Grand Prix Toronto Report (Part 2) *4th*

Mark concludes his tale from Grand Prix Toronto, sharing in-depth draft analysis and game runthroughs. His Top 8 match versus Jelger Weigersma was a mammoth encounter, and Mark experienced both highs and lows while marching towards his outstanding finish. With zero byes, he nearly went all the way… an excellent and enlightening read.

Day 2 began with a trip to the Canadian donut pimpery that they call Tim Horton’s. I found one of these in the US when I was at Grand Prix Columbus, and I do hope they keep spreading. Their prices were much lower than everything else I bought in Toronto, and the coffee was solid with muffins to die for.

The rest of the morning was spent waiting around for the “new and improved” beta version of Reporter to get off its ass and get the first draft going. Eventually, the first set of seatings went up, and I was in pod 5.

And then, hey! We get to move around, since Reporter somehow managed to put some of us in the wrong pods. Stellar.

My first pack presented me with a few playables, and one premium removal spell in Lightning Helix. Since Boros lets me ride Orzhov into Rakdos or Izzet into Azorius, I liked the options that I had with the Helix, and went with it. Second pick, and the stand out card was Devouring Light. I took it, staying on track. Flame-Kin Zealot followed, and I had a good foundation for a R/W beatdown deck. Meanwhile, numerous Stinkweed Imps and other tasty Black cards had floated by, like Shambling Shell and Brainspoil (not what it used to be, I know, but it still kills things). As a result, I expected to see more Izzet than Orzhov in pack 2.

Agreeable Insects

My first two picks in Guildpact were both Giant Solifuges, and I felt like they added a great deal to the aggressiveness of my deck. The second one I was forced to take over an Electrolyze, which I hated doing, but felt that the 4/1 haste guy was stronger (feel free to “disagree” in the forums). Pick 3 yielded an Izzet Chronarch, and pick 4 was a second shot at Electrolyze, which I happily drafted this time. A second Chronarch, a Wee Dragonauts and a few other assorted playables rounded out the second pack.

As much as I was looking for Azorius cards in pack 3, I needed to keep in mind that Blue was a mild splash. I’d do much better if my mana base wasn’t spread too thin, as without consistency my attempt at aggro would fall flat. I’d hoped to see things like Seal of Fire and Cackling Flames, but Minister of Impediments (which was my first pick) and Plumes of Peace were the best I could do. A third pick Azorius Herald and some other warm bodies rounded out that pack, and I, after registering all the crap I wasn’t ever gonna play, put this together:

People say that Boros is generally undesirable because the cards in that guild need to be played early to be effective, making the cards weaker in this crazy world of three- and four-color manabases. I tried to keep an eye on the colors that I was drafting, and made an attempt to only include Blue cards that would be effective in the late game, allowing me to build a manabase that could cast the R/W cards without any trouble. I felt like it had a reasonable chance to get me at least a 2-1, barring color screw or other unpleasantness.

Round 9: Denholm, Derek R

I remember that this guy had drafted R/G/B with a lot of decent stuff including Gleancrawler, Rotwurm, Streetbreaker, and double Fangtail. I managed to get a third turn Minister along with a second turn Slasher, and I started working on his life total. Skyknight showed up to speed things up, while the Minister had bigger and bigger problems to deal with, like a 6/4 for five mana. One of his Fangtails tried to put an end to the Ministry, but a Lightning Helix eliminated the nuisance. With his best creature unable to apply pressure, he fell to my fliers.

Game 2 was quicker, as he powered out 2 Fangtails and grafted them up to be 4/4 each (Helix-proof was the idea, I’m sure). My only offense at the time was a Skyknight and an Equenaut. A timely Withstand kept the Skyknight alive for an additional turn, but it fell to the two pingers. The 3/3, however, wasn’t to be denied. He had Stinkweed Imp in hand but didn’t have the Swamp for it until the turn after he died to the 3/3 flier.

Round 10: Hansen, Matt P

I remember coming out fast game 1, but being put into a race with him pretty quickly. Despite his mulligan to five on the play, he had a turn 5 Gruul Nodorog and was on the verge of finishing me off. My attack would only put him to three so I needed something. Something like… Lightning Helix? Off the top it came in British fashion to steal the game when he was about to attack for the win.

Game 2 I made a truly brilliant play. I had my Izzet Signet, both Chronarchs, and my Electrolyze. After his mulligan he was short on resources, so I Electrolyzed his Rakdos Guildmage and used a Chronarch a turn later to fetch it back. I tried to trade the 2/2 for his Gruul Scrapper but Wildsize said no. This put me at seven. The following turn, with three Plains, three Mountains, and an Izzet Signet in play, I tap the signet and one of each basic to cast a Skyknight, knowing that I could have Electrolyzed the 3/2 and still cast my guy. Smooth. He has two pump spells when he attacks and we’re on to game 3. (Had I cast the Electrolyze, he definitely would have used one of those spells to save his guy, but then he wouldn’t have had lethal and I would have gotten back the Electrolyze again and most likely been far enough ahead to finish him off.)

Game 3 was a disappointment for him. He kept Swamp, Mountain, Squealing Devil, Rakdos Guildmage, Ickspitter, Civic Wayfinder, and some other card. On the draw that’s a damn fine hand (when you have enough Green sources in your deck to expect one, which he did), except that he didn’t see land 3 until I had a four-drop and a five-drop in play. He wasn’t really able to fight back at that point, as he was too far behind.

Round 11: Wiegersma, Jelger

This one was short and disappointing. I lost both games with double-Red spells in my hand, while I drew Plains. He flattened me since I offered so little resistance. His deck was reasonable, and I felt like it would have been a good match if I hadn’t been color-screwed, but alas…

So, I was 2-1 on the day. I was told that x-2-1 (which I was) would make Top 8, so if I was going to make it I needed to 3-0 the next draft pod. No sweat.

The draft started, and I stuck to my guns. I went into the day believing that Blue would be overdrafted and that I should, short of opening up a complete bomb in the color, avoid it (though splashes like the last deck are fine). Despite this fortitude, when I opened up my first pack and the only two options were Screeching Griffin and Peel from Reality, I wavered. Peel is pretty incredible and Griffin, while decent, is not a first pick. Still, I remembered the drafts I’d done so far this weekend, and figured that I’d either be splashing the Peel or abandoning it entirely, so I ignored it and took the flier. I followed that by taking a Siege Wurm, a Golgari Rotwurm, and a Selesnya Sanctuary. The Woodwraith Corrupter surprised me by coming somewhere in the area of 5th-6th, but I felt like I could make good use of it. A few other G/B cards rounded it out, and I kept myself hopeful that a few Orzhov cards would come through, since that was the only guild I had left to look forward to in my ill-formed plan.

So, of course, my first pack in Guildpact is a bit light on juice and the only thing I can really take is a Streetbreaker Wurm, leaving me less hopeful that I won’t end up with a 4-color nightmare. The playables start rolling in, though, as I get a Pillory, a Savage, a third-pick Sword of the Paruns, and a Belfry Spirit. I snag an Orzhov Signet to try to make the mana work out, and pack two comes to a close. One look at my pile after this pack makes it clear to me that I need to get some mana fixing, and I need to be aggressive about it.

A first pick Seal of Doom is followed by a few other warm bodies like Demon’s Jester and Simic Ragworm, but the Rakdos Signet, the Carnarium, and the two Utopia Sprawls were all in my pile by pick 7, leaving me without much in the way of non-mana spells from Dissension, as expected. Thankfully, I felt like I had enough playables and men from the first two sets that I could try to go on the “big fatty boom-boom” plan with all my acceleration. Here’s what I ended up with:

In the end, the mana wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but that’s largely because I was so vigilant about getting the fixers in pack 3. I didn’t have a single Mountain and yet I had four Red sources to cast my one Red spell. The Sprawls looked amazing and I’d heard good things, so I was eager to try them out.

This deck was about casting guys and turning them sideways, plain and simple. I had a few removal spells for must-kill guys and several Wurms for some Dingler-style “card advantage” so I felt like I had a shot. I even had the gut-shot Predatory Focus to steal wins when my men couldn’t clear a path any longer. 3-0 was a long shot as I felt like I didn’t have any insane bombs to call my own, but I figured that if I didn’t get flooded then the early Wurms would give people problems.

Round 12: Moreno, Billy

Game 1 was a frustrating affair. He mulliganed and missed land two for a couple of turns, but since my engine wasn’t running on diesel he had time to get back into it with fun things like Ogre Savant and Thundersong Trumpeter. Every time I’d try for the kill he’d have some piece of removal to shut me down. Char, Condemn, Dogpile, and Fiery Conclusion all made appearances. Finally he was down to one card in hand and I knew it was time to Get In ThereTM. I cast Predatory Focus with a Siege Wurm and a Daggerclaw Imp in play and he, after reading it, called a judge. His question:

BM: “Do the creatures still deal damage to me if they die before they even get to deal damage?”
Judge: “No, they deal no damage.”
Me: “Tell me you’re joking, Billy. You ripped Leap of Flame?”
BM: *thumbs up*
Me: *scoop*

Tough beats.

Game 2 is a blur, sadly. I just know that I won it. Game 3 I came crashing out of the gates, pumping out all three of my Wurms in rapid succession. He had two Trumpeters trying to hold the team back, but they came out a little too late to get the job done, and he died to a Predatory Focus before being given a real chance to stabilize.

Round 13: Maaten, Rogier

This gentleman had a pretty focused B/R beatdown deck, using a good amount of discard and several quick beaters, including three Squealing Devils. Game 1 I was falling behind but was barely able to stabilize at a precarious life total. One of the guys I had out was the Corruptor, and I quickly recruited my two Forests to turn sideways for something other than mana. Thankfully I was able to continue casting guys, and my much larger men eventually put it away.

Game 2 he went first and got a solid start, beating me right before I was going to recover. He had all three Devils here, and their pump ability was pretty key in outracing me.

Game 3 I went first and accelerated out a Corruptor with my Sword of the Paruns and three Forests in play! My turns went turn 1 Utopia Sprawl, turn 2 Signet, turn 3 Sword of the Paruns, turn 4 Corruptor with three Forests in play. I quickly started making 4/4 guys, and his offense was stopped. When I equipped and started swinging, the army of 6/4 guys was too much.

I had been thinking (and as the coverage blog says, hoping) that I would play against Julien Nuijten. He was in my pod and I figured that, after beating Moreno and Maaten, that I must have a reasonable deck and therefore a shot at taking down a World Champ. That, and I was still having fun playing against all these guys that I normally just read about. Sadly, he lost to Nephilim.dec, so it was not to be. I’m sure we’ll get a feature match in Kobe.

Round 14: Breau, Josh A

Josh said that he had a pretty poor deck and that I shouldn’t have much trouble with him. Such talk always makes me nervous, as I typically lose when my opponent talks about how bad their deck is.

Game 1 was a long one. I got out a turn 2 Daggerclaw Imp off of a Sprawl, and started tearing it up. Sadly, an Aquastrand Spider kept me in check and when it grafted up an Indentured Oaf, the beats stopped. I loaded up my board with Belfry Spirit, Sewerdreg, and, eventually, Siege Wurm. Meanwhile a Streetbreaker Wurm and other assorted fatties showed up for him, and we started staring at each other. I had Predatory Focus and lethal damage on the board, but he had three cards in hand and I knew that I’d passed him a Peel From Reality in the draft. Not wanting to go all-in and get my strong hand cracked, I waited for an opening. I never got that opening, really, as he played an Oathsworn Giant and basically forced me to make a move, as I’d lose to his vastly superior army otherwise. Thankfully, he didn’t have the Peel, and I was up a game.

Game 2 was a complete beating. He elected to draw and my acceleration came in just the right amount with my fatties to make for a retarded opening. Turn 1 Sprawl, turn 2 Signet, turn 3 Streetbreaker, turn 4 Rotwurm, turn 5 Corruptor much? I even had the Gather Courage in case things got shaky. It was the stone nuts, and he simply couldn’t do anything to stop me.

That was it! I made it in at 7th and I’m still not quite sure how it happened. I wandered around and talked to all the people I’d been hanging out with that weekend, hoping that they’d ask me how I was doing in the GP. I had a smile on my face that plastic surgery couldn’t remove and was, at that point, mostly just curious what those “red zone” playmats were like, as I’d never touched one before…

The draft started out, and I grabbed a Galvanic Arc. I don’t recall the order of the other cards I grabbed but a Golgari Rotwurm, a Conclave Equenaut, a Fiery Conclusion, and some other men with a Signet rounded out the first pack in my “everything but Blue” Top 8 draft.

Some benevolent deity decided that my deck needed some help, and slipped a Savage Twister into my first Guildpact pack. Obviously there was nothing competing with it, and I took it without hesitation. Hypervolt Grasp followed and then I was blessed again, this time with a third-pick Debtors’ Knell. I picked up a couple of Gruul Scrappers and a signet to round things out.

I’m not exactly sure what I was after in pack three, other than more mana fixing to hold this pile together. The first two picks, however, both yielded Ministers. I felt like those two gave me a shot at overcoming other people’s better creatures, of which I was sure there would be many. Here’s what I ended up with:

When I sat down to play the quarters against Jelger, Julien Nuijten came over with a laptop and said the following:

Julien: “I heard you were hoping that I’d win so that you could crush me?”
Me: “Yeah, man! I had to wade through Moreno and Maaten to get to you, and I figured that you’d be waiting for me. Then I heard that you’d lost to the Nephilim deck. What the hell happened?”
Julien: *shrug* “My mana didn’t roll out properly, and I got taken out.”

Quarterfinals: Jelger Wiegersma

Pretty soon we were given the green light to start, and things got underway. I kept a modest hand game 1 with a Signet and a four-drop (Screeching Griffin) and some other stuff. Sadly, his four-drop was better, despite the fact that he was mildly color-screwed. His Bottled Cloister made my Griffin look pretty pathetic and I groaned inwardly, knowing that I had no maindeck method of removing that card. I tried to make a game of it, but he freely threw cards away, trying to keep me at bay. He Helixed my Ragworm and I burned Gaze of the Gorgon to try to keep the pressure on. He threw a Beacon Hawk and a Terraformer in front of the same Ragworm when I had, like, six untapped mana. This prompted the quote “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that” that was in the coverage, as I knew that if I had tried to make a trade like that my opponent would have doubtless had Wildsize or something to punish me. Alas, I had nothing, and my 3/3 died, taking the other two guys with it. After that I couldn’t mount an offense through his wall of card advantage. I slipped Protean Hulk out, but it was a simple affair for Plumes of Peace to deal with, and his fliers mowed me over shortly after.

I went through my sideboard for something to help me and managed to pass right over the Cloister-smashing Tin-Street Hooligan. Just wasn’t thinking, I suppose. Thankfully I didn’t need the Hooligan in game 2, as I was on the play and my deck hit the ground running. I had a turn 2 Aquastrand Spider, turn 3 Minister of Impediments, turn 4 Sporeback Troll, and turn 5 Conclave Equenaut that I convoked out using the Minister. His first play was the Cloister on turn 4, which I didn’t mind seeing because I knew that it would be too late this time. He made a Snapping Drake to block with on turn 5, and when I picked up my Minister to tap it Jelger shouted, “Block!” He had me for a moment, and it took a second for me to see the grin on his face. “You Dutchies are sooooooooooo funny,” was my witty retort as he scooped up his cards.

Game 3 was by far the best one, and I’m not only saying that because I won. He got off to a fast start with a pair of Ghost Wardens and the Impulse guy, also known as Court Hussar. My Ragworm came out on turn 3, but his board prevented me from getting through while he got to freely swing, since his 1/3 could go 3/5 on me and there was little I could do to stop it. He was working on my life total but he must not have felt that it was going quickly enough, as he ran Snapping Drake out there. Now things were getting desperate. I looked despondently at my hand and saw Savage Twister, Conclave Equenaut, Silhana Ledgewalker, and Gruul Scrapper and just said go. He drew his card, beat for a few points, and looked at me, sizing me up, so to speak.

“How many Savage Twisters are you holding?”

I freaked out and tried to keep the poker face going, by saying the following:

“Come on Jelger, if I’d had any, don’t you think I’d have sided them in?”

He looked at me for a few more moments before playing out Azorius Herald and Terraformer. I suppose he decided to run it and go for the kill. Unfortunately for him, I did have the Twister, and when I untapped and went aggro with my Ragworm he gave me a quizzical look. It was blocked and I cleared the board, dropping my 3/3 flier and feeling like I was gonna be okay. It wasn’t over, I soon discovered, as he had the newest outpost in his hand (Pride of the Clouds) and started making 1/1 fliers. My Scrapper and Equenaut started Getting In There and trying to make a race of it, as he tried to hold me off with the tokens. With two tokens in play he decided to run the Pride itself out there. I killed it with Fiery Conclusion, ditching my useless Ledgewalker, and kept charging. At this point I was all out of gas and needed some help. Draw good card? Whiff. Draw good card? Negative. He played out his second Pride of the Clouds to join the two 1/1 flying tokens he had and I started getting desperate. Draw good card? Ah, Debtors’ Knell. That’ll do. I had the Knell so I didn’t worry about stuff dying anymore, prompting me to send in the Scrapper to tangle with his “3/3” Pride of the Clouds. It took me a second to understand why he wasn’t putting his guy in the bin too, and then I saw the Equenaut. *sigh*

Still, by getting back his other Pride I felt like things were going my way again. He swung and I happily offered the trade, not noticing the Prahv in play (Julien gives me a bit too much credit in the coverage; I didn’t notice it at all). That was careless of me, but it took his entire turn to do that and I just kept getting the Pride back each turn. I started drawing guys while this little dance occurred each turn, and things started to turn against him, as my force started getting pretty impressive. He found his Cloister, but I wasn’t sure how much it would help him here. Then, one turn, he doesn’t use Prahv and both Prides die while he follows up with his Sphinx. Knowing that he still has a Helix somewhere in his deck and that I’m at seven, I get back a Pride from him and keep it, my Equenaut, and my Griffin on defense while only sending in some ground-pounder (Rotwurm, I think). He chumps it with his last Pride token, I cast Protean Hulk, and I’m done. He untaps, gets back his hand, draws the Cloister card, and sits there for at least a full minute, doing math. He finally, forecasts two Plumes of Peace, tapping down my Pride and Equenaut, and draws his card. He taps four more in his precombat main and Steamcores my Griffin, and then confidently turns his Sphinx sideways, now that the path is clear. I look at the board in disbelief, seeing his mana (one White, one Blue, and one Red open) and feel like I don’t have any outs. I can sacrifice my Hulk to my Rotwurm to get some guys, but what do I get? I need something to block that Sphinx, lest the Helix in his hand finish me off. The problem is that my two fliers were both out of the deck already, and I couldn’t think of anything else that would help (It didn’t occur to me until later that the Aquastrand Spider may have still been in the library. I can’t remember now but I don’t think I’d drawn it by then.) So, resigned to my fate of losing this match, I took the five and waited for the Helix to finish me off. Five seconds go by, and then ten. No Helix. Was he slowrolling me? I inquired about the Helix and he sadly shook his head. What else then? Steamcore #2? Cackling Flames? Seal of Fire? Negative on all of those. He tapped out and cast Plumes of Peace on my Pride, then said, “go.”

Very strange. Why did he attack? He was at something like eight life and only had a Steamcore Weird on defense, which was not enough against my army. I untapped, got back the other Pride, and turned everything sideways, unsure of what I was missing. Turns out I wasn’t missing anything, as he extended the hand, ending the match.

Nimble Mong-Noose (sorry)

In retrospect, I think he knew that he had nothing and couldn’t kill me so he went with his only out: give me the chance to hang myself. My only source of Black mana (to activate the Rotwurm) was a Signet and I had no way to use the other mana out of it, so that’s one mana burn. If I screw up and take another damage somehow, that’s match. It’s thin, I know, but it’s all he had and he went with it. In such situations, that’s all you can do. Jelger knows what he’s doing and I’m sure he’s won a few hopeless games like that one by giving his opponent the chance to screw it up. I enjoyed the match and Jelger was a great opponent.

Semifinals: Antonino DeRosa

I’d love to have as much to write about the semis, but they were amazingly anticlimactic after the match I’d just played. Antonino came over and the playful banter started. My opening grip on the draw in game 1 was Mountain, Mountain, Plains, Hypervolt Grasp, Transluminant, Galvanic Arc, and Sporeback Troll. I agonized a bit over this one, but knew that Green was my main color and that if I kept this hand and didn’t draw a Forest very soon, I’d have nothing and get run over. Since I was on the draw, I knew that a mulligan wouldn’t hurt too badly… so I tossed it. The rest is history, as the next land I see is in the four-card hand. Antonino doesn’t need to do anything more than cast 2/2 guys and attack, as I have nothing.

Game 2 I’m on the play and I think my hand is Plains, Plains, Forest, Mountain, Signet, Utopia Sprawl, and Aquastrand Spider. Should I have kept? I don’t think so, but at the time all I could think about was the previous game, which is something that players are warned about time and again. That hand had too much mana yet I ran it anyway, figuring “eh, I’ll draw spells.” A look at my decklist will show that it is a full 50% mana, with 16 lands, 3 Signets, and a Utopia Sprawl. Naturally, I drew some lands and ended up with a mana flood, as I should have. Antonino had a solid deck and I felt like I could have given him a run for it, but I made a bad call and that was it. Whatever, I still got 4th, a position in the tournament that I’m more than happy with.

Julien did an amazing job covering all the action from his tableside view, with the beats and the cards both flying pretty fast. I can’t decide if my favorite moment in the Top 8 is the “chump-attack” (clever phrase, I must say; Flores-worthy, even) I pulled in game 3 of the quarters, or the way my deck totally failed to show up at all in the semis. Perhaps that deity felt that it was time to pay up.

So, that’s the experience. I went with Vienneau to get a steak and some cold potatoes to celebrate my string of topdecks and savage draft picks. I just found out that there’s another Grand Prix in St. Louis, and I’m considering making a run at it. I recommend that other people do the same, as this is possibly the best Limited format I’ve ever played.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Lovin
questingphelddagrif on MTGO