Scouse of Cards – Heart Breakers

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Friday, June 13th – It’s fair to say that, down the years, I’ve had a hate/hate relationship with tiebreakers. No matter what I try, then always seem out to get me. I’ve no idea why this is the case. Perhaps I murdered a statistician in a previous life, or maybe I once angered a witch’s accountant and thus am cursed with mathematical bias for all eternity. All I do know is that if someone’s gonna come ninth, there’s a fair chance it’ll be me.

It’s fair to say that, down the years, I’ve had a hate/hate relationship with tiebreakers. No matter what I try, then always seem out to get me.

I’ve no idea why this is the case. Perhaps I murdered a statistician in a previous life, or maybe I once pissed off a witch’s accountant and thus am cursed with mathematical bias for all eternity. All I do know is that if someone’s gonna come ninth, there’s a fair chance it’ll be me.

I’ve missed Top 8s and prizes on breakers for a variety of tournaments. PTQs, Standard tourneys, Grand Prix Trials, Prereleases, FNM… you name it, I’ve finished ninth at it. I’ve lost out on the first breaker, on the second breaker, on the third breaker… and once, I even missed a PTQ Top 8 on a super-secret tiebreaker that was decided before the tournament began.

However, missing out on breakers at a Grand Prix… now that was a new one.

Grand Prix: Birmingham

For the week leading up to the big event, I practiced hard. On the Monday before, I rocked a 34-man Grand Prix Trial with Doran, taking home the byes and a much-appreciated Travel Award. My test partner and I had settled, at this stage, on playing the tricolor tree in the coming Grand Shebang.

On the Wednesday of that week, I decamped to Scunthorpe.

Decamping to Scunthorpe is not something I’d recommend under normal circumstances. It’s a particularly drizzlesome place, and aptly named. However, these were far from normal circumstances: Pro Tour Podcaster Rich Hagon had set up a Magic Colony intent on busting heads at the coming Grand Prix. In attendance, we had Jacob van Lunen, Chris Lachmann, Stuart Wright, Neil Rigby, Rich Hagon, Paul Graham, and myself. Steve Sadin was unavailable due to illness, but the motley crew assembled was more than enough.

After blitzing a local FMN draft (on Wednesday), we settled down to murder the metagame. I’d vowed, going in, that I’d play Doran unless something really caught my eye. I was 95% sure I’d be running BGW.

Something caught my eye.

First, though, Doran had a chance to shine. It didn’t. Time and again, the mid-range treefolk strategy fell under the weight of every other deck in our gauntlet. Kithkin? Hideous. Faeries? Better, but still weak. Control? Good at first, but troublesome over time. And our secret tech decks? No chance.

We held a mock tournament. Four rounds of goodness.

0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4.

Doran hit the showers.

In testing, we were splitting into two distinct camps. The first camp wanted to control: Stuart, Chris, Paul. They eventually wound up playing Stuart’s Five-Color Control deck, described here. It’s a fantastic deck, and one I’ll enjoy running in the coming PTQ season. The second camp — Jacob and myself – wanted to beat down, but not with Kithkin as the mirror seemed too random. (There was a third camp, but Camp Rigby was a law unto itself, and was scrabbling round for a new deck and the cards to play it a mere five minutes before round 1.) Our weapon of choice was Jacob’s Red/Green Elemental Shaman aggro deck.

Here’s what I ran at the Grand Prix:

For reference, the card that caught my eye was Rage Forger.

Rage Forger is, for want of a better word, insane. Consider the following:

Turn 1: Mountain, Flamekin Harbinger, fetching Rage Forger.
Turn 2: Forest, Bosk Banneret. Swing for 1 (19).
Turn 3: Mutavault. Activate Mutavault. Make Rage Forger, putting a counter on Mutavault, Flamekin Harbinger, and Bosk Banneret. Swing for 4, pinging the opponent for 2 before blockers (13)
Turn 4: Land, activate Mutavault, make Rage Forger #2. Put a counter on Rage Forger #1. Bosk Banneret, Flamekin Harbinger, and Mutavault. Swing with Mutavault, Rage Forger #1, Bosk Banneret, and Flamekin Harbinger for 13, pinging the opponent for 8 before blockers (-8).

The deck was, and is, brilliant. It crucifies Faeries, and has great game against control. Kithkin is tricky in game 1, and the Lightning Crafter helps in game 2, but it’s still tough.

The Poison the Wells were last minute changes from 4 copies of Chandra Nalaar. I always felt Chandra was a strange sideboard choice… and when I asked Jacob for advice on when to bring Chandra in for games 2 and 3, he merely offered “when you feel it, man… when you feel it.” The Poison the Wells proved good in the one match I boarded them in, coupled with the Fulminators for eight-LD action.

Sat safely with three byes, I waited patiently for round 4…

Round 4: David De La Iglesia, playing Five-Color Elemental Control

This match was decided on Chameleon Colossus superiority. I had it both games. However, it wasn’t all cut and dried…

Game 1 I came roaring out, with turn 2 Bosk Banneret and turns 3 and 4 Chameleon Colossi. David was on the back foot throughout, but eventually cleared my board by judicious blocks of my Colossi to both trade and force the pump. He then cleared by board with an evoked Spitebellows, and suddenly I was drawing nothing but Tarfires. He made a Colossus, with huge mana left over for mucho pumpage, and I drew a Lash Out. At end of turn, I Lashed Out one of his random spods, praying that I’d win the clash. I won it, and reduced David to five life. Untap, Tarfire, Tarfire, Tarfire, good game.

Game 2 was more one-sided. He stumbled a little on land, and while his Firespout cleared my little guys plus Rage Forger beats, he had nothing for the double Chameleon Colossus action that followed soon after.


Round 5: Mario Pascoli, playing Five-Color Fathom Trawl Counter-Control

We exchanged pleasantries, and I congratulated him on recent high-profile finishes. Then he beat me 2-1.

Game 1 was a long affair, in which he dragged out the game with Fathom Trawls and key countermagic. I managed to reduce him to four life, but then Garruk appeared (and untapped a land enchanted with triple Fertile Ground). Fathom Trawl gave him two Cryptic Commands and another Fathom Trawl, and I scooped in the face of the Beast Porn Inferno.

Game 2 saw the eight-LD package in full effect. I destroyed a vivid land with my turn 3 Fulminator, then Poisoned the Well on Mario’s Fertile Ground-laden Island. Mario had to reach over and read the card, with is only to be expected… last-minute tech for the win!

With 5 minutes on the round after the hugeness of Game 1, I was hoping for a draw at the very least. Sadly, I mulliganed to 5 on the draw, and kept a one-lander with promise. I never saw a second land, and Mario had a great aggro draw from his controlling deck (turn 1 Vivid land, turn 2 Fertile Ground, turn 3 Garruk and a guy, turn 4 make a beast and smash my face in). I was unlucky to mull to oblivion, but I doubt I’d have bested that draw even with a spicy seven. I wished him luck and moved on.


Round 6: Colm B. Goode, playing Red/Green Ram-gang Aggro

This was a deck favored early by Camp Rigby, although in the end he binned it for some last-minute Black-Red abortion (not before passing through Kithkin Creek and Reveillark Ravine on his journey). We’d tested the match, and it was close but largely in my favor. But I played like a sponge, and threw it away.

Game 1 was the culprit. It was back and forth, but I was winning the important Colossus war. However, Colm was clawing his way back into things with burn and a Colossus of his own. On a key turn, I sent the team into the Red Zone, leaving back my fresh-cast Rage Forger. Colm surveyed the scene, and asked if we could go to blockers. I said “sure.”

The Rage Forger ability is a “may” one, folks… remember that.

I missed a simple two damage, but it was two damage that would’ve made my attack lethal without catastrophic one-sided chump blocks from Colm. As it was, Colm could maximise his blocks and survive. He hit me back on his turn, and the game was slipping from my grasp with the arrival of his second Colossus.

In my turn, the red mist of missed opportunity poisoned my mind. I attacked in a ridiculous fashion and left myself needlessly open to the alpha strike on the swing back. I was furious with myself. “I played that like a complete tw**,” I told Colm, scooping my cards and reaching for the sideboard. He didn’t disagree. I took a deep breath and calmed myself for game 2.

Thankfully, game 2 was all business. Sure, Colm managed to blast my guys down with Firespout, after some frankly insulting “man, I’m screwed, I have no guys on turns 1, 2, or 3” pseudo-bluffs, but as I drew Colossi and Colm did not, this game was over quickly.

Game 3 was annoying. I had the perfect turn 4 kill in my opener, with three lands to power it out. Again, Colm tried the “man, I’m screwed” bluff, but it didn’t matter, as I had to go for the turn 4 win. If he had Firespout in his one-turn window, then fine. If not, I’m winning the match. He had it, of course, but that’s not a problem. I had Colossi in hand.

The problem was I couldn’t draw land. I had two Mountains and one Forest in play, and two Colossi and two Leaf-Crowned Elders in hand. If I draw a Forest in a timely fashion, I’m golden.

I didn’t draw one. Nor did I draw any other land source, or anything that didn’t cost 4 or 1 (Tarfire). After playing draw / go for five turns, Colm made a Colossus. On his ninth turn, he Primal Commanded to fetch a second, and placed my lone Forest on top of my deck. On his tenth turn, he did exactly the same.

No, I’m not winning that.


Still, with three byes fuelling my tiebreakers, I knew I was in with a shout of making Day 2. All I needed to do was win my final two rounds, and let fair fortune lift me into the Top 64. The majority of the 6-2s who started with three byes should make Day 2… right?

Business first.

Round 7, I faced Kithkin. Not the match I was looking for when facing supposed single elimination. Thankfully, my opponent was screwed in game 1, and flooded in game 2. He was also playing with a resigned air about him, presumably because he thought he’d not make Day 2 with two losses… maybe he didn’t have three byes.

Round 8, needing a win, I faced another Kithkin player, Sean Brooks. His deck? Faeries. Oh, he was still a Kithkin player… seriously, the guy is an exact replica of Cenn’s Heir. Having played Faeries in Standard for what seems like forever, Sean knew his game with the Block Fae. Sadly for him, the Red/Green Shaman deck kicks Faeries in the gentleman’s area. My draws were pretty good, and I took the match 2-0.

6-2… actually 3-2, but what’s three free wins amongst friends?

I waited for the standings. I was confident of Day 2 play. I’d not checked my breakers, as I knew after round 6 I had to win my last two matches in order to have a chance at Day 2.

The judge approached, and people scrambled. The dust settled, and I was…


Yeah, I was gutted.

I looked at the names surrounding me, players with three byes who’d also fallen at the final fence. Tomoharu Saito. Olivier Ruel. And the man in the loneliest place of all, Robert Van Medevoort.

Of the 55 players on 18 points, only seven had made Day 2. They included Jacob van Lunen and the 64th-placed Stuart Wright. Go Team!

My Grand Prix was over, thanks to the vagaries of the tiebreaker system. However, I wasn’t too down. Manascrew and bad play does not a GP champion make, and I was in good company at 6-2. I resigned to my lodgings, ate a massive meal at a local carvery, and lay on my bed all night with a hideous case of the meat sweats.

However, that’s not quite the end of things…

The next day, I enrolled for the Grand Prix Trial. Sealed deck, with the victors winning three byes for GP: Madrid. In total, there were 125 players.

My deck was pretty good… it had some removal, and a bomb in Twilight Shepherd. I ended up White/Black as my color synergies were weak, but I did have four untappers and two splashed copies of Power of Fire.

Round 1, my opponent arrived five minutes late. He received a game loss. Game 2, he told me, was his first game with Shadowmoor. I made Pili-pala. I enchanted it with Power of Fire. He picked up the Red card, curious of its purpose. His shoulders sagged. I won the match 2-0.

For round 2, I played Chris Stocking, and it wasn’t really a contest. Somehow, he had three copies of Leech Bonder. I would’ve cried foul, but we were sat opposite each other during registration. (Also, when our decks were handed out to us, before we’d opened them and began building, I offered Chris the trade… did he want my deck for his, contents unseen? He traded, and opened insanity plus a foil Vexing Shusher and a Sunken Ruins. Gutted.) I tried to make a game of this, but I drew little of value in game 1 and fell to a Elsewhere Flask powered Howl of the Night Pack in game 2.

As we started round 3, we were told that, due to time and venue constraints, the tournament would not have a Top 8. Instead, after eight rounds of swiss play, the Top 4 players would receive 3 byes for Madrid. At a precarious 1-1, I didn’t really care.

I won game 3 of round 3 having stabilized at one life, after a mulligan to five, with my opponent on twenty when I began the comeback. 2-1

Round 4 I played my test partner Paul Wray, who’d posted a 5-3 result from zero byes the day before, with Kithkin. He took me out in game 1, and I stabilized game 2 at one life… I knew Paul had a Corrupt, and his Elsewhere Flask was in play… but he never drew it in the ten turns it took me to kill him. Game 3? He was screwed, I wasn’t. 3-1

Round 5… it’s game 3. I’ve mulliganed to 5 on the draw, and I’ve had a slow start. My opponent has screeched out and topped off his curve with Godhead of Awe. Luckily, I’ve stabilized… at one life. I have Kulrath Knight in play, and Gnarled Effigy, and I’m holding off the forces while pinging for one a turn. My opponent is drawing lands as we go into extra turns. At the end of the regulation 5, I have six men in play to his Godhead (with a -1/-1 counter on it), and I would be swinging for the win the following turn. In hand, my Inquisitor’s Snare could effectively Fog any attack should he topdeck removal for my Knight, and he was not running direct damage. As the situation was hopeless for him, and as a draw knocked us both out of contention, he graciously conceded. 4-1

Round 6… Deckcheck time! I’m always nervous around deckchecks, even when I’m positive there’s nothing wrong with my deck. Unfortunately for my opponent, he received a game loss for failure to desideboard, and then drew nothing of relevance in the deciding second game. 5-1

Round 7… and I’m trading when the Head Judge calls out “GPT players, you may begin.” I leap up with a scream. I’m sat next to the pairings board, and the pairings had not been announced! Even so, all the other competitors are playing. The Head Judge is walking past me and hears my laments of woe. I grab my bag, and drop the contents on the floor in my hurry. I rush to my seat, bemoaning that the pairings were not announced, despite all available evidence. I arrive, and am told that I’d receive a game loss… but the Head Judge, who’d seen my frantic dash and heard my woeful pleas, had followed me to my seat. He downgraded my punishment to a warning… and I dodged a bullet.

I was playing David De La Iglesia, my round 4 opponent from the GP. His deck was also the talk of the trial: two Demigod of Revenge, and three Murderous Redcap.

Happily, he saw neither Demigod nor Redcap, and I took him down in two. 6-1

One round to go, and I’m right up there. Still living the dream. Still in contention. One match to win, and the byes would be mine.

Next up? Tomoharu Saito. Who, on 5-2 and 15 points, was paired up to me.

I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to say that again.

We sat and shuffled up. His English is broken, but I can manage a few cursory Japanese phrases. I did say “Hello, my name is Craig,” but I didn’t follow it with my fabled “I have morning wood.”

At 1-1, so many hours earlier, I never thought I’d get this far… one match, against one of the best players in the world. Sure, I’d been a little lucky in parts, but I felt I’d played well too. So many mulls to five, so many skin-of-my-teeth comebacks. One more… one more…

I was thrashed.

It wasn’t a match. He outdrew me, outplayed me, outthought me at every step. My friend, spectating, made the perfect comment: “It’s weird. He played exactly the same cards as everyone else… but they just seemed so much better for him.”

One down, facing lethal damage… hell, I had to try. So I asked.

“I’m on 6-1. You’re on 5-2. Would you like to concede to me?”

A judge was stood watching our game. I’m allowed to ask once, and I was prepared for any answer. Saito looked at the judge.

“Top 4 get byes?” he asked. The judge nodded. Saito smiled. “I concede.”

I shook the guy’s hand.


After eight rounds of Magic, ten hours of play, I’m ecstatic. The venue is almost deserted now, the Grand Prix having finished some three hours earlier. All around are burly men dismantling what can only be described as “trappings.” Us top table guys are waiting for the standings, and our prizes.

I’ve never been to Spain… the closest I came was Pro Tour: Valencia, the PT before which I misplaced my passport. With three byes under my belt, Madrid will be fun…

Oh look, here comes the judge with the final standings.

My test partner, Paul, is fluent in Spanish. I’m sure he can be persuaded to come with me. I’ve got three byes, after all. It’s a great opportunity.

Up go the standings… let’s see where I finished, so I can work out how many booste-



But I went 7-1! I’m on twenty-one points!

So are the four guys above me, it seems.

I lose out on tiebreakers.

In the cold harsh dawn, I’ve made my peace with the weekend. Sure, missing GP Day 2 on breakers then missing GPT Top 4 on breakers the following day is a dry slap to anyone’s happysack. However, I wasn’t alone at the Grand Prix, and I rode my luck more than once in the Trial. Plus, in the Trial, two of my opponents conceded to me, one of whom handed me my arse on a plate in two straight games. I could be bitter, I guess… but that’s not me. The ranking points gained on the weekend helped cement my auto-qualification for UK Nationals… and let’s face it, if nothing else it’s a pretty good story.

Yeah, I didn’t deserve to finish on 7-1, so maybe my tiebreakers were a karmic reward. I’ll take that bad beat with good grace and humor. I’ll chalk it up to the Tiebreakers Curse, and move on to the next tournament.

I just hope that next time I’m there, the breakers will be kind. I hope the curse will be lifted.

Because if it isn’t, my only option is ritual and blood sacrifice… and nobody wants that.

Until next time…

Thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
[email protected]
Scouseboy on MTGO