The Chump Block – Grand Prix: Minneapolis and Me

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Friday, November 20th – Even though my days of college have long since passed, my desire to live the college lifestyle has not. I’ve made sure that such mainstays as not doing anything particularly useful with my time, living in complete squalor, and not having working gas are an integral part of my daily routine. That, and road trips.

Even though my days of college have long since passed, my desire to live the college lifestyle has not. I’ve made sure that such mainstays as not doing anything particularly useful with my time, living in complete squalor, and not having working gas are an integral part of my daily routine. That, and road trips.

Because of my unparalleled knowledge of the geography of the United States’ Midwest, I felt somewhat confidant that the final Grand Prix of the year, GP: Minneapolis, was more or less near my new home of Chicago. At approximately six and one half hours, it was, at least, closer to me now than when I lived in my previous home of Richmond, Virginia. As it would turn out, oodles of Chicago-based players were planning on making the trip out to the Twin Cities, and I was easily able to join with some friends on their drive there. What ensued was one of the most cramped, nerdiest car rides I have ever been on. After driving by more corn that I ever thought existed, one million and one half hours later, I was signing up for my first GPT.

After passing to my right, passing to my right, and then passing across, I gingerly attempted to smooth out the deck registration sheet which was crumpled to a comical degree. Perhaps it was manhandled out of anger, for after I noticed the deck’s register Christian Calcano (developer of Standard powerhouse Boros Bushwhacker), I couldn’t help but somewhat smirk at the appropriateness of the cards that he had opened. What I received was a reminiscent of a very aggressive WR draft deck complete with doubles of Plated Geopede, Goblin Bushwhacker, Teetering Peaks, and a lone Steppe Lynx. Here is the deck in its entirety:

2 Cliff Threader
1 Kanzandu Blademaster
1 Kor Hookmaster
1 Kor Skyfisher
2 Ondu Cleric
1 Steppe Lynx
2 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Highland Berserker
1 Murasa Pyromancer
2 Plated Geopede
1 Stonework Puma
1 Day of Judgment
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Nimbus Wings
1 Magma Rift
1 Slaughter Cry
1 Adventuring Gear
2 Teetering Peaks
6 Mountain
10 Plains

There were three cards that were fighting for those last spots but that eventually got cut for what was the “The More Allies, The Better” Plan: Zektar Shrine Expedition, Goblin Ruinblaster, and Kor Cartographer. The Kor was the least likely to be played in my mind, as it would only ever serve as an additional landfall trigger, certainly not a negligible interaction but one that seemed somewhat weak overall. The Shrine probably stands out as the why-are-you-not-playing-this-card card, but I’ve been having increasing frustrations with the card. It is very easy for your opponent to trump your plan all the while garnering card advantage, whether it be Into the Roiling the token or Kor Sanctifiering the Shrine itself, and any sort of first striking creature on the opponent’s side makes the card a pretty big joke. It can also take down a large attacker, but is that really what I want to be doing with it? However, all told, if I were to register the deck again I would probably play the Shrine and the Ruinblaster over the two Ondu Cleric despite the fact that the Clerics consistently impress me with how hard it can make racing for your opponent.

In any case, my first opponent was certainly an intimidating one: StarCityGames.com own Adrian Sullivan. I felt tremendously confident in my deck though, so I was happy to play against some solid competition. I will spare you for the most part, dear reader, of any minutiae about any Limited games as the insights are rarely valuable as much of the game’s progression is glossed over. After I win game 1 where he has a turn 3 Vampire Nighthawk (although admittedly, not much else), he mentions that that was only his third loss of the day. I use my Sherlock Holmes-esque logic and infer correctly that he had lost in the finals of the previous Trial. Would this turn out to be an omen of sorts? Almost assuredly!

I ended up winning a close game 3 and proceeded to plow through the remaining opponents on my way to the finals. I was actually blessed in round 4 with one of the best Limited hands I think I’ve ever received: Plated Geopede, Steppe Lynx, Adventuring Gear, Slaughter Cry, Teetering Peaks, Plains, Plains. My opponent was basically forced into chump block mode from turn 3 onward. Unfortunately, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for our hero, as in the finals I end up keeping a decent 3-Plains hand, and my first Mountain on turn 6 or so does little to inspire fear into the heart of my opponent. I actually thought I was eating biscuits game 2, and bashed my opponent down to an early 1 life, but was never able to squeeze that last point through. I definitely (read: absolutely) made a minor mistake that cost me the game, and it’s those losses that tend to haunt me more so than any other.

One card evaluation that I definitely would not have had at the beginning of the Zendikar Limited season is how ungodly good Nimbus Wings can occasionally be. While I certainly cede that it is still a creature enchantment and vulnerable to all of the 2-for-1’s therein, it is a racing player’s best friend. Most of the removal in this set is simply not able to handle any creature with a 3-butt (Disfigure, Burst Lightning), which means that your winged Geopede or Cliff Threader is not only not going to blocked, but is going to be hitting harder than normal as well. At least four of my matches’ notes were the words “Nimbus Wings” followed by an exclamation point. It’s certainly not a card that I am excited to be opening in my sealed pool or to draft extremely high, but it’s almost assuredly going to be making the maindeck if I find myself with a White, aggressive deck.

I shuffled back to my group with my winnings, dejected that I couldn’t clinch the 3 bye vacation for the next day. Knowing the pool I would be opening the next day, I would have gladly taken the 18 packs in a heartbeat, but for the time being the second place finish was a bit of a letdown. Afterwards, I team drafted with some buddies to the point at which we were kicked out of the convention hall, and almost out of the entire convention center, but a timely Piranha Marsh (is there such a thing?) sealed victory for our team at the last possible moment before we were kicked out by a disgruntled security guard.

I woke, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next day. I scampered to the site, eager to put my mind to work in building the best possible sealed deck I could. I ended up opening (and subsequently passing) a very solid pool with very solid Black removal topping off in Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet. I opened my pool expectantly, and slumped. It wasn’t the worst pool I had ever seen, but it certainly wasn’t going to carry me on its back to Day 2. I must have had 3 packs with almost identical print runs, as I had a whopping SEVEN sets of triplets in my deck. I would have been happy receiving trips Hideous End or Burst Lightning; however, the cards that I ended up opening three copies of were: Lethargy Trap; Paralyzing Grasp; Pillarfield Ox; Kor Cartographer; Ruinous Minotaur; Vines of the Vastwood; and Jwar Isle Refuge. Lethargy Traps aside, these cards are all certainly playable but the rest of my pool was equally uninspiring. The White contained a grand total of 3 other cards, the Blue, 4. I almost could have gone Mono Red and would have been happy doing so despite the absence of any Geopedes, Shatterskull Giants, Bladetusk Boars, Burst Lightnings, or any other Red card one would equate with quality. With only 7 Red creatures though, I needed to pair it up with another color which could supply some beef which, surprising enough, was not Green with a dumbfounding 3 creatures. I finally ended up pairing the Red with Black for the undeniably solid Vampire Nighthawk, but still ended up with a very poor R/b deck with subpar creatures, scant removal, and an awkward curve. I ended up with two losses in short order, and decided to call it a day rather than try to slog through 5 more rounds of uphill battle.

It’s easy to complain about the rough beats that we get, especially in Limited, but I felt somewhat humbled watching some of the big names later in the day who were playing what seemed to be a three-color mishmash of “okay” cards.

I ended up team drafting again, this time with solely the Chicago folk in our hotel lobby, which turned out to be more of an ordeal than we originally bargained for. We were eating pizza and playing Magic: The Gathering amid swarms of drunk, 40-something business men and women who seemed to be enjoying themselves quite thoroughly. Didn’t they see that we were trying to play a collectable card game? Our draft finally ended at around 1 am, at which point 4 of us decided it would be in our best interest to draft again, and after Ken Adams came over and finding a random Magic player on another floor, we were off again.

After the draft ended at 5 in the morning, I got a luxurious 3 hours of sleep before trudging down to the gaming site to PTQ for the next day. I opened up a very solid pool which had multiple ways one could build. I finally settled on the following

1 Emeria Angel
2 Kor Sanctifiers
2 Kor Hookmaster
1 Aether Figment
2 Sky Ruin Drake
1 Windrider Eel
1 Gomazoa
1 Cliff Threader
2 Pillarfield Ox
1 Kor Cartographer
2 Burst Lightning
1 Punishing Fire
1 Arrow Volley Trap
1 Blazing Torch
2 Journey to Nowhere
1 Narrow Escape
1 Expedition Map
1 Soaring Seacliff
4 Island
1 Kabira Crossroads
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Mountain
7 Plains

I certainly felt like I could go all the way with this one. While there weren’t many bombs aside from the Emeria Angel, the entire deck was very solid with quality removal, strong defenses and hard-to-kill flyers. Alas, I failed to put up the numbers going a mere 6-3. One match loss may or may not have been avoidable, one couldn’t have been helped, and one was an infuriating judging issue. The issue was this: I sat down to play in the 7th round, pile shuffled my deck, and realized that I had only 39 cards. Not wanting to get a game loss for presenting an illegal deck, I called a judge over and asked if I could have my list so that I could go grab an extra copy of whatever card happened to have wandered off. He advised me that, yes he could grab it, but that I needed to be able to present my deck within 3 minutes or else suffer a game loss. The result is not surprising: I got a game loss for finding the card a wee bit too late. I certainly understand the rationale about award game penalties for people arriving to their seat late, but in this scenario, I was the one to alert the judge to the problem with my deck. Put another way, if I hadn’t called a judge over, what is the worse that could have happened? A game loss for presenting an illegal deck? Perhaps a judge will care to comment, but what in the future should compel a player to bring a missing card issue up when the penalties for both are identical and silence at least affords a chance to not be docked?

In any case, I had a fabulous weekend, despite not even remotely accomplishing what I intended to from the outset. I had my share of fabulous comebacks, and had my share of painful land floods. I had several friends make it into the money (with one going X-3 and not making top 16, rough beats). My car-mate Jesse won a Mox Ruby in the random drawing event that ended up lasting until 10:30 which, unfortunately, is how I found myself in the predicament I do now. I did not take very good care of myself this weekend, and the toll of such little sleep coupled with not eating the entirety of Sunday has plunged me into a deep sickness from which I am only recently able to start reviving. On the drive back I began to shudder and shake in the back seat of the car and thought to myself in my mother’s voice, “Well, Zach, that wasn’t very responsible of you.”

Grand Prix tournaments are some of the most fun that the average, non-pro Magic player can have. The side events are limitless, the excitement of being able to compete at the highest level is riveting, and the good times that one shares with ones friends is unparalleled. Hopefully I’ll be back to my same-old, healthy, Standard playing self in no time.