The past two weeks have seen me play in two more Grand Prix, this time on opposite sides of the country, with very different results.
Grand Prix Washington DC
Being that day 1 encompassed the first matches I had ever played with Sneak and Show in Legacy (I usually play fair decks), my story for Grand Prix Washington DC is simple enough for the notes to have been recorded on the back of a scrap of paper labeled "Days Inn" that I found in my wallet sometime after round 11.
It goes like this:
After an abysmal 0-4 performance with Shardless Bug at the SCG Legacy Open in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, I decided that I would not be playing fair for DC. Credit goes to William "Huey" Jensen for shipping me the changes to his Invitational decklist late on Friday night before the tournament. The only change I made to his suggestions was to add the fourth Spell Pierce to the maindeck in place of the second Misdirection, which was almost certainly wrong based on the number of amazing things Misdirection did over the course of the weekend in addition to being an extra free counterspell to help protect Show and Tell.
The winner for most impressive play involving Misdirection was when I played a fetch land with a City of Traitors in play against RUG Delver, broke it with the "sacrifice City of Traitors" trigger on the stack, and had my opponent try to Stifle the fetch land only to have it Misdirected to the City of Traitors trigger instead. Huey did recommend playing two, and the card overperformed, so I’ll be trying the second copy going forward.
Within 60 seconds of my tournament starting in round 4, there was trouble. When I presented my deck to my opponent for shuffling, he picked it up and looked at the bottom card, which was very obviously a Show and Tell. Clearly an honest man, he called a judge on himself for the mistake and took his warning well, fearing he might get a game loss for learning a valuable piece of information about what my deck did.
We both emphatically kept our seven-card hands, and on the play with my first main phase of the tournament and all the panache of a seasoned Sneak and Show veteran, I shrugged my shoulders visibly and went Island, Lotus Petal, Lotus Petal, Show and Tell, Griselbrand. This series of plays clearly could not have caught my opponent too off guard due to the shuffling mishap, but turn 1 is still very powerful. This is a clear representation of the "oops, I did it!" power of Show and Tell.
I took two losses on day 1, the first coming in round 7 to Frank Skarren playing Shardless BUG. I had been on the Shardless BUG side of this matchup at least a dozen times before and felt confident that it was going to be tough for Frank. But it was my own inexperience with the deck that cost me a shot at game 3 when I whiffed on all my outs after failing to crack a fetch land before an important draw step. I had used Preordain to put two copies of Ponder on the bottom of my library, and I had a ton of mana at that point, so the Ponders would have decreased my chances of whiffing by a significant margin.
My second loss came at the hands of Lewis Laskin in the following round playing . . . it doesn’t really matter what he was playing. Allow me to expand on something I’d like to refer to as "The Laskin Effect" or "Getting Laskined."
It has always been my experience when playing against Lew Laskin that if I am playing an established archetype he will be better prepared than I and beat me easily. Something about the way he prepares for the tournaments he chooses to play puts players like me squarely into his crosshairs. This time he was playing CounterTop (information that he willingly gave before the start of the match) and crushed me in two games before adding another notch to the side of his deck box in the "Easy Wins" column.
The last match of day one was a Sneak and Show mirror match, a win-and-in for day 2, and carried with it the appropriate amount of drama. The match went to three games, and when I had to mulligan down to five cards on the draw, it felt over. But as the Brainstorms and Ponders from my opponent resolved, I saw only tilt and Lotus Petals on the other side of the table where there should have been more lands. This gave me quite a bit of time and allowed my deck to work its way through a land pocket and sculpt a hand that was at least a little bit threatening.
Finally, after maneuvering into the midgame, I tried an end-step Through the Breach with an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in hand. It was met with a Swan Song, which I elected not to fight over, and after another land drop and an attack for two, I passed the turn. Another turn cycle went by, and my opponent (perhaps feeling the pressure from the 2/2 Bird he gave me) tried for an end-step Through the Breach of his own, cracking a Lotus Petal and tapping four lands.
I cast Daze, and he cracked his last Lotus Petal and paid. I cast Spell Pierce, and he responded with Force of Will. I then paid the full five mana for a Misdirection, which left me Sneak Attack and Emrakul as my only two cards in hand and ended the counter war. With just his four lands now, my opponent untapped and cast a Sneak Attack but had to pass the turn back to me. I untapped, Sneaked my Emrakul into play, and sighed the sigh of a man who just pulled off a squeaker.
I wonder how many players there are out there who feel they are capable of triggering an opponent into playing themselves into a bottleneck like that. I’m not one such a player; I just managed to draw all the pieces in time to be able to still pressure an opponent having mana problems. But what I didn’t do was convince him that it was time for him to try going off as well. When I picture the best competitor I can be, I picture a player who can knowingly influence something like that into occurring and use it to their advantage. Is this realistic? Is there someone that does this regularly? Do they have an hourly rate?
Teach me please . . . I’m here to learn.
Starting day 2 with a 7-2 record is like walking on eggshells. You know that winning the tournament is still a possibility, but one small slipup with or without fault leaves you brainstorming creative ways to make sure you can still salvage $200 from your time and energy. After stumbling some on day 1, I felt that I had the mistakes due to inexperience out of my system and could settle in for some matches that I understood. I went 5-1 on day 2 to finish 12-3, good enough for 27th place and $400. But as the day drew to a close, I couldn’t shake the feeling like my tournament ended in round 11.
I took my lone loss of the day after a game 3 that finished with a twelve-turn parade of dead draw steps. In the end, a single Delver of Secrets beat me down from 34 life. During the early turns of the game, my opponent put a Pithing Needle into play as a trump for my Griselbrand off of a Show and Tell. As the game unfolded and the Demon was finally answered with a Liliana of the Veil, I was subjected to draw step after draw step that made me want to eat my cards.
Well, not my cards; Brian Coval cards. So no big deal.
After the match (which is referred to on my scrap of notepaper only as "Round 11 – Big Complains"), I sought out some friends from CMU talented enough mathematically to deduce the percentages of the outs I had missed. After some intense deliberation involving a calculator and much cleaning of eyeglasses, the figure of 99.4% was produced, and I ran screaming from the venue with my long arms flailing above my head.
The recent change to a day 2structure that starts at 9 AM and only has six rounds has been very easy to accept for me given its impact on football season. So it came to be that I found myself in a crowded sports bar at 3:45 on a Sunday afternoon after a Grand Prix watching the Washington Redskined (Potatoes) giftwrap an interception to the Philadelphia Eagles in the final seconds of the game.
I barely managed to contain myself as Conley Woods and my attorney David Bauer tried their hardest to alert the Washington fans around us that they had an individual in their midst who was particularly full of "brotherly love." The day was clearly slated to be mine, however, as both Conley and Bauer were brought moldy pieces of cheesecake for dessert that resulted in free pie all around. Fly Eagles . . . fly.
Grand Prix Albuquerque
Four months had passed at least since I last made the trek, but the trip from my front door to the airport fit like a glove. There were moments where I grumbled under my breath some of the scathing remarks I once would have reserved only for @delta via Twitter, but these days when I fly, I am reminded of Louis CK:
"I had to wait for 45 minutes on the runway! Can you believe that?"
Oh? Do you mean before you were suddenly flying? Soaring through the air at 600 MPH like a bird . . . impossibly?
"I was delayed on my flight to the West Coast by three hours!"
That trip used to take three months. People died on the way there, and no one even stopped; they just put a stick in the ground with your hat on top.
I plunked away at the laptop angled up on my belly and sat with my shoulder turned toward the window. That didn’t stop the gentleman squeezed in the middle seat from being generous with the honey roasted peanuts though. Good man.
Upon arrival I could tell that I had been greatly deceived regarding the weather I could expect in New Mexico, as 30 degree temperatures and 50 MPH wind gusts were the only things greeting me when I first stepped foot on Albuquerque soil. A friend suggested that I acquire for myself a Camel to prevent the incessant pinging I was taking from the Desert, but I still don’t understand how banding works so I couldn’t see that being useful.
The only changes I made from the list I used to win the Standard Open in Indianapolis last month were to add Shrivel and the second Gainsay to the sideboard over a Pithing Needle and Trading Post. Shrivel is a great card against W/R and Mono-Red Aggro, and had I thought those decks would be a larger part of the field, I would have included a second and possibly a third copy. The extra Gainsay helps against Mono-Blue Devotion (which has turned into quite the even matchup lately) and also gives you another card against a control mirror, which post-board is mostly a numbers game involving counterspells and threats.
My tournament was very sloppy. I lost immediately following my byes to a deck that pretended it was Mono-Black Devotion. After winning game 1, I took a beating in game 2 from Lifebane Zombie and Desecration Demon before the truth was revealed in game 3 when my opponent defeated me with a turn 3 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and then back-to-back Jace Memory Adepts, which left me feeling that I had sideboarded like a buffoon.
From there it was all downhill, as I played deck after deck in the one-loss bracket (which quickly became the two- and three-loss bracket) that I simply had never tested against. My opponents embarrassed me, and I embarrassed myself, stopping to read Toil // Trouble at least once along the way. It got so bad that in round 8 while sitting with a record of 4-3 and joking back and forth with my opponent about how miserable we were playing for Planeswalker Points that I was asked to watch my mouth when I slipped a curse word into a sentence much too loudly. Shame on me, family environment.
Sunday’s side events didn’t go much better, as I registered a B/W Sealed deck with two Silent Artisans in addition to other creatures built only for blocking, promptly lost round one, and dropped.
It’s always easy to blame losses that you don’t understand on running bad. But while I didn’t have amazing draws, I didn’t play at my absolute sharpest either. I’m sure that this had to do in some part with the schedule of Magic events I’ve been putting myself through, but there is no stopping now. Obstacles are meant to be conquered.
Onward to Vegas!
I awoke by myself Monday morning to a hotel room in complete disarray. Magic cards, pizza boxes, and various unmentionables covered every flat surface available and served as a grim reminder of the steam that was blown off mere hours before. ESPN droned lazily on in the background, providing me all the scores and highlights I could digest through one bloodshot eye.
It has been almost four years now since I moved back to Pennsylvania from Colorado, and while it brings me joy every time I see the Rockies, this particular trip was a bust.
I’ve got a real nice trip to Grand Prix Toronto planned here that I’ll be leaving for shortly. It’s complete with a massive winter storm, a car full of friends (only three of whom are classified giants), and an eight-hour drive into Canada to a town run by Chris Farley.
Yeah right, eight hours. We’ll see what a foot of snow has to say about that.
Maybe sometime I’ll regale you all with the story of my 24-hour trip to Grand Prix Atlanta last year, but for now . . . nuts . . . there goes that fourth wall again.
Or was it only soliloquy?