Playin’ It Cool In Montreal

Frank Skarren tells you about his experience at Grand Prix Montreal last weekend, where he played Theros/Born of the Gods Limited to a Top 100 finish.

This past weekend I got to be part of a ragtag group of travelers that met in New York to make a seven-hour car ride up north. I say ragtag because not only did it feature Joe Demestrio, Christian Calcano, and me (all local New Yorkers) but this time around we also had Marc Lalague (fresh from the Cali swag district) and Chris Fennell (the Floridian Gatormage himself) along for the ride. Although we came from different corners of the map, Magic had given us a mutual goal to pursue: Grand Prix Montreal.

While the weekend was full of debauchery and good stories, it’s safe to say I learned two things for certain:

1. Born of the Gods Sealed is a lot of fun! I’m excited that the current PTQ season is Limited so the format will get some more limelight.

2. Canada is still really cold.

When I finally made it to the event site Saturday morning, I was met with the usual anxious feeling that comes with any Sealed tournament. Although Born of the Gods Sealed is skill testing, the sealed pools can be even more volatile than usual. In other Sealed environments, you’re just hoping to open up some good cards to build your deck around. In this Sealed format, however, it doesn’t matter how many copies of Wingsteed Rider you open if you don’t also open good ways to target them.

After registering a decent pool, it was time for the big sweat of the deck pass. A handful of "pass to your lefts" later, I found myself staring at the neatly wrapped up card pool that would decide my fate. As I unraveled the deck sheet, a bunch of white Soldier tokens came pouring from a pocket on top. I couldn’t help but crack a smile, as I had a feeling a certain Sun’s Champion was going to be battling by my side.


As you can see, my premonition was correct, and I did have access to the format’s strongest mythic rare. While that may be a great place to start, this pool has a lot of problems in other areas. None of the colors other than green are particularly deep, and the power levels of the cards vary drastically. The rares are most concentrated in black, but the color is torn between aggressive and controlling cards, making it hard to utilize.

Before I go over any of the decisions I made for the deck, take a look at the 40 cards I registered:

The base of this deck was very easy to establish, but it was the finer points that gave me some trouble. Although white was shallow overall, it was good enough to warrant playing just to get Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in the deck. This meant that the other color I played would have to compensate for white’s lack of depth, and green was the only one up to the task.

Unfortunately, even with both colors and Chronicler of Heroes in the mix, the deck was a few good cards short. Although I would have liked to play only two colors, it would have meant playing cards like Silent Artisan and Bronze Sable to fill in the gaps. Playing a third color meant I could get full value off of both copies of Karametra’s Favor and potentially Traveler’s Amulet or Springleaf Drum.

Black didn’t have much to offer without BB in the casting cost, which left red or blue as the viable options. Out of red, Labyrinth Champion and Fall of the Hammer were the most plausible candidates, while blue had Sea God’s Revenge and Thassa’s Emissary. While I still think it’s a close call, the raw power of Sea God’s Revenge and getting to play Temple of Enlightenment ended up being too tempting to pass up.

Even though this deck might look great on paper, it isn’t without its flaws. Its biggest problem is a lack of removal or cheap combat tricks. Because of this, it needs to get its efficient creatures out on curve before the opponent has a chance to stabilize. With two clunky copies of Karametra’s Favor, a nongreen Temple, a basic Island, and a Traveler’s Amulet, casting Swordwise Centaur on turn 2 is almost laughable. If the deck didn’t get off the ground in the early game, I had to draw Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Sea God’s Revenge or I simply couldn’t close out the game. As a result I had to frequently mulligan or keep sketchy hands during the Swiss, and it played a part in both of my losses.

The first came in my very first round of the tournament. Due to the Planeswalker Points season resetting following Grand Prix Richmond, I only had two byes this time around. My opponent round 3 was playing a BUG Control deck featuring Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. He was able to turn 3 the planeswalker to win game 1, but I managed to return the favor game 2 with a turn 6 Elspeth.

Unfortunately, game 3 opened up with me mulliganing to 4. My opponent’s seven-card hand was no slouch, again featuring a turn 3 Ashiok. Although I miraculously managed to kill it on my turn 4 by tapping his blocker with Leonin Snarecaster, my three-creature team was decimated by a Drown in Sorrow the following turn. The beats didn’t stop there, as my opponent’s next few turns involved playing an Insatiable Harpy; suiting it up with Feral Invocation; and using a Hunter’s Prowess to send it at my face for seven damage, seven life gain, and seven cards.

Let’s do a quick recap:

Even with all of this, I still would have won the game if I had drawn Elspeth, Sun’s Champion up until the turn before I died. Yes, that card is very fair.

The rest of my matches were fairly unexciting. With a few timely Elspeth topdecks, I was able to fight through my sketchy mana base to get to the final round with a 7-1 record. Unfortunately my deck decided to cool off a bit at the end, and game 3 I mulliganed and was only able to draw four nonland cards in a very long game. Once again if one of them had been Elspeth, I would have won with ease, but this time she was nowhere to be found.

Although finishing day 1 with a 7-2 record qualified me for day 2, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disheartened. Losing in a bye round felt pretty rough and really made me appreciate just how valuable having three byes can be. As I steeled my resolve to 6-0 day 2 and fight for a spot in the Top 8, tragedy struck. Good friend, teammate, and roommate for this trip Seth Manfield and I realized we were in the same draft pod. It didn’t take a Magic 8 Ball to figure out we weren’t both getting out of the pod with a 3-0 record.

Draft #1

The first draft of day 2 started with Seth seated directly to my left. Things began very well for me, as I took a Hunter’s Prowess out of an otherwise underwhelming first pack. I followed it up with a Retraction Helix and a Kiora’s Follower and had a strong G/U Tempo deck in the works.

As you can see, things went smoothly from there:

By far the most difficult pick of this draft came at pack 3 pick 1. I was faced with what would have been my second Ordeal of Thassa or a Bident of Thassa. This might seem like a slam-dunk Bident pick, but I think taking the weapon was a mistake. At this point in the draft I already had two copies of Setessan Oathsworn as well as a Staunch-Hearted Warrior. Ordeal of Thassa’s stock goes way up with so many double-counter heroic effects in your deck, not to mention I knew my mana base was going to be heavily slanted toward green, making Bident tough to cast. It takes a very skilled drafter to turn down the powerful rare for the uncommon in this position, and I’m upset to say that I didn’t have the chops.

As for the rest of the deck, everything came together smoothly. With two Triton Tactics and a Savage Surge, my deck was well equipped to win damage races. Although the double Aspect of Hydra might seem out of place in the sideboard, they just weren’t as good as any of my other spells. That might seem weird when the deck in question features Stymied Hopes, but the Force Spike wannabe played a major role in this deck. If the deck had any holes, it was that it didn’t have much action on turn 1 or 2 and was in danger of getting run over by hyperaggressive strategies. Stymied Hopes proved instrumental in beating my round 1 (R/B Minotaurs) and my round 2 (Naya Aggro) opponents.

To make things truly epic, fate decided to wait until the finals of the pod to pit me and Seth against each other. To truly understand how this match played out, we’re going to have to take a look back at the draft.

Although my most difficult pick of the draft came early in pack 3, the most important pick came a few cards down the line. I was able to get my hands on a fourth pick Boon Satyr. Although Boon Satyr is a great card for any green drafter, you might be asking yourself why this one was so important. Let me tell you a bit about Seth Manfield. He is one of the best Magic players I have ever met. A major part of this is his uncanny ability to perfectly navigate every trick that his opponent has. There is only one blind spot in this sixth sense, and its name is Boon Satyr. I’ve seen Seth get blown out in tournament Magic by Boon Satyr more times than any other player combined. So much so that I went as far as to joke at dinner the night prior that my best hope of beating him was to open a Boon Satyr.

Flash forward to my match against Seth. It’s game 1, and he’s on the play. He’s off to a fast start with a Leonin Snarecaster into an Ordeal of Heliod. On my turn 3, I pass with two Forests and an Island up and cross my fingers. Sure enough, Seth decides to jam a Hopeful Eidolon onto his Snarecaster instead of keeping Griptide mana open and sends the Leonin into combat. Enter Boon Satyr to block the 5/4 Cat and save me from losing the game before it even began. I was able to use the tempo I gained from this exchange to set up a turn later in the game where I got to use the devastating combo of Horizon Chimera and Hunter’s Prowess to draw six cards and gain six life, securing the game.

Unfortunately game 2 was a little less exciting, as Seth had to mulligan to six and I was able to run back the Chimera-Prowess combo from game 1. While this meant Seth could no longer Top 8, I knew that he would be fiercely rooting me on during the second draft.

Draft #2

As the judges set up the tables for the second draft, my head was racing. The last time I was in Canada for a Limited Grand Prix, I found myself in a similar situation of needing to 3-0 to make the Top 8. Unfortunately, a bumpy second draft led to me going 1-2 for a Top 64 finish. Still hungry for another Top 8, I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

As I nervously opened my first pack—in the feature draft no less—I found myself staring at a Fated Conflagration and a Bile Blight. Normally, this would be a very easy Bile Blight pick for me. Although Fated Conflagration is very good, its casting cost is so restrictive that first picking it is rarely going to pan out. So why then did I have the red rare sitting face down in front of me after the judge called to pass your pack?

As it turns out, I was so worried about making a mistake that I tricked myself into making a mistake I wouldn’t usually make. Knowing Seth and Fennell had an aversion to drafting black (my favorite color in the format), I decided to ask them at dinner the night before why they didn’t like it. They told me that they thought the creatures were awful and even went as far as to jokingly say they would never first pick a Bile Blight. When faced with the decision in a real draft, I panicked and went against my instinct, passing the Bile Blight along. I ended up moving into my least favorite archetype possible and couldn’t even reliably cast my first pick without jumping through hoops.

This deck embodies everything I try to avoid in this Limited format. The removal is scarce and conditional, the creatures are one dimensional and don’t scale well, and there aren’t many mana sinks to help avoid flooding. As a result, I easily lost my first two matches to opponents who had decks that were doing strictly more powerful things than mine.

To make matters worse, when I brought my first pick up to Seth and Chris after the draft, they told me they were overexaggerating the night before and would have taken the Bile Blight in that spot. As frustrated as I was at this point, I had no one to blame but myself. At the end of the day, I’m the one who made the wrong pick, not them. My first rule about Limited (and the reason I love it so much) is that different players can achieve the same levels of success by implementing vastly different strategies. Even if Seth and Chris had been being completely serious about never first picking Bile Blight, I should have stuck with my gut and taken it regardless.

Anyway, as for the last round of the draft, my opponent and I were in an interesting position. A win would put either of us in the Top 64 while most likely eliminating the other from Top 100 contention, and a draw would secure Top 100 for both of us. Based on the attendance for Montreal and the new Grand Prix payout, Top 64 meant $300 and a Pro Point, while Top 100 garnered only $250. Valuing the Pro Point very little, my opponent adamantly wanted to take the safer line and draw us both in. Unfortunately for him, at this point I was filled with such seething self-rage that I wanted to either beat him and get the Pro Point or walk away with nothing.

After splitting the first two games, my opponent again tried to convince me to draw. I again turned him down, committed to my tilt-driven line. As I drew my opening hand for the final game of the weekend, he quietly kept his face down on the table. When I saw seven lands staring back at me, I couldn’t help but laugh. I laid my hand face up on the table and said, "Well, it looks like karma has finally come calling for me."  For reasons I wasn’t sure of at the time, my opponent decided to have mercy on me and again offered the draw. I may be stubborn, but I’m not that hardheaded. I quickly accepted and asked him why he didn’t hold me to my decision.

His reply was simple enough: "I’m a nice guy. I don’t want to either of us walk away with nothing."  All I could muster in response was a sincere "thank you."

All things considered, I can’t say things went exactly according to plan in Montreal. If nothing else, I gained some experience that I can learn from and share so others hopefully don’t make the same mistakes. I got to spend a great weekend with my friends and meet a kind soul who was willing to help me out even when I was at my lowest point of the weekend.