GP: New Jersey – I Played G/R Tooth Before It Was Cool

The basic reports from New Jersey, like decklists and top 8 match results, have been on the Wizards site for a week. No doubt reports have also been trickling in to the esteemed editor of this site and should be up soon, detailing the specifics of Day 2 glory. Unfortunately, this is not one of those articles. Despite grand ambition and an attempt at deck-building genius, I managed to finish 6-2-1 in 132nd place. But isn’t there more to playing cards than ridiculous cash prizes?

The basic reports from New Jersey, like decklists and top 8 match results, have been on the Wizards site for a week. No doubt reports have also been trickling in to the esteemed editor of this site and should be up soon, detailing the specifics of Day 2 glory. Unfortunately, this is not one of those articles. Despite grand ambition and an attempt at deck-building genius, I managed to finish 6-2-1 in 132nd place. But isn’t there more to playing cards than ridiculous cash prizes?

Inner monologue:

Doubt it. Damn homie, you better win something soon cuz no one is interested in hearing this whiny”I barely missed again” crap. Are you trying to fill a niche for PTQers that aren’t good enough to be pros? Snap out of it and stop sucking, dude!

I’ve been thinking lately about what the term”tournament report” actually means. Too many of those that I both read and write myself seem boring and formulaic. Granted, the people expect certain things: matchup analyses, sideboarding strats, anecdotes. These guidelines make it easy to be lazy though, and produce pre-packaged articles that require little to no creativity rather than just the mere time to hammer them out.

Is this what people want? Lots of times, sure. But I’m no sycophant and I’m doing it my way. As an English major, I probably shouldn’t have to stoop to this, but here is what Dictionary.com says about reports of this kind:

1. An account presented usually in detail.

2. A formal account of the proceedings or transactions of a group.

3. Common talk; rumor or gossip.

Therein lies my answer. Since my day was mediocre, skip step number one and go straight to the second two. I manage to sneak a few sentences about how much I love the people that play Magic (make that most of them), and enjoy the social aspect of the game into almost all of my articles. So why not write a whole one on it? Sounds like a plan, and here goes.

Rest assured I will not completely separate myself from the beaten path. That means that yes, there will be strategy and even some match specifics. Just remember that this is not the focus. Think of it like this: if this article was part of a Magical card, it’d be the flavor text.

As a primer, read this great tournament report that appeared on the site last week. It’s by my friend and playtest buddy John Davis, with whom I was rooming over the course of the weekend. There were some inconsistencies in there (G/U Tooth? No way! I wrote a whole article on why G/U sucks!), but it is a quick read and quite amusing.

We left for the tournament in two separate cars on Thursday, the purpose of which being to spend some time getting our gamble on in Atlantic City. Now, if you read any good book about how to win money in a gamblin’ town, they all start with a bunch of Rules, one of the most important of which is Do Not Booze While Gambling. This is a good rule – drinking impairs your ability to make good decisions, like betting $31,000 on zero-double zero at the roulette table. But this is also a rule that I usually choose to ignore.

If you think about, everything you do for fun nowadays costs money. You go to a movie and it costs ten bucks for two hours worth of fun – gambling is basically the same idea. I don’t really care if I lose twenty bucks over the course of a few hours, as long as I have a good time doing it, and there’s always that chance you can win no matter how poorly you play. Hence, I choose to booze. Unfortunately, my car didn’t get up to DC around 9pm, putting me in a serious time crunch as far as that goes. Solution: [illegal activities edited out to protect the so very guilty. – Knut]

This turned out to be a mediocre idea; it took us an inordinate amount of time to get to Atlantic City because I had to urinate every twenty minutes. Whoops. I also fell asleep at one point and spilled some Nattie on the seat (sorry Matt). We got there around 1:30 and I proceed to gamble until 10am, at which point I try to sleep with no blanket on a bed of two towels on the hard hotel floor.

Gambling synopsis, Day One (sorry, I lost my notes on sideboarding):

Lost 20 playing poker

Lost 20 playing roulette

Won 72 playing poker

Day Two (I suppose I did make a day two of sorts!):

Lost 25 playing poker

Finals Statistics:

Winnings/Losses: up seven dollars

Waitress Phone Numbers: zero

One dollar drinks consumed: around eight

The next day we drive to the tournament site in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I manage to get some playtesting going with my T&N deck against Affinity, and I am losing horribly unless I hard cast a Platinum Angel. I’m also learning how nasty the Vial is, which I had previously maligned, erroneously. The matchup is about 35-40% in the first game which obviously sucks.

We check into the hotel and I finally get a shower. It was the best solo shower of my life (no specifics on that one – suffice to say my ex-girlfriend is a freak!). I know that as a subset of the MTG population, what I call the”non-hygienics” make up a large portion. This is something that I personally just cannot understand. Is it an ego thing? Does knowing your odor could embarrass a skunk help you psychologically in your matches? Gross. Anyway….

The other people I’m staying with are, in no particular order: Albert, Matt, John Davis, John Mays, Ian Bennet, and Todd Scott. A rack of good players and though some of us had disappointing finishes, some made Day Two as well. More on this in a bit, because now we’re getting to the playtesting section!

Ahhhh, the joys of beating a dead horse. I promise you that this is the last time I will ever write about Tooth and Nail. Everyone knows that the problem with Tooth and Nail is that it has terrible game against Big Red, and is so-so against Affinity. I tried to address these problems by adding Red to the deck. Now this was a spectacular idea, as evidenced by the number of T&N decks in the top 8 that did the exact same thing. Red removal evens the Big Red matchup and takes out Disciples of the Vault, both very good things. It also provides T&N with a fair amount of early game with recursion from Eternal Witness. My problem was that though I had the right idea, I made mistakes selecting which Red removal to run. Here is what I played:

4 Tooth and Nail

4 Sylvan Scrying

4 Magma Jet

2 Fireball

2 Tel-Jilad Justice

2 Reap and Sow

4 Mindslaver

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

4 Eternal Witness

2 Solemn Simulacrum

1 Darksteel Colossus

1 Bringer of the White Dawn

1 Platinum Angel

1 Leonin Abunas

4 Cloudpost

6 Mountain

14 Forest


2 Reap and Sow

2 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Oxidize

2 Tel-Jilad Justice

2 Viridian Shaman

3 Creeping Mold

The problems with this build were simple. My removal wasn’t mana-efficient enough; Tel-Jilad Justice and Magma Jet both cost an extra mana compared to their more efficient twins, Oxidize and Electrostatic Bolt. Furthermore, E-bolt is much better against Affinity, killing Ravagers and Enforcers with ease instead of just the Disciple. I could only think about how Scry would improve my consistency and overlooked the better cards.

The second problem is Mindslaver. I love this card and it can single-handedly wreck opponents. However, it’s too slow against a lot of the decks out there and I drew it way too often in my opening hand, not to mention sideboarding it out a lot. Relegating it to the sideboard is the correct choice and would have allowed me to use a much fuller complement of removal and enablers. If I could rebuild this deck these are the changes I would make to the main deck:

-4 Mindslaver

-2 Fireball

-2 Tel-Jilad Justice

-1 Bringer of the White Dawn

-1 Magma Jet

+4 Electrostatic Bolt

+2 Oxidize

+2 Solemn Simulacrum

+1 Reap and Sow

+1 Duplicant

Here is my fast rundown of the matches I played and how I did:

Round 1 – Bye.

Round 2 – DC Green. I kill his stuff, Mindslaver a lot, then get BWD. Game two he’s mana screwed.

Round 3 – Enter poker story. The second time I went to the Hold ‘Em tables in Atlantic City, I managed to win 72 bucks, as described above. What it doesn’t say is that it could have been well over 200 bucks, and here’s why. Four separate times I was betting heavily on my pocket pair or A-K offsuit or a similar good hand against the drunkest dude at our table. Each of these four hands he flopped a Flush on the river, including the last hand that I played, which cost me 20 bucks. Round three was kind of like that: there is a guy playing Tooth and Nail to my right, and the same to my left. Their opponents are both playing scrubby rogue decks, one of them is a 5-color Bringer deck and the other was so strange I had no idea what it was. I would have loved to play either of these guys – but sitting in the middle, what do I get matched with?

If you said G/R, you win a prize. I get stomped into oblivion with a complete failure to keep more than two lands on the table. Moral: sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Round 4 – Affinity. This loss really rankled for a number of reasons. First, he was playing a weird (and probably sub-optimal) list that includes Somber Hoverguards and Moriok Riggers main. [Well, yer half right. – Knut, writing a block article soon to wrap up the season] He’s also a pretty bad player, missing some obvious plays and several Disciple activations. In the second game I snag Leonin Abunas / Angel, and he topdecks double Shrapnel Blast for the win.

Round 5 – U/G Shard/Witness. I get him with a massive attack on turn 3 of 5 of extra turns, with a Mindslaver and a Fireball in hand.

Round 6 – U/G Shard/Witness, against playtest buddy Todd Scott. It’s not an eventful match, as I win first game on the back of Colossus and the second by Reap and Sowing his Islands about 5 times. Now that Todd’s game affects my tie-breakers, he proceeds to win his next match and then concede. Wha-wha-wha-what? Yup. Since I missed Day Two by five slots on tiebreakers, I can’t help but wonder if this had anything to do with it. I’ll never know, but I don’t really hold grudges. The next time we play against each other karma will certainly be on my side.

Round 7 – Affinity. First game I hard-cast an Angel and he doesn’t have a way to remove it and scoops. In the second game, the hate is devastating, and he scoops to Abunas / Angel with no permanents except a Darksteel Citadel.

After this quick win I actually had a chance to go grab pizza and stuff in the lobby-area. The tournament was held in the”RexPlex” which is a kind of indoor sports arena, complete with a skatepark and indoor soccer field just like the one I play on in DC. There is also an arcade, which led to one of the more interesting phenomena of the tournament: DDR.

Better known as Dance Dance Revolution for the uninitiated, it was quite a spectacle. I have never played myself, and I’m not sure I would enjoy it that much. But the DDR freaks in attendance went hog wild, often drawing as much or more of a crowd than the feature matches. As far as I could tell, the (disputed) champion was a lanky long-haired fellow wearing all black. I crowned him DDR King on the stairs; he was modest.

Round 8 – Feature matchup with Antonino De Rosa! Hooray! Playing Affinity! Boooo.

This was not actually a feature matchup, I was just calling it that because of my opponent. He had rebounded from two straight match losses after his byes ran out to be 5-2. He taught me an important lesson here that I will impart with all of you at home – it’s about clock management.

In the first game, he started out after mulliganing with as slow a hand as I could hope for. I got out a Mindslaver on my fourth turn, sitting pretty at seventeen life, opposed to his Froggy, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Disciple. On his turn, he starts counting and he’s taking quite a while doing the math. A few times I try to prod him along and he tells me that if he takes too long I can call a judge. Being the donkey that I am, I do not call a judge. My reasoning was simple: I’ve been selected for the coveted position of coverage team for StarCityGames.com for whichever big tournament they decide to cover next. Antonino is one the pros that the Knut hangs out with at these things, and I didn’t want him to tell all the other pros that I was that stupid kid who called a judge on him at GP: NJ. So I let him take all the time he wants, which is about twenty minutes. This culminates in my getting smashed for all seventeen points and dropping game one.

Now there are about twenty minutes left in the round when we go to game two. This situation puts me in a lot of pressure; if I want to win, I have to win two games straight, and I’ve got the (much) slower deck. Before the second game begins, Antonino asks me why I glanced at the top card of my deck twice before deciding whether to mulligan. I’m not sure if I even did this, but he calls over a judge to make sure my sleeves aren’t marked. Now I have a feeling that the purpose of this was not really to make sure my deck wasn’t marked, but to chew a few more minutes off the clock; I didn’t ask the judge for any more time because I wasn’t aware of how much it would become a factor. I manage to win this game but by the time we go to game three there’s hardly any time left.

This was what Antonino was doing by managing the clock; putting himself in a position where only he could win the match, and the worst he could do was get a draw. I came out into a commanding position in the third game by entwining T&N for Abunas / Angel; at the end of extra turns I could only get him to six life. He did manage to draw a single Shrapnel Blast, but I think chances are I would have won that game if we’d had the time (I was holding an Oxidize in hand in case he drew a Nexus). I drew this match and finished 132nd; Antonino, with his three byes to my one, finished 126th. I made sure, however, that this lesson wasn’t wasted.

Overall, I split against Affinity, going 1-1-1.

Round 9 – Mono-Green Tooth. I win the first game despite being Mindslavered three times and getting two Tooths wasted. He couldn’t draw any gas. I win the second game by getting the God Draw and smashing a lot of face.

So that was the end of the tourney for me. Both John Davis and John Mays of my roomies made day two, and I have some spectacular pictures of Mays on my cell phone,”celebrating” making day two by hugging his family jewels in his sleep. It must have paid off, because he got 32nd and a rack of cash.

Finally, time for something completely different! Another thing that’s great about large tournaments is there are often artists in attendance to autograph cards: in this case, Dan Frazier, Donato Giancola, and RK Post. Since I didn’t want to lug the thing around all day, I hadn’t brought my”Vault” of cards that I never trade; it was a shame since tons of stuff in there was sign-able like Morphlings and my set of Mox Diamonds. But I did manage to grab a few minutes of Dan Frazier’s time to bring you this interview!

Mr. Frazier could go far in the Hemingway look-alike contest they hold every year in Florida. He’s got salt and pepper hair that wraps completely around his chin in a close-cut full beard, a ruddy complexion and gold-rimmed glasses. Everything he does is precise: from the way he signs cards to the quick motions of his felt-tip pen slashing across a play mat as he outlines a demon I’d liken to Juzam Djinn. He takes a second to chat with each player that gives him cards to sign and has a ready smile, coupled with a no-nonsense attitude of efficiency.

Q: How long have you worked for Wizards of the Coast?

A: Since before the time of Magic: the Gathering. The first project I did for them was”The Complete Alchemist” in 1993.

Q: Do you have any other art jobs?

A: I produce fine art for sale. I’ve also done art for other TCGs like Jyhad/Vampire, Battletech, Netrunner, Doomtown, Shadowfist, L5R, and Mythos. If you’re interested in looking at more of my work, go to http://www.danfrazier.com/.

Q: Do you play Magic at all?

A: Not really. Though I like the game, I’m too busy, and I’ve played less than 20 games lifetime. I do have a very cool”Frazier” theme deck though.

Q: You mean like, Kelsey Grammar”Frasier?”

A: (looks at me like I’m a moron, which I am) My name is Dan Frazier. It’s a deck featuring all cards illustrated by me, like the Moxes.

Q: Right, sorry. What’s you favorite part of working for Wizards?

A: They pay money! (laughs) It’s nice to be independent and to do something I love.

Q: Is there a favorite piece of art that you’ve done for MTG?

A: Probably the Onslaught Swamp; it was inspired by the Hudson River School of Art, and 18th Century group that focused mainly on atmospheric details.

Q: Are there any pieces of card-art that you don’t like or would change?

A: (groans) Yes, I don’t want to call attention to it, but I hate Green Ward. I would go back and undo it if I could.

Q: Do you have any say in the design process?

A: Not really. This is how it works – they provide an art description that I sketch. Then they either ask for another sketch or it get accepted and I paint it.

Q: You’ve worked for Wizards for a quite some time. Do you have any funny anecdotes?

A: Sure. I was commissioned to do the artwork for the card ‘Crystal Mox.’ When I spoke to Sandra, I said,”Oh, that’s nice, since I’ve done the art for all the other Moxes.” She responded:”You did the other Moxes?” Back then, when the game was still new, the art directors weren’t as involved in the rest of the process. They never printed Crystal Mox, but the artwork that I did for the card is the artwork on Enlightened Tutor. You can kind of see what I was going for if you noticed the jewels of each color in the Tutor’s crown.

Q: Any advice for young artists out there?

A: If you want to work for Wizards, study the artists that already work for them like Donato and RK Post. When you can do better than them, go ahead and send in your stuff.

Q: Okay, last question. Are you involved in the artwork for Champions of Kamigawa? What can you tell us about the new set?

A: Only that I’m contractually obligated to reveal nothing. Sorry!

That was Grand Prix: New Jersey in a nutshell. I hope I managed to break outside the box and write something a little different. Also, I’m going to the PTQ this weekend in Richmond, and hopefully I’ll be playing something completely different; the rogue in me is starting to get rowdy and I don’t know how long I can keep him bottled up. Until then…

John Matthew Upton

I like back, feed me!

Jmumoo AT yahoo DOT com