Flow of Ideas – Make Your Own Luck: A Grand Prix Houston Report, Part 2

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Monday, April 19th – Day 2 was set. After making the switch to a last minute deck choice on little testing and a frightening Day 1 where two early losses threatened to lock me out of the second day of competition, I had managed to spring my way into Day 2 by winning four matches in a row…

Day 2 was set. After making the switch to a last minute deck choice on little testing and a frightening Day 1 where two early losses threatened to lock me out of the second day of competition, I had managed to spring my way into Day 2 by winning four matches in a row.

For reference, here is my deck:

My tiebreakers were terrible, so I needed to 5-1 the second day to make Top 16 and end up qualified for San Juan. At 4-2 I would end up with the less exciting but still acceptable $400 and two (questionably useful) pro points. I needed to avoid going 3-3 or worse. With tiebreakers this bad, if I went 2-4 I might have not even made money. I was just going to have to not let that happen.

We filled out our W-9 forms, and away we went into round ten of the tournament!

Round 10 — Dark Depths

Game 1 I played a Thoughtseize and took his Mox, seeing a land light land, and cast a second turn Sprite into a third turn Ninja of the Deep Hours. Meanwhile, my opponent didn’t hit his third land drop and the stream of cards from my Ninja quickly put me far enough ahead that even if he had found lands it was likely to not matter.

Game 2 was more of the same — only from the opposite side of the table. He mulliganed and I kept a one land-Mox-Confidant draw. I cast a turn 1 Confidant and he answered it with Smother. I didn’t draw a land for several turns and died to a Marit Lage token. However, on the last turn of the game I Extirpated his Vampire Hexmages and took a look at how he had configured his deck against me. There were a few notable things — three Jaces, Darkblast, and Duress — but one thing which caught me off guard: no Dark Confidants. He had sided out his Confidants!

The game ended and I reached for my sideboard, and he reached for his. I had to play a guessing game of what he was going to do. I had an option: sideboard out all my Smothers and have trouble killing Confidant if he brought them in, or keep them in and potentially have dead cards. What seemed logical to me was that, now that he had seen Extirpate, he was cutting Thopter pieces (of which he had left presumably all of them in his deck Game 2) and re-adding Confidants. I changed nothing and moved onto Game 3.

Game 3 was finally a game. My choice quickly appeared correct when he cast a turn one Confidant and I had the Smother ready for it. I cast a Confidant on my next turn, but he had the Smother ready this time. He transmuted for Hexmage and I sent in Mutavault and picked it up with Ninja, digging for a third black source on my double Mutavault draw to cast Gatekeeper. Fortunately, my opponent kindly gave me black off an Urborg and cast Hexmage.

I Gatekeepered him and sent in with Ninja, but he followed up by sweeping my board next turn and stripped me of my last spell: Abyssal Persecutor. I drew another Persecutor though and cast it. He Jaced and picked up my Persecutor, then I sent in with Mutavault to knock off Jace and recast Persecutor. He Thirsted and passed back, and I activated both Mutavaults and sent in with them and Persecutor sending him to 0. He Thirsted again on his turn and cast a Confidant and passed, then I sent in with Persecutor again. He Transmuted for a Thopter piece on his turn, but I untapped and found a way to remove Persecutor to take the game.


Round 11 — Scapeshift.

Steve Sadin covered this feature match against Paulo here and did a great job. There’s nothing I really would add except I think this was one of the few times in the tournament where I mulliganed poorly. I had been doing a pretty good job up to this point, but I think I probably should have shipped back my hand in the third game for one with more disruption.


Round 12 — Dredge

When I looked across the pairings board and saw Cedric Phillips name across from mine in an Extended tournament, that could only mean one thing: Dredge.

Conley, who was sitting next to me, was kind enough to inform me and Cedric that this match was unwinnable for our deck. I, on the other hand, wasn’t as certain. I had ran into Dredge several times online when I was playing decks with minimal to no graveyard hate, and found if I played tightly and had an above average draw I could squeak out matches. You just have to know what’s important, and what the ways your deck can win are. Going in, I knew the ways I could beat Cedric involved killing his early Crabs/Rusalkas before they went online, having an aggressive draw, and setting up Spellstutter Sprite to counter his Ideas Unbound and Glimpse the Unthinkable. Did I think the matchup was good for me? Not in the slightest. I would have to be lucky. But unwinnable? That’s not the kind of Magic I play.

Game 1 Cedric mulliganed and I Thoughtseized away his Glimpse then cast a turn two Dark Confidant and Thoughtseized him again. He played a Crab and milled a past a Dread Return, then I untapped and Smothered the Crab. He drew and cast Ideas Unbound, actually drawing three cards from the top of his library, cast a Drowned Rusalka, discarded three and passed.

I saw my opening. I had a Mox on Black, Sunken Ruins, and Mutavault. If I found a colored land my next turn, I could Gatekeeper away his Rusalka while he was tapped out and from that point I felt like my hand would be good enough to take the game as I had ways to kill his bridges, counter his spells, and Persecutor with a Ninja to remove it, and I knew Cedric had nothing.

I flipped off Confidant and drew… No land. I attacked, he declined to block, and I passed. His whiffed on his turn and passed back. If I found a colored land this turn, it would still probably be enough. Flip, no land. Draw, no land. Pass back. Cedric whiffs AGAIN and passes back. Flip, no land. Draw, no land. Standard.

Cedric finds action next turn and I have no chance. The game went on for three more turns though. Still didn’t have a fourth land at the end.

Oh well.

After boarding I brought in mass removal, Smother, Cranial Extractions, Archmages, and Extirpates. If I could play the control deck and Extirpate the right cards, I could probably get into a position where I could win. That’s exactly what I did. I killed his early Crabs and Rusalkas, and a timey Extirpate on Bloodghast of all things when he had set up to make the game about Bloodghast into casting an active Jace kept him off what he needed so I could cement control over the game.

Game 3 I was just rolled over. I mulliganed and didn’t find anything I needed to deal with his plan. Ick. So much for my Top 16 hopes.


Round 13 — Zoo

Right before the round starts Conley is talking about how neither of us have been facing much Zoo, and he feels it’s an awesome matchup. So when I sit down and get a Zoo vibe from my opponent, I hope this isn’t going to end up like a case of being careful what you wish for.

He wins the roll and, simply put, Zoos me. Nacatl, Pridemage, Knight of the Reliquary — well, you see where this is going. I Gatekeeper him and pick it up with Ninja, but it doesn’t come close to mattering.

But games 2 and 3, our sideboard shines. I was dealt 14 damage in both games — and six of that was from Confidant. Deathmark your Nacatl, Gatekeeper you, Smother your next guy and pick up Ninja with Gatekeeper, and finish up with Persecutor. It’s really hard for them to beat. It’s worth noting the second game ended with two Abyssal Persecutors in play and him conceding, but in fairness, I was at 16 and had a handful of cards.


Round 14 — Grixis Control

I sit down from my opponent and recognize him as my first round opponent from Pro Tour: Honolulu. I was watching him play earlier and noted he was playing a list of Grixis like what Kenji played in Yokohama. When I asked Conley if that was a good matchup for us, he told me it was insane; that deck can’t beat Faeries and we have a lot of the same cards. That quickly became evident as I rolled him in two games that were never even remotely close. Game 1 I manascrewed him with a Thoughtseize on an artifact and a Vendilion Clique for his finishers once he got back in the game, then ended the game with Abyssal Persecutor in play, him in the -10 range, and Cruel Ultimatum in his hand. Awkward for him. Game 2 I disrupted him, Cranial Extracted his Jaces, and cast an Archmage.


Round 15 — Scapeshift Zoo

I had never heard of my opponent, but I could tell he was fairly decent because as soon as I sit down Brian Kibler and Paul Rietzl started talking to him and watching our match.

Game 1 he has a pretty insane draw with Nacatl, Geopede, and double Knight. I don’t really put up much of a fight. Game 2 my sideboard plan does what it’s supposed to and I end up Jace ultimating him.

It all comes down to Game 3, playing for $200 and a Pro Point.

I draw this seven. Island, Sunken Ruins, Gatekeeper, Gatekeeper, Vendilion Clique, Vendilion Clique, Spellstutter Sprite. Would you keep?

I thought about it and kept. He once again has a very fast draw, opening on Steppe Lynx into double Nacatl, killing me on turn 5. I don’t find a third land before I’m dead so I can even have a fighting chance.

Some of the people who were watching said it was a fine keep, some said it was loose. Ultimately, Conley and I both think it was a mistake. On the draw, I need to draw about one in 15 cards in two draw steps plus a land in three draw steps to make that hand remotely live enough. It will be at a weaker draw, but he kept at seven so his hand was probably good. I think this is one of those hands which is great on the play and looks really enticing on the draw, but if you think about how it plays out it’s too situational.


Oh well. At least I still won $200. Still, I really had hopes of qualifying for San Juan. I wanted to go back to the Pro Tour, and Extended seemed like the time to do it. But now, the chances looked slim. There was just a single PTQ left in Seattle the next weekend. And what were the odds of winning that?

I set that out of my mind. I wanted to game — and have some fun doing it. I grabbed Peetr Beckfield’s cube and introduced a fun Magic variant to some of my friends that we sat around, played for a while, and attracted quite a crowd. It’s called Windfall (no relation to the card), and the format was created by me and Jon Loucks, with some initial inspiration by Ben Swartz. It’s started to sweep the Northwest despite only existing since PT: San Diego, and now it’s what most of us are doing between rounds at PTQ’s or after we’re out of the tournament. It’s basically a variant designed to accelerate the game into a place where it’s fun and can switch back and forth, but with more strategy than DC-10.

Here’s how it works for all you out there who want to play. It’s really simple.

First, you need a random stack of cards. Cube stacks have been the most fun so far, but draft commons and such work great too. Split them roughly evenly into two decks, and if you run out of cards just grab more cards to add to the pile.

It’s just like normal Magic except for four things:

– You draw two cards each turn unless you play first, in which case you draw one card on your first turn.
– You may play any card face down as a land. (Like Mental Magic.) These lands can tap for any color of mana, and have no basic land types but are also not nonbasic. (They do not count toward Mind Sludge, but they also do not deal you damage if you cast Price of Progress.)
– You may play any number of lands from your hand per turn. (This is a fix so that cards like Oracle of Mul Daya and Future Sight don’t automatically win you the game.)
– You can’t search your library.

Try it out! It’s a lot of fun. I’ve heard after showing it to so many people at Houston several people have started to introduce it to friends back home, which is great.

The rest of the night was great, filled with Alexander West birthday party, drafting, and more Windfall. Then I went to the airport where things didn’t go well, and I was stuck alone in the corner of my gate for twelve hours waiting to get back to Seattle. But out of everything that happened, I’ll share just one story because it’s probably one of the best from the trip.

Saturday night, Zaiem Beg had seen a place on his iPhone called Late Nite Pie. We noted it for later, as it is often a ritual to devour dessert on the Sunday after the tournament ends. We finished eating at Fogo de Chao (overpriced and overrated, but it was Alex’s birthday and I wanted to go wherever he went for his birthday dinner) and the allure of pie sent in. We went back to the hotel and all we could talk about was pie. Pie. Pie. Pie. Eventually Zaiem, Dan Hanson, and I all gave in: we needed to go eat pie at this place. We double checked to make sure it was open just in case the name Late Nite Pie was tricking us. The person who answered the phone answered by saying “Late Nite Pie, home of 12 different pies,” and said indeed, they were open. It was set. We booked a cab across town and couldn’t wait for the pie. Key lime pie, chocolate ribbon pie, apple pie, cherry pie, raspberry pie… We discussed all of the tantalizing options in the cab, much to the cabbie’s stomach-growling despair.

Finally, the cab dropped us off and drove away. We walked through the doors, and stepped back in horror. Our knees slightly buckled. Our hearts sank. Our fists shook. On the wall, there was gigantic picture of a pizza. Late Nite Pie was nothing more than a pizza joint.

We had been duped.

And with that, we left Houston. (Or rather, I waited twelve hours at the airport and then left Houston.) Hopefully you guys enjoyed the report, and thanks to everyone who came up and introduced themselves. It was great meeting all of you, and it’s an inspiration to my writing to meet up with so many of my fans. If you guys have any questions to ask, let me know in the forums. I know I promised an updated decklist and my opinion on where the deck stands in part one. Well, a funny thing happened while I was updating this deck… But I’ll tell you about it next week. Talk to you then!

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else