The Thousand-Mile Grind

BBD and CVM drove over a thousand miles to grind the SCG Open at Worcester, MA. Was it worth it?

It’s Friday. Friday. Gotta get down on Friday.

I check the clock. 2PM. Damn. I wanted to be gone by now. We should be on the road.

I overhear coworkers talking about their plans for the night.

“Are you going to FNM?”

“Nope, I’m gonna watch a movie. Are you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got this deck I’ve been working on….”

Their voices trail off in the distance as I power past them, intent on my tasks. The longer it takes to finish them, the longer the day is going to be. I execute my work as precisely and efficiently as possible.

2:45. Done. Find CVM. Done. Buy sleeves. Done.

Someone asks:

“Hey, BBD. You gonna FNM tonight?”

“Not tonight, buddy. I got some different plans in mind for tonight. Grand plans. You see, today is Friday. I wouldn’t do Friday justice if I wasn’t getting down on Friday. And I know only one way to get down on this fine Friday. It involves some snacks, a case of water, and a twelve-hour drive to Worcestershiresauceville Massachutesandladders. The promised land.”

Axegrinder Giant. Faultgrinder. Organ Grinder. Grindstone. Grindclock.

I’m like a frat boy in a club. I just wanna Grind.

I’m like a canister holding rough salt crystals. Grinder.

I’m like a piece of sheet of metal sliding across another sheet of metal. Grinding.

We depart StarCityGames. Snacks are sitting in the back seat. CVM is kicking in the front seat. I ask CVM if he wants to eat some Mexican before we depart. It’s going to be an eternity in the car regardless. We might as well eat a real meal before we go.

I order the equivalent of a cheeseburger without cheese. It’s the classic Mexican dish: Arroz Con Pollo without rice. Translated literally, I basically told the waiter to get me some rice with chicken without rice.

“I… ugh… I guess just get me some chicken man. I could really go for some chicken right now.”

CVM also decides to also take the plunge with some Arroz Con Pollo. He opts to keep the rice. Smart man.

I book a hotel on my phone. The kid sitting in the booth behind me keeps kicking the back of my seat, driving me closer and closer to insanity. At least the rice with chicken without rice was pretty good…err…the chicken was good.

3:30 PM. We pile into my 1998 Honda Civic with almost 240,000 miles on it. The air conditioning doesn’t work. My car is prone to occasional overheating on really hot days. It’s really the perfect condition for a twelve-hour drive in the middle of summer.

Why? Why do it?

We need the points. I need six points to hit 100 Open Series points and lock up two byes for the Invitational. CVM just needs to play in the event to lock up one bye.

Neither CVM or I can block. Blocking isn’t on the agenda for us. It’s hot and humid, and rolling down the windows isn’t doing quite enough to stifle the heat. It’s muggy outside. We’re getting mugged. We’re victims of a Mugging. Two damage. Can’t block.

Interstate 81. 78. 95. 80… 91… it all starts to blur together. Which godforsaken Northeastern state are we in right now? Trick question. It doesn’t matter. They all charge you tolls to drive on their terrible roads where the speed limit never exceeds 55 miles per hour. They all suck.

I contemplate the important questions in life like:

Is the stretch of Interstate 95 between Washington DC and New York City the worst stretch of highway in the U.S. to drive on, and if not, what’s worse?

Did the speed limit just drop to 40 miles per hour on the interstate? What atrocities did I commit in a previous life to bring this upon myself?

Did the guy in this song just say, “Get drunk, get high. Get SLIMED and get fly?” He probably did. He must have. Ain’t nothin’ more fly than Sliming someone. Slime’s pretty fly for a green guy.

It’s after midnight and it’s still hot. Hotter than Guildgate. I’m starting to question my sanity.

3:00 AM. Arrival.

3:30 AM. Sleep.

10AM. Tournament.

I decided for this tournament that I wasn’t going to be Acidic Sliming anyone. Guess I’m not fly.

Acidic Slime is a thing of the past. There was a time where it was right to be all Slime all the time. When your opponent has four Garruk, Primal Hunters in their deck. When the best card in the format is Sphinx’s Revelation. When people are playing Assemble the Legion in the main. That’s when you want to show people how unfortunate it is to be on the receiving end of the turn-three Slime.

When your opponent is making a 5/5 Demon every turn starting on turn three. When your opponent is attacking you with a Hellrider, three Burning-Tree Emissaries and a Flinthoof Boar. When Frontline Medic is being Soulbonded with a Lightning Mauler. Those are the times where you probably don’t really want to be playing a 2/2 for five. Could I interest you in a Thragtusk?

But what could possibly fill the ooze-shaped void that Slime would leave behind?

Brian Braun-Duin checked out one new person on Meet Me: Obzedat, Ghost Council.”

Turns out that a lot of the format has some unresolved Ghost Daddy issues.

Obzedat is kind of like Slime. Obzedat puts pressure on the same kinds of decks that Slime does. The difference is that while Slime slows them down in hopes that you can leverage the mana advantage to grind out a long term win, Obzedat just wins.

Slime plinks in for a few points and slowly dissolves their manabase.

Obzedat storms the field and decapitates them. It doesn’t take long for seven a turn to do the dirty deed. It’s not long at all.

This deck got me the highest constructed rating I’ve ever had on Magic Online. I 4-0’d a daily, then 10-0’d a Premier Event, then 3-1’d another daily. I didn’t change any cards between any of those events. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to change. I was happy with everything.

Then I stopped playing the deck. I didn’t want to start losing with it, something that is inevitable with any deck regardless of how good it is, and start to second guess myself as a result. I wanted to stop on a high note so I could begin the tournament in Worcester with a high level of confidence.

In the event, I played Grixis once, U/W/R three times, Esper once, and Jund twice. To say that Obzedat was good would be a bit of an understatement.

Obzedat is simply the best card in your deck against all of those decks. I don’t even think it’s close. Turn two Ground Seal against my Unburial Rites-laden hand? Guess it’s a good thing you don’t have a removal spell for this Obzedat, then. Oh, what’s that? You do actually have the removal spell? I guess I just have to come at you from a different angle. Let me try the restoration angle. Let’s try this Restoration Angel.

“You go to 10, I go to 17? End Step, blink out Obzedat.”

In round nine of the tournament, Obzedat put on a display. I’m not talking about a piece of frayed cardboard at a science fair with some hypothesis and conclusions haphazardly taped on. I’m not talking about a few pieces of fruit laid out on a plate in front of a small shop in an abandoned strip mall.

I mean he put on a real display. I’m talking about a large billboard in the middle of the busiest part of town, with huge neon lights, fireworks and a giant laser shooting off into the distance. Obzedat was seen and heard.

He had the flu, it was Game 5 of the NBA Finals and yet he still put up 36 points to lead his team to victory. It was that kind of a game for the Spirit Advisor.

It’s the Junk Reanimator mirror match. My opponent and I are both stuck on six mana. We both obviously have Angel of Serenity in our hand. He’s spending his turns casting Thragtusk or Unburial Rites on Thragtusk… every single turn. I’m casting a few myself, but more importantly I have this lone Obzedat just coming in and out of play each turn. A few points of life here, a little bit of drainage there.

I look at my top card in anticipation… it’s an Avacyn’s Pilgrim. Next turn. Next turn I can cast this Angel of Serenity. He looks at his top card. Woodland Cemetery. This turn. This turn he can cast that Angel of Serenity and get rid of my Arbor Elf and my Avacyn’s Pilgrim, leaving me two short of my own Angel.

I draw a land. Obzedat comes back. You take two. I gain two. One short of Angel of Serenity.

He draws an Acidic Slime. Blow up my land? Two short.

I draw a land. One short. You take two. I gain two.

It takes a while, but I finally hit land number seven and not a moment too soon. Angel of Serenity clears some beasts out and puts my Thragtusk underneath it. Stabilized. I can’t get rid of his Angel with my Angel because of the Sever the Bloodline he has looming in the graveyard. What I can do is clog the board and push for an endgame where Obzedat wins.

I come up with a plan.

You take two, I gain two.

The game drags on. We battle over cards here and there. I win some minor battles. He wins some. The war rages on. Meanwhile, Obzedat is content to do his thing: a small swing of life each turn. Attacking into a board of Tusks isn’t really his jam.

“I’m at 37, you’re at 12?”

“I’m at 39, you’re at 10?”

I finally set up the coup de grace. An Angel of Serenity I’ve been sandbagging for about seven turns comes down and clears out his flying blockers. A freshly drawn Gavony Township lets Lingering Souls and Restoration Angel crash in for the final points of damage.

45-minute game one.

I checked the scorepad. My opponent had nine Thragtusks come into play. Obzedat triggered twenty times. That’s 40 life gained and 40 drained. That’s sixteen spears. He also hit once for another five. He almost forgot what it feels like to deal combat damage. Eighteen spears. All in a lifetime’s work for the G of C.

“I once saw the Obzedat moved to action. Since that day, I’ve been thankful that they’re mainly lazy, and dead.”

—Aurelia, to Gideon Jura

I turned to CVM and said: “I couldn’t tell. Is Obzedat good?”

I went on to punt and lose game two in less than five minutes, causing the match to end a draw.

I can’t tell, is punting good?

7-2-1. 31st place.

I’ve never been happier to get 31st place in my life.

I now have two byes in Somerset for the Invitational. Got there.

8:30 PM. Dinner.

10:00 PM. Hotel.

12:00 AM. Sleep.

10:00 AM. Tournament.

Lately, I’ve taken to brewing in Legacy. I just want to play cool new decks each time I step into the arena. Legacy is an open format and there is a lot of room for exploration.

Not this time. I wasn’t driving twelve hours straight from work on Friday to play in an event then drive twelve hours straight back to work on Monday in order to put my hopes and dreams on some untested deck. I was going to just play something tried and true. I was going to play something I knew was good.

5-3-1. 68th. I guess I should have played something wild and untested.

I went back to playing Liliana because the format has shifted such that a lot of people are playing Geist of Saint Traft right now. I wanted an answer to Geist that wasn’t just hoping to draw my own Geists. With an extra removal spell in Dismember and more Snapcaster Mages than the average player, I felt confident that I could set up board states where I killed everything else and then Liliana was able to pick off Geist of Saint Traft afterward.

I played Hymn to Tourach because the card is f*cking awesome.

CVM played the same list and finished in ninth place at 7-1-1, missing out on Top 8 by virtue of tiebreakers. It seemed like he was a lock for Top 8, but I guess it’s a lesson that there is no such thing as being a lock. His 62% breakers dropped under 60% and another player’s jumped up about 3% to pass him.

The difference in our tournament was twofold. For one, CVM was playing very well. When I was watching his games he was making a lot of very strong plays and was winning as a result.

I’m not sure if any of my lines of play could really be classified as “strong.” I certainly took some middling lines, though. I made some really middling lines of play and I felt good about it.

Secondly, he didn’t get paired against Storm. I was a bit less fortunate in that regard.

My first two losses, knocking me out of Top 8 contention, were both to Storm. As much as I hate to admit it, that matchup is poor. Even in post-board games, with Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, Force of Will, and Meddling Mage, the matchup still wasn’t that great. Past in Flames is a hell of a card.

My first Storm opponent started to combo me out. Around a storm count of eight, he messed up. He cast Past in Flames using a red and three black mana, leaving himself with just three blue mana left in his mana pool. He couldn’t flashback any of his rituals and after flashing back some Ponders and Preordains, he simply had to pass the turn to me.

I untapped, cast a Brainstorm that drew nothing of relevance and passed back, planning on putting in Batterskull off my Stoneforge Mystic.

He untapped and killed me. You’re probably not doing something right when your opponent screws up their combo, going Hellbent with Lion’s Eye Diamond in the process, then builds back up and still just annihilates you the following turn anyway.

It wasn’t even close.

In game two, I cast a Hymn to Tourach turn two on the play and died the following turn.


They decided to go for the maximum dagger approach and announce CVM at ninth place before they announced the eighth-place player. As soon as we heard the bad news, we just decided to leave the tournament immediately and begin the trek home.

8:30 PM. Depart.

Massachusetts. Connecticut. New York. New Jersey. Pennsylvania. Maryland. Virginia.

I drive the first four hours then pass off to CVM. I am struggling to stay awake and I have to be at work in less than ten hours.

‘Fitfully’ would be a kind way of explaining how I slept in the passenger seat, as I cobbled together two t-shirts and a navy blue polo shirt into a makeshift blanket.

I wake up at 5:30 AM and drive the rest of the way.

7:30 AM. Arrive in Roanoke.

8:00 AM. Go to sleep.

10:00 AM. Work.

“Hey BBD, how was your weekend.”

I’m so tired I can barely think.

“It was alright.”


Was it worth it? Was leaving from work on Friday, driving 24 hours and playing Magic for 20+ hours then driving straight back to work on Monday worth the time, money, effort, and lack of sleep?

I spent hours staring at the road and trying to answer that question. What would compel me to drive that far with no rest? Was it worth it just to get that Top 32 finish? I expended all those resources simply to give myself a very small edge in a future tournament. I grinded a tournament just to make a future tournament grind slightly less grindy.

Was it worth it?

I was able to figure out the answer on that drive.

You see, there’s one key component I left out. There’s one last clue left unturned to solve this mystery.

I’ve been lying to you this entire time. I didn’t go to Worcester to lock up two byes for the Invitational. While true, that wasn’t my real motive for going.

That was my excuse. That’s what I told people so I sounded like a rational human being. The real reason I drove to Worcester is because I love playing Magic.

I just wanted to jam some games. I just wanted to cast Obzedat, Ghost Council. I just wanted to play Hymn to Tourach. I wanted to roll some dice and see what happens.

It was worth it. I cast Obzedat. I cast Hymn. I met a lot of awesome people and played some great games of Magic. My opponents were, for the most part, all very awesome people. I enjoyed myself a lot.

Now I am back home and I’ve slept off my exhaustion. I’m falling back in the pattern of work, gym, sleep, work. Everything is back to normal.

Until Friday, that is. Can’t just let Friday get off the hook that easy. Gotta get down on Friday.

Let me fire up the 1998 Honda Civic. It now has over 241,000 miles on it. Anyone wanna play some Magic?

Brian Braun-Duin

BBD on Magic Online

@BraunDuinIt on Twitter