You’ve got to love those happy little coincidences you bump into now and again. The little pats on the back or high-fives the universe dishes out on
occasion, as if to whisper in your ear: “You’re awesome!”
Like when you finish your “everything’s going to be okay soon” speech to a heartbroken friend, right as the sun pops out from behind the clouds or
announce “there’s a planeswalker in this pack” at the start of the draft to then open it and immediately windmill-slam one down.
My most recent of these came a few Thursday mornings ago — headphones in and volume way up, I was bouncing my foot to “Who’s Next” from my iPhone, eyes
closed and the hint of a smile on my face. After drifting through it happily for 43 minutes or so, the final chords of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” were
ringing out, and I opened my eyes.
Just as I did so, the train came to a halt and jolted me forwards, and I turned my head to see a “Welcome to Paris Gare du Nord” sign, just a pane of
Perfect timing — it was going to be a great few days…
Of course, from one perspective, it wasn’t such a great few days, or this article would be titled “GP Paris Report *Day 2*” or similar. I might have
been close to winning the #scgsearch, but let me assure you, this is quite the anomaly when it comes to large-scale Magic events and me. To illustrate,
a historical review:
Grand Prix Birmingham, 2008:
1-3 overall, -36 rating
Grand Prix Prague, 2009
: 1-3 overall, -42 rating
Worlds Rome, 2009:
1-9 overall, -50 rating
Pro Tour Amsterdam, 2010:
2-1-6 overall, -16 rating
Grand Prix Paris, 2011:
4-1-7 overall, -54 rating
For a cumulative total of 9-2-28, -198 rating, an average performance of about 2-0-6. A 25% win rate is atrocious!
Questions that immediately come to mind:
Wow, how do you keep putting yourself through this, aren’t you just terribad?
I do have a lot of fun in spite of my poor performances! And weirdly, it only seems to be at these large events I perform so badly – all that rating
lost on each occasion (and more), I’ve always managed to claw back as soon as I’m home again.
So why do you suck so hard as soon as you get to a GP/PT?
This is what we’ll be looking at today!
Fool proof strategies for avoiding total failure:
You’ve heard the “don’t eat junk/play drunk/get enough sleep” talk in a thousand other articles (including one of mine) before, so let’s assume you’re past that
already. Let’s be honest; you’re either going to stick to that advice or not.
So what else has led to my failures at these events that you may not have heard before?
Playing formats/decks you don’t know
Having had my arm sufficiently twisted by the Legacy junkies I was staying with in Amsterdam, I signed myself up to win dual lands after borrowing a
Reanimator deck from a friend (this was post-Mystical Tutor ban, and so it was heavily reliant on Lim-Dul’s Vault to find key cards). Of course, I’d
never played the deck before, didn’t know what several of the cards did (including the aforementioned LDV) or what cards to side in/out, and hadn’t
played any competitive Legacy in probably four months. But hey, I was playing a top-tier deck; if I discarded a guy then resolved a reanimation spell,
HOW COULD I LOSE?!
In the first round, my rainbow-Survival opponent messed around with his Birds of Paradise and enchantment a bit after countering my reanimation spell
game two (I’d won the first with a nuts hand and no resistance), then attacked with a Volrath’s Shapeshifter.
“What’s this?” I picked up the card, couldn’t be bothered to read what it did, and had no blockers anyway. “Uhh…. whatevs?”
“Discard Phage, make it that?”
I had literally no idea he could do this and quickly folded game three after he again had a counter for my lone reanimation spell.
Round two, I played a super-friendly Dutch guy with a hilarious “schmoke and a pancake?” accent. Obviously, he had the reigning U/G Survival
deck and a Daze (which I didn’t play around) or Force of Will for any of my relevant spells, and he killed me about turn 4 both games with a flurry of
Looking back, it’s very clear just how that lack of knowledge readily transferred into lost games.Â Â
Plan your events and decks in advance
A few days before you pack your bags and leave for your trip, review the public events schedule on the official WotC event page, print a copy off, and
highlight the event each day you intend to play in. Keep in mind that if you progress decently, you’ll be in that event for the majority of the day, so
a backup event is probably unnecessary unless you scrub out early on.
For each Constructed format you’re going to play, build, sleeve, and put in your bag one deck, along with a pool of twenty-something potential cards
for your sideboard or small tweaks.
As far as decks are concerned — don’t bring anything else!
Decks built on-site can cost you hours of time and are almost always terrible compared to what you brought with you already, and you’ll be playing on
zero practice. Plus, if you’ve brought a quantity of cards good enough to build new decks on a whim, all of your friends (and their friends too) will
ask to borrow stuff, which is a whole new nightmare and time-sink.
This being said, I’m required by a complex and not entirely legal friendship contract I somehow ended up in to show you this counterexample:
That’s Phil Dickinson, who won a Mox playing a deck he built at 2 am out of cards from our friend Nathan’s folder. There’s always one exception
to the rule!
Not playing enough, period
You’ll notice that for the number of days I was in attendance at each event, the number of sanctioned games I played is pretty pitiful. In Prague, I at
least had the excuse of coming down with a life-threatening case of man-flu, but on the other occasions, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have played at
least six rounds of sanctioned Magic a day.
Part of this is poor planning (as above) or being drawn into other, non-Magic games (I played probably ten hours of “7 Wonder” in Paris, which while
far from a waste of time, was not really my aim for the weekend). The rest is largely due to durdling after my losses, rather than signing up for
another event straight away.
While whinging about your lack of luck and telling and retelling endless bad-beats stories is fun and all, you need to “get back on the horse,” so to
speak. The more games you play, the more experience you’ll rack up, and it’s the only way you’ll get more wins to even out your record a bit. You’ll
also be able to look back on the weekend as a much more worthwhile use of time and money if you played nineteen matches rather than eight. You came to
Playing a deck from the previous metagame
Again in Amsterdam, I signed up for an Extended generic GPT, with the popular Magic League RUG special, on Day Two of the PT. The deck had won
pretty much all of the events before the PT, so it was obviously great! (P.S. I hadn’t played a single match of this format either.)
Then I ran into several much better players who had unfortunately not made Day 2 of the PT, playing decks three steps ahead of the one I was playing,
which was playable only because it contained both Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. Doran Treehouse? Yea sure, I’ll lose to that. Rietzl
White Weenie? Chalk me up another 1-2 please, judge!
The worst part? After getting thoroughly rinsed in that tournament, I repeated this all over again the next day in another Extended event, with another deck I’d not played a single game with (R/G Aggro), promptly receiving my 0-2 at the hands of a twitchy and eerily silent, bespectacled
German guy (Pyromancer Ascension) and Aussie control master Melbourne_junkie (all-foil 5CC), who at least was kind enough to give me a side of banter
along with my ass-kicking.
Staying with people with different motivations from yours
This isn’t something I’ve done myself and is less about your quantitative performance over these weekends but is something I’ve seen or heard others
mess up often Â — “I should’ve stayed with you guys” has been said to me several times now.
We might all have come to play Magic, but the quantity and seriousness of this can vary significantly between groups of friends. Some want to play in
the LCQ, the 9 am PTQs, and Day 2 of the GP. Others are happy to get up late with a hangover and watch the pros for a bit before playing some cube or a
If you’re staying with people who take the game much more/less seriously than you do, you’re going to end up either unable to go home to sleep early or
without anyone to party with; so you won’t achieve the maximum potential fun you could have. It also means you might not have that tight-knit support
group as you grind through a nine-round event, while your roommates are still in bed — which may only have a small effect, but it’s a negative one.
Not practicing Sealed
There’s a Constructed Grand Prix coming up — so naturally you’ll choose a deck well in advance, get a lot of practice games in against all the major
archetypes, and have sideboard plans worked out for every matchup.
There’s a Sealed Grand Prix coming up — whatever, you’ll just open bombs, right?
For most players (myself included), Sealed will be your least-played format and is also the one we devote the least time to playtesting, often under a
false belief that “you either open a winning pool or you don’t.”
As such, while it might not have the same allure as firing up a draft on Magic Online, it’s important to practice building (and playing) Sealed pools
if you want to do well, particularly the average and non-obvious ones, which may have multiple viable builds and require a lot of “play” to get you the
record you’ll need. It might seem tedious, but it does work — consider Rich Hagon, someone you’ll undoubtedly know much better as a Magic commentator
than a Magic player.
Wanting to play some “Magic that matters” for the first time in years, Hagon built dozens of Scars of Mirrodin pools and played hundreds of games using
them against friends Neil Rigby and David Sutcliffe. The result? He ended up placing 33rd, while Neil and David placed 15th and 108th respectively.
Worth the effort, I’m sure you’ll agree!
Making the most of it — GP Paris Sealed Pool:
The following is my pool from GP Paris, which was… uninspiring at best. However, this is not yet a dead format (I’ll be playing it again at GP London
next month, and it’s on MTGO), and I don’t want to think “oh there was no hope, better luck next time” — so let’s see if there’s anything that can be
- 1 Silver Myr
- 1 Leonin Skyhunter
- 1 Gold Myr
- 1 Memnite
- 1 Quicksilver Gargantuan
- 1 Embersmith
- 1 Darksteel Myr
- 1 Blight Mamba
- 1 Necrogen Scudder
- 1 Vedalken Certarch
- 1 Ghalma's Warden
- 1 Salvage Scout
- 1 Neurok Invisimancer
- 1 Blackcleave Goblin
- 1 Contagious Nim
- 1 Corrupted Harvester
- 1 Blade-Tribe Berserkers
- 1 Ferrovore
- 1 Vulshok Heartstoker
- 1 Copperhorn Scout
- 1 Neurok Replica
- 1 Perilous Myr
- 1 Soliton
- 2 Wall of Tanglecord
- 1 Accorder Paladin
- 1 Flensermite
- 1 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 1 Scourge Servant
- 1 Koth's Courier
- 1 Tine Shrike
- 1 Oculus
- 1 Serum Raker
- 1 Spire Serpent
- 1 Nested Ghoul
- 1 Gnathosaur
- 1 Ogre Resister
- 1 Blightwidow
- 1 Quilled Slagwurm
- 1 Bladed Sentinel
- 1 Dross Ripper
- 1 Myr Sire
- 1 Plague Myr
- 1 Spin Engine
- 1 Shatter
- 1 Disperse
- 1 Trigon of Infestation
- 1 Ratchet Bomb
- 1 Withstand Death
- 1 Necrogen Censer
- 1 Whitesun's Passage
- 1 Bonds of Quicksilver
- 1 Halt Order
- 1 Twisted Image
- 1 Grasp of Darkness
- 1 Melt Terrain
- 1 Carrion Call
- 1 Tel-Jilad Defiance
- 1 Accorder's Shield
- 1 Infiltration Lens
- 1 Panic Spellbomb
- 1 Strata Scythe
- 1 Silverskin Armor
- 1 Bonehoard
- 1 Phyresis
- 1 Steel Sabotage
- 1 Corrupted Conscience
- 1 Crush
- 1 Ichor Wellspring
- 1 Skinwing
- 1 Master's Call
- 1 Quicksilver Geyser
- 1 Turn the Tide
- 1 Horrifying Revelation
- 1 Morbid Plunder
- 1 Burn the Impure
- 1 Metallic Mastery
- 1 Mirran Mettle
- 1 Pistus Strike
- 1 Unnatural Predation
- 1 Copper Carapace
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Shriekhorn
- 1 Titan Forge
What cards immediately stand out to you?
Which colors are/are not playable in your mind?
How would you build this pool?
Jot something down, and we’ll carry on in a second…
Okay, let’s resume. I identified as (potential) bombs/removal the following:
Black — Grasp of Darkness
White — Yea, about that…
Green — (Quilled Slagwurm), Pistus Strike
Bonds answers attacking creatures but only after you’ve taken a hit and doesn’t answer important activated abilities. Slagwurm is a pseudo-bomb owing
to its large size, and Forge[/author]“]Titan [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] strikes me as an obvious trap — you can easily spend nine mana to achieve nothing before having your dreams Crushed,
not something I fancied doing. Ratchet Bomb destroys things, but with the mix of casting costs in Sealed play, it seems unlikely to be of much use.
Infect was quickly ruled out, due to only having a handful of creatures, some of which are pretty ropey (Blackcleave Goblin, Flensermite), and little
support. As were green and black as colors, each only being a couple of cards deep in playables, often with restrictive casting costs.
Based on the playable cards and limited number of removal spells I had available, U/R then seemed like the obvious color pairing, with a few decent
equipment in the living weapons and Strata Scythe, which could be pretty filthy if stuck on a flier.
This gave me the following forty:
In round one, I played against a Frenchman with the typical W/R aggressive deck and managed to win in a very close three games despite his having a
better pool. I got the feeling any wins I got would be equally close and require some degree of luck/run-good on my part.
At the start of round two, I was called off by a judge to receive a game loss for a mis-registered deck, having only marked 39 cards down. A schoolboy
error, considering I easily had enough time to double-check earlier on but neglected to do so, choosing instead to send Twitter messages from my phone
like an idiot.
I then played against a friendly American guy, Mike, who had a U/R metalcraft deck. We had a very good game, which I lost; although nearly bluffed my
way out of it — he had a Kuldotha Phoenix in hand I knew about, and I had less than four life, a board Â that would be lethal on his next turn if he
played it and attacked, and two useless (but unknown) cards in hand. He took a very long pause before attacking for the win, having already seen
Disperse from me, clearly considering the possibility I had more.
Round three, I played another Frenchman and game one mulliganed six lands, Corrupted Conscience (a fair decision, I think) into a no-lander and kept
five. He got Chrome Steed under a Prototype Portal turn 3, and I didn’t draw anything for it quickly enough. Game two, I mulliganed three no-landers
and kept my four-card hand on the play, put up some token resistance, then died.
Not feeling like I could win out from there and not feeling like playing another game with that deck at all, I dropped to go and hang out with my
Belgian friend Kenny (@daiches2) who had come by just for the day — complete with some home-baked treats
from his wife and a spare Commander deck for me to play with, which improved my mood no end!
That wasn’t the end of this Sealed pool though, as once back at our ridiculously sick apartment that evening, I got the opinion of some of my
housemates on the pool.
Kilt-wearing former national champion, the “uncommonly short” Stephen Murray, agreed with my choice of colors, though we were a few cards off:
Stephen says: “You need to be more aggressive than your build was and give yourself a shot to win before your opponent’s bombs take over the game. This
is a pretty weak pool though.”
While Simon O’Keefe and Nick Taylor went more aggressive still, opting for a R/W build:
Simon says: “Let’s be honest — This pool is never doing better than 3-3 now, is it?”
I can see their point about the pool not being likely to do well — it’s nothing on some of the others I saw, which contained multiple game-winning
bombs and significantly more removal. However, this doesn’t mean you should give up if you do open a weaker pool, and neither does it automatically
qualify you for Day 2 if you open a great one.
As Stephen was quick to point out, it might only be a small one, but when lumped with a below average pool, you need to give yourself a chance
to win against opponents who in the later rounds will undoubtedly have a better deck with lots of bombs. This might mean going all-in on an early
creature rush or playing a shaky mana base with no fixing — but it’s better to give yourself that chance than play a consistent but poor deck with no
hope of success.
Suggest a column name!
Thanks for reading the first of what I hope is a very long series of regular (fortnightly) articles from me here on StarCityGames.com — I’m proud to be
able to call this place home!
However, I’m lacking a column name right now, so if you’ve any suggestions or would like to show some support for any of the acceptable suggestions
I’ve had thus far (London Calling, Grin and Barrett, Shriekmawesome, Barrett’s Allsorts, or simply dangerawesome), please do let me know on Twitter or
in the forums.
Next time — a look ahead to the GB Nationals Qualifiers season!