Grand Prix Detroit. Nothing could have prepared me for it.
My name’s Geordie Tait, and though by day I’m a 20-year-old computer technician, there’s only two things I’ve ever been really good at: Writing, and playing Magic. Here’s the story of Grand Prix Detroit- you might call it”A Tale Of Two Hippos”.
When I say”nothing could have prepared me for it,” I’m not really referring to the format (which I did a lot of preparation for), but to the atmosphere. For someone attending their first Grand Prix, the event was a monster. You hit the RenCen in the Motor City and suddenly you’re dwarfed by the mass of humanity and that convention hall – a group of lively, colourful, animated people who all seem to be talking at once.
It was Magic, baby.
My journey begins on the Internet. This is where I read every article I can get my hands on. My favorite ones have been Gary Wise limited analyses (and also his excellent tournament report”The Long Road Up,” which, though controversial, was extremely entertaining and well-written), any article by Mike Flores (he should write more… no one writes better reports than Flores), and any article by Zvi. In addition, some of my most fondly remembered reading experiences have sprung from the Internet pen of Jamie Wakefield. In preparation for GP Detroit, I not only playtested, but I READ. I read every stitch of match coverage for GP Boston, Gotenburg, Rio, Prague, and Cologne. I paid attention to how the Pro players would build their decks, then I’d scour the match writeups featuring those players to see how the cards would interact. As a companion research activity, I spelunked my way through mountains of Invasion limited PTQ Reports, strategy articles, and Invasion draft analysis. It was worth it.
Obviously you can’t learn EVERYTHING from reading, but you can learn a lot. I think that 75% of my finish can be attributed to diligent research. Did I stand on the shoulders of geniuses, reading things about the format that others had discovered, and using those tidbits of info to my advantage? I think I did… And I’m not ass enough to think that I alone deserve credit. My thanks goes out to the Pros who, through their actions, taught me about Invasion limited, and to the Sideboard writers, who brought their exploits to my computer screen. Also, I’d like to thank the people who took time to write tournament reports for Limited events (which are generally harder to recount than Constructed events, at least in any entertaining fashion). (Tru dat – The Ferrett)
The people with me were my fellow Canadian magic playas (and one judge): Trent Rogers, Jean-Marc Babin,”Evil” Matt Fox, Dave Sharpe, John Labute, Jeremy Kuykendall, Mike Clark, and Neil Crawford. If you want to find these guys, look for the top Limited ratings in Ontario using the web applet on the WoTC site… Then scroll down about seven pages until you’re looking at about 500th in the province ^_^. I’ll be there with them- my 1687 isn’t exactly tearing it up.
We’re taking two cars for the one-hour drive- John, Matt, Jean-Marc, and Dave Sharpe are in the car with me, while the other guys get the pleasure of driving with Jeremy – a man who, on the highway, during the most vicious of winter blizzards, has been known to pass snowplows without a second thought, continuing on his merry way on along the UNPLOWED road surface. Riding with him is always an adventure.
During the ride down, I try to envision the cards I’d like to see. Flametongue Kavu…Magma Burst…Cavern Harpies…Tidal Visionary (I love that little guy!), Probe (or Cloud or Bog Down; I want two discard spells in my deck if I play B/U/R). I know I want to see busted-in-half cards like the bomber-than-bomberson Reckless Spite, and maybe a couple Volcano Imps to hold down the fort. Of course I want one Bloodstock for some more evil gating tricks. Then there’s the rares… Nightscape Master, anyone? How about Tahngarth and maybe a Void and Blazing Spectre in the starter (I heard that card pool is good). I can only dream. So I do.
The Ren Centre in Detroit has a baffling parking area, but we manage to make it into the lot after driving around like schmucks for about fifteen minutes. My nerves were getting frayed, and the event hadn’t even started. We were about an hour early.
We head to a table near the back of the venue and sit down, all discussing how cool it is to be there. A few of my buddies start checking the buy lists and finagling with the dealers over prices and so forth, but I can’t be bothered. I’m in”The Zone”. Got to stay focused, can’t be overwhelmed by the…
WOW! It’s Darwin Kastle!
Then I see”The Mighty Potato” Mike Turian walk in and start to play a few games with some people I don’t recognize. I’m like a starstruck kid at his first pro baseball game. These are the players I’ve been reading about week after week, cheering on week after week (from a distance, but cheering nonetheless) and now I might get to meet and play some of them.
I walk near the back, and I see Gary Wise standing there, talking to some guys who are probably Pros, but I don’t recognize their faces. Gary Wise is one guy I’ve always wanted to meet, but I’m so nervous at the presence of all the stars of MY game being in such close proximity to me that I can’t bring myself to say hello.
I see Rizzo walk in (more famous for his writing, obviously, than for any big play success, but in this game my favorite stars are the players who write) and then notice Bob”The Bomber” Maher back where I was seated. One person I noticed but didn’t think was a Pro was this dark guy with bleached blond hair – I found out later that he was Joe”Mouth” Kambourakis.
Dave Price walks right by me until I recognize him without his hair! Again, I’m too nervous to say hello.
Kurtis Hahn was easy to find- just look for the people laughing and you’ll find the self-described”Fat-Man” with a sleeveless pile of cards to his left, cracking jokes, casting the occasional Contract. I see Scott Johns walk by… I can’t muster the courage to say hello. He looks busy and determined, anyhow.
Boom…Dave Williams to my left! Dave Williams to my left!
Dave looks friendly, but he’s busy talking to some other Pros. Hey, it’s Baby Huey! And… That must be Michelle Bush with Darwin Kastle.
Chris Senhouse walks by, wanted to say hello but he looked like he was trying to get somewhere. I think I saw Becky Hiebert, too!
Is that Brian Davis? It sure is!
As you can tell, I’m getting more and more excited by the minute….Grand Prix Detroit is so cool, I’m going to get to meet all of my favorite stars, if I stop being such a wuss and go and talk to them.
Anyhow, on to deck reg – is that who I think it is?
ZVI! Yes! That guy rocks – going to have to introduce myself to him… But now is not the time. He’s talking to some other people. Zvi is a sight to behold – he’s in constant motion, pacing back and forth, shifting his weight from one foot to another, and wringing his hands. It’s as if he has 1,001 things on his mind. I resolve to at least congratulate him on Tokyo before the event is done.
Meanwhile, my more Pro-Magic oriented friends are gawking at the Pros as well, while some of my other companions have busted out their Type 1 decks and are going at it near the StarCityGames dealer area. I brought a T1 deck for the side-events (T1 Oath; I really like it) but I hope to hell I don’t have to use the sum’bitch.
I’m wanting to talk to a hundred people at once and then, before I know it, it’s time to register decks.
I sit down to register my pile of dung (it DID really suck…I pity the guy who got it) and there’s no chatting going on, unlike at the GP Trial I attended, where the guy sitting across from me started commenting on every card in the deck he was given, and speculating about the chances of the person who got it.
I should probably mention now that I have made one important discovery in the last while – Banter + Fast, Intimidating Shuffling Technique does not necessarily = good player. I used to get really intimidated when a guy would sit down across from me and start talking about how broken his deck is, all the while riffling at lightning speed, but now I know that those guys are all hype. I usually fumble with my cards (I can’t riffle shuffle at all without my cards flying everywhere) and then perform a pile shuffle, then a few”Squeeze Riffles” which is when you take the two halves and squeeze them together so they are intermingled. Anyhow, the point of this is that some players look good, but they haven’t done the research I have, and they aren’t as prepared as I was. I may not be a good shuffler – but thanks to the help of a great many people, I think I’m a good player.
I hand in my deck, being extra careful not to futz anything up on the registration sheet. I notice Chris Senhouse registering a few tables down, we make quick eye contact, and I look away quickly because I don’t want Chris to think that some weirdo is staring at him.
I sit around and get my deck. The event begins… Wow, I’m nervous as hell.
Here’s my card pool.
Comments: Nothing here…Forsaken City does provide five colours, but at what cost? (That was an obligatory comment- in no way was I actually considering playing Forsaken City. Just making that clear.)
Comments: I knew Tek was going in, with me playing three land types and a Dream Thrush – even with only three land types, it’s a 2/4 Flying, First Strike. People played Mantis Engine all day long back in the day (and deservedly so), so why not bust this bad boy out, too? With Thrush he goes to 4/4 First Strike, Flying… broken! I never play Cameos unless I have a ton of five and six casting cost spells, and this one is the wrong colours anyhow. The Stratadon is too weak and slow at seven mana, and Star Compass is my eighteenth land…but in this case I only wanted seventeen, so it didn’t make the cut.
Comments: Yuck…my green cards suck, though if I play them with white I get access to Wax/Wane and Charging Troll, as you’ll see below. Still not worth it, though.
Shriek Of Dread
Phyrexian Bloodstock x2
I was considering black for a while (mostly on the strength of Hypnotic Cloud and Exotic Curse) – but with no Spite or Demise, not to mention Annihilate, Slay, or ANY good rare…Why bother? The creatures are nothing short of awful, and adding black to my blue/white gives me what? Malicious Advice? Bah. Next.
Comments: Creatures are VERY solid, but my black chews the proverbial knob so Caldera Kavu won’t be hitting is full potential. In fact, nothing will, because my green sucks too. It all came down to Gary Wise saying,”If I was going to splash for one card, Magma Burst would be it.” (I’m paraphrasing, I’m not sure of his exact words.) (Well, his exact words were,”Almost always worth splashing in a two-color deck,” which isn’t quite as conclusive… but considering how you did, it’s probably best you misremembered it that way – The Ferrett) So I did exactly that and splashed, lamenting a little bit the sordid knowledge that my creatures were a beating, but without Flametongue Kavu, they weren’t quite good enough to push me over into red (no rare bombs, either – with Ghitu Fire or a Tahngarth I would have went to more red, and in the case of Tahngarth, I would have shifted to a red base.)
Comments: Here we have some quality cards. I quickly set aside Repulse, Stormscape Familiar, Faerie Squadron, Distorting Wake, Hunting Drake, Dream Thrush, and Tidal Visionary to put in my main deck. In the case of Distorting Wake I do this because my white has virtually ALL quality cards and they’re all stall cards so the game will last forever… Until I Wake for seven and clear their whole board, that is. Playing (almost) a two-colour deck means I’ll have the islands I need somewhere in the midgame. The potential for late-game victory is something I’m willing to get for the tradeoff of the occasional opening-hand Wake (which is basically a mulligan to six). I was thinking, later in the day, that with three basic land types and a Dream Thrush, it would have been a good idea to play Allied Strategies, especially considering the stalling nature of my deck. I don’t know what I would take out – maybe Ardent Soldier (which is a 23rd card type of creature) – but the Soldier did its job well for the most part, giving me a body to stall the ground with. I decided that I would sideboard in the Strategies only against slower decks.
Samite Pilgrim x2
Ruham Djinn x2
Comments: WOW! With the exception of Aura Blast, all of these cards are solid, and all made my maindeck. I was lucky with the Planeshift distribution here- sometimes you get two Pollen Remedies when you really only want one for the your deck, and sometimes you get some piece of crap uncommon in the place of Lashknife Barrier, but my Planeshift came through and gave me the Samite Staller in both packs, plus the Barrier, and, almost as an afterthought, threw in a Pollen Remedy, one of which is the perfect amount.
Silver Drake x2
Comments: The quality W/G cards made me look at W/G for a while until I realized that my Green was embarrassingly bad. The Silver Drakes found a home in my deck, able to easily make their way out on turn three with my two Samite Pilgrims, Tidal Visionary, Ardent Soldier, Prison Barricade, and Stormscape Familiar all available for gating duty. In addition, there was possibility for reuse of my Hunting Drake.
In the end, I constructed the following deck:
2x Ruham Djinn
2x Silver Drake
2x Samite Pilgrim
I’m nervous as all-get-out. The pros are registering with us (ignorant of such things, I had thought they would register after their byes were done – but that idea has a ton of things wrong with it, all of which are obvious to me now that I know how things work) and now they’re milling about, getting into groups, playtesting their decks.
I head over to where Trent Rogers (owner of”Future Pastimes,” the comic store where I play) is sitting, and we quickly test our decks. He’s playing a creature-light (only eleven) U/R/B with a gaggle of removal. I get out my Obsidian Acolyte and am just starting to take control of our first game when pairings go up.
Round 1 vs. Jim Wiegand (G/W/U)
I’d like to write that I was cool and friendly with Jim, but as it turned out, I was nervous almost to the point of hyperventilation, and we didn’t say much to each other except the obligatory hellos. I tried to keep a smile on my face, and I wanted the win so bad I could taste it.
Time to see what this deck can do!
Game one I get manascrewed. Whether it was a lack of land or a flood of nothing but I don’t remember – but he had the right ratio of threats/land and rolled over me without much trouble. From him I see a Utopia Tree and an Ordered Migration. I think I got out a Samite Pilgrim, but he kept serving with bird tokens and his Stormscape Familiar…. My own Familiar chumped for a turn, but it was a stopgap measure at best, and he kept drawing threats while I peeled plains like a pro.
That was pretty ass… Let’s try game 2.
This one was a great game… We’re locking down the ground early on, I get fliers and Pilgrims out and he can’t break through… Then Lashknife Barrier hits the table and makes combat a bad option for him. I knock him down to four with a Drake while I’m still at ten, and I start casting my ground creatures – but he matches with creatures of his own, and even has a couple of creatures I wish I had, like Tower Drake, holding off my Silver Drake. Time is ticking away and he’s taking a lot of time on his turns, looking for a way to break through (there was none from my standpoint, but he had some cards in his hand…who knows?). I’m starting to get a little antsy – I want to have enough time for game 3, because once I draw Distorting Wake this game is over unless he has Confound (which I don’t think he does).
He says go, I draw MAGMA BURST, but he has a Pilgrim of his own, plus two of his flyers are Tower Drakes. I can get him eventually; I just need one more creature to Alpha Strike and Burst for the win. I say go.
He plays Ordered Migration… ARRGH. This game will never end… Three new chump blockers for him… And I’m at 10, which isn’t safe from his Alpha Strike if I send with my fliers after bursting his. (I’d be able to do 1 damage with that sort of attack and force him to block and lose a couple guys, and then win next turn, but his counter attack would probably kill me if he let one guy through and took two instead – he’s three creatures up.)
As it turns out, he plays a spell and pays too much mana for it, thanks to his forgetting the effect of his Stormscape Familiar… Which means he burns down to three. I Burst him out for the win.
We have only about eleven minutes left for this game, and he plays very carefully, though I don’t think he was stalling. I get a very fast start, but we end up locked again as he draws many creatures. He then casts Ordered Migration (ARRRRGH!) just as we’re about to go into the last five turns. Luckily for me, he starts Alpha Striking every turn, and I manage to win the race thanks to a big Ruham Djinn, which was 5/5 due to his Migration tokens. I win on my last turn of the five allotted.
So I’m 1-0. I talk to the guys who are down from Chatham, Ontario (my group is all from Sarnia) and they’re doing pretty well- Greg Gardner and Kevin Phelan (the highest ranked player amongst us in Limited) are both 1-0. On our end, I believe Trent is 1-0 as well, as are Jean-Marc and John Labute.
I go”Pro-Watching” and look for some of my magic heroes. During this process I notice guys like Adrian Sullivan and Alex Shvartsman wandering around…I was going to go say hello to Shvartsman, and thank him for linking to my previous tournament report from his widely-read column”Week In Review”, but when it came down to it, he looked busy and I didn’t have the cojones. I notice some guys wearing”Alpha/Beta/Unlimited” tee-shirts and I wonder if they’re part of the team… As it turns out, they were.
Trent gets his Avalanche Rider signed by Darwin Kastle, who is obviously used to such requests. I bide my time.
And yes, gentle reader…that means it’s time for round 2.
Round 2 vs. Tom Pannell (w/ U/B/R)
Guess who’s at the table with me?
MIKE FLORES! That face is unmistakable; I recognize it from the Dojo archives. Mike Flores is one my FAVORITE internet writers…His articles contain useful strategy, of course, but he really shines most when relating his experiences via tournament reports. I’ve read all of his reports and the entire”Bad Play” archive, and they’ve taught me a lot about the game, while having the double benefit of being extremely entertaining. I especially liked his article”The Lessons Of WPFlores,” which is written in a sort of third-person manner (in a roundabout way). I recommend that you go to the Dojo and read it. Mike Flores– great writer…And he must be pretty entertaining to play against too, if his banter during his games was any indication.
Oh, and one last article I forgot to mention- the episode of”Bad Play” where he talks about red just winning… I think it’s called”The Redistribution Of Wealth.” Go read that if you haven’t already- great article.
Speaking of writing-
Anticlimax can be a useful writing tool when you’re trying to churn out an interesting and engaging report. Thus, given the chance, I should capitalize on the opportunity to employ this oft-used writer’s trick.
As a first-time GP participant, I already had visions of a Cinderella story in my head. Fictitious sideboard headlines started running through my mind:
“Geordie Tait wins GP Detroit!”
“Magic pundits hail Tait as new Finkel!”
“Flores calls Tait ‘Best player I’ve ever seen'”
“Tait suspended for trying to bribe Dave Price into throwing match at Barcelona!”
Okay, well – scratch that last one, but you get the idea. Anyhow, imagine how great it would be for me to win in that way! It would be like a dream come true!
Now comes the anti-climax…You see, there is only one headline that describes how Round 2 went.
NEW SIDEBOARD COVERAGE!
“Tom Pannell bends Tait over the table, makes Grand Prix newcomer his bitch! Click for more information!”
I at least try to make a game out of it, but his cards are busted in half. I’m playing these 1/1s for two and he’s playing beating sticks like he’s up in a tree somewhere cutting the damn things off every turn. I start beating with a Drake, but it doesn’t matter because eighty out of the forty cards in his deck are removal. He draws as much land as he needs, then every card after his final land is an elbow-dropping threat that’s hell bent on putting my poor deck in the hurt locker. He takes the game with a Soul Burn for one, though he could have just attacked as well. Tom has a way of shaking his head whenever does something, which suggests he’s not happy with it. Not the case. It’s pretty funny – he actually shakes his head regardless of the situation – either he’s shaking his head in disgust because his draws are ass, or he’s shaking it in pity because he’s about to unleash yet another broken bomb. Shivan Emissary is SUCH a backbreaker against me…I basically just have to sit there and take it while the Emissary and some gating tricks bury my entire side.
I was on the receiving end of a lot of Pannell”pity-shakes” this round, and rightfully so. He might as well have put $100 in my pocket after the match and said”Thanks for the good times, baby”…
I get Obsidian Acolyte that makes his job a bit harder, and he draws a bit more land instead of threats this time. Tek makes an appearance, coming over for the last ten points while I manage to stall the ground with Acolytes and Samite Pilgrim to handle his red damage-based removal. The Obsidian Acolyte thankfully can stop his Lava Zombie, and I fear the Emissary but it never shows up. He did have Mourning on Tek, but I used my Thrush to give myself a swamp and keep serving for two.
I didn’t let Game 2 raise my expectations too much. In this game I make a poor play by (with 5 land in play- two plains, to islands, and a mountain) Magma Bursting his Shivan Emissary and Lava Zombie in response to the Zombie’s gating ability going on the stack, taking out two creatures, but losing two very vital land (the mountain, which obviously I didn’t need anymore, and an island). I was stuck at four land for a while and drew things like Distorting Wake and both of my Ruham Djinns. Just Bursting the Emissary (in response to the Zombie itself) would have given me enough to tempo advantage to make a game of it, and with first strikers like Ruham in my hand already (I drew the other one), I don’t know why I was afraid of the Zombie even if I did get it down. I had a Hobble for his Slayer, but even that just drew me a Faerie Squadron and I only had one island. As it was, he built up his side of the board in a hurry while I drew my high CC spells, and he eventually Soul Burned me to death… Though a few turns of attacking would have done the job as well.
I extend the hand and it’s done. I’m 1-1.
Kevin Phelan and Greg Gardner are both 2-0 as well (they’re a couple of the Chatham guys, having come down with other Chatham d00ds like Simon”Rum” Rumford and”Big N’ Loud” Ray Depencier. The rest of my crew went to 1-1 I believe.
More pros are around… In between rounds, I walk a few 360 degree circles around Gary Wise and try to work up the guts to introduce myself…But I can’t. He’s busy talking to other Pros, and doubtless they would spurn the simple”hello” of a small-towner like me and his small-town ways.
I’m nervous and pacing around…it would cost me later – I think I overworked my legs a little. There’s water to drink, so I do.
Time for round three…put your arm around me, honey, and hold tight- it’s going to get scary.
Round 3 vs. Ed McNulty (G/B/R)
Ed is very nice, but he didn’t play as well as he would have liked. I was 1-1 and worried about a tough matchup, but the reality was that my deck came out well, and even if he’d made no mistakes it would have been tough for him to win.
I get out Tidal Visionary, Dream Thrush, Samite Pilgrim, Ruham Djinn, Obsidian Acolyte. He fizzles some removal due to Acolyte, and loses a couple creatures because of Visionary/Djinn colour tricks – mistakes he made but realized right afterwards. He was only able to muster one damage against my strong creature defense, which eventually expanded to feature a duo of Pilgrims, and I took it with ease, riding Ruham all the way until he ran out of chump blockers.
This was a savage beating – he doesn’t draw much of anything, and I get the same strong creature defense as in the first game, this time with Lashknife Barrier. As he’s just winding down to his doom, he busts out Devouring Strossus when I have a Benalish Trapper on the table. Who does that? Not strong. Mise. His creatures all die and I come over with Drakes and Djinns.
We shake hands, he decides to drop and play in some side events.
Now I’m 2-1 and feeling a little better about my deck, though Ed’s deck in that round had a suspect build and he made some bad play errors.
Lunch break! There’s a Burger King and a Mickey D’s in the bottom of the RenCen, and I head there to get a meal. McDonalds decides, however, that they no longer serve”meals.” They serve close facsimiles that often look like food at first glance; however, upon closer examination, these are really just a bunch of random food-like substances thrown together in a haphazard fashion reminiscent of the decks of the 0-3 bracket.
In short- my burger was a warped, overcheesed, underbunned monstrosity that sported not one, not two, not three, but FOUR pickles (I don’t like pickles, and the number on a Quarter Pounder varies between two and four; figures this one would be a four-pickler). My fries were dry and tasteless. My large coke was flat and syrupy.
I choke down the food and wait for the next round. This is the round that many Pros will start playing, and I know it’s going to be a lively spectacle. Onward!
Round 4 vs. John Park (B/U/R)
John is businesslike but in a nice way… You can tell he wants this match, BAD. So do I – no way in hell I went to GP Detroit to start out 2-2.
John mulligans to six, then to five. I beat him down with my creatures, he doesn’t play much of anything, though I do know he’s playing B/U/R.
He doesn’t have to Paris this time, and we duke it out on more even terms. I slow his development a bit by”porting” him with Dream Thrush on his red mana, but when he draws a second mountain I decide to start sending the Thrush over for beatings until he kills it with something (Zap, I believe). I’m sending steady flying beatdown, but he’s starting to stabilize with an Exotic Curse to kill one drake, and then just when I knock him to thirteen (with a 2/4 flying Tek), he plays TAHNGARTH.
Wow, goes Geordie, I hate that.
NEW SIDEBOARD COVERAGE!
“Tait about to get ass kicked! Click for more information!”
I bet a lot of conversations happened today that were like this.
Player 1 (R/U/B):”You’re going to lose.”
Player 2 (G/W, R/G or G/W/U):”I’m going to lose?!?”
Player 1 (nodding):”You’re going to lose.”
Only they didn’t need to use these exact phrasings…The above conversation is just a translation for the following exchange of words.
Player 1 (nodding):”Tahngarth.”
I draw a plains and attack for another two with Tek while Tahngarth is still inactive. The only good news is that I have an active Samite Pilgrim, so he has to kill that first or he can’t kill anything else. He draws, and plays Plague Spores on my Pilgrim and one of my plains. I prevent the next three damage to Tek, and he ends his turn without using Tahngarth (the Spores tapped him out).
I think to myself-“I have one more hit with Tek, to put him to nine. Then what? Tahngarth wrecks everything I do!”
If you look at my decklist, exactly what am I supposed to do against Tahngarth, in the long run? A big goose-egg, that’s what…I have one Shackles, and it sure as hell wasn’t in my hand when Bombgarth hit the tablecloth. I start mentally preparing for game 3, but then I draw…
And I cast it, and drop the big angry Minotaur on top of his library. Tek comes over for two and he goes to nine. He draws Tahngarth and casts it. I attack with Drake and Tek to bring him to five, but the important news is that I also mised a Faerie Squadron off the top of my library. I play it and he’s facing seven flying damage the next turn.
He draws and says go…I draw land and attack, Tahngarth assassinates the Squadron, he goes to one.
He draws and scoops to my two fliers the next turn, having drawn only ground creatures in his last two draws.
“Nothing you can do against those draws,” I say. John nods in sullen agreement.
3-1…KEEPING HOPE ALIVE, BABY!
I go out to artists signing area and look at all the sweet pictures. My buddy Trent actually got Arnie Zweikel to sign a Fog, which is a card that WoTC changed his art for – he doesn’t consider it his, and refuses to sign them. Trent asked,”If you won’t sign it, will you deface it?”
Arnie is more than happy to do that, scribbling out the existing art with silver ink and writing”Here’s your damn fog!” in the text area.
Trent needs to get around to asking Kurtis Hahn to sign his Contract From Below – but we get engaged in talking about our matches and so forth. Everyone is 2-2 except for me and Greg Gardner, who are both 3-1. Greg’s third round opponent didn’t show up, which obviously made for a fairly easy matchup.
Time for Round 5. These Grand Prix are hell on the stamina.
Round 5 vs. David Sellers (w/ B/W/R)
The only explanation I have for David being paired with me are that I got paired down (very possible, as my tiebreakers are among the worst out there) or that he somehow got three byes for GP Detroit and opened a complete pile of poop. His deck was playing a non-standard colour combo and was just very, very weak.
We both develop our boards, with me having the edge in creature combat due to my damage prevention. He DOES have at least one good card, Agonizing Demise, which he uses on one of my early creatures. The game locks up fast, and he’s using a Thunderscape Apprentice to pick me to death one life at a time (he got me down to eleven this way). I draw Tek, which he Hobbles (I already have the Thrush on the table), and then, with abundant land out I peel Distorting Wake, which I cast, removing his five creatures and his Hobble from the table. I send for at least twelve damage to end the game.
This is the game where he shows me Kavu Recluse (not a bad creature…I guess) and Guard Dogs, pretty much the international sign for”this deck has some card selection issues.” He tries to stabilize the game against my fliers with a Razorfoot Griffin and a Volcanic Imp.
I show him Magma Burst with kicker (one good thing about having one red spell in your deck is that you know you won’t be needing the mountain again – makes it easier to pay the kicker) and start sending with my Faerie Squadron and Ruham Djinn. He folds in short order.
4-1… This is when I start to get excited. I think that I can make it into Day Two (which would be a dream come true for me) if I go 2-1. I’d find out later that with my HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE tiebreakers (the second worst of about fifty people tied with me for points), I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of making it at 6-2. I don’t know it yet, but I need 6-1-1 to make it.
My friends are all either 3-2 or 2-3. They’re fighting for survival.
Time for Round 6!
Round 6 vs. Zach Franks (w/ B/R/G)
Zach is a big guy with a deep voice, and he’s pretty friendly. He’s got a Green/Red/Black beatdown deck with a couple of beatdown bombs like Shivan Wurm, which I didn’t see until the second game. Luckily, my deck is the sugar against beatdown decks (I was saying”the sugar” all day long because I heard Flores say it when I was playing near him. I couldn’t help it – like a baseball player emulating the greats of yore, I can’t help but mimic my favorite pro players!)
Zach starts with some early beatdown, while I play a Trapper and a Pilgrim and try to stem the rush. Meanwhile, I beat down with my Stormscape Familiar, which serves for one until he plays a flier of his own (Volcano Imp or Phyrexian Slayer, I forget which) around turn 8. This puts him at fourteen and his early beatdown has me at ten, but I have that stopped with active Pilgrim and some kicked Barrier and Ardent Soldier, as well as a Ruham. He spends a couple of turns unable to break through, and once I have enough mana I cast Distorting Wake. A savvy player, Zach not only puts all of his creatures back in his hand, but all of his land was well, and starts shuffling for Game 2. I figure if you have to scoop up half your permanents in a limited game, you might as well scoop the rest too. Score one for the Distorting Bomb!
Again he beats me down to about ten, and I get Obsidian Acolyte out to protect myself from his few black creatures and the Demise I didn’t see but assume he played black for (Terminate too, maybe). With my Silver Drake, Acolyte, Pilgrim, kicked Barricade, and Tek out, he has no chance of damaging me unless he draws some bombs. Then I get out two Ruham Djinns and a Lashknife Barrier!
He puts Shivan Wurm on the table, but even IT can’t damage me. I play a Hunting Drake and put his Wurm back on top of his library, then next turn I serve with the Drake and draw the second Pilgrim, which I play. Now he has an even smaller chance to damage me. I feel safe enough to send Tek and the Drake next turn, putting him to seven.
He knows the end is near and Alpha Strikes, but when I block correctly he extends the hand.
It was during this match that I got a notice for accidentally flipping the next card over during my draw. It was because my sleeves were a bit sticky from my hands, which sweat slightly during tense matches. A vicious bit of foreshadowing.
5-1! I have visions of Pro Tour play dancing in my head. I’m sure many of you out there can relate to this – seeing the stars of the game out and about around you while you’re playing for a shot to reach their elite level…One of the greatest feelings I’ve had the pleasure to experience!
It was after this round I believe that I said hello to John”Friggin” Rizzo, the prominent writer for StarCity (And whose report is going up today, too, but he took pictures – The Ferrett). I told him I thought he was a good writer and that I liked his stuff, we exchanged a few words, shook hands, and I went on my way.
That wasn’t so hard! I resolved to introduce myself to writing hero BPFlores, but as usual he was chatting it up with somebody and I didn’t have the guts to intercede and say hello.
The other guys were all basically out of the running, except for Simon Rumford, who was KEEPING HOPE ALIVE, BABY! with a record of 4-2. They were still having a blast, though – and some even entered the T1 tournament that started at 7:00. They were very supportive of my run for the top, and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who offered words of encouragement.
Time for Round 7 and I’m scared as hell.
Round 7 vs. Mike Bower (w/ U/R/B)
Mike is a nice guy, but like my previous opponents, he knows what’s at stake – and the game is all business.
My scoresheet shows me beating him down pretty fast- I think he got a poor mana draw and had a few weenies out, but I drew both Ruham Djinns or some nonsense like that and Tidal Visionary made things very big. His life goes 20,19,16,10,5,0.
This one was a great contest – he starts to mount an impressive defense of Cavern Harpy and numerous flyers, but I have Tidal Visionary to prevent him from gating Hobbled, CIP effect, or otherwise optimal creatures by turning them green. I’m forcing him to use the Harpy each turn by serving with Tek, and he does. I fear that if I don’t end things soon he’ll draw into enough cards to put me on the defensive as well. Sure enough, his harpy recursion drops him from twelve to five, but he draws enough threats to put me in serious trouble. A play error sees me lose my Silver Drake to his blocking Urborg Drake and Cavern Harpy, rather than just waiting for the Urborg Drake to attack into my 3/3 next turn. I play a Ruham and our ground creatures gradually trade while the air war is going on. Eventually he drops a Plague Spores on Tek and serves with the Harpy to drop me to a meager two life (I’d taken a bunch of beatings from a Kavu of some sort). I have nothing but a Ruham Djinn, which attacks to put him at 2. He draws land and tries to come over for the last points on the air, but I have POLLEN REMEDY (another Gary Wise-recommended card…I missed the power of this in my early testing, now I always maindeck one) and take the game the next turn.
At this point I’m pretty ecstatic- I’m 6-1 at GP Detroit! I’m used to reading about OTHER guys being in this position…I didn’t think I’d ever actually be in it!
It’s at this time that Gary Wise strolls on by and we make brief eye contact. Figuring that it’s now or never, I say”Gary Wise?” to which he nods, and introduce myself as a big fan of his writing. I tell him that he’s helped me become a better player, and he says,”Hey, that’s my job.” I tell him my name is Geordie Tait, and he doesn’t recognize it (I have mailed him a couple of times, but I bet he gets a lot of mail), which disappoints me a bit, (though I don’t show it) and we shake hands and bid each other adieu. Awesome! I got to meet Gary Wise!
I take a look at the standings and try to determine if I can make it in with a draw. Later it would become obvious that I could have made it in, but I calculated that there were 28 people who could pass me in points if they won and I drew, and I made the calculation that if half of them won, I’d end up in 66th place, just out of the Top 64. This reasoning had a few flaws, of course, but I never figured I ever have to make these calculations… I figured the only things I’d be counting were the number of side-events I’d enter after I scrubbed out. I decide that if I’m going to make Top 64, I have to play and win.
Time for Round 8.
Round 8 vs. Craig Wescoe (w/ G/B/R)
I recognize Craig’s name from somewhere, but I don’t remember where. In any case, he asks if I want to draw, telling me that some 6-2’s will be in. Despite the fact that Craig is a lot more experienced than me in these matters, I decide to play – after all, he was in for SURE with a draw – I doubt he cares if I get in or not as long as he gets the draw. Of course, it turns out that he was right, and I ended up 52nd. On to the match.
Craig is playing G/B/R with efficient creatures and spells.
I lock down the ground and though I know I can win the long-game, he starts counting his mana as soon as he gets to ten, which makes me think he might have Urza’s Rage in his deck. If he did, I never saw it – after the usual assortment of Hobbles, a Shackles for his Tsabo’s Assassin, and a little maneuvering, I start to go on the offensive. Craig drew a lot of land in the early game (he had ten way before I did), so almost every card he draws is a spell. He’s putting constant pressure on me (I’m at five life) to defend myself. Luckily, I grab Distorting Wake from the top of my deck and unleash it, turning the tide and winning the game. It did take a while though – about fifteen minutes.
This time it’s a straight-out race – I play a third-turn Silver Drake and then Tek and start sending damage. He kills the Tek, but I play a Hunting Drake and keep beating. Eventually he’s at nine life and I’m at ten , but he has a horde of creatures out including Serpentine Kavu. I attack him for five with my Silver Drake and Hunting Drake, dropping him to four and setting up the win next turn. I play a Faerie Squadron to block the Kavu and keep myself alive, going down to four. The question is, what is the card in his hand?
The answer is Tribal Flames. Craig has only two different land types in play (explaining why he didn’t just kill the Squadron and attack for the win) – and he kills my Hunting Drake. I can only attack for three and send him to one. He kills me next turn.
With only eight minutes left in the round, we decide to draw.
I gave it my best shot… Now it’s time for that long wait to see if I made it in.
“52nd and our third flag prize- Geordie Tait!”
It just doesn’t get any better than that. This is a dream come true for me, doing well at the game I love, at a venue with my favorite pros and my good friends as well.
Now things get difficult- no one I know wants to drive the hour back to Sarnia, sleep for three hours, wake up, and then drive back down in order to make the draft in the morning, so either drive myself, or stay at the venue and get picked up.
John Labute and Trent Rogers are my MVP’s for the weekend, because these guys offered to come and pick me and Jean-Marc up Sunday!!! It’s one of the nicest gestures I’ve ever had anyone make towards me- they could obviously see how important it was to me to participate in Day 2, and they made the effort to make sure it would happen. Thanks guys, from the bottom of my heart.
So I had to stay at the venue (no money for a hotel) After the other guys had departed home, me and Jean-Marc wandered the RenCen in a semi-euphoric daze, due mostly to exhaustion. They were running booster drafts all night, but I was in no condition to play – I could barely stay on my feet. In addition, my legs were KILLING me. Over the course of the day, my left leg had somehow become strained or bruised or some combination of the two. It assaulted me throughout the evening with a dull, rotting, throbbing ache that was so constant, it pervaded my very being. Stretching, massages, staying off of my feet, nothing seemed to help against this deep-down, torturous ache.
Limping and sullen, I threw my leather jacket on the floor under one of the tables and tried to bunk down on it as comfortably as possible.
The Marriott Hotel doesn’t have to worry about any stiff competition, because the floor of the RenCen Conference Hall really bites warm ass when you judge it on cleanliness, comfort, and privacy level. I remember thinking absently that the Pros probably all had hotel rooms. Legs aching, stomach churning, I tried to drown out the noise of the rampant drafting around me and get some shuteye.
My last thought before I drifted off (my throbbing leg was reluctant to let me shuffle off into never-never land) was that the RenCen floor sure beats the Marriott in one category – its effects on my already-anemic wallet.
I think I got about an hour’s sleep, and I woke up to stumble my way to a table where I put my head down and drifted off again for about ten more minutes, right under the GP Chicago banner. Then the Pros started showing up. My leg was feeling better and I went to Burger King for a their equivalent of a Sausage McMuffin. I’d decided to avoid McDonalds for Day Two, preferring to give my business to an establishment featuring such perks as”McCorrectly Prepared Food” and”McNon-Flat Beverages.”
Breakfast tasted good, and I made it back upstairs just in time for the posting of pod assignments. I was in Pod 7:
Claiborne, Amos M.
Tait, Geordie R
Guile, Craig T.
Jackson, Reggie T.
I found this funny because Gab Tsang, Zvi, Dan Clegg, Dan OMS, and Rob Dougherty were all in Pod 8…though I know you’ll scold me for this, I took some pleasure and personal satisfaction in knowledge that I was ahead of some the Pros (yes, many at that table could doubtless draft circles around me) that I so admired. It gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment.
Once the obligatory”Mr. October” jokes were out of the way, we hunkered down and I was on the receiving end of my first taste of high-level draft!
Draft at a Grand Prix is nothing like those little drafts at your store at home:
At a Grand Prix, you’re not allowed to look at your cards except between packs.
At the local store, people look at their cards whenever they want, and if someone doesn’t like it, they tell the”rules-lawyer” to blow it out his ear.
At the Grand Prix, you must”lay out the booster” and”collect the booster”. If you take too long, you can get a warning!
At the local store, you must”PASS!” when someone yells it. If you don’t, someone will tell you to”Hurry up, ass!”
At the Grand Prix, you get two Invasion packs and a Planeshift pack as a standard for all players.
At the local store, you have to make that clutch choice between mising a Baron Sengir or taking the An-Zerrin ruins as an”anti-Rebel metagame call.”
I knew I wanted to draft W/G or W/U, because I simply love Crimson and Obsidian Acolytes and I hate U/B/R decks and want to make them suffer.
My first pack had Glimmering Angel and Angel Of Mercy, which annoyed me because I thought the guy on my left might go into white too at the sight of the Glimmering Angel, but luckily there was a better card for him take – it might have been Agonizing Demise, I’m not sure.
I get passed Noble Panther and I take that, then a Pincer Spider. There is no Red or Black or Blue coming my way…I probably have about three guys to my right drafting those colours. I get Razorfoot Griffin, Llanowar Knight, and Aggressive Urge, and a Thornscape Apprentice. The rest were rags – but I’m careful not to left the guy to my left see even marginally useful cards in G or W.
Pack two I open a Cloak, and take that. Then I get passed Rout (sweet mother of God!) and almost leap out of my seat before slamming it onto my card pile. Then I pick up Pincer Spider, Tangle, Spirit Weaver, Explosive Growth, Crimson Acolyte, and another Thornscape Apprentice. The rest was rags, though I did counterdraft a late Probe and a few Kavu (my rule is that I’ll take anything over Vigorous Charge and Reviving Dose… So I look for the best card other than those and pick it).
The Planeshift pack opens and I busted a POWER HIPPO, so I take that bad boy. I’m going to need to play blue for it, but I generally just run one island because you can always pick up at least two Primal Growths when the ‘Shift pack rotates around. It works well. I get Samite Pilgrim and Fleetfoot Panther, then Gerrard’s Command – then I get passed Magnigoth Treefolk! The packs start to dry up, so I go to work getting my early game developers and colour fixers – I pick up the two Primal Growths I knew I’d get (though I only played one), as well as a couple of Sunscape Familiars (which I don’t usually like to have to play but I didn’t have that 22nd or 23rd card without further splashing of blue).
From my draft, I construct the following:
2x Thornscape Apprentice
2x Pincer Spider
Questing Pheldagriff (POWER HIPPO!)
Angel Of Mercy
2x Sunscape Familiar
The point of the deck is to come out and beat the guy down while still offering up stiff resistance on the ground and in the air. It should be very strong against almost all colour, combinations simply because Rout is such a bomb that it drops more elbows than Elbowson. ^_^
I was hoping to 3-0 with this thing. It could have happened.
Round 9 vs. Philip Freneau (B/U/W)
Wow, a name player, though not of the writer variety – more like the”winner” variety! Good old Phil has a strong deck, too – with all sorts of gating tricks, strong fliers like Sawtooth Loon, and he’s got Plague Spitter/Angelic Shield which, to use a term straight out of the card room, is”just retarded.”
My life goes 10, 13, 10, and then doesn’t go any lower. This means that Angel Of Mercy made an appearance. His life went 9,7,5,3,1,0. This means that Magnigoth Treefolk made an appearance as well ^_^ Angelic Shield was a HUGE pain in the ass in both games, but especially this one – it basically sat there saying,”Sacrifice me: Counter target Armadillo Cloak”. I managed to get Llanowar Knight out, which stopped his Plague Spitter from completely screwing me.
I’m a little hazy on this game, but we got pretty locked up before Magnigoth Treefolk came over for the victory. He would have won, but I had the Tangle when he was coming over for the game. The Questing Hippo never made its way out this match, though I think he Bogged it out of my hand.
Wow, 7-1-1, and a nice feather in my cap in that I was able to best a talented player! I’m very excited- could I make Top 8 today? What a dream come true that would be!
Time for round 10!
Round 10 vs. Reggie Jackson (B/U/R)
This guy’s deck was busted in half.
This guy’s deck was busted-in-half. He plays out a bunch of beating sticks really quick, and when I cast Magnigoth Treefolk to go with my Razorfoot Griffin (which had attacked the turn before), he responds by playing Crypt Angel (ARRRGH!) and serving for six with his existing creatures (a couple of flyers, but I’m not sure which ones- I know they did six damage, though).
I hold back my Razorfoot Griffin, he sends all his guys anyhow… I Tangle! He looks a bit surprised, and says”Tangle…pretty good.” I Armadillo Cloak my Magnigoth Treefolk and suddenly the fact that I put a single island in my deck is saving my ass – I serve for six, gain four life, and play a Thornscape Apprentice.
He untaps (land only – hee!) and does nothing.
I serve for six again and gain four life. He untaps, does nothing. I tap his Angel end of turn, untap, draw a Thornscape Apprentice, attack again for six and gain four life. He draws and scoops.
I take a gamble this game and it almost pays off… But”almost” and”really” are one hell of a long ways off from each other. My opening hand contains Rout, two lands, Armadillo Cloak, Llanowar Knight, Crimson Acolyte, Sunscape Familiar. Now, normally I’d just get out my gang of dudes and play the game with Rout as my escape plan. He’s going first, and plays a land and says go. I draw a land.
Now, the key here – I could play just the Familiar, and hold back all my creatures, let him overextend, and then Rout. I thought an elbow-dropping maneuver like that would just win the game.
I play the Familiar; he draws and plays Tower Drake.
I draw land #4, and my plan is looking pretty foolproof. I lay land #3. On his fourth turn, he attacks with the tower drake and plays Trench Wurm. I decide that I’ll block the Wurm next turn and let him play another creature, then Rout and play out my dudes. I draw a Pincer Spider, play land #4 and say go. He lets fly with a beating, I block the Wurm and take 2.
I draw… Not land.
Hmm… Well, I can take one turn of beatings.
I take five, he doesn’t, and plays some 2/1 guy he just drew. I’ll be happy with 3-1 advantage.
He drops Flametongue Kavu on the spider and comes in for 7. I’m at 4. I pound the top of my deck and- LAND!
I Rout. He shrugs.
He untaps and drops Zanam Djinn. You sure knocked that one out of the park, Reggie my boy. I play Magnigoth Treefolk and he comes over for three, putting me at one. I have the Cloak, but do you see the problem?
That’s right, gentle reader, I’m screwed. If I drop the cloak on the Treefolk, Mr. Djinn gets real big and comes over for some big blue luvin’. I concede.
Kurtis Hahn yelled on Day 1 that his opponent was being unsportsmanlike. The judge asked why, and Kurtis said”He just played Crypt Angel, he’s got better cards than me- that’s unsportsmanlike!”
We got a good laugh.
I should have called a judge over for this game and we would have laughed even harder. I won’t go into the details – how about Stormscape Battlemage, Arctic Merfolk, Crypt Angel, kill kill, return return, life is tough for good old Reggie. He kicked my ass even worse than that guy in Round 2.
Kicking myself for the Rout mistake (if I’d just played it straight, I might have won the game – as far as I can tell he didn’t have his Battlemage – the only tool he has to take out a cloaked Knight with Crimson Acolyte on the table), I settle in and look forward to Round 11. None of the Sarnia boys are back to pick us up yet, and Jean-Marc is playing in the PTQ. He’s pretty tired and not doing terribly well.
Round 11 vs. Amos Claiborne (G/R/B)
This was an unpleasant round.
Game 1: I mulligan and get my ass kicked by his quick creatures. My deck folded on me and he certainly left me no outs – against a weaker draw I might have recovered, but his draw was strong.
Game 2: I beat him down with a Cloaked Llanowar Knight. If you get the sense that I’m just blowing past this round, you’re right…it’s because I don’t want to remember it at all.
Game 3: I stabilize the board – and he’s drawn a lot less removal than in game 1 (where he drew every removal spell in his deck). I’m hunkering down for a long game (and eventual victory due to Acolyte and Pilgrim protection, as well as Tapper lockdown), when I draw Explosive Growth.
A very thick Explosive Growth. An Explosive Growth with a second card stuck to the back of it. The second card was Rout… Not exactly the most inconspicuous of extra draws (I mean, if you were going to draw extra cards, which one would YOU want? ^_^)
The judge who warned me on day one about being careful while drawing was right – but in the excitement of the moment, I forgot his advice about sticky sleeves (take the card from the top of your deck, place it on the table, make sure it’s only one card) and it cost me.