Brick The GP, See The World: A Grand Prix Santiago Report

Pat Cox took an extended trip to GP Santiago where he played the role of Magic player and tourist, seeing sights in between building sealed pools. For some Limited tips and sweet pictures, check out this fun article.

Aside from Canada, I’ve never had any interest in going to a foreign Grand Prix before. But BenS managed to convince me to go to GP Santiago, since it was “like a west coast GP.” It is only a six-hour flight and one time zone off from Miami, so this isn’t too far from the truth. Once I found out that I could redeye both ways, I was sold.

I bought a plane ticket to Santiago for the weekend, only to decide a few days later that the trip to Machu Picchu everyone else had planned sounded too awesome to pass up. I mean honestly, when else would I have an opportunity to go there?

For those of you who don’t know, Machu Picchu is a mountaintop Incan city in Peru that wasn’t discovered until 1911. As far as I can tell, there is no consensus on exactly what its purpose was. But it was built after the Spanish came and forced the Incans out of their capital of Cusco. Regardless of the details, it’s a 500-year-old abandoned city on top of a mountain that is mostly intact. Sounded like something worth checking out.

A Day in Santiago

Because LAN Airlines kind of sucks, the options for changing my flight were either $3500 to fly to Peru instead, or pay a realistic amount of money and still fly into Santiago first. I’m not quite that frivolous, so I chose the latter. This left me with a day to fart around in Santiago before heading to Cusco, which is the nearest city to Machu Picchu. Luckily for me, LSV and Ochoa had booked a similar itinerary on purpose. I don’t think I’d fly several hours past my destination (Chile is directly south of Peru) just to level up on miles, but I was glad to have the company for the day.

From our initial exploration of Santiago, one thing became abundantly clear: Chileans love hot dogs. Seriously, half the restaurants were hot dog places. The picture below shows a corridor of about 25 hot dog stands in a row. There were no other stores or restaurants between them, and half of them had the same name even.

hot dog stands chile

Chile: Land of 1,000 Hot Dog Stands

After wandering around for 45 minutes to find an actual restaurant, we headed back to the room to build some practice sealeds. This was during the lull between Prerelease and release on Magic Online, so we had to use actual cards. We opened 18 packs and marked the cards according to which pack they were from. This way we could recombine the packs to create multiple sealed decks from the same overall pool of cards.

I opened a decent G/W deck that played similarly to the draft archetype. I made what I thought was a really sweet play by casting Bonds of Faith on my Thraben Sentry, Travel Preparations twice targeting Sentry and Ochoa’s Sharpened Pitchfork–equipped Abbey Griffin, then Prey Uponing my Bonded Dearly Departed and his Abbey Griffin to flip my Sentry and get him for exactsies. It turned out this play did not work because Sharpened Pitchfork only gives +1/+1 to Humans. I thought it did the opposite, giving +1/+1 always and first strike to Humans. So not only did I not know what the cards did, but they were going to be in a language I could not read at the GP? This could be problematic.

Off to Cusco

We woke up in the morning to a message from Martin saying that he and Shuhei were stuck in New York. We were not sure how exactly they would find us whenever they got to Cusco, since we did not have a hotel yet. Martin had the idea of purchasing a package with hotel, transportation, tickets to Machu Picchu, etc. upon our arrival. This sounded like a terrible idea to me, since I hate not having plans. But at the same time, I wasn’t inclined to figure things out myself (thankfully Megan usually does this for me).

We disembarked in Cusco to find Martin arranging our accommodations with a travel agent. I guess he and Shuhei weren’t quite as stuck as his message suggested. It turned out he was right about not planning; and for a couple hundred bucks we got hotels, transportation, tickets, and even tour guides.

We spent the afternoon checking out 4-5 Inca sites in the immediate vicinity of Cusco. They provided a nice precursor to Machu Picchu, along with some great views of both the city and the Andes. I don’t remember the purpose of all of the places we visited, but one of them was a cave where they mummified people. Starting a trend of not even attempting to listen to the tour guide, BenS asked if that was where the king lived. After he died, I suppose.



We went to a local restaurant and saw a couple of oddities on the menu: guinea pig and alpaca. Only Ochoa had the stones to try them, ordering some sort of weird local food sampler that included both. I wish I’d taken a picture; you could see the guinea pig’s little feet! An alpaca is a type of dromedary that Peruvians eat and use to make ugly clothes to sell to tourists. They look like this:


Spoiler Alert! These alpacas are at Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes

In the morning we continued our journey to Machu Picchu by taking a van through the mountains for an hour and a half. Our driver was more or less insane, constantly passing people on blind turns with giant drops to one side. Luis and Ben thought this was sweet because it got us to our train faster. Martin and I thought we were going to die.

After a far less frightening train ride, we were finally in Aguas Calientes, the tourist town below Machu Picchu. We were not going to the ruins until the morning, so we decided to spend the afternoon checking out the surrounding area. We followed a “trail” that was basically just the train tracks and headed to the botanical gardens and a waterfall that Luis had heard about.

The botanical gardens turned out to be a lot of nothing, since not one of the flowers was actually in bloom. And the waterfall itself wasn’t particularly exciting either, though it did have more flowers than the botanical gardens. However, the views of the mountains as we walked to both places were pretty spectacular. We also had a dog randomly walk there with us, which we named Martin, since he was the only member of the group who didn’t come.

martin dog

Me with the two of the world’s foremost Limited players.

Machu Picchu!

The next morning it was finally time to go to Machu Picchu. You had the option to either hike or take a bus to the site. Ben and I had picked the bus, figuring it would likely be raining, and we would walk plenty during the day anyway. Everyone else was on the hiking plan, but when it was raining in the morning, they wisely mulliganed to bus.

We headed to the site to meet with our guide, and after a small SNAFU with Shuhei forgetting both his ticket and his passport, we eventually made it inside. Upon entering, we walked up to a ledge that a British lady was already occupying and saw this:

misty picchu

Misty Picchu

Ben: This is pretty #@&*ing sweet!
British Lady: Don’t curse! We are at Machu Picchu for God’s sake!
Ben: Umm, sorry.

(Martin walks up and sees the view for the first time)

Martin: Holy #@&* this is awesome!

Sorry, Incans.

We spent the next couple of hours taking a tour through the ruins, providing some great views of the city, which actually looks pretty badass shrouded in mist. Unfortunately the fog also meant we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains, so we decided to come back after lunch, in hopes that it would lift. This is what we came back to:

machu picchu

Wizards should probably use this picture in PT ads.

After stopping at various viewpoints so Martin could take a ridiculous number of pictures, we took a short hike to the Inka Bridge. This was a set of stairs along the face of a mountain. The trail ended right at the base of them, since they were presumably too unsafe to walk on.

inka bridge

How much would you cross the Inka Bridge for?

I have no idea how normal people react to such a sight, but we obviously spent 20 minutes discussing how much money it would take for each of us to cross it. I didn’t have an exact number, but it would have to be enough that I’d never have to work again.

“How’d you make your millions?”

“Oh you know, crossed some 500-year-old stairs without dying.”

I posed the question to a girl who was standing there with us, and she said 50 bucks. Either she is much braver than us (likely) or didn’t understand what the hell I was talking about.

After eight hours or so at Machu Picchu, we took the train/van combo back to Cusco. On the way we built a couple of sealed decks. I am not sure if this is true of the set or just the cards we opened, but we found that each pool had multiple builds that we could argue for.

One pool had Army of the Damned and some other black bomb rare (Sever the Bloodline, maybe). We were pretty sure this put us into black, but there was then the question of whether it should be paired with white or blue. White was by far the more powerful color in the abstract and even had a pretty solid curve when paired with the black. But Ben argued that the blue deck was much better suited for Army, since it could draw cards to more reliably hit the land drops for Army.

Luis and I overruled him and played the white. Moan of the Unhallowed was also in the pool, and Ben told us that card would win us far more games in the deck we built. This sounded pretty stupid, so we spent the remainder of the train ride arguing about which was better, all while playing games. It turned out that Ben was probably right: while far less flashy, casting Moan on turn 4 and flashing it back a few turns later will win you a large percentage of games. Army is certainly a sealed deck bomb, but living until eight mana and then needing to untap is easier said than done.

Luis wanted to splash Gavony Township in the W/B deck because “it’s so good with Army.” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was joking about the reason and just wanted to splash it based on power level. I had yet to play with the card, and it is obviously very good, but was it worth adding a colorless land and an off-color land for? After a few games, it seemed like it was. I am glad this came up, because I actually faced the same decision when building my deck for the GP.

A Depressingly Short Tournament Report

We spent most of the next day traveling back to Santiago and headed to the site after arriving that night. The GP was being held on the fifth floor of some random building, and the space reminded me of when U.S. PTQs were held in hotels. Based on that analog, plus the size of the room, I expected maybe 350 people.

We got there in the morning, and there were 750 people. The tournament was spread over two rooms, and the lowest numbered tables were in a tent on the balcony. The space was exactly as crowded and pleasant as you’d expect from this description.

I opened my pool to find pretty solid white and green to go along with Gavony Township. My black was overall unexciting, but contained two bombs: Bloodgift Demon and Sever the Bloodline. I briefly considered going W/G splashing the two black rares, but decided that the double black of the Demon made that prohibitive. The Sever does have double black in the flashback, but is certainly splashable since you can cast it the first time off one black, and you might draw your second source in the late game.

I decided to go G/B, splashing a Bonds of Faith and Gavony Township off of a Traveler’s Amulet. The main thing I lost from white were 2 Avacynian Priests, but Bloodgift Demon is a pretty big game. Here is my deck laid out:

My deck, en Español.

For those of you who can’t read Spanish or Blurry, here’s the deck:

Hamlet Captain
2 Darkthicket Wolf
2 Ambush Viper
Screeching Bat
Village Cannibals
Orchard Spirit
Markov Patrician
Woodland Sleuth
Grizzled Outcasts
Hollowhenge Scavenger
Bloodgift Demon
Manor Gargoyle

Dead Weight
Traveler’s Amulet
Prey Upon
Bonds of Faith
Spidery Grasp
Corpse Lunge
Sever the Bloodline

Gavony Township
8x Forest
7x Swamp

Relevant sideboard cards were:

Night Terrors
Brain Weevil
Altar’s Reap
Tree of Redemption

My main mistake in building this deck was including the minor Human subtheme for no real reason: Hamlet Captain, Village Cannibals, and Woodland Sleuth. My logic was that having a good early curve would allow for more wins off Township, but I probably should not have altered the composition of my deck for that. Township mostly serves as a late game mana sink, and this is especially true when splashing it.

While playing some fun games with Ben, I attempted to cast Woodland Sleuth to return something, and he said, “What are you doing? Nothing died this turn.” Apparently that card has morbid. Did not know that while deckbuilding. Would it have really been of an inappropriate power level if it just always gravediggered?

I did not include Tree of Redemption because I had never played with it and was unsure that I wanted a defender in my deck that was capable of aggressive draws. This was also a mistake though, as the card is quite powerful.

How I should have built the deck, and what I typically sided into, was:

Hamlet Captain
Village Cannibals
Woodland Sleuth
+Night Terrors
+Tree of Redemption
+Brain Weevil

Bramblecrush came in if they had planeswalkers and Altar’s Reap if their removal was enchantments.

I thought my deck was okay, but nothing special. I figured the most likely scenario was to make Day 2 at 7-2. Instead, I went 1-3 after my byes. Oops. I was not particularly interested in spending two more hours at the absurdly crowded site waiting for everyone else to finish out Day 1, so I headed back to the apartment for the night.

A Few More Days in Santiago

The next morning I was again wary of the overcrowded site, so I bummed around the apartment/wandered around the neighborhood for most of the day. I took a cab over when I assumed the Swiss was about to end and got there right as the last round was starting. Owen and PV drew into Top 8, but I got to watch Martin play for his slot and Ben play for Top 12. We did a team draft during Top 8, which I 1-2ed, but my team won anyway. And thus ended another successful day of Innistrad Limited!

We planned on going sightseeing the next day, but there were eight of us at this point, and it is pretty hard to get that many people to do anything. Eventually I convinced everyone that there would be space enough for us to draft at Starbucks, so we did that. I got a more respectable 2-1 this time. Thanks, Bloodline Keeper! The only match I lost was to Travel Preparations. That card is good. You should probably be picking it higher.

For the next two days, we were left with five people: too few to draft, and a more manageable number to motivate for sightseeing. Santiago was certainly no Machu Picchu in terms of sights, but we did manage to keep ourselves entertained.

The highlight of the tail end of the trip was probably taking a “funicular” to the top of San Cristobal Hill. The hill had a giant Mary statue on top and also gave a great view of Santiago, which was considerably larger than I’d imagined.


What the hell’s a funicular?

san cristobal hill

“Down there is where we saw the stray dog pooping in the street!”

Some Tips on Innistrad Sealed

So far in this article I’ve talked a lot about sightseeing and a little about losing at Magic. I realize this is probably not particularly helpful for those of you trying to win a PTQ. Lest I to write something totally bereft of strategic content, here are some things I’ve learned about the format:

  • Draw first. People correctly say this about basically every sealed format, yet nearly all of my opponents play first. You should stop doing that. It is very unlikely that you will open a consistent aggro deck that can take advantage of being on the play. And even if you do, your opponent opened six booster packs; do you really think they will not be able to kill your two-drop? There are obviously games where you can nut draw someone, and your perfect curve will put them on their back foot because you are on the play. But more often than not, games will go long, and the extra card is going to be more relevant.
  • Counterspells and hand disruption are better than you think. A lot of the removal in the format is situational, so being able to stop their bombs no matter what is huge. Brain Weevil and Night Terrors are not exactly good cards, but you should not dismiss them if they fill holes in your deck. At the very least, they should come to mind when sideboarding. Dissipate should be an auto-include: it stops both certified bombs and very strong flashback cards like Moan of the Unhallowed. Lost in the Mist is worse than Dissipate, but should still likely make your deck. It is usually obvious that you have it, but sometimes your opponent will just have to play into it. Besides, let’s be honest: your PTQ opponent will probably just obviously cast their bomb into it.
  • Geistcatcher’s Rig kills all of the bombs. This card is fine in Draft, but not particularly exciting since the two main archetypes (U/x mill yourself and G/W aggro) are not reliant on flyers. In Sealed, Rig will almost certainly kill some stupid rare in their deck: Angel of Flight Alabaster, Angelic Overseer, Dearly Departed, Bloodgift Demon, and of course the big ones: Bloodline Keeper and Olivia Voldaren. If you have one of these cards, be wary of Rig. If you have Rig, just keep in mind all of the problem cards it can deal with before using it to kill a Voiceless Spirit. There is probably a reason they are playing white. And that reason probably has the creature type “Angel.”
  • 2W open is dangerous. Village Bell-Ringer, Rebuke, and Midnight Haunting can all lead to blowouts. The main one to watch out for in Sealed specifically is Rebuke (since it is pretty bad in Draft). I had two Rebukes in my sealed deck at a PTQ that I played in for funsies, and exactly one of my eight opponents played around the card. If your opponent wants to sit there with three mana up while doing nothing, then just keep building your board. Eventually he will have to tap the mana. (Full disclosure: I did not play around Rebuke in one game during the GP and lost because of it. I do not follow my own advice.)

Despite my disappointing showing in the GP, this was still an awesome trip. I am really glad that I decided to go on the Machu Picchu leg of it. If I had only gone for the tournament, I likely would have been far more upset about my performance. But since I enjoy traveling almost as much as actually playing Magic, I was alright with how things turned out. Similarly, in Paris I missed day two of the PT for the first (and only) time, but I was okay with it because the extra day gave us time to check out Versailles.

I know not all of us get to (or want to) travel for Magic, but I do think it is important to find joy in other aspects of the experience besides tournament results, or you will go nuts. Even the best players in the world lose 30-40% of their matches. So if the only joy you take from Magic is in winning, you will probably be unhappy the majority of the time. You know, unless you’re Owen and you Top 8 every GP.

I’ll be at GP San Diego and Worlds in San Francisco in the coming weeks, as well as the Invitational in Charlotte next month. If you’ll be in attendance at any of these events, please feel free to come say hi.

Thanks for reading!

Pat Cox

@wildestnacatl on Twitter