Marky Does Dallas

Mark talks about his trip to Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth, where he played U/W Control, and why he might run it back at the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas.

To say that getting to Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth was an experience would be an understatement. For those of you who lived under a rock this past weekend, the cities of Fort Worth and Dallas were covered in ice and snow, practically making it impossible to fly into on time.

Unless you flew Spirit Airlines!

Spirit Airlines should rename themselves "#YOLO Air" because it was clear our safety wasn’t a priority. While every major company across the country was canceling flights to DFW, Spirit figured that since our tickets cost about $80 round-trip we probably didn’t care too much about getting there in one piece.

What would a sane person do? Cancel the trip? Try to get their money back?


We scooted our little butts on a plane that could have easily been made of plastic and sailed right through an ice storm so we could play Magic because, you know, that’s what an adult does, right?

Our motley crew of characters included the following degenerates:

"Babyface" – Head of an infant, heart of a lion.
Brennan DeCandio – Instead of packing clothing, he packed his hair straightener.
Steve Mann – Sleeps on the floor like a champion.
Chris Fennell – "I’m gonna play G/W. No . . . U/W. No . . . Mono-Black. No . . . Hexproof. No . . . G/W."
Seth Manfield – More man than actual field.
Shawn Ellis – Ravens suck.
Elijah – Hates violence, but killed people with Pack Rat. I don’t understand.
John Bolt – Middle name "Lightning."
Logan MizeMaze’s End too stronk.
Skip – Can’t buy a bucket.
Oscar Sardinas – Bieber4Lyfe.

With the cast in place, I was ready for an insane weekend.

I decided from the get-go that I was going to battle with either U/W or Esper Control. I felt very, very comfortable with Esper since it has pretty much been my default since the format began. The combination of counters, bombs, hand disruption, and card draw appealed to me at every level, but playing so many tapped lands was causing me problems with the faster decks overrunning me until I could pull off a Supreme Verdict and then finishing me off with burn.

It was for this reason that I chose to go with U/W Control.

Logan has been advocating the deck practically forever, and after jamming some games with him at the PTQ last week, it kept feeling more and more right. Stanislav Cifka was able to Top 8 Vienna with it last week, making it an attractive option. Further testing showed that you were able to brutalize Mono-Blue Devotion and even your mediocre draw was good enough to beat their best. We expected a ton of both Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion decks this weekend, so we planned accordingly and tweaked Cifka’s deck to be a tad more potent against Mono-Black. The matchup feels in U/W’s favor but can quickly shift if they have a multitude of hand disruption and you can’t deal with their Underworld Connections.

The short of why we played U/W Control was that every match felt winnable and we never felt like we had a bad matchup against anything.

But we’ll get to the tournament shortly.

I decided to embark for Tampa a night early in order to hang out with Brennan, Shawn, Bolt, and Babyface before our flight left early Friday morning. The night was filled with Magic Online drafts, Modern Pro Tour testing, over 30 tacos, and Tito’s Vodka, which is much better than I expected it to be. Before I arrived at Brennan’s humble abode, I was greeted by a text from him saying that his apartment flooded due to his washing machine committing honorable suicide by exploding pipe. I didn’t fully comprehend the nature of "flooding" until I walked in and felt like this.

First there was a flood.

Then there was an ice storm.

I hereby dub thee Grand Prix Natural Disaster.

Hoping our luck was finally going to take a turn for the better, we woke up nice and early and embarked to the airport only to find out every flight before us was canceled and almost every flight into Dallas after us was canceled, but remember kids . . .

This is #YOLO Air we’re talking about.

Without so much as a second thought, ours was the only plane that took off, and it was complete with a pilot cracking jokes about the windows being completely frosted over and not able to be seen through.

Cute, huh?

The run-goods decided to stop with a flight that abandoned all reason when we arrived at the DFW airport to find that the train wasn’t running and all taxi cabs were not driving. We were stranded for five hours before a bus finally came and took us to a train station that was running. From there we got to travel on another bus named the "Molly Trolley," which needs a new name because there are way too many jokes that come along with that.

Finally reaching our hotel, everyone settled on their decks and decided to get some rest. This is what I sleeved up for the weekend:

Logan came up with the sideboard Blood Barons, and the card was very impressive all day. Against the several G/W opponents I faced, he did a ton of work, especially if he landed on turn 5. Often he pulled double-duty and stymied their attacks, and coupled with your extensive removal package, he can gain ridiculous amounts of life and seal up the win for you without so much as breaking a sweat.

One of the sweetest plays this deck can make against aggro decks is the ol’ turn 4 Supreme Verdict into Blood Baron of Vizkopa the following turn. The card often came out of nowhere since most decks will board out their removal against U/W Control, and most forms of killing a creature are black anyway. He is a card that makes our mana base a bit more ambitious, but he was certainly worth it for the most part.

Another all-star was the third Elspeth being moved to the board. There are some matchups where killing her is too simple, like against Mono-Black Devotion. However, Mono-Blue Devotion has almost no answers to her outside of Cyclonic Rift or attacking her with unblockable creatures via Thassa, which you’re very adept at handling regardless. I played Mono-Blue five times over the weekend, and she sealed up each and every one of them.

One of the key reasons to play U/W Control is consistency. A number of players I talked to over the weekend unanimously agreed that Detention Sphere might be the best card in the format right now due to its versatility. Essence Scatter is an extremely good answer to problematic cards like Thassa and Stormbreath Dragon. Sphinx’s Revelation is . . . Sphinx’s Revelation, and Elspeth is at her best here.

The reason we chose this deck over Esper was because not only does it gives easy access to four Dissolves, which is very good in a midrange/control-oriented format, but it can reasonably cast every spell in the deck without worry. This was the problem I was having with Esper and the reason I decided to play U/W instead. This isn’t to say Esper isn’t a fantastic choice right now because given the success of U/W this past weekend it’s entirely possible that a version of Esper with more of a focus on cards like Sin Collector, Thoughtseize, Duress, and Hero’s Downfall could be devastating to the Azorius deck. Just a thought though.

The main event featured around 850 players, which completely blows my mind because the roads were literally completely covered in ice. This just goes to show you the popularity that Magic has because people from all over the world flocked to an actual frozen wasteland to play. It had a very unique feeling to it, more so than any event I’ve ever played in. Each player knew they were a part of something special, and the vibe was almost tangible.

Unfortunately I had zero byes going in since last season I was sidelined with bronchitis and pneumonia, but I wasn’t worried. I assembled a 3-0 start before taking a pretty sad loss in game 3 of round 4. I was forced to mulligan to four cards on the play against R/B Aggro, but my four was perfect with Plains, Hallowed Fountain, Azorius Charm, and Soldier of the Pantheon. I drew reasonably well and stabilized enough to play a Blood Baron while I was at three. I needed to fade a single draw step from my opponent, but a Lightning Strike sealed the deal.

I picked up another win but then was quickly shot down by Grand Prix champion John Stern with Mono-Black Devotion in the next round after he chained Thoughtseize after Thoughtseize on my mulligan to six, locking me up with just lands. His Desecration Demon finished the job and sent me to 5-2. A young lady named Natalie with her G/W Aggro deck gave me my third loss when again mulligans limited my action in a game 3, but she played very well and made her first day 2 so kudos to her! She was extremely excited, and that completely took the sting out of losing since at the end of the day we all live for moments like that.

All hope was not lost however. It looked like around fifteen or twenty X-3s were going to make it to day 2, so I went into round 9 determined to not fail. My opponent was packing the powerful Red Devotion archetype, but my deck finally decided it was done mulliganing and gave me all the tools necessary to take him down.

When standings were posted, I went in with very little expectations and was greeted by 142nd place, which isn’t horrible for my first GP since May, but I was pretty displeased. I didn’t have time to feel bad though because several of my traveling companions had made day 2, including Seth, who rocked out a 9-0 performance to start the next morning in first place, along with Steve Mann, who had gone 8-1.

The next morning was going to feature a Sunday Super Series where you could choose either Standard or Sealed. From there the Top 4 of each part would meet for a draft. I opted for the Standard and started 2-0. But again the mulligans started to rack up, and I lost my next two rounds without much resistance.

(Aside: When did decks that play 27 lands decide they want to cough up hands without lands in them? Channeling my best Jerry Seinfeld: "What is the deaaaaaaal with thaaaaat?)

The Planeswalker Points multiplier for this event was the same as the Grand Prix, so I figured "what the hell" and that the extra points would do me some good—that is until I heard a pretty sweet announcement.

" . . . And the winner will receive a foil set of Theros, second will receive a non-foil set, and multiple boxes will be paid out to Top 4 . . . "

Excuse me? Daddy likes that.

I inquired what event the announcement had referred to and found out it was a quick Standard tournament. Who needs PW points?

I looked at the sign-up judge and informed him as politely as possible to "shut up and take my money." He laughed, realized I was serious, and quietly made change for me as I walked over to the new tournament area.

To tell you the truth, folks, I was pretty disheartened and needed this event to go well. Sadly, only seventeen people signed up for it, but I figured it’d be a trip to Value Town, USA if I did well and some extra testing for the Invitational to boot. The competition was pretty stout since there was a ton of incentive in prizes.

My deck finally decided to give me some good hands, and I cruised to 4-0 before drawing with my last opponent to lock up a Top 4 spot.

I kicked off the semifinals by dispatching another Mono-Blue Devotion deck before meeting easily the most pleasant person I have ever had the joy of playing against in the finals. He was packing a G/W deck that I had beaten earlier in the event, but this time he got the best of me in the finals to take home a foil set of Theros. All I got was a non-foil set. Aw shucks, right?

With my courage restored, I watched Seth ascend to the Top 8 and 3v3 drafted with Steve Mann and Logan Mize against a few other ringers, especially the ever so handsome David Bauer. I drafted a U/G gem of a deck, and our team murdered theirs, with my deck going 3-0. Easy game.

Our night was topped off with dinner at the only sports bar open in the vicinity. It was really nice to finally meet and chat with people like Christian Calcano, who I’ve perennially trolled on Facebook and get along with swimmingly. Seeing him beat Chris Fennell during a draft while the entire bar was watching the Panthers get beaten to death by the Saints was one of the highlights of my trip.

Despite floods, blizzards, planes made of paper mache, an endless sea of mulligans, and seeing no less than five of my friends completely eat it on the ice-covered roads, it was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. This is why I play Magic. This is why write. Moments like these.

. . .

. . .

. . .

That about sums it up for my trip to Dallas-Fort Worth. As I finish this, I’m looking over at a suitcase that is filled with items for my trip to Las Vegas for the Invitational. This will be my first time in Sin City, and I intend to see if the name lives up to its repute.

As you’ve seen in the last few weeks, I’ll be packing Shardless BUG for the Legacy portion, which some great players were kind enough to give me their insights on this weekend. I feel prepared and ready to battle.

For the Standard portion, however, you can bet that I’ll either be on Esper Control or running back U/W. Either way, I hope to see you there because this is going to be one for the ages.

Catch ya on the flip-

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