Good Times At Grand Prix: Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh had so many good stories that a tournament report had to be written.

I rarely ever write tournament reports. I haven’t liked reading them, I haven’t liked writing them; they never seem interesting enough.

The bad thing is, I didn’t do well in Pittsburgh this last week. The good news is, the tournament had so many good stories that a tournament report had
to be written.

There wasn’t much time to test for Grand: Prix Pittsburgh with the Pro Tour around the horizon. Instead of spending hours on finding a deck, we’d just
have to theorize and go with it. It’s a good thing the best in the world were around to help with the discussion… But was it good enough?

I wanted to play Caw-Blade, just like most of the people in the test group. We were all camped out in Pittsburgh for the week, testing Modern before
the Grand Prix. This Grand Prix and Pro Tour was very important for me, because the year was coming to an end and I had yet to get anything going in
the form of Pro Points. Standard has always been one of my best ways to collect on these points, so I really wanted a good finish.

The conversation about the tournament turned into how Mirran Crusader seemed very good right now. With U/B Control, Birthing Pod, and Valakut gaining
rank, this creature would be able to get under the opponents’ defenses and get some serious damage done before the games got out of reach for the

The deck we decided to play is this:

I really liked this version of the deck — but without testing, I couldn’t really know what its weaknesses were. All I knew was that I wanted to equip
Swords, bash with Crusaders, and get as many Pro Points I could get my hands on.

The night before a Grand Prix that precedes a Pro Tour is always fun. So many people you know are in the events, people all across the globe, and a
sense of excitement is in the air. This is especially true with the Pro Tour being a brand-new format the way it is this time. People are talking about
Modern, Standard, and, of course, drafts.

Patrick Chapin came up to me while I was watching Wrapter drafting and asked me if I wanted to get in one. I told him sure, but didn’t really want to
do the work setting one up. He left, and I thought he was getting bodies to start it up.

Ten minutes later, this guy he was with said that the draft was happening, and Paulo told me to tell you to find your third. I thought this meant that
Chapin and this guy wanted to do battle, and he confirmed this. I found Yuuya Watanabe and Paulo and got ready to draft. Chapin? Was nowhere to be

This guy said Chapin wanted to draft with him, so I gave Chapin a call.

Brad: Where are you? Draft!

Chapin: I left the site.

Brad: I set this up and you’re not here?

Chapin: Call you back.

By this time, the guy had found another person before I got a call from Pat, so it was getting awkward. Pat called back and said he was on his way, so
now I find a fourth to even it up. We sat down in the correct spots and waited for Pat.

Pat got there, sat down, got a draft set, and cracked his pack before realizing that he wasn’t on my team. The teams also looked very unbalanced, since
it was Ben Seck, Chapin, and two people I didn’t know against Yuuya, Shuhei, Paulo, and I. I guess this whole time he was trying to draft with me, and
this friend of his got everything confused for both of us. Chapin was somewhat surprised by what happened, but it really did look like I conned him
onto the other team.

We drafted and ended up pushing anyway. It was a fun draft in the end, but it was time to go to sleep.

The next day was tournament time, and I was ready to do battle. I always feel really good with Caw-Blade in my hands.

Round 4: U/B Control

It’s turn 5 of game two. I had two Squadron Hawks in play, as well as four lands; one of them was Tectonic Edge. My opponent had Jace Beleren and five
lands untapped. His Jace was bleeding out from the Hawks and would soon be dead. It’s only been a Howling Mine for the whole game.

There was an interesting play I could try to make that has zero downside: I’ve already Preordained this turn, so I have three lands up. I had lands in
hand to make my drop, as well as a Spell Pierce and Mana Leak. I won’t even think about countering a Consume the Meek, since next turn is Titan mana
and hasn’t played any spells to tell me it won’t be there.

The play was to tap both colored sources, leaving Tectonic Edge up all alone. This might get my opponent to Edge my Edge, letting my Celestial
Colonnades matter in the late game. This play shouldn’t benefit my opponent — except that he’ll think it’s the smart play, thanks to the way I tapped.
I then just played my land after the Edge resolved, and still get to Pierce. I don’t need Mana Leak any more, because he doesn’t have six mana on his
board. This just lets me keep the land count down while I try to kill his Jace.

This play ended up working for some reason, and I go on to beat him. I don’t know if I would have lost, but it was simply a free roll that worked. I
really liked the play, since it has never come up before.

Round 6: Oscar (Edgar) Flores

It was really cool to see this group of kids pop up from the StarCityGames.com Opens around the US. I met Edgar after I already knew a ton about his
Magic accomplishments. That’s a rare thing when you’re going to almost every Grand Prix and Pro Tour!

After meeting the kid, I found out I kind of liked him. He seemed like a nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. Obviously he needed to learn a
couple things here and there, but don’t we all?

This was going to be fun. He’s in the lead of the Player of the Year race for the StarCityGames.com Opens, and is a leading man in that tournament
series. I was glad to welcome him to the big leagues. His format, my tournament.

The games went exactly the way I wanted them to. Game one, he made a small mistake that many people make for some reason: I was on the play and didn’t
play a Squadron Hawk on turn 2. I hold up two lands and pass.

In the old days, this meant I most likely had Mana Leak. The new twist to this is that I could also have a Phantasmal Image and am waiting for his
birds to get my own. (If you Image, you can only get three hawks. Remember this!)

He had Mana Leak and Spellskite in hand. He decided to hold up mana for a spell that I might play. This was correct. The only problem is he valued
getting the Spellskite into play a bit too much after that. He finally played it on turn 4, and I was then able to play a fifth land, Tectonic Edge one
of his lands that were up, and resolve a Mirran Crusader in my second main phase. That Crusader got me to the finish line, and he was left with
multiple dead Mana Leaks in hand.

Game two was more of a straight-up bashing. I got Titan into play, and he followed suit. The problem is I also had a Sword and a Phantasmal Image,
which let me blow up four lands of his that turn and deal him eight damage. Edgar untapped with three lands and no outs.

I will continue to enjoy beating him as much as possible now, because I feel this kid will be a real threat in the next year…. Once he learns how to
play Limited, of course.

Round 8: Adam Yurchick

Adam is one of the best guys on the tour. We haven’t spent quite enough time together to be called good friends, but we always enjoy being around each
other. I’ve also played Adam four other times in professional tournaments. We are 2-2.

Adam crushed me in game one and it was not close. He was playing Pyromancer Ascension and I put him on Caw-Blade, so my keep was a bit awkward. Game
two started off the same way.

The game was me drawing lands and playing Hawks while Adam sent his Jace higher and higher. Both of us were fine with this, since I needed the cards
and he needed the time. I would send enough Hawks at Jace that he would have to tick it up or I could kill it. This meant a lot of split attacks.

Attacking a planeswalker like Jace Beleren can be very tricky at times. You don’t want your opponent drawing extra cards, but yet you want to kill
them. I think the most important thing to remember is how important that card is going to be. It’s not a question that you can always answer correctly,
but is better than taking an inevitable line of always or never attacking them. In this situation, I wanted the cards as much as he did, but I also
wanted to pressure him. Attacking the Jace until it died seemed like a poor choice. I would get the value out of him ticking it up as well as dealing
him damage.

The problem with this is that I was only drawing lands. I had four Hawks in play and one Dismember in hand. He Probed me earlier to see nothing, but
since then I had three fresh cards.

At the end of his turn, he was at twelve life and had five lands in play, with a Spellskite ready to protect his combo. I had five lands in play, one a
Celestial Colonnade, and that Dismember in hand. I point it at Spellskite, and he had the Dispel. I untapped and had options.

  • I can clock him with hawks for three turns.
  • I can attack with Colonnade and threaten two turns.
  • I can attack Jace and kill it.

The only reason to activate Colonnade is to pray he doesn’t have anything. I can still bluff for a turn, since he’d wait for as long as he can. I don’t
threaten lethal next turn if I don’t attack with Colonnade this turn, since he can tap it with Deceiver Exarch on that turn.

I spent multiple minutes thinking through my plays, until I decided to try to read him. I’m not able to read someone perfectly most of the time, but
Adam is different. I might be able to, since I’ve played against him so many times and have gotten used to his play style. I decided to look at his
eyes for the answer.

I looked up and saw him not looking at me. He was, instead, looking frantically all around the board, trying to piece together information. This did
not look like a person who had it all figured out. I knew this because most people will look at their opponents for reactions to what they’re going to
do if they have it all. Adam’s wheels were still cranking. That means he didn’t have it.

He looked up at me, surprised I was staring at him, and I just activated the Colonnade to send eight at his face. He untapped, drew all the cards he
could, and conceded.

Game three was a very close one that I wound up taking because of his very weak draw. I won’t say that I outplayed him in either of the sideboarded
games; I’ll just admit that I got lucky and move on.

Round 9: Joshua Wagener

Josh is an opponent who was a big stepping stone in my career last year. I played him in the semi finals in D.C. on my way to my first (and only) win in a Magic tournament. Obviously, this
tournament was my favorite of all of them, and holds huge sentimental value to me.

I remembered the conversation I had with Josh in that match, and used it to try to get a feel for what he was playing. He tried to use mind games on me
in that event, but that didn’t really work. I also knew he didn’t play much, and he made that very clear.

I put him on Mono-Red and kept a hand with Dismember, Squadron Hawk, and Sword of War and Peace. Every burn spell he played was at a Hawk — until big
daddy Sun Titan hit the table. I took the game and match, since losing to Mono-Red in two post-sideboarded games in a row is somewhat difficult.

Round 10: Yuuya Watanabe

Are you serious?!

Not only was I paired up, but I had to play against the hottest player in Magic right now. He was on his game, and fresh off a win. Luck, skill, and
pretty much everything were on his side right then.

We were in a somewhat of a mirror match, except he had Blade Splicers, where I had Mirran Crusader. I kept a land-light hand with no Hawk and two
Preordains. I searched for lands but failed to find many, while he kept a “double-Island, Inkmoth Nexus” hand. I know this because he played a Sword on
turn 2 off of those lands. He got out of it before I do and we are off to game two.

Game two is where I kept a hand I thought was fine. It was three lands, two Preordains, and two Swords. This wasn’t very good, but it also wasn’t a
mulligan if I could find a Phantasmal Image or Squadron Hawk. I found neither, and wound up losing to Yuuya.


Round 11: Gerry Thompson

It was exciting to get to play against Gerry in an event. I’d never done it before, but love playing good players — especially in the Caw-Blade mirror.
Our games were taped on GGslive, and I would suggest watching them when they get put online. It was a very great
match that involved way too many situations to talk about all of them. Gerry made a few small mistakes that were hard to see, but they ended up
deciding the match.


Round 14: Conrad Kolos

I was 9-4 at the time, fighting for the last pro point I could get my hands on. It was sad that I started the day at 8-1, and now had to 3-0 just to
get one of those damn Pro points. They are so much more difficult to get this year than last. I ended up with 66 last year, and if I could
trade Player of the Year for the extra sixteen points, I would do it.

Conrad is a very strange guy. I don’t know it’s is just how he works or he actively cultivates it, but he’s sometimes a very unpleasant person to play
against. Well, actually, he’s been very unpleasant every time I played him.

We were having a friendly game — or at least I thought — making some jokes and laughing a couple times. He ended up with a Primeval Titan attacking me
with an Oracle of Mul Daya in play. The board said that if there was a land on top of his library he won, or he’d lose if there is not. I asked him
while I was shuffling his library if the kill was already in his hand or on top of his library. This way, we can slam it. There was no more play to the
game. He kills me or I win.

He said nothing. The tension in the match spiked from casual laughs to him being stone-cold. I asked again to see if he didn’t hear me, and he
responded with a sharp, “We are in post-combat, correct?” This was kind of annoying, since he just turned all business; I felt disrespected. Of course
I know what his list looks like, and there isn’t any hiding of information. He could have Lightning Bolt, Rampant Growth or Explore in hand to get him
the extra damage. He already showed me a Bolt to tell me it was in his deck, so I didn’t see how this question could affect the game.

The top card was a Birds of Paradise, and I was at three life with a Khalni Heart Expedition at two counters. He tanks for about five seconds, then and
looks at life totals before Bolting me.

He actually slow-rolled me in an almost irrelevant match? I was actually starting to like this guy.

I lost the match, and the dream of getting any value from the event was all but dead. I might be able to win two more to sneak into the top 64.

Round 15: Christian Valenti

There’s nothing exciting to say about this match, but I do have things to say about the person. I won two games I had no business winning, but played
one of the nicest guys out there. Christian is what Magic should always be; he’s nice both winning or losing, and always has a good time. He didn’t
play amazingly in our games, but still has the fire to make in big time. I hope all the best in the world for this guy, because he reminds me why we
all play this game: to be challenged and have a good time.

I won round 16, but my mind was pretty much shut off at this point. I was out of the money and just played a fun match trying to do cool things. Good
thing I got away with it all and still won. Thank you, Phantasmal Image, for letting me do all the fun things I wanted to do.

This version of Caw-Blade wasn’t perfect for this tournament. It didn’t have enough hate for Splinter Twin and Mono-Red. I think Mirran Crusader was
great, but I needed more cards for those matchups in the sideboard. Ladies and gentlemen, I think it’s time to pull out the Kor Firewalkers.

The last story of the weekend (and my favorite of the tournament) was in Day One. It was almost time in the round. Player A was way behind, and his
opponent actually had lethal damage on board. He passed the turn, letting the guy finish him off. He staying in the game makes me think that will end
his tournament as well, since he is dead on board and it is very obvious.

His opponent looks at the board, confused, since Player A is tapped out and he has exactly lethal minus the Creeping Tar Pit in play. His opponent
activates the man-land anyway and sends everyone.

The problem? He doesn’t pay mana for the land.

Player A, trying to do anything to stay in the tournament, calls a judge on the action. There’s already a table judge because they are in turns and she
has to survey the situation. What’s the situation? Player A is fishing for a game loss.

I then look straight at the match slip — and sure enough, it has writing all over it. I am guessing Player A’s opponent has been making sloppy plays
all game and this has frustrated him to the point of trying to steal a game win that he thinks he deserves. This happens all the time in Magic. I don’t
think I would do something like this ever, but I don’t fault anyone for trying.

Player A wanted a win, and would try to do anything for it. You can say whatever you want about the situation — but the fact is that it’s legal, and
people do it. I don’t have any problem with this, since it’s up to the judges and Player A is not cheating. Doing something in front of the judges is
infinitely better than cheating away from them.

The ruling gets a bit heated when Player A argues with the judge, trying to get one more violation on his opponent’s tournament for the win. His
opponent seems very calm and answers the judge the best he can. You can tell he’s not particularly sharp with tournament procedures.

Whenever someone’s trying to do this to me, I wind up feeling a bit heated myself. It’s not a situation I want to be in, and obviously I always want to
win the ruling. My opponent may have a right to do this, but I won’t like him too much.

Anyway, the ruling does not go through and Player A extends his hand in defeat. His opponent, without missing a beat, sighs in relief, extends his
hand, and yells, “Good games, man!” He had a huge smile on his face. It was like he didn’t even get that Player A was trying to steal a win from him. I
burst out laughing at this, and the crowd began to stare at me. It was so funny to see his opponent react that way, since it has never happened like
that. Ever. That was by far the funniest thing I saw all weekend.

The tournament was a bust, but I’m staying positive for the Pro Tour. I want at least one top 8 under my belt this year. Wish me luck.

Brad Nelson