Lessons From Grand Prix San Diego

Learning a Limited format on the fly, AJ analyzes his San Diego performance with a student’s perspective. If you’re interested in improving your Innistrad skills for a St. Louis Draft Open, class is in session!

I did not know much about Innistrad Limited coming into the Grand Prix. I had done three live drafts before the tournament, and they were not all that helpful overall. In the Swiss of a Draft Open, I had a nut U/B deck and drew Grimgrin a lot. In the Top 8 of the Draft Open, I passed two Travel Preparations and ended up G/W Humans before getting immediately destroyed in the first round. Finally, I did a six-man with Patrick Sullivan birding, and actually learned a decent amount. I also did two MODO drafts, both of which were me feeling out the format a little more and were quite helpful.

The “Drafting With” articles on StarCityGames.com helped a lot, and I even got to bird Tim Aten drafting live a couple of times while we were in Kansas City together, although I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been. And all of that is drafting, mind you, which is only the format of Day 2 of the GP, which you have to survive a bunch of rounds of Sealed Deck to get to. I had zero sealed experience coming in, and I knew that I was just going to do my best and try to learn as much as possible.

Sometimes, when I’m trying really hard to win, I have trouble maintaining my status as a student of the game. This is a devastating problem for any competitive player, and one that I have been working on improving recently. This tournament was the first one where I really went in with the goal in mind to learn as much as possible.

These are some of the results.

My sealed pool was mediocre but had some really solid interactions and synergies. I ended up playing removal-light U/B with a couple of fliers and a decent curve, along with a tiny bit of graveyard synergy. I ended up splashing red for a Harvest Pyre and a Brimstone Volley off a Traveler’s Amulet and a Shimmering Grotto.

I had two byes and spent them going over my deck and reconsidering my splash. Was it too greedy? Was my deck just underpowered? I played some games and analyzed my deck, trying to figure out what I needed to save my scarce removal for and what interactions I should try to lean on to win my games. I figured out that my two Stitcher’s Apprentices were going to be really key, as my deck could grind quite well with them. They interacted favorably with my two Nobles, my two morbid creatures, my one morbid spell, and my Ghoulraiser.

My first round was against Matt Ferrando on camera in Round 3. The Round 3 feature match at a GP is more bitter than sweet, as it’s essentially the consolation feature match for the suckers without three byes. Having had three byes due to rating and Pro Level for almost three years straight before this season, having to play a round early is still taking some getting used to. In Atlanta, the first event where I only had two byes, I almost missed Round 3 entirely, having assumed I had another hour to test.

The early feature matches are titled after their regular stars, such as the Richard Feldman Consolation Match, the Mike Flores Feature, and The Cedric Philips Show. I sure hope that my one-season dip into the (relative) hell of less than three byes doesn’t give a new meaning to the title “AJTV.”

So I’m paired against Matt, a friend from NYC, for the on-camera feature match. He knows almost all of my deck and I know a tiny bit of his from when we were all trying to get help with our builds from each other. Game 1, my plan is to grind him out with Stitcher and Noble against his vastly superior creature quality. I made some serious blunders in not knowing what the cards all did and just generally sequencing my spells poorly, in a tunnel visioned fear of his Werewolf flipping, and opened myself to getting blown out when he had a removal spell in response to my Cackling Counterpart (which I helped him find by letting him loot with his Murder of Crows for free).

For games 2 and 3, I pulled it together and had some nice curves while he had mana troubles and generally didn’t do much, and I was able to take the match.

Lesson: Read the cards in their entirety. This is only your sixth or so event with this set, so make sure everything does exactly what you think it does. As much as this gets stated, it doesn’t get stated enough. People lose more games to simply not reading a card than is even close to reasonable. There’s no shame in rereading a card you’ve played with a hundred times before to dispel any subconscious mental shortcuts you’ve developed that may muddle your understanding of a card’s otherwise simple ability.

Round 4, I don’t remember much from the match other than that I made lots of 5/5 Demons. Also, Manor Gargoyle is really hard to beat if you are careful about protecting it as there aren’t a lot of ways to assault it in this format.

Lesson: As expected, the Stitchers are going to be a significant part of the deck’s success. Rebuke, Spidery Grasp, other pump or burn spells, Corpse Lunge, etc. mean that there are lots of things to play around with Manor Gargoyle, so be careful with it and be diligent about figuring out which they have.

Round 5, I got absolutely destroyed by Jonas Kostler playing G/W. Travel Preparations is a card that I simply cannot beat. He had a Dagger as well, which proved difficult to deal with on 2/3 fliers as it outclassed a large majority of my creatures and, best case scenario, traded with my few precious win conditions. The games were basically complete blowouts with me being on the back foot the whole time, just getting crushed by his superior force and being helpless against a relatively simple army.

Lesson: Against G/W, look for spots to trade early and leave up removal, or better yet, Dissipate, on key turns to prevent blowouts. I also figured out a sideboard plan that was better than what I did in the match for any future pairings against similar pools.

Round 6, I believe I played against a relatively slow R/G Werewolf-centric deck. I made sure to save cards and play a spell every turn in order to keep his guys small long enough to race them, and it worked fairly easily, in large part thanks to drawing a near perfect land-to-spell ratio, although Alchemy helped a bit there. I also kept a Blazing Torch around forever rather than killing something early, managing my life total before outclassing his creature so that I could use the Torch in a more valuable spot down the line by combining it with the morbid Banshee. I don’t remember much about the match, but I do know that I was quite pleased with how I had played it once it was over.

Lesson: Blazing Torch dynamics! First of all, you should pretty much never cast it. Keeping their Werewolves flipped for another turn, or flipping them back if they time walk themselves to beef up their dudes, can be a huge swing. A one-mana spell goes a long way against those two-faced sons of bitches (Get it? Because the card takes up both sides and they’re wolves). The fact that it is so cheap also lets you have plenty of mana left over for any instants to keep those monsters in the day time, even if your opponent passes in an attempt to turn out the lights.

There’s also the surprise value of being able to remove a blocker or evasion creature they were relying on, or preventing a key Zombie block. I learned a great deal about such things when birding a random team draft game of the illustrious Gabe Walls a while back. He didn’t cast his 0/4 for W that gains 3 life when it blocks that was in his opener until much, much later in the game. He ended up flooding and getting crushed so it didn’t matter, but I still took a lot away from such a simple (non)play. He could get his opponent into a race situation where it looks like he’s ahead and both topdecking, only to deploy a huge race-changer in the form of the Wall he was slow-rolling to put a kink in the math after turns of hitting each other back and forth.

The one mana isn’t likely to matter, but the surprise of the extra hidden information can be invaluable. Think a little bit harder before you just run out that Torch because you have the extra mana, even if you plan on using all of your mana for the next three or four turns. It is still likely worth holding.

Round 7…actually that one was Round 7. What was Round 6? I don’t remember. I’m usually quite good at remembering what happened in matches, but I have memory footholds to go off of when trying to recollect the happenings of a match. However, since I was so new to this format, I haven’t naturally developed those yet. In fact, I don’t even know all of the card names or arts yet. Just what they (generally) do. And as Sunday’s PTQ winner and all around aggro-human Cedric Philips says, “The cards are in English.”

Round 8, Brian DeMars playing a far superior U/B deck also splashing red. He flooded out pretty horribly both games, but I managed my threats well and he made a questionable choice killing two creatures with his Devil’s Play when I likely would have just died had he waited a little longer and gone up top with it.

Blazing Torch was the absolute MVP this match. I got to attack past a couple of Zombies for a while, and then, when the game degenerated into fliers going at it after the ground got muddled up a bit, I was able to take control of the air by shooting one and using the morbid of my Banshee to kill the other. As with every match I won, it seemed, Cackling Counterpart played a large role in my victory.

Lesson: While being patient with removal is a good thing in just about every format, morbid especially rewards sitting on cheap removal until you can get the bonus value from it.

Round 9, I get paired against someone with the first name Kenji, and a very Japanese sounding last name. I obviously assumed a Japanese opponent, but ended up paired against a super awesome American kid. We had a really fun match and he was a really awesome opponent, but his deck didn’t cooperate and I got free range to fire up my engines against his removal-light deck. Making 5/5 flying Demons while draining him for two every turn is pretty hard to beat.

Lesson: The gameplan and sideboard plan I came up with after thinking over my loss earlier in the tournament came back to reward me here. It’s always nice when you get immediately rewarded for doing the right thing, but this is very rarely the case. More often than not, the work put in doesn’t end up coming back to immediately help. That lack of instant gratification makes the whole concept feel futile. However, it is worthwhile, both for the chance that it ends up being helpful later on, but also that it has lasting value; getting into positive habits, thinking about the game in such a way can develop favorable thought patterns, and so on.

That left me at 8-1 going into Day 2.

I’m in the fourth pod with Pascal Maynard, Gene Brumby, James Gates, and Shouta Yasooka. I open Mentor of the Meek and happily snap it up. I take Claustrophobia, Silent Departure, Grasp of Phantoms before seeing the guy in front of me fourth pick a Thraben Sentry and pass me a Vampire Interloper. I take it, and the black keeps coming. To everyone’s chagrin, I get to show off my fancy new Bloodline Keeper during the flip card review period. When we were asked to pick up our packs, I immediately put it on top of my stack before taking a look at the cards I was passing.

There were a couple of Delvers that I was really hoping to get, even taking a couple of filler spells over decent creatures, but Pascal Maynard gobbled them all up before I had a chance at them. This left me a little light on early dudes, but I ended up getting more removal, more card drawing, and more solid creatures. I played eighteen land, with three cards requiring BB and five or so requiring UU, with plenty of flashback spells to sink my extra mana into late. A Grasp, two Departures, two Moans, an Alchemy, and a Civilized Scholar—I thought my deck was really good, short only an Armored Skaab and a Makeshift Mauler from being excellent.

However, the games did not play out as I had expected.

The dude to my left had a Bloodline Keeper and a Garruk, but the rest of his deck had to be garbage or he wasn’t playing one of those, because I saw no green and took all of the black. Shouta’s deck was a train wreck for sure. Pascal, who had so aggressively taken Delvers, had some green and red flip cards and not many blue instants or sorceries. I felt the only real contender for 3-0 in the pod would be James Gates across the table. He is a really solid player and from the texture of the packs and the dynamics of the table, I was pretty sure either him or Gene had the nut red deck, receiving multiple late Geistflames and even later Pitchburn Devils and Ashmouth Hounds.

Round 10: Sure enough, I get paired against Jamethy Gateson III to start the pod and he has the red deck. It turns out that one Occultist and one Dead Weight is not enough to hold off an aggressive early game from a strong red deck. I mulliganed on the play in both games and missed land drops, dying in game 1 with one swamp and all double-black cards, and in game 2 with only three lands and all four-drops. A disappointing way to lose, but I knew our match was going to be for the 3-0. While I would drop another match, which I didn’t foresee, James did indeed end up the champion of our pod.

Lesson: I should have put a higher priority on 2/3s or 1/4s for three mana during the draft portion, as they are the backbone of early defense for these graveyard-centric U/B decks. A Mauler or even a Fortress Crab (maybe little pinch?) would have been nice as well, but my four-slot was fairly packed as it was. A Lost in Mist and one of my two Vampire Interlopers being two generic, defensive creatures would have skyrocketed the value of my deck.

Round 11, I played against Pascal Maynard’s U/R abortion splashing Gnaw to the Bone and the backside of Memory’s Journey. It turns out that none of my creatures can actually beat a 2/1 that pings anything it combats with. Huh. He even put some messed-up red +2/+2 enchantment and a “first strike, +1/+1 if human” equipment on one of them. Thankfully, Hounds aren’t Humans.

I stabilized too late in game 1 and he just values me out. Game 2 though, I have no pressure and am taking some beats while holding up Lost in Mist, both making it impossible for me to cast anything and making it obvious I have at least one trick, and it’s likely at least one counter. He baits me with some nice three-drop and I decide to just counter it and move on with the game, rather than just lose to his two dorks while holding up this counter. He slams his eighth land and a Heretic’s Punishment as I’m tapped low, which my U/B deck obviously can’t beat.

Lesson: I need things that do stuff! Once again, low-drop creatures would have made all the difference. If I could have played a creature on three and four before holding up Lost in Mist, I likely would have won. However, he was under no pressure and had a clock, so he was in no hurry to do anything at all. I needed him to make an egregious error for me to win in that spot, and he’s Pascal Maynard so I lost.

Round 12: I played against a nice Mexican dude who was fairly quiet, seemingly from a lack of English. He was cool enough, though. His deck was pretty weak and I just Bloodline Keeper him out of both games very easily, winning with a hand full of spells to his empty board and hand both times. That is how I thought more of my games were going to go; he was R/G dudes, and I had lots of ways to punish him for playing mono five-drops.

Since my side was so easy it was stupid, I had to step into my opponent’s shoes to get a main takeaway from this match (you should always do this anyway, but for the purposes of this article, most of the points I am taking the time to write up were from my own perspective.).

Lesson: There are so many heavy tempo cards that a dinosaur-esque strategy just isn’t viable in its current form. You need to curve out, or at least be doing something to mess with your opponent who is surely trying to curve out. If you don’t, you’ll just be too far behind when you get to start playing the game, and there are too many nails in the format that could be put in your coffin. It felt straight filthy when his first creature got Dead Weighted, and his second was a five-drop that got Grasped, Departured, back Departured, back Grasped on the next four turns.

Second draft, I sit next to Johnny Magic himself, Jon Finkel. Canadian ringer Dan Lanthier is, I believe, the only other name in the pod.

I start the draft with a Sever the Bloodline, and my next couple of picks are red and black removal spells. Pretty early, Finkel takes a Delver behind me. He then follows it up with an Armored Skaab that he accidentally puts face-up onto his stack on top of the flip card. While I could already assume Jon was going to go blue, it was nice to get confirmation so early. I end up getting a pretty late Kessig Wolf Run, and with two black cards and three red cards, I took it and followed it with some decent green guys relatively late, taking that as a good signal.

Pack two, I open Grimgrin in a really weak pack. There’s just an Into the Maw and some middling green creatures. I decide to just take the Mythic. At this point I have a distribution like…

1 Wolf Run

2 mediocre green guys

2 black removal spells

1 black playable filler

2 red removal spells

2 red creatures

With a blue Finkel passing to me that pack, and the dude in front of me in red (he took two flip cards, otherwise I never would have known from what he had passed me. The packs must have been pretty strange or he was drafting poorly). I figured that I could easily play U/B splashing red, or R/B splashing blue, leaning heavily on my black in both cases. There was a decent chance I could play the five mana insta-win. If I didn’t end up playing it, it cost me a pretty solid card in Into the Maw, but the potential payoff was high enough that I was willing to risk it. While Into the Maw is unreal in more controlling decks, I prefer my R/B decks to be more aggressive, devaluing the Into the Maw ever so slightly.

Passing the red player in front of me Into the Maw also helps solidify him in red and lets me try and soak up as much blue as I can in pack three if that’s the route I go. I’m in this awkward spot where I’m likely either red or blue to supplement my black, and will be cut hard in each of those colors for one of the two remaining packs. So whichever way I go, I know that I have to rely on the black flowing in whichever pack where I am being cut from my secondary color.

I end up getting a bunch of awesome red cards passed to me from the left, and the decision is made. I get Harvest Pyre, Pitchburn Devils, Rage Thrower, and Rakish Heir along with another Interloper and some filler.

I officially give up on the Grimgrin when no blue was jumping out at me early in pack three, and I didn’t see an early Grotto I could try and wheel or any Traveler’s Amulets to help facilitate any splashing shenanigans. I get my third and fourth Interlopers with picks five and six before staring at a second Pitchburn Devils or a second Rakish Heir. I took the Heir, and I’m not 100% sure about it. With four Interlopers, a couple of other Vampires, and removal to get them through (plus I trying to table Bloodcrazed Neonate), I think it was correct. However, that Pitchburn guy is a real beating.

My deck was shaping up to be extremely fast, so I went with the pick that complimented that and had more synergy with the cards already in my stack rather than the one that is inherently more powerful. While this is standard practice in Limited, it is still often a difficult decision to make and it’s not always easy to tell where the line is on power sacrifice being worthwhile. This is something you just have to get a feel for, both in general and in each format specifically (and with each archetype specifically). I know Tim Aten and Sam Black are very good at finding this line, and it is often quite liberal towards synergy over power. As two of the better drafters in the game, I have tried adopting this more into my own game, as my instinct is more often than not to lean in the direction of power.

I end up with a very lean and aggressive deck. I was a little short on two-drops, having only a Grizzly Zombie and the four Interlopers, with the tapped Isamaru as my only one-drop. However, my threes are pretty awesome and I have a lot of cheap removal. I end up playing one Bump in the Night and leaving the other on the sidelines. I was afraid that I wasn’t burn-oriented enough to warrant playing both, and they play kind of awkwardly with additional copies of themselves. In hindsight, I probably should have found room for it. I might be biased because I ended up boarding it in in all three rounds as the matchups asked for it, but I’m not so sure it isn’t right to just jam both main.

Round 13, I play against CanaDanLan with a G/W deck. He mulligans and misses land drops, while I have a pretty sick curve in both games. A judge was pestering him to play faster when he’s trying to manage his life total and figure out his runner-runner outs to my impressive curve, and he was still able to play at a reasonable pace. I get that slow play is hard to enforce and is subjective and all, but when a guy takes thirty-one seconds to make a decision when he’s super far behind and mana screwed and there’s forty minutes left on the clock in game 2, maybe the judges should just let us play.

The judge took the time to explain to us that he felt the game state wasn’t changing all that much with each new card he drew and that not much reassessing was necessary. However, that’s because he is only looking for the “best” play for that turn, not trying to create a gameplan based on any number of series of potential draws. We both understood what he meant, but there is a reason that he would have lost that game 99% of the time and Dan would lose it 96% of the time.

Anyway, in that second game I had mulliganed and my only pressure was a lone Interloper while he missed his third land drop for a turn or two. He draws his third land and passes. I cast the Coercion that exiles, which I had boarded in, and took a Mausoleum Guard, leaving him with Rebuke and simply passing. Although it may be tempting to take the removal spell there so you can attack, you have to realize that you can just draw more cards and develop your board. Eventually he will have to do something, and then you can attack freely while stranding it in his hand. By making him hold up that mana, you’re basically playing three lands up on him in the meantime for the low price of “missing” being able to attack for two a couple of times.

My deck was more aggressive than I thought, and I realized the Bump in the Night was probably awesome. Also, when I saw he was G/W and didn’t see any removal from him in game 1, I boarded in two Islands and big daddy Grimgrin, though it didn’t come close to coming up.

Lesson: I realized that I had a hard time with Chapel Geist, and even the 2/1 first striking flier for 2W if I didn’t have my Geistflame or Dead Weight. If I was going to play against a deck with those, I should consider boarding in Grimgrin or Wolf Run and my green ground guys. The hit to the manabase would be significant, but I would be giving myself a chance to win instead of letting their commons blank my whole deck.

Round 14, I played against a three-color deck that seemed a little clunky. He was R/G/W with some awkward spells and doofy guys, but a nice mix of tricks, removal, early guys, and big guys. Game 1, I mulligan but have a pair of Interlopers. On turn 4, he attacks with his Chapel Geist, relying on his freshly farmed first strike flier to hold me off, which I Giestflame and get in for four. He starts playing more defensively and developing his board. I do some math before starting to send the team. I two-for-one myself to kill a 4/4 Angel while pushing through just enough damage (at the cost of my army to his Chapel Geist and such) to drop him to 7 with a Geistflame in my yard, and my hand consisting of a useless Ghoulraiser, Bump in the Night, and my fifth land.

The next turn was Bump you, go, end of turn Geistflame you. He’s at 3 life with a freshly cast Dearly Departed. I have a couple of draws and I need a land, my Brimstone Volley, or my Pitchburn Devils. I draw the Sever and axe the “dragon.” This reduces him to four attacking power to my 18 life. He draws and plays another dude while I draw a Rakish Heir. I can only play one of my two creatures. He draws and plays another guy while I draw a Riot Devils. He has lethal the next turn, and I brick off again and die. I had four draws for fourteen outs. Luckily (maybe a poor choice of words), I had just spent the past week getting two-outered on the felt in Vegas, so this was almost expected.

Game 2, I curve out really strong and have removal for his fliers. Bump and grind, baby, bump and grind.

In the final game, my opponent tanks really hard on his opener on the play before eventually keeping. He misses his third land drop for a turn or two and I roll him over with the help of a couple of Rakish Heir’d Interlopers, one wearing a Dagger, and backed by removal.

Lesson: Unlike a lot of other matches, there wasn’t really one play or one concept that was really easy to extract from the match. There are always nice little plays that aren’t really worth talking about after the fact, and subtle, possibly even subconscious things being learned. However, instead of trying to force something worth talking about out of the match, I’m going to instead bring up something that I thought of since the tournament.

While the rest of the lessons I discuss are, for the most part, format-specific and easily accessible for any level player, this next one is admittedly a little…out there. It would be easy to read it and think it was such a stupidly unlikely situation that it’s not worth considering, but it’s more of an exercise in how to think about things a little more deeply than just a hot tip about the format.

Say you are playing against a competent opponent, someone who is actually quite good at the game and you know has played the format quite a bit. He thinks for a while before keeping his hand on the draw, then plays a turn 1 Traveler’s Amulet. Say you even opened with a Forest or a Mountain, and he still played his Amulet on one. What does that say about his hand?

I think there are four likely scenarios that we can narrow him down to:

One, he doesn’t have a second land. This is simple enough because he won’t have the land to play and activate it next turn.

It’s also possible that he has only one more land and two two-drops. If he only had one two-drop, he would simply spend his turn 3 playing and activating the Amulet to prevent any potential Werewolves from flipping. This way, he can still play a spell on turn 3, so he is maximizing his mana and making sure he hits that land drop.

The third scenario is that his two-drop is a Werewolf. This will only prove true if that play holds great value for his deck/draw, if he doesn’t have a third land yet, or if his third turn play was also a Werewolf and he plans on flipping them the turn after. This third possibility is seemingly less likely than one of the first two.

Four, he made a mistake. While this is definitely possible, we can eliminate it straight away as a consideration for a variety of reasons, the chief of which is for the sake of the exercise.

To me, the fact that he thought before keeping makes the second scenario less likely, as two lands, amulet, double two-drop is generally going to be a snapper. That means we can likely narrow him down to having kept a one-lander with an amulet.

The ramifications of this induction are more broad and context-dependent. It could be as simple as using the Naturalize you boarded in for his Bonds of Faith on the Traveler’s Amulet. It could be that you favor an attacking creature on turn 3 rather than a defensive or utility one to try and pressure him before he can deploy his hand. I don’t know; this is just something I was thinking about when considering Amulet’s position in the format.

Consider it brain food; while it may not directly help any of you, as you are unlikely to be called upon for such a gameplay situation, it’s just an example of what it means to be a student of the game.

Round 15, I play against Finkel. I heard he had an insane U/R Burning Vengeance deck with three (!) copies of the namesake card. I check standings briefly and it looks like we can’t make it into the Top 16 anyway. I suppose we could have drawn into the Top 32, but I was too lazy to do the math on it, too embarrassed to ask for the draw, and too frustrated that I couldn’t qualify for Honolulu even with a win to end up X-3; a record, mind you, that used to Top 8.

As we sit down, I introduce myself to him saying that, despite half-meeting a couple of times, we’ve never met properly. We team drafted against each other in Honolulu, which is a pretty hilarious story for another time, and I had drafted at his apartment before when he wasn’t there. At one point in our match, I remember Conrad Kolos’ opponent not remembering whether or not he had drawn a card for the turn, so they had to count the cards up, which included multiple flashback cards and either a Forbidden Alchemy or a Mulch (or both). It was pretty insane.

So I win the roll and keep the worst hand imaginable for absolutely no reason. It starts on turn 3, isn’t even that good then, and has two removal spells against his presumably extremely creature-light deck. This was by far my biggest regret of the tournament. Even as I played my first land, I realized what a terrible decision I had just made.

Game 2, I have a strong curve and Bump him out.

Game 3 was the most fun game of the tournament. I start with the completely standard and normal play of turn 1, Bump in the Night targeting Jon Finkel. I play some guys while he Sensory Deprivations and such. He plays a Burning Vengeance and uses his only flashback card to kill my last creature. I Night Terrors him, taking his only spell. We’re both on empty, except I have him to 7 with Geistflame and Bump in the Night in my yard.

If I can draw a creature and have him not draw a flashback card, I get him. I also have the second Bump I boarded in as well as a Brimstone Volley. He needs to draw removal, blockers, or flashback cards for each creature I draw as well as a way to kill me. Seeing as his deck is fairly creature-light, I’m comfortable that I have some time to draw one of my two burn spells to kill him outright while he chains flashbackers to shock me to death.

So, I draw a land and back the Bump. He draws and plays a Tormented Pariah.


Now most of my ground guys will trade so I need a flier or two ground creatures to break through and kill him before he draws something. I draw another land and Geistflame him to keep the 3/2 from doubling up to Craw Wurm status before passing the turn.

He draws and plays a Makeshift Mauler.


Now no ground guy will do it, and a flier needs to come right now or it won’t be fast enough, and instead of the six to eight turns I gave myself to draw one of my two burn spells when we first entered topdeck mode, I was down to two. Two, that is, if I draw any spell to keep the Pariah from flipping, which would be exactsies.

But it’s another land. Rats.

Jon ends up getting 17th, as I would have were I victorious. I end up in the Top 64 for a single Pro Point (what’s that?) and two hundred of Hasbro’s United States dollars.

Anyway, lesson: With a seemingly unbelievably strong deck featuring three Burning Vengeance, I realized that there is a lot to discover in this format. There are so many cool archetypes that are underexplored, and after playing more in San Francisco and watching the Worlds drafts and talking to some sickos, it seems like the whole set is new again since the GP; that much has been figured out about the format.

Mulch is unbelievably powerful. Spider Spawning is a bona fide bomb. Skaab Goliath isn’t a graveyard-deck card. Darkthicket Wolf is just about unbeatable. Selfless Cathar is likely better than Doomed Traveler in some decks. Gnaw to the Bone is maindeckable. I could go on all day and all night. However, it feels like this is another article entirely, and one that I don’t claim to be adept enough to write about at that.

That’s all from me for now. I’m hoping to get Episode 5 of AJTV up next week. Then, I have two throwback AJ-rant articles in mind, one on Draft and one on Standard. We’ll see how those go. I’d also like to write a piece about Planeswalker Points and the OP changes, but I don’t know when I would be able to fit it in.

If you have any questions or topics for AJTV, please feel free to tweet them to me @HUDbot and, while I may not have time to respond to all of them, rest assured that I will definitely read them all. I have also continued putting up the episodes on my YouTube channel a month after their original release here.

Also also (this is a lot of post-script stuff, sorry), I recently did a live stream of some MODOing and, despite playing some of the worst Magic I ever have in my entire life and being incredibly ill the entire time, it was actually a lot of fun! Plus, people seemed to enjoy it a fair amount. So, I’m planning on doing it every now and again. I figure I would be MODOing anyway, might as well let people bird, right? Plus, between rounds, instead of watching SC2 like I would have otherwise, I was answering questions from and having conversations with the chat. It was pretty cool. Definitely check that out if hanging out with me and birding some Magic sounds like something you might be interested in. I’ll provide the link to my TwitchTV channel below, which you can follow, or you can just follow me on Twitter and I’ll tweet an announcement with a link whenever I decide to stream.

Thanks for reading. As we move into December, I hope everyone stays warm and avoids yellow snow. I’ll see you in St. Louis and then Charlotte to close out the 2011 StarCityGames.com Open Series season!


AJ Sacher