The Secret Weapon Does it Again – Grand Prix: Detroit *2nd*

If you’ve been around Rich Hoaen for any period of time, you’ll understand that he’s probably better known for his powers of flatuence than he is for his Magic play. This is in spite of the fact that he’s consistently one of the top Limited players in the world. Today you get the story of how he finished second at Grand Prix: Detroit and while you’re reading, feel free to count the number of his opponents that actually had no idea who this “Rich Hoaen” guy is.

I feel I should start off with an apology. If you are reading this report looking for strategic insight that will help your game, then Ted must have misled you. This is a report of the luckiest Magic tournament of my career. I can’t count my opponent’s mulligans on all of my digits, nevermind the manascrews.

If you find the non-tournament stuff boring, then feel free to skip over this paragraph. If you find my life as boring as I do, then also feel free to skip over this paragraph. I drove down with former Grand Prix: Detroit Champion Matt Vienneau. We had a number of interesting conversations, although most I can’t repeat on a family site such as this. He tried to discuss his recent articles on Magicthegathering.com, but I had not read them due to their longwindedness. Those articles, however are something you should read to help your Limited game. Not this report.

We arrived around 4:00 on Friday and stole a moneydraft from under John Pelcak nose. After winning that draft, which Matt called the highlight of his weekend, Matt, Diego and I went to eat at the overpriced and underpowered hotel restaurant. After dinner, Diego and I went back to the site to wait for Gabe Walls and Jeroen Remie to arrive so we could get a room and some sleep. When it got late and they hadn’t arrived, we got ourselves a room. I don’t know why I waste my time in hotel rooms before Magic tournaments. I am never able to sleep outside of the comfort of my own bed. After a couple hours of not sleeping, I decided to go down to the site to see if Gabe and Jeroen had arrived. I was obviously unable to find them and some ingrates accused me of being drunk and high while I was wandering around. After going for a walk with two of my favorite people on the Pro Tour (Pat and Kate Sullivan), I returned to my room for a few more hours of laying in bed not sleeping.

Between the time I got up and when I got my sealed deck, I felt quite confident. I had played a bunch of sealed in this format between IPA Qualifiers and an E3 qualifier. I found that unlike previous formats, you are almost always able to build a playable two-color deck. Therefore I like to avoid splashing whenever possible to make my deck as consistent as possible. I applied these beliefs to the cards I opened and ended up with what I thought was a decent Blue/White deck with six flyers, some bounce and some counters. I was not particularly happy with it, but wasn’t preparing for an early exit either. That was until I played about thirty games during my byes and won four. I couldn’t deal with things with repeated effects like Kabuto Moth or Kitsune Diviner, nevermind a Hankyu. After all that practicing, I decided I would either sideboard into a completely different Green/Black splash Red deck, which was much more powerful but had terrible mana, or merely board Yamabushi’s Flame and Torrent of Stone into my Blue/White deck.

Round Four: Loden, Lance

As I sat down for the match Lance asked me my rating. I happily replied with the truth: 2120ish. I don’t think he believed me, so he asked for my DCI number. Game one Lance didn’t play a third land for a couple turns, and got rolled over by a bunch of mediocre creatures. Game two we both had mana issues. He drew about ten lands and five spells, while I had four lands in play and a bunch of five-drops in hand. My Soratami Rainshaper was racing his Takenuma Bleeder. I was winning the race, since I started ahead, so I sat on the Hinder in my hand while I waited for more lands. I used the Hinder on a Hideous Laughter at the end of one of my turns. He drew a Villainous Ogre to pull ahead in the race. Then I finally drew a Top and found a land. The game ended with us both on two, me tapped out with a Waxmane Baku that just attacked and Blessed Breath on top to kill him next turn. Unfortunately he drew Genju of the Fens and attacked for the win. Game three he mulliganed and ran out of cards after making a bunch of one-for-one trades, and died to a couple flyers again.

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Round Five: Endregaard, Mike

As we were about to start playing Mike yelled to a friend a couple rows over “that sucks TJ, you’re playing against a pro!” continuing the trend of nobody recognizing me after two years of Feature Match neglect. Game one I played first and had a turn 2 Eye of Nowhere on his land, followed by a creature every turn. Nobody recovers from that start. Game two Mike mulligans and I have a solid draw with Sensei’s Divining Top, which allowed me to find my Mountains. He can’t deal with my No-Dachi’d Soratami Mirror-Guard, and is eventually forced to chump with his Kabuto Moth. I defiance his Patron of the Kitsune, and my Mirror-Guard survives his Blind with Anger to take the game.

Round Six: Berkowitz, Jordan

Jordan and I were surprised and offended when a bunch of people we hadn’t heard of got featured this round. I suppose we showed BDM the error of his ways in the end. I had seen Jordan playing the previous round, so I knew he had Kodama’s Might, Unchecked Growth and Iwamori of the Open Fist. Jordan pulled way ahead in the early game since my first play was a four-drop. Since Jordan was too scared to play his Iwamori, I got the game to a point where I could have drawn a spirit or arcane spell to get my Kami of the Painted Road through for the win, but I missed. For game two I boarded into the Green/Black/Red deck and got a great draw that curved up to Kodama of the North Tree, while Jordan missed his third land drop. Game three Jordan had an early Ninja of the Deep Hours that he was able to get through with a couple removal and bounce spells before I could stabilize with North Tree. Unfortunately by the time I’ve got the board stable I’m at six, and he has a bunch of creatures, so a pump spell is enough to take the game.

Round Seven: Morley, Jim

I asked Jim how many byes he had, and he said he had zero, at which point I became afraid I was going to get rolled by an absurd deck. Game one he plays a Petalmane Baku and nothing else, failing to play a third land. Game two is closer to a real game but he has no way to handle my flyers and dies pretty quickly.

Round Eight: Jacob, Michael

Game one he mulligans and plays two Islands and two Plains, but only one spell, which I found quite odd. Game two he has Plains, Islands, and Swamps. I am unable to beat a draw in which he casts turn 1 Hound, turn 3 Moth, Swallowing Plague, and Teller of Tales. Before Game three I agree to draw, since I don’t want to take a chance on him drawing his terrible mana well enough to knock me out of Day 2.

I then go out to dinner with Pat and Kate Sullivan, Pro Circuit Champion Adam Horvath, and all-around pleasant guy Josh Ravitz. We had a number of interesting conversations, with the exception of when Adam went on endlessly about some cartoon story lines, and books he had recently read. After dinner I went back to Gabe Walls’ room, and tried unsuccessfully to sleep. After an hour, I went back down to the site and did another moneydraft before heading back to the room to get my fourth hour of sleep on the weekend.

Draft One:

1 Darkeff, Gregory 19

2 Hoaen, Richard 19

3 Rogers, Philip 19

4 Miller, Rashad 19

5 Morawski, Jonathan 19

6 Cannistraro, Michael 19

7 Walls, Gabe 19

8 Tormos, Ervin 19

My table contains three faces I recognize. Gabe Walls, a good friend who I enjoy hanging out with at every tournament, Michael Cannistraro, recognizable as the only man who wears YMG shirts these days, and Gregory Darkeff, a Torontonian kid who has the same tendency of every other youngster who has any skill – that he talks a very big game. The draft starts off very well for me when I open Keiga, the Tide Star. Greg passes me a pack with Nezumi Cutthroat, Consuming Vortex, and a couple Green cards. I take the Consuming Vortex because I dislike Blue/Black. Next pack forces the issue with a Hideous Laughter standing well above the rest of the pack. Next pack contains another Cutthroat and it looks like I’m locked into Blue/Black. From there on out I don’t really have any decisions to make, and end up with an above average Blue/Black deck with Jetting Glasskite in addition to the previously mentioned hit.

Round Nine: Rogers, Philip U/W

Game one Philip fails to play a third land until its way too late. Game two he gets a much better draw curving up from turn 1 Isamaru with Miko, and consecutive Kitsune Blademasters. Unfortunately I didn’t have my Hideous Laughter, but I was nearly able to stabilize with Skullmane Baku. The turn before I get everything under control, he is able to steal the game from me with an Otherwordly Journey and Consuming Vortex. Game 3 he gets a similar draw, and I stumble on lands, but this time I have better defenses with a Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch and a River Kaijin. Eventually I draw a fifth land, play Skullmane Baku, followed by my two large flyers and he is unable to get anything through while my flyers run him over.

Round Ten: Cannistraro, Michael B/R

Game one Michael mulligans, but draws an excellent hand involving a curve of Shuko, Wicked Akuba, Ronin Houndmaster, Shinka Gatekeeper, Genju of the Spires. My draw was decent but too slow to survive that start. Game two his draw is a little slower and I am able to stabilize and play a Teller of Tales. He Eradicates it, only to see the Keiga in my hand that does him in. Game Three I get a good draw with early defenders, a Teller of Tales and Hideous Laughter. As I am setting up to wreck him with Hideous Laughter, he gets an Okiba Gang-Shinobi through, so my Laughter merely leaves me with Teller of Tales and him with two cards in hand. He Befouls Teller, and plays Shinka Gatekeeper putting me into a pretty bad position. Fortunately I drew Soratami Mirror-Mage before he gets a second hit with Gatekeeper. After a few turns of our creatures staring at each other, I draw more spells than him and am able to start attacking to win a very close match.

Round Eleven: Tormos, Ervin U/R

Game one I set up some defenses he can never get through with Vanishing Touch and River Kaijin, then play a Mirror-Guard. He Hanabi Blasts it with seven cards in hand. I obviously get the Blast, and soon draw into a Mirror-Mage and Cutthroat, which kill him pretty quickly. Game Two he mulligans and doesn’t play a third land until turn 5. Unfortunately I’m in a similar position without lands. Eventually I draw lands and am able to stop his Battle-Mad Ronin before it can get me below 10. He plays Sire of the Storm, but I have Rend Spirit for it, followed by my two massive flyers.

Draft Two:

1 Dean, J. Evan 28

2 Krumb, Michael 28

3 Lebedowicz, Osyp 31

4 Sullivan, Patrick 30

5 John, Alexander 28

6 Gomersall, Sam 28

7 Postlethwait, William 30

8 Hoaen, Richard 28

My second pod was only two people off the Top 8. It allowed me to familiarize myself with the rest of the Top 8’s drafting tendencies. This draft went very well. I didn’t have a decision to make the whole time. I first picked Yamabushi’s Flame, got passed Kami of Fire’s Roar and not much else. Then I got a pleasant surprise in Swallowing Plague third. I ended the first pack with a lot of playables, but most were quite expensive. I was looking for cheap spirits in pack two. I opened another Swallowing Plague, and then had the only interesting pick of the draft 2nd. The pack had Wicked Akuba, Soulless Revival, Frostwielder, Brutal Deceiver, and Zo-Zu the Punisher. I took Wicked Akuba, while thinking of an old Matt Vienneau article where he suggests sometimes taking a slightly weaker card that will allow you to get another card back. I figured that if I let the three Red cards go then one would probably come back since its one of the less popular colors. This worked out exactly as plan, since Brutal Deceiver came around on the back side.

Round Twelve: Krumb, Michael U/W

I have played Mike at two previous Grand Prix – Grand Prix: Columbus where I had a much better deck and destroyed him, and Grand Prix: Boston where he had a much better deck and destroyed me. This match was covered on Sideboard. We were nearly done Game one by the time BDM got to the table. I had an excellent draw of Psychic Spear, Cruel Deceiver, Shinka Gatekeeper, Kami of Fire’s Road, and Swallowing Plagues for his first two creatures. Game two Mike didn’t play a third land.

Round Thirteen: Gomersall, Sam W/u/b

Sam and I have even more history. We have played at PT: San Diego, and Worlds. In San Diego, I played two turn 3 Quicksilver Behemoths, while having eight one or less mana artifacts in my deck. At Worlds, he triple mulliganed one game, and I played Pristine Angel the other. We also played together at PT: Atlanta, and he stayed at my house for a month before Grand Prix: Chicago. Game one I have a solid draw, and am going to win next turn, when he draws Meloku. Didn’t win that one. Game two I get another solid draw and he doesn’t play Meloku this time.

Game three was very close, but wouldn’t have been if Sam didn’t get overexcited early in the game. He had a turn 1 Diviner, and turn 4 Nagao, I had turn 2 Cruel Deceiver, and turn 3 Houndmaster. Turn 4 I attacked, and before blocks Yamabushi’s Flamed his Nagao, not even thinking about Shining Shoal. He Shoaled the damage back to Houndmaster. He should have Shoaled it back to Cruel Deceiver and simply blocked the Houndmaster. Next turn he attacked with Nagao and returned it with Okiba Gang-Shinobi. If he returned Kitsune Diviner with the Ninja and got another eight Nagao points in, the game would have been over then and there. The way it happened I was able to stabilize, then draw Seizan, and enough removal spells to make up for what he drew off Seizan.

Round 14: Lebedowicz, Osyp G/B

We were both locks for Top 8. I considered playing to increase my vanity rating because my deck was so good, but decided I’d rather draw and watch Sam play for Top 8.

Top 8:

Jordan Berkowitz.

Osyp Lebedowicz.

Richard Hoaen.

William Postlethwait.

Michael Krumb.

Sam Gomersall.

Jeroen Remie.

Patrick Sullivan.

The Py-Rate Dilemma. Arrr!

Coverage of my draft is on Sideboard so I will discuss the only interesting pick of the draft. My first pick in pack two was Frostwielder or Pain Kami. I took Frostwielder, which everyone I have spoken to disagrees with. It may have been wrong, but I am still uncertain. I have found that repetitive effects – especially damage – are very powerful in this format. People say that since I had Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain, the Pain Kami is better on my mana. That is true, but not as much as you might think. Since I already had one Frostwielder, I was pretty certain that my mana was going to end up ten Plains eight Mountains. That allows me to take whichever card I believe is superior, and I believe that to be Frostwielder.

Quarterfinals: Gomersall, Sam U/B

Game one was like many of the others in this tournament, Sam failed to play a third land. Game two I mulligan, then keep five lands and Kitsune Diviner. Sam has a good start with a bunch of evasion creatures, and I cast about three spells this game before being overrun. Game three I have a solid draw with two plays before a turn 4 Frostwielder, which Sam’s deck has a very hard time dealing with. Sam drew five spells this game which simply wasn’t enough.

Semifinals: Krumb, Michael G/U

Mike had a lot of trouble dealing with my turn 4 Frostwielder. It made it impossible for him to make fair trades in combat, and killed a pair of one-toughness creatures. Eventually a large number of defensive creatures overwhelmed him. Game two Mike kept a hand of one Island and a bunch of Green cards on the play after mulliganing. He didn’t find a Forest until the turn before he died.

Finals: Berkowitz, Jordan G/B

Game one I drew an even number of lands and spells, and Jordan couldn’t compete with my higher card quality. Game two I kept a hand with only two lands and stumbled a little before finding enough to cast most of my hand. Jordan played a Honden of Life’s Web while I was trying to stabilize the board. Between the Honden and a crackling fiend, Jordan didn’t have trouble getting me into Dance of Shadows range, even though I was trying to play around it. Game three I kept a mediocre hand of Genju, Torrent and five lands. I kept it because it contained my only removal spell and the Genju to give me something to do in case I flooded. I drew a couple spells early, and had some pressure on him, but he was able to play Honden and Long-Forgotten Gohei. That combination was able to hold off my creatures while I drew land after land. I was able to gain massive amounts of life because Jordan didn’t know he could keep his Shuriken, and prevent my lifegain by killing his creature after I assigned damage to it. Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time until I died to Jordan’s Dance of Shadows and Devouring Greed because I drew no threats.

I had to leave right after the tournament so my ride could be home to rest for work on Monday, so I had to skip out on my drink split with Jordan, but I am planning on taking a raincheck on that one. Matt was surprised I wasn’t particularly upset or disappointed with the result, but I didn’t have very high expectations for this tournament, and quickly realized I had never – and probably never will be – as lucky at a Magic tournament.

Richard Hoaen