Any Ichorids? A Grand Prix: Charlotte Report *Top 8*

A thoughtful and learned look back on Lapille’s first Grand Prix Top 8 experience.

My name is Tom LaPille, and I recently finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Charlotte. I realize that Extended is now completely irrelevant to high-level Magic for a ridiculously long amount of time, but based on my recent tournament experience at lower levels of tournament play, the majority of Magic players do not know how to approach a tournament like a Grand Prix in a way that gives them a chance to succeed. My goal for this article is to use my experiences in Charlotte to show you how I think about playing in Magic tournaments. Some things I talk about may be below players who have played at high levels before, but it should be relevant to players who are not succeeding at the qualifier level but aspire to succeed at Grand Prix and Pro Tours.

The story of my Grand Prix: Charlotte started the weekend of the 2005 Magic World Championships in Yokohama. In the blog section of the official live coverage, Brian David-Marshall included a terrible-looking dredge deck that Osyp Lebedowicz played in a Grand Prix Trial at Worlds. I would not have taken notice of the deck, but Brian had included that Osyp’s play group fully intended on taking it to Charlotte and did not want him to publish the list. After playing the deck on Magic Online, I came to the conclusion that the deck was actually pretty good but was inconsistent. However, about an hour later I played a mirror match in which my opponent cast Tolarian Winds on turn 2 and dredged something like thirty cards while resolving it. At that point, I knew that I was taking Ichorids to Charlotte. I worked with Adam Yurchick on the deck for a few days, and that weekend Adam failed to lose a match in the process of winning a Honolulu qualifier in Butler, Pennsylvania. I worked with J. R. Wade in Cincinnati for a few days on the sideboard over the next week. In Charlotte, Adam played in the last minute Grand Prix Trial and won three byes after we compared notes with Gerry Thompson.

The deck that Adam, J. R., and I registered for the Grand Prix was as follows:

Akil Steele Deck

4 Putrid Imp

4 Psychatog

4 Ichorid

4 Stinkweed Imp

4 Golgari Grave-Troll

2 Wonder

4 Zombie Infestation

4 Cabal Therapy

4 Deep Analysis

4 Tolarian Winds

4 Polluted Delta

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Cephalid Coliseum

4 Watery Grave

1 Overgrown Tomb

1 Swamp

4 Chrome Mox


4 Firemane Angel

4 Moment’s Peace

4 Coffin Purge

2 Ray of Revelation

1 Krosan Reclamation

Despite working on the deck independently for two weeks, Adam and I simply played Gerry Thompson list. Adam and I had three Riftstone Portals and no Overgrown Tomb before talking to Gerry, but the eight Onslaught fetchlands give you consistent enough access to Overgrown Tomb that the Portals were unnecessary once we decided to cut Kataki from our sideboard. As it turns out, four Moment’s Peace is enough to race Affinity effectively with Ichorids and zombies, barring something silly like Engineered Plague. Adam and I also originally didn’t have an eighteenth land, which is actually a borderline decision. If you want to play this deck in the future, I suggest playing an eighteenth land, a Life from the Loam, or four Careful Studies in place of a Mox, a Putrid Imp, a Deep Analysis, and a Tolarian Winds. The twenty-second mana source is only needed if you don’t have a way to stabilize your mana draws, and the other three cards listed can be shaved because drawing two of any of them at once makes for clunky hands. Note that unlike TOGIT, we didn’t play Compost or Pithing Needle in our sideboard because we decided that playing cards that you have to play from your hand is suboptimal when you don’t actually draw cards after turn 3 under ideal circumstances. Playing spells from your hand is so last season.

Even if you don’t care about Extended, you should take notice of how I decided on this deck. When a player is trying to keep something a secret and is actively upset that it is going to get leaked, you know they think it’s very strong. When the player in question is also very good, then you know something is really up, and you should try to find out if they’re right. As soon as I read that TOGIT was trying to keep the deck under wraps, I knew that I had to try it, and it turned out to be completely amazing. The other thing that is extremely important for you if you want to succeed at high level Magic is that you simply cannot be picky about the deck you play. I honestly cannot stand playing the Ichorid deck. It’s very powerful, but it’s incredibly boring because once you choose how to play out your hand, there are very few interesting decisions to be made. However, I was able to step outside of myself and realize that it is by far the best deck in the format, which meant that I had to play it. If you know what the best deck in the format is and you aren’t playing it, you will not be giving yourself the best chance to win, which is unacceptable if your goal is to win tournaments.

I had three byes for Charlotte thanks to a Grand Prix Trial. I spent the first of them at a breakfast buffet at the downtown Holiday Inn, which was quite delicious. The second and third byes were spent at the site playing a few games to warm up and resleeving. Having three byes is absolutely amazing; not only do you get three free wins and to have better tiebreakers, but you get the chance to eat real food in the morning and have time to really wake up before you have to battle. However, any byes you can get will help you succeed at a Grand Prix; if your rating is barely over 1850 or 1925 a few weeks before the cutoff for rating byes for a Grand Prix that you plan on attending, you probably shouldn’t play in anything like a Constructed Friday Night Magic until your byes are locked in.

Finally, pairings went up for round four and the fun began.

Round 4: Mike Krumb, Ichorid

I knew before the round that Mike is a friend of Gerry Thompson, so when he played a first turn Putrid Imp I guessed that he was running the same 75 cards as me. He won game one because his blind Cabal Therapy hit my only discard outlet and my Therapy missed, which let him cast Tolarian Winds to mill a third of his deck and get a Psychatog down while I was stuck without a way to get my dredge cards into the graveyard. He went off to the races with Ichorids while I sat looking stupid and died. I sideboarded in the Coffin Purges, Krosan Reclamation, and Moment’s Peaces for all of the Deep Analysis, Cabal Therapy, and one Putrid Imp; it turned out that Mike sideboarded identically except that he didn’t play a Krosan Reclamation, so he left in the fourth Putrid Imp. In game two, he got a clear-cut draw with Zombie Infestation and ran me over with Tim Aten pro player cards after Coffin Purging my only dredge card. I stalled him for a few turns with Moment’s Peace, but that left me without mana to get any offense going, so I lost.

0-1 in matches played, 9 match points

I was pretty depressed after the match. I didn’t think I tested the mirror enough before the tournament, and this match confirmed my suspicions. As it turns out, the key to game one of the Ichorid mirror is to hit with blind Cabal Therapies. To do anything, the Ichorid deck needs to get dredge cards in its graveyard repeatedly, and draws that don’t have a Putrid Imp in them need to play Zombie Infestation or Psychatog to do so. In general, for a hand to be a keeper on the play, it needs to contain a dredge card and a discard outlet or a way to get Deep Analysis in the graveyard for turn 2. If a mirror opponent doesn’t play a Putrid Imp or Careful Study on turn 1 and they are on the draw, it is likely that they either have Zombie Infestation or Chrome Mox and Psychatog in their hand for turn 2 because otherwise their hand would have been mulliganed. If you have Cabal Therapy on the draw, you need to make a good read on your first turn and hit or you may be too far behind to catch up. The moral is that as soon as you have found the best deck in the format and decided to play it, you should test the mirror as much as possible. Since you’re playing the best deck, you’re going to win a lot of matches and end up playing other people who win a lot of matches with the same deck, so you need to know how to beat them. I did not test the mirror enough, and I was punished for it here.

Round 5: Trey McGinn, Rift-Slide

I didn’t recognize my opponent’s name, which I was happy about, and I watched him closely as he randomized his deck. He appeared to be inexperienced, as his shuffling mannerisms were somewhat shaky and clunky. Also, he carried his deck in a Dragon Shields sleeve box, and his deck was sleeved in rather worn Dragon Shield sleeves that matched the box. All of these things made me confident that I was in better shape than I was last round.

He was playing Rift/Slide, and in game one he gots both of his deck’s namesake enchantments out before I could do anything about it. I attempted to get through them with Ichorids, but I couldn’t do it quickly enough and he found another Rift and simply killed me. Based on what he had played, I put him on having a list similar to the one that Craig Krempels and Josh Ravitz played at Worlds. I boarded in Rays of Revelation for a Wonder and a Putrid Imp. In game two, I cast Tolarian Winds on the first turn, which was good for a dropped jaw from my opponent and nineteen cards in my graveyard. My Ichorids and a lot of Cabal Therapies got him from there. In game three on my opponent’s second turn, he very carefully and gingerly played a Swamp and then played a Sakura-Tribe Elder quickly and callously in comparison. I noticed this, cast Tolarian Winds on his end step dredging a lot of cards, and on my turn after I attacked with a flying Ichorid, I flashed back Cabal Therapy and named the Cranial Extraction that he clearly had ready for his turn 3. He sarcastically called me a master; I said that if mastery means I pay attention to the sideboards of decks that are posted on the internet, then I guess he’s right! I nailed his Astral Slide with a Ray and killed him in short order.

1-1 in matches played, 12 match points

The key play of the match was my Cabal Therapy on turn 2 of game three. If I had not read and memorized a lot of decks from the coverage of Worlds and articles on various websites, I may have missed this particular deck’s sideboard and lost all of my Ichorids and probably the match the next turn. If you want to succeed in Constructed, it is important that you stay up on the decks that players are likely to copy. In your testing, even if you know that a card in one of the stock lists is bad, you should keep it the same so that you are used to playing against the cards you are more likely to face in a tournament situation. If you only practice against homegrown versions of stock decks, you may find yourself playing around cards that your opponent does not have and walking into ones that he does.

Round 6: James Beeton, Ichorid

James Beeton is a kid from Michigan who I had played against before. He had been belligerent and disrespectful to me while playing in the past, so I knew that I was in for an interesting match. I decided to just bash him instead of letting his antics get to me. I actually don’t remember the details of game one or two, but I won one of them. Game three was fun because James’ sideboard was not very well-built. Thanks to my Coffin Purge, I got to the point where I had three lands including an Overgrown Tomb, a Zombie Infestation with a few zombies in play and a lot of Ichorids and a few Moment’s Peaces in my graveyard while he had very little action, and I quickly took him out. He boarded in Firemane Angel for some reason, but he did not have Purge or Peace in his sideboard, so he had very little chance. He had also boarded in Darkblast, which does very little in the mirror match. I suppose that taking out one Ichorid a turn is a noble goal, but Moment’s Peace takes out all of them! In hindsight, I do wish I had included Darkblast in my sideboard, but it definitely shouldn’t be sideboarded in for the mirror match.

2-1 in matches played, 15 match points

At the end of game three, James was taking a long time to make decisions, which I presume was an attempt at stalling long enough to force a draw. I called a judge over to make sure that we finished the game in the five minutes left on the clock. I knew that if I did not call the judge, he would be willing to sit and do nothing until he could pull out a draw. If you get into this kind of situation, you need to be willing to call a judge to get your problem solved. Always remember that judges are your friends. Do not fear them and do not abuse them, but learn to use them to your advantage. It may make you feel guilty or dirty to call a judge to watch for slow play, have annoying spectators removed, or ask for a deck check if you are concerned about a marked deck or a failure to de-sideboard, but the rules are the rules and you should be prepared to follow them and force your opponents to do the same.

Round 7: Antonino De Rosa, Ichorid

I knew that Antonino was playing Ichorid before the match, and I knew from a friend’s scouting that he had Compost in his sideboard. I honestly think that this is a terrible decision. It’s only good if you play it on turn 2 or your opponent doesn’t know about it. The reason for this is that first, you have to draw it for it to do more than nothing, and you won’t draw cards after turn 3 if you have a draw that you should have kept. Second, if your opponent knows about it, they will bring in Ray of Revelation and be prepared to dredge a lot right away to find one before a Compost happens. I still believe that our sideboard was better than theirs, but this didn’t stop Antonino from bashing me in this match. He won the Cabal Therapy sub-game in game one by hitting my Psychatog while my Therapy missed, so I didn’t get to dredge until way too late. In game two, I mulliganed and got another slow draw. Antonino declined to play around the Moment’s Peaces in my graveyard with his Psychatog by killing me while I was stuck on two land, but I didn’t find a third one on my next draw step so it didn’t end up being relevant.

2-2 in matches played, 18 match points

What was notable for me about this match was that despite the fact that Antonino is by far the most name-recognizable player I played against in the tournament, he still made a clear mistake. No opponent you will face in a Magic tournament is perfect. Even Masashi Oiso tries to Mana Leak spells whose controllers have three mana untapped. In a tournament, you may have to play against someone who you know has had more high-level top finishes than you have, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes that you will get to capitalize on. In a similar vein, there is no player in the world against whom you should accept a loss. If you lose any match of Magic, you should try to figure out why you lost, and if you can’t find a deck choice, deck construction, or play error that was decisive, ask your opponent why they think they won. It is always possible that you simply are not aware of a mistake you made. Also, if you suspect that you simply were unlucky, your opponent may be able to confirm your suspicions.

Round 8: Adrian Warden, Mono-Black Control Splashing Green

Traditionally, some people with two losses make Day 2 of Grand Prix and some don’t, depending on tiebreakers. I checked the standings before I sat down to this round to make sure I could still make Day 2 and to see if my opponent could. I was listed in 65th place after round 7 so I was probably in if I won, but my opponent was listed in 97th place, effectively out of contention. There were judges hovering all over the tables of our bracket as I sat down, so before I got out my deck, I carefully explained the situation to my opponent, and said that whatever he chose to do with that information was up to him. I hoped that my opponent would see the light and allow one of us to make the second day instead of knocking both of us out, but he made it clear that he wanted to play and would take the win if he got it. I was quite unhappy about this turn of events and shuffled up.

An aside: In a tournament match, if one person can make a cut and the other person can’t, I would strongly encourage the person who cannot make the cut to concede unless there is some outside reason like a ratings invite or rating bye cutoff. In a similar vein, if two players are playing for a Day 2 or Top 8 cut, and a draw knocks both players out, it’s completely unacceptable for the match to end in an unintentional draw. In general, it’s commonly accepted that if there is a player who is in a clearly winning situation at the end of extra turns, the other should concede. Honoring these unwritten rules will earn you respect and gratitude and make it more likely that you will end up on the receiving side of such a concession in the future. I can’t legitimately be unhappy that my opponent did not want to concede because, after all, we were paired in a Magic tournament, but I can say that I may not be willing to do a similar favor for him in the future.

Since I had to play for Day 2, obviously my opponent played Withered Wretch on turn 2 in all three games. His Cabal Coffers Black/Green control deck appeared to be of rather dubious construction, including such hits as Sun Droplet and Staff of Domination. However, he also had some cards like Pernicious Deed, Haunting Echoes, Cranial Extraction, and Night of Souls’ Betrayal that were really bad for me. Somehow I pulled this match out despite mulliganing four times in three games; I don’t remember exact details, but I know that they involved my opponent bowsering away significant advantages in all three games and still almost winning. In game one I killed him with zombie tokens while he spent all of his mana using his Withered Wretch, and in game three I killed him with a Psychatog after he inexplicably Cranial Extracted my Golgari Grave-Trolls while I had Stinkweed Imps to dredge in their stead.

3-2 in matches played, 18 match points

I ended Day 2 in forty-second position with my 3-2 record in matches played. I was actually sort of nervous about Day 2; it was my fifth consecutive Grand Prix Day 2, and in the last four I missed Top 32. However, this time the fact that I had scrubbed out of Pro Tour: Los Angeles meant that I couldn’t get amateur prize. I was beginning to feel some pressure, which is very bad for me. Historically, when I care about winning, I haven’t really been able to. I got over that this weekend when I realized that no amount of money I could win at the Grand Prix would actually be life-changing. Satisfied with this, I crashed in Cedric Phillips hotel room and slept a solid seven hours, then went back to the Holiday Inn breakfast buffet with Cedric and then to the site to recommence battling.

Round 9: Michael Brady, Burning Tog

Before Day 2 of every Grand Prix, there is a second player meeting in which everyone is asked to fill out consent forms, and to fill out tax forms if they have not received a prize check from Wizards of the Coast in the past year. When I sat down, I noticed that my opponent was reading the details of the consent form and had already filled out the tax form. I mentally chalked the match up as a win immediately, and while I filled out the consent form without even reading the text, I started to work him over. I asked him where he’s from, which turned out to be North Carolina, and then I found out that this is his first Grand Prix Day 2 ever. I casually mentioned that this is my fifth Day 2, and that I was already qualified for Honolulu despite the fact that I didn’t do well in Los Angeles. His eyes went wide and he said something in a respectful tone about me having more experience than him. Ding! I was almost surprised that this play worked. It takes an uncharacteristically inexperienced opponent for a Grand Prix Day 2 to be impressed by random accomplishment dropping, but I made a read and went for it. However, this kind of play works pretty well at the local level. Even if the only accomplishments you have to speak of are at something like a state championships or something even less impressive than that, you may be able to get someone on tilt at a Friday Night Magic or similar event if you handle the bragging properly.

He was playing the Burning Tog deck. This deck is more of a problem than straight Blue/Black Tog because of annoying sideboard cards like Morningtide and Haunting Echoes that can be accessed by Burning Wish, but it is very helpful that they have no Force Spikes. This allowed me to run out Zombie Infestations on turn 1 of both games, while my Cabal Therapies ensured that he never had access to Burning Wish. He definitely made a few suboptimal plays that I saw, such as repeatedly letting me get Remands out of his hand with Cabal Therapies instead of just Remanding the Therapy and drawing a card. I don’t think it would have mattered whether or not I had gone for the tilt attempt before the match, but I’ll take anything I can get. I agree with Mike Flores that every match is a battle of percentages, and every small advantage you don’t take is a missed opportunity.

4-2 in matches played, 21 match points

Round 10: Matthew Frazier, Aggressive Green-White-Black

Round 11: Raymond Clavette, Cunning Tog

The details of neither of these matches are instructive. I won both of them 2-0, beating underpowered decks with overpowered draws while my opponents tried to compensate with sideboard cards. My round 10 opponent had Withered Wretches and Morningtides in his sideboard and never drew them in game two, but his game one matchup against me was absolutely unwinnable and expecting seven sideboard cards to win an entire matchup is foolish. On top of that, one Morningtide or Withered Wretch is usually not nearly enough to take the Ichorid deck down. My round 11 opponent’s Psychatog deck was similar to Antoine Ruel from Los Angeles, and I punished him for having an old deck by attacking him with zombie tokens and flashing back Cabal Therapies while he cast clunky spells like Thirst for Knowledge, Cunning Wish, and Fact or Fiction. He boarded in what I believe was four Cremates, which simply did nothing when he didn’t draw Black mana for a while. I don’t think that Blue/Black Tog is still a deck that is playable now, despite the fact that it is what I won my byes with.

6-2 in matches played, 27 match points

Rounds 10 and 11 are the kinds of things that happen when you play the best deck in a format. Some people will play underpowered or outdated decks and fail to stay current with technology, and being matched up against those people is the reward for not being one of them. I didn’t have to really work for any of the four games in these two matches.

Round 12: Mark Herberholz, Aggro Rock

For some inexplicable reason, this was a feature match. Apparently the pro against pro pickings were very slim, and coverage writer Tim Aten knew me from Ohio area qualifiers, so we got the nod. This was a very rough matchup for me because the aggressive Rock deck plays a lot of Withered Wretches and also brings fifty-six other good cards with them. Withered Wretches alone don’t do enough to stop my deck because I can do things like make zombies and attack with Psychatogs, but when the Withered Wretches come with Wild Mongrels, Troll Ascetics, Umezawa’s Jittes, and Swords of Fire and Ice, life becomes much more difficult. In game one, I had a Zombie Infestation and he had a Withered Wretch on turn 2. When I cast my Tolarian Winds, I decided not to dredge a lot and instead went for the zombie attack plan, hoping to make him lose his Wretch eventually so I could overwhelm him with Ichorids. Mark said later that he feared me going crazy with dredge a lot more because then he couldn’t use his mana to both play creatures and remove my graveyard, but I wanted to still have a way to win left in my deck other than zombies. He may have been right, though, because I didn’t test against his deck and he was a little bit mana-light in the earlier turns of the game. Once he found a Dark Confidant, the zombie plan was a losing battle, and his Umezawa’s Jitte cleaned me up from there. Game two went basically the same way, and although I think I played it more correctly than I played game one, a Jitte ended me again.

6-3 in matches played, 27 match points

This was the first feature match that I had ever played. At first, I was a little bit nervous about playing in the spotlight, but I’ve played enough pressure matches in qualifier Top 8s that I was able to ignore the crowd and focus on the match as soon as it got going. Being able to play in front of crowds without playing differently is extremely important for anyone who wants to play high-level Magic. Single elimination matches at tournaments like qualifiers and Grand Prix Trials often draw crowds, and matches that go late in rounds at any event will also naturally end up with a lot of spectators. Your goal should be to play exactly the same with a crowd as you do if there isn’t one. This will go a long way toward preparing you for premier event success.

Round 13: Greg Schwartz, Affinity

I was happy to find that my opponent this round was not a name player. In game one, my opponent mulliganed and was unhappy with the six-card hand that he had to keep, and he got stuck on one land while I played Putrid Imp, Zombie Infestation, and then Psychatog and killed him in short order with a flying Tog. Game two was a much messier affair. I somehow managed to survive his very quick draw by chump-blocking with zombie tokens, and got down a Psychatog two turns before he could kill me. He tapped out to attack me and put me low enough that one attack from his multiple Arcbound Ravagers and Cranial Plating would be lethal, but I was at the point where I had a Psychatog and a fairly large graveyard including two Moment’s Peaces and a Wonder. After his attack, all he had left untapped was an Ornithopter, and he had a Blinkmoth Nexus as one of his tapped lands. I calculated that I could attack with Psychatog, have it be chump-blocked by his Ornithopter, and then Moment’s Peace his attack back. I could then attack with Psychatog again on my next turn and force the Nexus to block and again cast Moment’s Peace on his attack. Then, he wouldn’t have any flying blockers left and my Psychatog would hit him for the full twenty.

Instead, when I made the first attack with the Psychatog, my opponent simply didn’t block! I did a double take, as one of my lands was a Cephalid Coliseum, and then I did some math. The only dredge card I had was a Golgari Grave-Troll in my graveyard, and the end result of my calculations was that to get twenty damage out of Psychatog with the Coliseum I needed to hit any of the seven dredge cards left in my deck out of the six cards that I would get to dredge with my Troll. I had forty cards left in my deck, so I decided to go for it and not risk the possibility of my opponent drawing another flyer or a Pithing Needle, and I hit two Trolls and a Stinkweed Imp in the first six cards. My attacking Psychatog then became a 20/21.

7-3 in matches played, 30 match points

I think the last turn of this game is very instructive. It involved a lot of calculation, both with respect to Psychatog and how the next few turns were going to go. I took into account everything that was on the board and in my graveyard and made a plan that would quite possibly have won the game if my opponent had played correctly. However, when my opponent chose to make a suboptimal play, I was able to capitalize. Note that choosing to sacrifice the Coliseum is very risky. By doing this, I made sure that I would not be able to flashback Moment’s Peace next turn, so I would lose immediately if I did not hit a dredge card. However, assuming that he had four copies each of Blinkmoth Nexus, Ornithopter, Pithing Needle, Thoughtcast, and Chromatic Sphere in his deck, I thought that the risk of giving him two to three more draw steps was much greater than the risk of missing on the first six dredge cards. Being able to make long-term plans is extremely important to good Magic play, but you must be willing to change plans on a dime if the situation changes. If I had not been willing to change my plan and go for the immediate win, it is possible that we would have gone to game three and I would have lost.

Round 14: Kenny Mayer, Tooth and Nail

I checked the pairings and the standings. I was currently sitting in tenth position as the 30 point player with the highest tiebreakers, and my opponent was in ninth as the 31 point player with worst tiebreakers. We had to play, and the winner was probably making Top 8, while the other was not. I needled him a little bit about it being a pressure match, but he didn’t really respond so I let it drop. My friends didn’t know what deck he was playing, which caused me no end of annoyance when I won the roll and had no better plays than a Cabal Therapy on turn 1. I held it because I had no idea about his deck, so he played a first turn Urza land and Sensei’s Divining Top. I was very annoyed about this; if I had known he was playing Tooth and Nail, I would have been able to name Top with the first turn Cabal Therapy I could have played. However, I move on, playing a Zombie Infestation on turn 2 and then a Psychatog on turn 3. He taps down for a Sakura-Tribe Elder on turn 3, so when I dredge two Golgari Grave-Trolls and two Deep Analyses on my fourth turn draw step, I simply use the two copies of Deep Analysis to mill 12 cards each to find a Wonder so I can kill him on the spot. In the second game, my opponent does not have a Top, but when I attack with two zombies on turns 3 and 4 he pauses for a moment before writing down the life total change. I look at him sideways and decide to punish him for telling me about his hand, so I flashback Cabal Therapy naming the Moment’s Peace that he was sandbagging and then Coffin Purge it on his end step. I kill him with Ichorids over the next two turns while he doesn’t draw what he needed to cast the Tooth and Nail that was left in his hand.

8-3 in matches played, 33 match points

I don’t think I would have won this game if I had not made the read on his Moment’s Peace and acted on it. The Moment’s Peace would have bought him two more turns, and all he needed on those two turns was the third piece of the Urzatron, which could also have come in the form of Sylvan Scrying or Reap and Sow. There are various classes of cards that inexperienced players often telegraph in obvious ways if you know what to look for, and it is very important to take advantage of all the free information that these players will give you about their hands. When you’re playing against someone who is not used to hiding their thoughts, you should always have some kind of idea about what is in their hand; specifically, what kinds of removal spells they have, how many counterspells they have, and if they have a card like Moment’s Peace that has a specific tell associated with it. Being able to make and act on these reads will make your play more accurate. David Sklansky’s fundamental theorem of poker in The Theory of Poker is that if the play you make without knowing your opponent’s hand is ever different from the play you would have made if you knew it, you made a mistake. This idea holds true for Magic as well.

After the win, I looked at the standings to see if I was going to make the Top 8 cut. It looked like I would either be in eighth or ninth, and I was fortunate enough to have everything break right for me. I went across the street to get food with some friends and then came back to play my Top 8 match.

Round 15: Mike Krumb, Ichorid

To preface this round, it must be said that Mike Krumb was a blessed man this weekend. He started the tournament 12-0, and by his own admittance was drawing extremely well. Sadly for me, his luck continued in this match, although I made some mistakes in both games. After my mulligan, we both had a Cabal Therapy in our draw, and true to form his hit my Psychatog, while mine whiffed and I was unable to get dredge cards into my graveyard for too long. I feel like I was unlucky to have such a clunky draw, but I definitely don’t deserve to complain about that because of my Cabal Therapy miss. I’m pretty sure that I have that to blame for my terrible record in the mirror. Mike found a lot of Ichorids after that and just attacked me a lot.

In game two, I mulliganed again and received a six card hand that included two lands with a Psychatog as my only way to discard. I didn’t find the third land until way too late, and I simply did nothing through the entire game. A key turn, however, was the turn I drew and played a Putrid Imp in order to get a Golgari Grave-Troll into my graveyard. I had a Coffin Purge in my hand, and for a while I had been holding up two black mana in order to play it twice. Since I had now tapped down to one Black mana, Mike discarded two dredge cards to Zombie Infestation and started going off. I feel that playing the Putrid Imp was correct in theory because I needed to get something going to win, but it’s possible that it was wrong here because Mike was sandbagging two dredge cards. It is true that my draws in this match were not so hot, but I definitely did not play well enough that I deserve to complain about them. You will get unlucky at some point in your Magic career, but it is your job to buckle down and play tight anyway. Many more matches are winnable than most players think, and it’s entirely possible that I could have won both of these games if I had played better.

8-4 in matches played, 8th place, $800

It feels sort of creepy to finally have done something real in Magic. I don’t actually feel that I’m all that much better now than I was, say, a month ago. After I won the Saturday Pro Tour Qualifier in Los Angeles, my friend and fellow card game player Adam Prosak told me that winning that qualifier was almost certainly more difficult than making the Top 8 of a Grand Prix. At the time, I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it, but it turns out he was right. The average player in the qualifier I won had scrubbed out of the Pro Tour just like me, and almost all of them gave me tough matches even though I went 6-0-2 in the Swiss rounds and swept the Top 8. However, against my average Grand Prix: Charlotte opponent, I didn’t have to work very hard to win. I just discarded cards, made zombie tokens or attacked with Psychatogs, and that was that. Grand Prix are not nearly as hard as they seem on the surface. Yes, there are many pros that play in them, but on average you won’t play against more than four or so people who are legitimately very good over the course of fourteen to fifteen rounds.

If I were to play the tournament again, I would register the following deck.

Akil Steele Deck Mark II

The maindeck has changed as per my suggestions at the beginning of the article. The Firemane Angels were in the sideboard only to beat Boros deck, but I never played against any Boros decks in the Grand Prix and you don’t even need the Angels to beat them. Instead, those slots should have been spent on Filths and Darkblasts. Filth is very strong in the mirror, and Darkblast is a general-use card that also does quite a number on Boros while not being completely wasted elsewhere. I saw multiple Ichorid players Darkblast on their upkeeps and then draw steps to kill Withered Wretches whose controllers had no mana available, so that is another consideration.

In general, the Ichorid deck is almost certainly the best deck in Extended. During the third round as I was sleeving, I watched Ohio State Champion Brian Fulop play practice games with the Ichorid deck against Pro Tour Los Angeles Top 8 competitor Ervin Tormos. Ervin had registered three Morningtides in the sideboard of his Boros deck alongside three Pithing Needles. In five sideboarded games, however, Ervin only won the game in which he drew a Needle and two of his three Morningtides. One Morningtide simply wasn’t good enough. Withered Wretch is also annoying for the Ichorid deck, but every deck in the current format that contains Withered Wretch has significant issues. Aggro Rock is simply worse than Affinity as a beatdown deck, and Gifts Rock has many clunky draws that do not find Withered Wretch in time. Also, neither of these decks can consistently handle Affinity or Boros Deck’s offensive capabilities. I think that if the season went any further than the weekend of Grand Prix: Charlotte, we would have found out that this deck is about as comparatively powerful in extended as Ravager Affinity was in Mirrodin Block. If this were a Standard deck, I think that the uproar from casual players about its power would be enough to merit a banning.

I would like to conclude by saying that succeeding at Magic isn’t all that difficult once you remove all the mental blocks to your success. Consider every deck in a format as you try to figure out what to play in constructed, and play the one that will win the most matches for you. In tournaments, make good reads, get psychological advantages on your opponents, call judges when you need to, play well, and believe that you’re good enough to win, and you’ll find yourself winning. Whatever your competitive goals in Magic are, with enough work they can be achieved.

Tom LaPille