Feature Article – Grand Prix: Kansas City (34th Place)

Read Feature Articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, November 5th – It had literally been years since I had competed in a Grand Prix (or a Pro Tour, for that matter). With the weekend being relatively open, I decided to go for it and book my flight. Was it all worth it? I’m still trying to figure that one out…

It had literally been years since I had competed in a Grand Prix (or a PT for that matter), but a few things made the idea of hitting GP: KC viable:

1. My rating was high, and I felt good about getting three byes off it. Having three byes is a great argument for attending a GP.
2. Absurdly cheap prices on airfare to Kansas City from Seattle. That’s not enough by itself, but with the rest…
3. People “in the know” said Alara Limited was a lot of fun. I was inclined to believe them, or at least trust the basis of their knowledge.
4. Limited much? Sealed/Draft is good times, especially in a new format, for a good-site Pro Tour.

With the weekend being relatively open and the factors above, I decided to go for it and book my flight. Was it all worth it? I’m still trying to figure that one out. There were a number of highs and lows over the weekend. If you’ve got the math figured out, please let me know.

The first trouble came a few days before departure. I locked in my rating at exactly 2000 and had not played in anything for a month, looking forward to those three byes. But the final ratings update before the trip saw my rating drop to 1994. Why the decline? Apparently a tournament I had gone 4-1 in, seven weeks ago, had finally processed and resulted in the -6 deficit. I had presumed the tournament was either unsanctioned or simply unreported, but it turns out they were just waiting for maximum impact. For the record, while going from zero byes to one is a genuine-but-small gain, two byes to three is gigantic. Sadly, so was the opposite. I was pretty steamed about it, but what can you do? I debated going straight from the airport to try a grinder or two, but instead our group decided to get BBQ instead. This was the right call. As we were driving up to the restaurant, still hundreds of yards away, we could smell their smoky goodness. And this was the worse of the two BBQ places we visited. And it was really good. By the way, order the burnt ends. Everywhere.

Besides the dinner, nothing too special happened until it was deck registration time. I couldn’t possibly tell you what I registered, but everyone around me was talking about how they’d build it, or how much the card pool sucked or whatever. You’re not playing with these cards, who cares how you’d build it?! Anyway, here was the actual pool I received:

Two non-basics is unusual, although a friend’s pool had exactly one. To me those two Grixis lands make a very compelling argument for R/B/U. But there’s certainly a Naya deck there too. To be honest, I dismissed the Naya deck pretty fast. Mostly for mana reasons, although there was a “bad beatdown” deck vibe there. What I mean by that is while the cards pointed in the singular direction the deck would take, I didn’t think it would do the job very well. Abstractly there was strength, but between a lack of cohesion and mana, I though the build would get outclassed by other decks pretty quickly. However sharp the Naya knife was, by rounds 5 or 6 I would be entering assault rifle land.

So I went with the Grixis. To me it was just as, or almost just as powerful as the R/G/W, but it had much better game against the insane decks at the top table. The mana was compelling too. On that note, I was particularly excited to build the deck and see I had no room, or need, for Obelisks, which I mostly hate. It’s hard to pin it down, but I’ll bet I won a few games over the weekend for having zero Obelisks to my opponent’s 1-3. Here’s the final build:

There were a few tough choices. Resounding Wake looked worse with zero ways to cycle it, although I did side it in fairly often. Shore Snapper was appealing just as a body, and was harder to cut than Wake or the redundant second Capsule. The mana ended up being more even than I wanted, and that 7-4-4 base was fractionally too much Red and too little Blue or Black. But replacing a land would have shifted it in the other direction, so I just loaded up on the color that I could actually win a game with by its lonesome. I did consider, and once did, going to one Obelisk and 16 land, but I only liked it if I knew I was going to be drawing first. For the record, me and every opponent but one chose to draw with the won die roll.

I played some practice games with the time I had after registration to get a feel for the deck. It was synergistic, but the color issue popped up from time to time. The guy I was playing for practice hated my deck and loved his, so when we split a series 3-3 he went off to sulk about his bad luck, or his deck being worse than he thought, or whatever. It was pretty funny.

Eventually round 3 pairings go up, and I sigh. In the three-bye player’s lounge are all the good players, smoking cigars and drinking XO. I watch with no small envy, although out of the corner of my eye since making eye contact gets you a Warning. Instead I trudge my way over to the round assignments and see my table and my opponent. Chris Pikula.

Seriously? I mean, who else would you want to see as your first opponent in a 750 person tournament. I really like Chris, and it’s great to see him still playing. But still!

Chris said he had next to no experience with Shards, and that turned out to be the decider. Chris’s deck was a very controlling four-color no-Green build featuring, among other things, double Tower Gargoyle, double Skeletonize, and Bull Cerodon. Our first game was an incredibly drawn-out affair. The key turn was Chris’ attack with his Cerodon and my block with Kederekt Creeper. Chris looked at the deathtouch, sighed, and Skeletonized the creature. Those five points were huge of course. I killed the Cerodon with Hissing Iguana plus Magma Spray, and my own Skeletonize really stalled things up. Covenant of Minds was a great refuel but we had traded so much I had almost nothing left to get past the dual skeletons. In fact I was down enough guys that they could start plinking in, which eventually brought me down to four life. But Chris was low enough on cards and life too that when Sedraxis Specter hit (and then died), I was able to bring it back and bring back the Stinger for the win.

The second game saw Chris taking a double mull and getting run over. A dumb way to end the match, but a good start to the day and a lucky finish against someone like Pikula.

My only loss on the first day came the round after, against Sean. Sean had the popular base R/G splash Black splash White deck, featuring a pretty stellar lineup of hits. It wasn’t particularly synergistic, just a good curve and a lot of beefy bodies. I think I was missing a color for a bit in the first game, which did me no good. Sean curved into Jungle Weaver and I was out.

In the second game I mulliganed to five, but somehow turned it around. My draw was fast enough, and Sean was forced to spend time playing the narrow Hell’s Thunder on me. Iguanar + Goblin Assault is good times for the deck.

The third game was the annoying one. Neither of us mulliganed and we spent the first turns developing a presence and sneaking in damage when possible. Fatesticher goes clutch on me here, letting me do damage early and later protect myself when the big guys come down. It’s one of my favorite cards; a lot of games over the day were won by unearthing Fatesticher plus unearthing Stinger to do something silly.

Anyway, I get Assault down but the game is starting to slip away. Stinger from Sean is making me miserable, and Fatesticher is stuck on Weaver-tapping duty. But he’s low in life and I do have guys in play. The key turn came when Sean had nothing in his hand and I drew Blightning after a long flood. The board was such that I could attack with everything and get Sean down to three. But that only happens if Sean stings a token and blocks with everything else. If Sean instead blocks with the Stinger and shoots a token and blocks with everything else, he only goes down to four life, and I die a screaming death the next turn. So do I go for the win and hope he doesn’t make the right play, or do I sit tight and wait for my opening? I was at five life myself, but all I needed was one guy and him not drawing something for a turn or so to get the win locked up. And the sided-in Wake was also an out. Generally I advocate going for the win, but Sean did seem to know what he was doing, and it’s not as if three life is a secret vulnerability in this format. So I passed.

Next turn Sean drew, looked at the board, and did a weird main phase Stinger. I untapped, drew another land, and just sent in the team. Of course he had the Jund Charm, and in disgust I let the skeleton token die, after which Sean killed me with the spider. I was mad when I remember the skeleton, then I remembered it would be tapped, then I remembered I had Fatestitcher in the grave to untap it, then I remembered he had Stinger in the graveyard to re-tap it. So that was that.

The next three rounds were fairly routine. My opponents were all very nice people who just weren’t able to beat the deck, although often it was because of mana problems or mulligans. One game had my Goblin Assault out against a backpedaled opponent. I attacked with a bunch of dudes and he made his blocks. I went to mark his life to two and he corrected me, showed me where I miscounted, and said he was at one. I thanked him for the correction and killed him with an unearthed Stinger. I said I was impressed with his honesty and wondered how many other people here would have done the same thing (I would have, but I would have b*tched about it). He said moves like that were “not worth eroding the soul for,” which I thought was a nice sentiment. But he was still dead.

Going into round 8 at 6-1, I was in good position to make the second day. Normally you’ll move forward with two losses, but there were so many people here that most X-2 would not advance. It was a tough situation, we were only 50 people away from the cut to 128 instead of 64. And unfortunately, my tiebreaks were pretty hideous. So this was the important round.

It was against a fellow named Thomas, whom I had played years and years ago at a GP. We remembered each other. To this day he’s the only person I’ve ever met who was also born in Pierre, South Dakota, much less the same hospital.

Thomas had a classic Naya sealed, featuring all the good early beats you’d like to see. First game I drew a removal heavy-double Iguanar hand, which was pretty awesome. Thomas couldn’t get through it. The next game was my turn to fall to an awesome draw. Thomas went exalted crazy while I was flooding. Eventually Kederekt Creeper was going to get me stabilized, I hoped, but his Angelic Benediction ripped that plan apart. So we went to the third game.

It started off badly for me and great for him. He was super quick, with me missing land drops and eventually just Mountains. I literally drew every Island before my second Mountain, which was an issue with a hand full of Red. Although it didn’t actually win me the game, the move that got me into position to win the game was unearthing Fatestitcher to untap a Red so I could play two of those red cards in one turn. Not a particularly flashy play, but it kept me going. And I love Fatesticher.

Eventually I almost stabilized, still low in life and in a precarious situation. I was able to take a breather at this point and cast Covenant of Minds to get back into it. I kept Agony Warp mana open for whatever was coming, but I was still probably going to take a hit that turn. The Covenant revealed zombie, Bone Splinters, and Iguanar. Not great, but not bad. Thomas, surprising the crowd that was watching, told me to pitch ‘em and for me to draw five. I confirmed it with him, and then before I was going to draw, confirmed it again. I figure it’s a good idea to make sure that you and your opponent are on the same page before drawing five cards. But it was green light go.

The five cards had both Mountain and Magma Spray, so I was able to kill all kinds of stuff on my turn. But it was still five life to my opponent’s 16, and nothing was locked up. Why did Thomas want me to lose those initial three? It became clear a turn later, when Thomas tapped out to cast Flameblast Dragon. And yes I was still on five.

So. There was a single Bone Splinters left in the deck, and that looked to be my only out. My turn I drew, no Splinters. I had Capsule and Ridge Rannet in hand to dig through the 16-18 cards left in the deck for the card, so we were talking about 1/6 here. First play, Capsule and break it. Ah Bone Splinters, you never looked so good. I played Hissing Iguanar first (of course), then sacced a dude to kill the Dragon. In came a bunch of guys to bring Thomas to single digits. Out of cards, Thomas drew and extended the hand. Nice!

At 7-1 with still awful tiebreaks I was looking to draw in next round. Unfortunately, the guy I was matched up against had strong tiebreaks and zero interest in drawing. I asked him real nice like, but he just kept pointing at the die. Sigh.

His deck was the nightmare matchup too. Raw Jund with little disposable dorks to block my guys, good removal, and large people. And losing the roll. And a mulligan. And I was kind of steamed I had to play, even though I would totally do the same in this guy’s situation.

How mana shy was I? Well, Incurable Ogre hit me. Twice. I played some defense but they were burned out, and the second hit had a Elvish Visionary along with him. At nine life I threw something in front of the Ogre, but more guys kept coming down. At six life was the key turn: he attacks me with Viscera Dragger, Rip-Clan Crasher, and that Visionary. I have an inactive Fatestitcher, no other guys, and two mana open. In they crash, and this guy is just screaming, just emanating the card in his hand. I block the Visionary with the Fatestitcher and pick up my pen, “to mark myself down to 1 life.” “Wait, wait! Jund Charm my 2/2!”

Oh, in that case, Agony Warp, that Dragger loses power and that 2/2 loses toughness. And kill your Visionary.

It was a nice turn, and it got me back into things, but the life disparity was still present. Six life sucks against a R/G/B opponent and their infinite lands. Fire-Field Ogre and Fatestitcher and Skeleton token were enough to secure the ground, barely, so that my Drake could start plinking over. The opponent shrugged and played Dragon Fodder and another gigantic creature on his turn. All I could do was Iguanar.

But off the top my big bomb: one Caldera Hellion and a lot of math. A lot of math. I kept on it over and over, because this was an all or nothing play. Nervous I had blown it somewhere, I went for it and tapped his lone untapped Forest (to turn off any pump spell, which would have been utter death) before attacking with my Drake to get him to nine life. And Caldera Hellion, no devour.

“Goblin token, Goblin token, Cloudheath Drake… and Caldera Hellion makes nine. Dead creatures.” Plus the Hissing Iguanar, of course. He looked at the board, counted it up, nodded and scooped his cards for the next game. Insane.

So here’s the part where I get some flak. I offered the draw again. Gerry Thompson in particular was congratulatory of my making Day 2, but quite disparaging on the way I got there, and also that my mother was livestock, which was pretty hurtful. I told the guy my friends would make fun of me for making this offer, which was a method of persuasion of course, but also true. The most common argument, and it’s a good one, is that you’re playing to win the tournament. That’s quasi-accurate here. I did want to win the tournament, but I also wanted to make Day 2, and I also wanted to qualify. Winning the match makes all of that more likely, losing makes it impossible. Yes, I was up a game, which made the horrible matchup closer to 50/50 than it was before. I offered the draw when I thought we were 50/50 before the round started, and those interests hadn’t changed. Basically I was accused of being an “old man” who had lost the fire. Well, maybe. But if back in the day I would have gone for it and been satisfied I took my shot, this time I know I would have been mad at myself for unnecessary gambling. I agreed my interests had changed since “back in the day,” so why ignore them? I felt fine about the draw then, and still do. When I made the offer the second time he hemmed and hawed a bit, although this time I was going to be okay finishing the match. But he agreed and we shook hands and wished each luck on Sunday.

I ended up 33rd place, probably 12 places lower than I would have been had I won. I celebrated by going to Denny’s with a large group (damn underage kids) and drinking in hotel rooms. Obviously I got far less sleep than I needed, and for waking up relatively early besides. I’m not great at Day 2 prep.

The morning was bleary, although breakfast was these insane orange flavored granola blueberry pancakes. Totally awesome. I drank a lot of coffee and it was not enough. I headed into the drafting room feeling awake but un-energized, a feeling that would not go away until the end of round 10.

Drafting was interesting. I had done a few Shards drafts before coming to KC, but less (I assumed) than most of the professionals in attendance. They had the time and resources, right? But I found in this draft, and especially in the second one, that if my views weren’t more advanced than a lot of the other people, they certainly didn’t align with them. I’m not going to say who’s right; I know everyone at all the tables made mistakes here and there. I do know when I got an 8th pick Arcane Sanctum in pack 1, multiple people screwed up. Too bad I wasn’t B/W/U.

My opening booster was weak but had the easy grab of Jund Charm to kick things off. Some people could argue mana and commitment here, but there really was no other option. Vithian Stinger was great in pick 2, then Viscera Dragger, then another Stinger and things were looking up. The first two packs were completely awesome for me. A third Stinger, a 13th pick Corpse Connoisseur, a passed Resounding Thunder, a late Kresh, and so on. Pack 2 was particularly loaded for me, so much so that a pair of Carrion Thrash and Savage Lands had to go through me (Savage Lands was also in the pack with Resounding Thunder, and I don’t like Carrion Thrash very much). The essence of all this was that the third pack was slim pickings, or none at all. It was a combination of sending people into the colors and overall weak packs. I was really feeling good about my chances by the end of pack 2, but a little anxiety set in when it was deckbuilding time.

I kind of wish I had played Submersion main instead of the Gift, even though the mana would have stayed exactly the same. I hated those Obelisks, so maybe one should have gone out for something else as well. One “controversial” pick to the people watching was taking a Blister Beetle over the third Iguanar. I stand by the pick. I already had three Stingers, two Iguanar, and a Bone Splinters by this point, cards that go very well with Beetle. In addition, my three drops were getting loaded down. I never drew the Beetle where Iguana would be better, but generally the Beetle didn’t do much either, so who knows. My games played out pretty strange all around. To wit:

Round 10 – Ryan Fuller.

Warning: This is a long one.

Not a fun start to the day. Ryan had shown up late to the draft due to a pepper-spray incident from the night before, resulting in some pod juggling. I was not particularly pleased to see him get seated at our draft table. Ryan had played two friends of mine the day before, and both ended in massive judge calls and general allegations of sketchiness. I didn’t see any of his actions personally, but between anecdote and reputation I had enough to be more than a little wary.

Before the round started I went to speak with Jason Ness, the head judge. I told Jason I’m concerned about my opponent, specifically a propensity for cheating, and I asked for a judge to watch our match. Jason said he would have a judge “floating” nearby, ready to step in as needed. Jason also told me due to Ryan’s tardiness, Ryan would have a game loss. Fair enough.

As we’re sitting down and pulling out our stuff, I ask Ryan if he had a game loss. Confused look: “No, I don’t have a game loss.” Well whatever. It’s already begun. I don’t correct him, as obviously he knows and I’d rather him believe his lies were hitting the mark. We’re talking a little, but nothing of consequence (“I knew the pepper spray was coming, but Benafel got hit right in his eye!”). It was amusing, I guess, when Ryan shuffled his own deck and proceeded to lay out seven cards facedown without presenting first, or when he asked me to be the sole lifekeeper of our match, but none of those base moves were sticking. I know some of you are thinking these are game loss offenses right here, but they’re not. It’s not likely he withheld his deck from presentation, he was just trying to shortcut. Same with life pads, I suppose. Shortcuts are the cheater’s bread and butter incidentally; be sure you and your opponent are real comfortable and communicative before relying on them in any serious event. Every judge in the world will back me up here. Shortcuts are where the worst situations arise. Anyway, like I said, this was all base stuff, and although I was far too tired for the vigilance this match required, I did my best.

Game 1: Ryan won the roll and started off strong. I was forced to mulligan and keep a slightly sketchy hand, hoping Fuller’s deck did not coalesce. Ryan’s deck turned out to be very similar to mine, except strictly better, and not mulligan bound. Vein Drinker was a big one, but his own Jund Charm and Caldera Hellion were no jokes either. Although I was killing stuff throughout the game, I was mana stumbling and losing card advantage here and there. When you have cards like Bone Splinters, without Goblin Assault, those mulligans add up. I killed Vein Drinker and I killed Caldera Hellion, but his Iguanar was making life painful. My pingers died, and while they were unearthable, I couldn’t do that plus something else. With all the incremental life loss and tempo loss, I couldn’t keep up.

Game 2: More mulligans sadly, this time a double. For the record, Ryan just cut my deck both games after my thorough shuffles, so we can blame the mulls on bad luck or bad deckbuilding. Ryan led with all Mountains, then Exuberant Firestoker, Exuberant Firestoker. I missed a drop but played my third land on turn 4 and dropped a Stinger. Ryan drew, reflected, and tapped everything for a 5/5 Caldera Hellion. I unearthed Stinger, shot Ryan, and Splintered the Hellion. Could I pull it out? Sadly no, I again remained stuck on three with Fuller drew the rest of his colors and continued to lay beats. Although I was working to get myself out of it, a clutch Blightning stripped me of Resounding Thunder and some other worthwhile spell. No Vein Drinker this time, but Goblin Mountaineer and Undead Leotau were enough. I don’t know about the Mountaineer against me, but I had to concede his draw strength and most likely deck strength were superior to mine. It happens.

I lose and I fill out the slip 2-1. Ryan chimes in with something like “no, I won 2-0.” Jason Ness is standing nearby, hears this and asks “you never told your opponent you had a game loss?” Ryan shrugs off the question, and Ness looks exasperated. He pulls off Fuller for an extended chat, then some judges, then me. He asks me in private if me and Fuller ever talked about the game loss. And I said we kind of did; as I was sitting down, I said “you have a game loss, right?” and he said he did not. And I told Ness that based on his and mine pre-match conversation I knew Ryan was lying, and didn’t think much of it. As I said, his lies were completely in character, and I saw more advantage in letting him think he was deceiving me than telling him I knew he was full of it. If he’s playing differently because he thinks his lies are taking hold, great. Jason asks me for the exact sequence:

Me: “You have a game loss, right?”
Fuller: “No, I don’t have a game loss.”

Jason thanks me and sends me back to the table while the judges confer. Eventually after lengthy discussion Jason comes back and says “No Penalty, No Action will be taken.” I’m rather surprised by this; I presumed disregarding the head judge’s mandate would at least result in a warning. But apparently that was off the table. If my version of events were true, Fuller flat-out lied to the judge and warranted immediate DQ. Jason Ness did not feel that was appropriate here.

Okay. But I was curious what exactly went into Jason’s decision, and what exactly Ryan Fuller had to do to get a Penalty, much less Action. Jason graciously explained there were three points that stayed his hand:

One was that the “floater” judge assigned to our zone was not close enough to hear our conversation. He saw us talking, but with everyone in the room scraping chairs and shuffling cards, he didn’t catch our first words. Fair enough.

The second issue was the dice rolling. Specifically, there is a rule that says when someone gets a game loss, they get automatic choice. I forgot that rule existed and my guess is Fuller did too. He initiated and won the roll, which begs the question whether Fuller would have asserted himself had I won the roll. My gut says no, but who knows? I’m sure I deserved a warning for forgetting that rule, but we had kind of transcended that. But here’s the problem. Jason was explaining this and thought it weird I didn’t know the rule. We agreed it was an obscure rule; game losses are fairly rare. But note that Jason did not say it odd that a Day 2 Grand Prix competitor didn’t remember the rule. He personalized it, and while that’s somewhat complimentary, it’s also a mistake, or at least inconsistent. We’ll get to that in a sec.

The third and final issue was my coming up to Jason before the round started and telling him I was concerned about my opponent, due to his reputation, history, and people telling me personal accounts of sketchy behavior. Jason had said he’d have that floating judge on hand, which he did. Fast forward to our discussion, Jason thought it strange I didn’t call a judge immediately when Ryan denied the game loss. Jason said that by my coming up to him pre-round, I was implying I was looking for Fuller to be DQed vis-à-vis getting him caught cheating.

This view is so wrong for so many reasons. First, on a pure pragmatism, what happens when I call a judge there? I say one thing, he denies it, and the match continues minus whatever incremental advantage I had gained. Looking back at it now, there probably was a way to frame the judge call correctly, in kind of an innocent “we need clarification” manner. I didn’t think of it at the time, and I didn’t realize the severity of Ryan’s knee-jerk lying. My bad.

But what’s troubling is that Jason Ness thinks I want a judge for DQ fishing. Untrue. I asked for help in securing our honest match. I wanted a judge present, that Ryan was aware of. It was Jason’s idea to go the secret floater route to “catch” him. And keep in mind in all this I never actually called a judge. This entire process was Jason Ness initiated, when we went to sign the match slip. The implication is that by asking for the judge (raised DQ potential), by not calling the judge I must not have really wanted it (or it’s harder to show it really happened). The misapplied motivation is a little annoying.

But what I really, really hate is that by asking for help I’ve raised the standard. Or lowered my credibility, which amounts to the same thing. Do we not want players to ask for help? Under Jason’s view, a cost was applied to me and/or a saving throw was applied to Ryan when I asked for assistance. Penalizing players for asking a judge for help seems like a terrible idea. Just completely backwards.

The day before, a player was playing Fuller and in game 3, with lethal on the stack, the player asks for a deck check. Now valid or not, that particular timing costs the player credibility, for obvious reasons. But if you get penalized for asking for a judge both before the round starts and with your death on the stack, it will create a chilling effect on judge calls. Presumably the last thing anyone wants.

So Jason’s explaining all this and I’m laying out my arguments, as above. Jason interjects by telling me that even if they had DQed Ryan for lying, our match result would stand. This is weird to me, but I told him that even though my fate and tiebreakers were strictly tied to Ryan’s success, I would still vastly rather have him out of the tournament. It’s not even a question to me, although apparently it’s a moot point.

Jason’s biggest defense, to me and himself, is simply a lack of evidence. I told him that mine and Ryan’s versions of reality were wholly, mutually incompatible, and that if he was telling the truth I must be lying and therefore I should get the boot. Slightly dramatic I know, but I had woken up by this point and sometimes I get excited. But Jason said the same thing, no evidence. He did confess that his instincts strongly pointed to my version being the accurate one, but he just didn’t feel comfortable with what was available in pulling the trigger. I remind him that those instincts of his arose because of Fuller’s history, both in the tournament and in the DCI record.

Jason’s reply is something along the lines of “he paid his debt and I must be an impartial judge and treat everyone the same.” You see the problem, right? My lack of calling a judge over or remembering the auto-choice game-loss rule was colored by my play history, but the same perspective didn’t extend the other way. I wasn’t, then or now, accusing Jason of anything malicious, just inconsistent and/or a double standard.

What it really boiled down to, for me, was blaming the victim. Jason sees the analogy and my perspective, and of course I see his. I have the evidence he lacks, he just doesn’t feel comfortable relying on it (or his gut).

I’ve worked with Jason Ness before and I know him to be an excellent judge, and this experience hasn’t changed that opinion. But he unequivocally blew this call, and let someone who flat out lied to their opponent and the head judge get off scot-free. Jason conceded this was likely.

Finally, you may think I hate Ryan Fuller, or that I wish him ill, or something along those lines. Not at all. We’ve never “had words” or anything like that. I’m sure he thinks I’m an easy mark, but on that he’s probably right. Our interactions have always been cordial, if terse. It’s nothing personal.

But Ryan Fuller has no place in Magic. Absolutely none. Every single time he plays someone, Magic is worse for it. He may provide good copy but, Rosewater, the game gives up far too much in exchange. Win or lose, every time you play him you feel drained, unhappy, and gross. And the judge resources devoted to just his rounds are incredible. I’d bet money that he took more net judge time than any 20 players at the Grand Prix. No, he’s not worth it. But for all this Ryan ended in 14th place, winning $500 and qualifying for Pro Tour: Kyoto. Heads up to the players over there.

Round 11 – Josh Silbernick

The upshot of last round is that I’m feeling, not good exactly, but energized. This round was less dramatic, playing a nice fellow from a college I used to attend, St. Cloud State. Josh was with pure, classic Esper. All the best artifact creatures and the almighty Sigil of Distinction. Game 1 I came out slow, was forced to burn away a looping Sanctum Gargoyle, and then utterly destroyed by a Sigiled flier. Josh’s Deft Duelist was aces here, a card I knew was going to be good against this deck, but that I hoped no one else would figure out.

The second game was basically the perfect draw: double Stinger, double Iguanar, timely removal, no Sigil. There’s not much to say except the deck performed well.

But the third game was the fun one. Neither one of us were mana screwed, although my draw was far more aggressive. Josh was getting decent card advantage, I believe a Covenant of Minds was involved, but was giving good damage from random idiots until the ground stalled out. I got Josh down to 12 or so, with multiple Stingers. One got Called to Heel, which actually made me think about pinging it dead until I came to my senses and drew a card. At Josh’s ten life I had out two active Stingers, as well as the Battlemage, Leotau, and Goblin Deathraiders. Josh had out some ground defense, a Gargoyle, and there was that Sigil again. Smash, and smash again. Suddenly I had to win on my next turn, instead of that leisurely Stinger win like I wanted.

But that was okay, I had Resounding Thunder in hand and seven mana. After being me down to five life, Josh reflected then played a second Sanctum Gargoyle, getting back the Cloudheath Drake I had killed much earlier with Soul’s Fire. Josh reflected some more and played the Drake, tapping out.

I started channeling the universe to draw a mana source this turn. One more mana so I could cycle Resounding Thunder and ping for the win. Then I revised my wish and asked for a mana source, no Obelisk. If it was Obelisk, I decided, I was going to break the table in half, sign the match slip, then go up my hotel room and kill myself. You always gotta have a plan.

But in fact it was neither. Instead I drew the second Soul’s Fire. Well this is easy enough, pump up Leotau, Soul’s Fire* to the nugget and ping for the win. Josh looked absolutely disgusted and threw down his hand containing Resounding Wake. Awesome.

Josh said he didn’t think I had the second Soul’s Fire, although conceded there was no logical basis for that belief. I bet Josh also forgot that Hissing Iguanar would have been the game too, with some suicide attacks and Stingers killing themselves and unearthing. In any case the topdeck was good enough and I was happy for the (lucky) win.

* So before I wrote shortcuts are the devil’s playthings, and that’s not precisely true. Shortcuts only get people in trouble when there’s an induced lack of communication, or at least a stated one. But if you’re able to use shortcuts to make things more apparent, then you definitely should. For example, Soul’s Fire has some weird targeting language in it that’s annoying and potentially confusing to say aloud. I tried it “by the book” and it was awkward. For the rest of the rounds I was just “this guy does his power to this creature” and it worked out fine.

Round 12 – John Sieber

A frustrating round. I thought it was a decent draft deck, but I haven’t done much with the format so I don’t know. In any case the first game was a ridiculous flood. John was playing some five-color deal, ending in a lot of mana sources and of course, Sigil of Distinction. I was drawing lands at a furious pace and trying to stay alive with Skeletal Kathari against a 14/13 Woolly Thoctar. Kresh the Bloodbraided gave me a little hope to chump around and build him and do some kind of Soul’s Fire trick. But it was not to be, I needed Kresh to hit at one point and John had the Resounding Silence.

The second game was the opposite, pure old school mana screw. I missed drops, colors – John with Forest, Plains, Mountain, Thoctar. I went down pretty quick. John offered the hand and a sincere “good games.”

Grr. Those games sucked. After a beat I shook John’s hand and wished him luck, but I told him the gg was just not true, and a little offensive. John said he saw my perspective and apologized for the value judgment, which seems reasonable. We wished each other luck again and went off to whoop or skulk, depending.

Was that really a 1-2 deck? It looked alright, but if people tell me it was trash I’ll believe them. Regardless, I needed a 3-0 to give myself the shot for qualification, and a 2-1 to stay within the Top 32. One draft to go.

And it was a weird one. The first pick Bull Cerodon in a weak pack was easy, but then I had the choice between Goblin Assault, Scourge Devil, Wild Nacatl, or Rhox Charger. Semi-weak card in color, or take a stronger one and send a horrid signal? I decided power was the way to go and took the subjectively strongest card available, in Rhox Charger. The third pick is the vastly underrated Welkin Guide to solidify myself. Then in the 4th pick I got a Shard Sphinx, which I guess is a signal, except neither Blue nor Black was happening. Red was dry too (guess what the guy on my right was doing?) I did find two Waveskimmer Avens which seemed to show a direction and mostly worked with what I had picked up. When I got the 12th pick, 13th pick Akrasan Squire. I made a mental note to pick up Ranger of Eos.

Next rotation is productive. I take a first pick Knight of the Skyward Eye, a pick I’m not unhappy about at all. Generally this pack is all about pump spells. Early on I look real hard at Jhessian Infiltrator and Angelic Benediction before taking other things. Imagine my pleasure when they both tabled! The last pack was a little weaker, although the 8th pick Ranger of Eos was a nice gift and put me at exactly 23 cards I wanted to play. But in pick 10 I had the very difficult choice of a second Court Archers or Naturalize. Having my deck set and no sideboard cards I reluctantly went with Disenchant, but this was a mistake. I ended up laying out the deck and deciding it should be 16 lands, forcing/allowing me to throw a random Outrider of Jhess instead of the infinitely superior second Archers.

For the record, Gustrider Exuberant was my MVP.

This was my first exalted deck, although people who like the style tell me it was a good one. I’m still not a fan. Branching Bolt and Cerodon are both fine cards but I wanted a tight package in game one, which I think is correct. Note the zero fixing, aside from Jungle Shrine. I did side them in against my first round opponent but kept them on the bench in the next two. Shrug.

Round 13 – Brett Piazza

Another frustrating round, although to be fair Brett was a terrible matchup. He’s that Grixis player that was passing to me. First game the deck performs well, although Brett goes Swamp, Mountain, Island, Sedraxis Specter necessitating an O Ring and a step off the curve. But I’m hitting him hard and my guys are clearly stronger. Brett decides his best shot is Scavenger Drake plus making chump blocks on the exalted creature, which seems right. Scavenger Drake is getting bigger, although with Brett at eight life I feel okay. The big turn was my Gustrider Exuberant attacking with quadruple exalted on the stack. Brett responded with Grixis Charm on the 1/2 (which he had taken over that Sharding Sphinx from way back), and I responded with Resounding Roar. Brett looked at Roar and did exalted math and conceded, ignoring the -4 power effect of the Charm. Um, I’ll take it.

But the next two games were not so lucky. Each time Brett was on perfect mana by turn 3, and each time he had the perfect card to negate the action. Tidehollow Strix and Stinger were generally the offenders. I brought in the Branching Bolt but never drew it. Brett was another very friendly, positive player who had this slightly annoying habit of being very methodical before making the most destructive play imaginable. It was like lonnnnnnng pause… makeaplayyoucan’twin. Brett was getting some ribbing at the draft table for his “deliberateness,” so I guess it was well known. In any case, he won the match.

Round 14 – Vidianto Wijaya

One of the pleasures of events like these is meeting new people and establishing camaraderie. Vidianto was one of these new people, a very cool guy who I enjoyed speaking with throughout the day. We had been at the same draft pod both times, so this was probably inevitable. I was just happy to not play his first deck that had double Wild Nacatl and quadruple O-Ring.

Vidianto’s deck for this draft was a little more reasonable, maybe even below the curve. Vidianto had a straight Jund deck; reasonable creatures but a little short of bombs. It didn’t really matter though, as the first game was a mulligan into literally all Forests. He played his guys and beat me down and that was that.

The second game was a little more fun. Of course I had done some early damage with some exalted, Rhox Charger, but the ground began to stabilize in an unpleasant way. And there was Blood Cultist, and here came two Akrasan Squires. Waveskimmer Aven was the hope, but it died very fast. But off the top the second Aven to save the day. I spent quite a few minutes doing the math, but it looked positive. Windskimmer stayed alive to attack so that was nice. On my turn double Squire, move to attack and in response to Cultist on a Squire, Sigil Blessing on Aven. Smash, huge damage. That one took Vidi to 5 life. Vidianto drew and said go, and I move to attack, losing a single Squire. But everything else stayed alive and let me do exact exalted damage for the win.

The third game was a lot less exciting, where it was Vidianto’s turn to get mana screwed. My deck did the speed thing and that was that. Seems like bad luck for Vidi all weekend, but I’ll take it.

Round 15 – Casey Stewart

For the record, if you start Day 2 at 7-1-1, the math generally works as follows:

*One more loss (5-1 on the day) makes Top 8
*Two losses makes Top 16 (where you need to be to qualify)
*Three losses makes Top 32.

So far I was 2-3 on the day, so I needed the win here to scrape into Top 32. My tiebreak math wasn’t great, but I still had to take the shot. Everyone who made Day 2 received some money, but at Top 32 the payouts and pro tour points double, so there’s a little incentive to get there.

Casey knew the score too, we sat down and talked about the $200 ante match we were going to play. The money was nil to me, but if the stakes mattered to him, great. I don’t think Casey cared that much about it though. He was (another!) nice guy, from Texas, who was playing in his very first GP. Not a bad performance at all for a first timer. He was a little smug, mentioned how powerfully invincible his deck was. When I pointed out that his invincible deck had lost a round, he mentioned something about bizarre mana, aberrations, etc. Well if it could happen once…

According to my notes, the first game Casey beat the #$%$ out of me. Nacatls, O-Ring, five power monsters, and so on. Oddly, Casey won the roll and wanted to draw first. Perhaps a holdover from sealed deck times? In any case he still came out like a machine and crushed.

Second game was a little more fun. The exalted stuff started kicking in, enough that Casey was on the defensive. We were both flooding somewhat, but with Casey’s Drumhunter and Knight of the Skyward Eye, and later Razerclaw, he looked to be in better shape getting out of it. But what’s this? Welkin Guide? Such an amazing card. It came down and Casey got smashed to 6 life with a Rhox Charger. The Guide got O-Ringed, but all I needed was my second one or Resounding Roar to cycle to probably win. Casey was starting to deploy serious threats, but he was feeling a little too defensive to really bring the pressure.

Later on I drew Resounding Silence with eight mana and had to decide whether to raw cycle it. No one ever end step cycles this card. I agree it’s not correct to do very often, but the possibility does exist. I decided not to and was in fact able to take out a single attacker a couple turns later. On the other hand had I cycled it post haste, I would have found the second Welkin Guide a turn sooner, so who knows? In any case I did draw the second Guide and used it to win game 2.

In our third game Casey was a little more subdued, and unfortunately, a little more mana flooded. He was kind of starting to get back in it when I attack and trampled over an Elvish Visionary to bring Casey to 8. Casey had an Algae Gharial out, nominally to eat the dead Visionary. I go to confirm life totals with him but see he’s about to untap without putting a counter on the Gharial, so I recant myself and encourage Casey to start his turn. Casey does so and immediately slaps himself for missing the trigger. Then I ask him his life total, so it worked out well all around. Casey basically can’t win at this point, although he points out had he remembered the trigger he would have had an extra turn with his Titanic Ultimatum. But he does not and I hit him for the game and match.

When all was said and done, I ended 34th. The possibility of that finish was definitely there, but it’s still annoying to be on the minority side with my final record. But I shrugged it off, after qualifying or not, the rest carries a lot less weight

We went out to dinner at this place called Jack’s, where we all ordered the Jack’s Choice. Jack’s Choice was apparently angioplasty as we all got monster plates of ribs, burn ends (yeah!), and the most gigantic slab of beef on a bone that I had ever seen. I’m in no way a vegetarian (clearly), but even I was taken aback with all this flesh. But like a champ we all dug in, and it was obviously insane. One guy skipped on Jack’s Choice to order wings or something, but he made out when none of us could finish and he got the leftovers. Except he couldn’t finish everything either, so Jack is probably the devil. Good food though.

We headed back to the hotel to do a team draft, then I get two hours of terrible sleep before heading to the airport. Everyone thought I was an idiot for getting an early flight, but I had a class I needed to attend. Of course I was so tired when I got in to Seattle I slept right through it, so maybe they had a point.

Looking back, I will say it was a fun weekend. Most of the people played were nice folk, and it’s always great to meet up with friends you haven’t seen in years. I got the rating to 2000+ in KC, so I’ve got those three byes for GP: Atlanta, but I’m not going to go. The Fuller stuff is part of it. Too much cheating, not enough enforcement in my opinion. But generally speaking I’ve got other responsibilities now, which are important enough that high-level events don’t have the same appeal as they once did. I reflected on the weekend that this was going to be my last Grand Prix, and that’s still probably true. If something is happening in my backyard we can talk, but otherwise I don’t see them worth the weekend anymore, much less the expense. But who knows? Maybe I’ll put up another of these sometime. Thanks for reading, and good luck with the rest of the season.

Noah Weil