My Trials at Grand Prix: New Jersey, Part 2

Paul concludes his enlightening report on his strong finish at Grand Prix: New Jersey. He shares the details of his two Day 2 drafts, with pick choices and deck archetypes dissected and discussed. Looking for the edge in your next draft pod? Maybe Paul has the answer…

By now you’ve probably read about how Day 1 went. I rode a consistent Blue/Black deck to a 7-2 record. One part I forgot to mention was how good for me Unstable Mutation was. There were a number of games where it got in for an extra five or six damage, thanks to being put on an evasion creature. I think there was only one time when I drew it that it wasn’t helpful. But you don’t want to hear about Day 1… let’s talk about Day 2.

Saturday night I (at least) had a bed spot. Nobody in my room (Sadin, Flores, Urban, Julian) made Day 2, so I made plans to go with BDM, who was happy with his 8-1 Day 1 performance. I went to sleep around 1:30am, and woke up around six. Not. Enough. Sleep.

I love drafting in premier events, mainly because I love drafting. I had a couple of opinions on draft at this point. I really liked Blue, especially with Red (who doesn’t). I haven’t been very successful with White, and I’m not sure why. I think I mis-value basically every card in the color, which leads to some pretty poor decks. I also really enjoy a quick Green/Red deck with Goblins and/or Slivers (similar to my draft deck from Friday night). I wanted to try for either that, Blue/Red, or Blue/Black.

My opening pack didn’t have much interesting outside of an Amrou Scout. I took the Scout, figuring that I would abandon it quickly if White dried up. It never really did, as I got Fortify and Opal Guardian along with some Kestrels in pack 1. I wasn’t sure what my second color would be, or if I would have to have one at all. Pack 2 got even better. I had to pass a Celestial Crusader to take an Ivory Giant, got a Momentary Blink, and I even picked up a Griffin Guide. Pack 3 I solidified the rebel chain with another Scout and some Doomsayers. Here’s my list:

I want to address why there’s a lonely Fathom Seer in the sideboard while a Slipstream Serpent made it into the maindeck. Obviously, I was heavily into White, making two Islands less likely for me to have in play, but that wasn’t even the main reason. Both cards are obviously vanilla Grey Ogres in the early turns. I was more worried about later in the game. I knew this deck had game against smaller creatures, in particular because of the three Errant Doomsayers. I was worried about big guys though, and the Serpent helped address that concern. In retrospect, maybe I should have played another Island or two, cut the Pentarch Ward, and played the Seer. He did get sided into the deck frequently. I think I went a little overboard with the focus on being mostly mono-White.

I liked this deck, but felt it was lacking pressure. I didn’t have any early drops that actually wanted to attack. The game plan was to stall until I got a flier attacking, or to set up for a Crier/Fortify or Ivory Giant turn. I’m very unfamiliar with drafting these decks, and desperately wanted some more aggression. Or at least another Ivory Giant. I was expecting a 1-2, at best 2-1 with this deck.

I played against a sliver/madness deck in round 1. I got past him in the first game thanks partially to his early mana issues. I didn’t capitalize aggressively, as this was a flaw with the deck, but I was able to get a defense up. He had a Tendrils and Assassinate at different points, but I didn’t see any other removal. In game 2 I was very land flooded and only stayed in the game because I drew Ovinomancer and he was land flooded too. I was able to stay mildly consistent on mana thanks to a storage land. He drew out of it first and got past me. In game 3 I was able to really hinder his madness outlets with Gaze, bounce, and Ovinomancer, making all of his spells cost more. I was light on lands, but had enough early drops to push through. 8-2

I got a little lucky in round 2. I played against a very strong Red/Green deck with a lot of removal, and Scryb Ranger that absolutely shut down my Doomsayers. I won the first game on two life, with the help of a Griffin Guide on an Amrou Seeker. His turn 2 Ranger was a nightmare for me, and his Penumbra Spider kept me from sending in with a flier or two. Game 2 was also very close; he took me down while he was on five life. Game 3 I was getting methodically beaten, but time was called on his turn. From there it was clear I had no shot at winning, so the next best thing was to go for the draw. I had some defense, but certainly nothing to write home about. I drew a Momentary Blink and did some math. I could chump and blink out two guys, keeping them around to chump the following turn. Assuming he only added one more creature with power three or less to the table next turn, I could get the draw. Anything more, or anything tricky out of him and I would lose. He only had a three-power guy and I got the draw, sitting on one life with a virtually empty board. 8-2-1

I felt pretty fortunate to walk out of that without a loss, but I also knew that I needed to win the final four rounds to still be in Top 8 contention, so it was a virtual loss. Since we drew in round 2 of the draft, one of us would be paired up and the other paired down. I got paired up against the 2-0. He had an aggressive Red/Green deck with some smaller creatures and burn. He used a Grapeshot on a Scout early and I didn’t see any other removal. He had a 4/1 first striker that was racing my fliers (two Kestrels and a Crusader). He started dealing four to my two. Then it was four to my six. And then four to my eight. I added in a chump blocker for good measure and won the race. In game 2 there was a similar race. He suspended two Rift Bolts and went to my face with them. I sent in with Fortify for the win, but he had sided in Chameleon Blur! I had to read it, and thankfully had another chump to play to survive. If he drew more burn I’d still die. He didn’t and I won on two life. 9-2-1

I was in position to win my final draft and get into the top 8. More than I expected.

In pack 1 I started off almost entirely mono-Blue following my first pick of Draining Whelk, despite passing some nice White cards (Scout, some Zealots). The Blue was also deep though, and I wanted to cut one color for sure to reap the rewards in pack 2. It somehow backfired, and pack 2 saw a number of Crusaders and another Scout go by. I took Ith, High Arcanist, some other Blue cards, and also dabbled with some Orcish Cannonades in case Red was to be my second color. Pack 3 really helped a lot. I was passed a fourth-pick Brine Elemental, which would go great with the Shapeshifter I opened in that pack. I was so excited. Then I looked at the rest of the pack. Teferi was sitting in there, staring back at me. I haven’t seen the replay, but I think my jaw actually dropped. As much as I wanted a Brine Elemental, I couldn’t pass up the Teferi. Strangely, when I picked a fourteenth-pick Mystical Teachings I joked in my inner monologue that if I got a Teferi I’d run it. Who knew?

Here’s the deck I ended up drafting:

Now here’s a deck I can get behind! It had bombs, a good curve and consistent mana. What’s not to like?

I was paired against the mirror match in round 1. His deck ended up having some bombs as well, in the form of Sacred Mesa and Magus of the Disk.

Game 1 he got out a Mesa but only had five lands. I had a Drakeling and Sprite Noble attacking. He double blocked the Noble, and I flipped up my clone to make another Noble so the first would be 2/3. I also had Ith clogging up the ground for me. In game 2 we stalled each other. I got out Teferi, and the following turn countered something with a Whelk. Two turns later he tried to play out the Magus (which I didn’t know he had). I had eight mana up, played Dream Stalker to bounce my Whelk in response, and then replayed it to counter the Magus. He extended his hand. 10-2-1

Right around this time I was beginning to get excited, and also fatigued. In the next round I faced off against Professor Potato Head (Douglas Conway) and his sick Green/Red deck. He had double Grapeshot, double Rift Bolt, a lot of suspend, and Tromp the Domains. I was a little slow in game 1 and was always on defense. I set up the defense well and stabilized on eight life. At that point it looked like I would deck myself, as I couldn’t get past his Ephemeron. I set up a plan in my head to Teachings for a Snapback, bounce the Ephemeron, and then flashback the Teachings (off the lens) to go get the Whelk. Sadly, after figuring this out my brain put it into action a turn too early, when I didn’t have enough mana to do it all. I had to Dream Stalk a Fathom Seer and hope to draw the Whelk. I didn’t.

In game 2 I was far more aggressive, getting out a Ward on red on my Vesuvan Shapeshifter. I Cloned a Durkwood Tracker, and made a plan to Dream Stalk the Ward, put it on Green and bash through (I could Clone his 5/,5 and he was on seven already from early fliers that had since died). My brain failed me again, and I just laid out a Stalker and bounced and replayed a land. After that mistake, it took a lot longer to push through. Eventually, after countering some things and Doug getting back in the game I topdecked a Coral Trickster to tap his last blocker and swing for the win. This happened just about when time was called. Doug was X-3 to my X-2-1, I was hopeful he’d scoop to give me a shot at Top 8. He did not. We drew. 10-2-2.

I was now out of Top 8 contention, but for some reason thought I could still get into the Top 16 (I couldn’t). I got paired up against the 2-0 at the table again. He had a very aggressive blue/red deck with a lot of flanking knights, bounce and Cannonades. I got demolished in short order. 10-3-2.

Looking at my record, given enough time I think I would have beaten Doug and lost my other draw, so 11-4 is an adjusted record. Pretty decent… I placed 46th out of 914 (top 5%). Not at all what one hopes for, but certainly not horrible.

I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot about the format, and was able to really work on elevating my game play. In Kenji Tsumura recent article he mentioned how people should be looking at their sideboards in between Limited games. It makes sense and seems simple enough, but I agree that there are a lot of people who simply do not do it. I was one of them, but not any more. And it was even more effective than I thought. I can only think of one match where I didn’t side something in (the final one). Every time I was happy to be doing it, and gaining some extra advantage that I didn’t have initially.

Until next time,

Paul Jordan