On the Monday following Grand Prix: New Orleans, only a few days before I’d have to fly if I were going to go to Grand Prix: Amsterdam, I checked online and found a very reasonable flight to Amsterdam out of New York City. I was in NYC visiting friends, and it wasn’t too tough to delay my flight back to Denver for another week or so. I hadn’t been planning on attending the Grand Prix in Amsterdam at all, but with New Orleans came the news that I was unqualified for Pro Tour: Barcelona. So I bought a ticket, packed my bags, and by Thursday I was on a plane hurtling across the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe.
I knew a few people that were going, but most of the people who I had talked to had already worked out hotel arrangements and the like. Luckily, I ran into a few like-minded people on the flight over (Dave Humpherys and Zvi Mowshowitz) who had few plans and even less of a clue about where to stay and what to do – so we set off to the tournament site when we touched down in Amsterdam, figuring we could find a reasonable hotel nearby. We found the tournament site pretty easily, and we ran into Brian Kibler and Brian Davis right by the train station. They directed us to the only hotels in the vicinity; unfortunately, they weren’t on the economical side. As we sat in the lobby of the Novotel thinking of what to do, I approached the counter and asked them if there were any "budget" hotels in the area. The manager asked me what our budget was, and all I could think to tell him was that his hotel was on the high end of the spectrum. Within seconds, he had punched up something on his computer and offered me a special rate of less than half the normal price for a triple, which I snapped up as quickly as possible, barely waiting to consult with Zvi and the Hump. Over the course of the next day, at least one other player used our secret "tech" to get a good deal on a room. While we still weren’t likely to see a profit from this trip to a European Grand Prix, every little bit helped.
We all managed to stay up until 8 p.m. or so and then we slept for as long as we could. I woke up at about 4:30 a.m., lay in bed for two hours, then got up, showered, and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Eventually I ended up back at the hotel, which was the only place to get a decent breakfast at that hour. By the time I was finished with that, Zvi and Dave were awake and ready to head over to play Magic.
It took a while to get everyone registered, but eventually we got to sit down and build some Sealed Decks.
Sealed Deck Contents:
2x Ancient Spring
2x Geothermal Crevice
Wings of Hope
3x Hypnotic Cloud
3x Nightscape Apprentice
2x Metathran Zombie
2x Vodalian Serpent
2x Explosive Growth
Pulse of Llanowar
2x Whip Silk
2x Ancient Kavu
Crown of Flames
2x Crimson Acolyte
2x Strength of Unity
Some Sealed Decks take me longer than other’s to build, and this one seemed to build itself. The deck had plentiful Black and Red removal and had two "bombs": Crypt Angel and Meteor Storm. The mana wasn’t perfect, but with a heavy green base and a Fertile Ground to help get the Black and the Red, it looked like a solid deck.
2x Explosive Growth
2x Ancient Kavu
During my two byes, I went to a neighboring restaurant and tried out my deck against other players in a similar position. While I thought my deck was solid, I didn’t realize quite how good it was until I started playing other players with seemingly good decks. I smashed multiple opponents, and I was beginning to like my chances at doing well in this tournament.
Sure enough, when I finally got down to playing, the deck worked wonderfully. When I did have trouble, it was because the mana wasn’t quite perfect, but it appeared to be as good as it was going to get. Despite the power of my deck, I did lose to a deck in the fifth round with two different black dragons. He played five-color green and smashed my face in with Dromar in two out of three games. It was still quite close, with me winning one of the games and almost being able to kill Dromar with Exotic Curse plus Meteor Storm, but I couldn’t find the red mana in time to pull it off. Following that loss, I managed to win the next two, including a Feature Match against Jon Finkel (http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=GPAMS01890fm6b), and got matched up against David Humpherys in the final round. Normally I would play it out, but David is an outstanding player – and on top of that, we were sleeping in the same room that night, so we decided to Intentionally Draw, grab a bite to eat, and hit the sack.
I sat down for the first draft at a table of all Europeans, most of whom are unknown to me. Not a bad sign, although the unknown element can make things difficult as well, as I had no way to gauge if they were crazy about Black/Red/Blue, or whether they placed too high a premium on Green. Still, I stuck to the plan and decided to draft what came to me.
I opened my first pack and it was pretty bad, with the best cards being Glimmering Angel, Duskwalker, and some other not-so-shabby creature. I took the Glimmering Angel and then had a choice in the next pack between a good green card or a good blue card. I chose the green card and apparently I chose correctly, getting many late-pick Thornscape Apprentices, Explosive Growths, and the like as the draft went on.
Draft Deck #1
3x Thornscape Apprentice
2x Benalish Lancer
2x Glimmering Angel
2x Ardent Soldier
2x Kavu Climber
3x Explosive Growth
I was very pleased with how the deck turned out, although there were two slackers: The Ardent Soldiers, who are only really good with Armadillo Cloak or Wings of Hope – and I had neither of those cards. Despite my lack of Armadillo Cloaks, I was very pleased with my three Explosive Growths and one Aggressive Urge, cards that rival removal spells like Tribal Flames and Exotic Curse, in my opinion. I draft these Giant Growth-type cards higher than others do, I would imagine, as I almost always have multiples when I end up playing Green. In addition to the Explosive Growths, I was very pleased to have three Thornscape Apprentices in the mix – and getting passed a Rout wasn’t too shabby, either.
I was hoping for a 2-1 or a 3-0 record with this deck, but I’ve played enough Invasion limited to realize that I can’t predict how a certain deck is going to perform until I see it in action; I’ve seen 2-1/3-0 looking decks go 0-3, and vice versa.
While it wasn’t easy, I managed to go 3-0 with the deck, only casting Rout once – and then not to a very great effect, since my opponent was able to bounce his Nightscape Master to his hand, which was the main thing that I wanted to kill. I played against Radoslaw Gromko in the first round, a Polish player who made top 8 at GP: Porto. He had poor mana draws and my deck was a bit too aggressive to let that go on unanswered. In the second round, I played a very tight match against Yoram van Dongen from the Netherlands. It came down to the wire in game 3; I got him down to one life before he stabilized and started coming back. He had cast two Undermines in the first game, so I played around the card, letting him Undermine my Sulam Djinn before I sacrificed an Attendant that I had sideboarded in to Scorching Lava him out. That match was a real nailbiter, and I was lucky to have won it. Finally, in the third round I was matched up against Menno Dolstra, who I was feeding in the booster draft. I had passed him one Nightscape Master, at least, but as it turned out he had opened one also. Nightscape Master is quite bad for W/G/r. Fortunately, I was able to outrun the master in the first game with creature beats and somehow win the third game as well. It was a close one, but I pulled it out and was now in good position to make top 8.
I needed to go 2-1 in my next draft. While not impossible, the table was very difficult and it would take some good drafting and playing on my part. The table consisted of myself, Antoinne Ruel, Dan OMS, Gary Wise, James Stroud, Brian Davis, Janosch Kuhn and Rob Vd Steenhoven.
In a nutshell, my draft went like this: First pick, Reckless Spite. Second pick, Soul Burn. Third pick, Yawgmoth’s Agenda. Once I got that Yawgmoth’s Agenda third pick, I knew my draft was going to go well. I ended up with one of the most insane decks that I’ve ever drafted. While it had a few slackers like Slimy Kavu, the overall power of the deck was insane.
Draft Deck #2
3x Soul Burn
My first round opponent was Gary Wise, who seemed very pleased with his deck. Our match was a feature match, and you can read about it on the Sideboard at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?
x=GPAMS01877fm12a. I’m not generally one for smack talk, but Gary and I have a good rapport, so I played along for a bit. We had a bit of time for Gary to entertain the crowds since we got deck checked, but eventually they returned my deck and sideboard and they returned Gary’s deck (they were still checking his sideboard) and we shuffled up and prepared to start. Gary wished me luck and I thanked him. A while back, I decided that I didn’t actually want my opponents to have good luck, so I stopped wishing them well. I don’t wish them any particular ill and I try to be polite and thank them for wishing me luck. Gary Wise knew this about me, so he started a discussion with me about it. I explained that what people are wishing is that the opponent has slightly worse luck then themselves. And when people say that they just want to have a good match with no mana screws, I firmly believe that they would rather WIN a match against a manascrewed opponent than LOSE a competitive close match. So I don’t pretend. When I play in a Magic tournament, I play to win; I don’t break the rules, off course, but I don’t feel bad if my opponent gets mana screwed; it’s part of the game. Similarly, if I get mana screwed, I don’t try to make my opponent feel bad about it and I often tell them not to apologize; there is no need to apologize for winning. In addition to this, I informed Gary that not only would I not be upset if he got manascrewed, but I was also holding out for him to have made an error in recording his sideboard. We both laughed, he got his sideboard back safe and sound, and we started the match. I had to double mulligan, and he got his Llanowar Knight/Armadillo Cloak combo against me and quickly won the first game. Despite me having double mulliganed and losing the first game, Gary Wise continued the smacktalk, which was fine by me. My only response was to lean towards Gary a bit, look him in the eye, and with a straight face say, "I’m going to win this match, Gary." In the next game, things weren’t looking especially good for me, as I missed two land drops early on and couldn’t find any Swamps, either. Fortunately, I managed to hang on long enough to draw the land that I needed to come back, with a Reckless Spite of two of his creatures, a Tsabo’s Decree to kill Rith, the Awakener, and eventually a Yawgmoth’s Agenda to get some beasties back from my graveyard. The third game was over quite quickly, as I got an aggressive start and he stalled at two lands, being forced to discard. After the match, Gary Wise was clearly angry and he said the words, "It really leaves a sour taste in my mouth losing to you like this after you wished me to get manascrewed." That wasn’t precisely what happened, but I did feel bad for a minute. After Gary Wise left, I checked with Ben Ronaldson, who was covering the match, to make sure that I hadn’t been out of line anywhere along the way, and he confirmed my belief that I had not acted inappropriately or anything. The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. I hate losing as much as the next guy, but I don’t try to make my opponents feel like they did something wrong when they beat me. Gary Wise barely spoke a word to me for the rest of the weekend. Such is life.
My next match was against Antoinne Ruel, who had been sitting to my left during the draft. He had been drafting Black/Red directly to my left, so his deck was a shadow of mine. This match, too, was covered by the Sideboard at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=GPAMS01876fm13. In short, I beat him fairly easily and he was a pleasure to play against, being a very gracious opponent, even in defeat.
Having gone 2-0 in the draft, I was able to draw with Brian Davis in the last round, assured of a spot in the top 8.
What a relief! I had the three PT points that I needed to stay qualified for the Pro Tour, and I had assured myself a spot at Pro Tour: Barcelona.
Still, it wasn’t over yet. I had come in second place at the very first Grand Prix: DC, fourth place at Grand Prix: Seattle, and I was still hoping for that elusive Grand Prix victory. From the start, the draft didn’t go amazingly. I drafted first-pick Tribal Flames. In the next pack, the card quality was poor and there was a rare missing, which could mean anything – so I picked up a Shivan Zombie, as I knew that Chris Benafel preferred to draft Green and White directly to my right. In the third pack, the only red or black card was Kavu Aggressor, so I picked up a Probe instead. Things were already getting thin in my colors so I was undoubtedly going to have to pick up a third color in order to draft a solid deck. Things went from bad to worse, unfortunately, with not only Red and Black, but Blue drying up too. As it turned out, Chris Benafel picked a first-pick Void, which put me in the same position as Antoinne Ruel was in during the last draft, drafting Black/Red directly to my left.
Despite the difficulties, my deck wasn’t abysmal and I believed that I had a shot to go all the way, thanks to the power of Probe, Hypnotic Cloud, Soul Burn, and Yawgmoth’s Agenda.
Top 8 Draft Deck
2x Slimy Kavu
3x Kavu Scout
In the Quarterfinals, I faced off against Xavier Curto Vives from Spain, who was playing four-color green. The match was covered on the Sideboard at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=GPAMS01865fmqf2. In the first game, I drew way too many lands and was unable to find an answer to his Benalish Heralds, which allowed him to draw two cards a turn for the rest of the game. I managed to knock him down to five life – in the range of a Soul Burn. But luck was not on my side this time. In the second game, my Shivan Zombie gave him hell as he only had Plains and white creatures, knocking him low enough that I was able to finish him off with Soul Burn/Yawgmoth’s Agenda. In the final game he had a terrific draw, casting a third-turn Harrow and a fourth turn Probe with the kicker. I gave it my all, but my little Shivan Zombie couldn’t go all the way.
So I made top 8, lost to Xavier who went on to lose in the finals, and now I’m qualified for Pro Tour: Barcelona. Not a bad weekend, over all.
Now I’m off to practice Rochester Draft for Pro Tour: LA and catch up on some much needed sleep. Good luck in the PTQs, and hopefully I’ll see some of you at a Pro Tour or Grand Prix soon.
King of the Qualifiers