me as much. Those were the Baneslayers from my Austin deck. The Vengevines from my Sendai deck. Hell, I even had old WoW loot cards tucked in the back, including the scratch-off cards I got from BlizzCon a few years back that I'd never redeemed.
I'm no Jonathan Medina. I don't have a collection so that I can turn a profit. I have – or rather, I had – a collection to play Magic. I held onto cards that I cared about and cards that I wanted to play with outside of tournaments. I was in the process of trying to put together an EDH deck, mostly so I'd have my own deck when people asked me to gun sling against them in EDH. But I guess I'm not going to do that anymore.
The truly absurd thing is that the binder quite literally had my name on it. It was one of the “Blame Kibler” binders that Michelle Cove from GamingETC had made that she'd given me a copy of, and I decided to put all my cards in it because it was funny. I can't imagine there are many of them out there in Europe, so whoever got their hands on that binder – they know it's mine.
If that person is reading this right now – or anyone who might know who that person is, because things like this don't remain secrets for long – I have a game for you. It's called “Choose your Own Adventure,” just like those books that were popular oh so many years ago. Are you ready to play? Here goes!
You've come into possession of a binder of Magic cards. Many of these cards are valuable, and you know that if you sold them you could probably fetch a tidy sum. But the binder, and these cards, do not belong to you, and you know the person to whom they do belong!
A) Contact the owner and find a way to return the cards to him. If so, go to number 123
B) Sell the cards and keep the money for yourself. If so, go to number 666.
Remember, no cheating!
Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes we get the chance to correct those mistakes. This is one of those chances. You contact the owner via private message on the StarCityGames.com forums, or perhaps you send the binder anonymously to WotC Europe with a note indicating that you'd like to see it returned to its rightful owner. In either case, this is your chance to do the right thing, and you're going to take it. You're a good man, Charlie Brown. Congratulations! You win!
You sell the cards, and pocket the cash for yourself. Screw that guy! What does he need those cards for anyway! He's a big time Pro Player – he can fend for himself! Damn the man!
While leaving the card store where you fenced your stolen property, you look down and notice a wallet in the street that must have fallen out of someone's pocket. It's your lucky day again! You bend down to pick it up….
….and get hit by a bus and die. You lose.