Levelling up: From Athens to Kobe, Part 1

Tiago’s continued successes on the tournament Magic scene can be attributed to hard work, dedication, and talent. Today he tells the tale of his Top 16 performance at Grand Prix: Athens, and how his performance tied in to his preparation for the Big Show: Pro Tour: Kobe. He gives an overview of his drafting technique, and shares some of the funny moments experienced on the road…

It took me 31 hours to get back home from Kobe.

Some time ago, when I was booking my flight to Pro Tour: Kobe, I found out that flying from Lisbon to Osaka cost 1050 Euros, but flying from Athens would be only 750 Euros. The problem, though, was the return journey. I would leave from Osaka to Doha, from Doha to Athens, Athens to Madrid, and finally Madrid to Lisbon. It sure was painful, and I’m still jet-lagging at home, sleeping in my own bed, trying to figure it out to which timezone my body is set, but at least my results were satisfying to say the least.

In this short series of two articles, I will tell you the stories of my trips to Grand Prix: Athens and Pro Tour: Kobe, which propelled me close to Level 5 and kept me mathematically still in contention for Player of the Year, even though it’s not my race. Both events were Time Spiral draft, so I’ll also share my thoughts on this format: it’ll be used a lot during PTQs for Geneva and upcoming Grand Prix tournaments.

Before leaving for Athens, my goal was to earn a single extra Pro Point in between Athens and Kobe. I had 25, with four more guaranteed by attending Kobe and Worlds, so I just wanted one extra to reach Level 4 and bring this season to an end, as I really disliked Ravnica Limited. This seems an easy task, but I’ve been failing at it since June. I missed Day 2 at two GPs – Toulouse and Malmo – and I finished 33rd at PT: Charleston.

Preparation for a Limited event is much different than for a Constructed one, as drafting is fun and something that you naturally do even when you’re not playtesting for anything. I went through three distinct steps while drafting Time Spiral Limited. The first one was before Athens. I attended all the Prereleases I could, to get in touch with the cards, and drafted with some of the best players my own country has to offer, plus our National Team for Worlds as they had free drafts sponsored. The second stage was at GP: Athens, exchanging impressions, drafting, playing and watching some of the best players in the world… this taught me a lot about strategies. The final step was at Shuhei Nakamura‘s house with a restrict group of players, where we drafted all the time. Rather than just dump all the conclusions in here, I will follow a timeline and mention them whenever I acquired them, or when they become relevant in the story.

This first part will focus on the rounds of Grand Prix Athens. Whenever I make Day 2 of a Limited Grand Prix, I’m confident I can finish in the money and earn the respective extra pro points… but to get there, you have to make it through the Sealed. Unlike other players, I like the Sealed deck format, as I played it a lot when I was PTQing. For players who only play a random GP here and there it might be annoying to receive bad card pools, but I played all the eight European GPs, and while I got one weak deck and one unplayable one, I also got a broken one, and one or two others were pretty decent. As for the one I received in Athens… I would classify it as very good. I liked my chances of reaching Day 2.

This is the deck I built:

I’ll list the rest of my card pool in case you’re curious, and if you have the patience to take a more careful look at it, please tell me any changes you would’ve made in building this deck. For example, it is possible not to splash Red and play straight Blue/Black, or splash White instead of Red, or even play Blue/Red base. Even with the same colors, it is possible to switch some cards.

Saltcrusted Steppe

Temporal Isolation
Outrider en-Kor
Jedit’s Dragoons
Gaze of Justice
Foriysian Interceptor
Detainment Spell
Children of Korlis

Fool’s Demise
Mystical Teachings
Screeching Sliver
Think Twice
Dream Stalker

Psychotic Episode
Dread Return
Cyclopean Guide
Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore

Sulfurous Blast
Mogg War Marshal
Viashino Bladescout
Eron the Relentless
Flamecore Elemental
Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician
Subterranean Shambler
Aetherflame Wall
Barbed Shocker
Ground Rift
Ironclaw Buzzardiers

Wormwood Dryad
Wall of Roots
Scarwood Treefolk
Scryb Ranger
Gemhide Sliver
Durkwood Baloth
Ashcoat Bear
Chameleon Blur
2 Herd Gnarr
Thrill of the Hunt

Chromatic Star #2
Brass Gnat
Chronatog Totem
2 Venser’s Sliver

Dementia Sliver
Harmonic Sliver
Teferi’s Moat

Recalling what happened in Limited games is more difficult than Constructed, due to the games usually being very similar, but I’ll try my best. I had byes in the first three rounds, so I used them to have lunch, play some practice games, and catch up with people. At least for me, now that I’ve grown used to having three byes, they seem to pass by in an instant.

Round 4: Geoffrey Siron — R/W
Geoff has an aggressive Red and White deck, like your usual and solid draft deck, but perhaps lacking a little of extra power needed for a Sealed Deck with five Rares plus five Timeshifted cards. I won the first game on the back of a turn 2 Looter Il-Kor. I had it once again on turn 2 of the second game, but it was stopped by Aetherflame Wall from his side. This slowed down the pace of the game, and I played three or four morphs over the next turns. Geoff was attacking me with a Celestial Crusader each turn, while I was attacking each turn with a morph only, as they were pretty big and I needed the mana to untap them (Slipstream Eel and Brine Elemental). Several turns later the board is around six creatures for me, and Celestial Crusader for him. He topdecks Conflagrate the turn before he dies, and has mana for exactly my life total after attacking with his flier. We have less than ten minutes for game 3. I remember playing a Fathom Seer morphed down on my turn 3, and he attacked me with his Thick-Skinned Goblin; I blocked, stacked damage, and unmorphed returning my two Islands to my hand, leaving me with a single Swamp. On my turn I played the second swamp, went to my discard step and use it to madness a Gorgon Recluse. With that card advantage, I’m able to win before time runs out, but I assume his deck wasn’t that good, as he dropped after a while.

4 — 0

Round 5: Márcio Carvalho — G/B splash Red
We both keep and Márcio stalls on two lands for quite a while. I played turn 2 Looter once again (well, I do have two of them), turns 3 and 4 random morphs (not one of the three Fathom Seer), and I keep attacking taking advantage of him only having two lands. Finally he draws his third and passes. I attack with my three guys and lose them all to Hail Storm. One of our friends who dropped at this GP was watching the game, and he had this to say:

“Here’s something you don’t see everyday. Márcio Carvalho manascrewed, and Tiago Chan being owned like a dummy”

Yes, that was a stupid play. I should’ve attacked with the Looter and one of the morphs only. We had seen each other’s deck, and I knew about Hail Storm, and I had to remember it… but I didn’t. Now Márcio was back in the game with six cards in his hand, and the board empty. However, his life total was at one digit only, so a Stuffy Doll was enough to slow his attacks and ping him for the remaining points.

In game 2 we trade some initial creatures, either in combat or with removal spells, but he’s obviously mana-flooded and I still have two random guys. I attack with them. He draws a card, and it’s a Search for Tomorrow. I attack once again, he draws, and it’s a land. I attack once more, he draws, and scoops.

5 — 0

Round 6: Ilian Iliev — G/B/R
I lost game 1 mostly due to Kaervek the Merciless and Thelonite Hermit, backed up by solid spells. I had a small hope of holding the ground as I had some random creatures and the Stuffy Doll. I drew my fourth swamp to kill Kaervek with Tendrils of Corruption, but when he draws his Sudden Death to kill my Doll I’m suddenly in a very bad position and lose after 2 attacks.

Game 2, by turn 7 or 8, I have three Islands and one Swamp in play, with a full hand of: Sudden Shock, Lightning Axe, Pirate Ship, Stuffy Doll, Sudden Death, Nightshade Assassin, and Gorgon Recluse. I draw another card that cost either five mana or double-Black, and discarded Nightshade Assassin. On the next turn I draw Fathom Seer, play it (leaving the Black mana open), and unmorph it hoping to draw a Swamp or a Mountain. The Swamp would’ve allowed me to play Gorgon Recluse via Madness at the end of turn, and the Red would’ve allowed me to play Sudden Shock or Lightning Axe. If I succeed, I have a chance to hold back the defenses a little longer, but I’m still in an uncomfortable position. I don’t have to worry, as I didn’t draw either land and lose after two turns.

5 — 1

Round 7: George Georgiu — G/R
In the first game the board is somewhat balanced, but he had bigger creatures and attacked with them all. I played Lightning Axe killing one, discarding Nightshade Assassin and playing him via Madness, revealing black cards killing another, and blocking and killing a third one with the two-power first strike. He played Might of Old Krosa and saved one of them. I gain some more card advantage with my Fathom Seers, and even though none of my creatures is big enough to attack through his, Stuffy Doll and the advantage of double blocking was enough to keep his army quiet. I win by pinging him with the Doll and Pirate Ship. In the second I’m a little manascrewed, and it took me a while to recover, but fortunately for me he runs out of gas at some point giving me some room to breathe. From here, I’m able to get much better draws due to my Looter, and he doesn’t seem to draw much – mostly lands and one-toughness guys, with my Pirate Ship on the table.

6 — 1

With only one round remaining I’m guaranteed Day 2 if I draw the next one. After all, that’s why I came here for, to grab a Pro Point that I’ve been chasing since June. Obtaining it, gives me somehow a sense of mission accomplished for GP: Athens. But I absolutely hate to take intentional draws in Grand Prix competition, and I always refuse to draw in the final round of Day 1, even if I’m out with a loss. I refuse to give away two points, and I feel that going into Day 2 X-2 or X-2-1 is useless as you need to sweep to reach the Top 8. That was my philosophy when I didn’t care for Pro Points. Now that Wizards has increased the amount of points for GPs in Day 2, and with the Pro Player’s Club Levels, that philosophy might need to be reviewed.

While I waited for Round 7 to end, I’m having a discussion about drawing or playing with some Portuguese players. One side defended it was best to play safe and draw, while the other wanted me to think big. Big like “Top 8 GP: Athens or reach Level 5,” so they advised me to play. As for me, I was happy with being Level 4, with 25 points. I wasn’t thinking about reaching 40 points and Level 5. On the other hand, the only time I drew into a Day 2 of a GP was at GP Porto 2000 where I finished tenth and regretted “losing” those two points earlier. My conclusion for the moment was: check the standings when they post them and then decide, even though I was leaning towards play, because I believed my deck was really good.

Round 8: Rodrigo Borba — G/B
I nearly died laughing at the situation fate presented us. Rodrigo Borba was present during the discussion about play or draw that took almost half an hour, and he was the most enthusiastic defender of playing (for my situation). I checked the standings, and I think I’m in with a loss anyway, and besides, I love my deck. Rodrigo, though… he had average tiebreakers, as he had two byes and picked his loss early, so he wanted a draw. With a quick math, I figured he had a 50-50 chance to make it with a loss, even though he assumed he had no chance. Nevertheless, I choose to play. After what he said to me the round before, Rodrigo doesn’t even ask for a draw; he knew playing was the correct decision for me.

I do remember the cards I saw from his deck, such as Greenseeker, Mana Skimmer, Phantom Wurm, and Tendrils of Corruption, but I don’t recall what happened in both games other than it wasn’t even close. I easily win 2-0, and hope for his breakers to hold on, as I didn’t want to eliminate someone I knew. I’ve been in this situation several times, and I’ve always won such elimination rounds. Sometimes my opponents made it, other times they didn’t. I’d better start drawing, because according to statistics, I am due to lose soon and fail to make Day 2.

7 — 1

After Round 8 I check the standings and I’m 17th as my tie-breakers dropped significantly, so I go to table 3 along with some familiar faces. I noticed Rodrigo Borda made it in 57th place and congratulate him. Turns out he didn’t know; he was playing some games with his friend Francisco and didn’t even bother to look at the standings. I called it a day, and took the half-hour tram ride back to the place where I was staying (more on that later).

Sunday 15th of October, Day 2 of GP Athens

At this point, I was still on the first stage of my preparation in Time Spiral draft. I knew about the cards, as I played a lot with them, but I was still discovering about the archetypes. My preferences were draft Blue if possible, and avoid Green unless it had to be.

Pod 3 for the first draft was very respectable and was full of recognizable faces, friends, and players with recent good results.

Nico Bohny
Roel van Heeswijk
Pierre Canali
Raphael Levy
Vincent Lemoine
Nikos Andriopoulos
And my friend from Portugal, Gonçalo Pinto

I was seated to be receiving from Raphael Levy and passing to Nikos Andriopoulos. My first pick was Rift Bolt over Ixidron. Ixidron is a very good card, but I’ve played it a couple of times and I don’t like it that much. I second picked Temporal Eddy or Snapback, and third picked Sulfurous Blast while passing Ancestral Visions, so Nikos to my left was probably going Blue. I followed the draft with regular Red cards, until the Ixidron tabled back, and after that I picked a late Snapback or Temporal Eddy. I even got some later Green picks, keeping the option to go R/G as I had the feeling that U/R wasn’t the way to go. I had passed good Blue cards.

My first pick in the second pack was Prismatic Lens (from a weak booster), and I waited to see which color was coming, Blue or Green. It was obviously Green, and from there I just had to autopick what my deck needed the most. After pack 2, it needed combat tricks over creatures, so I first and third pick Strength in Numbers, with a Jolrael second pick in between.

This deck seemed good, pretty solid. It could use maybe some more two-mana drops, having only three creatures and the Prismatic Lens, and it only had a Jolrael has a bomb. She is, however, the most expensive creature in the deck, making it low-costed and aggressive, with two Strength in Numbers and Undying Rage. This Aura is labelled as the new Moldervine Cloak, as it turns any body into a reasonable threat. Another synergy in the deck is the double Scarwood Treefolk and Sulfurous Blast.

Round 9: Nico Bohny — G/W splash U
This was probably my worst matchup. Historically, Green/Red or Black/Red aggro decks have problems against Green/White decks, as their creatures are better and they have pump or damage prevention spells making it easy to resist against an initial rush. Exceptions are when creatures exist that can dominate the board by themselves, such as Sparksmith. That way, the Green/White deck is supposed to lose since it can’t kill such threats.

I won the die roll and played turn 2 Spinneret Sliver and turn 3 Suq’Ata Lancer, attacking for four, and Nico played turn 3 Tivadar of Thorn, nullifying both my creatures. In fact, I only had four guys in my entire deck that could attack into or past the new Paladin En-Vec: two Scarwood Treefolk, Dodecapod, and Ironclaw Buzzardiers. I still had Jolrael, but he had Valor in his graveyard, so I needed to drop more lands on the board and still attack twice. I was being hit in the air by Serra Avenger, and Akroma finished me quicker.

I won game 2 very quickly, with another strong draw, this time he didn’t had Tivadar of Thorn. I guess my only chance was for him to not draw the Angels or the Tivadar. In the third game I had a good chance of winning, as he was slightly color-screwed lacking Green, but he dropped Teferi’s Moat. I didn’t see it in the other games, so I didn’t side in the Molder. The Moat gave him enough time to recover and kill me.

Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Teferi’s Moat
Tivadar of Thorn
Serra Avenger
Mystic Enforcer
Hunting Moa
Weathered Bodyguards

I don’t think I could ever win this match, but I had some chances with his color-screw in game 3. A fair loss, and a great story to tell my buddies. But now I had to sweep the rest of the rounds and hopefully draw the last one. Yeah, right…

7 — 2

Round 10: Raphael Levy — B/R Slivers
The first game is a pure race, with his Slivers (and Bonesplitter Sliver) against my guys. I’m able to kill one with Grapeshot and another with Orcish Cannonade, and turn the race slightly in my favor. He still has more creatures, but I’m able to win one turn before him, thanks to Strength in Numbers, with another in hand for backup. In game 2 he mulliganed, possibly to five. He started with turn 2 sliver and turn 3 Sedge Sliver. I have the Rift Bolt and kill the rare while he’s tapped out and can’t regenerate. Raph tells me it’s the only card I could have on turn 3 to kill the Sedge Sliver, and since he didn’t pass me any (and Nikos to my left was also Red), my only chance was to open it, first pick it, and have it in my hand… which I did. As for the rest of the game… I get a two- or three-for-one with Sulfurous Blast, and then drop my entire hand with Coal Stoker.

8 — 2

Round 11: Nikos Andriopoulos
From the first game, other that I won, I can only remember seeing multiple bounce spells (probably two Temporal Eddy) so I replaced the Undying Rage for an Herd Gnarr. I also removed Wormwood Dryad, since it was just a three mana 3/1, for another Viashino Bladescout, a combat trick and a flash creature for the Gnarr. I remember being manascrewed for quite some time – I think when I played Herd Gnarr there was already a Tectonic Fiend on the other side. He pays the echo and attacks, and on the following turn I play Mogg War Marshal and strike back for 6, gaining some chumpblockers for the 7/7 that has to attack every turn. After playing some more creatures and attacking with the Gnarr on the next turns, I’m able to steal back a game where I stumbled at the beginning.

9 — 2

I needed to win the first two rounds and draw the third for Top 8. There were another two Portuguese players in Pod 2, so we wanted to avoid each other. If everything went well, there’d be two of us in the Top 8, or at least one. Probably. Only the two finalists of this drafts would make it.

Márcio Carvalho
Ricardo Ramião
Shuhei Nakamura
Aaron Brackmann
Simon Bouton
Jonathan Rispal
Nico Bohny

My seat was receiving from Aaron Brackmann, and I’m not sure who I was feeding but it was probably Nico Bohny. My first pick was quite easy: Griffin Guide. I’m passed a pack with Kaervek the Merciless, Dragon Whelp, and Sudden Shock. I assumed Aaron Brackmann opened this packs and wanted to stay away from the Red train that this pack would form. My first pick was White, and it’s an excellent card, so that makes me lean more towards the Red cards instead of the gold one. I choose to pick Dragon Whelp, as I think it’s the best card in the pack regardless of the colors. Over the draft I got the feeling that Red was open despite the cards that I passed. My main color was Red, and I was unsure about my second, but decided to stick with White, even though I picked a Feebleness and a Mana Skimmer, and a really late Looter il-Kor in pack 2.

Overall, I was satisfied with the deck, and my decision to stay White. There were few White cards in the deck, but they were crucial. The White creatures helped round out the curve, and the Cavalry Master plus Gustcloak Cavalier helped get through the defenses after the initial assault, not to mention Griffin Guide. Plus two power and toughness, and flying, is huge in this deck. Just like the previous draft, this is also an aggressive deck, each build with his own ways to support the small creatures.

I made a mistake during deckbuilding – I should’ve left Aetherflame Wall in the sideboard. I like the card in some decks, as it works as River Kaijin, one of the most important cards of Blue decks in Kamigawa as Blue needs ground blockers. I thought the Wall fitted in the curve of this deck, and since all my creatures have evasion, the Wall seemed a fine blocker. Other options included a Fortify – the card I would choose if I had to built again – Flamecore Elemental, Greater Gargadon, and Momentary Blink.

Round 12: Ricardo Ramião — G/R splash W
I had the feeling I was being paired up against Ramiao this round. I don’t know why. In the first game he mulligans and I have a strong draw. His Thallid Shell-Dweller buys him some time, but a Flowstone Channeler allows my Cavalry Master to continue attacking. On turn 5 I have a devastating turn, playing 2 Coal Stokers and Orcish Cannonade to kill the 0/5 Wall that blocked. I attacked with everything in the next turn, and all my creatures except the Cavalry Master traded with Mogg War Marshal and Hail Storm. I played Ib Halfheart to join the 3/3 flanker, and attack on the next turn, this time meeting a flashed Havenwood Wurm that traded with the Goblin Legend. I paid six to Lightning Axe him, and made two tokens with the tapped mountains. Another attack on the next turn, and Ramiao was out of tricks. I dealt the final damage with Rift Bolt.

Game 2 is my turn to mulligan, and my first plays are Amrou Seekers turn 3 and Cavalry Master on turn 4. Ramiao attacks me with Greenseeker and I block with the Master. If he has a trick it’s still a two-for-one, and pump spells are really good against my burn spells so I don’t mind trading it for a creature even if it’s a good one. Ramião played Mystic Enforcer and then Jolrael. He activated once and attacked me down to five. I reach seven mana and play Conflagrate on the Jolrael for three, but on the next turn, Ramiao played another spell and reached threshold, and killed me with the flying Mystic Enforcer.

I saw his deck to be Green/Red splash White, and feel a little relieved knowing his white splash was Mystic Enforcer and not Fiery Justice. I had done enough drafts to know there aren’t many White bombs you want to splash in your Green/Red. Fiery Justice is one of them, and it’s devastating.

For the third game, Ramiao took a mulligan once again, and kept one Forest and Search for Tomorrow, but managed to draw lands. I kept a slow hand, and suddenly I’m not the aggressor in the matchup anymore. With time running out, it seems that Ramiao is pushing me to the ropes, and I’m only trying to stay alive. But I had Amrou Seekers and Flamecore Elemental (sided in) on the table, and was holding Griffin Guide, just waiting the opportunity to finish the game in two attacks. First I needed to deal with his threats. Bogardan Rager took down his Mystic Enforcer. Rift Bolt killed Jolrael, and Pentarch Ward his Verdant Embrace. His attackers dropped me low, but I stabilized when we entered extra turns. I enchant the 5/4 with Griffin Guide and attack. Ramiao attacks me back. I block, and he concedes.

And he also had Fiery Justice in his deck, just as I suspected.

10 — 2

Round 13: Aaron Brackmann — U/R
I don’t remember anything about the first game, nor even any cards we played, so I guess we both had regular draws, traded some cards and attacks, and eventually he came on top and won. In the second I managed to drop him down to two life. I have five Plains and one Mountain. As soon as I draw the second Red source I win, due to a Conflagrate in my graveyard. To make things worse, my hand is Plains and Dragon Whelp. I still have many turns to draw it, and have some random blockers on the table. However, I’m losing two life each turn from a 2/2 flier, and Aaron finishes me with a Bogardan Rager on the flier for my life totals.

10 — 3

Round 14: Jonathan Rispal — Mono Black
Aetherflame Wall, the 23rd card that should’ve been in the sideboard, was in some of the key plays of this match. On turn 3 I have Chromatic Star, Mountain, and two Plains, and play the Wall, leaving the Plains open. He attacks me with two creatures. I block Pit Keeper and sacrifice the Star for Red mana to pump the Wall. I play some creatures, and even though he’s playing spells he’s not mounting any defenses. He played a Phyrexian Totem and then Demonic Consultation, for what I guess to be Tendrils of Corruption, and I start to suspect he’s mono Black. In that case, my Pentarch Ward is huge in the matchup, and I’m able to win game 1 without much problems.

Game 2 was all about one play. I had Aetherflame Wall (like I told you) and two Red mana open. He activates his Phyrexian Totem and attacks. I have Lightning Axe in my hand (lucky me) and instead of casting it right away, I decide to block with my Wall and pump it once. He has the option to sacrifice one permanent, or sacrifice the Totem itself, as it was quite suspicious why I didn’t pumped the second time. If he chooses to sacrifice the Totem is fine by me also, as I trade a Wall for a Totem. He chooses to sacrifice another permanent, and then I played the Lightning Axe on the Phyrexian Totem, making him sacrifice down to a single Swamp. I might have been greedy, as it was fine leaving him down to two Swamps, but since I had nothing on the table, and a hand full of lands, I went greedy and sacrificed the Wall in order to try to get him down to just one. I guess it went well, as he concedes in that turn. It probably didn’t matter… I could’ve just written: Game 2 I played Lightning Axe on his Phyrexian Totem.

11 — 3

Just like I expected, 11-3 was good enough for Top 16, and three extra Pro Points. If I was told before the GP that I would finish 10th, I would’ve been happy. On the way home in the tram after Day 1, my friend asked me how I thought I’d finish after starting 7-1, and I told him that I’d make Top 16. Maybe I’ll Top 8 one of these things someday, as I continue to accumulate Top 16s. I still remember losing round 14 for Top 8 of another GP, and while I was packing my cards in the box Antoine was patting me on my back. I mean, Top 16 is a great result at the GPs, especially in Europe with attendance usually over 1000 players, and if you want to stay above Level 3, you definitely need consistent Top 16 at GPs. The downside is that, regarding recognition and career stats, they’re worthless.

The nights of Friday and Saturday I stayed in an apartment thirty minutes from the tournament site (by tram). It belonged to the brother of a college friend of my friend Paulo, who also attended this GP. The owner of the apartment was in Portugal for the weekend, so I was lucky. However, I didn’t have a place to stay on Sunday and Monday night, as my flight left for Osaka on the Tuesday.

After considering my options, I asked Jelger if I could stay at the apartment the Dutchies rented, just for the Monday night. I knew that the place was overcrowded, but thought that some players would be leaving on Monday, either to go home or to fly to Kobe. The Dutchies were flying Tuesday, like me. For Sunday night I decided to stay with André Coimbra and Joel Calafell, as they told me their hotel room was 60 euros but they could ask for an extra bed for free. I regretted that decision, as they both got lost in the suburbs of Athens while trying to find the way back to the hotel, with me carrying my bag. One would think that doing the journey four times was enough for them to remember, but no. When we arrived there, I wished we never did, as the hotel was the crappiest place I’ve ever stayed. I felt robbed at 20 euros. Luckily, Joel was returning to Spain the next day, so we checked out of there. I thought the Dutches apartment would be less crowded by now, so I phoned Jelger and asked if Andre was welcome too.

Getting there was incredibly problematic. We got into a Taxi and asked to get us to Imittou Street – number 139, I think. We were told that there were a lot of Imittou Streets in Athens: one for each zone. I asked for the one closer to the Stadium where the GP was held, but once we got there, the street ended with number 111. After some more phone calls, Jelger messaged me the name of the zone, so we went to a square trying to get a taxi. Every single one of them that stopped, looked at the address I had written and then mumbled something and Greek and left. After five tries, I approached a group of Greek teenagers, hoping that they spoke English, and asked about the problem with the address. The following conversation took place:

Me: I show this address to taxi drivers and they run away.
Them: Because it’s too far.
Me: That’s supposed to be a good thing. The further, the more the meter will charge.
Them: That’s not how it works in Greece. They don’t want to go too far.

Fortunately, the group of teens was very helpful and suggested we went with them to the subway, and leave at some station closer to that particular Imittou Street and try to get a taxi there. Since it was on the same way for them, we just followed them and they pointed us where to leave. Those lazy taxi drivers…

By the way, if someone knows why there’s no shower curtain in Greek hotels (every Portuguese guy complained about that), please let me know.

Finally, we arrived at the Dutchies apartment. The place was much more crowded than I expected. There was an eight-man draft going on, and we soon started a three-on-three with André Coimbra and myself. The place was so crowded that I slept on a couch and André on a pair of chairs. I remember seeing:

Dutchies: Jelger, Julien, Rogier, Frank, Roel
Frenchies: Nassif, Raph
Scandinavians: Nico, Anton, Johan
British: Sam, Quentin
Latins: JoseB, ACoimbra, me

I’m probably forgetting someone.

Anyway, it doesn’t take long until we’re cracking packs, and I made my first negative score after more than 10 drafts, with a 0-3 sweep. Even though my deck was quite good – the best of my team. It was W/R splashing for Lightning Angel; Ith, High Arcanist; and Teferi’s Moat, I could blame the losses on the high level of the players. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s very hard to find an eight-man draft with more quality that at this apartment. But instead, I blame the losses on myself. Even though my deck was awesome and the level was high, I made stupid mistakes in every match.

Against Raph, I lost one game where he tapped all his mana to Squall Line for three, killing my Duskrider Peregrine. I could’ve sacrificed my Goblin Skycutter to have him lose flying, and won with the 3/3 flyer in the next few turns.

Against Nico… he attacks me with a guy, I double block him, and played Temporal Isolation on him after damage on the stack. Nico played Sudden Death on his creature, and I lost my two, as damage was already stacked and assigned, and the Isolation was no longer in play to prevent it. This was even harder for me to swallow as I learned this at GP: Porto 2000. I had a 5/5 Rhox with Muzzle, an aura that prevents damage dealt by the creature, and a removal spell in my hand. Had I attacked with the Rhox and played Vendetta after damage was stacked I would’ve won.

Against JoseB, I played a turn 2 Amrou Scout that was answered by a turn 2 Jhoira’s Timebug from him. I had a removal spell for turn 3, and thought I wanted to activate the Scout on turn 4 to search for a rebel, so to fit in the curve and swing for 2 damage, I killed his Insect, and later I died to a Dragon Whelp.

Despite feeling bad for my team-mates, going 0-3 before they finished all of their matches, I didn’t lose my faith in my draft skills. I just needed to play with a little more focus. For the rest of our short stay, I figured I could learn more by watching them draft and play than by drafting myself. This was step 2 in my preparation. My conclusions at this point were as follows…

I really wanted to draft Blue, as my favorite decks were the Blue/Red suspend, and the Blue/Black madness. In step 2, during GP: Athens and the following days, I learnt a little more how to rank the commons as well as refining archetypes. For example, I value higher Looter il-Kor in Blue/Black, but prefer Errant Ephemeron in Blue/Red. There were 2 archetypes that I still needed to give a try: the White weenie strategy the Dutchies forced, and the one Márcio Carvalho uses. Márcio drafted Green decks in all drafts of Athens, and usually does it as well in Portugal. His strategy is Green/Black splashing Red for removal, or Green/Red splashing Black for removal; it’s Green creatures and removal. Usually it’s Green/Black splashing Red, as the Red removal (Lightning Axe and Rift Bolt) is more splashable, but Black has more diversity in removal. All in all, the important thing is to be able to play Strangling Soot and flash it back.

With these things in mind, I left for Osaka with André Coimbra, with the feeling we still had a lot to master in the format. Join me for the second part of this series, where I’ll cover step 3 of my preparation at Shuhei’s house, and share the five drafts in the Pro Tour over fifteen rounds.

It’s going to be a long one.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you tune in for Part 2.

Tiago Chan