You win some, you lose some.
This past weekend, I took a rather expensive flight to Porto, Portugal to compete in the first Grand Prix of the new season. Did I expect to win enough money at GP-Porto to cover my travel expenses? Not necessarily. Almost as important as the prize money and, of course, the joy of traveling and playing competitive Magic, were the Pro Tour points at stake. While I have enough PT points to place in the top 50 in the World, thus earning myself invitations to future Pro Tours, I don’t have quite enough to place in the top 25, which would earn me invitations to the new Masters series. The Masters series, in case you aren’t aware, is a new series of invite-only tournaments where 32 competitors compete for large cash prizes at the US Pro Tour stops. It is a single elimination event, but even those who lose in the first round and place in the 17th to 32nd place range still win $2,000. Winning the first round of the tournament gains a player another $2,000 and the prizes dramatically increase after that. In order to make a living as a professional Magic player, it seems that one must get on the Masters series.
So that’s where Grand Prix – Porto comes in. My hope is that if I hit as many Grand Prixs as possible, between the occasional PT points I pick up at these smaller events and the PT points I hope to earn at future Pro Tour stops, I’ll soon be able to accumulate enough to earn a spot in the Masters series.
Grand Prixs are not easy, however. I’ve had my share of successes at Grand Prixs, placing 2nd at the very first GP-DC, placing 4th at GP-Seattle, and placing 5th in two team Grand Prixs, GP-Frankfurt and GP-Pittsburgh. At the same time, however, I’ve had my share of failures, traveling as far as Zurich, Switzerland only to fail to make the second day. After the tremendous turnout in Frankfurt for the team Grand Prix, I was expecting a similarly large field in Porto – and I wasn’t disappointed. 671 Magic players flocked to Porto, Portugal from sixteen different countries. Some of Europe’s and North America’s best players were in attendance, so it was bound to be a difficult fight to win the tournament.
With all this in mind, I opened my Sealed Deck on Saturday and weighed my chances of making the second day. The deck contained four very strong colors, with Green being the weakest, providing only a Silverglade Elemental and a Rib Cage Spider. Blue contained Waterfront Bouncer, Spiketail Hatchling, Stormwatch Eagle, Saprazzan Outrigger, Coastal Hornclaw, and Seal of Removal, while Red contained Kris Mage, Laccolith Grunt, Wild Jhovall, Cinder Elemental, Shock Troops, Gerrard’s Irregulars, and Barbed Field. Both colors had a number of powerful cards, but they lacked depth. If I used either Blue or Red as one my primary colors, I was going to end up having to use a heavy third color, complicating my mana.
Agent of Shauku
In the end, I played heavy Black and White, with a splash of Red for Cinder Elemental and Shock Troops for removal. Both primary colors contained significant search engines, with Ramosian Sergeant, Defiant Falcon, Steadfast Guard, Thermal Glider, and Lightbringer in White and Rathi Fiend, Cateran Brute, Silent Assassin, Agent of Shauku and Misshapen Fiend in Black. Both black and white also had a "fatty," a big creature that you typically don’t find in those colors – Reveille Squad in White and Bog Elemental in Black – that would provide some much-needed beef. With a solid creature base, the deck was oddly enough missing removal. Black provided Sever Soul and Noxious Field, White provided nothing, and the splash of Red gave me Shock Troops and Cinder Elemental to help fill that gap.
The only card remotely resembling a "bomb" was Monkey Cage. With the non-intuitive ruling that allowed me to put Monkey Cage’s triggered ability on the stack once a creature came into play and then search in response with a Rebel or Mercenary, thus triggering Monkey Cage again and giving me more 2/2 Ape tokens, the artifact was a powerful addition to my deck. Still, I lacked the ultrapowerful cards of other people’s decks like Dan OMS’ Cateran Enforcer or Mike Pustilnik’s Two-Headed Dragon, Volcanic Winds, and Flowstone Slide. Would my Sealed Deck be good enough? I felt that I’d built it well, and even though it wasn’t the best, I had high hopes.
As it turned out, I wasn’t going to get any easy matches. In the four rounds after my byes, I was paired against Daniel O'Mahoney-Schwartz from the USA, Raphael Levy from France, Patrick Mello from Germany, and a fellow named Helder Coelho from Portugal. I ended up defeating both Raphael Levy and Dan OMS (you can read the feature match report by the Sideboard at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/eventarticle.asp?
event=GPPORTO00&name=976fm4) and I ran out of time in the third game against both Helder and the former Dojo Gamer of the Week, Patrick Mello. Patrick criticized me for playing slowly, but I think he underestimated the difficulty of winning games with 1/1s and 2/1s combined with Agent of Shauku and Cackling Witch. It’s much easier to simply kill blockers and beat down with green 3/3s, as many other Sealed Decks were able to do. Still, he did have a point. I ended up with two draws in four rounds – not a very good record as far as finishing matches go. My final score was 5-0-2, putting me in 17th place going into Day 2, well within striking distance of the Top 8.
Volrath the Fallen
2x Seal of Doom
2x Skyshroud Cutter
2x Wild Might
2 Misshapen Fiends
The first draft on Day 2 was a strange affair. The Sideboard did coverage of the draft, which can be found at:
To be fair, I didn’t avoid conflict with my neighbors as much as I could have. I was in the third seat to begin the draft. The first seat picked a Squallmonger, the second seat picked a Sever Soul or another strong black card, and I picked up a Giant Caterpillar, the best remaining card in the pack. The second seat then opened a pack containing Snuff Out, Maggot Therapy, and a number of weaker cards. He, of course, took Snuff Out. What to do? Figuring that Maggot Therapy was the next best card in the pack, that I liked the Black/Green color combination, and that I would get the much sought-after Nemesis black, I took the Maggot Therapy. Things seemed to be going fine, but I ended up drafting some rather popular colors. Two players drafted three-color decks, and both Green and Black ended up being split between four players each, making them run a bit thin. Still, I had a great deal of non-black drafters to my left and I did get the goods in Nemesis, with two Seals of Doom, a Rathi Intimidator, and a Volrath the Fallen to go along with my first-pick Blastoderm. In the end, however, I was two cards short of a deck. I had only twelve creatures, and while I had some cards superior to Skyshroud Cutter in my sideboard (like Seal of Strength and Greel’s Caress), I felt that my creature enhancer and removal situation was fine. I needed something, anything with which to attack the opponent. So I played two Skyshroud Cutters and hoped not to draw them very much.
As it turned out, I drew them quite a bit and I failed a number of times to draw the correct assortment of lands. I went 1-2 with the deck and it was quite painful, considering the deck was two cards away from being a 2-1 or a 3-0 deck. I lost to Andrew Sagol of Spain and Patrick Mello of Germany and defeated Jamie Lynn from Canada (you can read the Sideboard’s featured match report at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/eventarticle.asp?
event=GPPORTO00&name=920fm9b). So I finished my first draft with a 1-2 record, making my total record 6-2-2. With no hopes of making the top 8, I was now fighting for prize money, Pro Tour points, and pride.
2x Lightning Hounds
2x Flowstone Crusher
2x Rushwood Herbalist
2x Silt Crawler
This draft seemed to go better than the last, but I was faced with many difficult decisions along the way. I was in the second seat this time, and I picked up a Silverglade Elemental as my first pick after the player to my right picked a black removal spell. I then opened my pack and was faced with an interesting decision. The four best cards in the pack were Aerial Caravan, Story Circle, Snuff Out, and Thunderclap. What to do? The player to my right was playing black. The player to my left was playing blue. Four players had picked up white cards already and I assumed (rightly so) that the player to my left had a predisposition to play Blue/White now. So I took the Thunderclap. I felt good about the choice, but it wasn’t an easy one to make. As the draft progressed, things seemed to be going fine until one drafter, two to my left, decided to take an Ancient Hydra in Nemesis and switch into Red, apparently frustrated at not getting enough quality cards in his first two colors. Not good for me, but I still managed to draft a strong deck; once again, however, I was one or two cards short of having an amazing deck. I ended up being short on removal, with only a Thunderclap, a Flowstone Strike, and two Devastates. Still, my creature base was amazing with multiple Silt Crawlers and Flowstone Crushers. I made the choice to play an 18th land, a Hickory Woodlot, instead of adding a weak card to my deck and the Woodlot helped get out fast Silt Crawlers and also aided me in reaching five mana faster, as my deck was a bit top heavy.
I expected to go 2-1 with the deck, with a slight possibility at 3-0, but I was quite mistaken. I managed to play against the two Blue/White decks at the table, a notoriously bad matchup for Green/Red, one of which was the happy recipient of that Story Circle. In the first game against one of them, the first three spells that he cast were Story Circle, Oraxid, Thermal Glider. Nice game, buddy. I lost to him, Pedro Bailadiera of Portugal, and ran out of time in the third game against the other Blue/White player, Daniel Lachmann of Germany. I then managed a win against Morgan Karlsson from Sweden, knocking him out of the top 32 and coming nowhere close in the process. Sorry, Morgan. I ended the tournament with a 7-3-3 record and a 44th place finish. Not bad considering the 671 people who came to play, but not quite accomplishing my goal of picking up PT points and getting myself closer to a Masters invite.
An exhausting weekend – and not a very productive one, either. As many of you who have followed my driving adventures to Pro Tour Qualifiers know, however, I don’t give up easily. I already have my plane ticket to Manchester, England ready for the weekend following Pro Tour – New York, and I plan on hitting even more Grand Prixs following GP-Manchester. In the meantime, I have to finish preparations for the Masters Gateway tournament and PT-NY this coming weekend. Check back at StarCity next week and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.