Levelling Up – A Daytona Beach Sealed Deck Tale

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Tiago Chan, without a clear goal to hit in the Pro Player’s Club, was a little reluctant to attend Grand Prix: Daytona Beach. However, a Magical holiday is hard to turn down. Today’s Levelling Up sees Portugal’s Level 6 mage take us through three possible builds of his Sealed Deck cardpool, before walking us through his tournament round by round. His match with Shuhei for Day 2 play was particulalry spicy, and is detailed at length… as is his bizarre hotel experience!

Coming back home after Grand Prix: Daytona Beach, Raphael Levy asked me if I was happy with my trip.. Some time ago, when I was booking time for Grand Prix tournaments, it just seemed right to go to Daytona Beach. It was a mere fly over the Atlantic from a Western European country to the East American coast. Of course, both places are quite irrelevant for air traffic, so I was required to take three flights, which also seemed a good plan as it would allow me to Level Up in miles. But as time passed, I realized I had no interest in going to Daytona, as I was no longer aiming for any Pro Player Club level. I felt like one of those mid-table teams, who can’t win the title or any extra prizes but have no pressure of being relegated to an inferior league… they’re only waiting for the season to finish.

This is, of course, an awful way to see things. Every tournament is an opportunity. At Worlds, even if you’re not looking to Level Up, you have an opportunity to be World Champion. Daytona was another Grand Prix for me to try to Top 8. Even if my performance ended being disappointing, I had an opportunity to visit a place thanks to Magic which I probably wouldn’t otherwise. Daytona Beach happened to be a very nice place, and an excellent location for a Grand Prix, since this time I did not need a two hour ride from the airport, like past adventures in North American Grands Prix this year.

Fortunately I had booked my flight for Thursday, as I missed one of my connection flights. It was already past midnight when I made it to our very cheap and very crappy hotel. On Friday I woke up before my roommates, so I headed to the beach while they were sleeping, only to return to the room shortly after as it was freezing near the ocean. Back at the room, my movements woke up Jelger Wiegersma, and we went for breakfast. We walked a long way, as everything was closed. Those lazy Americans who refuse to work in the morning! Eventually we found a place open, and we realized that the closures and the temperature had an explanation. Our hotel room clock was wrong… it was only 8am. No wonder the beach was freezing, and of course most places were closed.

In the afternoon we headed to the site, where a security guard at the convention center wouldn’t allow us in. According to his instructions, Friday was only for non-qualified players. Those players already qualified were only supposed to get in on Saturday. Since we were as qualified for Saturday as the people already in there playing, we argued our way in. Let me tell you this: disrespecting the law will get you into trouble, as you’ll see later on, when some Americans tried to call the police on Raph and I.

Anyway, I was happy I broke in. I was tutored by Gabe Walls in a team draft we played, on mulligan decisions and manabases, as Gabe had some different ideas on the subject from my own. I got to play a little Constructed with the Japanese, as no American had packed a Standard or Legacy deck. I watched Kenji kill on turn 1 in two out of three of his games. I wasn’t sure what was happening, because I haven’t played Legacy before and the cards were in Japanese. Later, I sabotaged Chris McDaniel’s eight-man practice draft, and realized that’s the reason why I can’t win in Two-Headed Giant. When two players have different game plans and you try to execute them both, it’s going to be a lot worse than trying to execute only the weakest plan.

On Saturday I received an interesting card pool. Instead of listing the pool here, since I think most of the time people skip it, I’ll present the three possible builds I came up with. I hope to hear on forums which one you guys prefer.

I don’t plan to restart the discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of splashing, but in the end I decided against it because I had no mana fixers, and most of my cards had very intense color requirements. I opted for the Blue/White version, as it seemed more solid overall. Black had more powerful cards, but it was running some filler. Black, however, had the advantage of having removal, so I switched in between games many times to the Blue/Black version, and once even to the Blue/White splash Black build. I thought the Blue/White deck was good against Green decks, and bad against other Blue/White decks, which was a combination that many players at the Grand Prix favored.

Round 4: Cristopher Green, U/W

He played Ethereal Whiskergill and Kithkin Balloonist, and nothing else. That was good enough for me. I had only one Island and tons of Plains, so I could not cast Guile or any of the other double Blue cards for quite a while. I ended up drawing a second Island, and played some spells, but none dealt with the flyers.

Game 2 he was very mana screwed, and that was the only reason I won, as it became obvious I wasn’t winning this matchup with this build. His two Silvergill Dousers slowed me down long enough, and he played more quality cards, but he was still stuck on mana so I managed to steal this game.

This made me change my deck for the Blue/White splash Black version, in order to have some way to deal with Silvergill Douser. For game 3 I drew only Islands and a Swamp and a ton of White cards, while he was beating me with a 2/1 and a Silvergill Douser due to his own mana flood. My only plays were a Nameless Inversion to kill an Islandwalker, and an evoked Aethersnipe. Eventually I drew a Plains, but he drew Ajani.

Even though I had some mana troubles (and the manabase of the deck used in game 3 is awful), the game I won and the game I had a chance were the ones in which he was heavily mana screwed or mana flooded. This made me realize I did indeed have a good deck, but not a deck that would win an attrition war against other Blue/White decks with strong cards such as Planeswalkers, Drowner of Secrets, or Summon the School.

3 – 1

Round 5: Mark Young

I faced Red/Black splashing for two Aethersnipes in game 1. I faced White/Blue splashing for Red removal in game 2.

Usually, when someone has two decks, neither is much stronger than the other. As both were three colors, that should mean the decks are not very strong.

Game 1 he mulliganed, keeping a hand which didn’t play many threats. Veteran of the Depths; Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile; and Cloudgoat Ranger from my side were enough.

Game 2 I started with turn 1 Goldmeadow Stalwart which dealt some damage, and afterwards I had Aethersnipe and even managed to play Guile with Familiar’s Ruse protection. Mark used some resources to deal with them, but the early damage points from Isamaru were very important as they allowed me to play an attacking strategy from a different perspective.

I ended up not sideboarding this round, as I saw a Red/Black deck in Game 1.

4 – 1

Round 6: Brad Taulbee, Blue-White-Black

I lost game 1 to four attacks of his Cloadgoat Ranger. I sideboarded into the Blue/Black deck.

I spent the early to mid game trying to survive as he had the early tempo. I managed to stabilize, and multiple attacks with Surgespanner and a Marsh Flitter from underneath Shelldock Isle gave me a close win.

With mere minutes to play game 3, I lost in the extra turns. He mulliganed and had a fine curved start. I think I played strategically bad – really bad, awfully bad. I evoked Mulldrifter on turn 5 and lost… maybe I could’ve drawn the match if I’d played better Magic.

4 – 2

Round 7: Jason Gracia, Red-Black-White

I don’t remember much from any of the games. I don’t remember him playing any bomb, just cards, and the match was full of fair trades. Two cards shone on my side – Streambed Aquitects and Runed Stalactite – because when the board accumulated creatures, they helped unbalance the symmetry, in my favor both on offense and defense.

5 – 2

Round 8

Of the three wins I picked up at this Grand Prix, two were against average three-color decks. The other match, this round, I didn’t even play. Cutting a long story short, I found something to be suspicious, Judges considered it unintentional, I appealed to the Head Judge because I believed the judges didn’t even consider the possibility of the actions being intentional. They investigated the situation more carefully, and during the investigation my opponent lied. Don’t lie to the judges, and don’t try to get out of it. Lying will probably get you disqualified.

6 – 2

Round 9: Shuhei Nakamura, Green-Black-Red

I checked the standings and realized my chances of making Day 2, even with a win, weren’t high. I felt tempted to concede to my good friend Shuhei, as he was placed higher in the standings than me, but unfortunately you don’t travel all the way from Portugal to Daytona Beach to concede, even when your chances are bad.

This was a Feature Match, and BDM accurately described what happened: “Shuhei managed to overwhelm the Portuguese player with his array of bombs, including Wort, Wren’s Run Packmaster, and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, and advance to Day Two.” I was also mana flooded in one of the games. I could’ve won the other, but the outcome was determined by a few very small technical details…

Shuhei is at 10 life, I’m at 6. He has a 2/2 fear guy, tapped, that I have no answer for, and an untapped Wren’s Run Packmaster with five untapped lands. He’s holding four cards. I think that every turn I wait I have less and less chances of winning, as he will make Wolf tokens. I will die to the 2/2 fear guy, and I’m giving him draws to find an answer for my lethal attack. I see an opening, and go for it.

I have Cloadgoat Ranger, three Kithkin tokens, and Streambed Aquitects. I’m holding Surge of Thoughtweft and Wings of Velis Vel. I attack with Cloudgoat Ranger and the three Kithkin tokens. If he blocks only one, I’m going for the kill. If he makes a wolf and blocks two guys, I kill the Wren’s Run Packmaster. He simply blocks the Cloadgoat Ranger with his 5/5.

I have three 1/1s, unblocked. That’s three damage. I make one a 4/4 with Wings of Velis Vel. That’s six damage now, to his ten life points. If I play Surge of Thoughtweft it’s three more, and tapping Aquitects tkes the final point. I play Surge of Thoughtweft, and I have a counterspell on top (I know this thanks to a previous Inkfathom Divers). Shuhei responds to the Surge of Thoughtweft by killing one of the Kithkins. He has a trick, so I’m dead a couple turns later, since I don’t draw anything to win and he doesn’t need anything else.

After the match, Gabe Walls corrected Shuhei, who admited playing the removal spell too early. The correct play would’ve been to let the Surge resolve, because that’s still only nine damage. That would make me tap the Aquitects for the tenth point. Then Shuhei could cast his removal, and with my Aquitects tapped he would win the next turn because I had no blockers. However, making this correct play that allows him to kill next turn would’ve lost him the game. Gabe Walls would’ve made a better play than Shuhei, but then lost because I had a counterspell on top (drawn with the Surge of Thoughtweft).

Billy Moreno rewound the turn with me, and pointed me to a better play. Attack with everything, including Aquitects. Shuhei blocks the Cloadgoat Ranger with his 5/5. I have 5 points of damage unblocked, and could play Surge of Thoughtweft first. If he responds and kills a creature, I turn one into a 4/4 with Wings of Velis Vel. If he doesn’t, all my creatures are pumped and the total damage is nine. I draw a card, and I can now play the Wings for the final points with counterspell backup.

My play would deal exactly ten damage, so I needed to play Wings first to turn the creature into a 4/4, and then Surge to pump it into a 5/5.

Billy’s play deals more than ten damage, so I can play the Surge first, make them all 2/2s, and then pump a 2/2 up to a 4/4. Since my play dealt only ten, I needed to pump a 1/1 to a 5/5. Playing the Surge first allows you to have protection for his removal: Wings if he responds, and countermagic when I play Wings if he doesn’t.

Shuhei’s trick was Eyeblight’s Ending, therefore nullified by Wings of Velis Vel, and my counterspell was Familiar’s Ruse. I had mana to play it, and I could bounce the blocked Cloadgoat Ranger.

In the end, I lost because Shuhei played differently than Gabe Walls… but I also lost because I played differently than Billy Moreno, as that play had protection against many outcomes, including shuhei’s eventual trick.

As consolation, it transpired that I would not have made it in with a win. If I was mathematically sure of that going into the round I would’ve scooped immediately, but my friend won and advanced to Day 2 in 63rd place out of 64, so I was happy for him.

Since, of the four people rooming with me, only Oli made Day 2, I had some company on Sunday. After all, that’s what Misery loves. Usually, in Grands Prix, everyone else makes Day 2, and you feel very useless if you miss out. We did some sightseeing on the beach in the morning, and some drafts in the afternoon. I played a little more Constructed, and even drafted again after dinner in the suites Brett Blackman and many Americans had booked. This made me really sad when I had to return to our very crappy hotel.

On Monday, Raph and I checked out at 12:20. We were charged half a daily rate because of late check out. We tried to argue the point, since it’s the first time I’ve actually been charged for late check out, and I do travel a lot. The hote staff immediatly started yelling at us, and threatning to call the police. Gadiel was waiting for us, since we were going to share a cab to the airport. He came to our aid, saying that the hotel staff should treat guests nicely, otherwise what were the chances of us returning?.

The person I assumed to be in charge yelled at him: “Don’t teach me how to run my business!”

I guess it makes sense. Run a cheap and crappy hotel, in a bad condition, with phones and clocks not working, showers out of order… and then rip off the guests, since they’re probably not coming back.

Conclusions? Follow the rules, and don’t give reasons for people to get you. Don’t do suspicious things in Magic, don’t lie to judges, and don’t check out after hours. Also, don’t forget to mention which deckbuild you prefer in the forums. If I was to play with this pool again, I would probably pick one of the other options.

Thank you for reading!