The Quest For Level Five #2 – Doing Badly at Grand Prix: Athens

New Hall of Fame inductee Raphael Levy continues his excellent Magic Lifestyle series with a retrospective analysis of his subpar performance at GP: Athens. He presents his Sealed cardpool and draft decks (and choices), and peppers the narrative with sights, sounds and smells from behind the Pro Tour curtain. The qualifiers for Geneva are in full swing… can Raph help you take the Blue Envelope?

October 12th, 2006

I made my way to Athens. When did it become so far away! It’s the other end of Europe. It took me about nine hours from my place in Goteborg to reach the apartment in Athens where “the others” were. “The others” includes the Dutchies: Frank (Karsten), Jelger (Wiegersma), Julien (Nuijten), Roel (Van Heeswijk), Rogier (Maaten); the Nordics: Anton (Jonsson), Johan (Sadeghpour), Nicolai (Herzog); Sam (Gomersall), and Gaby (Nassif). Some guests were also there when I arrived: Amiel T, José B, Tuomo N, Erno E and Tommi H. A lot of people and high caliber players within a few square meters! It was 1am and everyone was drafting. In fact, they had been drafting the whole week. Quite a good training session before the Grand Prix and following Pro Tour…

October 13th, 2006

My first full day in Athens included a walk in town and a couple of drafts at the apartment. I didn’t really feel like going back to the Acropolis, as I had already been there a couple of years ago. I had felt confident about the draft… until today. My decks were fine, but it felt that I couldn’t win as much as I did the weeks before. Maybe it was just the play level here was much higher. Oh well, I hope that’s not a bad sign for tomorrow…

I also heard that the point awarding for the coming GPs and PTs had already switched to the new system: one point for Top 64, and more points for top 32-16-8… Hopefully that will help me a little in my quest.

October 14th, 2006

GP: Athens, Day 1:

Like every time I start a GP, I’m very impatient to see my pool of cards. I hope I won’t be too disappointed.

I opened my Sealed Deck. White and Green seemed really weak. Blue, Red and Black were deep enough to have me use the full thirty minutes of deckbuilding to make up my mind.

I basically had two choices. I would either go straight B/U, or U/r/b.

My build went this way:

The alternative was to cut all Red cards (Grapeshot, Blazing Blade Askari, Orcish Cannonade, the two Keldon Halberdiers, Nicol Bolas, and Pardic Dragon) and replace them with Black cards: Viscid Lemures, Faceless Devourer, Corpulent Corpse, Pit Keeper, Gorgon Recluse, Mana Slimmer and Mindstab. The problem I had with the straight B/U build, is that I wasn’t using half of the removal my pool was offering. Sure, they are not the hottest, but they are still removal spells (Orcish Cannonade and Grapeshot). I was also putting aside Pardic Dragon and Nicol Bolas. Pardic Dragon is an obvious bomb, and Nicol Bolas a nice finisher. So the issue was, would my mana support my build?

I wanted to be able to:

Suspend my Halberdiers on turn 1.
Play my Looters on turn 2.
Unmorph the seers anytime I wanted.
Play all the removal in my pool.

Six Mountains, Prismatic Lens, Paradise Plume, and Chromatic Star supported my Red cards the way I wanted. Eight Islands were enough for my Blue cards. For the Black, I gathered all the cards I wanted to play: Feebleness, Sudden Death, Lim-Dul, Nicol Bolas, and Twisted Abomination. Both fat guys are late game cards, meaning that three Swamps, the mana artifacts, and Twisted Abomination would support them. Both Sudden Death and Feebleness would be fine in both early and late game, so it didn’t matter too much if I missed the Black mana early. In the “worst” case, I had the two Looters to get rid of the cards I couldn’t cast.

I felt my build was the correct one. The deck just seemed more powerful with Red, and as I managed to fix the manabase it would probably do just fine.

A few thoughts about the cards in the deck:

The only switchable maindeck card is Voidmage Husher. While not a very good card, it filled the four-mana curve. I would have probably wanted an Empty the Warrens instead.

I like Dream Stalker more and more. It just stops almost everything that has no evasion ability, while having a lot of synergy with Fathom Seers and with Paradise Plume. The latter didn’t happen too often, as my deck wanted the Plume to produce Red or Black mana most of the time.

Vesuvan Shapeshifter is probably one of the best rares of the set. I managed to lock my opponents a couple of times with the Brine Elemental, and along with an unmorphed Fathom Seer it’s just insane.

I went 6-1-1 with three byes, losing to Antoine (Ruel) and drawing unintentionally in the last round against Pedro (Canali).

A few things about the day:

I didn’t play my best Magic. I don’t know why. I wasn’t exactly in my games. And the worst thing is that even my deck reminded me to tighten up. It’s game 2 against Antoine; I had lost game 1 when I kept a two-land plus Looter hand, and never drew my third land. I had reached my third land this time, but couldn’t find my fourth before turn 6. The game went on, and Antoine had a huge advantage on the board, with two Zealot Il-Kor, and a Wurmcalling giving him tokens every turn. The game was so one-sided. I was holding nothing to turn the tide… I was just playing because I didn’t want to concede. At one point my only card in hand was a Swamp and I decide not to play it, thinking Antoine may play around something I could have. The thing is… if I had played that Swamp then, I would have won the game. My next draw was a Fathom Seer, and I drew into my Brine Elemental. The next turn, I chump the biggest guy with my Seer, missing one mana to chump block with my Chronatog Totem that I had boarded in. The next turn gave me nothing relevant – I unmorphed my Brine Elemental, but unfortunately had to chump block with it. With one more land on the board, I would have been able to chump with the Chronatog again. But it was still in my hand (I had bounced two lands with the seer the turn before). Antoine was tapped out, and that would have given me an out if I had played that damn Swamp. I flipped the next card over…. Vesuvan Shapeshifter….

I felt quite bad about it. We played a third game that he won as well. That made me feel a little better. But the odds that I would draw, in succession, every card I would need to win the game were so low that I had just given up. Note to self: never give up!

I hadn’t hit with Nicol Bolas in the last eight years! Damn, it felt good!

Only four of us (“us” being the players from the apartment) made Day 2: Jelger, Roel, Sam, and I.

I’ll be drafting in pod 3 tomorrow along with Roel, Pedro, Tiago (Chan), Nico Bohny, and Vincent Lemoine.

We ate quickly at a close-by pizzeria, and then went straight to bed.

October 15th, 2006

GP: Athens, Day 2:

The GP had already supplied one of the eight points I need to level up. A few wins today would make my quest a lot easier for the future…

My draft plan was to follow the plan that usually worked for me so far – try to draft Black, and see what can come along.

I opened Tendrils of Corruption, was passed Phthisis and a second Tendrils later in pack 1. I was also passed a Dragon Whelp pick three in pack one, and that basically set my colors.

I drafted removal heavily, along with Slivers. I was really satisfied with my draft when I left the pod:

The deck seems powerful, but was probably missing a few bigger creatures. The Two-Headed Slivers are key to sneak in the damage, as you can’t get rid of all the creatures every time. With three Bonesplitter Slivers, you can hit for seven or eleven on turn four when your opponent has only played one creature (that you will take care of soon enough).

You don’t really expect to play against three pros in three rounds in a GP… but that’s what happened to me. No free win for me today, I had to battle every round.

I lost round one to Pedro, who basically blocked the first couple of attacks with his two Thallid Shell-Dwellers before playing Tromp the Domains in games 1 and 3 (I didn’t get to play game 2, due to a poor land draw). I managed to steal game 1 thanks to a well-timed Tendrils of Corruption, played with the help of Basal Slivers when he was attacking for the kill.

His deck had two Tromp the Domains; they hit for more than twenty points every time. It’s probably one of the only cards that would make me play Green. With me being above sixteen life in both games 1 and 3, and even though I won game 1, it felt a bit unfair to lose that way… Oh well, that happens.

I played round 2 against Tiago. He was packing a Red/Green aggro deck with Sulfurous Blast. We raced game 1 while I was short on Black mana to power up my Tendrils, and he burned me out with Sulfurous Blast as his last card when I had lethal damage on the board.

I mulliganed twice in game 2, and my hand offered me: two Swamps, one Mountain, one Two-Headed Sliver, and one Sedge Sliver. Quite a nice draw for a five-card hand.

I drew 2 more lands on my first two draws. The only choice I had to make in this game was whether or not I would play my Sedge Sliver on turn 3. Tiago and I talked a bit before the match about the draft, and he told me his left neighbour opened Jaya Ballard in his first pack and cut him on Red. I was Tiago’s right neighbour, and hadn’t passed him anything that could kill my Sedge Sliver. He hadn’t played anything in game 1 that could kill it on turn 3. The odds that he opened a Rift Bolt and had it in hand were low enough for me to play it. But well, he just had the Rift Bolt, killed my Sliver, and my hand could just not do anything to support a longer game.

I finally won my last round against Roel in three tight games.

I tried to put that bad experience aside and focus on my second draft:

I opened a Nightshade Assassin in my first pack with nothing else in it, and got passed Tendrils and Dark Withering in the next two packs. Quite a good signal. I went on drafting a B/u madness deck, and I was really satisfied with the result. Unfortunately, no Trespasser il-Vec showed up in the three packs. The deck had a good curve, lots of removal, long term plans, quite a lot of synergy with five madness enablers. Too bad I never went off with my double Pit Keeper/Voidmage Prodigy combo… Oh, and yeah, I love Dralnu.

I won the first round quite easily and played round 2 against Bram (Snepvangers). Two wins would probably put me into top 16, while one win would be enough for top 32 thanks to my good tie-breakers.

He lost game 1 with only two Plains in play. Game 2 was all about racing. I had him killed the next turn; he fetched a land with Greenseeker at the end of my turn, and only a pump spell would save him at that point.

No pump spell!” I said after cutting his deck.

Ironically enough, he drew a Griffin Guide.

I promised not to call for any of my opponents’ draw again. I had already called for my Shapeshifter on the day before against Antoine, or more “hoped it wasn’t there,” and it was there… if only it could work that way every time, things would be so much easier!

I battled hard in game 3 to beat his turn 2 Knight of the Holy Nimbus, turn 3 and 4 Call of the Herd, and was very close from stabilizing and taking control of the game. But I was always one turn behind… A very frustrating game indeed.

I played my last round for top 32. My opponent played a fast Red/Black deck, packing lots or burn and removal. We split the first two games, and game 3 came down to this:

On the play, he mulliganed, and showed a Mindstab before I told him whether or not I would mulligan. My hand was: Avatar of Woe, Nightshade Assassin, Gorgon Recluse, Prismatic Lens, Looter Il-Dal, Urborg Syphon-Mage, and Island. Quite a dilemma for the last game of the day. A land in my first two draws would probably win me the game. Sixteen out of thirty-three, with two draws, I felt the odds were on my side. I decided to keep. Unfortunately, the land only showed up on turn 3. Instead of a one-sided game in my favor, I took a lot of damage in the early game, but managed to stabilize on seven life, with a few creatures on the board, and him without cards in hand. He drew, played a morph with three Mountains and three Swamps in play. The only morph I had seen so far was Liege of the Pit. With no way to kill my opponent, nor the morph guy, in the next two turns, I did what I promised not to do again:

No Swamp!” I said.

His next card was a Swamp.

He unmorphed his Liege of the Pit, and swang for seven.


Standings after round 14 were up, I would have ended up 32nd with a last round win. I realized a few minutes later that the point I missed there would have levelled me up to Level 4 before Kobe. I would have had 30 points instead of 29, and I would have made $1000 instead of $500 thanks to the Pro Level.

Some days, you just feel that everything goes wrong. I hadn’t played my best Magic this weekend, and I’m fully aware of that. I’m also aware that I may sound like a whining scrub. I’m not whining. I’m exposing my point of view, with my feelings involved. I don’t know the exact reason why I’m feeling so bad right now. Is it because I didn’t play so well over the weekend? Probably. Would it have mattered in the games I actually lost? I don’t know. Maybe. Is it because I feel that the worst things happened during my games? Perhaps. That’s nothing I can control; I have to accept it. Is it because I felt confident in a format I had practised quite a lot, and did terribly (2-4)? Partly. Probably a bit of everything.

I had quite a hard time getting over the whole thing that night. Antoine, Bernardo, Geoffrey, Vincent celebrating his finals, Pavlos (Acritas) and I went to have dinner in central Athens. While everything – the food, the restaurant, everyone’s (but mine) mood – was great, I couldn’t help but try to understand why my day went so wrong. I still think both of my draft decks were far above average. When I scrub out, it’s usually because I drafted a pile that can’t win a single game. 3-3 would have been good enough for two points, 4-2 for three points (and 5-1 or 6-0 Top 8). One point is the least I expected when entering the GP, and I’m still glad I made it when seven of my other flatmates didn’t even make Day 2.

It helps me realize that even though I’ve done quite well lately, there’s no reason to let my game loosen, and that Magic is still the same game with ups and downs. I don’t even want to think again about how bad I would have felt if I had gone to Sydney and missed Day 2.

October 16th, 2006

We drafted twice today at the apartment with the last packs we had left. I still feel down about my performance, and I hope I will find the strength to cheer up and tighten up before the PT.

October 17th -18th , 2006

We flew from Athens, and arrived at 6pm today in Kobe. I have no idea how long the whole journey took. About twenty hours, I guess. I thought about how bad the way back was going to be. The same twenty hours, plus about ten or twelve more to get back to Goteborg from Athens.

The positive point of the journey is that it was the first time I stepped in Dubai. Quite an interesting place. Not that I have seen much of it, as we only stayed 2 hours at the airport, but from above in the plane, and from the pictures of the land that we could see everywhere, it seemed like a nice place to hold a Pro Tour some day!

It’s 1am, and I’m in my hotel room right now. I had dinner in a noodle bar with some Frenchies I met here. I feel a bit better, having left most of my bad feelings behind. One point wasn’t that bad after all… I don’t really feel like sleeping, and think the jetlag will be tougher to overcome than I thought, as I slept almost the whole way here.

The Pro Tour is in two days; I hope I’ll have recovered by then. Bernardo is snoring behind me. I guess I’ll just have to beat him up a little so he stops…

Until next time…

Raphael Levy