Lessons from Grand Prix: Austin

I have to admit I had high hopes coming into this GP. Not only did I feel I had a virtual stranglehold on the draft format, but it would have been poetically great. You see, I only had one really good year in Magic. That year began with GP: Houston. I figured, what better place for a comeback than the state where it all began? What I failed to realize was that my skills aren’t what they once were, and there was a day of sealed before the draft. Regardless, there was a lot to be learned from my heartbreak that weekend, and hopefully the wisdom I gained will help the rest of you become better Limited players.

Tournament reports are nice, but how much do they actually tell you? I respect the genre in general, but lately they have been lacking. Sure writers like Tim Aten spice up the actual article with humorous stories and amusing non-sequiturs, but I think that that is a lot of smoke and mirrors. Though perhaps I am just bitter, because my smoke and mirrors rarely cover up the portions of my article that are in need of being covered up.

You might be wondering where the dilemmas are. Well, I was trying to track down an opponent for this round. I was working on getting a hold of Anton Jonsson, but he’s quite a reclusive Swede, unwilling to share his vast Limited knowledge with the world. And as it turns out, I am going to be taking a little break from writing after this article, though the Dilemma series will go on. In the meantime, I bring to you the things I learned in Grand Prix: Austin.

I have to admit I had high hopes coming into this GP. Not only did I feel I had a virtual stranglehold on the draft format, but it would have been poetically great. You see, I only had one really good year in Magic. That year began with GP: Houston. I figured, what better place for a comeback than the state where it all began. What I failed to realize was that my skills aren’t what they once were, and there is a day of sealed before the draft.

The weekend started out pretty poor. My flight from Albany went fine, but my connecting flight in Chicago was delayed 2-3 hours. While waiting for the plane, I did I quick two-on-two draft with Brian David Marshall as my partner vs. Mauro Bongiovani and Michael Crumb. I drafted what I thought was an awesome R/U arcane deck. I learned two valuable lessons before I even got to Austin.

1. River Kaijin is the most important common creature for a R/U arcane deck.

Blue has a lot of fliers, no need to rush and get them. Frostwielder is good, but compared to pingers of the past, he isn’t much to speak of. I have heard discussion that Callous Deceiver can replace the Kaijin, but that simply is not the case. The Kaijin stop the two-power Bushido guys, Deceiver doesn’t. And no matter how cool your Arcane deck is, if you don’t have Kaijin to hold the ground, you will lose the game on tempo. The Red/Blue deck in this set is fundamentally identical to the Red/Blue deck from Tempest Tempest Stronghold draft and Horned Turtle was a welcome addition to that deck as well. You couldn’t take it early in Tempest, since the spells were so powerful and you didn’t really need to, since there weren’t any ground creatures without shadow that other similar creatures like Filamarid couldn’t block. There is no common creature you should be drafting in Red/Blue over the Kaijin.

2. Long-Forgotten Gohei is one of the most powerful cards in the set.

I had faced this card in the prerelease. It impressed me there. When Mauro played it against me in Chicago O’Hare Airport, it single-handedly won both games. Clearly not single-handedly, but if not for the bonus it gave his Spirits, I would have won both games. I took Glacial Ray over it the first time I saw it, which I am fairly sure was correct. The second time I took Hanabi Blast, which I am less convinced is correct. I was just far too excited about getting Glacial Ray 3rd and Hanabi Blast 7th. This card not only puts you in a more even match with Bushido creatures, but it also makes them harder to kill. I haven’t tried it in the Arcane deck yet, but I imagine reducing the cost is not insignificant. Hey, you can even get The Unspeakable out with only four mana. Moving on.

After some enjoyable chats with BDM that made the plane ride go much quicker than it had any right to, we land and share a cab with Mauro to the Radisson while Mike Crumb meets up with a friend and hops a cab to his Marriott. My good friend Mike Churchill of the Winston Churchills was waiting in the lobby for me. We got our room, went upstairs and ordered some room service. While we were eating, Antonino, Osyp, and Professor Potato Head met us in our room and we headed to the site to register and tried to get a Rochester Draft started. We found three other willing participants and began the draft.

I was between Osyp and Churchill. I set myself up for a great Blue/Black seat, with Osyp passing to me and drafting some combination of Red, White and Green. Mike was behind me drafting Red/White. I opened Kumano, Master Yamabushi, and learned:

3. No matter how good the card is, stay in your colors!

I took Dance of Shadows, which wasn’t that difficult since it isn’t that much worse than the Master, but still. Master Yamabushi is arguably the best card in the set (though a later lesson would make me think this a little less).

I know I have preached this since the dawn of time, but considering the power level of the card I passed, I think it is important to note again that a solid two-color deck will always triumph, and your best shot at getting a playable deck is to cooperate with your neighbors. Acts like passing Kumano are not soon forgotten.

My deck turned out great. I wound up facing Mike in the first round. I beat him with Dance of Shadows when he had Kumano in play, so that made me feel a little better with all the criticism I was taking. I lost in round 2 to Antonino. His deck was a pretty fast Red/Black deck and my Fear creatures and spells were not nearly as powerful. Mike and I went back to our room with Paul Reitzl in tow. Kibler eventually arrived and we all went to bed. Three of us slept, and Kibler lied awake all night in bed due to a messed up sleep schedule. [And the fact that Brian is now Nosferatu. – Knut, expert on sanguivores]

We woke up and all got our decks for the GP. None were terribly impressive, even though mine came with a note saying “Day 2 baby!” People, when a new set comes out, refrain from writing notes like this. My deck had a lot of good cards in it, but they were spread out and there was no way to make a great deck. All I could do was make a powerful deck with bad mana, or a marginal deck with good mana. I went with the bad mana base and paid for it. However:

4. Tempo has once again become even more important.

Jon Sonne was drawing first throughout the tournament. It is sort of hard to argue with the results. His argument was that since everyone had good two-drops, getting yours out first didn’t accomplish much. While I see his point, I think the point he was missing was that in both sealed and draft there are viable control decks. The problems with these decks is that the game can slip away from them when they are on the draw (particularly if they don’t have 1/4’s). I was able to splice Glacial Ray on the order of five times against Mike, killing a creature every time, and still lost because he played Isamaru, Hound of Konda against me on turn 1.

Jon is a great player, and perhaps an even better theorist. If he says drawing first is correct, it very well may be, but from my experience you really want to play first.

The GP itself was rough. After my 3 byes I drew about 30 land in 2 games round 4 (though I would have lost game 2 regardless), then I screwed up in round 5 to lose my feature match. It was a very subtle mistake that the coverage didn’t catch, but I could have won and didn’t. It was a shame. I felt like I was playing really well and to lose to one small subtle mistake was really upsetting. But I can’t blame anyone but myself. I screwed up, and as far as I could see, Mr. Pechon didn’t, so I lost.

After this beating, Tim Aten, Mike and I went back to my hotel room to get some packs. On our way back, we see Kibler and Huey walking out of the site. What a fine group we are. The alleged pros and we are all out two rounds after our byes. Mike, Tim and I promptly got slaughtered in a team draft, mostly thanks to Mike and I who combined for an impressive 1-5 (I got the one, no applause, no applause). Then it was just a matter of waiting for Mark Zajdner to finish:

5. Mark Zajdner is my favorite person to hang out with at events.

Mark is not the most well liked of personalities on the PT, but that’s just because he doesn’t need to suck up to people. Mark is the most honest person on the PT. If anything, he is honest to a fault. You don’t have to wonder if he is lying to you or sugar coating the truth. He is absolutely hilarious. I almost never stop laughing when I am around him. He has his critics, but I promise you, this is a person worth getting to know.

Mark, Drew Pacifico, Mike, Drew’s friend Ryan, and I all went to hang out in their room. It was good times as always. We wound up heading downstairs to do a draft to help Mark practice for day 2. We did an 8-man booster consisting of Mark, Mike, Drew, Ryan, Kibler, Reiztl, myself, and a friend of Mitch Tamblyn’s whose name I never quite caught. Mitch’s friend wound up taking us down. I was defeated in round 1 by Mike in said game involving Hound and Ray. However in the draft itself I learned:

6. No matter how good the players in a draft are, cards will be overlooked in new sets.

Dance of Shadows went 11th in this draft. Dance of Shadows is one of the best cards in the set. I can’t expound on this too much, as I think this card is a no-brainer. I think Mirrodin just made people forget what Fear actually is.

Sleep soon followed the draft. I was to win the PTQ the next day. I slept relatively soundly, and headed to the site for the PTQ. My deck was awesome. It had two copies of Keiga, the Tide Star, one Kodama of the South Tree, and a Time of Need to fetch them. The deck was very solid around these bombs too. I expected good things. Then after going 3-0, I learned:

7. No matter how good your sealed deck is there is always one better.

I lost to a deck that made mine look like a pile of poo. He had two Blind with Anger, two Yamabushi’s Flame, Hikari, Twilight Guardian, and Ghostly Prison. He beat me but good because:

8. Blind with Anger is the best card in the set.

Obviously I am just talking Limited here, but this card is nearly unbeatable. I played when Ray of Command was around, and I didn’t have the appreciation for it that I should have, and I considered it a first pick. There is honestly and truly not a card in the set you should be taking over Blind with Anger first pick, first pack.

I scrubbed out of the PTQ, much like every other Magic endeavor that weekend. It hurt a lot. I thought I had a grasp of the format, but I guess I was just wrong. Time will tell if I can adjust.

Sunday night I returned to the site in not the most sober of states. I was promptly thrown out along with Mitch Tamblyn for throwing cards. Stay sober at the site kids – you don’t want to get tossed, as it is rather embarrassing, especially at 26.

That’s all I have for now. I leave you in the capable hands of Tim Aten and Nick Eisel. Despite the barbs I may throw their way, these guys know what’s up. I wish you all the best, and thanks for reading.


[email protected]