My Trials at Grand Prix: New Jersey, Part 1

As we all know, a Grand Prix in our own back yard is simply too good to miss… and Paul was determined to make the most of it. Armed with a solitary bye, he entered a Grand Prix Trial and attempted to ride the wave to three free rounds. The story of that, plus his Day 1 performance in the Grand Prix itself, is contained within…

(10:30 PM Eastern – Thursday November 9, 2006 – PJ’s apartment)

In a cackling display of electric guitar virtuoso, a Motorola RAZR is brought to life by the opening riffs to Sweet Child O’ Mine. The display clearly illuminates with someone who, from the back, could be mistaken for a sixty-year old Mexican woman. On his shoulders is a very small and apparently quite content child.

MF: Peej, we have an emergency.
PJ: You need a ride?
MF: If I needed a ride I’d just tell you to pick me up… no, we have an actual emergency. Will Tom’s River, NJ have access to diet Red Bull and Vitamin Water?
PJ: I got a case of Red Bull tonight. Make Julian or Sadin pick up the water.
MF: You’re so prepared.
PJ: Obv.

End Scene

As many of you know, much of the storied past of Magic: The Gathering and its affiliated sanctioned play has been a direct result of massive amounts of a drug called caffeine. I don’t want to make some outrageous claim (I’ll leave those to Osyp and Flores – more on that later) like 100% of all Pro Tour champs were hopped up on this performance-enhancing drug, but I’d be heartily surprised if the actual number was sub-90%. Prolonged performance over the course of two- and three-day tournaments by people who notoriously routinely imbibe alcoholic beverages while insisting upon sleep deprivation (we can do another draft, right? – you’ve all been there) requires some form of alternate source of energy. Coffee, Mountain Dew, Coca-cola, and more recently Red Bull have been driving forces in keeping competitive Magic moving along.

I am no different from the rest of you. I sleep less than I should and make up for the loss of sleep with alcohol. This tends to leave one, shall we say, lacking. Red Bull makes it all better.

The Vitamin Water is a different story. Keep hydrated, plain and simple. You could easily run basic water, Gatorade, or any other sport drink. We’ve chosen Vitamin Water so we can feel more self-important when downing it. This is the same principle we apply to writing with big words colossal verbiage. We’re also a superstitious group and wouldn’t want to break with tradition – even if said tradition has not brought any of us any real success (marginal, sure, but nothing big).

I chose to take a half-day at work on Friday. Being as I begin work at 7am, this meant I was on the road to the Grand Prix by eleven in the morning. Mapquest didn’t fail, and I was there by 1pm. You may not know this about GPs, but people don’t generally show up that early. I’m an idiot.

I did manage to fit in some learning time on the subject of the new World of Warcraft card game with Ashok. It seems interesting, although I can in no way say it’s the best thing ever. I honestly don’t have enough information on it to have formed an opinion. But I did win, so it at least has some merit.

After some time with that, and failed attempts at getting a draft going (lame) the GP trial started up. 88 people, eight rounds, Top 4 get byes. Here’s what I played

The mana was excellent, however the bombs were not quite game-breaking. I was happy about how solid it was, with no real stinkers in there. Admittedly I did not think this was a Top 4 deck, but it didn’t make sense to drop just from a lack of game-over bombs. I figured if I lost early I’d drop, otherwise I’d run it out as long as it went.

Round 1 was pretty much what you would expect from Round 1 of a GP trial. My opponent wasn’t good, and to top it off he started with five to my seven.

Round 2 was significantly different. My opponent (Andrew) seemed to at least know what he was doing and had some hard-to-handle cards. I lost game 1 to an unmorphed Thelonite Hermit followed up by a kicked Verdeloth the Ancient. After that I was pretty confident I’d be drafting soon. In game 2 I had stabilized the board, but he had a morph out that was presumably the Hermit. My board was as such that the four 2/2s wouldn’t really help him, but I also couldn’t punch through for anything. At some point he played out something that tapped him down to four mana, and I killed off his morph with Strangling Soot. Soon enough the game was over. Game 3 I just slapped down Griffin Guide on an Evil Eye early in the game, and he didn’t have anything close to an answer. By this point most of “the gang” had shown up and was looking to [eat, draft, et cetera]. Being the all-around-good-guy I am (and modest, too!), I offered to concede Round 2 so I could drop, draft and eat. Wang and Flores convinced me otherwise and I stayed in.

In between rounds I got involved in a draft. I wanted to try out an ultra aggressive deck to see how it worked out. I ended up with a deck centered on slivers and goblin tokens, with two Strength in Numbers and a Tromp the Domain as finishers. I lost to Sean McKeown‘s mono-White aggressive deck when he had a Tivadar of Thorn to nullify two of my guys the turn before I could attack for the kill. I beat Matt Urban when I made eight 1/1s by turn 6, and attacked with a Strength in Numbers and then had the sliver combo of Two-Headed plus Bonesplitter (with a Spined for good measure). I lost to Julian Levin and his fourth-pick Draining Whelk and fifth-pick Teferi. Um, yeah. I beat Ryan who had absolutely horrendous draws, featuring a draw with only four spells and another with only two lands. We ended up splitting the draft at eight wins per team, with Sean McKeown unpredictably providing four wins for his team. Predictably, Flores provided only one win for ours.

Somewhere in between all of those rounds I figured out that I, um, forgot about the trial. I settled for my lonesome bye.

There’s a funny anecdote from the week prior that doesn’t quite fit into the timeline, but I’d like to share. I recently moved job locations (same company, yay promotion) and had to fill out a ton of paperwork for proper parking, ID badge, phone, et cetera. During such, I filled out a form that asked for my employee ID. Instinctively, I entered in 503733 – my DCI number. Stupid gamer.

Sorry, had to get that in there. Getting back into the chronological swing of things, the rest of Friday evening featured IHOP dinner and going to the hotel. Somehow we ended up with five people instead of four in the hotel room, meaning one bed had three people. It was my bed. At the very least, I wasn’t in the middle. Around two in the morning I ended up crawling onto the floor. Not. Enough. Sleep.

Grumble grumble, beep beep beep, yawn, pee, poop, shower, eat. GP time.

Here’s my cardpool.

And here’s what I ran:

Now here’s a deck that took some thinking. I was very tempted to take the Blue out for the Red. The madness was still available, I gained a Wrath effect and some removal, and I gained Sedge Sliver. I also looked at just Red-Blue, but the curve and synergy really didn’t look solid. I settled on this build because it was very smooth. It curved out very well and the madness outlets always were available. The Blue suspend cards are amazing. I with I had only played with one Psychotic Episode and had played the either the Telekinetic Sliver or the second Smallpox. The episodes were never exciting. Pox was great almost every time I had it. I suspended creatures multiple times and then played Pox when they had some guy out. It was always beneficial.

This deck was similar to my trial deck in that I thought it was solid, it had nice mana, but it did not have anything truly bomb-tacular. This one did have the Shapeshifter and Automaton though, and man was it smooth. Flores would say it had velocity. He likes words. So I sat through the bye and sat down for Round 2. Well, I went to the pairings, and my name wasn’t there. It seems that my bye hadn’t been recorded so I was given a loss and drop for Round 1. John Carter and his crew quickly remedied this and I was paired against someone else who had been accidentally dropped. So he was 0-1, and honestly, he played like he was 0-1 in a Grand Prix. We’re talking main-phase instants and abilities here, folks. He seemed to have absolutely no clue how badly he was beaten. The fun part was using Riftwing Cloudskate to bounce a Desert so I could swing with my Trespasser, and that was followed up with some Mana Skimming action on the very same Desert. 2-0

I got thrashed in Round 3, losing to Magus of the Disc and some very aggressive White creatures. I don’t really even know what happened. I was worried at this point because, let’s face it, 2-1 is kind of awful. Not to mention, my Round 2 breakers were sure to hurt me. 2-1

To make things worse, my Round 4 opponent had some nice ones. Firemaw, Lightning Angel, Sulfurous Blast and scattered other removal. Then he sided out his Blue for Black and brought in Sudden Spoiling. Whatever. Game 1 I was able to madness my way around his spells, use the Episode on his Blast, somehow survive through his Firemaw, and mutate up a Trespasser to go in for lethal. Game 2 he lost all kind of sense. His board had a Basal Sliver and Flowstone Channeler. I had a Dream Stalker. He swung in with both, I blocked the sliver and took two. He then played out a Subterranean Shambler. I promptly threw his sliver into his bin. The next turn, after I added a Spiketail Drakeling to the board, he thought long and hard and decided to not pay his echo and then activate his Channeler, targeting my Drakeling. I said okay, he looked around, realized that his Shambler doesn’t quite hit fliers, and simply said go. Right around that time, I was pretty sure it was in the bag. 3-1

Throughout these matches I was siding in either a sliver, a Smallpox, or both. I was increasingly unimpressed with the Episodes. I originally played them with the thought that in Sealed Deck, bombs win games, and these things trump bombs. Turns out, bombs do win games, but these things just kind of clutter up your grip. Who knew?

Round 5 I lost game 1 quickly. In game 2 my opponent made a pretty crucial error. He swung in with a morph to mine while I was tapped out (it was the Serpent). I blocked. He played Momentary Blink, and Brine Elemental came into play face up. I pointed out that damage wasn’t on the stack. Once a judge straightened things out, I still had my morph and got to untap. He had six lands in play and could have easily survived to activate Briney. The following turn he played a land from his hand that he didn’t draw, so it seems pretty awful overall. After that debacle I Spiketail’ed the flashback on Blink for the win. Game 3 he was land-light, I had both flying suspend guys, and I Pox’d away his only creature. 4-1

Around here is when Flores and Osyp had a confrontation in the lobby. Osyp was telling one of his lies stories, and Mike was in the audience. Mike, fearing he was not the center of attention, launched into one of his lies stories. It became clear that the two were fairly evenly matched at telling lies story-telling. After polling some passer-byes and coming up with a seemingly split world, it was decided the only possible way to decide this issue was a Lie-Off.

I’m not going to bother trying to capture the sheer brilliance and glamour involved when two true masters of their craft square off in an honest test of skill. It’s like seeing Tiger Woods go up against Arnold Palmer in his prime. I apologize at my merely mortal ability to lie tell stories. I only hope these two gentlemen will be kind enough to share with us.

Round 5 I tromped all over my land-flooded opponent in game 1 only to get owned by Ib Halfheart and an army of goblins, including some provided by a stormy Empty the Warrens. Oh, and Jaya Ballard. I decided that against his swarm of tokens my Sulfurous Blast might be better, and I also wanted to have a better chance of killing off Jaya, so I brought out the Blue and in the Red. I never got to see if it would work, as I only drew five spells and he had an early Jaya. 4-2

I now needed to win the final three rounds to make Day 2. I was pretty sure I’d be drafting the following day. My Round 7 opponent only had some Buzzardiers and a Spike Tiller in game 1. Since I promptly dispatched of the Tiller, it was pretty easy. In game 2 we were racing each other: him with a Basalt Gargoyle and me with an Automaton. I got out a morph and was periodically pumping up the Automaton to get the math in my favor. I flipped a Shapeshifter to fly over for the final damage. 5-2

In Round 8 my opponent couldn’t get much of anything going with his offense being limited to a flash-bear. Towards the end of the game he committed Squall Line suicide. Well, that was good to know about. I have no idea why he thought it was smart to give me that information. Regardless, he was able to kill two guys with it early, but they had already done some damage. He was tight on lands, but had out an En-Kor and Holy Nimbus and was doing some nice racing. I had a Cloudskate and Deepwalker keeping the race in my favor. A Crookclaw sealed the deal. 6-2

I was now 1 win away from Day 2, which I thought was pretty incredible. I honestly didn’t think this deck had what it took, but I was proven wrong. Consistency was proving more valuable than bombs. I went to my table and listened to the announcements before the round. My opponent hadn’t shown up yet, neither had the guy next to me. They announced the beginning of the round, and the opponent of the guy next to me (who happened to be Tiago Chan) high-fived each other. You know, in the spirit of sportsmanship. So we got our game wins. About a minute later both of our opponents showed up, and Julian Levin – owner of many, many names – sat next to me. I had just high-fived one of my friends getting a game loss. I took it back, but still felt bad.

My opponent got out Basal and Vampiric Slivers along with Stormbind. I was able to Nightscape away the Vampiric Sliver, and after he Stormbinded the Assassin I used Smallox to get his last guy. [Stormbound? – Craig.] I was still on seven though, so I needed to kill him quickly. I got out an Automaton, and then played Pit Keeper to get back Dream Stalker, which then got back Pit Keeper. Running low on life, he had to start worrying about my creatures. On the final turn I was able to Pit Keep back the Assassin and swing for the kill. Afterwards, Dan (my opponent) showed me the three Strangling Soots in his deck, in addition to Lightning Axe, a healthy mix of slivers and other removal. Seriously, much better than my deck. Alas, there is no justice. I was in Day 2.

The day concluded with more IHOP’ing. Check in later for my day 2 extravaganza.

Until then,

Paul Jordan