Ah, Florida. The home of Alligators, Disney World, and Zach Efland.
The next leg of my journey to qualify for Pro Tour San Diego took me to Tampa. Or not. As I’m sure you’ve read in other reports by now, the GP actually occurred in a town (or at least, it was allegedly a town) called Palmetto, located a good 50 minutes from the Tampa airport, where the only options were take a 100+ dollar cab ride or a 40 dollar per person shuttle. I’m also sure you’ve heard about the horrors of the Day’s Inn, also known as the hotel where you can walk into a room and have actual geckos crawling around near the bathtubs full of stagnant water. For some, it was quite an experience.
Fortunately, I managed to bypass both of Palmetto’s primary horrors. In a strange turn of events, my Dad decided to come along at the last minute because he had been meaning to get to Florida, meaning that A: we rented a car, and B: we stayed at a good hotel.
As some might say: mise.
Of course, that didn’t solve the food issue. The only source of nutrients in walking distance (besides the fleet of ants perpetually scurrying across the sidewalk surrounding the convention center) was a seven-eleven. But more on my adventures in the land of food later.
Zendikar sealed is a tricky beast. There are so many ways you can take your sealed decks. You can either build hyper-aggressive and beat the players who haven’t got the memo and are playing slow, control decks; you can build midrange (usually green) and beat the hyper-aggressive decks but lose to the slow decks; or build a slow deck and beat the midrange decks but lose to the hyper-aggressive decks. Or you can just open the busted aggressive pool with tons of removal, which always works too.
I got to the site early on Thursday, and grinded three times, getting close to the byes, but yet, failing each time, meaning I was stuck with but a single bye; my performance in Austin dropped my Limited rating below 1900. The one thing I did notice, though, is that Florida Magic players have an extreme case of “I still had these,” as every third or fourth match I watched was followed by one player showing the other a ton of cards in their deck. Just something interesting I noticed.
As I was packing for the GP, I was looking in my closet and saw the suit and tie that Max McCall had lent me for a formal party a few weeks prior. So, I brought it along and wore it for the entire first day of the GP. People asked me “why” all day. Was it because I wanted to pay tribute to Pro Tour: Berlin? No. Because everybody in Seattle was suiting up for the PTQ back home on the same day? No. It was simply because I had it in my closet and wanted to wear it again before I had to return it to Max. I mean, why not?
Saturday morning I donned my suit, shuttled over to the site, and was extremely eager to see what my card pool was going to look like. I really had to hope it would be enough to push me into day two, where I felt pretty confident about my draft skills in this format. After registering and passing a pretty mediocre sealed pool, I get passed this schizophrenic doozy. I’m curious to see how you guys would have built it:
2 Trapfinder’s Trick
1 Whiplash Trap
1 Lethargy Trap
1 Ior Ruin Expedition
1 Welkin Tern
1 Into The Roil
1 Caller of Gales
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
1 Trapmaker’s Snare
1 Merfolk Seastalkers
1 Quest for Ancient Secrets
1 Aether Figment
1 Summoner’s Bane
1 Reckless Scholar
1 Rite of Replication
2 Desecrated Earth
2 Hideous End
2 Blood Seeker
2 Giant Scorpion
1 Feast of Blood
1 Vampire’s Bite
1 Needlebite Trap
1 Vampire Lacerator
1 Mire Blight
1 Surrakar Marauder
1 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
1 Soul Stair Expedition
2 Territorial Baloth
2 Zendikar Farguide
1 Beastmaster’s Ascension
1 Grazing Gladehart
1 Vastwood Gorger
1 Cobra Trap
2 Khalni Heart Expedition
1 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Scythe Tiger
1 Primal Bellow
1 Savage Silhouette
1 Beast Hunt
Quite a conflicted pool, yes? Your Black isn’t that awesome except you have two Hideous Ends and an Ob Nixilis you want to play, your Blue isn’t very deep but has a couple bombs and a few solid commons, your Red is terrible except for the double Burst Lightning, your Green has mana fixing and a few fat creatures but is kind of shallow otherwise, and your White… well, your White just doesn’t exist.
I decided to go with a Green base and use the mana fixing it provided to make sure I hit all of my colors, could outclass my opponent’s creatures with larger ones, and so I could maximize the value on Ob Nixilis and Rite of Replication. My build looked like this:
I didn’t play a Mountain to fetch because I thought three sources plus a Map and Gem would be sufficient to be able to find a Red. I only played two Islands because I figured Sphinx was still good enough even when unkicked. I didn’t play any of the Adventuring Gears, because with only 11 creatures and several of them already large, I didn’t know if they were really what my deck wanted.
After rushing to turn in my decklist on time, and losing my iPod and then reclaiming my iPod (thank you so much to whoever turned it in!), I went around to my friends to see what they would have done. AJ Sacher said the pool was terrible. As he pointed out, in other formats opening three insane rares would be great, but this is a format defined by its commons. Eventually, I worked my way to Sam Black, and we made up a build for me to sideboard into which both he, I, and Steven Birklid, felt was more streamlined and efficient (although I still think my original deck was fine) and made use of my triple Adventuring Gear.
Sam warned me about splashing Burst Lightning with three sources, but I felt I needed to maximize my removal. We determined that if they were a slower deck without small creatures we would bring in a Whiplash Trap and an Expedition or and extra land instead of the Burst Lightnings just to make the mana better, but that of course never actually happened because nobody was playing a slow deck like that. Then, I finalized my sideboard plans and headed over to say hi to the GGSlive guys. GGSlive is really one of the coolest things to happen to Magic in a long time, and I hope they receive the support they deserve. You guys should all check them out the next time they are broadcasting live, because it really is the future of Magic coverage. I talk with them for a little bit and make a cameo, then sit down and battle!
Round 2 — G/R
I don’t usually go too far in depth when it comes to round-by-round analysis in limited because they’re not that exciting to read, don’t teach you anything about particular matchups like constructed, and, frankly, the situations are usually just harder to remember. This round is an exception though, as all three games are exciting.
Game 1 I have an absurd draw. Khalni Heart Expedition into Khalni Heart Expedition, play a land, give them both a counter. I have a Harrow in my hand, and search up BB, then untap and play a turn four Ob Nixilis with double Expedition active. He doesn’t have an answer, and that was.
I run the switcheroo, and I have another pretty good draw for game 2. We trade guys for the first few turns, and I gain the upper hand with the game state, reaching a position where I was at thirteen, he was at four, and my board position was a tapped 6/6 Ob Nixilis and Welkin Tern to his lonely Goblin Shortcutter.
Then I died.
He cast Mark of Mutiny on my 6/6 Ob Nixilis, played a land which made it a 10/10 (the +1/+1 counter from Mark) and then attacked me. Oof.
Game 3 our early plays and removal spells trade, but I have double Adventuring Gear so my attackers are quite enormous. The board clears leaving him at seven and me at nine, and he has a River Boa. I draw for the turn and cast my freshly-drawn Welkin Tern, casually surveyed the board, glanced at my Adventuring Gears, then equip them. He untaps and cannot cast his Mark of Mutiny fast enough, then play a land to attack for exactly nine and seal victory.
Only, instead of him winning, I said, “okay, take five.” I had made certain before equipping Gear that the ability was on the equipment and not granted to the creature. He called a judge so the interaction between Mark of Mutiny and retaining control of equipment could be explained, then I untapped, drew a land, and promptly killed him for exact.
Round 3 — Attrition Deck with Green Base
Game 1 I had ramp, removal, and an early Ob Nixilis, and that simply was.
Game 2 was not even close. He went turn 3 Gladehart, turn 4 Gladehart land, turn 5 Harrow, and my mind imploded. I was stuck on lands, and he killed me pretty fast.
I went back and boarded in the Soul Stair Expedition because I felt I would want it in a longer game.
Game 3 I was stuck on lands again and he had a solid start, plus killed my creatures. However, I used my removal and managed to stabilize sitting on a precariously low life total. He drew a ton of lands and I managed to find spells with a Reckless Scholar spells and get back in the game. Eventually I beat him down with an Aether Figment wearing Adventuring Gear and found a Burst Lightning with the Scholar to take the win. The only part that distraught me about winning was discarding a Rite of Replication with a potential nine mana the next turn. My opponent had an Oran-Rief Survivalist in play, but I needed to keep the Burst Lightning to kill him on my next turn. Still, discarding it caused him to raise his eyebrows in a classic “you still has all those?!?” moment.
Round 4 — UWR Sphinx Control
Round 4 I’m paired up against Tyler Mantey, the person who was in the lead for Rookie of the Year from 2008 for a long time. He is playing a defensive deck, which you think would be beneficial for a slower deck like mine. Unfortunately I never see any of my longer game bombs, and my short game assault is confronted by Makindi Shieldmates and Pillarfield Oxen, and then I lose game 1 to Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and game 2 to Living Tsunami returning Kabira Crossroads each turn.
Round 5 — U/B 0 Byes first GP
In the preround banter my opponent tells me that this is my first GP and he had 0 byes, so I predict his deck is probably pretty good. Unfortunately for him, he gets consecutively manascrewed and I win in two short games. Afterwards, he shows me his deck which is packing several bombs and good removal, with double Hideous End and double Disfigure leading the pack. Phew, narrowly avoided that round!
Round 6 — G/B-razilian
Round six I’m paired against Carlos RomÃ£o, one time world champion, strong Brazilian Player, and, most recently, opener of a priceless treasure in Austin. (Important to note when gauging the opponent’s aura, of course.)
Game 1 RomÃ£o floods a little and I begin to maintain an advantage, but as it so often goes, RomÃ£o begins to draw spells, I begin to draw lands, and a Cobra Trap, Hideous End, and a fatty later, I had lost. I had double Burst Lightning in my hand with him at eight, but was unable to find a Red source to cast either.
Game 2 he opened with turn 2 Oran-Rief Survivalist, turn 3 Savage Silhouette, and I didn’t have a removal spell. He cast a Puma, I was mana screwed, and I slowly fell to his creatures. I had Burst Lightning in my hand, but with no Red to cast it. Oh well. I need to win out from this point to make Day 2.
After this round I sit in my seat and watch the game next to me to its conclusion while ruminating on the game I just played. After the match, the winner asks if I’m Gavin, to which I reply yes. He tells me that he likes my articles, and I begin my usual discourse, thanking him and taking the time to talk about the format. I love my readers, and I’m always up for chatting with them. After he mentions he’s been to the Pro Tour before, that’s when my eyes wander over toward his result slip and I take a look at his name: Nathan Waxer.
I recognize his name from the most obscure of sources: I remember reading a feature that was done on him at PT: Charleston about how he kept beating the best California players on his way to the Pro Tour and at the Pro Tour. I also knew Zack Smith, whom he had teamed with for said Pro Tour. Now especially intrigued, we chat for a little while longer, and he tells me about the string of coincidences that recently occurred to him.
Nathan is looking for a medical residency, so he’s traveling the country to meet up with people at potential hospitals. A few weeks before, he was randomly in Oklahoma and there happened to be a PTQ. So, despite minimal experience with the format, he figured why not play in the PTQ. Of course, he ended up winning. Then, this week he was in Tampa to check out another hospital, and before he left his friend informed him that there was a GP in Tampa that week. What a crazy turn of events out of nowhere for him. (As a testament to Nathan’s skill, he ended up in eleventh place.)
Round 7 — W/G-ressive
Game 1 he gets a blisteringly fast start that plays more like a draft deck, with Steppe Lynx, Skyfisher, Hookmaster, and Adventuring Gear. I had no chance. Game 2 he gets a slow, mana light draw and I finish him in the air via Tern-power. Game 3 I mulligan and keep a three lander, and he has a fairly good draw. I have double Adventuring Gear to back up my Surrakar Marauder, but I don’t find enough lands in time to power out my Ob Nixilis and keep the Marauder damage coming, and he kills me.
At this point I cling onto some hope that I could scrabble into Day 2 with an X-3 record and play the next two rounds, but I really need to stop doing this at GP’s, because my heart really isn’t it while my ratings points still most definitely are. In the next round Josh Jacobson scoops to me because I’m 18 places higher than him in the standings, and in the last round I lose anyway because I get stranded games 2 and 3 I have to stare at both Burst Lightnings in my hand, (yes, both games,) watching as any Red source would win me the game, but I never find it. I realize that’s the risk in running three Red sources for two cards, but it was still frustrating nonetheless.
Afterward, Bill Stark is recruiting people to go eat, and, considering all we’ve had for two days is seven-eleven and hotel food, it sounds like the best thing anyone has suggested all day. We wait for Eric Reasoner to finish packing up his dealer booth, and then we head outside and try to contact a cab. I hear a familiar voice from behind me offer to take us to a restaurant in his car, and I turn around to see that it is none other but Nathan Waxer offering to save the day. What can’t that man do? After some initial apprehension from the others, I ensure them that Nathan Waxer is a fine person perfectly capable of using his vehicular device to transport us to a dining establishment, and Nathan Waxer, Eli Boer, Eric Reasoner, Bill Stark, Ben Swartz (of GGSlive fame!), and me head out to Chili’s.
Now, under normal circumstances Chili’s isn’t exactly the most popular restaurant in the world, but this Chili’s was ridiculously packed with Magic players. It took fifteen minutes for us to even get a table, and at one point the manager came over and asked us what in the world was going on. As soon as we told him this would be lasting another night, his eyes lit up — if this were a cartoon, I imagined they would be rolling to dollar signs — and he retreated to the back, presumably to make sure they were better staffed the next night.
For those who have never been, the dinner after a day of Magic is one of my favorite things to look forward to at any tournament, doubly so when Bill Stark is involved. While everyone I was eating with was obviously awesome, Bill is one of my favorite people in the world, and one of the few people I can never seem to get enough of. He creates the best metaphors out of nowhere, has a bevy of great Magic and non-Magic stories, and, in general, is one of the few Magic Players I think I could introduce my parents to that they would actively enjoy conversing with.
In any case, the conversation turned to Magic lingo. We discussed how awesome “still has all these” is, and how often we use it in conversation. It really is one of the best phrases ever, on an entirely different level from something like “justice” or “next level.” Two of Bill’s “still had these” uses particularly stand out in my mind. The first is going to the store, using coupons, and then opening your wallet to the cashier and saying, “still had all these dollars!” The second is ordering pizza with your girlfriend, watching her eat one slice before proclaiming she is full, and then letting her know that you “still have all these slices of pizza.”
But most importantly, the most important (yes, it is so important I used redundancy to redundantly prove my point.) part of this monologue is to teach you about the word “crads.” As Eli put it so succinctly, “crads is legit.” In Seattle, it is a rising phenomenon to call your cards “crads.” (For once, I feel ahead of the Michigan players in the realm of Magic vernacular.) Crads doesn’t look like much on paper, but just say the word. It rings of ridiculousness that can’t help but cause you to laugh, similar to the word stilt or the word fanny.
Let me put it this way. Which of these phrases is more entertaining: “Still had all these cards!” or “still had all these crads!”? How about, “I would ALWAYS drafted THIS card first pick” or “I would ALWAYS draft THIS crad first pick!” Say them out loud, and I think the power of crads will quickly become apparent.
Nathan told us he thinks Magic lingo is ridiculous, and even we got him to say the word crad. Crads is slowly catching on, so if you want to be ahead on the Magic word curve, crads is the next big thing. Just thought you all should know.
… Man, we are such degenerates.
Our food finally arrived, and all of the typical fare happened. We ate, talked about Magic, non-Magic, politics, and everybody else drooled over the waitress for some reason. Standard procedure.
Nathan takes us all back to our respective hotels — something I am very grateful to him for, considering it was 1am and he still had a drive back to actual Tampa ahead of him. I want to offer him my room, but the one downside about rooming with parents is random strangers barging in at 1am doesn’t always go over so well. I head to bed, and get some sleep before the better part of Sunday.
The next day, I woke up and played in the PTQ. However, my pool was absolutely atrocious and I went 0-1, drop, because I didn’t think there was even a remote chance I could 8-0 with the cards at my disposal. I was honestly mortified while building this pool. While no pool is unbuildable, I was definitely not happy to have this one. I am extremely curious what you guys think the best build of this pool was:
2 Ondu Cleric
1 Arrow Volley Trap
1 Steppe Lynx
2 Bold Defense
1 Armament Master
1 Shieldmate’s Blessing
1 Conqueror’s Pledge
1 Kor Outfitter
1 Noble Vestige
1 Sunspring Expedition
1 Kor Cartographer
1 Cliff Threader
1 Makindi Shieldmate
1 Shepherd of the Lost
2 Spreading Seas
1 Rite of Replication
1 Windrider Eel
1 Lethargy Trap
1 Hedron Crab
1 Aether Figment
1 Summoner’s Bane
1 Seascape Aerialist
1 Cosi’s Trickster
1 Paralyzing Grasp
2 Guul Draz Vampire
2 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Needlebite Trap
1 Mire Blight
1 Quest for the Gravelord
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Blood Seeker
1 Marsh Casualties
1 Feast of Blood
1 Bog Tatters
1 Heartstabber Mosquito
1 Hagra Crocodile
1 Giant Scorpion
1 Grim Discovery
1 Mind Sludge
2 Unstable Footing
2 Slaughter Cry
2 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Zektar Shrine Expedition
1 Mark of Mutiny
1 Goblin War Paint
1 Inferno Trap
1 Tuktuk Grunts
1 Plated Geopede
1 Highland Berserker
1 Ruinous Minotaur
1 Goblin Shortcutter
I’ll leave this one as an exercise to you guys. If it causes enough discussion in the forums, I’ll post up my build.
Afterward, I play in a GPT and have a pretty solid UB deck, but the GPT ends up being a few people short of the five round cutoff and we end up having only a Top 4 play your sealed decks instead of a Top 8 draft, and I miss out on making Top 4. I blew my removal spell to make sure I wouldn’t lose if he drew the Machete I had seen when my opponent ripped Felidar Sovereign and equipped both of his Spidersilk Nets to it. Sigh. Misplay by me, opponent drew the card he needed.
Afterward, I’m fiending for a draft. So Nathan Waxer, Eric Reasoner, Eli Boer, Tony Tsay, Jason Rosellini, and myself do a draft. I manage to 3-0 with a scrappy G/W draft deck, including beating Tony’s absurd 12 ally, double Kazuul Warlord, multiple Hideous End and Disfigure deck, but my teammates both go 0-3. Oh well. At least I got to draft.
Hungry yet again, Nathan offers to drive us closer to our location, although he will not be eating with us tonight. On the way there he hands me his phone so I can talk to his brother, who apparently reads my articles every week. I’m being a typical Magic player — making lighthearted fun of everybody, including myself — and using awesome phrases like crads and still had all these, but his brother doesn’t quite grasp all of it and calls me a jerk. Sorry Nathan’s brother, I didn’t mean to offend you.
Nathan drops us off at the Day’s Inn so Eric and Eli can drop their vendor stuff off, and then we cab to the only restaurant left open — a pub – where we find Gaudenis and the other Madision people waiting at one table, and another table with a mishmash of coverage reporters and players alike. Everyone I was with went over to the mishmash table, but I leveled the system and wagered that Gaudenis would be buying everyone’s dinner. As soon as I sat down, Sam Black informed me that, indeed, I had, to quote him, “broke the format” and that Gaudenis was buying everybody at that table dinner and dessert. How lucky!
We talked about the GP circuit and if there is any way for me to get to Minneapolis, but right now tickets are $320 to go to Minneapolis in the middle of November. That kind of price hard for me to justify paying considering I paid less than $250 to get to Tampa, a much more popular destination located further from Seattle from Tampa, and my success seems to have been tempering lately. We will see, but unless airfare drops considerably it’s unfortunately looking like I won’t make it out. Which is unfortunate, because GP’s are so much fun: I get to see all of my friends and play Magic at the highest level possible. What more could you really want?
Let me know what you think about my sealed pools, and post any comments in the forums or via e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail.com. I’ll see you next week, when we return to non-tournament report articles, and I look forward to talking with you guys about my sealed pools in the forums.
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else