Preparing for Grand Prix: New Jersey

This coming weekend sees the Grand Prix circuit stop in New Jersey, and Paul Jordan has been practicing hard for the event. Today’s article is packed with two things – Sealed deck advice, and interesting New Jersey facts. Did you know that using Scryb Ranger’s ability is a fine foil to Assassinate? Fair enough… but did you know that New Jersey is the diner capital of the world? All this, and more, inside!

Start spreading the news. I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it, New… Jersey? That’s right folks; New Jersey is once again going to be the center of the Magical universe for a span of 48 hours. Jersey gets a bad rap from the rest of the States to be sure, and I can only imagine that rap has traveled overseas. That’s right, you don’t need the “New” at the beginning… people still know what you’re talking about. Try that with New York, New Hampshire, or New Mexico. [Excuse me, Mr. Jordan… Bergerac would like a word with you. – Craig, amused.] NJ is a great place to live. I have a high level of bias on the issue, but since I get the by-line in this article you’ll just have to deal.

Born and raised in the Garden State (just like Frank, who wrote the opening lines I stole), I’m going to give you a recap of a tournament I played in to prepare for the GP, while sprinkling in little tidbits about this fine state. I am by no means a scholar on Jerseyian (spell check doesn’t like this word. Maybe it isn’t real. Bad beat) history, but I’m handy with a keyboard and the InterWeb, who happens to know literally everything.

For some reason, people tend to place a higher testing premium on Draft than on Sealed. I agree that Draft is certainly more skill-based and requires more practice, but I think the general Draft-to-Sealed ratio is more lopsided than is warranted (usually DI Drafts versus one prerelease Sealed, and maybe a PTQ). I too am guilty of this. Looking to remedy the situation, I signed up for one of the online release events on Sunday night. Important safety tip – don’t sign up for a seven-round cut-to-Top-8 event that begins at 9pm if you have to be at work at 7am.

Here’s the card pool I was given.

Feel free to play around and find a build you like.

Here are some NJ facts to occupy space for those who can’t resist scrolling down.

  • NJ was host to the first ever baseball game, in Hoboken.
  • Thomas Edison did all of his inventing in NJ, coming up with things like the phonograph, the light bulb, and the movie projector (if it weren’t for him, we could never have had this masterpiece).
  • NJ is the only state with all of its counties classified as metropolitan.
  • NJ has the densest population of any state – 13 times the national average.
  • NJ is the diner capital of the world.
  • NJ is the home of the Boy Scouts of America headquarters (NAMBLA is right down the street… just kidding).
  • The first intercollegiate football game was played in NJ in 1889 (Rutgers beat Princeton).
  • The first radio broadcast was from NJ.
  • The first brewery in America was opened in Hoboken, NJ in 1642.

I looked at the pool and was immediately happy with the number of good cards. After putting together a deck, I realized there are a very good number of synergies to be exploited. Here’s what I played:

I really wish there was one more mana fixer in this deck. Despite having a small splash (3.5 cards), I was still uncomfortable with the 7/7/3 configuration. I could make an eighteen-land argument for this deck. I didn’t play Tappy McSliver because as much as I like him, I was worried about giving my opponent a free Glare while all I got was an Icy. There are some really fun things this deck can do with three excellent 187 creatures (Whelk, Firemaw, Snake), and two bounce spells, and random interactions of Prodigal Sorcerer and Scryb Ranger (wow). I also could see instances where the Transmuter with the Dream Stalker could be “some good.” I wish I had another bear or accelerant in this deck; it was a little slow.

Round 1 I was paired against someone with a U/G/W sliver deck. I got quickly dispatched by a Might Sliver, Shadow Sliver, and a couple of random slivers. I sided in Venser’s Sliver for Wormwood Dryad. In game 2 I got him to use Mangara of Corondor on my Scarwood Treefolk, which allowed me to play out Tim and Grapeshot two small guys. I attacked with and unmorphed the Serpent. and the following turn played Draining Whelk on his Cockatrice. In game 3 his entire offense was stopped by Venser’s Sliver. He had a Shadow Sliver, so I was free to send in with most of my team (he should have been sending in with the Shadow Sliver). He went to a millstone plan with Screeching Sliver, and had me about three turns from being milled out. I screwed up by sending in with my Venser’s Sliver once, when he could have just chumped with his Shadow Sliver allowing his three other slivers to block the following turn. Luckily he blocked with Shadow and Fungus Slivers, and I just traded with the Fungus (assigning all damage to him and letting the shadow guy live). I followed that up with a Spike Tiller who made three 3/3 guys, and that was the game.

Round 2 was pretty easy. He was R/G/W and I got Scryb Ranger plus Tim both games. I also Mystic Snake’d a Castle Raptors, unmorphed a Serpent when blocking Jasmine Boreal, and played a Crookclaw Transmuter and Scryb Ranger after his Ivory Giant went off, blocking 2 things and trading the first half of a Penumbra Spider with his Giant.

At this point the server crashed. I was chatting with Jon Becker and we both expressed our disgust with the situation, in addition to our completed lack of understanding. How can the server repeatedly crash with seemingly low traffic? Do they not have a back-up? How is it that games like World of Warcraft and its ilk, which use much more intense graphics and have a significantly higher subscriber base, don’t crash nearly as often? Anyway, 45 minutes later the server was back up.

Round 3 I played against a UBR deck. Game 1 he didn’t have much of anything outside of a red Totem and Vampiric Sliver. I traded a Spike Tiller with the sliver and handled the totem with a Dream Stalker. I used Mystic Snake on his Ixidron, and by the time he could use Dread Return on it I had enough to alpha strike for the win with the help of a Coral Trickster. Game 2 I was rushing through and didn’t respond to an Assassinate by using the Scryb Ranger that was in play. Safety tip- don’t watch TV while playing Magic. He followed that up with Firemaw Kavu, Sol’kanar and Triskelavus. Um, yikes. Game 3 was very frustrating. I had no Blue mana until turn 9, and he drew all three bombs again. He also drew his Giant Oyster, which was going to destroy me even if I stabilized. At one point I had to use the alternate casting cost on Snapback (still had no Blue at this point) to bounce my only guy (penumbra token, sadly) and then use Assault to kill his FMK, forcing him to kill his Oyster. That left us with a clear board on each side – which he followed up with his two other bombs. I pitched a Transmuter to the Snapback; I think I should have pitched the Whelk I was holding. Double-Blue wasn’t happening soon. I began to make it look like a game, but he used Dread Return on his FMK. Double yikes.

Round 4 I played against a B/W/r deck, splashing for Lightning Axe and FMK. The first game wasn’t very close. I killed his Skulking Knight with a Prodigal Sorcerer, played Mystic Snake on his Phthisis when it un suspended, and bounced the Snake with damage on the stack. From there I had a Tim, he was low on life, he had nothing, and I was holding the Snake. Game 2 was closer and involved me killing my own Ephemeron with FMK to avoid taking eight from Phthisis which was suspended (I was on thirteen, and five seemed pretty low considering he still had five cards in his grip. I got out a Treefolk, and he had a 2/1 regenerator [Drudge Reavers. – Craig] with two Black mana open. I made a Battery token and began sending in for three a turn. He blocked the Treefolk and Sudden Death’d it, tapping him out of Black. I had Strength in Numbers. So his guy died, he didn’t have Sudden Death, and I didn’t lose anyone. How lucky.

Round 5 was the most frustrating. Game 1 I could have killed his Scryb Ranger with a Grapeshot early, but was greedy with it. Then it got Verdant Embraced. I couldn’t block it, apart from with my Penumbra Spider or my own Scryb Ranger, and I couldn’t bounce it (stupid Pro-Blue). I was also stuck on five lands for a long time, with no double-Green, so I couldn’t play the Whelk, Verdant Embrace, or Spike Tiller in my hand. I won game 2 with a successful bluff of having any trick, forcing him to not activate Jolrael and swing for the win but instead play out another creature, going for a two-turn win. My trick wasn’t a combat trick, though… it was a Draining Whelk. After countering his raw-dogged Ephemeron, I had quite a large flier and could swing back for a win of my own. I only drew four spells in game 3, and he had fliers I couldn’t stop.

My losses could easily be attributed to bad draws, but come on. I could have easily made the conservative play and killed his Scryb Ranger. I may not have won, but I could at least block longer, giving me more time to get my own Embrace online, or to draw bounce. I could have easily trusted my instincts and built the deck with an extra land. I could have, um, untapped my guy in response to Assassinate. Again, maybe I don’t win that one, but with play like that I wasn’t really giving myself a chance. Luck certainly played a role, but I opened myself up to how big a role it played.

Speaking of luck, NJ also has Atlantic City, home of Lady Luck.

This performance was by no means encouraging for me. 3-2 means a Day 2 PTQ (1 slot, not 16), and that isn’t what I’m hoping for. I have learned though, so the effort was successful with its primary goal. Overall I need to trust my instincts to be less greedy (I think BDM has had a negative impact on me… soooooooo greedy) in my play and deck builds, and probably be more conservative. The problem is that when you’re greedy and it works, it has some sort of extravagant result which makes it look more impressive than just doing the right play and winning more frequently. It’s like the difference between watching some kid pull off his really-cool-combo versus watching Chris Manning’s paint dry play. By watching the kid you’ll learn about a combo that immediately wins the game, but can only be done once every five or six games. If you spent that time (and probably some more time) watching Manning, play you’ll begin to see how methodical and consistent he is and possibly learn to apply those traits to your own play. Always being awesome isn’t as flashy as sometimes being winner-winner-chicken-dinner-DI-awesome-IV-amiright?

With all of that in mind, I’ll be at the GP on Friday, playing in the trial. One final note about Jersey, it’s the home of the 1998 NJ State Champion. Not too shabby.

See you there!

Paul Jordan