GP Melbourne *7th*

Jeremy Neeman recently placed 7th at GP Melbourne. Read about how he built his Sealed pool, how he picked his two draft decks, and how his matches played out. Prepare for your next SCG Draft Open in Phoenix!

It was right about this time a week and a half ago that I was doing intensive preparation for Grand Prix Melbourne. And by "intensive preparation" I mean "doing my fourth draft of the format in Tim Fondum’s garage." Yeah, with med school and moving to a new city, Magic has been put on the backburner lately, and I really didn’t come into the GP with the preparation I would’ve liked.


As a result, the Sealed pool I opened was literally the first I’ve had to build in Dark Ascension/Innistrad. This was the result:

1 Thought Scour
1 Dream Twist
1 Geistflame
2 Silent Departure
1 Think Twice
2 Fires of Undeath
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Secrets of the Dead
1 Griptide
1 Devil’s Play
1 Reckless Waif
1 Hinterland Hermit
1 Torch Fiend
1 Screeching Skaab
1 Stormbound Geist
1 One-Eyed Scarecrow
1 Selhoff Occultist
1 Russet Wolves
1 Galvanic Juggernaut
1 Tower Geist
1 Markov Warlord
8 Island
7 Mountain
2 Swamp

Notable sideboard:

1 Afflicted Deserter
1 Forge[/author] Devil”][author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] Devil
1 Dissipate
A bunch of good white dudes, including Champion of the Parish and Slayer of the Wicked
1 Mayor of Avabruck

Black was by far the easiest cut from this Sealed pool, with a Moan of the Unhallowed as the single good card and no depth. After that, I had two colors with a lot of depth (blue and white) and two colors with very powerful cards and a few generic dorks (red and green). Red had Devil’s Play and green had Mayor of Avabruck, but pairing them seemed loose—if I drew my good cards my deck would be strong, but if not I’d be curving Torch Fiend into Lambholt Elder into Russet Wolves.

So I started looking at pairing depth with power. White/green was first up, because you should always look to see if you have a good white/green deck in this Limited format. Champion of the Parish (with ~10 other Humans) and Mayor of Avabruck both looked promising, but past that my deck was, well, uninspiring. No Travel Preparations, no Avacyn’s Pilgrim, no Gavony Township, not enough fliers, too many creatures, and a glut of four-drops. If I curved Champion into Mayor, great, I was probably winning that one. But if I didn’t and they have a Kessig Recluse, my armada of generic dorks would be hard pressed to actually break through.

White/red was looked at briefly and quickly dismissed. White/red just never wins games in this format, regardless of how powerful its individual cards are. I think the problem is that neither color has much capacity to deal with large creatures. White’s guys are all good but small, and red’s removal only deals with guys up to three toughness. If they play a Requiem Angel, you’re stuck thinking, "If only I’d played white/blue instead I could Silent Departure that."

That left me with blue/red. In theory I could’ve played blue/green, but red made a ton more sense. The four flashback spells played perfectly with my self-mill, and the small creature kill complemented my two Silent Departures beautifully. The deck is actually pretty nice—maybe two Delver of Secrets and a Burning Vengeance away from being the absolute nuts. Secrets of the Dead, it turns out, is not Burning Vengeance (more on that later.)

John-Paul Kelly: "Are you seriously playing Secrets of the Dead?"

Me: "Yeah and it’s good! I have nine flashback spells. Nine of them. I have all of the value."

JPK: "It’s terrible."

Me: "I’ll prove it’s good. Let’s battle. I’ll slay you."

JPK: "Ok, but you have to start with Secrets in your opening hand every game."

Me: "Sweet!"

I proceeded to demolish him in two games, although I only drew one card off Secrets in those games, and it was from a lethal Devil’s Play flashback. The results were inconclusive, but I was still convinced despite the naysayers.

Isaac Egan: "Is that actually Secrets of the Dead in play?"

Me: "Nine flashback."

Dan Unwin: "There is literally no number of flashback spells you could have to make Secrets of the Dead playable."

Me: "What about nine?"

Round 4 rolled around, and it was time to play some Magic. Game 1 of my first round of the day was a pretty heartbreaking way to start off. I had him on the ropes, with no creatures against my two Bears and a Devil’s Play in the bin that was only one swing away from being lethal. I had Silent Departure for a blocker—there was nothing he could pay six mana for that I was scared of, surely.

Blood Feud.

That was tough. Suddenly I had no clock and eight cards left in library. On the plus side, all of them were spells. On the minus side, three of those spells were Secrets of the Dead, Think Twice, and Forbidden Alchemy. When the first card off the top was Forbidden Alchemy and two of the bottom three were Secrets and Think Twice, I ended up decking myself. Huntmaster of the Fells (getting him that little bit further out of burn range) was the nail in the coffin.

The following two games I held my breath every turn 4, but no Huntmaster was forthcoming and I won narrowly.


Cards drawn off Secrets of the Dead: one (From a lethal Devil’s Play.)

Me: "Look, Luis Scott-Vargas likes Secrets of the Dead. I’ll ask him. Luis, Secrets of the Dead is good, right?"

LSV: "It’s pretty bad."

Me: "…But you force the flashback deck in a ton of your draft videos. I’ve seen you take it in drafts. You said it was fine."

LSV: "Yeah, that was before I played with it, though."

I won round 5, lost round 6 due to some tough beats, and played round 7 against none other than LSV himself. This was inevitable since it was a Magic tournament we were both playing in. I’ve played this LSV seven times in less than two years, which is ridiculous, way off the charts. I have no doubt he’s gotten sick of me by now given that I’ve won five of those encounters.

His deck was quite the brew—black/green dorks, with a blue splash for Silent Departure (sure), Tower Geist (well, I guess), and Griptide (what?). Also the flashback on Tracker’s Instincts and Reap the Seagraf. He did have the powerful synergy of Stromkirk Patrol and Ranger’s Guile, though, which got me game 1—I Silent Departured the Patrol, hoping to rip something so I wouldn’t have to Devil’s Play it next turn. I drew land, and he drew Ranger’s Guile, so his 4/3 survived and actually beat my face in. I have to hand it to LSV, he doesn’t even need Devil’s Play; he just wins games with five-mana 4/3s.

Fortunately games 2 and 3 he didn’t have the Patrol + Guile combo, so my Devil’s Play targeted his face instead. I drew nine lands and he drew Garruk + Curse of Death’s Hold, but Devil’s Play makes that work out alright.

Cards drawn off Secrets of the Dead: two (To be fair, I was now siding it out after every game 1.)

Round 8 was against Hao-Shan Huang, and game 1 Secrets of the Dead actually went off. Well, I say that—it’s likely I would’ve won the game without it. That’s the real problem with the card; once it starts triggering, you’re often getting enough card advantage that a couple extra aren’t really relevant and might even deck you (it’s not optional.)

Cards drawn off Secrets of the Dead: 5 (Three in one game, baby! Eat your heart out, Divination.)

Game 2 he mulliganed again and missed on double white for a few turns. I had a good draw and eventually Fireballed him out. Of note was that he sided in Naturalize, which makes Hao-Shan the only opponent to respect Secrets of the Dead all weekend. Although maybe it was just for Galvanic Juggernaut, hmmm…


That put me in 14th place and in pod 2 heading into the second day.

Draft 1

Flip cards lend an interesting dimension to drafts. The two players to my right and I all opened Loyal Cathar in my first draft. Normally he’s not an exciting first pick, but the choice has a potential payoff. If the players around you see you taking a flip card early they’ll stay out of your colors, and Loyal Cathar is the best common flip card in Dark Ascension. My pack was awful, with a Diregraf Captain as the only other decent card, so I slammed the Cathar in the first five seconds to let the two guys passing me Cathars take note.

I took a Skirsdag Flayer over the second Cathar, took the one coming third pick, and everything went swimmingly. Taking that Cathar early paid off many times over. I never got anything broken, but my deck ended up very, very solid:

1 Doomed Traveler
1 Selfless Cathar
2 Loyal Cathar
1 Skirsdag Flayer
1 Unruly Mob
1 Screeching Bat
1 Voiceless Spirit
2 Chapel Geist
1 Elder Cathar
2 Village Cannibals
1 Midnight Haunting
1 Falkenrath Torturer
2 Slayer of the Wicked
1 Hollowhenge Spirit
1 Morkrut Banshee
2 Moment of Heroism
1 Rebuke
1 Demonmail Hauberk
2 Evolving Wilds
10 Plains
5 Swamp

In retrospect seventeen lands was one too many, since my curve was very low and I had no way to use excess mana. I sided out a Plains for either a Midnight Guard or a Corpse Lunge every game.

In game 1 of round 1 I kept:

This was certainly not a mulligan—basically any spell was a good draw. My draws were Midnight Haunting followed by three land, though, and I thought his Geist of Saint Traft might get me. Luckily the following card was Demonmail Hauberk, and I killed him in three hits with a 5/3 Spirit, with Rebuke on the final turn allowing me to race his Wild Hunger.

Game 2 was unusual—he played Grimoire of the Dead on turn 3 and accelerated out the mass Zombify. By the time he activated it, though, he’d done so much durdling that he was on four life, and I managed to block for a turn, go to five, and finish him off with fliers.

Round 2, game 1 my opponent mulliganed to five on the play, and my draw was very good. Game 2 he played Angelic Overseer with two other Humans in play and must surely have thought he had me. I had Demonmail Hauberk on Chapel Geist, though, and leveraged it for full value with Morkrut Banshee. Eventually we got to a situation where he couldn’t race and was holding the fort with Angelic Overseer. With him on nine, I ripped Hollowhenge Spirit and sent in a 6/5 Chapel Geist and two Spirit tokens. He only had Doomed Traveler for Overseer protection, so he played scared and blocked a Spirit token, went to two, and died the following turn to my fliers.

Round 3 was against Oli Oks and was the most hysterical round of Magic I’ve played in my life. Game 1 I curved out perfectly and killed him turn 6. Game 2 I kept this hand on the draw:

This wasn’t insane, but I don’t think you could mulligan it—there were ten white sources I could draw in the first two turns to make it great, and even a white source turn 3 could still make it very good. I bricked for three turns and let him get in with first Screeching Skaab and then Moan of the Unhallowed. On turn 4 I went for Skirsdag Flayer + Moment of Heroism rather than Slayer of the Wicked, because I knew he had Grimgrin in his deck and there was no way I could beat it if I didn’t hold Slayer in hand.

In fact he had Griptide, which I also knew was in his deck and was very bad for me. Eventually his assorted bears just beat me up without me ever managing to cast Chapel Geist. He did have Hysterical Blindness that game, which was amusing and stopped me trading with his guys but really would’ve been a lot better as a basic land.

Game 3 we both mulliganed, but his draw was very good with Stitcher’s Apprentice into Stormbound Geist. He also had Think Twice and Civilized Scholar, and I was in danger of being overwhelmed by value. I’d drawn both Slayers of the Wicked, which should’ve been amazing, but he refused to ever play a bad guy.

He got a little bit too aggressive with Stormbound Geist, and on the turn he tapped out for Skirsdag High Priest (with Stitcher’s Apprentice still in play) I had my chance. I played Slayer, sacked it to Falkenrath Torturer, played Moment of Heroism, and got in with all my fliers, putting him to one. On his turn he needed either a flier or a removal spell to stop my lethal attack.

His draw?

Hysterical Blindness.



The worst part: after this round I had to deal with people making Hysterical Blindness-related puns that would do LSV proud.

"What a hysterical beating."

"I guess you lost sight of your outs."

"That was hysterical. Oh man. I hope you don’t blind."

Draft 2

In draft 2 my opening pack had Huntmaster of the Fells, which I ummed and aahed about, eventually deciding to pass it for a Hysterical Blindness.

Ok, so it was an average pack from which I took Tower Geist. I do love this card to pieces, way more than I should; it’s easy value stapled to such an efficient creature. And we all know how much I like value.

*cough*  Secrets of the Dead  *cough*

I took Tragic Slip next, and followed it with callous disregard for my mana base as I took both Highborn Ghoul and Stormbound Geist. Unfortunately I’d passed Skirsdag Flayer and Farbog Boneflinger with my first two picks, so it was reasonable to assume Jake Hart to my left was in black. Even if he wasn’t to begin with, he certainly moved in on opening Bloodline Keeper in pack 2.

The second pack didn’t go well for the U/B strategy—I got literally no black cards. Blue was looking great, but the only black cards I had were Tragic Slip (which I was splashing regardless), Highborn Ghoul (which I wasn’t playing regardless; BB was going to be too difficult), and Black Cat. Not exactly a strong draw to the dark side, which explains why when I opened Garruk I took it.

My deck ended up like this:

2 Delver of Secrets
1 Gatstaf Shepherd
1 Deranged Assistant
1 Stitcher’s Apprentice
1 Ludevic’s Test Subject
1 Stormbound Geist
1 Stitched Drake
1 Moon Heron
1 Tower Geist
1 Nephalia Seakite
1 Grizzled Outcasts
1 Skaab Goliath
1 Ranger’s Guile
1 Silent Departure
1 Prey Upon
1 Tragic Slip
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Divination
1 Claustrophobia
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Bone to Ash
1 Griptide
10 Island
5 Forest
2 Swamp

Notable sideboard: 1 Fortress Crab

Round 1 was against Ian Wood. Game 1 my draw was kind of awkward, with multiple uncastable cards, and he didn’t help by Night Terrorsing my Tower Geist. Luckily he didn’t do anything after that, and Ludevic’s Test Subject built up one counter a turn (with me holding Ranger’s Guile up) until it flipped and ate him.

Game 2 he was missing Plains. Highborn Ghoul got me down to eight, but eventually I Prey Uponed it and killed him with fliers and Skaab Goliath.

Which brings us to the win-and-in round, against none other than Tim Fondum. Last time we met, it was in the finals of Grand Prix Brisbane where I got him in three games. Well, really, the last time we met we were drafting in his garage, but that sounds much less dramatic.

Tim and I split the first two games. I was on the play in game 3 with the following hand:

Maybe I should’ve mulliganed—it was definitely on the edge of keepable—but Fortress Crab could do good work against his deck and its multiple Markov Patricians, while Moon Heron meant he couldn’t get me with Spirit tokens. And I was holding the single best card in my deck for when I drew a Forest. I don’t think it was totally unreasonable to keep, although I’m sure plenty of good players would choose to throw this one back.

The first land I drew was…a Swamp. Followed by an Island. Meanwhile, Tim started with Niblis of the Urn into two Markov Patricians, making my hand look less good by the minute.

Fortress Crab and then Moon Heron arrived, and Tim was missing his fourth land, having to settle for a Butcher’s Cleaver. I knew this was the moment, and right on cue:


Silent Departure bounced the Niblis, and Garruk came down, making a Wolf. It was tight from there on in, but I never felt like I was in danger of losing even though I drew a ton of lands off the top. After making three Wolves and ensuring Markov Patricians could never get through, Garruk took out a Thraben Sentry, made a couple deathtouch Wolves, and +4/+4ed my team for the win, trampling over for one more than exactsies.


And with the ID in round 16, I was in the Top 8! (Just, actually. It came down to a couple points of resistance. I miss the days of Australian GPs when X-3s could make the finals.)

You can check out the top 8 coverage here.

Basically my draft came down to my second pick. I took a Tower Geist first (obv) and was faced with a choice between Blood Feud and Stormbound Geist. Clearly Blood Feud is the much better card, but taking a second color meant it was likely I wouldn’t be playing one of my first two picks. U/R is not a great color combination, besides—I’d rather be U/W.

If Blood Feud was actually Grab the Reins I would’ve taken it, but it’s not—it kills two 3/3s but not a 3/3 and a 2/2. There are situations where it’s awkward. There are a lot more situations where Stormbound Geist is awkward, namely against any ground-based deck where you aren’t the beatdown. But consistency over power seemed worth it, so I took Stormbound Geist. This meant I couldn’t really take a second Blood Feud that appeared pack 3 or the Markov Warlord that came around a couple of picks later; I couldn’t afford for Dave Crewe on my right to take the first Blood Feud and steal all my red in pack 2. Pack 1 I stayed pretty much mono-blue, with multiple Chants of the Skifsang, Nephalia Seakites, and a Griptide.

Pack 2 offered me the familiar consistency/power conundrum, with Slayer of the Wicked and Claustrophobia. I again went for consistency and took the Claustrophobia and promptly missed out on a Mentor of the Meek out of pack 2. This was probably a good decision because the players on both sides of me were white, so my chances of getting any more past those two cards was slim. I’m not sure what Dave Crewe took over that Mentor; a Falkenrath Noble, I assume, looking at his decklist, which is a very tough pick.

After pack 2, I was still almost mono-blue, with options in black (Black Cat, Victim of Night) and red (Riot Devils, Rolling Temblor, Harvest Pyre.) This was a really long wait for a commitment, and at this point I needed a bomb in pack 3 for it to pay off. Luckily a Bloodline Keeper was opened to my left. My pack had Deranged Assistant and Brimstone Volley, which is a funny scenario: if Simon took Bloodline Keeper I took Brimstone Volley, but if not I took Deranged Assistant. He took almost the full time to pick, so I did as well, shuffling those two cards until I was sure he hadn’t taken the Vampire.

This was my final list:

10 Island
1 Nephalia Drownyard
6 Swamp
1 Battleground Geist
1 Black Cat
1 Bloodline Keeper
2 Deranged Assistant
1 Lantern Spirit
2 Nephalia Seakite
2 Selhoff Occultist
1 Stitched Drake
1 Stormbound Geist
1 Tower Geist
2 Chant of the Skifsang
2 Claustrophobia
1 Divination
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Frightful Delusion
1 Griptide
1 Sensory Deprivation
1 Victim of Night

It’s fine, not great. Frightful Delusion was the 23rd card, but it pulled its weight—I was doing enough stuff in their EOT that leaving mana up for it was still ok.

It’s got fliers, and it’s got removal, and it even has a bomb. I wouldn’t describe this as a 3-0 deck, though. The removal is all quite clunky, and the fliers aren’t very efficient. I also don’t have much early defense—an Armored Skaab or two would be nice or even a Fortress Crab.

Quarterfinals vs. Oli Oks

The grudge match. Now if only I had a Hysterical Blindness in my board.

Game 1 he mulliganed. I kept this on the draw:

This was a little loose—but it was perfect if I drew lands, and Sensory Deprivation meant I could afford to miss a land drop. Once I hit Deranged Assistant, it didn’t matter if I missed lands for a turn then either, particularly if my second land was an Island. So it was still playable if only one of my top five cards was a land, which is saying something for a one lander. Meanwhile, if two out of the top three were lands, it was one of the best hands I could possibly draw.

Unfortunately, this game was not meant to be. I missed my land for Deranged Assistant for a turn, and then milled six straight Islands with it.




By the third, it sucked. By the fifth, it was just funny. The sixth was rubbing salt in the wound; I couldn’t win by then anyway. I lost this game because he cast Into the Maw of Hell killing my Island and a Nephalia Seakite. Must be nice.

I pulled game 2 out narrowly when he hit a land glut. Game 3 was very tight, and I thought I was winning at one point. But it was one of those games that goes for a thousand turns and comes down to who draws more spells… In the end, it was him ripping three spells while I drew three lands to finish me off.

So that was my GP Melbourne experience. Yes, it would’ve been nice to three-peat winning Australian GPs, but oh well—that’ll have to wait for Auckland later this year. Anyway, I didn’t have much use for the Top 4, so I’m glad the other Aussies got the invites and the plane flights. Dave Crewe taking it down made me happy; he’s a good player and a good guy, and his deck was a lot better than mine.

Next time in Barcelona!

Until then,