Magical Hack – Grand Prix: Philadelphia from the Goblin’s Perspective

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Friday, March 21st – It should come as absolutely no surprise at all that when it comes to playing Grand Prix: Philadelphia, I was going to side with the Goblins. With a little twisting and a little tuning, I’d arrived at the list I was happy with, changing one little thing here and another little thing there until I was pointed exactly where I wanted to be.

It should come as absolutely no surprise at all that when it comes to playing Grand Prix: Philadelphia, I was going to side with the Goblins. For the past few months I had aimed to build a really good deck for Philadelphia, which started out with a look at “Just” Gifts Rock as one good way to weight yourself heavily as the favorite in the Rock ‘mirror’… and which led to the realization that Goblins are really, really good and about half a dozen articles about Goblins. While clearly some portion of the Magical Hack readership was sick and tired of hearing about Goblins, I for one was hooked. With a somewhat newfound seriousness towards the game, I’d decided to try and do well rather than settle for being able to ‘just’ feel okay about myself when I tried hard but ultimately failed because I wasn’t applying enough rigor to the game to actually succeed.

With a strong desire to overcome my propensity to make mistakes, I found I did much better at the game… and a pair of 6-2 near-misses at the PTQ level with Goblins snuck me up to a 1901 Constructed rating, which is a) good for two Byes at Philadelphia, and b) six points below the highest my Constructed rating had ever previously been in my entire time playing Magic. With a little twisting and a little tuning, I’d arrived at the list I was happy with, changing one little thing here and another little thing there until I was pointed exactly where I wanted to be. With the deck laid in and the last of the cards borrowed or traded for (…mostly borrowed), I took a few weekends away from playing Magic exhaustively to ‘sit on my rating,’ or as it’s actually referred to in my other gaming community, go to some huge LARP conventions two weekends in a row up in Boston. Weekend one of sitting it out and letting the rating accumulate was the Interactive Literature Foundation’s Intercon, where I played (in successive order) Elvis Presley, a minister of Parliament, a chess-playing spy, The Carpenter from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, and Robin, the Boy Wonder… yes, outside of Magic, I have some rather strange hobbies. For weekend number two at least at this point I knew I was locked in at 1901, and ‘just’ paid a visit to a neighboring chapter of the Camarilla Club and had a lot of fun… since the weekend to follow was unlikely to be relaxing.

Fast forward through a failed attempt at hijacking the whisper chain Brian David-Marshall has set up here in NYC and politely ‘asking’ if there was going to be a Mock Tournament prior to GP: Philly and perhaps the first instance of mentioning to eventual top-sixteen finisher Jaime Parke that perhaps Dredge might be the right choice for him, and we get to the trip on Friday. Being unemployed, still, I have the luxury of a flexible schedule… and the plan was to meet up at Neutral Ground around 2pm to pick up Elias Vaisberg and Tim Gillam (a.k.a. Bachelor #3 from the Tyra Banks show, as featured in my article two weeks ago). With only a little bit of getting lost around Philly because our directions were a little vague, we got to the site around 4:30 after I stowed the car in the all-too-expensive parking garage across the street given an overall lack of better parking options.

The plan was to hit the Grand Prix Trial as a ‘warm-up’ to the main event, especially when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a 6pm-2am seven-round monster like they usually are. I wanted to stick around for a round or two and get a feel for competitive play to get me out of the casual ‘playtesting’ mentality, and perhaps scrape two weeks of rust off the brain. I wasn’t ‘playtesting’ in the sense that any outcome would change my plans for the following day, not even a single card different, but it was certainly a casual and non-competitive thing to me.

We begin this tale with a 1901 Constructed rating and the following deck:

I am no longer listening to arguments in favor of Mogg War Marshal; I, too, love that little guy… but once you’ve tried tossing frogs, you never go back. (Unless you are incredibly stubborn, like Jim Davis, and are going to do well with Goblins basically either way so you can afford to be set in your ways.) As will hopefully be revealed, the power of this little guy is so impressive… even as a ‘bad’ Warchief, the fact that there is another Goblin that even warrants a comparison to the Warchief is amazing.

Grand Prix Trial Round 1 — Nick Fiorillo (Domain Zoo)

The Domain Zoo matchup basically requires you to quickly recognize the fact that you need to take the control role, and act on this from the start. Nick starts by going to 17 and playing Isamaru, so it’s not as if he gets to ‘pretend.’ I start with a turn 1 Mogg Fanatic and weather his early beatdown, but make a small mis-play involving my lands on the second turn that sees me skip my turn 2 drop because a) I really want to not pay two life to Blood Crypt off that Bloodstained Mire, and b) I had meant to play a different land that turn. This slight ripple echoes throughout the game and I am always a little behind at all points, because of a brain-fart followed by indecisiveness. The ‘correct’ play, to fix that mistake, would have been to quit griping about playing the wrong land and take the extra two damage, because the opportunity cost of waiting longer is certainly going to add up to more than two life points. This is why I wanted to hit the GP Trial, so I could get back into the rhythm of not making these small mistakes just because I haven’t played a match that mattered in almost three weeks.

The second game starts out on a similar note… turn 1 Fanatic, in a role where he will be useful… but with me on the play I am able to conserve my life-total this time, because I am being more mindful of playing correctly. I manage to land the one Earwig Squad left in the deck in the mid-game, after one Tribal Flames has already hit and I am still at twelve or so life, and when I strip the three remaining copies that basically seals the game… he has no real effective ‘outs’ he can draw to win on the board.

The third game, I have to do the same thing I did in game 2 but on the draw this time, and since I am being more attentive to not falling behind or screwing up… and have yet another turn 1 Fanatic… I am able to set the tempo of the game, conserve my life total and gain card advantage while managing his threats in play, stopping Grim Lavamancer and Dark Confidant from giving him a means to claw his way back into the game by gaining that advantage back in significant chunks. I wish Nick the best of luck in the next trial and move on to the next round.

Record: 1-0 (2-1). New Rating… 1907 (tied with my lifetime high prior to this event!)
Mistakes made today: 1.

Grand Prix Trial Round 2 — Ben Hagerman (Red/Green Aggro)

Much like in the previous round, I make another small mistake involving my lands and completely throw any chances I’d had of winning the first game away… this time, playing and using a Bloodstained Mire while mana-flooded to the point where all five targets for it are already in my hand or in my graveyard thanks to Molten Rain. I wasn’t winning anyway, since with that much land in my hand I was flooded beyond any means of winning the game… but that doesn’t make the play suddenly ‘right.’ I am once again down 0-1 against a Red deck in a single-elimination match, so it’s time to play tighter as his Apes, Dryads, and Lhurgoyfs come for my life total.

And much like in the previous round, winning while on the play is a good deal easier. I’m able to maintain my life total and manage his creatures effectively with Incinerators and the lone Warren Weirding, which might as well say ‘Target opponent sacrifices target Tarmogoyf.’ Card advantage is king, as the Ringleader shows, but the fact that everything I owned cost less thanks to Frogtosser was pretty key here in getting those Ringleaders into play with enough time to use the cards from them. Game 3 I have to do the same on the draw, and with a very fast hand (again involving Frogtossers) I am able to follow the game-plan of gain card advantage and turn it into board advantage, all while throwing miscellaneous members of the team under the wheels when the Tarmogoyf-bus comes my way. For the third game he double-mulligans on the play, and has a weak hand that he is trying to do something with, while I have drawn one of the two Cabal Therapies I brought in to replace the two Earwig Squads I took out, doing something interesting to try and control my fate against burn spells. I look at that Therapy as a sad lost opportunity, an accidental mulligan, until turn 3 when he plays a one-mana spell and then pays two life to bring in another Stomping Ground untapped. Suddenly I have insight into his hand, which is at this point just two cards, and prior to my attacking with a Piledriver and a friend I cast that Cabal Therapy naming Incinerate… and stripping both cards from his hand, completely knocking away any chances he had of recovery.

Record: 2-0 (4-2). New Rating… 1915. Mistakes made today: 2.

Grand Prix Trial Round 3 — David Craig (Mono-Red Burn)

Wait for it, wait for it… once again I lose the first game, this time because he is able to make up for his general lack of burn spells by casting a two copies of Sulfuric Vortex and keeping the dangerous men at bay long enough to turn that last burn spell into the game-ender, with him dead the following turn to his own cards. The mono-Red burn matchup can be a nail-biter, but it’s not an especially hard matchup… it just happens that the creature-control bent the deck can take in game 1 works much better against my prior opponents than this one, which is why for those two matchups I generally just slipping out the second Earwig Squad and replacing it with Goblin King and call it a match from there.

For this matchup however, I sneak in the four copies of Cabal Therapy and that Goblin King for my two Earwig Squads, the Warren Weirding and two Gempalm Incinerator. On the play in game 2, I just do as I do and keep the burn spells pointed firmly at my creatures, and Warchiefs and Piledrivers get targeted with Red spells… a clear sign that you are winning this game. Unsurprisingly, a Ringleader full of fresh cards tips the scales and some dorks finish the game. The third game progresses somewhat similarly, except I believe this time I do draw a Cabal Therapy to keep the heat off of my face while the Red Army marches, and again he has to succumb to burning my creatures instead of me, which means another Ringleader full of fresh cards finishes the match.

Record: 3-0 (6-3). New Rating… 1919. Mistakes made today: Still just 2.

Grand Prix Trial Round 4 — Phil Napoli (Doran Rock)

Phil and I had hoped to dodge each other for one more round, as we waited the full hour for a prior match involving excessive jerkiness and tons of back-and-forth judge calls to resolve. I for one expected it to resolve via fisticuffs, with the Goblins player literally going over the table at his opponent, but it seems the U/G Tron deck succumbed to a quick draw and some spicy Flaring Pain action out of the sideboard to make sure dead is dead instead of letting Moment’s Peace actually do its job. Failing to get paired against the other table, it was time to play Magic… and both our boards develop quickly, with a fast Tarmogoyf and Doran on Phil’s part and some rinky-dink Goblins on mine. Phil seems pretty confident about the game since his board looks pretty good, but all in one turn (thanks to Frogtosser and Warchief, mind you) I get Matron for Warren Weirding, cycle an Incinerator to kill Tarmogoyf and use Warren Weirding to kill Doran, then attack for half of his life total give or take a little. Phil goes from ‘winning on the table’ to ‘facing imminent demise’ in the span of a minute’s worth of flurried card-plays and a quick shuffle of my deck, and doesn’t manage to sneak his way back into the game once I’d brought the ball into my court.

I change literally zero cards in my deck and proceed to the next game. Rock is a pretty good matchup, and part of the reason for picking Goblins in the first place is because it is so well-positioned against a decent chunk of the field. I have sideboarded very lightly in three out of the four matches so far, and the most I’ve brought in was four cards total against the burn deck round 3… so changing zero cards here is only bad if he has Engineered Plagues, in which case I would imagine I’d want to shave off two cards and add the two remaining Squads, both to prevent him from drawing multiples and to give me something big enough to work with if he does draw two copies.

Game 2 likewise goes messily for him, as he is short on mana and thus having a much harder time getting some action on the board. I’m further on the back foot on the board, and in the life column, but I did manage to sneak in an Earwig Squad and note that he doesn’t have Plagues, while taking out both his copies of Umezawa’s Jitte and one of his two Profane Commands. With tactical chump-blocking I am able to advance the game-state back into my favor with Ringleader, though there is an opportunity I gave him right at the very end to draw that one Profane Command and possibly kill me with a Tarmogoyf with Fear, because I held back a Goblin Matron to block instead of a Frogtosser Banneret. Since I wasn’t even thinking about what would happen if he drew that one last Command, that’s another one in the ‘mistake’ column, though at least if it did happen it wouldn’t have been tournament-ending-fatal right there. But again, just because it didn’t catch me, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake.

Record: 4-0 (8-3). New Rating… 1933. Mistakes made today: 3.

While playing this match, I was able to watch the other elimination match right next to me, and saw a Domain Zoo deck sideboarding Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders and Terminates against the Goblin deck that won in round 3 despite the near-beginning of a pretty one-sided fistfight. The Goblin deck, while I was watching it, was weighting itself as the aggressive deck and thus running into very difficult problems in the face of the Zoo player’s cards, and this mis-assignment of role does quite quickly turn into the match-loss that it usually becomes. When we are seated to play, I apologize to my opponent for the fact that unlike his last opponent I wasn’t going to make those sorts of mistakes, and there is a little bit of interplay as we each try to figure out if the other person could be made to go away just by throwing the packs in the prize pool at them. When it’s evident that neither of us is looking to pick up the cards, and no we can’t split the byes so I take an extra one and he takes an extra two to get us each to three (… of course we can’t, it was a silly question!), it is time to play Magic again.

Grand Prix Trial Round 5 — John Wade (Domain Zoo with Forge-Tenders SB)

At this point in the tournament I’m more or less back into the swing of things for competitive play, and firmly assert the controlling role in the matchup from the very first moment. For the first game, I manage his threats as best I can and develop more cards, then mop up the game with some 2/2’s attacking when the greater part of his board has been neutralized by Fanatics, Incinerators, or just good old-fashioned trading. For the sideboard again I replace just one Squad with the one King, and do the same to him again in the second game… with the worthwhile note of my first turn Imprint of a Goblin King under a Chrome Mox, because while he is brought in out of the sideboard to be better than Earwig Squad, he’s still not especially vital or even really that valuable. Again I manage his threats, keep my life total high, and mop up the board with whatever’s left after the big guys go away.

Record: 5-0 (10-3). New Rating… 1942. Mistakes made today: Still just 3.

I guess you could call that a pretty successful playtest session. Elias Vaisberg didn’t do nearly so well with his Blue-Red Wizard tempo deck, despite making it halfway through a Trial in one of those two attempts, but after watching me for the last round disassemble and thoroughly dissect my opponent he is convinced of the power of Goblins and has decided to give it a try the next day. He and I meet up with Phil, Nick and Chad Kastel to find food, and end up heading out to Chili’s around the corner for a late dinner… where I decide to amuse myself and take the advice of the immortal Wakefield, having a nice pasta dinner to build up some lasting energy for the next day’s span of card gaming.

I then had to wait around for a few hours for the last occupant of our hotel room, Tom Martell, to come down in the car with Flores and Ravitz, and thus we weren’t even on the road to our hotel before midnight. We picked up sixteen-year-old gamer Nate Tankus to sleep on the floor of our hotel when he comes up to me around 11:30 pleading for mercy since his hotel plans fell through; not five minutes later I find myself having to turn down the same request from Tim Gillam and don’t feel particularly bad doing so because unlike Nate, Tim is over the 21 years of age one has to be to reserve a hotel room, and thus does have options besides sleeping in the stairway of the parking garage with the bums if he can’t find a place to spend the night. After that we then had to contend with the fact that our hotel room ‘twelve miles away’ is actually more like 30 miles away as we drive, even if it is twelve miles as the crow flies. To make up for it, though, it’s a nice and cheap hotel rate and the room even has its own kitchen… not that we actually used it for anything more than keeping a pitcher of ice water cool overnight.

For the ride back in the next morning, things get even worse, since Elias has lost my Mapquest directions to get back to the site and I start attempting to reverse-navigate our way back there but instead end up heading north and east well past Philly, and we only got to the site at all thanks to the Mapquest-in-my-pocket capabilities of Tom Martell I-phone. Tom has decided to abandon his Rock-style deck in favor of something more in keeping with what I was able to report to him about LSV and Paul Cheon deck for the next day, after we all had a good long laugh at the decklist we found Owen Turtenwald had registered for the Grand Prix Trial then left on the table only to be found by Goblin-master Jim Davis. This will be important later, as I do eventually play Tom…

Round 1 — 3: I lose. I’ve brought a book but it’s ‘Prague’ by Arthur Phillips, and while continuing to try and push past Phillips’ downright unreadable prose I decide I would probably rather push splinters under my fingernails than continue attempting to care about these abysmally unlikable characters and their insignificant trials and tribulations. I also lose because I try to find something I’m interested in eating, but somehow do not discover the amazing cheesesteak place right across the street, ending up eating a sandwich from Wawa’s. I do make up for that some by managing to introduce myself to Evan Erwin after watching him lose his first match, made rather amusing thanks to the fact that my head-shot at the top of each article is literally from the turn of the century and doesn’t exactly resemble me very much anymore. After a good laugh was had about how I don’t resemble my picture, Tim Gillam walks up to me to talk about his rounds so far, and says to Evan, “Hey, you kind of look like that Evan Erwin guy.” To which I can simply reply, “Yeah, he gets that a lot. He’s the worlds #3 Evan Erwin look-alike.” Tim continues the banter by pointing out that Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and didn’t win, made even funnier because he still hasn’t figured out that this actually is Evan Erwin.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 4 — Alex Majlaton (Affinity)

I wish I could say this was a nail-biting matchup, but it was kind of lop-sided. Alex double-Mulligans the first game and keeps a Welding Jar / Arcbound Worker / Blinkmoth Nexus hand, and since his land isn’t even an artifact for Frogmite’s affinity count he literally plays no other card before it’s far too late to matter. When it’s clear I’m playing Goblins and yes, I’m going to kill him, he proceeds to the next game.

In the next game, I am the one who has to double-Mulligan, just to find a hand that can even cast spells. I keep at five with one of those being a Shattering Spree, and get to use Spree on his first three creatures to keep myself in the game, destroying a Ravager, Worker, and Enforcer. He starts to mount pressure again, since I have had very little pressure thanks to the smaller number of cards I have to work with, but we have some nice and complicated interplay from there now that we are both on more equal footing… he gets another Enforcer and Ravager going, with a Cranial Plating on the Ravager, while I’ve managed to threaten his life-total with a Piledriver draw. I take the Ravager twice, since I can without immediately taking lethal damage as his artifact count is one short of proving fatal, and block the Enforcer since him going all-in on the Enforcer will in fact be messily lethal for me and Goblin Matrons had done their civic duty already. A Ringleader then provided me with some fresh Mogg Fanatics as I attacked my opponent very low on life, and used a Gempalm Incinerator to eliminate the Myr Enforcer. Alex then respected the fact that he could no longer kill me, and instead used the Ravager to tap for Blue with Springleaf Drum, getting him two blockers: a free Frogmite and a Blinkmoth Nexus, all of which could be a problem with Ravager in play and just the one Mogg Fanatic on my part. Unbeknownst to Alex, I have two more Fanatics in hand that I just haven’t had time to effectively deploy, as I have used all of my mana each turn struggling to stay alive, and that was with the help of Frogtosser chipping in a free mana on each spell I played.

I’d carefully calculated everything exactly to the last interplay of cards, and could in fact still kill my opponent with exactly the right attack so long as I used my Fanatics wisely… but instead I drew Shattering Spree and blew out both of his artifact creatures, making the turn completely impossible to survive by a wide, wide margin. Alex then drops from the tournament to protect his ratings invite to Hollywood, and was very careful to be non-offensive when asking about my rating since I’d mentioned after the fact that I won a trial the night before. He’s of course greatly relieved to hear that I had two Byes on rating prior to that little turn of fortune the night before, meaning I did not in fact just tank him for the K-value of the event.

Record: 4-0 (2-0). New Rating… 1970. Mistakes made today: 0.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 5 — Gabriel Schwartz (U/G Tron)

Game 1 is a difficult one, as I felt I was pretty strongly favored as he was cashing in Chromatic Stars to play his spells every time he interacted with me, and I get a solid aggressive draw that isn’t too badly hampered by the Condescends and Remands he is throwing my way. Very quickly though he drops that third Tron piece he was looking for and casts Oblivion Stone, which wipes my board save for my attacking Mutavault, but at least clears off his Simic Signet as well, denying him colored mana once again. Sundering Titan then appears to follow that turn up, leaving me with one land and kicking myself because in my excitement to play the previous turn right, I’d skipped past my second main phase and had a Skirk Prospector in hand that was supposed to be in play while my opponent’s life total was a bit precarious. I do not manage to pull this one out, however, as I’m stuck on just Mutavault for land for the next several turns and he is able to manage a win with his 7/10 monster.

Game 2 I sideboard in the full boat of Earwig Squads, to break up his Gifts Ungiven package and Mindslaver recursion, and make some good early headway but get my one Squad countered. Despite making good headway on winning the game and properly keeping the anti-creature package at reasonable strength to play around and kill the Tarmogoyf he presented, he is able to start Mindslavering me every other turn, which proves rather a bit difficult as it costs me Prospectors and Fanatics even if he can’t do anything especially crippling to me with my own cards. I succeed at Squadding him in here, taking Platinum Angel and other things I clearly can’t deal with, and while it’s not the full lock it is enough to make things rather difficult until he assembles the full lock, at which point it’s clearly concede-time especially as Sundering Titan may or may not have put in an appearance again.

Record: 4-1 (2-2). New Rating… 1956. Mistakes made today: 1.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 6 — Robert Seder (Previous Level Blue)

Rob is the geographically-closest player I know, actually, so meeting up in Philly in the middle of a Grand Prix is kind of funny. I’ve been egging him on with his slow Blue control deck addiction for years now, and thus am not at all surprised that he is playing Previous Level Blue after he won the Neutral Ground PTQ with it two weeks ago. He has, however, picked up a slight bit of technology through the grapevine and has Vendilion Clique in his list, which is otherwise the stock list Paul Cheon won Vancouver with and he himself won the PTQ with. I grab him away from the big boards as he’s struggling to push through the crowd to see the pairings, and on the way to our seat I jokingly apologize for how badly I am about to thrash him. I then win the die roll, and proceed to do exactly that: turn one Frogtosser Banneret, overwhelm him with a bunch of spells, attack him so quickly that his Vedalken Shackles can’t save him. I sideboard one Shattering Spree, having done the complicated “am I sideboarding?” dance, and replace some of my anti-creature cards with the remaining two Earwig Squads, leaving enough Incinerators to still handle possible Sowers of Temptation but not bothering to, say, keep Sharpshooter around.

I lose the second game when he develops his mana quickly enough to provide credible answers to my threats, and he actually has the time for Ancestral Visions to actually do something this game. The first Shackles slows me down but doesn’t stop me; the second Shackles combined with his naturally-drawn Miren actually puts a halt to my offensive as I try to harass him and keep building resources with Ringleaders that he just can’t stop because he only has so many ‘hard’ counters in his deck. Unfortunately I do not succeed at building up critical mass in time, and we are off to the third game. Here it becomes evident given what I should have remembered about Previous Level Blue that I should have had more Sprees in and worried less about the Earwig Squads, especially when those Squads are coming on the draw. A significant number of Shattering Sprees would have made the difference in this game, and I take that lesson to heart for later.

For the third, I play Chrome Mox imprinting Skirk Prospector, Mutavault, turn 1 Piledriver, go. I then crack him for five and don’t play a spell, then crack him for another five and play a second Piledriver, which is Spell Snared. Rob is necessarily short on life and can’t find an answer, and just dies since that second Piledriver was cast off of a second Mutavault.

Record: 5-1 (4-2). New Rating… 1974. Mistakes made today: 2.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 7 — Phil Napoli (Doran Rock)

In a repeat of the previous day, Phil gets to play me again. Lucky day. For the first game I repeat the ‘how to beat Doran’ maneuver, gaining card and positional advantage while trading in Matrons for five life each against his attacks, then when I have enough steam starting to wipe his major threats off the board and win the game with my small but persistent army of 2/2 and 1/1 Goblins. For the second game I sideboard in zero cards, because it worked just fine the day before, and I lose the second game to an Engineered Plague that gets me with my pants down. This is the first Engineered Plague I’ve actually seen in play against me all season, and he didn’t have them yesterday, so when he plays it he gets a little happy and tells me he was given good reason to reverse his decision to take them out of his sideboard last night. Fair is fair.

For the third game… I get quite a nice draw. I have a turn 1 Piledriver, which is joined on turn 2 by a Frogtosser Banneret plus an attack, and a Skirk Prospector… threatening rather a mighty swing the next turn. Phil has a fetchland and another fetchland, with no turn one or turn two play… this is going to be a rough one for him. On my third turn I play Matron into Piledriver, with a Mutavault as my land for the turn. A swing with Frogtosser, Prospector, and Piledriver drops him nice and low, while he has just a third land and his choice of either Engineered Plague or Doran the Siege Tower for his third-turn drop. Between the two Piledrivers and the Mutavault he is clearly dead next turn if he plays the Plague, so he drops Doran to control the Piledrivers, and I have a Ringleader in hand to provide more than enough two-power attackers to push through Doran as I needed a creature with Haste alongside my Mutavault to attack for lethal.

Talk about a fast game.

Record: 6-1 (8-3). New Rating… 1994. Mistakes made today: Still just 2.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 8 — Travis Harrison (The Extended Perfect Storm)

Game 1, I get blown out by the fast TEPS draw, despite the fact that I successfully landed an Earwig Squad on him for every Storm spell in his deck: two copies of Mind’s Desire, one copy of Tendrils. His hand full of Rituals and a Burning Wish for Tendrils is enough to take it on the play, though he does wince at having to figure everything out when I land the Squad on him. Arguably I could have gone for the Tendrils and two Burning Wishes, but I felt Mind’s Desire was too dangerous to leave in his deck, especially with all the overlapping Tutoring effects he had like Plunge into Darkness and Infernal Tutor to really blur the difference between 2 and 4 Burning Wishes. I couldn’t make a plan based on landing a second Earwig Squad, because the next attack was going to be for lethal and he knew it quite well.

For sideboarding, since I got to see his deck and noted things like Sins of the Past in addition to the usual Cabal Rituals, while shaving off expensive things from my deck I ran in three Tormod’s Crypt in addition to the four Cabal Therapy and remaining two copies of Earwig Squad. For good measure, I added the Goblin King because it’s faster than Ringleader, and took out Siege-Gang, Sharpshooter, Warren Weirding, all four Incinerators and three Ringleaders, to get up to as fast a speed as I could. The second game sees him suspending a Lotus Bloom and once again I Earwig Squad him for Tendrils and Mind’s Desire, with a random Tormod’s Crypt in play on my side ‘in case.’ He does the combo-motion on his last turn before dying and gets a shallow Mind’s Desire, basically having no outs but why not try. His Desire for 5 is rushed and reveals nothing of relevance, earning the concession for the game.

The third game is pretty ridiculous. I’ve drawn no sideboard action to actually interact with my opponent, and he plays an Invasion land and a Lotus Bloom ‘on time’ on his first turn. For my first turn, I lead with Mox, land, and Frogtosser Banneret, getting in mightily for one. He plays a second Invasion land and a Chromatic Star, probably feeling pretty comfortable with things so far.

I played a Goblin Warchief and a Goblin Piledriver, attacking for eight and dropping him to eleven… exactly dead next turn if either of the two cards remaining in my deck or the top card of my deck can attack for one. In the face of an obvious turn 3 combo kill on my part, he realizes he’s going to be forced to try and turn 3 me first, which is where I was truly sad that I was not on the play because that is really not an option on turn 2 for that deck. He plays some Ritual effects, including using his Burning Wish for a second Channel the Suns just to up the storm count, and at the end of it all he has one anonymous card in hand, one Black mana floating, an untapped Gemstone Mine and whatever six copies of Mind’s Desire reveals. The first flip is a land… good. The second flip is Plunge into Darkness, which he pays 9 life to, leaving him at 2, a number that doesn’t make especially good sense to me given all the possible outcomes but who knows. The third flip is another land, the fourth, Burning Wish… pretty good, since he can now Wish for Pyroclasm and cast it to at least not die, but even at that I fancy my chances racing his two life versus my twenty.

Card number five is Tendrils, you know… the one copy in his deck. I concede before we see what the sixth is, figuring this is good enough, but in all honesty it was a premature concession.

In actuality, it probably wasn’t. There is enough there to kill me with… Burning Wish for the second Tendrils, waiting in his sideboard, and Tendrils me for 18 life instead of 20 is actually good enough with his Lotus coming in next turn. But if the rule is “let your opponent screw up as many times as you can,” clearly not sitting there the extra minute to watch him kill me is a mistake on my part.

Wishing he had flipped nothing special for those last two cards, I was of course rather annoyed that he flipped the one Tendrils in his deck. But in all honesty, any Ritual effect would have done me in just as well, allowing him to cast the Tendrils in his sideboard off the two Black mana already available to him… so you can’t really feel bad when the TEPS deck does what it does, when you didn’t actually do anything to stop them other than to try and make them have to do it in as few turns as possible.

Record: 6-2 (9-5). New Rating… 1968. Mistakes made today: 3.

Grand Prix Day 1 Round 9 — Juan Rodriguez (Dredge)

Having looked at the tie-breakers and figured out that basically to Top 8 tomorrow I would have to start out 5-0 regardless of the outcome of this match, I figured I would use the 3-0 good tiebreakers to their best advantage and at least assure I was playing tomorrow. Juan followed the logic and accepted when I more or less mathematically proved he was safe; Juan ended up finishing 56th at the tournament.

Record: 6-2-1 (9-5). New Rating… 1962. Mistakes made today: 3.

Another late night, another misadventure in actually finding dinner, this time with the carload of us breaking off from a few different groups we’d initially tried grabbing food with when we tried to grab dinner without a long wait. Eventually we hit up the Hard Rock Café for too-loud not-so-good music and decent-but-too-expensive hamburgers, just glad that half of the bunch of us had made the cut to the second day. Another late night, not enough sleep, a mediocre breakfast and actual Mapquest directions back to the site the following morning, it was time to fill out the income tax forms and start bashing heads again.

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 1 — Jonathan Sukenik (Death Cloud)

I win the die roll and messily finish Jon off in a flurry of Goblins, as he plays just Sakura-Tribe Elder then Ravenous Baloth in the first four turns of the game. There was a cute play where I thought I was attacking him for exactly lethal despite his turn-four Ravenous Baloth, but one of his lands was a Mutavault and enough mana to activate it, letting him keep his Baloth around and end up at four at the end of the attack. So he ended up at one life at the end of the next attack, unable to cast his signature spell now that he had enough Black mana for it.

I’m reasonably confident in the fact that there won’t be Plagues coming in, and so I don’t feel I need to over-sideboard against them; Death Cloud decks are already a favorable matchup for Goblins, and their adding Damnation does not really affect that significantly.
I sideboard out Sharpshooter, two Gempalm Incinerator and one Earwig Squad for four copies of Cabal Therapy, figuring I could fight his big spells that way to protect my lead.

I end up falling behind in the second game when I try to force him into prematurely popping a Deed when I am attacking and killing his Garruk Wildspeaker to stop the parade of Beast tokens with a Ravenous Baloth in play, but end up avalanched underneath the mass removal spells when all that work is followed up by Damnation and another Baloth if I remember correctly. For the third game I keep a ridiculously aggressive draw, needing just another land to make it work, and start spinning the Goblins at my opponent with a Piledriver into Frogtosser one-two punch. I fail to develop that third land, however, and the Chrome Mox needed to be black in order to let even that sequence play out, keeping the Warchief stranded in my hand. Jon gets a few extra turns to work with as I try and make Goblins happen, instead of viciously dead in ridiculous fashion as I had been hoping for, and in those turns he is able to play Garruk into Damnation, Baloth untap-my-lands Baloth, and then my face gets tap-danced upon.

I am now out of Top 8 contention, and very likely out of contention for the Pro Tour slot as well. A 5-0 however might be enough to qualify off rating, so there is still hope… and since punching my next five opponents in the face was already my plan, we’re right on target even if I didn’t draw the second land I had dearly hoped for.

Record: 6-3-1 (10-7). New Rating… 1937. Mistakes made today: 0.

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 2 — Jordan Berkowitz (Goblins)

Jordan says he almost knew we were going to play, somehow, ever since he got the drop on me at the last Pro Tour Qualifier I’d attended in Edison, where he got to knock me out of contention by getting to do everything first. He’d said then, though I can’t say I remember it, that he’d probably just lose later that day then face me at the Grand Prix and lose the match that mattered more… and when he reminded me of this fact, I said “it’s a deal”.

The Goblins mirror is a complex dance of life, card, and resource advantage; generally you want to ‘get to do everything first’, like set up Warchief/Sharpshooter or start chaining Matrons and Ringleaders. I lose the die roll and that is not the way one gets to ‘go first’, then keep a hand with two Incinerators but no one-drop or two-drop, which is fine if not downright excellent. I get a Skirk Prospector into play on my first turn, while he had nothing; I even get to attack for one, as it seems he’s kept his hand full of the heavier hitters in the matchup as is evident when he drops his Warchief and attacks. Cycle Incinerator, do the same thing back to him… except he is lacking an Incinerator, and only has a Matron for Ringleader. I get to Ringleader first and see three solid spells; he gets his Ringleader and gets one spell. So very fair. I then get my Sharpshooter and wipe his board, land an Earwig Squad and get to see the differences in his build and take some Ringleaders out, and the game is over from there.

Paying just one mana for any spell basically is really, really powerful in the Goblin mirror, as my Frogtossers pointed out that game.

The second game goes in basically a similar fashion; my Ringleaders are huge, his are weak, and while there was a lot more interplay besides that, the intricate dance of Goblins bashing up against each other is basically summarized by the fact that I got to draw more cards more often, and was paying less for my cards while I was at it. Jordan grabs the match slip to sign it, and I don’t notice he’s filled it out with him as the winner 2-0 until the judge comes by to confirm that fact as true. I’m so flabbergasted by that, that I spout utter and complete nonsense: “Now that’s one hell of an act of haberdashery!” as we get that straightened out. A phrase that I am sure makes absolutely perfect sense for Flores (“I mean, he went for the hat trick of ‘lose the match 2-0, win the match when your opponent signs the slip.’ That’s some haberdashery!”) but otherwise was just a Malapropism of “OMGWTFBBQ?!?”. I don’t think Jordan aimed to cheat me out of the match, but it does go to show that even when you’re playing someone you think is pretty trustworthy… verify the damn slip. On Day 1, without judges certifying the outcome of each match, that’s a match-loss penalty: “you signed it.”

Record: 7-3-1 (12-7). New Rating… 1953. Mistakes made today: 1. (Check your match slip!)

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 3 — David Drebsky (Goblins)

David is basically playing my list card for card, with a different (and probably shakier) manabase and Extirpates instead of Tormod’s Crypt. Rather than regale you with the back-and-forth interplay of Goblins killing themselves and each other in startling numbers, I can say that my greater experience told me what mattered far more than his did, and I fought the vicious card- and position-advantage war just that little extra bit better than he did. He was too cautious about pushing the advantage, even when he should have been pushing the advantage, so my life-total hovered about 8 or so for a while just because I’d snuck an early assault of Piledrivers through his defenses and dropped him to 5. After half an hour of positioning and maneuvering he finally felt his position was unassailable and swung for blood; I traded everything I had in play for his cards and ended up at 2 life with an untapped Mogg Fanatic as his only blocker. My counter-strike of play and sacrifice Fanatic to kill your Fanatic, take advantage of the fact that you’re tapped out to play Goblins of the Warchief plus Piledriver variety to sneak in for exactly lethal was a beautifully-engineered outmaneuver that I had been trying to set up for some time and kept in reserve for just such an opportunity.

The second game saw him disadvantaged on the mulligan, and a little slow on the Cabal Therapy, since he named Warchief and hit seeing a pair of Matrons but attacked with his sole Prospector into my Prospector before getting to flash back, and obviously I blocked to protect my hand. I was able to play the first Matron immediately for a Ringleader, to protect myself from Therapy, and did so rather than play my Therapy; we continued to dance, but that one-turn window of opportunity to make sure he couldn’t stop my Ringleader chain was messily fatal as it cascaded forward into the future from that turn. While I’d likely have still been in the game considerably if he followed through, and probably found a way to salvage it yet, the fact that he gave me the window of opportunity meant that I was closing his window of opportunity right in his face. I killed him during extra turns of the second game.

Record: 8-3-1 (14-7). New Rating… 1967. Mistakes made today: 1.

And to think, when I first played this deck I was worried about playing the Goblin mirror match. What a wonderful thing, a month’s solid experience with a deck can be.

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 4 — Richard Burns (Dredge)

This one was an amusing little nail-biter. Richard has the nuts on the first game and kills me in speedy and monstrous fashion, since I was going with the attack-phase plan and not the ‘make sure I have sacrifice outlets’ plan. My solid hand played I think exactly two spells before I eat hot Akroma action with a bunch of Zombies for backup, forcing the concession since I won’t be able to kill him around those, or kill them all with Sharpshooter/Warchief and target him with Warren Weirding, before I die to the Angel of Wrathful Boobies herself. So we go to the sideboard and I bring in Crypts and Squads for the second game, at the expense of high-cost Goblins that basically do nothing of relevance because I’m dead by then, as well as three copies of Shattering Spree to control Needles and Chalices. Out come Ringleaders, three Incinerators, Siege-Gang Commander, and one Frogtosser because I couldn’t figure out what I cared least about from there. Chalk up one mistake right there for picking Froggy over, well, whatever the correct answer actually is.

Evan came and took a picture of me for the Magic Show and/or coverage while I was getting my ass kicked… I was all smiles and thumbs-up regardless of how badly my opening hand promised to develop in the matchup in question.

I don’t draw a Crypt or Earwig Squad for the second game, but do have three copies of Mogg Fanatic and/or Skirk Prospector in the first two turns of the game. He randomly plays a fetchland into an untapped dual paying two life for no reason, and all he has is a turn 2 Tolarian Winds for 6 that results in Dredge 6… Dredge 5… draw four cards, without really having much impact on the board in the way of Ichorids, Narcomoebas, or Bridges to distract or otherwise occupy my time. Then we get to the hard game… do the same thing as before, but on the draw this time. At least I got to see enough of his deck for Game Two to verify that there were neither Needles nor Chalices in his deck, allowing me to throw Froggy, the Goblin King and one of those forgotten Incinerators back in the deck, at least correcting the mistake count again.

And I have a very strong hand, with a Chrome Mox, Skirk Prospector, a Warchief and a Matron, that will allow me to Squad him on turn 3 and have a sac outlet in the meantime… but no Crypt. He starts with a fetchland into a tapped Watery Grave this time, while I have a Chrome Mox imprinting Piledriver, with a fetchland that will get me a tapped Blood Crypt later, then say go. He has nothing but a Cephalid Coliseum on his second turn, while I get my Crypt, play another fetchland to get a Mountain and drop Warchief and attack for 3. Well and good, he’s got a bad hand it appears, since well… I don’t have a Crypt, and I’m not dead yet. Then he Chains my Prospector at end of turn, and I think ‘I am so dead’ and just grab my ankles hoping I’ll still be there next turn.

His turn involves the exact same play as before… Winds, Dredge 6, Dredge 5… draw, draw, draw… but he does get a Narcomoeba out of it, two Ichorids and two Bridges. And I get a turn again… oh happy day, I’m still here! On my turn I go for the most vicious assembly I can: land, Matron for Sharpshooter, imprint another Piledriver on another Chrome Mox, re-cast Prospector, use the Sharpshooter on his Narcomoeba, let him get two Zombies, sacrifice my Matron for mana to clear his Bridges and get the second untap needed to kill a Zombie, repeat this process sacrificing my Prospector to kill the other Zombie, attack for two with Warchief as I burn for two. I feel pretty happy for how that turned out with zero Crypts or Squads to work with, since while I have no cards in hand at least one of my lands is a Mutavault and I’ve locked out his Ichorids and Narcomoebas.

On his turn he puts two Ichorids on the stack and uses his Coliseum, discarding a pair of Bridges. He then gets his two Ichorids back, now that killing them is no longer ‘free’. He dredges on his draw and gets two Narcomoebas for his trouble, but I of course “have an effect during your draw step after you pass priority”, having resolved his Dredge and the Narcomoebas: kill your creature, stack Bridge trigger, stack untap trigger, untap… repeat for all four creatures, then my busy little Sharpshooter targets himself. He has just a second Coliseum and doesn’t use it, so he ends the turn. I draw a mighty mighty Goblin Matron, finding my third copy of Goblin Piledriver (the first two sat on Moxes!) and casting it plus activating Mutavault, attacking for exactly lethal damage.

The opponent doesn’t particularly like this, and pushes himself a little faster than he meant to on his Coliseum; he’d wanted to hold off the one turn to make sure he had Ichorids to work with now that my Sharpshooter was dead, but now he needs to dredge that one last Narcomoeba or die. He finds it… but it still can’t block Piledriver, so he ends up at two. On his turn he can bring back three Ichorids, and even reanimate Akroma, but I am at 17, not 6, and he needs to block far too many creatures. Without either Earwig Squad or a single Crypt all match, I battle back to claim the match with nothing but dumb Goblins applied in exactly the perfect way to foil his plans… because, well, game two and three his Tolarian Winds didn’t Dredge as deeply as it normally does.

Record: 9-3-1 (16-8). New Rating… 1982. Mistakes made today: 1.

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 5 — Tom Martell (Current Level Blue)

Weeks ago it was Next Level, then last week it was Previous Level… I figure this week has to be Current Level Blue, whatever you want to call it. It plays a lot more like Next Level Blue than like Previous, and thus is as unhappy to face Goblins as Next Level Blue generally is.

There really isn’t much to say. As room-mates, Tom and I agreed to two things: one, we would split prizes from here on out… and two, the result of the match will not be allowed to end in a draw, as the best chances for either of us involved winning out from here as there was still hope that a PT qualification might be on the line. Much like my round against Rob the day before, I won the die roll and thoroughly drubbed my Blue-deck opponent, just deploying whatever threats and man-lands I was able to work with before Counterbalance lock put me away… made more difficult by the lock’s general inability to deal with Ringleaders or the cards they get you. I made a ridiculous mistake trying to kill a Tarmogoyf with a cycled Gempalm Incinerator without accommodating for the fact that the Incinerator pumps his toughness, but despite my efforts to throw that game away (just attacking with two Mutavaults instead would have been an awesome plan) I grind him down and kill him.

For the second game I get locked under Counterbalance much too quickly, and do not actually see a Shattering Spree to break his Shackles except when I reveal it to Ringleader… putting it on bottom, where it does me the least good. For the second, we have one of those epic strange games that you can see with this matchup… a turn-one Goblin and a Mutavault threatening to go all the way, followed by a few additional Goblins until the Blue deck stabilizes with a Shackles. After a few turns of nothing happening, I draw and deploy a Shattering Spree for three copies, the original targeting his Divining Top and the two copies targeting his one Shackles. The Shackles goes for my Fanatic, which targets his face, and my last spell for the turn is a Chrome Mox that allows me to imprint a useless Prospector and attack one more time with Mutavault, dropping him to five. Then time is called… and at the end of turns, he is at 2 with a Tarmogoyf, Sphere of Law, and Counterbalance-Top, while I have just the Mutavault to work with and a full hand of interesting things.

Tom refuses to concede, running the “this time it’s mine since I’ve won this game” plan, and rather than settle for a draw I swallow my pride and pack it in. Even though I’m pretty sure as things develop forward it is instead I who will win this game, just given my experience with the Next Level Blue matchup in general and the knowledge of my cards in hand. It’s not that hard to kill a Tarmogoyf or find another Mutavault and/or Black goblin, and my Matron would be good for either Earwig Squad (“black Goblin no care about Sphere of Law!”) or Warren Weirding (“die, Tarmogoyf, die!”) and close the game in some future turn we do not get to play.

Maybe I should have run the “but we’ll never know because you took all of that time thinking and Topping, Blue-mage” gambit, but I didn’t… so Tom goes forward with the concession, and I’m playing for a point and $200 in the last round.

Record: 9-4-1 (16-8). New Rating… 1958. Mistakes made today: 2.

And then we have the last round. Everything my pride would really have me playing for… a slot in the Top 8, a PT qualification for Hollywood, or even just Top 32 to say I did it for the first time, these are not things that I can say I have on the line. With that done… I don’t think I really cared, or tried as hard as I could have. Everything that had brought me to where I was, was based on the seriousness I was taking in pushing myself as a competitor… where before I wouldn’t accept anything less than perfect play as an outcome of my sitting down to play a match, now I just didn’t have anything like that on the line. The only respect I was playing for was my own respect… and having been here, fighting the good fight, with the only reason my record wasn’t going to show it being a slow Blue mage who refused to concede and expected that concession to me out of friendship… I already respected myself. The outcome of the last match wasn’t going to change that one way or the other, just maybe get me one Pro Tour point (the first earned for me since the last time they had a Team Sealed Deck and Team Draft Pro Tour) and $200, for a net total of +$100 since I’d share half of it with Tom? My head just wasn’t in it to that degree.

Grand Prix Day 2 Round 6 — Dimitri Xenedis (Red/Green)

Unfortunately, instead of replaying Round Two from the Grand Prix trial, my head just wasn’t in this. I snuck the first game by getting a surprising aggro draw on him, deploying Warchief plus multiple Piledrivers while his deck still had Molten Rains instead of Terminates, but fail to leverage this into a match-win by picking up either of the next two games… I don’t even know why. The day was already over for me regardless of the outcome of the match, and I can only presume that my play-skill deteriorated as a result. Instead of the beautiful sequence of perfect plays I had to execute to even stay alive against the Dredge deck in round thirteen, I can only imagine I was playing Caveman Magic with a series of scripted plays saying “this is how you beat Red/Green Aggro” instead of actually looking at and developing the board accordingly. The second game I Matroned for Warren Weirding then didn’t use it, trying to get a Goyf instead of a Kird Ape, when Matron for Ringleader plus cast it gets me far more into the game than the line of play I did choose does. Instead of sidestepping his removal I was aiming to walk right into it, and I lost a clumsy game because of it.

Record: 9-5-1 (17-10). New Rating… 1935. Mistakes made today: 2… plus this entire match.

So… ultimately, there were some elements of success and a technical ‘failure’ at the final product. If one is looking at it from the perspective that I was a sub-standard player prior to going into the event, then the fact that I built an awesome deck and executed well on it, well enough to make Day Two and put up respectable if not amazing results, that’s pretty good. And with a full understanding of the flavors of mistakes I was allowing as a standard occurrence in my play, I’d say that is a fair assessment, even if ‘sub-standard’ at a GP is pretty damn good anywhere else… up until very recently I was shrugging off mistakes as inconsequential so long as I didn’t make too many of them too often, since even with a few mistakes in your tournament play you can do pretty well at most events. You just won’t probably make Top Eight… because your play is shaky.

That the record is technically a failure, as I earned zero dollars and won zero Pro Points… considering the fact that with anyone else in the next-to-last round I’d have accepted the draw and still been in the mindset that I could potentially win and make the Top 32, I don’t look at the final placement in the tournament as especially indicative of the skill-set that brought me there. I’ve clearly gotten significantly better at the game by paying much greater attention to playing correctly, as can be seen with the ability to play a highly nuanced deck like Goblins with near-perfect ability that allowed me to sneak out games that required perfect play, like the one against Dredge in round thirteen. I’ve taken succeeding at the game much more seriously and have put work into pushing myself towards the next level… there is, after all, a reason that after all of these years it is now that my rating is reflecting a sea change in skill level that sees me pushed above the previous ceiling I had accepted to my skill level.

Given the firm belief that this is not a fluke, that I was in contention as a serious competitor up until time was called at the end of round fourteen, when I found myself in the moral quandary of accepting my opponent as a team-mate whose success I have to consider as equal in value to my own… it just so happens that trying to make your splash on the world stage is not something you are going to get exactly right in just the one try. Even playing at a greatly heightened level… I still made mistakes on Friday, but knew that was something I could expect having not played seriously in three weeks. I still made mistakes on Saturday… it just happened to be that for the most part they weren’t grievous ones, one sideboarding error I recovered from to win the match, and F6’ing my second main phase instead of playing Skirk Prospector. For card-play, I made only one serious mistake on the second day, and going into a professional-level event and making only three real mistakes over the course of the event for as long as you are in contention for the slot to Hollywood is pretty amazing considering not too long ago I’d have easily cleared three mistakes in my first match.

“What this means to me”, then, is that for once I have put myself up on that level and put myself forward as a competitor on that level. I’ve attended two Pro Tours, both Team events, and perhaps have believed the hype I’d told myself: that I wouldn’t be able to succeed on my own merits, the crutch in my own mind which I allowed to hobble me and accept results beneath ‘victory’ as something I could ultimately be happy with. Thinking “I did well at Regionals because I 6-2’ed” is fine for being able to respect the fact that you tried and almost succeeded… but do this at each and every event, as I have been known to do at many a PTQ, Regionals, or what-not… and you have to look at the pattern to see that something you are doing is just not good enough. If it were just luck, statistically speaking there would be some variance: sometimes I would make Top Eight, and other times, I would have a less-good result. (I did have those less-good results, especially when I picked a bad deck, so perhaps that is why it went undetected for so long.) But with an awfully dry spell on the Top 8 front, having not broken that barrier in longer than I even care to remember, it was apparent something needed to change.

And now… something has. Instead of being so results-oriented… I’m taking the lessons of others to heart, and learning to instead focus on being process-oriented. Results are presumably the outcome of good play with a good deck… and now I am looking at greatly improving my play by actually focusing on what matters and not accepting blatant screw-ups as the kind of thing that will just happen and I’ll shrug it off somehow. Improving my willingness to play a good deck is easy… at least for this Extended season I’d say I picked a great horse to back for the race, a powerful and highly competitive deck that allowed me to exploit my skills as a player.

I don’t look at one 85th-place finish and say I’ve failed in my new focus on the game. Especially given that the finish is artificially deflated by a concession, and that two of the most critical matches lost were due to mischance… no, I find it very hard to look at “no money, no Pro Points” as a failure. Flip a blank card instead of Tendrils, and I’m 7-1 and don’t have to draw myself into tied-for-last contention just to make sure I’m playing on Day Two; draw a mana source, even a Chrome Mox, on the second or third turn in the last game of my first match on Sunday and who knows, maybe the run ends with a Top Eight or a qualification for Hollywood. Looking at the process instead of the results… I played pretty amazingly, at least in comparison to how I’d probably have thrown away about half of the games I played with my prior mindset.

And if I maintain that process, well… we have a lively Grand Prix season this summer, and plenty of chances for me to make another splash and get back into the action. I expect you will hear again from me, in that capacity, sooner rather than later.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com

“In the still and the silent dawn, another day is born
Washed up by the tireless waves, body bent and torn
In the face of the blinding sun, I wake only to find
That Heaven is a stranger place than the one I’ve left behind…”
Sarah McLachlan, “Drawn to the Rhythm”