Balancing the Equation – A Grand Prix: Phoenix Report *T8*

After his nearly-man performance at the Swedish Nationals, Gadiel decided to give Grand Prix: Phoenix a miss. Then, after contemplating his pro statistics, he changed his mind… and it’s safe to say that he was glad he did. This entertaining report covers the highs and lows of the tournament, written in his usual acerbic and humorous style…

I wasn’t going to go to Grand Prix: Phoenix. There was no reason to do so. It’s not like at nineteen pro points for the season I had even a fighting shot of growing to Level 4. Well, downgrading less, I suppose.

Everything changed, though, one fateful day when I was absentmindedly rummaging through a stack of pro player cards and learning about everyone’s stats and nicknames and accomplishments for no apparent reason. In doing so, I started thinking about what a card for me would look like, if by some grievous mistake I got one. It turns out there would be a glaring problem: I would not follow the seemingly very important trend of having more Grand Prix Top 8s than Pro Tour Top 8s, or at least the same amount. It may not seem like much to the average reader, but having three Pro Tour Top 8s but only two in Grand Prix tournaments is truly a devastating disparity.

I knew things couldn’t go on this way. I couldn’t settle for three and two anymore; it wasn’t going to work. As I presume most of you would have done in a predicament like mine, I acted immediately, decisively, and before I could talk myself out of it. That’s right, I booked a flight to Phoenix for Labor Day weekend.

Taking a weekend off is no easy thing. There is homework to be done, college essays to write, and most importantly, a life to be had. But everything was put on the backburner on September 1st, when I got on Southwest flight 1781. I didn’t mind the two-hour delay; it was worth knowing I’d be safe from seventy-year old Chinese woman bringing a water bottle on the plane.

When we arrived at the tournament site at about 8:30am, it seemed like this was bound to be one of the smallest Grand Prix turnouts ever. There were no more than one hundred people in the room. Unfortunately, we soon found out that for some reason the tournament was starting at ten as opposed to the usual nine, explaining the shortage of competitors. When we actually sat down to register Sealed Decks, we found out that were about 350 players, about average for a west coast Grand Prix. What wasn’t average was the percentage of competent players. There was a healthy Japanese contingent, including a level zero, and ten-plus European pros, as well as a surprising show from Rio. Along with American pros that shocked nobody by attending, this made for what has to be one of the highest percentage of competent players in a Grand Prix ever, with competency defined by my opinion, of course.

Let me move on to the registering of my Sealed Deck. I register my deck as fast as possible. To those not versed in the area of quick-reging Sealed Decks, sorting by color and set is a must in the process. However, sorting alphabetically is not. In the time you can organize cards in that manner, you could have already just found them on the list and registered them. After all, the list isn’t that long. So, having your cards sorted by color and set but not alphabetically shaves about two minutes in the registration process, cutting it from about nine to seven minutes in my particular case. An improvement of more than twenty percent is nothing to scoff at, let me tell you. Unfortunately, the DCI disagrees. While they didn’t mind shortening the time for each pick in the first draft on Day 2, they don’t seem to find that advocating “controversial” registration methods is an effective means of speeding up the tournament. The automaton that received my deck agreed. He ratted me out for my egregious crime, and my civil disobedience was duly punished with a warning for failure to follow judge’s instructions. Ouch, it stings.

The mood all changed when I received the deck I would actually be playing with. A quick run through my pool told me that I’d have nothing short of one of the top five decks in the room. Said slice of heaven was as follows:

And the mighty Jose Barbero.

Wooooooow. That was way more work than it was worth. Not ever posting my whole Sealed pool again in my whole entire life. The point is, I couldn’t have asked for more. I deserved it, though, of course, for obvious reasons.

Here’s what I actually ran after trying several different builds and weighing all the pros and cons and power versus consistency issues. (I typed the last sentence before actually listing the entire pool. Seeing as how I am sick of listing cards forever, or at least until my first draft deck, I will let you, dear readers, figure out on your own what my actual list was.) [Answers in the forums, folks! — Craig.]

Round 1-3 versus College Football
I actually kind of lost since all the games were blowouts and therefore boring. We filled out the result slip wrong, though.


Round 4 versus Masashi Oiso
Masashi told Ted to cover the other feature match instead of ours. I suppose he didn’t want to blow it then luck me out anyway like when we were covered at Worlds**.

Game 1 I got stuck on two lands and discarded. He killed my Guildmage and I was already on my heels. I drew a third land and was able to do some minimal stuff, but the fourth took several more turns. It wasn’t until he had Vedalken Dismisser with Mark Of Eviction that I drew my fifth land and was able to play Simic Guildmage and move his Mark. By then, though, it was too late. He had too many creatures and I was at too low life to stabilize.

Game 2 we both get landscrewed and discard, once for him and three times for me. I thought the perfect deck had let me down, but I peeled the third land for Civic Wayfinder. Everything turned around as I followed that with Patagia Viper, Hierarch, and more. His card quality just couldn’t compete.

Game 3 I was relieved at having a normal amount of lands and spells. I just cast stuff, and Masashi did almost nothing. He didn’t deal me one damage.


Round 5 versus Dimitri Reinderman
Game 1 started off normally enough, with both of us playing some guys, trading them in combat, and using removal spells to stay at par. As the game went on, though, his Evolution Vat was proving to be a very big problem. As my life total shrunk more and more, each turn I had to take into account all the different things he could do with the Vat and make sure I wouldn’t die to any of them; he could end-of-turn tap, his turn tap, EOT tap, his turn pump, EOT pump, his turn pump. I can’t even count how many times one of these courses of actions would have put me at one life.

Even though this was a great game through and through, there was one key sequence where I changed the momentum in my favor. He had just played a Dimir Guildmage. After drawing, I had three cards in hand: A useless land, Ghor-Clan Savage, and Faith’s Fetters. I only had enough mana to play one of them, and on his turn he would have enough to make me discard two cards, if he so chose. The way he had attacked last turn, I could damage him if I wanted, which would give me the opportunity of a 5/6 Savage. While that was enticing, I knew that at some point, the four life from Faith’s Fetters were going to be necessary for survival. If he was for sure going to make me discard twice, I had to play Fetters if I wanted to even have a chance. However, I was pretty sure that he wanted to keep his Vat options open, and would therefore only make me discard once since he didn’t have eleven mana. I decided that this was in fact what he was going to do, so I damaged him and played the Savage with bloodthirst. I was right; he made me discard the land and said go. When I got to Fetter something and go back up to five, I was secure from that point forward.

Game 2 was nothing like the first. I don’t remember what actually happened, but I didn’t take a damage so it couldn’t have been very exciting.


Round 6 versus Geoffrey Siron
This is a pretty good factual account of what transpired.


Round 7 versus David Ochoa
Game 1 we both had good draws. Mine was the perfect trump for his, though. While he had some dudes and a plethora of spot removal, I had Civic Wayfinder, Hierarch, Peel, and Repeal. I got up a million cards and Experiment Kraj finished him off.

Game 2 was more of the same, to a lesser extent. He had less removal, I had less bounce. The highlight was when he gave his Helium Squirter flying and attacked into my 5/7 Kraj. David was fairly shocked when I blocked; he read a few cards, shook his head, and then dejectedly binned his Squirter. It wasn’t relevant, though; my deck was too good.


Round 8 versus Sam Stein
Game 1 started out badly for me as he had Watchwolf and more guys backed up by Galvanic Arc, Seal, and Fetters, while I was stuck on three lands. When I got my fourth I was at low life, but my own Fetters on his Watchwolf stopped the bleeding. Patagia Viper followed, which was enough to pretty much stand guard against his whole squad. By this point, Sam was out of gas while I was just getting started and it was on cruise control from there.

Game 2 he got the same opening. Details slip my mind, but somehow it was better and my draw wasn’t as good and I lost.

Game 3 was the first time he didn’t have an early Watchwolf plus removal. I won at twenty-four.


Pretty impressive, but with the deck I had been given I would have been completely depressed with anything less. This was actually the first time I had ever X-0’ed Day 1 of an event, and let me tell you, it feels phenomenal. Three-three. It’s just so ridiculously easy, and that’s all I would have to do the next day.

I would need all the cushion I could get, though, since all the experience I had with Coldsnap was a single draft at Nationals. I had pulled off a 2-1, but somehow I had a feeling the competition would be a little tougher this time around. With no strategy in mind, I asked around. Various luminaries of the Magical world offered their opinions, but no one could really sell it. That is, until I talked to Josh Ravitz. It took a little prying, but finally he told me about the deck he’d draft and why it “beat everything.” The deck was Martyr/Icefall, and though I was skeptical that it was as good as Josh advertised, it still seemed good enough to try and draft the next day. Now ready for anything, I caught up on the sleep I needed.

In the first draft, I was able to “get” Martyr/Icefall in the sense that none were cut – I got every Martyr and Icefall that I saw. On the other hand, though, I had to go Blue as my second color instead of Black, and I only got three each of the two big cards. The only really tough pick was Coldsteel Heart versus a second Skred. I took the artifact, which Josh had told me was “the best possible card for the deck,” and he later told me that he would have done the same. I’m not completely sure, but it definitely seems fine. My deck was decidedly mediocre, as you can see:

9 Mountain
4 Island
2 Snow-Covered Mountain
2 Snow-Covered Island
Mouth Of Ronom
3 Martyr Of Ashes
3 Icefall
3 Thermopod
2 Rune Snag
2 Survivor Of The Unseen
Coldsteel Heart
Earthen Goo
Stalking Yeti
Goblin Rimerunner
Ohran Yeti
Magmatic Core
Lovisa Coldeyes
Orcish Bloodpainter

Round 9 versus Sean Inoue
Game 1 he started beating me down with a few guys, but things went as planned when I had turn 4 Icefall with Martyr in hand. I played it on turn 5, but I lacked the fifth land to be able to use it and recover Icefall. So, when he Feast Of Fleshed it, I just let it die and recovered then killed another land on my turn. The following turn is when I blew the game. I played my second Martyr that I’d been holding and passed. I passed instead of using it on the spot, using it right now when he was tapped out and couldn’t give his 2/1 Black pump guy flying…

Game 2 he got a turn 4 3/5 black guy with cumulative upkeep, which is pretty troublesome for this deck since sometimes it’s hard to actually hold five Red cards. I kill some land but he boarded in more so he’s not at a loss yet. At four life, I faced the following situation. I had six lands and Ohran Yeti in play, to go with an Icefall in my graveyard. I had Thermopod and nothing else of consequence in hand. My opponent had the 3/5 as well as a Krovikan Scoundrel in play, and only just enough land to pay the coming cumulative upkeep. That meant that even if he played a land, if I Icefalled him on my next turn he’d be unable to pay the upkeep. The play, therefore, is obvious. ‘Pod, block the 3/5 with the Yeti and sacrifice it for mana to recover the Icefall, use it on my next turn, and I’m all stabilized. Not so fast. Being unfamiliar with Coldsnap, I wasn’t sure if I could use the mana I got from sacking to Thermopod to recover, since maybe I didn’t actually get the mana until after I would have had to pay for recover. So I did the only sensible thing to do, I asked a judge. Off to the side, he informed me that no, I could not use that mana, exactly with the reasoning cited above. Since I just didn’t know, I believed him, I had no reason to appeal. Therefore, I did nothing, chumped with the Yeti, recovered, and hoped to draw a creature casting cost three or less. I didn’t, and lost.

When I found out in the following round that I had been given the wrong ruling, I was absolutely steaming and went to the head judge to try and get anything bad possible to happen to the judge that had screwed me out of a game. Later, the guy came and at least apologized to me. I was pretty nice and accepted it, since I made Top 8 anyway, but had I missed out that dude definitely wouldn’t have wanted to approach me.

I guess I deserve losing the match for blowing a game, but still. Not like that.


After I freely informed several people that I blew the match, I got several inquiries of whether or not I was off tilt yet. Such a stupid question. One of the reasons I win a lot is because I don’t go on tilt, as much as you might think the contrary. When it comes to mistakes, I truly do what I should, chalk them up as something to learn from and something not to be repeated. Keep in mind that I still didn’t know about the incorrect ruling yet. Not that that would make me play poorly either, but it certainly made me angry, while mistakes, as I said, are something I treat in the aforementioned fashion.

Round 10 versus Raphael Levy
An early Squall Drifter was followed up by one of the absolute worst cards for Martyr/Icefall, the 3/3 Owl Keeper guy that makes a 1/1 flyer for each age counter on it when it dies. He also had a few ground creatures to boot. Even though I had a decent draw, I took a good deal of damage before I could kill his ground guys and the flyers finished me.

Game 2 he kept a very creature-light draw. After I killed those, all he had left were a bunch of Surging Flames in hand that I wasn’t in the range of. I killed him with some Thermopods.

Game 3 started more like game 1 than game 2, but it was made different by one key factor – an early Stalking Yeti on my side of the table. I think I killed three creatures for no cards before I used it to trade with something of three power that I needed to kill. That kind of card advantage was too much for Raph to overcome.

Somewhere in this match, I don’t remember exactly where, I learned about the wrong ruling from the previous round when Raph actually asked me if I could sacrifice a guy to Thermopod and use that mana to recover. I said no and cited last round’s ruling, but about 1000 pro points worth of spectators stopped, saying they were pretty sure I could and to call a judge to be certain. Sure enough…


Round 11 versus Carlos Romao
Carlos was playing the worst possible matchup for Martyr/Icefall: mono-Blue flyers. Game 1 he played two Krovikan Mists and a Frost Raptor and just killed me in a few turns.

Game 2 he had a huge shortage of early fliers, and with a Rune Snag and a Skred I managed to stay alive to play some Thermopods and somehow they killed him.

Game 3 started off a lot like game 2. Right around about turn 7, I was pretty pumped about my prospects of winning as I was slowly building superior board position. It looked like he had nothing in store but drawing cards with – and paying cumulative upkeep for – a pair of Survivors Of The Unseen. My illusions were short-lived. On turn 10, he let both of his guys die, played a land, and a cool five Krovikan Mists. What kills me about this game as that even though this report doesn’t show it, I battled ridiculously hard in the nine and a half turns before he deployed his death squad, and didn’t get anything to show for it.


After a pretty pathetic showing in the first draft, I still knew I wanted to draft Martyr/Icefall again. To begin with, the fact that I went 1-2 was probably going to stop anyone from cutting me if they would even think of doing it at all. I should have won both games in the first match, and lost a really close one to the sum of all fears (for Martyr/Icefall).

The first pack had absolutely nothing in it, so I took Disciple Of Tevesh Szat. Later, Josh told me these don’t even go in the deck. I actually ended up running three of them, and after doing so I think they can definitely be quality in here. Decide for yourself if you care, I guess. Regardless, this draft I almost couldn’t have asked for a better deck; this was light years better than the prior draft.

11 Mountain
6 Swamp
Tresserhorn Sinks
5 Icefall
5 Martyr Of Ashes
2 Thermopod
2 Surging Flame
Orcish Bloodpainter
Ohran Yeti
Deepfire Elemental
3 Disciple Of Tevesh Szat

Skred (frowns…)

Round 12 versus Sam Stein
Right away, I could tell the difference in quality between this deck and the previous one. Now I had a well-oiled machine that Martyred his board as soon as he got a couple guys in play, and I had him on no lands before he knew it. Showing Cryoclasm against his non-Blue non-White deck was a lil’ awkward, but no harm was done.

Game 2 started similarly, but he had boarded in lands so he didn’t run out nearly as fast. On the other hand, I hit a huge land glut myself and some random singular creature he had left ended up dealing a large amount of damage to me to get him a game.

Game 3 he started off with turns 2 and 3 one-toughness creatures, including a pump knight. Since I didn’t have a Martyr yet, I played a Disciple on turn 4 and started eating his guys. The 3/5 black guy with cumulative upkeep once again probed somewhat troublesome, but I actually beat him in a straight up battle of creatures this time. The turn before he conceded, I had several options. I could start Icefalling him and probably win eventually, or deploy three creatures and likely attack him for the kill. I took the aggressive approach, and he scooped on his turn.


Round 13 versus Sean Inoue
I thought I was in trouble against an all-flyer snow deck, but it turned out to be nothing to worry about. Game 1 a turn 3 Cryoclasm got things going enough that he had to ask a judge if I was actually maindecking it. Many Icefalls followed, and no matter how often or how hard Sean smashed his deck with his fist, solutions were not forthcoming.

Game 2 was more of the same, minus the Cryoclasm quick start.


I mean, what can I say, why else would I make an appearance?

Round 14 versus Geoffrey Siron


So, again? I wasn’t sure. I wanted to try, but if I didn’t get some quality Red cards early I didn’t want to force it. After taking Ronom Hulk out of a weak pack, and then some more Green cards, I was set in Green/X. I feel like I still ended up with the second best deck at the table. It’s listed on the site, but here it is:

7 Forest
6 Mountain
4 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Sound The Call
2 Simian Brawler
2 Frostweb Spider
2 Arctic Nishoba
2 Aurochs Herd
2 Ronom Hulk
2 Boreal Druid
Bull Aurochs
Goblin Rimerunner
Into The North
Karplusan Strider
Surging Flame
Surging Might

Top 8 versus Sam Stein
You can read about this match here.

My draws were pretty poor. I don’t think the lopsided match reflects the actual matchup, which I think is actually quite close. I guess I’ll settle for Top 8, though; after all, the finish does solve the discrepancy I came to correct.

I don’t have much else this time. I went, tended to the business at hand, and went back home. Until next time, whether it’s Japan or something else.

Gadiel M. Szleifer, Ph.D

* The “won’t need” is a term I coined back in the days where I played a little MTGO; innocent, well-wishing opponents would offer me good luck before the match and I would impolitely inform them that, well, I wouldn’t be needing it but thanks. It can be applied to any situation in which someone wishes you luck, though.
* Don’t get me wrong, I do think Masashi’s good; even I won’t go to the extent of saying he’s not. But that did happen.