Esper Spirits In Baltimore

Josh Cho recounts the experience he had playing Esper Spirits last weekend at Grand Prix Baltimore. Prepare yourself to play Standard this weekend at StarCityGames.com Open: Tampa.

Oh hai!

This past weekend was Grand Prix Baltimore. While my record was not as good as I hoped it would be, I still had an awesome time. Here is that story.

Before we get started on the actual tournament report, I want to offer a big congratulation to Matt "Great!" Scott. The night before day 1, Matt approached me and asked if I had any Zombie cards. I had been wavering back and forth between Spirits and Zombies, and I was looking for a reason to move in on either deck. The fact that Matt was looking for cards seemed like as good a reason as any, so I shipped him the cards. Matt then flew off all the way to Top 4 and "pecked" up a plane ticket to Barcelona. It could not have happened to a better guy/owl. Congrats again on your finish, Matt. I sure hope Pro Tour Avacyn Restored is a hoot.

After leaving the tournament site, Gerry Thompson, Michael Jacob, and I went back to the hotel room to finalize our lists. I punted when I booked the hotel room. Let us backtrack to the week before the event. I was tasked with booking our hotel room, and I went online to the tournament information page. I did some research to find out which hotel would be the closest to the site and settled on the Hilton after seeing that it was connected to the convention center itself. Flash-forward to the event, and it turned out that the hotel, while connected, was on the complete other side of the huge convention center. Played poorly, got punished, etc.

When we got back to the room, Gerry’s notebook came back out. We were able to get a feel for the tournament while at the convention center, and it seemed like Corrosive Gale was everywhere. Dealers were selling them for $3, which seemed like an absurd price, but they were sold out of them. That news was certainly worrisome, as our game plan of Spirits relied on us getting a double Captain out to protect our flying army. Gale would be able to sidestep our hexproof team and wipe it out completely. After I voiced this concern, I turned to Gerry for a solution. As per usual, he came up with the goods.

Hero of Bladehold did everything that we wanted it to do. Unanswered, she provided a threat that could take over the game. She would kold all the Corrosive Gales that people would bring in against us because our fliers would be tucked safely within our sideboards. I guess they could’ve still nabbed our flipped Delvers and a half of a Lingering Souls, but that was a reasonable compromise.

This list was pretty much a straight port from the Esper Spirits that Jon Finkel & Co. piloted to great finishes at Pro Tour Dark Ascension. The game plan remained the same. Apply early pressure with Delvers, Snags and counterspells and build towards a midgame of Double Captains while Image allows you a hexproof army on turn five. There were a couple gems in the decklist that I’d like to talk briefly about.

1 Vault of the Archangel

There are a number of trouble cards that Spirits has difficulty with. Mono-Green, popularized by Todd Anderson, has a number of threats, but the most troublesome is Dungrove Elder. Unless you can counter it, an early Elder can just wreck you. On defense, Vault lets you trade a single dude with any of your opponents hard to answer threats.

When you want to get your beat on, Vault makes every block a bad one for your opponent and can turn a close race into a blowout with its lifelink. I would definitely recommend giving the Vault a shot going forward, as it was extremely valuable throughout the tournament.

3 Mana Leak, 1 Negate

One of the main flaws that Esper Spirits had in Honolulu was its lack of countermagic. This was one of the reasons that Wolf Run Ramp had a good matchup against Spirits. The two Mana Leaks were fine, especially early when nobody knew that those two Leaks were the permission in the maindeck. Going into the Grand Prix, we knew that we had to shore that weakness up. Instead of the traditional playset of Mana Leaks, we went down to three Leaks which created room for the singleton Negate. A lot of times, people would sandbag their haymaker spells, playing around Leak. Being able to have an actual counter to these spells with Negate was very important.

Here is a brief look at how I sideboarded for this event.

Mirror Match

In: 2 Hero of Bladehold, 3 Corrosive Gale, 1 Dungeon Geists, 1 Steel Sabotage (if I saw equipment)

Out: 4 Captains, 2-3 Delvers

Delver can be pretty awkward whenever your opponent casts Lingering Souls. It’s not the worst if your one-drop trades for half a card, but try and avoid it if you can. The main reason for boarding into Heroes is to sidestep their Gales while bringing in your own. This prevents you from trying to out-Captain your opponent, and it makes your Gales all the more effective.


In: 1 Oblivion Ring, 1 Dungeon Geists, 2 Celestial Purge, 1 Steel Sabotage

Out: 2 Dismember, 3 Mana Leak

Mainly you just want to survive in this matchup. Do not be afraid to throw away some early creatures (or tokens) to save some damage, as Mono-Red can just end the game out of nowhere. The two main things to watch out for are Shrine of Burning Rage and Manabarbs. Shrine can get out of hand pretty quickly; it’s one of the easiest ways to lose. Manabarbs can also be a pain to deal with so keep that in mind on your opponent’s turn four.

Wolf Run Ramp

In: 2 Celestial Purge, 1 Oblivion Ring, 2 Dissipate, 2 Sword of Feast and Famine, 2 Hero of Bladehold

Out: 4 Drogskol Captain, 4 Vapor Snag, 1 Phantasmal Image

Your Snags are pretty bad against Huntmaster of the Fells and Solemn Simulacrum so those are easy to take out. Dismember is your best answer to a resolved Huntmaster so use it sparingly. Our main plan of assembling Voltron with double Captain is really hard to do with their spot removal and sweepers, so we’re back on the Hero of Bladehold plan again. Just pick your spots, don’t overcommit, and counter their relevant spells and you should be fine.

U/B Zombies

In: 2 Celestial Purge, 1 Oblivion Ring, 1 Negate, 2 Hero of Bladehold, 2 Sword of Feast and Famine

Out: 4 Drogskol Captain, 1 Mana Leak, 2 Dismember

The only real card that we’re worried about in this matchup is Corrosive Gale. You can leave in your Captain plan if they don’t have Gale, but just about every list that I saw this weekend had two-to-three of them in the board. Just don’t get overrun by Captained Zombies and make sure that you Purge wisely, and this match up should be fairly easy.

Keep in mind that this sideboard was strictly for this event. While Hero was a fine sideboard plan at this Grand Prix, if Corrosive Gale starts to become less popular you can tune it to a more traditional fifteen. Also, don’t get too locked into a pre-set sideboard plan. It can very easily change from game to game as well as opponent to opponent as you get the feel for what they’ll bring in and how they’ll react to the cards in your sideboard.

After some additional tinkering, I finally had a 75 that I was satisfied with, and with that I went to bed. After a good night’s sleep, I was up bright and early.

Quick aside on the "sleep-in specials"

I can definitely see the benefit of having this for Limited Grand Prix. The player meeting, distribution of boosters, registering the lists, passing the lists, actually building the decks; these can all be very time consuming, and having the option to bypass that completely is something that I can definitely support. However, for this Standard Grand Prix I chose not to do it, and I suggest that you do the same going forward.

First off, they were charging $40 just to enter the event. This was a bit high but still fine for a Premier Level event. On top of this, for an additional $10, the Tournament Organizer for this event would let you skip the player meeting with their "special." An additional 25% of the entry fee seemed like a pretty high price to pay.

Secondly, this "special" was only valid if you turned in your deck registration sheet the night before the event. I usually have a good portion of the 75 cards I will be playing in my mind, but the "special" removes the ability to do any last-minute modifications to your sideboard or tinker with your mana base. These are all good things in my mind. Turning in your decklist the night before locks you into a deck and doesn’t give you the opportunity to find any tech that might be floating around the event hall or hotel.

Thirdly, how much time does this really save you? Again, I fully support this practice for Limited events, but the only additional time you get is the twenty-some minutes during the player meeting. At a Limited Grand Prix, there’s an additional hour of technical stuff that needs to take place. Do you really want to spend any additional money on something that will not benefit you as much? I’d recommend that you save the "sleep-in specials" for Limited Grand Prix.

/end aside

As for the main event itself, I’ll be honest with you: my results were not what I wanted them to be. I felt like was a little out of practice, and while I could have drawn a little better, I made some pretty sketchy keeps and got properly punished. By the time round 5 started, I had lost to every opponent that I played against after my byes, and I stood at 2-2 with my back against the wall.

After I rattled off three straight wins, I sat down to play against my round 8 opponent, Joseph Schmidt, piloting a pretty sweet W/R Razor Hippogriff deck. Games 1 and 2 took forever, and we started game 3 with about seven minutes on the clock. We both played as quickly as possible, and I try to set myself up to win, clearly not playing for a draw as that would have eliminated the both of us. I ended up Dissipating his Solemn Simulacrum instead of saving it for his Elesh Norn or Wurmcoil Engine, which he had in play as time was called. There was no real way for me to win, and I was pretty down on myself for not saving that Dissipate for a real threat.

Because of the poor board position I was in, I scooped. I’m not saying that everyone has to scoop in that spot, but there was little reason not to. Again, a draw would’ve been just as bad as a loss for the both of us. I wished him good luck and went off to cool off. Getting eliminated from an event never feels good, and this was no exception.

After I won my mostly meaningless round 9 (need those Planeswalker Points, yo), I went over to bird Gerry. He was playing for his tournament life, on the play in game 3 against U/W Humans. I peeked at his grip; it was pretty close to the stone nuts, only it lacked a source of white mana. Nonetheless, the game seemed like it would not be close, especially after he Probed his opponent and saw a hand that, while quite good, should’ve been easy overcome. His opponent then proceeded to rip the worst-case (or best-case from his opponent’s perspective) card, culminating with a Corrosive Gale on the penultimate turn and with a Vapor Snag that crushed any tricks that Gerry might’ve had. Dejected, we went on our way to The Cheesecake Factory to drown our sorrows.

When we got to the restaurant, we were informed of a 45-minute wait. Luckily, due to our connections to Johnny Guitar, via Zach Efland, this wait was trimmed to a scant five minutes. Thanks Zach! A short time after that, we were digging into our pasta. Finally, things were looking up. After a long day of battling and a good meal with great people, I was exhausted and passed out almost immediately upon arriving back at the hotel room.

I got up the next morning and started looking at the side events schedule. The only thing that really caught my eye was the Standard cash tournament. With nothing better to do, I grabbed my deckbox and headed to the event site. Once there, I looked at the long line for the side events, looked at the prizes for the event, then looked for three-on-three draft opponents. While waiting for my draft to fire, I was able to spend some time with one of the coolest guys I’ve had the pleasure to meet playing Magic.

Matty Gemme was someone that I was only able to meet in passing at prior events, but when we got to talking he was hilarious. All the usual suspects for team drafts were still in event, but Matty definitely made the wait much more enjoyable. Hopefully, he will finally get to write his own articles, "Gemmes of Wisdom," coming soon to a web browser near you…in the first or second quarter of 2013. Get started Matty!

Eventually, we were able to get some drafts in. Unfortunately, as we wrapped up our last draft of the night, we received some really bad news. Justin Parnell all-foil Cube had been stolen. It takes a really scummy person to steal anything at an event, but this was heartbreaking. I have had the pleasure of drafting Justin’s Cube once before, and I know that he put a lot of love and care into putting it together. If you have any information about the whereabouts of his Cube, please do the right thing and say something. You can get in touch with Justin or pass along any information regarding his Cube here.

As a community, we need to band together to protect our friends and our game from these thieves. Nothing can ruin a weekend quite like theft, and if you or anyone close to you has ever been a victim of theft, you know how it feels. We can try to be vigilant, but we need to do something to get these scumbags out of the game for good. It feels like this is becoming a bit of a common occurrence at larger events, and we need to do everything that we can to protect ourselves, our friends, and the game that we all love.

I leave you with a quote that my good friend Logan Echolls once relayed to me:

"To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose, the next best." — William Thackery

We cannot win every event that we attend. No matter what kind of heater you’re on, there are always going to be losses. The best thing that we can do is love what we are doing.

Thanks to everyone that came up and introduced yourself to me this weekend; it was great getting to meet you all. You all made it an awesome event to attend. As always, it would not nearly have been as good of a weekend without the awesome people that make these events so great.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to make it back home for the StarCityGames.com Open: Tampa. I lived there while in college, and it was definitely some of the best times of my life. Good luck to all the Tampa locals from Armada Games and The Game Academy. If you’re getting into town on Friday night, definitely look them up for a sweet place to FNM the night before the event.

This weekend I’ll be dipping my toes into the Modern waters at the PTQ in Richmond. Feel free to stop by and say hello.

As always, thanks for reading!