Ah, New Orleans. I had mixed feelings about the city. Part of me was hoping for a chance to explore the city, find a nice jazz club, and experience the madness of Bourbon Street, but another part of me was hoping that I wouldn’t have a chance, which would mean that I was doing well in the Grand Prix.
It had been about a month since the last big tournament that I attended, and I was itching to play. Even so, I had been doing plenty of traveling over the winter holidays and I was still a bit fatigued from it. That seemed to be an inseparable part of my life, now; the constant traveling and the weariness that all too often came with it. Almost every weekend I was going to some Grand Prix or Pro Tour or another, and in the weekends off I was often either visiting my family in Arizona or my friends in New York City.
Is it all worth it? I really can’t say, at this point. But I also don’t have much of a choice, anymore; I do it because I love Magic and I’m not quite sure what I’d do without it.
I’m already qualified for Pro Tour: Los Angeles and Pro Tour: Tokyo, the next two Pro Tours coming up this season. I was curious about whether I was qualified for Pro Tour: Barcelona, however, so I asked Scott Larabee if he had any idea when I arrived. My 4th place finish at Grand Prix: Seattle from about this time last year had recently dropped from the equation, and a lackluster year of professional Magic (aside from a third-place finish at the Magic Invitational in Sydney, Australia) had left me wanting Pro Tour points. As it turned out, Scott informed me that I was three points short of qualifying for Pro Tour: Barcelona.
All of sudden, this Grand Prix had become more than just a chance to compete, keep my skills sharp, visit an interesting city, and possibly win a buck. Now I needed to qualify for Barcelona, so while an invite would be perfect, even a measly Pro Tour point would help me out considerably.
My fight to New Orleans was uneventful and I go a good night’s sleep before the tournament. In the morning, this is what I had to work with.
Sealed Deck Contents
2x Irrigation Ditch
2x Chromatic Sphere
2x Frenzied Tilling
3x Hypnotic Cloud
2x Nomadic Elf
Crown of Flames
2x Tribal Flames
2x Glimmering Angel
2x Holy Day
The Red, the Black, and the White seemed to be the most outstanding colors for the deck. Red and Black together provided a wealth of removal with two Tribal Flames, a Smoldering Tar, a Reckless Spite, an Exotic Curse and a Nightshade Master. Meanwhile, the White provided two Shackles, two Glimmering Angels, a Benalish Lancer, as well as a very important Obsidian Acolyte to stop other people’s targeted black removal and a Benalish Heralds if I decided to play blue.
I tried to make a Red/Black/White deck to start things off, but the mana didn’t seem to want to work. Shackles, Benalish Lancer, and Obsidian Acolyte were very mana-intensive, and a number of the cards (like Glimmering Angel and Benalish Heralds) needed blue to truly shine.
Eventually, I decided that the only white card that truly excited me was the Benalish Heralds, and I found a way to work him into a Red/Black/Blue deck with two Chromatic Spheres and a Seashell Cameo. Between the Spheres, the Cameo, and the Urborg Volcano my mana worked a lot better in this version and it allowed me to play some great blue cards like Faerie Squadron and Exclude.
2x Chromatic Sphere
2x Tribal Flames
As with most Sealed Decks, I would be choosing to draw first with this deck. Most players choose to play first in Invasion Sealed, and I feel that that’s a mistake unless you end up with a very aggressive two-color deck. A number of cards like Exclude make me want to play first, but the extra card that one gets from drawing first instead of playing first helps you get your mana early on, most importantly, and that seems very worth it to me.
Still, a number of players that I respect like David Humpherys choose to play first with most Sealed Decks, so if anything, the advantage that is gained either way is marginal. My track record in Sealed is very good, however, with me making the second day in almost every Limited Grand Prix that I’ve attended except Grand Prix: Dallas recently and Grand Prix: Zurich from quite a long time ago. So I trusted my instincts, drew first, and tried my best to make it into the second day with my two byes.
Things went well. I didn’t get beaten down by a single dragon on the first day and I went into the last round with only one loss, to Casey McCarrel (http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=GPNOR01892fm6). If I took an Intentional Draw I would make it into the second day for sure, but in a much worse position than with a win. I got matched up against Ed Fear and I already knew what I had to do. I had to play. If I won, I’d be in good position to make top 8 on the next day – and if I lost and got eliminated, I’d have a chance to see a bit of New Orleans. Win-win, it seemed.
As it turns out, I made the right decision. I beat Ed Fear and made it to day 2.
After the rounds were over, it took us a while to find a decent meal, getting a bit lost trying to find an Indian restaurant, turning away from the Harrah’s buffet after they quoted us a price of $22 per person (I thought casinos were supposed to make their money with the games). I eventually grabbed a slice of pizza somewhere and went to bed, doing my best to get a good night’s sleep before the draft.
I woke up feeling good; I grabbed a bit of breakfast, and hurried over to the tournament site to wait for the draft to begin. I felt comfortable drafting almost anything; my plan was simply to take the best cards out there and go with that. I wasn’t forcing Black/Blue or Green/White or anything, just looking for the best cards.
In the first draft, I took a first pick Spite/Malice followed by a Vodalian Zombie and I was on my way to making a good Black/Blue deck. I have a hard time not taking Terror/Dark Banishing-type cards, and that often leads me to play black; however, if those don’t show up I am very unlikely to play the color. Things seemed to dry up pretty quickly, however, which indicated to me that other people had also opened powerful black and blue cards, so this was going to be an interesting draft. I opened a Tsabo’s Assassin in the second pack, which made me feel much better about my choice of cards and colors, and over the course of the draft I managed to pick up a few gems much later than I should have, like Urborg Shambler and Sway of Illusion, a terribly underrated card.
In the end, I had a deck with a number of powerful spells and a number of slackers, like Urborg Phantom. To try and fix this, I filled the deck with cantrips like Chromatic Sphere, Manipulate Fate, Worldly Counsel, and Scavenged Weaponry to help me get to my good spells.
Draft Deck #1
2x Cursed Flesh
2x Scavenged Weaponry
2x Urborg Phantom
Sway of Illusion
2x Tower Drake
The playing started out well, with me winning my first match and getting an unintentional draw in my second match. In the third round of the draft, I was paired up against Eric Kesselman from Neutral Ground in NYC to see who would win the table. Unfortunately, I knew that Eric deck was very good. I had been passing to him, and after taking a number of Blue and Black cards early on, I witnessed Armadillo Cloak after Armadillo Cloak go by. It seemed unreasonable for me to switch into two entire new colors, so I took playable cards for my deck and passed them on to him. You can read about our Feature Match on the Sideboard at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?
x=GPNOR01883fm10, but I can save you the trouble by telling you that he smashed my face in.
I was pleased with how my deck worked considering what I had to work with. Sway of Illusion did amazing things, allowing me to kill an artifact creature with Tsabo’s Assassin, saving my Vodalian Zombie when it collided with another 2/2 by making the other 2/2 green, and doing insane things when Urborg Shambler was in play. After the first draft was all said and done, I had gone 1-1-1, leaving me within striking distance of the top 8… If only I could win my next draft.
In the second draft, I once against opened up a Spite/Malice. It was the best card in the pack and I took it, following it up with a Soul Burn. Once I get a Soul Burn, my intention is usually to go Black/Red so that I can make the best use of it, but it wasn’t to be. The red dried up quickly, leaving me drafting mostly Black/Blue with a bit of red for Tribal Flames, Lightning Dart, and two Hooded Kavu.
Draft Deck #2
2x Ravenous Rats
2x Soul Burn
2x Dream Thrush
2x Hooded Kavu
The spells in this deck were amazing, with two Soul Burns, two Recoils, Spite/Malice, Tribal Flames, and Sleeper’s Robe, among others. The problem with the deck turned out to be the quality of creatures, with the deck having a few too many 1/1s. None of them alone were bad, with two Ravenous Rats, two Dream Thrushes, a Tidal Visionary and a Metathran Zombie, but that left me lacking for big beatdown creatures. My routes to victory were two Hooded Kavu and a Sparring Golem at the three casting cost spot, two Duskwalkers at the five casting cost spot, and one Vodalian Serpent that would likely be able to beat down with the help of Dream Thrush. Not awful, but not optimal either.
I played a number of tough opponents along the way, including a Feature Match against Steve OMS, who was playing five-color deck with awful mana and very powerful spells like Blazing Specter and Crosis, the Purger. You can read all about it on the Sideboard (http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=GPNOR01879fm11a). I ended up going 1-2 in the draft, and I expected to go 2-1 with the deck.
So after playing all day on Sunday, I ended up in 35th place, out of the money and PT points, and with a missed opportunity to explore New Orleans. Not the best of either world.
Unqualified for Pro Tour – Barcelona, I hopped on the internet as soon as I could and found a cheap flight to Amsterdam for the Grand Prix on the following weekend. All I could hope for was that all my playing in New Orleans would prepare me well for Grand Prix: Amsterdam.
King of the Qualifiers