Holy cow! I got a flight to catch!
As I went to grab my phone to see what time it was knowing I had to call the cab company at 4:15 AM to get a ride to the airport it began to dawn on me that I was in the exit row of an airplane. I briefly felt a bit silly but I was definitely more than a little tired and confused. I'll let it slide...this time.
Half-fading in and out of dreams my mind began to wander to Denver. It was only when the person next to me spoke to the person to his left that I realized we were on our way to the East Coast not Denver. It wasn't until I tried to connect to Baltimore that I (re-)discovered that I was actually flying to Washington D.C.
Just as a word of warning when buying plane tickets on websites like Priceline.com and Cheapoair.com you can find a lot of good deals but it can be easy to accidentally agree to options you aren't really in the market for if you're not careful. For instance a common one is to suggest nearby airports in an effort to reduce the price. My flight to D.C. was probably $90 cheaper than a plane to Baltimore would've been but was it worth it after factoring in the trains and automobiles that would also need to be included to finish the journey? Some would say yes as the cost in dollar bills was lower but it also depends on what you were going to do with that extra three hours.
I eventually arrived at the Grand Prix site (the Baltimore Convention Center is a great venue) looking to battle. After not having had a chance to play any Magic since Hawaii I knew I would need a few games to decide on a deck. I knew from the direction the metagame had gone that control was looking well positioned and not just because I always like control. I sat down with a Grixis brew against Joe Crosby playing Wolf Run Ramp then Todd Anderson playing Wolf Run Green. These games combined with all of the random conversations I had during the course of them was giving me a pretty good idea of the direction the metagame was turning.
Spirits was still going to be somewhat popular but the massive adoption of Corrosive Gale was a real serious problem for the archetype and I expected the majority of Spirits players to switch back to traditional Delver (either Illusions or Hexproof/Blade). Humans seemed a bit on the decline (good news for lots of non-white control decks). Wolf Run Delver and Control all seemed to be popular choices. In such a field I knew Grixis would be poorly positioned. There may be less Humans but there would be more Wolf Run and U/B Control neither of which I'd want to face. Grixis is much better against B/U Zombies Tempered Steel and Mono-Red plus a bit better against Mono-Green and Spirits but those didn't seem nearly as popular as Wolf Run U/B Control and Reanimator.
At 11 PM I left the site to make my way back to my hotel to sleep. I opted for one of the oldest and most faithful moves a player can make in situations like this...
... Call Luis Scott-Vargas and ask if you can run his 75 in the dark!
"I'm in California. I ended up not being able to make it this weekend..."
"...but I still a got a list for you!"
After striking a pose like Freddie Mercury I set about building the version of U/B Luis had suggested which came included with the instructions to add a card or two in the sideboard against control. I had a feeling Luis would suggest U/B and if he had suggested anything else then I definitely would want to be in on it.
I knew I wanted a Blue Sun's Zenith but it wasn't until I talked with Michael Jacob Gerry Thompson Sam Black Andrew Cuneo Owen Turtenwald Shuhei Nakamura and a few others that I settled on cutting a sideboard Doom Blade and a sideboard Bloodline Keeper and adding Jace Memory Adept.
Here's the list I played:
The move towards so much Grave Titan was not widely adopted at the GP but it was a move I was totally on board with (having just played three Grave Titans in Grixis in Hawaii). The theory is that there are three types of opponents:
1) Good matchups
2) The mirror
3) People you play a Grave Titan against and cross your fingers!
Mono-Green U/B Zombies Humans and Mono-Red are all not the best matchups but at least Grave Titan gives us a passable chance. Tempered Steel is pretty bad as well but Grave Titan doesn't really help at all here.
Day 1 went swimmingly as I played against a laundry list of opponents that reinforced U/B as a wise move over Grixis. You would think the three byes wouldn't be that big of a deal but it's actually sort of like two-to-two and a half these days due to the Planeswalker Points system not yet having all of the kinks worked out of it. Wizards initially wanted to set the top N number of people but that system is really stressful. Do I have byes? Do I not? Could I lose them? The result of setting a bar to hit byes was that the total number of people receiving byes was a bit off of what they'd like. This is far from the biggest problem in the world especially given that WotC will slightly tweak the thresholds next time around. For the time being however we are looking at GPs that have over half of the field sitting out of the first round...
Once I was actually paired against opponents it was literally a laundry list of bad matchups for Grixis save the lone Delver opponent:
As bad as these opponents would be for Grixis U/B Control was perfect. Humans and Zombies aren't great matchups but Grave Titan bailed me out in all three. Starting out 9-0 was obviously pretty awesome though it was slightly less awesome than it would normally be due to the 10th round of the tournament being pushed to the next day combining with the bye situation to result in eight undefeated players (six 9-0s).
Day 2 began with an unfeatured mirror-match between Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa and me at the undefeated table (I guess they were getting tired of so many U/B Mirrors in the coverage). The match came down to a fight over Blue Sun's Zenith to deck him with him having four cards left in his library. I was Drowning him with my lone Drownyard (as he had Surgically Extracted the other three) but he was way up on card advantage and had a Batterskull beating me down. At four life I had plenty of counterspells in hand but was bottlenecked on mana. On Paulo's end step I Blue Sun's Zenithed him for four. He Dissipated. I Negated. He flashed back his final Think Twice and hit a Snapcaster Mage to counter my counter and win the game.
What I should have done was Blue Sun him for just one then Drowned him for the final three. This was my first plan but in my haste I miscounted my mana and thought I would be able to protect the Blue Sun with two counterspells instead of just one.
My next match against Jason Ford with Delver was another exciting one. Game 1 I locked him out early with Curse of Death's Hold. Game 2 the combination of Batterskull and Jace Memory Adept were too much for me. Not everyone agreed with this sideboard plan but I thought it was very effective as counterspells aren't really where I want to be against Delver.
Game three I boarded a few more counterspells back in (going up to six) as well as the third Grave Titan (which I often sideboarded out against Delver). The critical moment in the game came when Ford Pondered kept and then played two Delvers with a Batterskull in play emptying his hand. I had a Ratchet Bomb ticking up to three a Tragic Slip and a Grave Titan. I played the Grave Titan and Slipped a Delver figuring they would both flip and I wanted to be sure to kill at least one plus I didn't want it countered. It wasn't until Ford's turn I realized that he was surely going to move his Batterskull over to a Delver meaning a Germ would die. I could've just waited to Slip the big Delver (assuming I was real sure he would make this play which in retrospect I should've been). This would have given me an extra turn which would have let me Ratchet Bomb for five buying me another turn. All this time would have allowed my Grave Titan to have easily raced the Batterskull (assuming Ford drew nothing). As it was I was still in good shape if I could find a removal spell but tragically I never did.
Another victory against W/U Humans and it was me against the Player of the Year. Owen Turtenwald and I locked horns in another U/B mirror match which meant it would be exciting but sadly largely about whoever drew the most Drownyards and Ghost Quarters. Charles Gindy played six maindeck in Baltimore and if I knew then what I know now I would probably have done the same (as it is all that really matters in the head-to-head).
Our match came down to some pretty epic Dissipate your Dissipate of my Dissipate of your Dissipate of my Dissipate of your Dissipate battles with Jace Memory Adept getting to hold the trophy after all of Drownyard's work.
Unfortunately my last two rounds against two more control decks (U/B Control and Sam Black with U/W Control) didn't break my way. While I think I could've realistically changed the PV and Ford matchups (to 1-0-1 instead of 0-2) I don't think I could've meaningfully changed these matchups short of having a more anti-control build.
After painfully watching the game restart over and over against Sam Black and Karn (after decking Sam three times) I lost the final round to finish the day at 12-4 and 33rd on breaks. Good beats are good beats.
I was quite happy with the list and am super glad I went this route instead of Grixis. The only concern was that I and others who were set up so well against aggro were poorly equipped for the mirror match. I'd like to see a maindeck Blue Sun's Zenith return (probably instead of a Grave Titan) as well as another Drownyard instead of an Island (maybe even a 4th Drownyard main). I think I'd also like one of the Nihil Spellbomb in the sideboard to be a Surgical Extraction (as an added tool for the mirror).
Moving forward U/B Control is a great metagame call. It has great matchups against Delver Spirits Wolf Run Grixis and Reanimator. As for its bad matchups Zombies and Humans aren't that bad and Tempered Steel Mono-Red and Mono-Green aren't that popular. I do think we're going to see a shift in the meta. With U/B back in the top tier this is going to open up some space in the metagame for Mono-Green and Tempered Steel which are probably a bit underplayed at the moment. Zombies is still decent but Humans and Mono-Red are still fairly poorly positioned.
Most of the dealers sold out of Corrosive Gales this weekend but I actually expect the card to slightly drop in popularity (because it's so effective). The StarCityGames.com Open last weekend demonstrated just how powerful Spirits really was but now that so many people are using the Spirit version of Creeping Corrosion (these Corrosive cards...) it's just too dangerous to rely on an army of fliers. Of course now that the GP has shown us that it's time for Delver to return and Spirits to go to fringe there will be less Gales next week. These corrections take time however so there will still probably be more Corrosive Gales than there should be next weekend meaning it's a bad time to play Spirits (not to mention struggling with U/B Control).
Wolf Run and Reanimator are probably not where we want to be next week either due to bad U/B matchups. It's going to be interesting to see Sam Black's U/W list exploring if it's actually as anti-control as he hoped it would be. I know my match against him felt tough but I do think more maindeck Drownyards would've made all the difference in the world. Additionally not having access to a Karn anywhere in our 75 is probably a mistake moving forward. Also I'd like to see a Batterskull instead of that Bloodline Keeper next time around.
Rather than dwell on the $125 cab to D.C. at 3:15 AM I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the GP Top 8. First of all major props to Matt Costa. Coming off his other GP Top 8s and making Top 8 of Pro Tour Dark Ascension two and a half weeks ago he earned this trophy. Also props to Paulo who continues to defy logic and reason with how much he wins.
Congrats to Jackie Lee whose 3rd place finish with R/G Aggro was triumphant—and not just because she is a woman. She had a fantastic tournament by any metric and I'm pretty tired of hearing "People only care because she is a woman."
A woman Top 8ed last weekend at Grand Prix Lincoln and Jackie is the third woman to Top 8 a GP in the last four months along with Melissa DeTora and Mary Jacobson. During that time 51 different people Top 8ed a Grand Prix with three women and forty-eight men. Now let me ask you something. Do you suppose those tournaments were made up of 6% female players? Percentage-wise women are performing not only better than ever at Grand Prix but better than men by a clear margin. Seventy-five percent of all women to Top 8 a Grand Prix in Magic's 15-year history did so in the past four months!
That is a story. When invisible ceilings such as the color barrier are finally broken it begins with just one or two pioneers but once that tipping point is reached it can seem like an avalanche. After all what if women actually are equally well-equipped to play Magic? What if the largest factor holding back female play at the highest levels is residual sexism in networking preparation and tournament climate?
Over the years many women have fought to blaze a trail not just for women Magic players but for the game itself. Michelle Bush Kate Sullivan Carrie Oliver Kim Eikefet Ellen Koberer Asami Kataoka Eda Bilsel Marie-Laure Saulnier and Liz Lempicki are just a few of the many women who have succeeded at tournament Magic and kicked open the door.
We as a community—and a heavily male-populated one—have a long way to go. Our culture has advanced so much in the past year or two alone. Still there is a terrible disparity between those who "get it" and those who don't; the battle is far from over. This isn't a battle over women's rights or anything else along those lines. It is about increasing the awareness of a community that doesn't always realize when it is hurting people (or itself).
Some people will argue the straw man that women shouldn't get special treatment. Special treatment? Is this a joke? As far as I can tell the vast majority of women I know competing in events just want to be treated as Magic players and don't want to hear "She is pretty good for a girl." Special treatment? Oh you mean the kind Jackie Lee received when some critics cut into her for making some mistakes on camera in the Top 8 of a Grand Prix? It's not sexist to point out mistakes; however when comparing the responses she got to the ones Paulo and I got for making mistakes on camera it's very revealing just how sexist some of the audience is (or can be).
I lost at least two matches this weekend that I didn't have to. Paulo made Top 8 and is one of the two best players on the planet and even he was telling everyone about a number of blunders he had made throughout the tournament.
Guess what? This is Magic. No one no one plays close to perfectly. When there are no cameras it is real easy to rewrite history to cover up the painful truth: everyone makes tons of suboptimal plays. It's easy to jump on players when they make their first big finish. After all they don't know that person so they can attack them (and make themselves feel better about their own abilities). The only people who get it worse than rookies are women.
Jackie Lee played a helluva tournament as I can attest to from getting to sit next to her so many times. She was able to face each of her mistakes and learn from them. As a result she Top 8ed a 1546-person Constructed tournament. How did you do? Remember there is no trophy for "Most Delusional" so if you play a big event and think you didn't make tons of mistakes afterward don't expect one.
The fact Jackie is a woman is an obstacle she overcame—not because she was at a disadvantage physically or mentally but because she had to deal with countless doubters and haters who doubted her because she is a woman. Look at the responses to Jackie Lee's games on camera and compare those to the ones other competitors received. It's always a matter of shades of gray but it's painfully obvious that some amount of the venomous responses she received were because she is woman. Heaven forbid not having that half of the population to feel superior to!
I am so #@!%ing proud of Jackie Mary and Melissa I want to cry. When I am seventy I am going to be telling my grandkids about this exact four-month stretch. This is not an exaggeration. These three women made more individual GP Top 8s than were made in the previous 15 years! Women are outperforming men percentage-wise for the first time ever! This is the beginnings of our Billie Jean King our Jackie Robinson. It may not be long before the first woman Top 8s a Pro Tour. We are watching history happening right now and just as with Billie Jean King and Jackie Robinson there are going to be people hating on those pushing for progress.
Our community is at a crossroads. The floodgates have recently opened and not everyone is going to be okay with this. Magic is a game filled with an awful lot of smart people with an awful lot of ego invested in convincing themselves how smart they are. A lot of these people are young men and a number of them will have their feelings hurt by more slots being taken by women—something they will take as a personal affront when they don't accomplish the same thing. One response is to lash out at those women and try to get them "back in line."
Another response is to move the walls out of the way and free up admission to the clubhouse. Our culture is awesome and the more people we can share it with the better. The more perspectives we gain the more life and love people want to share with us the better. Inviting women in is great because there are tons of people who could bring so much good to this game…and half of them are women.
It isn't about making the bar different for women or giving up anything that makes the game great. It is about minor changes in perception and behavior that make all the difference in the world.
For instance sometimes players don't realize when the language they are using is further perpetuating the underlying sexism of the culture. One of the worst examples of this is the use of "rape" slang. The use of rape terminology as slang for dominating someone hurts the effort to break down the barrier—and not because women are the only rape victims (in fact at least 10-20 percent of rape victims are men). The problem is that it further perpetuates a language that takes the worst of human behavior and uses it to describe something "good."
Rape is about dominance and control. Continuing to use language that values men dominating and controlling people sexually as being a "good thing" flies in the face of the recent advances our community has made to break down the barriers described above. Rape slang is one example but there are so many more. Another is spreading rumors about female Magic players' relationships. Believe it or not not every woman in Magic is trying to sleep their way to the top! Shocking right?
Another glaring example of the pervading sexism is with the recent GP Indy playmat situation. You can view the playmat here . The Tournament Organizer for this event (not Wizards of the Coast) commissioned and produced this playmat to give away to each participant. However I am not even talking about the TO who made a poor judgment call. Any one individual can make some decisions from time to time that aren't going to look great in retrospect. I am talking about the people who lashed out against those who had the courage to actually speak up about yet another example of mindless sexism that was holding back our culture.
The playmat is not inherently "horrible" and it's cool if you are into that sort of thing. There are plenty of men and women alike who enjoy certain kinds of fantasies. The problem is that this was the official playmat representing a Wizards of the Coast Grand Prix. These are the largest tournaments in the world put on by a major corporation that is part of Hasbro. Can we really not see why some people would be nonplussed at having Magic's largest event promoted with women shown as sex slaves?
What the #@!%?
No really what the hell is wrong with those people? As a guy who is miles from being "overly sensitive" or even "generally regarded as compassionate" if you can't piece together a) why those playmats are not okay b) why it's acceptable people are outraged (at the least) and c) why it's not at all cool to attack people who spoke up about it then consider this hypothetical (with the hopes that—just maybe—you can understand where these people are coming from before throwing barbs at them).
Imagine a graphic and widely circulated description and depiction of your mother or your girlfriend/wife/SO being raped.
Would that bother you?
Sexual slavery is not rape but the two are closely related. Can people find domination and the like a turn on? Absolutely and consenting adults can have tons of positive experiences in this area. However it is pretty clear that it is not for everyone and more importantly that this has no place on a mainstream Magic: The Gathering promotional playmat.
You may disagree and that is your right. However it is ludicrous that a grown rational person couldn't at least understand why some people would feel this way. Arguing over whether this playmat goes too far is a very different thing from attacking people who speak up about it. I am rarely accused of being too feminist but even I think this playmat was not even close to okay. That said people make mistakes and hopefully good will come of this.
The ones who disgust me are those attacking the men and women who spoke out against it. Debating the issue around the playmat is one thing but personally attacking someone because they somehow "took something away?" Guys come on. Please.
Are we each one of us going to make an effort to raise the level of awareness of a part of our own community? Or are we going to drug ourselves with the delusion of superiority and try to beat down the women in our community—who have the audacity to do something of significance?
We can be and are better than that.