[Editor’s Note: Chris is going to be nice to me in this article for unknown reasons. Regardless, let me just say up front that he’s a much better player than I am, and wins much more due to his own skill than due to anything I have to say.]
Early Friday morning I stumbled out of bed and began to hurriedly pack for the weekend, the essentials first. Deck box, deck, cards to lend out…and as a side note, clothes and toiletries. I set out on the road to Charlottesville where I hook up with my ride, some random scrub whose name isn’t important and didn’t even play in the event. Ted is late of course, sleeping in from a concert he went to the night before, something about making up to his wife the fact that he would be at a Magic tournament on the weekend of their anniversary – he’s such a pushover.
Ted and I on the long journey to the far off land of New Jersey, where the people can’t pump their own gas or drive worth a damn. Along the way we discussed many important issues such as life, love, our hopes and dreams, and most important of all, the Mirrodin Block Constructed metagame.
The thing is, Ted is about the best person in the world to ask about what the percentage of each deck being played, he always knows what decks will be big, even before they officially break out into the open. My win percentage has gone up a tremendous amount since I’ve started taking his advice.
He of course recommends Affinity as it is the best deck by far in the environment, and he was and is correct in that statement. I tell him I agree with him, but unfortunately haven’t had much experience playing the deck and it is too complicated to pick up the day before a large tournament and expect consistent results. Don’t be fooled, Affinity is a very powerful deck with hands that sometimes say”I Win”, however it is pretty much the most complex and difficult aggressive deck to play correctly of all time. It is no surprise that the Affinity decks in the top 8 of GPNJ were all piloted by players who have an extensive history of strong finishes at Magic tournaments, as are most of the Affinity decks that finished outside the top 8. Proving that Affinity takes skill to win with.
We both agree that I should stay the course, and continue to run Tooth and Nail as I had the most experience with it than any other deck. However the version I had used at the GPT to win my three byes was heavily metagamed to beat Affinity and rolled over to any Red-based decks. At the trial Affinity made up about 80% of the field with only a few Mono-Red and G/R decks. For reference here’s the B/G Tooth list I played after getting some more advice from Ted:
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Reap and Sow
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Echoing Decay
4 Tel-Jilad Justice
4 Tooth and Nail
3 Wayfarer’s Bauble
1 Bringer of the Black Dawn
1 Mephidross Vampire
The deck wasn’t that fabulous against a more diverse field, but it did the job I needed it to do – beat Affinity. In the five rounds of swiss and then in the top four I played against Vial Affinity five separate times. In the finals I was set to play against Big Red, my worst matchup. Luckily for me the guy playing Big Red had no plans to attend the Grand Prix and so he agreed to a split with me and I received the byes.
We arrive at the hotel around three and Ted promptly passes out on the bed, leaving me stranded at the hotel. I debate heading out on my own to try and find the tournament site but quickly rule that out as an option, as anyone who knows me is quite aware that no matter what the circumstances are, no matter where I am, if I set out on my own I will get lost. I have gotten lost at every out-of-state Magic tournament I have ever been to. The worst being the time I was left to wander the streets of Atlanta, with no money, at three in the morning, alone. Not the place for me to be.
Anyway, I wait a round a bit and John Davis calls when he gets into town and offers me a ride to the tournament site, which I graciously accept. It is still early in the day so there wasn’t much going on, I buy some sleeves and register. Around this time I ran into Frank Karsten and everyone’s favorite Platypus, Alana Burman. They also are just wandering around, so we decide to go out to eat to the only place in the area, Ikea. That’s how bad the tournament site was, the only place to eat in a reasonable distance was a… furniture store. Granted the food there was really good and the three of us were able to pick up a bad ass set of plastic swords and shields we used to poke people with the rest of the day, but one can only eat meatballs and crayfish for so long. Plus it took about twenty minutes to walk through the place as it was extremely crowded all weekend.
We head back to the hotel to get our decks together and making last minute changes under the glow of live Olympics coverage. Ever notice how the American announcers always manage to find the most depressing thing possible to say about each country, making sure to cite any massacre or horrific incident we may have forgotten. I’m not sure I heard one positive thing said about any country participating. After I finish with my deck I decide to call it a night and head back to my room and sleep.
Sadly my key card doesn’t work and I have to make one of eight trips to the concierge that weekend to get it fixed. After that hassle I was ready to crash, and the room was nice and quiet with Ted gone. I laid down on the couch with GP dreams dancing in my head.
Just as my head hit he pillow Ted arrived. Except he had company. It seems Brian Kibler and Justin Bonomo were unable to find their hotel rooms the first night and Ted had graciously allowed them to stay the night with us. It’s a good thing too, because when I asked Ted what the field was shaping up to be this weekend he said he had found out that their was a surprising number of Big Red and G/R decks out there. The significance of this being that my matchups against both these decks were in short, pathetic.
I couldn’t really expect to win game one and game two wasn’t much better. I ask him what he thinks I should play and he replies that he doesn’t really know.”Our Tooth and Nail deck has a pretty good matchup against Big Red,” says Kibler from across the room, before going into an explanation of what is in the deck.
At first I wasn’t to thrilled with the idea of changing over to G/R Tooth at the last minute, but I gradually warm up to the idea, only because of the idea of playing with a Talisman in Tooth. The ability to go from two mana to four mana being very important. I get the deck list and make the necessary alterations to my current build. Justin has finished his deck and is preparing to go to bed, as is Ted. Kibler and I are still trying to figure out our sideboards.
Here’s the decklist I played:
4 Talisman of Impulse
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Reap and Sow
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Eternal Witness
4 Electrostatic Bolt
4 Tooth and Nail
2 Rude Awakening
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Platinum Angel
1 Leonin Abunas
4 Relic Barrier
4 Tel-Jilad Justice
1 Bringer of the White Dawn
1 Mephidross Vampire
Here’s a rough sketch of how I side boarded in each match:
Affinity: -2 Rude Awakening, -1 Duplicant, -1 Darksteel Colossus, -4 Solemn Simulacrum. +4 Relic Barrier, +4 Tel-Jilad Justice.
Big Red: -4 Oxidize, -1 Electrostatic Bolt, -1 Darksteel Colossus. +3 Mindslaver, +1 Duplicant, +1 Triskelion, +1 Mephidross Vampire.
G/R: -4 Oxidize, -2 Electrostatic Bolt. +3 Mindslaver, +1 Duplicant, +1 Triskelion, +1 Mephidross Vampire.
Tooth Mirror: 4 Oxidize, -4 Electrostatic Bolt. +3 Tel-Jilad Justice, +3 Mindslaver, +1 Duplicant, +1 Bringer of the White Dawn.
Once we both completed our decks, we played several games. Ow. I got the crap kicked out of me all but one game. I’d always set up my board and die the turn before I’d be able to win. I chalked up the losses to inexperience with the deck and due to the fact that they were before sideboard although I go to bed nervous, wondering if I made the right choice.
We wake up the next morning and head over to the tournament site, where I buy the rest of the cards I need to complete my deck. I figure I can spend the first three rounds”playtesting” my deck – good thing I had so much time to unravel the complexities of such a deck. Well I play several more games against Affinity and again get smashed, although I do win a few more games preboard than the night before, so I feel a little better now that I’ve played the deck a bit more. I then move on to Big Red, the supposed good matchup. I get throttled worse than before. It seems my opponent always has turn 2 Slith Firewalker and turn 3 Molten Rain. I am now very much regretting my decision to change decks the night before and prepare myself to go 0-2 drop.
Round 4 (1 for me) : Feature Match against Osyp Lebedowicz
Great, it’s my first round in my first Constructed Grand Prix and who do I face? Why, the winner of the last Grand Prix of course. Naturally Ted decides to be an ass and give us the feature match, to make sure I am thoroughly embarrassed. This match showcases my inexperience with the deck in general, as I mulligan a one-land hand into a six-card hand that’s only saving point is the fact that it as three land. I am on the play knowing he is playing Affinity, so I really don’t have any game against him but with a bit of luck my hand could be pretty strong. I was wary about fishing for five cards with a 22-land deck on the play. I probably should have thrown it back, but I was unsure of how the deck would perform.
Long story short, I got smashed. Badly. It wasn’t even close, my first two draws were Tooth and Nail #2 and Darksteel Colossus.
I sideboard as usual for Affinity and keep a hand with a few lands a Relic Barrier, Eternal Witness, and a Solemn and such. This game was very frustrating, as I survived the early game by tapping down his first land and then his Aether Vial before it got two counters. However, I never drew an artifact removal spell until about turn 8 and by then it was a bit too late. I was constantly on the defense and couldn’t draw a Platinum Angel or Tooth and Nail to literally save my life. For several turns I blocked his lethal Atog with recycled Solemns and Eternal Witnesses, all the while he and I both had no cards in hand. At any point, a Tooth would have won me the game as I had more than enough mana to entwine it.
Alas I lost my first round of the tournament, to the most common deck in the field. Needless to say, I was severely regretting my audible. I could only lose one more time throughout the tournament and still have good results.
That’s pretty much what I did. The next few rounds saw me play against various Green-based decks such as DC Green and U/G Tooth along with Mono-Green Tooth and smash through them. No matter how many times they destroyed my early land, I would always prevail. The deck just had so much acceleration it made their LD spells laughable.
The best example would be game two against the U/G player. I kept a two-land hand with spells starting at four mana. I missed my third turn land drop and he (of course) had the Reap and Sow to knock my situation from bad to worse. However my next draw yielded me a Cloudpost and I was off. Despite the countermagic he had for my acceleration, I always had more, eventually getting up to an obscene amount of mana and overcoming my lack of early game. It came to the point where all I had was a Tooth and Nail and a Rude Awakening with eleven mana. He had seven mana open and a fist full of cards, but only Island untapped. With Rude Awakening I floating six mana and he sheepishly plays the Condescend, I pay the six and untap all my lands, Tooth out some big creatures and promptly win the game.
So all was going fine, I was setting up for a good position in day two and having fun. Then came round eight. All I had to do was win this match and I was in day two – pumped after bouncing back from my first round loss. I am even more thrilled when I find out he is playing Big Red and I win game one quite handily. I board out my removal and board in my Mindslavers and Duplicants and get to work.
The game went as normal with me overcoming early land destruction and Sliths and eventually resolving a Tooth at precariously low life. I get out Platinum Angel and Leonin Abunas to his four land and an Arc-Slogger with less than thirty cards in his deck. I have enough out to kill him in two turns and all he has is two cards in hand. The turn before I would kill him, he draws and casts Seething Song, getting him six mana. He reveals the Grab the Reins, takes my Abunas and shoots my Angel twice, clearing the way for him to kill me.
A frustrating loss but I still have one more game to take him out. Again I survive his early pressure and get out an army of Solemns and Eternal Witnesses. I do the math and attack him so that I can avoid a Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] death and assure enough damage to kill him regardless of his removal in two turns. Of course at the end of turn he Pulses me, but I take damage from a Talisman in response and his Pulse ends up in the yard. After the Pulse I fall to seven. He draws and passes back. I attack and knock him down to two. He plays out his last card in hand: Magma Jet, targeting me. I nervously fall to five and he scryes both cards to the bottom and I breathe a sigh of relief. He draws and his eyes grow wide.”Boom” he says and reveals his one out, Beacon of Destruction. I had just lost my most frustrating match of Magic in a long time. I went from an assured spot at day two, to having to play out the last round in sudden death.
My last round opponent would naturally be playing Affinity, as tough a matchup as it gets. Game one goes surprisingly well, as I easily deal with all of his early threats and play a turn 5 Platinum Angel. Good Game right? No, he is playing Mantle Affinity and has main deck Shrapnel Blast. He draws and promptly cast his Shrapnel Blast. I shrug it off as he has few cards in hand and no real threats on the board. The game drags on and on and on. I cast all four of my Solemn Simulacrums and thin my deck down to about twenty cards or so. I was in control the entire game but couldn’t find an Eternal Witness, a Tooth and Nail, or a Rude Awakening for the win. He eventually finds enough pressure to overcome my defense and I die with my top card being the Tooth.
I am now kicking myself, I am a loss away from elimination in the tournament and have to beat Affinity 2-0 now to make day two. I do the board thing and draw one of the best hands I could hope for. I Oxidize his first land, drop a Relic Barrier, tap down his creature, drop a Talisman, Bolt his creature, tap his land, drop a Solemn and ride the Witness train to a Toothed victory.
Luckily for me game three goes the same way. The turning point of the game was actually on his third upkeep when I tapped down his Great Furnace with my Relic Barrier. The rest of the game is a slew of Bolts, Justices, and Oxidizes from me, with plenty of Witness recursion. I make sure to always keep him off of Red mana. At the end of the game he is visibly frustrated as he reveals a hand of double Atog and a Shrapnel Blast, all three of those would have easily tipped the game into his favor and sent me packing.
Relieved to have made day two, I wait for the final standings for the day to come up before returning to my hotel to get some much-needed rest. I contemplated sticking around and trying to test my deck a bit more, but settled on getting a quick bite to eat and going to bed.
Waking up early Sunday morning, I snag a few breakfast bars and head off to the site ready for a long day of Magic.
My matches that day were far less exciting than my matches from the previous day. It turn out trusting Ted’s estimate of the metagame paid off as my first five opponents on day two were all playing decks with Red in them. The first two rounds I faced off against R/G beatdown decks. The games were fairly standard with them dropping at turn 5 Arc-Slogger or Molder Slug or constantly destroying my lands, while I just played my own game of accelerating my mana. A few Duplicants and Tooth and Nails later and I was 9-2.
Round twelve was another interesting match. It was against Paul Russell who was playing Mono Red with Megatogs and Shrapnel Blasts. We split the first two games and it was dead even game three. I had exactly nine mana with two Mindslavers and a Tooth and Nail in my hand. He was tapped out with an Arc-Slogger out and me at sixteen life. I thought about going for the Tooth and Nail for Duplicant and Eternal Witness or for Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel or Darksteel Colossus. However, I was very wary about what he might be holding in his hand, so I went for the Mindslaver and passed the turn to him. He attacked me down to twelve and passed it back to me. I drew and Mindslavered him then passed the turn back. At the end of my turn he went for broke, and Sloggered me for eight points of damage, knocking me to four.
His hand was pure gas – he had Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Grab the Reins, a game-ending Furnace Dragon, and a Solemn Simulacrum. I wasted his Pulse and Grab and took my turn. I top decked the land I needed to drop and cast the second Slaver and was delighted at what he drew: Megatog. I counted his artifacts and land and realized I could take his Furnace Dragon out of commission. I dropped the Tog and sacrificed all his artifacts so that he was down to just four land and ended his turn. On my turn I went for the Abunas/Angel, and on his following turn he cast the Solemn and conceded after looking through the rest of the deck and finding no outs.
I played another fairly standard match against R/G where the only action was the typical destruction of land with me playing an obscene amount of Solemns, Reap and Sows, Sylvan Scryings, and Eternal Witnesses with the eventual Tooth and Nail or Rude Awakening with entwine for the win.
Round 14 I played against David Rood who was playing R/G Tooth as well.”Whichever one of you loses, I’m sorry. This kid was staying with me this weekend.” Ted said before the round started, apologizing and taking some responsibility for this mirror match. Alas, the Tooth mirror is very draw dependent and unfortunately for David, I happened to draw the goods. Game one neither of us could halt the other’s mana acceleration other than with third turn Oxidizes for each other’s second turn Talisman. I believe I won this game off of an entwined Rude Awakening.
Game two might have been one of the oddest games I played all weekend. I was stuck on three Forests for the entire game thanks to his double Reap and Sow and my mediocre draws. However he just seemed to have a ton of mana and nothing to do with it, so I wasn’t out of it yet. The turning point in the game in my opinion came when he cast his second Reap and Sow targeting my only Cloudpost that I had Eternal Witnessed back. David already had a ton of mana at this point and two Cloudposts out, but went for a third Post, meaning if I drew another Post, I would have access to seven mana instead of six.
On the following turn I Tel-Jilad Justiced a Talisman and almost leapt for joy when I saw the top two cards – Rude Awakening and Cloudpost. I switched their order and put them both back on top of my deck. I untapped and played the post and passed the turn. David drew and raw dogged his freshly drawn Darksteel Colossus. On my turn I excitedly cast my Rude Awakening floating two mana, untapped my lands and played the Tooth and Nail in my hand with entwine. I quickly grabbed a Duplicant, but then debated on what second creature to get. I thought long and hard about getting an Eternal Witness to help my still pathetic mana situation, but settled on the protective choice of Leonin Abunas to try and ride my 11/11 Duplicant to victory. It’s a good thing I did too, on his upkeep David Tel-Jilad Justiced his Solemn Simulacrum to try and dig for an answer, scrying both cards to the bottom and then drawing his two cards. He didn’t have any action other than another Solemn, despite having more than twelve mana out and handed me the turn. I drew a Reap and Sow, but instead of fetching out another land, I went for the Mindslaver. Despite not being able to activate it, I had the big kitty to protect it. David drew what could be his final card and muttered”Unbelievable,” flipping over his now useless, top decked Mindslaver, he extended his hand.
At 12-2 I only had one more round to go, and before standings were posted I discussed what my likely options would be. 12-2-1 and would be enough for some people to make top eight, but one or two people wouldn’t make the cut. Standings were posted and I was in eighth place going into the final round. With some help from Tim Aten, I found out that I in fact would need a win to secure a top eight spot, but if I drew, I was automatically in ninth place, receiving the top Amateur prize of $1,500 and an invite to Pro Tour: Columbus. If I played out the last round, the only thing certain would be that I would receive much less money if I lost. My friends were all saying”Play it out!” go for top eight, but I wasn’t so sure.
My decision on what to do was made much easier when I discovered that my last round opponent was none other than Brian Kibler. Brian was ranked seventh and would definitely make top eight with a draw. I wasn’t going to kid myself – I had done much better in the tournament than I had thought I would, and the fact was, I wouldn’t have done near as well if Brian hadn’t given me the deck list on Friday night. It was impossible for both of us to make top eight and considering everything I would be guaranteed to receive with the draw and the fact that my opponent gave me the deck I was playing, I agreed to the draw. It also factored into my mind just how badly Brian had smashed me Friday night when we had played.
So that was it, no more Magic needed to be played, I was done. My efforts had paid off more than I could have expected and could now relax and enjoy myself. After all the congratulations from friends and explanations of exactly why I decided to intentionally draw myself out of the top eight, I realized just how hungry I was. Ted, who upon learning my exact finish and payout in the tournament had informed me that I was paying for his dinner, still had to cover the top eight, I told him I would have to owe him the dinner and went back to Ikea to eat. (note: this is a horrible idea, if you ever have to owe Ted Knutson dinner pay it off immediately somewhere cheap, I ended up paying him back at GenCon… $145 at Morton’s Steak House, the man sure has expensive tastes.)
What I learned from GPNJ:
– No matter how big a room is, Magic players will still stink it up in record time
– Playtesting pays off
– Meatballs are not a major food group
– Choosing a good deck is less important than choosing a good roommate
– Never agree to buy Ted a meal
– Few things are funnier than a large Dutch man with a Spiderman guitar
– Yes, New Jersey really is that bad
Until next time, may you always draw two Cloudposts in your opening hand,