Constructed Criticism – A Long Time Coming: A Grand Prix Houston Report, Part 2 *4th*

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Monday, April 12th – Last week, we left off with Starship Troopers after an 8-1 record on the first day of Grand Prix: Houston. Now, Grand Prix tournaments are incredibly large compared to most Magic tournaments, which makes making Top 8 that much more difficult. With that said, I knew that doing well on Day 2 would be very hard, since those remaining in the tournament were probably solid players.

When we last left our hero…

Last week, we left off with Starship Troopers after an 8-1 record on the first day of Grand Prix: Houston. Now, Grand Prix tournaments are incredibly large compared to most Magic tournaments, which makes making Top 8 that much more difficult (as far as actual rounds played versus necessary record to make Top 8). With that said, I knew that doing well on Day 2 would be very hard, since those remaining in the tournament were probably solid players. Extended is a very difficult format, so doing well is no easy task. If you look at the Top 8 of the Grand Prix, you will see seven different archetypes (although some use similar engines). While this lets you know the format is healthy, it also lets you know that it is incredibly difficult to prepare for all of the various archetypes that require specific cards or interactions to beat them.

On Sunday, we actually woke up a bit later than we should have. Will Cruse and I were the only people in the house who made Day 2, so we were under the impression that we were the only ones who needed to wake up early and shower. Instead, we ended up being ready to go, but then told we needed to wait on a few others to get ready as well. We left the house around 8:45, and needed to be at the site before 9:30. For a while, it looked like we were going to be late, since I am terrible at navigating roads I am unfamiliar with, and Kibler’s GPS on his phone was acting up. This left us with two options: winging it or using a poor map to figure out where we needed to go. Once we were able to find some familiar ground, we ended up getting to the site with about 10 minutes to spare, which was a huge relief. I would have been very upset to have gotten a tardiness penalty due to unforeseen circumstances, but it all worked out. Hey, sometimes you just run good.

After downing a few $5 Red Bulls from the coffee store downstairs, we were heading to our seats for the first round of play on Day 2. My opponent was Jody Keith, a friend of mine from Louisiana who frequents PTQ’s around the South, and is a regular Top 8’er. He’s decent, and I know we’re playing the mirror match, so I know I’m in for a tough one. If you didn’t read my article from last week, you can find it here. Here is my decklist from that tournament:

Round 10 against Jody Keith playing DDT (mirror)

I win the roll and we’re off. I keep my opening 7 while he mulligans into a solid hand. I have two options: Thoughtseize on Turn 1 with a River of Tears, or play a Vampire Hexmage on Turn 1 while making a Marit Lage on the second turn. I don’t have another source of Black, or Black card in hand to imprint on Chrome Mox, so it is basically all in on Marit Lage to play around Thoughtseize, or play it safe and just Thoughtseize him myself. I end up deciding to just go all in on Turn 2 Marit Lage, since I don’t think Jody is playing many answers other than a single Repeal and possibly a single Echoing Truth/Into the Roil. He ends up having a solid 6 card hand, playing a Dark Confidant on the first turn. However, he doesn’t draw anything off it, and I just crash him to death with a 20/20 on Turn 3. Being on the play can mean a lot when playing the mirror, and this game really shows why.

Game 2 is a much more convoluted affair, but he takes another trip to Paris before keeping 6. In this game, we both begin to fight over Thopter Foundry with Duresses and Thoughtseize, but he breaks parity with a Creeping Tar Pit. I decide to use Jace to +2, keeping him from dying to an attack by the Tar Pit, which forces Jody into an awkward decision. He attacks, and just decides to play a Bitterblossom. Bitterblossom can be really good when you have gotten rid of your opponent’s Thopter Foundries, but looks pretty bad when racing down a Thopter and Sword combo. After using Jace to Brainstorm (holding a Smother for his Tar Pit), I pass the turn after playing a Thopter Foundry. He attacks Jace for lethal, but I use Smother to kill his Creeping Tar Pit, leaving him with little action and an active Bitterblossom. On the following turn, I Brainstorm against with Jace, drawing into Muddle the Mixture for Sword of the Meek. He doesn’t have an Extirpate or anything and I take the game in a few quick turns of making Thopters.

Round 11 against Shaun Rodriguez playing Blood Moon Zoo

This match was pretty short and sweet, which is awesome because that usually means I won rather quickly. I know what Shaun is playing, so I keep a hand that contains a Basic Island, Engineered Explosives, and some draw spells. I play the Explosives on 1 while he lands Wild Nacatl, but I don’t blow it until the end of his second turn because he is only attacking for 3, and I can Time Walk him if he doesn’t have a 2-drop to play. I use the Explosives at the end of his second Turn to kill his Nacatl, untapping to cast a Thirst for Knowledge while he is stuck on two lands. He casts a Wild Nacatl while I set up Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage. I Thoughtseize him and take a useless Knight of the Reliquary, and he concedes after drawing a blank.

Game 2 is pretty similar to Game 1, but involves me having a ton of removal. I figured that, since he has both Bloodbraid Elf and Blood Moon, it is much harder to “grind him” out if he is shutting off my black mana sources. He opts to play Ancient Grudge on my Turn 1 Thopter Foundry instead of my Chrome Mox, and allows me to cast Thirst for Knowledge when he taps out on Turn 3. This gives me a window to resolve both Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths before he can draw an answer. He concedes once against without forcing me to actually make a 20/20.

I would like to point out that, while it may be common knowledge to most, conceding to an active Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths is a very bad play. Your opponent doesn’t know the cards in your hand, and will often not make his Marit Lage for fear of getting blown out by Path to Exile or Temporal Isolation. Conceding gives you no outs, while just passing the turn can give you an extra draw step to find your answer. Sure, if they don’t have protection, they might just go for it. But you never know, and conceding when you aren’t necessarily dead is just wrong. I don’t want to take anything away from Shaun, since he made it all the way to the finals, but it just goes to show that this is something that a lot of players don’t take small things like this into consideration. Clearly he is a decent player, but this aspect of the game is just something you can’t teach. Don’t give up if you have an out. On the reverse side of things, you can often just ask your opponent if they have an answer, giving you the “free” win if they concede. If they are a better player, they will not tell you and force you to kill them. Asking this question can often entice them into giving away information as to whether or not they actually have the answer, or letting you figure out if they are bluffing. If you want to get better at Magic, just play a lot against your friends and try to ask them various questions. Whether or not they answer, as well as how they answer, can give you access to information you wouldn’t otherwise have, which would be invaluable at larger tournaments like Pro Tours or Grand Prix. I think I won two matches that weekend by just telling them I was going to make a 20/20 and kill them unless they had an answer. End Rant.

Round 12 against Shuhei Nakamura playing Hypergenesis

I got paired up this round, since Shuhei was the only undefeated player left in the tournament. I knew what he was playing, and kept a very solid opener containing a Turn 1 Dark Confidant, as well as Muddle the Mixture. I ended up drawing a Thoughtseize off my first Confidant reveal, and I ripped away his only Cascade card. After that, I played the beatdown game while having Muddle the Mixture backup. He died to some random Thopter Tokens that spawned from a few unimprinted Chrome Moxen.

Game 2 was almost a blowout of epic proportions. I had sided in Damnation and Jace, as well as Extirpate and Duress. Shuhei opens with Turn 1 Cascade into Hypergenesis from a pair of Simian Spirit Guides (basically all-in), allowing him to play both Bogardan Hellkite and Akroma’s Memorial. I just play a few lands (one of which is Tolaria West). This allows me to cast Thirst for Knowledge on Turn 1, followed by my land for the turn. I didn’t draw a Damnation or Jace off the three cards, so I needed to topdeck. Shuheii attacked me for 5 again, down to just 4 life on Turn 2. I untapped and ripped Jace, allowing me to bounce the Dragon and virtually seal the deal. I Extirpated his Hypergenesis, and he conceded to the active Jace while stuck on just two lands.

I got pretty lucky to win here, but I felt I played fine. The games between Hypergenesis and DDT are generally blowouts in one way or another. A lot of times the only real question for Hypergenesis is whether or not you play around Muddle the Mixture. Even when I don’t have Muddle, I try to represent it so that the Hypergenesis player might give me enough time to draw one. I know that a player like Shuhei could determine whether or not to play around Muddle or a discard spell, and usually make the right decision. However, your average player might play scared, waiting until he has enough time/mana to cast an end of turn Violent Outburst, or set up a manually suspended Hypergenesis.

Round 13 against Adam Yurchick playing DDT (mirror)

We got deckchecked this round, so we sat around and twiddled our thumbs on ggslive coverage while we waited. After a few minutes, we decided to get up and see what matches we could be paired against in the next round. Adam was 10-1-1 at this point, while I was 11-1. I jokingly asked him if he wanted to concede so that I was a lock for Top 16 and qualified for San Juan, but I knew he would not take it. I wouldn’t, but it never hurts to ask. Hopefully I’d win anyway, locking me for Top 8 and qualifying me for San Juan.

After 20 minutes of deckcheckery, we sit down to battle with a gigantic time extension. We both play pretty fast, so hopefully we wouldn’t keep everyone waiting on us when time was called. I don’t remember much about this match, but I think that I won Game 1 on the back of Marit Lage. He was able to get Thopter Foundry out, but was only able to make a single blocker. I ended up having Repeal for his Thopter token which ended the game.

Game 2 was a pretty fast game that involved me getting beaten to death by an early Dark Confidant and two Vampire Hexmages.

Game 3 was pretty tight. We both flung some discard spells at each other, and he ripped my hand apart while setting up Marit Lage. I had one window to draw a Repeal or a draw spell into a repeal. I drew Compulsive Research, discarded an extra Urborg, Repealed his token, and Extirpated his Dark Depths. After gaining a foothold, he then sets up Thopter and Sword. I topdeck Tolaria West from a Dark Confidant, giving me the ability to tutor for Engineered Explosives, Sunburst it for 2, and blow up the worlds. On my next upkeep, I attempt to Academy Ruins back a Thopter Foundry, to which he Extirpates. I topdeck a Jace, cast it, and lock him out of the game. I drew pretty well, I will not lie. His draw was pretty amazing as well, and this particular game just shows you what the deck can draw out of. Adam set up both of his combos before me, but I was able to gain a foothold and crawl my way back into it. Jace is one of the most powerful sideboarding options for the mirror, because he can lock your opponent out of drawing relevant cards while you build to his ultimate, or just set up your own game plan while keeping theirs in check.

After this round, I’m a virtual lock for Top 8 at 12-1. I’m in second behind Shuhei in the standings due to breakers, but I can lose and draw myself into Top 8. I get paired against my friend Kenny Ellis in round 14, and he is sitting at 11-1-1 and needs just one more win to make Top 8. I scoop to him, locking him in and we go grab a bite to eat (jumping for joy in the meantime). I met Kenny at Grand Prix: Oakland, where he let me stay with him for free. It was the least I could do. Later he ended up buying me Fogo for dinner, which was completely unexpected, but he is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and he continued that trend. We’ll probably be rooming together in San Juan, so it should be a good time.

Round 15 ID against Charles Lancaster playing BW Smallpox

Charles is a very nice guy who is a very old-school player from back in the day. He informs me that he made it to his first Pro Tour of Magic before I even knew what Magic was. Apparently he runs a casino, and couldn’t be happier to be battling Magic instead of working. I don’t blame him. Magic is just an amazing game, and I’m so glad that people like Charles come back to it, even when they have “moved on” in their lives to bigger and better things. It is just nice to see someone with such a love for the game after all these years make a return trip to the tournament scene and do really well. Unfortunately we have to battle in the Top 8, but he was just awesome to talk which made me much less nervous.

Top 8 against Charles Lancaster playing BW Smallpox

Charles keeps a solid opener while I keep a sketchy 7. It is pretty awkward to mulligan against a guy playing Smallpox, so I keep a hand with Thirst for Knowledge and Thopter Foundry but not a lot else. He opens with Thoughtseize for my Thirst, putting me in a precarious situation. I draw a Vampire Hexmage to go along with my Dark Depths, while he plays a Confidant on the second turn. I use Thoughtseize on Turn 2 to rip away his answer for Marit Lage, but he has 4 draws to hit it while I make a 20/20 and pray. He topdecked a Gatekeeper of Malakir which just rolls me. He almost kills himself with 2 Dark Confidants, drawing Baneslayer Angel and both of his Sword Equipments. At the end of the game, my only way to not die is to block his Dark Confidant while he is at 1 life (when he had Smallpoxed away the other a turn earlier) with a Thopter token, and I don’t have enough artifacts to sacrifice to kill him on the return swing, losing the first game.

I decide after Game 1 that the Marit Lage plan is pretty weak, and opt to move in on Thopter Foundry and Jace. I sideboard down to one each of Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths, and focusing on disrupting him while not becoming vulnerable to Smallpox or Gatekeeper of Malakir. I am able to set up an Thopter and Sword, and play around Extirpate by playing a second Sword of the Meek. He can’t recover and I kill him with a ton of 1/1’s while Gatekeeper went from blowout to worthless.

Game 3 is almost the exact same as Game 2, but I don’t have a second Sword of the Meek so a tiptoe around Extirpate. I use an early discard spell to take a Kitchen Finks (his hand was pretty weak after a mulligan). I set up Thopter and Sword while he twiddles his thumbs. I use another discard spell to make sure the coast is clear, and make a ton of 1/1s. He can’t really recover and I take the match.

Top 4 against Adam Yurchick playing DDT (mirror)

Game 1 was pretty pathetic. I mulliganed to 5, keeping a hand that actually did nothing. If I drew an Urborg, or he played an Urborg, I could make a Turn 2 Marit Lage, but nothing else. He used a Dark Depths to legend mine, and I topdecked an Urborg (obv) to Thoughtseize him. He used his own Urborg to kill mine, but he had lands to play, and eventually spells, while I just drew cards and passed the turn.

Game 2 was my turn to go aggro. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to be able to win, but I squeaked in just enough damage with Vampire Hexmages and Dark Confidants that a Thopter Foundry was just enough to kill him by sacrificing a Chrome Mox, Engineered Explosives, and the Thopter Foundry itself. He drew a brick on the final turn, where he had a lot of outs to get me.

Game 3 was the second most epic game I played all tournament. I started off behind being on the draw, while he played Dark Confidant and Compulsive Research. I did the same but he was able to stick a Jace, bouncing my Dark Confidant. I played a Jace of my own to kill his, but he was still in control with an active Dark Confidant. After he played a Thopter Foundry but no Sword of the Meek, I drew Tolaria West to set up a recurring Engineered Explosives (with Academy Ruins), but it had to wait due to him playing a second Jace. I tutored for Vampire Hexmage with Muddle the Mixture after he used the +2 ability to leave a Chrome Mox on top of my deck. However, this allowed me to cast Dark Confidant after using Hexmage to kill his Jace, imprinting a Black card. After he killed my Dark Confidant with Gatekeeper, I was able to set up the recurring Explosives, stopping his Gatekeeper of Malakir in play, and keeping him from playing his lone card in hand: Dark Confidant. I Extirpated Thopter Foundry during his draw step to keep from losing to random Thopters, but his draw yielded Compulsive Research. This drew him into his final Jace, which was able to keep the top card of my deck from being anything relevant. I drew blanks and conceded when he left the last card on top with Jace at 13 counters.

After losing, I’m not down. I just won a lot of money and achieved my goal from the beginning of the PTQ season: qualifying for San Juan. We decide that Fogo is in order, and we round up a bunch of friends to head to the restaurant. Luckily, it is near the house we are staying at, so it isn’t really hard for me to find. After going to Fogo, I can safely say it is the best meal I have ever eaten, and cannot give it higher recommendations. They bring you meat… on swords. They don’t stop unless you ask them to. Various meats, beer, and desserts later, we are absolutely stuffed. I drive a few people back to the event site hotel, and pick up a few friends who had opted out of Fogo in order to trade with the legendary Tomoharu Saito. Apparently the man has a very ridiculous collection, and I’m pretty sure he owns a store. He owns a lot of cards, including a million or so Japanese foils.

After picking up Dustin and Eugene from the site, we decide to go out to a local bar where the drinks are really cheap. Kibler, Will Cruse, and Chris decide to “die roll for drinks.” For each round of drinks, they roll two six-sided die, and the person who rolls the lowest has to buy the round. This game is fairly harmless when only 3 people are playing, but we ended up having around 7-10 people per round by the end of the night. I joined in since Kibler seemed to be incapable of rolling above a 6, and I paid for exactly two beers the entire night (which I had purchased before the beginning of the game). Kibler did his usual thing and chatted up the ladies sitting near our table, which resulted in the larger game of “die-roll for drinks.” Hilariously, I actually got to “no-sir” a drunk chick who started hitting on me, who then later called me Waldo for wearing a red-white striped shirt. Where I’m from, no one would say anything about a shirt of that color other than “he’s an Alabama fan.” Good thing we were in Texas, and I was called Waldo by various people all night.

After closing the tabs and getting in one last round before closing time, we walked out to the car to drive back to Chris’s place. Upon entering the parking lot, we saw a woman, obviously drunk, hanging sideways out of her driver’s side car door. We called to her to see if she was okay, to which her friend got out of the passenger seat and came over to talk to us, leaving her drunk friend to puke all over the ground. It was… odd. We laughed about that one for a while as we drove back to the house. We stopped for McDonalds (remember what I said last week about McDonalds?), since we had beer munchies, and I actually got to sleep on the bed since Kibler passed out on the big bean bag in the living room. Sometimes you just run good. We woke up insanely early the next day to head to the airport. We almost missed our flight, since we didn’t really expect it to take us 45 minutes to get to the airport. We also forgot to plan on the time it took to give back the rental car and get a shuttle to the airport. Luckily, our terminal was almost empty, while one terminal we passed had people lined up outside the door. Sometimes… running good… etc.

Today I am feeling on top of the world! I’m qualified for San Juan, which is what I’ve been trying so hard to accomplish over the last few months! I have another shot to really do something with my Magic career, since I’ve been given a second chance after blowing my opportunity last year. I am not qualified for Amsterdam yet, but I will be battling it out trying to get there. I only need 8 Pro Points before May 31st to get on the train (that shouldn’t be hard… right?!), but it will be a long road. I only have two real tournaments to play in before the cutoff, but that includes San Juan. I’ve been playing a ton of Block Constructed on Magic Online, so hopefully that will help. Rise of the Eldrazi is shaping up to be an interesting set, and I’ll be brewing from now until we get to San Juan. Here’s to hoping someone ships me a ridiculous 75!

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MTGO