You know, I used to play Magic. Like, way back when the horseless carriage was being unveiled, and eighty percent of people worked as carnival barkers. Now, I never played well… But boy, did I play. These days, even with Magic Online making sure I can never get out entirely, I’ve been playing only sporadically. A PTQ here, a draft there. I don’t know how I got duped into running in the Grand Prix.
Let me tell you something, and this advice you can have for free: If you’re going to play in a tournament, do remember to play the game a few times in the week before. Failing that, at least pick up a card and read it. Something, anything, to put your mind back in the appropriate groove. That way when you’re racing for the title of Champion of the Universe, your trigger will do something besides make you look foolish.
Suffice it to say that my time leading up to our departure was spent slaving in front of my computer for my boss and new arch-nemesis instead of testing Onslaught limited. Add to that my continued illness and it was almost enough to make me bail on the trip. After all, what business did I have playing Magic? Ultimately, I couldn’t skip out on friends counting on me to split gas and hotel. So come Friday morning I was shivering at York Mills subway station, waiting for the pick-up.
Captaining my madcap misadventures was my teammate and good friend Jeremy Elgar, who’s spent the last few PTQ’ eclipsing the skills that earned him a spot at PT LA 2000 with egregious misplays. I’d be playing the role of Navigator, and cluttering up the bowery were Matt and Mike Lewis. Much as I like Matt, I can’t stand the fact that he seems to win every other qualifier while I wallow in 3-2-1 finishes. His brother Mike is more along the ride than anything else, still a comparative rookie.
The trip down was like eight hours of Girls Gone Wild! videos. That’s possibly an exaggeration. We did get lost in scenic Queenston when we decided to stop for a bite to eat. The problem was that the people of Queenston are apparently harvested from pods and require no food to stay alive. There was literally nothing in this town but row after row of houses with sculpted hedges and smiling folks in too-similar cardigans. Rather than tip them off to our humanness by asking for directions we left the Stepford Wives to their own sinister machinations, crossed the border, and took in some Wendy’s. Matt speeded up our entry to the US with his tech of”Card Convention.” Worked like a charm.
Aside from a speeding ticket, things went pretty easily from there. We even lucked into reasonable radio stations along the way. Now, the GP was to take place in a town called, ridiculously, King of Prussia. Its sister town was Valley Forge, however, and not”New Siam” like I expected. I think this crossed some wires in MapQuest, and it ended up giving us directions to Prussia, or perhaps the Prussian consulate in Pennsylvania. Either way, we got really close before veering off wildly in the wrong direction. Half an hour and some very patient service station attendants later, we were safe in our hotel.
Morning came far too early and with no complimentary breakfast. I hid behind my earphones with The Birthday Massacre. I reg’d an uninteresting pile, and was handed back something better. Here’s what I built.
Grand Prix – Philadelphia Sealed Deck
2 Nosy Goblin
2 Severed Legion
Disciple of Malice
Chain of Plasma
Chain of Smog
- Look at that removal! Clearly I had to play red, and black was too tasty to pass up. Maybe I like Severed Legion too much. I don’t know. My other colours were shallow and bombless. White had one flier and not enough soldiers for Catapult Master to be more than a Golem. Blue had two Mistform Walls, Mistform Dreamer, and Meddle. Playing Green meant playing a lot of 1/1’s to go with my fatties. I chose to splash for them instead.
- Spitting Gourna languished in my sideboard, and probably should have replace the always-cycled Disciple of Malice. Speaking of which, I don’t think I cycled my Mauler often enough. I kept being swayed by the 4/4 in the corner.
- Chain of Smog. Said Jer,”Are you sure this is the right time to be experimenting?” It turned out to be pretty good. The reasoning was that sealed deck is more about your slow bombs than anything else, and the Chain can take care of that. Going first, it was always Bog Down.
- My mana felt a little clumsy every round, serving up triple red, single black with me holding Severed Legion and Death Pulse on more than one occasion. Maybe it wanted eight Swamp, seven Mountain?
- No one could believe I was actually playing in the event. Not that I can blame them.
On to the hilarity. Here’s my GP – Philly experience in eight cards.
Round 1, Bye: Dream Chisel
My 1800 limited rating gave me time to reach full consciousness. Our crew compared decks and things looked… Fine. Jer’s deck was unexciting but solid. Matt Lewis realised too late that his white splash was pretty awesome, but at least he had a game two plan.
And then there was Mike. Thumbing through Mike’s deck, I found the Dream Chisel. He looked at me:”What, it’s not good?” I mean, cut him some slack, he’s new. Matt gave him a quick tutorial, and a better deck for game two, and Mike managed to pull out 5-3 on the day.
Comedy interlude: While driving to a nearby mall for some breakfast, Jer and I wound up on the interstate. Though unsigned, if you turned right out of the hotel parking lot, you were already riding the on-ramp. Fortunately, the”random road” algorithm served us well. We gambled on a diner and lost. I ask you this: What kind of diner doesn’t serve All-Day Breakfast? I choked down a terrible sandwich and chose to have Arby’s bat cleanup.
To think I passed up $4 Funnel Cakes for all that!
Round 2, Steve Horowitz: Nantuko Husk
Yeah, I knew this would happen… The obligatory writer-as-player Feature Match. Steve was about as thrilled as I was. There’s coverage at the Sideboard, but I’m not going to link to it. I played this match so badly, I can’t even begin to describe. If you’d like, you can go and count the ways I misplayed my opponent’s Nantuko Husk. Feel free.
I would like to draw your attention to this picture: Moments after this photo was snapped I would make a huge blunder. But look at me there, deep in thought! What’s actually going on there is that I’m trying to play Magic but none of my autopilots are working. I honestly couldn’t figure out a trivially easy game state. I think if I had played Magic the day before, this wouldn’t have happened.
Also, Nantuko Husk is a real kick in the junk, just so you know. Even without handing my opponent damage and card advantage.
Round 3, James Olsen: Flamestick Courier
James seems like a nice enough guy, if a little nervous. I’m too busy beating myself up about playing like a five year-old to make too much small talk. Game one sees me continue some fine form when I swing Nosy Goblin into active Flamestick Courier. My hand of Death Pulse and Severed Legion were waiting on my third swamp (number one having been hit by Lay Waste), and rather than think about the play, I just turned my guy sideways. James even double-checks with me that the Courier can pump itself. Oh, it can. How embarrassing.
We get into a topdecking war and he busts up my side with Slice and Dice, then plays some men. If I’d had that Nosy Goblin, I probably wouldn’t have extended so far.
Game two I play around Slice and Dice quite nicely, but since my board is already Nosy and Festering Goblin, James cycles it and gets a three-for-one all the same. The game goes long, and he ends up Cloning Rotlung Reanimator, then drawing removal for mine. I draw lands, and lose.
Ugh. 1-2. That’s not the Swiss Gambit, that’s some sort of sick joke. I consoled myself with some quick fights versus Brian David-Marshall. Dave Price walked by, saw my board of red and black Ogres and said”Oh well, you’ll probably draw your green cards soon.” Price was playing green. BDM was playing green. Horowitz was playing green. The rest of my crew were playing green. I was playing Grey Ogre and (2): Draw a card. Maybe everyone else was on to something.
Round 4, Mike Patton: Sparksmith
Good lord, Sparksmith. Everyone who tells you how good Sparksmith is is right. Mike’s white/green deck is ill-equipped to deal with it, and every turn I play a monster and kill one of his. It wasn’t very pretty. Game two was a little closer, but his Centaur Glade showed up too late. After the match, Mike revealed that he had two (!!) Glades. I count my blessings and turn in my first match win.
Blame lack of caffeine for the brevity here. I hit the hotel gift shop soon after, and the Good Doctor started to lift my spirits.
Round 5, Steve Klingele: Chain of Smog
I’m feeling a little more with it as I sit down across from Steve. We chat a bit and he mentions that he’s just coming back to the game after a break. I hope for an easy match, but his skills haven’t rusted. My removal comes home huge and I’m sitting on Tephraderm and Nosy Goblin opposite his eight lands. He busts out Towering Baloth. I attack, he lets it by, dodging my Pinpoint Avalanche. I drop Avarax.
He untaps and Erratic Explosions … Me. A picture of Wave of Indifference pops into my head. That’s when I know my skills are coming back, when the decisions and information come fast like that. I’m at eleven. He starts flipping. Forest, forest, mountain, mountain…
Towering Baloth. Eight to the puss. I just assume I’m dead. He passes it back. My mind starts whirring. What does he have that makes him shoot me with the explosion? He’s got nine land, six untapped, and only got one card in hand. I look at my grip of Chain of Smog, Pinpoint Avalanche, and Goblin Sledder. He has to block Avarax or Tephraderm, or he’ll die. I have seven lands. I drop the Sledder and swing. He blocks Avarax. I can just tap out and kill the Baloth, leaving me with Nosy, Tephraderm and an untapped Sledder, as well as Pinpoint Avalanche in reserve.
I pump Avarax to 5/3, then sacrifice Nosy before damage for the last point. I’m scared to death of dying to some topdecked haste creature. My last two mana trade Chain of Smog and Pinpoint Avalanche for his mystery card. Steve frowns.
Now, Steve’s a big guy, and that frown was terrifying. He calls me an appropriate epithet before turning over his card: Searing Flesh. He draws a chump blocker, and then a land.
Game two is much less interesting, with him mulliganing and my Chain snagging his Dragon Roost en route to victory.
Well, that felt good. It was getting to the point where I didn’t think I could find the right play even with the help of a Family Circus-style path. Nice to know some of my instinct is intact. Of course, I still ignore it most of the time. My last PTQ, I strolled right into my opponent’s Starstorm. I think my inner conversation went something like this:
Sanity – Five lands and no play!? He must have some board-clearing spell! It’s Starstorm!
Impulsiveness – Don’t be ridiculous, Starstorm is a rare. Play out the rest of your dudes.
Opponent – Starstorm for four?
Sanity – Well as long as you’re ignoring me, I’m gonna hit the gin.
Round 6, Michael”Chunk” Ricciardi: Insurrection
Apparently everyone loves Chunk, and why not? He seemed like a hell of a guy when we played, taking manascrew much better than I would have. He also got the attentions of a nearby Jill Costigan and a monster hug from Zev Gurwitz. That’s a quality fanclub. He was pretty laid-back, but I guess it’s hard to be gung-ho about being 3-2.
The most memorable part of the match happened right away. Turn two of our first game, Chunk dropped Insurrection next to his mountain and said”Go.” I gawked. He assumed, reasonably, that I hadn’t heard him. I could only manage an”Uh” as I directed him to the table. He didn’t even flinch, just shook his head very slowly.
“Well, that was a gift.”
And it was. I would have hit him with the Chain when I did all the same, I think, but it sure made the decision easier. Of course, he got to draw first off our mutual Mind Twist, and his playing green made his draws just that much better against me. He took the first game.
Game two saw me start with Festering Goblin, (Sparksmith), and Nosy Goblin. He didn’t have removal, and so didn’t get to keep many creatures on the board. The third game he stalled at three mana, and I think there’s some relay in my brain that triggers whenever my opponent is manascrewed, forcing me to play worse. I fumbled to an unsatisfying victory.
Waiting for the start of the next round, I showed my deck to PT veteran and Toronto fixture Gab Tsang, who was riding high at 6-0. He had this to say:”Dudes and removal might not be enough.” That goes double when your guys have two power and no evasion. Big green creatures seemed more important than ever. I looked through my board again. The Gourna, the Elven Riders, but then a bunch of 1/1s and 1/2s. I hoped I was running the best I could do.
Round 7, James Lucy: Syphon Mind
James is, like Chunk, a little less than thrilled about sitting with two losses. The first game features some back and forth, with him playing what look like substandard dudes and running a defensive game. I keep waiting for his fatties, but they don’t come. I probably should have had lunch, because no alarms went off when my Chain of Smog on his four cards catches Wave of Indifference and Erratic Explosion. He untaps and drops the Roost. I play a whole turn before I realise that he’s at fifteen and there aren’t cards in my deck to rescue this one.
I’m more than a little scared as I board for game two. I’ve got Demystify and Nova Cleric waiting in the wings, but I can’t play them off two plains, and I really don’t want to destroy my mana for fear of one card. At some point here I decide that I’m a super genius. His creatures are bad and Dragon Roost needs seven lands to get going. I side in a pair of Syphon Minds, thinking I can just tax his resources and bash him.
Really, I have no idea what brought that about. I didn’t really”work.” I mean, I cast Syphon Mind in one game, but it was more like Unhinge than some incredible masterstroke. Also, I managed to see Slice and Dice coming despite not having seen it in the previous game, saving myself a Barkhide Mauler. The third game James drew a bunch of lands and no Roost, and I took the match.
I managed to overhear the tale of Neil Reeves versus The Idiotic Deck. Apparently, someone in the tournament had two Quicksilver Dragons, Silvos, Gigapede, and Centaur Glade. J.T. Money did not emerge victorious. It’s decks like that that prompted Brian Hegstad to call Onslaught the Worst Sealed Deck Format Ever. In his words,”It’s like you might as well just write down how many broken cards you have and compare numbers. I’ve got two…. Oh, four, you got me!” Now, I don’t think it’s that extreme, but there is some of that. I saw someone in the 180-person PTQ get handed a double-Sparksmith, tons of removal, Rorix, Visara deck. Good for him.
Round 8, Tom Choma: Plains
Tom and I are both playing for pride, and we know it. Fortunately that means I have very little at stake.
At one point I swing in with my two green fatties and Tom double blocks both to kill them. Rather than split the damage from my Lorian 3-2 on his Gustcloak Sentinel and newly-summoned morph, I just throw it all on the Sentinel, ostensibly playing around Piety Charm. I don’t know if this was right at all. I don’t know how much of a danger that Sentinel was going to be, but I wanted it out of there. My terrible play continued with me not even trying to read his morph guy. He didn’t swing into my Cabal Archon, so clearly it wasn’t Daru Lancer. That meant it was probably Daru Healer. Of course, I ignored all that and charged in. Good thing I won that game anyways. How awful.
The second game, I was trying to keep my head on straight and play right, but every turn Tom would drop a plains and look at me like he was just waiting for me to kill him. I was doing my best not to be bamboozled. They kept coming. Plains. Plains. Plains. And every time that same look, like he was bored with being alive and why couldn’t I kill him? It wasn’t even a bluff! At the end of the game he turned over three more lands to go with the eleven on board!
He assured me his deck was awful, and turned it out to prove it. It was. 5-2 with that pile and no byes was nothing to sneeze at. Pity I had to make it 5-3.
So, 6-2 with one bye. Good for 100th place. No amateur prize, of course. Of the thirty-nine 6-2s, I was number thirty-six. Even shelving my terrible breakers for a second, there were at least sixteen amateurs in the Top 64. Plus, it’s hard to celebrate a good record when you play as badly as I did.
I had fun though. It turns out Magic really is a lot of fun. Shocking, I know. I think I’d had enough for the weekend, though. I spent Day 2 not working for the Sideboard. It was refreshing to let everyone else be busy for a change.
Blake”No really, Stratadon in mono-black” Manders is on hiatus from his post as my arch-nemesis. He’s busy working towards his goal of”Controlling Interest in Money.” Step One was to acquire cronies, which he has apparently already completed.