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

With zero byes and low expectations, Mark managed to impress the world and confound the odds to finish in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Toronto! Today he regails us with part 1 of his report, cataloging his Day 1 performance and Sealed deck building techniques. Cracking the good stuff helps, but you need more than luck to raise hell from zero byes… read on to hear Mark’s tale!

I’d like to start this report by stating that opportunities can come from places that you’d never expect. I went to Grand Prix Richmond with my three byes in tow and was all set. On Friday afternoon I checked into the hotel and caught the shuttle over to the site, planning on getting my draft on and seeing those in attendance. As the shuttle was about to leave, the last seat was taken by a guy who looked oddly familiar. I took a second look and, yeah… it was Matt Vienneau. For those who don’t read a lot of Pro Tour/Grand Prix coverage, this guy, all during the Invasion Block Limited season, won two Grand Prixes and made Top 8 in two others. That’s pretty insane.

I wasted no time in striking up a conversation, since I’m the kind of PTQ scrub that would have been a great barn, if only there were any pros local to where I lived. He was pretty mellow and had a lot of good stories about years past in the game, so we got along pretty well that weekend. Right before I left, he mentioned that there was a GP in Toronto and that I should come up to hang out with him and play. I wasn’t sure if he was serious at the time, but I emailed him and set it up. Next thing I knew, I was on the way to Canada!

Matt lives in a 12th story apartment in Toronto with a nice view of the city, where he was kind enough to let me crash. I arrived on the Thursday before the GP and actually ended up playing dodgeball with him and his team. Those who think that the game looks easy after watching Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn need to know that it is a pretty athletic game. Being out of shape sucked pretty fiercely, as I spent the rest of the weekend with sore muscles and a savage blister on my foot.

Friday morning/afternoon was nothing more than getting into some Dissension release events online, and trying to get warmed up for the next day. Matt went 3-3 in a 4x event, and I went a busty 2-3 in a 2x event. Needless to say, we weren’t feeling all that hot about the next day. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting crushed in a prerelease to make you feel ready to take on the world at a Grand Prix.

Season 3 of Lost has REALLY gone donwnhill...

Friday evening was all about going to the site and trying to get some practice drafts together. Rich Hoaen lives pretty close to Matt, and he had some pros staying with him who were eventually going to make their way to Charleston, so we had plenty of people. We ended up doing two drafts, and some of the names we had on board were the aforementioned Hoaen, Vienneau, David Rood, Anton Jonsson, and probably more that I didn’t recognize at the time. I made the observation in both of these drafts that people in general seemed to dig Blue. I rarely saw decent Blue cards, and had I taken any of the ones that I opened I would have quickly been forced to switch because of the dearth of good picks. People have been saying for quite some time now that Blue is the best color and, if each of the colors is being split evenly, I’m forced to agree. It’s pretty insane in that scenario. However, in a draft, people always want the nuts all to themselves. So, as one might expect, it’s often overdrafted. More on this later.

Saturday morning we rolled out to the site, and I prepared for a long day of grinding it out with no byes at all. On the subject of byes, one of the things I’ve learned from my years of reading coverage and playing in Grand Prix is the fact that making day 2 with no byes is insanely difficult in a Limited format, as you need to have a deck that can go at least X-1-1 or better and you can’t afford to have more than one bad match in terms of draws. Since I had no byes to this GP, I was intimidated by what I had to do just to make Day 2. It turns out that it was just my day.

We did the typical registration-and-pass thing, and I got a deck that I was honestly afraid to look at. What if it sucked? What if the cards were okay but the mana wasn’t manageable? What if I had no bombs? I hesitantly opened up the box to read the following, which was written on the inside of the flap:

Donovan Harvie

Seems saucy. Not sure who you are Donovan, but thanks for the card pool! Here it is:

I now offer the expected white space to build with.

Pretty nuts, isn’t it? The funny thing about this is that I had had some wishful thoughts of the bombs that I wanted to have in my sealed deck, and Angel of Despair (with other White and Black cards to support it, of course) was at the top of the list. It turns out that I wished well, as the Vindictive 5/5 flier is nigh unstoppable.

She was exactly the kind of juice I was after, and I was pretty excited to rip into this one. I looked at the Black and White cards next and was pleased to see that there was enough support to play her, especially since two of my other bombs (Rakdos Guildmage and Unliving Psychopath) were in Black. Looking solely at those two colors I saw 13 playables for my deck. All I needed now was a few good men. But which ones?

Green had some decent stuff, but nothing that I got overly excited about. As much as I love Wildsize, that’s the only card in this Green that I really love. Wow, how often do you see a Sealed pool where Green isn’t really an option? Pass.

Red had some good stuff and a huge bomb in Fusillade, but seemed to lack depth. Its contribution to the Rakdos Guildmage is inconsequential and its creature base isn’t quite what I was after. Pass, but with the Carnarium I need to keep that Fusillade in mind.

Blue, for once in my Sealed career, has the cards to shine. Four fliers (counting Helium Squirter), Compulsive Research, Flight of Fancy, and the mana-fixing Terraformer. I even had a couple of playable Dimir cards to consider too, so Blue ended up being the best choice by far.

With the addition of that good stuff, a deck began to take shape:

Divebomber Griffin
Conclave Equenaut
Shrieking Grotesque
Courier Hawk
Unliving Psychopath
Necromancer’s Magemark
Helium Squirter
Compulsive Research
Torch Drake
Tidewater Minion
Snapping Drake
Flight of Fancy
Surveilling Sprite
Angel of Despair
Twisted Justice
Orzhov Signet
Voyager Staff
Mourning Thrull
Rakdos Guildmage
Riot Spikes

Those were the 23 cards that I felt represented the best of my three colors. Those who feel that the Twisted Justice should have been replaced with Consult the Necrosages aren’t alone. A few people said that to me, including Vienneau. Twisted Justice was poor in Ravnica-only due to the presence of many 1/1 tokens, but now I think it’s a bit better. There were indeed times on Saturday that I only got one or two cards out of it, but there were also times I was able to trade guys the right way to kill their remaining 4/4 with it. It is definitely a card that you have to set up for, but the rewards are huge if you do it. All that being said, it does cost six mana. Either drawing two cards or making them pitch two for only three mana is probably a better deal in this particular deck. My bad.

I’m sure that there are also those among you who question the addition of the Magemark. This deck already contains the playable auras Riot Spikes and Flight of Fancy. The Magemark works with both of those cards very well to protect my bomb creatures (and occasionally get a second use out of the Angel). The fact that I have so many fliers is also a factor, as being able to speed up the race in the air is key, so I felt that it was worth the slot, so long as I was careful not to walk into a two-for-one.

Powering out wins across the world!

In the end I decided to splash for the Fusillade since I needed to get through all eight rounds of Swiss with no free wins and needed the extra power. It would turn out to be the right choice, as that single card won me about as many games as the Angel did. In general, I think that this is a good principle to follow in this Sealed format. Games are decided by bombs (of which there are many) just as much as they are by mana. If you have something splashable that can win games like that, try to make your manabase accommodate it, even if you may not have the ideal fixers to make it happen.

Now that I had the cards that I wanted to play, building the manabase was the final challenge. I had nine Blue cards, one of which was double Blue. I had seven-eight Black cards (the hybrid ones are hard to count properly), two of which were double Black and another (Guildmage) that was essentially double black. The Psychopath also demanded his share of Black mana, no doubt more than I would have at times. I had five-six White cards, two of which were double White (I didn’t think that the Equenaut would get convoked out all that much). Finally, I had the Fusillade.

I ended up settling on the following:

6 Island
4 Swamp
3 Plains
1 Mountain
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Selesnya Sanctuary

Including the Orzhov Signet, I had the following amounts of mana available in the deck:

6 Blue
6 Black
5 White
2 Red

It wasn’t amazing, but I figured that it would be enough. The Tidewater Minion would be most helpful in allowing me to cast my double-colored spells with only one relevant source, as well as untapping Karoos for absurd acceleration.

The deck was set. Time to see if it was as solid as I thought it was. Little did I know what awaited me in round 1…

Round 1: Five other people

The hell? There were six people seated at table 1! I don’t remember Emperor being the format of this Grand Prix!

What’s that? They’ve got a new beta version of DCI reporter and they thought that it would be a good idea to test it at a Grand Prix? Brilliant, just brilliant. I wonder how the eight people sitting at table 2 felt about this.

Round 1 (take 2): Pollard, Brent J

Game 1: I get to kick my GP off right with a mulligan to five on the draw. Brent makes a few guys and starts to beat down. One of the last guys he drops is a Rakdos Guildmage, so things look bad. Thankfully he taps out, and I can lay my own Guildmage and kill his to stabilize the board at one life. His next threat gets dealt with by the Angel, and it’s smooth sailing from there. Good beats.

Game 2: This time I don’t mulligan and I use a few tricks to maintain a dominant board position. The bombs mop things up from there, as I’m under no pressure.

Round 2: Kelly, Nathaniel S

Details fuzzy. All I remember is that he had trouble with my fliers as they worked on his life total. He went for it one turn near the end of game 2 when he slammed down Niv-Mizzet, but I had been setting up for Fusillade and finished things then and there.

Round 3: Sadin, Steven

Ah! A name I recognized. Time to put the game face on. I wish I could remember more clearly what went down, but the details of Saturday are more than a little fuzzy. I do remember having Fusillade and the mana to run it out there, prompting me to get more permanents into play so that it would be even more unfair, when he played a Fusillade of his own! Thankfully all it did was kill a few of my smaller creatures. A few turns later I cast mine and took down a chunk of his force. At low life and facing a few decent men, I felt it was time to draw the Angel and put things away, so I did just that. He didn’t have much for it, and she took things home.

Game 2 wasn’t as close, as we both traded creatures before I put things away with an accelerated Angel. You’ll notice that this Angel thing is going to be a theme.

Round 4: Kartsen, Frank

The beats just keep coming. Fresh off his three byes, Frank had a decent deck but I felt that I could take it. I won one of the first two with my fliers and (gasp!) Angel, while getting run over by a Scion of the Wild (with Fists of Ironwood, no less) in the other. Game three I kept an Island, Swamp, Plains plus Spells hand (BB and WW spells, I’ll add) and drew four more Islands. Since I wasn’t fighting back, I quickly got destroyed.

Round 5: Xiaolei, Zhang

Game 1 he quickly put things away with a Dimir House Guard (I had no Black creatures), a Sewerdreg, and a Nettling Curse on one of my fliers. This damage added up far too quickly, and I faced elimination if I lost either of the next two games (that would be more tense if everyone didn’t already know how I did).

Game 2 was looking rough until… yeah, Angel showed up and killed his best threat. I played more fliers and finished things.

Game 3 was a miracle. I went Signet then Snapping Drake with my one Mountain in my hand. He, on the play, went turn 2 Squealing Devil, turn 3 Shrieking Grotesque. Since he was first, his Grotesque got to attack into my Drake. The problem was that it had picked up a Shadow Lance and was now a 4/3 first striker. I untapped and evaluated the situation. I had three lands, a signet, and a 3/2 flier. I was facing a 2/1 I couldn’t block and a 2/1 pumpable flier that I didn’t want to block. With the amount of mana I had I knew that my only out was to rip Fusillade, lay the Mountain, cast it, then ping his two 2/1 guys. So, like a good player, I drew the Fusillade. He had no other guys to follow, and my other fliers joined the 3/2 and ended it. How lucky!

Round 6: Tormos, Ervin

Game 1 was very long and complicated. I remember starting off aggressively, but slowly being ground to a halt by Sandsower, Minister of Impediments, and Benevolent Ancestor. After much staring at each other across the Red Zone, I was finally able to take down the Minister and force a couple of fliers in for the last points.

I don’t recall game 2 at all, except that Angel made an appearance and pretty much put things away.

Round 7: Ketita, Nassim

Okay, 5-1… Gotta win one more before I get to draft.

Game 1 was another one of the Angel beatings. I was a little behind, the Angel killed his 4/4, and things just ended. Game 2 I played a turn 5 Tidewater Minion and, with three Plains, one Swamp, and two Islands, I cast a turn 6 Angel. I must say that Tidewater Minion is a beating sometimes. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t think much of it when the set came out last year.)

Normally that would be it. I’m 6-1, and 6-1-1 is a day 2 lock. The only problem now is getting paired with a three byes player who knows that he’ll be in at 6-2 and being forced to play. With people on my left and right both being of the aforementioned type of player, I was sweating. Thankfully, my opponent was Daniel H Pham, who had no byes and showed up to immediately offer the draw. Good times. We played a few quick ones for fun, and he eviscerated me. I think it had something to do with a turn 3 Rumbling Slum on the play. Nice deck. Thanks for the draw Daniel!

So, 6-1-1 and sitting below the halfway point at 41st place. It would take some work to even cash, and some luck to make Top 16 or Top 8. Now all I have to do is remember how to draft…

I’ll be lurking in the forums, so feel free to comment, flame, complain, insult, moan, whine, and all the other stuff that people do there. Part two is coming soon!

Mark Lovin
questingphelddagrif on MTGO