After Team Paradox’s pitiful performance in Grand Prix – St. Louis, I was a bit worried about our prospects for future Grand Prixs and the Pro Tour. The last minute team of David Bartholow, Rich Frangiosa, and myself managed to ease into 5th place at Grand Prix – Frankfurt with only one bye – one of the largest team tournaments on record – so I wasn’t expecting so much resistance at the surprisingly small Grand Prix – St. Louis.
By now, you know that story. Our second set of sealed decks were garbage, and we went a quick 1-0 and then 0-3 right out of the tournament. Did I just get lucky in Frankfurt? Did Gary Krakower, Matt Vienneau, and I have that je-ne-sais-quoi that was necessary to make a successful team? That’s what Pittsburgh was all about for me: finding the answers to these questions.
We sit down and take a look at our sealed decks that we’ll be playing with for one round after we receive our two byes. How’d they look?
We were pretty glad these were the one round decks.
We tried a number of different configurations and we ended up with an aggressive green/white deck with LOTS of grizzly bear-type creatures and creature enhancers, a blue/red deck with a bunch of removal and a somewhat sketchy creature base, and a mono-black deck with lots of removal and a decent mercenary engine. The decks weren’t too bad and we thought we could win with them.
With the aggro green/white deck in my hands, I sit down to play my opponent and discover that he is also playing forests, which makes my two Rushwood Dryads extremely happy. They were even happier when my opponent didn’t realize that he could sacrifice all of his forests to Squirrel Wrangler, block and kill my Dryads and then kill me. So game one went to me.
Then everything went to hell.
Matt Vienneau, playing the mono-black deck, ran smack into a Story Circle. He had a Disenchant in the sideboard, but it wasn’t enough. Gary Krakower was beating down with a Cave Sensed Lesser Gargadon in the third game, only to have it busted up by Arms Dealer + Kris Mage. The only other spell that Gary drew that game wasn’t enough to save him. In the meantime, I lost game two and had approximately two minutes to complete game three. So our team losing streak continued…
We opened up our second set of sealed decks and things didn’t look perfect either. But we could work with it; of course, that’s what we thought about EVERY set of sealed decks. This time around, we ended up with a mono-black deck with an insane mercenary engine (Cateran Overlord, Cateran Slaver, Cateran Enforcer, Primeval Shambler, Highway Robber, as well as some three casting cost searchers and some two casting cost dorks) and a good deal of removal, a blue/green deck with an excellent creature base and a notable lack of removal (naturally), and a good white/red deck. I ended up playing the black deck, Gary Krakower played the blue/green deck, and Matt Vienneau played the white/red deck.
And something seemed to click.
Matt played his rebel deck like a pro, I felt very comfortable with the mercenaries and oddly enough, blue/green seemed right up Gary Krakower?s alley.
I won a black-on-black mirror match in which my opponent cast a third turn Bog Smugglers, a fourth turn Rathi Fiend, and then searched for another Bog Smugglers on the fifth turn? and I never killed one of his swampwalkers. I did get a two-for-one by Outbreaking Mercenaries, and I had to search for Highway Robber for the win. Matt performed amazingly well under pressure – and in our final match of the day, Gary Krakower won the seemingly unwinnable game to get us into the second day with a 5-1 record.
Things were starting to shape up.
We had a bit of practice with draft, but as a team we had yet to win a match. Since we seemed to find a winning formula with our last set of sealed decks, we decided to keep things as close to that as possible. I was supposed to draft green/black in the 3 seat, Matt Vienneau would draft Rebels in the middle, and Gary Krakower would draft blue in the 1 seat. I did end up drafting Green/Black all three matches and that worked great for me. Gary drafted blue/black once and blue/red twice, and Matt ended up dabbling in a number of other colors, drafting white/blue, white/red, and white/black.
Our first two drafts were vicious beatings; we 3-0’d Pikula’s team, "Just for Men", and then we 3-0’d the team of Ben Farkas, Terry "I’m retiring" Tsang, and Hashim "I can’t leave the country" Bello.
At the end of the 8th round, we were 7-1, within striking distance of the top 4. And our next round’s opponents?
They needed a draw in order to be assured the first place seed in the top 8, and if we beat them they could potentially miss the top 4 on tiebreakers. Unfortunately, we weren’t in a position to draw. If we drew, we would most likely get beat out on tiebreakers and come in 5th, although we had a chance of improving enough since it was only a 9 round tournament. Our matchups weren’t looking spectacular, thanks largely to a minor mistake on our part and a particularly busty pack of theirs which gave them a Massacre
against our Rebel deck and two additional great cards, leaving us with scraps.
Still, I think we had a far greater shot of winning our matchups than we had of having our tiebreakers improved. I didn’t get a chance to see what happened in the other two matches, but everything went wrong in mine. I kept a draw with two swamps, a Cateran Persuader, and a Spineless Thug and I never drew a Forest in the first game. In the second game I kept a draw with a Silt Crawler and three Forests and I never drew a Swamp. In the second game, Steve OMS cast a second turn Defiant Falcon, a third turn Thermal Glider, searched for the Nightwind Glider, cast Ancestral Mask on the Nightwind and Jolrael’s Favor on the Defiant Falcon. I had an Outbreak in my hand the entire game and because Steve put the Favor on the Falcon instead of the Nightwind, I had an opportunity to draw a Swamp and clear his entire board. But it wasn’t to be. I didn’t draw a Swamp, and I knew I had less than a 5% chance to win the match. Gary turned to me and said he had a 0% chance to win the match, while Matt was up one game on Jon Finkel.
So we offered the intentional draw, as our chances of getting in the top 4 on tiebreakers became far better than our chances of winning the match. Finkel’s team had nothing to lose by drawing, so they did.
As predicted, our tiebreakers improved (but not quite enough) and we ended up in 5th place. That’s respectable, and Matt, Gary, and I seem to have discovered how to work together.
That’s all I have to report. Before I go, I’m going to leave you with some choice moments from the tournament:
- At the beginning of the tournament, Gary Krakower looks over and sees Rich Frangiosa and says "Great, it?s time to collect [my money]." Everyone laughed about that one. Of course, you can never underestimate Krakower, renowned for his ability to get free food from restaurants with crappy service; later in the day, he walked Richie to an ATM and collected.
- During my match against Pikula, someone started chanting "Go Chris, go Chris, its your birthday, its your birthday"; Matt Vienneau looked over, surprised, and said "It?s your birthday, Chris?" No; no it?s not, Matt.
- The invitations were passed down all the way to team "Look out Bello" in 12th place; sometime on Sunday evening, Terry Tsang reportedly shook his head and said, "I wish we hadn’t gotten that spot." I wonder if that had anything to do with the intrateam rumbles that almost started during each of their drafts.
Good luck in the PTQs, folks.