I wanted to write a Grand Prix: Brisbane report last week, but I physically couldn’t. I was, in this order, relieved, happy, exhausted, and sick.
This was easily the most stressful tournament of my life. But to say that it was just an important tournament doesn’t come close to explaining how big a deal this GP was to me. I think that I can safely say that this was the most stressful event of any kind in my life. Logically, I knew that this tournament wasn’t “all or nothing,” but it certainly felt that way. I made a huge financial investment to play in this tournament, but that was nothing compared to the emotional investment.
A couple of months ago, I decided that I wanted to play Magic professionally. When I say “professionally” I don’t have any monetary expectations (though I would like to at least break even). What I mean by “professionally” is that I want to play the game at its highest level, or at least see how far I can get. Actually, the more that I think about, the more that I realize that I’m not sure what I mean by playing Magic professionally… but I do know that it’s what I want to do right now.
When I play in a tournament, I try to just look at my process, not my results. If I prepare well, understand what is going on in the format, and play well, the results will follow. For example, I don’t feel bad at all about Pro Tour: Valencia, even though I didn’t walk away with any extra pro points and no one on my team cashed, because I feel like we made the right decisions. But, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to do that for this tournament because this was an incredibly result-dependent tournament. If I played well, but didn’t do well, I would feel like the biggest failure.
Unfortunately, I also had to spend a lot of time in complete isolation between the end of PT: Valencia and the end of GP: Brisbane. I was traveling alone on both trips, and I was alone in my hotel room for the first night in Brisbane (Andre Coimbra was my roommate for the rest of the weekend). I spent so much time alone during that week, which left me with very little distraction from the feelings of intense doubt that I was going through at the time. “Am I really doing this? What if I don’t do well… then I won’t be Level 3. I’d have to play in PTQs again. I’ll be such a failure… how am I going to explain this to people?” and so on, and so on. It was really unhealthy, and ultimately had very little connection to reality.
I had a pretty good Sealed deck. I was U/W with Purity, some removal, a good curve, and a couple of counterspells. The tournament was very small… under 250 people (this was one of the main reasons I made the trip), meaning that there were only seven rounds on Day 1. I needed to go 2-2 (5-2 including my three byes) to advance to Day 2, but I figured that I was good for a 3-1, maybe a 4-0.
I lost my first match very quickly, and my stomach started turning. It was just one match, so I was able to push it out of my head. I came back to win my next match. Great! All that I had to do was win one of my next two, and I was guaranteed at least a pro point.
Then I lost my next match.
I was now 1-2 (4-2 with byes), and I felt miserable. All that I could think was “this can’t be happening.” I can’t imagine how much of a mess I must have looked, but no matter how miserable I looked it couldn’t have come close to matching how bad I felt. Luckily, I lost that match quickly, so I was able to go through a boatload of thoughts and emotions before I had to play my next match.
A couple of minutes before the pairings went up, I decided that I had to set aside my emotions. Of course I’m going have to play countless stressful and intense matches if I want to play Magic professionally. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. There are going to be tournaments where everything comes together, tournaments where nothing comes together, tournaments that I throw away, and, most commonly, tournaments that I have to fight for. Apparently, I was going to have to fight for this one.
I have no idea how this is going to sound, but I entered a practically Zen-like state. I just had to play. If I had a distracting internal dialogue going on, I probably wasn’t going to do very well. So I just shut it down. All that I thought about for the rest of the tournament was what was going on at that very moment. I didn’t think about how many wins I’d need. I just focused on the game I was playing, and literally nothing else. This was probably the closest I will ever come to an out of body experience.
I won my next match, and thus made Day 2.
Andre and I went to get dinner at a convenience store, and retired to bed at the late hour of 7pm. Unsurprisingly, we were up by 2am. We lazed around for a few hours until the tournament started.
My draft was going pretty well for the first pack and a half. I had a good U/r beatdown deck filled with a good curve, some bounce, and a good number of evasions creatures. This is exactly the type of deck that I like to draft at Pro Tours and team drafts, but I realized that this wasn’t the type of deck I should be going for at this table. Most of the players hadn’t gotten the chance to draft the format much, and were pretty much all going for specific tribal decks. This meant that there was a great opportunity for me to just draft the “best cards tribe.” Unfortunately, it was too late for me to go for that this draft, but my deck was pretty good so I wasn’t concerned.
Or at least, that was what I thought.
With about five cards left in the pack, someone at my table called for a judge and our draft was paused.
Someone at the table had accidentally taken two cards from a pack, and no one had noticed for several packs.
The head judge decided that the draft was irreparable at this point, and that the only way we could proceed was to do a brand new draft.
I told the table “Good thing, I wanted a do over anyway.” and a judge told me “No talking at this time.”
This time I picked up a bunch of Vivid lands and Springleaf Drum very early. When I say very early, I mean very early. I took my first Vivid land third pick over a number of high quality cards. Armed with a bunch of mana fixing I was able to glide through the draft simply taking the best card out of every pack, regardless of color.
My deck wound up being four colors with Cryptic Command!
I lost my first match, but I found that I was still in game-by-game mode. This was great. My next match, against double Grand Prix champion James Zhang, went to game 3, and we were running out of time. My opponent had inevitability, but I had enough removal to force a draw if he played cautiously, or to kill him if he made a bad attack. He didn’t want to make a bad attack, but he also didn’t want to end up with a draw, so he started playing really quickly. This was somewhat difficult for him because, by his own admission, he had only played with the cards once before. While doing this, he played a creature that put a card on top of his deck, which he used to get a Nameless Inversion. Unfortunately, he put it in his hand and drew for his turn. A judge caught this and he was given a game loss for drawing extra cards. It was clearly unintentional, but there was no other way for the judge to resolve the situation.
I won my next match and, because my tiebreakers were miserable, needed to 3-0 my last pod to Top 16 and make Level 3, or 2-1 to Top 32, which would leave me just a single pro point short of Level 3.
This draft went extremely well, and is actually the only deck that I still have together (I normally try to keep all of my decks so I can go over them after the tournament, but I didn’t want to do that to myself this time so I deconstructed them as soon as I was able). I picked up four (!) Vivid lands, a Shimmering Grotto, and a ton of good cards.
This deck was really tough to draft. While the first draft went pretty smoothly, I had all sorts of potential curve problems with this deck and because I had pretty much never drafted this deck type before. I had to think really hard to put it together.
I had two Smokebraiders that I picked up pretty late in the first pack, but I was never able to move into an Elemental sub-theme. Instead, I went for a Boggart Sprite-Chaser sub-theme (I had two), playing all of my Changelings, including 2 Amoeboid Changelings (which are pretty good even if you don’t need any tribal guys) and Runed Stalactite, which is absolutely sick on Boggart Sprite-Chaser (3/4 flier much?).
Here’s my deck:
2 Amoeboid Changeling
1 Consuming Bonfire
1 Kinsbaile Balloonist
1 Stinkdrinker Daredevil
1 Runed Stalactite
2 Warren Pilferers
2 Boggart Sprite-Chaser
1 Brion Stoutarm
1 Axegrinder Giant
2 Goldmeadow Harrier
1 Eyeblight’s Ending
1 Mudbutton Torchrunner
1 Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile
1 Plover Knights
1 Changeling Berserker
1 Cloudgoat Ranger
1 Avian Changeling
1 Neck Snap
2 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Shimmering Grotto
1 Springjack Knight
1 Shields of Velis Vel
1 Flamekin Brawler
1 Hoarder’s Greed
1 Sylvan Echoes
1 Woodland Guidance
1 Lammastide Weave
1 Protective Bubble
1 Goldmeadow Dodger
1 Ingot Chewer
1 Giant’s Ire
1 Footbottom Feast
1 Hearthcage Giant
1 Cryptic Command
I almost splashed the Cryptic Command in my W/R/B/u deck. I thought this was pretty hilarious.
The Vivid lands are very good. No matter how high you are taking them, you probably aren’t taking them highly enough. It doesn’t matter if they are “on color” or not, as they are always on color (there is very little functional difference between a Vivid land in your main colors and a Vivid land in a color that you aren’t playing). The value on the Vivid lands can go down in the second or third packs if you have already cemented yourself into a stable two- or two-and-a-splash-color deck that will have very little difficulty casting all of its spells. If you get a Vivid land or two (or a mana fixing artifact, or a mana fixing land) in the first pack, then you have the freedom to pick up pretty much any card you want, regardless of color, for the rest of the draft.
I 3-0ed this pod and I have literally no memory of what happened. I usually have an extremely good memory for games. I can reconstruct matches from PTQs that I played in four years ago, no problem. But I actually can’t remember anything more than a few snippets from my matches in Brisbane. During this tournament I completely shut down the part of my brain that would allow me to recall anything that happened during it. So instead of a traditional “game recap plus anecdote” tournament report, you got my “emotional roller-coaster” report.
I finished with a Top 16 place, giving me three pro points. This put me on exactly twenty for the season, giving me the Level 3 status that I wanted so badly. I was, and still am, so happy and relieved.
My next tournament will be GP: Daytona Beach. I am skipping GP: Krakow because I need a little bit of a break after going from New York to Valencia, then back to New York, then to Brisbane, and back to New York. These trips were just so physically and emotionally exhausting. Incidentally, I have a newfound respect for the literally professional Magic players who go to all of the GPs. I did a single back-to-back, but these guys do it all the time. It takes so much dedication to make twenty-plus international trips a year, and I am so impressed by the people who are able to do it. After Daytona I have Worlds in my hometown, which is so exciting. I have never played in Worlds before and, after the Invitational and the now defunct Masters series, it is the tournament that I have most wanted to attend.
Thanks for all of your support during my journey towards Level 3… and try the Vivid Land Good Stuff draft strategy in triple Lorwyn. It worked for me!
PS: My good friend Asher Hecht made Top 4 at New York States, with this update to my R/g deck from last season.
I really like this deck, and I think that it is the best beatdown deck that is currently available. While this could easily change as a result of post-States shake-up, I am confident that this deck will remain a contender for the rest of the year.
Asher told me that “the Lash Outs are by far and away the best cards in the sideboard.” This makes perfect sense, but for some reason I had completely failed to think about adding them to the deck before he mentioned it.
Asher has been playing really well recently, and I expect that he will win a PTQ in the next few months. All that he has to do is start going to them…
PPS: The reason why I had so much trouble with my drafts at this GP (which I was fortunately able to overcome) was because it was far outside of my drafting comfort zone. While it is pretty well accepted that most (if not all) people have leanings towards certain types of Constructed decks – “I’m a beatdown player!” or “Cool, I play combo” – I know that I have very strong leanings towards beatdown. I am trying to break this in order to be more open-minded in my ability to choose decks, but that’s a different story altogether. I believe that these same conventions hold true for Limited. Pretty much everyone has a deck or decks that they like to draft, and others that they don’t like to draft. I want to look at this idea more, but I don’t really have enough fully formed thoughts just yet. The idea dawned on me while I was doing these drafts, when I made the decision that I was going to draft a Finkel deck (Finkel very frequently drafts ridiculously powerful multicolored decks that, I think, most people would never consider).
Do you have any drafting tendencies that you have noticed?
Do you know of people who constantly draft the same style of deck?
Please post or email me any suggestions on how I can explore this idea further.