The following is a brief tournament report of a Grand Prix Trial I attended on February, 12, 2005. It was a small gathering of approximately twenty-six players. Five rounds of play before the cut to top eight.
I like very large tournaments. I enjoy the din of several hundred players milling about bitching about mana screw or the price of hot dogs, and small tournaments don’t have the same feel. But it’s still a day playing cards, and that goes a long way in my book.
I had been looking forward to this tournament for a few weeks. The previous Grand Prix Trial had wrecked me. I hadn’t played well. Extended is my favorite format, so I get very down on myself if I play poorly. The expectations of my performance I hold for Extended far exceed what is reasonable, given my poor preparation habits.
Let me put this another way: I suck, but I’m not supposed to suck when I shuffle up Aluren.
Aluren – Pale Mage 2005
4 Hickory Woodlot
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Polluted Delta
3 City of Brass
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wall of Blossoms
3 Wirewood Savage
1 Auriok Champion
3 Cavern Harpy
1 Eternal Witness
2 Raven Familiar
1 Maggot Carrier
4 Living Wish
3 Cabal Therapy
1 Academy Rector
1 Cavern Harpy
1 Wirewood Savage
1 Auriok Champion
1 Maggot Carrier
1 Stern Proctor
1 Gilded Drake
1 Eternal Witness
1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
3 Pernicious Deed
As noted in my previous article, I run two Raven Familiars because that’s what I own. Aluren would rather have three. Also, I ran three Brainstorms in this tournament, and this was an oversight on my part. I tend to run four Wall of Blossoms and three Brainstorms for my first outing (sometimes the first two) of the season, and then switch those numbers. I had meant to switch for this tournament, but I had forgotten. This is because I am old, and old people are often forgetful creatures. Don’t laugh, kids, it will happen to you one day.
So, anyway…where was I?
Oh, tournament report.
Before the tournament began I spoke with a few folks I hadn’t seen since the last Grand Prix Trial (which had been for Boston, this one being for Seattle). Many of them had been running across state lines to play in the PTQs. I got caught up on what the metagame had looked like for a couple of tournaments. I scouted around a bit. It seemed like I might be the only person playing Aluren. Nothing too exciting, really. Just a bunch of Magic players waiting to start a tournament.
And then, we started.
Round One — U/G Madness
The U/G plan is to drop early beats and counter spells that could swing the game my way like Intuition and Aluren. My plan is to force counters out of his hand via Cabal Therapy. This isn’t the worst matchup in the world for me.
Our first game is a straightforward affair. He beats me down with Aquamoeba and Basking Rootwalla. He might even have resolved Arrogant Wurm near the end, but I get the counters out, put Aluren down, and block for a turn whilst I find my combo. Close game.
Our second game is not as good. My opponent makes a mistake by keeping a one-land hand, and that land is a Forest. He has the first-turn Basking Rootwalla, but his deck doesn’t give him another land until far too late. His hand would have been wonderful if he had ripped that second land on his first draw, but that’s too big a risk to take against Aluren.
If he had kept a single-Island hand, he would have been in much better shape. At least with an Island on the table I would have to play around Daze. That would be more in line with the U/G plan.
Well, it was his gamble to make.
Round Two — The Rock
The Rock plan calls for early disruption followed by painful, painful beatings starting around turn 4 or 5. The disruption gets worse after boarding. My plan is to minimize disruption damage through my own disruption, and by throwing back any hand that could be completely destroyed by a single Cabal Therapy. Double-Aluren or double-combo piece gets tossed back.
The Rock matchup is difficult to gauge for two reasons: First, there’s about ten million different ways to build The Rock. Second, the core of that deck is the quality of its pilot.
Extreme examples: Did I ever tell you about the time I won when my opponent decided it was time to cast Living Death while I had Aluren on the table and my combo pieces in the yard? Did I ever tell you about the time Sol Malka smashed me ten games in a row after winning our match?
I had bet money that Rock wouldn’t make much of a showing at this tournament. Consequently, I hadn’t put any graveyard recursion in my sideboard. I opted instead to run Meloku in the face of anyone resolving Cranial Extraction against me.
Our first game is pretty close, but he doesn’t see as much disruption as he’d like, and I win. The second game is a disaster for me. He gets down an early Pernicious Deed, then follows it with Cranial Extraction. Aluren is gone. I Wish for Meloku, but I can’t put him down until I answer Deed and I quickly run out of time.
Our third game is the memorable one for me. I miss with a Cabal Therapy, naming Cranial Extraction. The key cards in his hand are Naturalize, Treetop Village (his only land), and Vampiric Tutor. He has two lands in play, one of them a Swamp. I have two lands and a Bird in play. He Tutors at the end of the turn. He untaps. I wait for the announcement, but he lays down Treetop Village and passes the turn.
I had been expecting Duress or Cabal Therapy. When it did not come, I suspected (and later verified) that he had gone to get Cranial Extraction. My opponent had bet I could not win on my turn. He believed I would either miss my land drop, or that I still needed to set up. In my mind, he went off his plan.
In his place, I would have erred on the side of early disruption and tutored up something I intended to play that turn, something that could hurt. Not that there was a guarantee of a hit with Cabal Therapy or Duress, but if there was a hit, it would have most certainly set me back… But it was his gamble to make, I guess.
I untap, lay my land, tap my bird and float green, flashback the Therapy to get Naturalize out of his hand, play Aluren and win.
Round Three — Life
It is not easy for Life to pull off a win against Aluren. Life must disrupt almost constantly while beating down before Aluren can do its thing. For Aluren, the plan is simple: Go off.
In spite of not identifying what I’m playing until the third turn (I deliberately hold off playing Hickory Woodlot in the opening turns since I don’t have anything in hand that can take advantage of it), my opponent disrupts me more successfully than anyone else throughout the course of the day. He hits me with Duress to knock Aluren out my hand. I Wish for Academy Rector. He wishes for Meddling Mage, and drops him into play via Aether Vial (naming Academy Rector, of course). My only hope is to topdeck an Aluren, but nothing is coming. Meanwhile, he is beating me down with tiny clerics. Finally, he drops in his very own Academy Rector via Aether Vial, sacs it to get some life, and puts Unspeakable Symbol into play. He has four attackers, I have three blockers and very few life points.
So I’m in the hole against my bye matchup. How embarrassing.
The next two games play out as they should: Aluren over Life without much fanfare. (Although I did respond to Duress with Intuition for Aluren and then Brainstormed to hide it in the third game, thus setting up the win on my turn Â— which was kinda cool but not very interesting in the long run. Well, I also buried a Monk Realist on the stack with multiple Cavern Harpies to win, but that’s not that interesting, either.)
So after three rounds there are only three players with nine points. It suddenly occurs to me I can draw into the top eight.
Round Four — Pattern of Rebirth (ID)
My would-be opponent is playing Pattern. We draw. I wander about, coming over now and then to check in with the match at table two. The other nine-pointer is playing the Cephalid Brunch deck (Glavin’s deck from Grand Prix: Boston). I can’t say I’m too happy to see that. He is paired against Goblins. Things do not go well for him, and Goblins pulls out the win. After the match (and here’s the important thing), he is a little miffed. I hear him tell a friend he has no intention of drawing his next match and will play the part of dreamcrusher.
That’s just what I need. An angry Brunch player looking to take out his losses on his next opponent, quite possibly me.
Here’s the thing about Brunch, for those of you who might not know: Brunch is a hybrid of two combo decks that both happen to use En-Kor critters to fuel their engines. The first of those decks is Life, which is no big deal to me. The second deck is Cephalid Breakfast, which is essentially the latest sequel to Angry Hermit. Breakfast can dump its entire deck into the graveyard as early as turn 2, and then untap, Krosan Reclamation a Reanimate onto the top of its empty library, and then bring back a very large, very nasty Sutured Ghoul (with a Dragon Breath in tow). Aluren’s chances against that particular strategy are not good. The saving grace is that Brunch is a hybrid of the two, and so it won’t always be as quick as Breakfast.
Still, I’d rather wait to face it in the top eight.
Round Five — Goblins (ID)
The pairings go up, and I am pitted against Goblins. She is filling out the match slip as a draw before I make it to the table.
So the Brunch player takes revenge for his entire miserable life on my kindly fourth-round opponent. I think that sucks, but better him than me.
The match I end up watching the most is between my first-round U/G opponent and another Rock player. In fact, this Rock player happens to be the older brother to my second-round opponent. From what I can tell (and bear in mind I am very bad at math), the winner of this match will end up in the top eight. I am obviously hopeful that the U/G player will rise to the challenge and trash The Rock so that the top eight will be a little softer for me.
So in the first game the U/G player is at two life, but he controls the board with Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, Merfolk Looter, and Waterfront Bouncer. The Rock has Treetop Village and Withered Wretch and is sitting at twenty-one life. The Rock also has two Swamps (well, one may have been a Llanowar Wastes). Over the course of the next few turns, the U/G player makes excellent use of his Waterfront Bouncer and is able to send in time and again. The Rock is never able to push through the final two, and he never draws the last Black source he needs to play the Death Cloud that has been sitting in his hand since time began.
U/G takes the second game when The Rock inexplicably shuts down.
A little good fortune never hurt anyone… and by anyone, I mean me. And by “good fortune, ” I mean “one less Rock deck to deal with in the top eight.”
So the top eight ends up being U/G (my first round opponent), The Rock (my second-round opponent), Goblins, Mind’s Desire, Cephalid Brunch, Welder/Reanimator, something I completely missed, and me.
Quarterfinals — U/G Madness
Once again, I find myself pitted against U/G. He and I are old chums by now, and I believe I have learned his habits more than he has learned mine. I feel he counters too many spells he should let resolve, and it costs him the match.
For example: I cast Raven Familiar (the hard way), and he counters. I cast Eternal Witness on the following turn (again, the hard way), and he counters that as well. Great; now I’m all set to resolve the Intuition I’ve been waiting to put on the stack for two turns.
In any event, he’s a cheerful opponent, and he will very soon be better at Magic than I am (of course, that’s not saying much).
My opponent from the fifth round has bested Mind’s Desire. Evidently, she keeps quite a nasty disruption package in her sideboard. She’s a practical girl.
The Brunch vengeance artist has won his match as well. Either he or the Welder/Reanimator faced The Rock, but I cannot recollect for certain. Between the three others remaining, I’d pick Goblins to face if I had my druthers.
Semifinals — Goblins
A little good fortune never hurt anyone.
The Goblins plan in this case is going to be disruption and constant beatdown. Once the first game has passed, I know her disruption capabilities go up tremendously, so winning the first one is crucial if I am to expect to advance. My plan is simply to go off as quickly as possible.
The one thing that I have to be cautious of is her Goblins that are capable of stopping my combo. Goblin Sharpshooter, Sparksmith, and Mogg Fanatic are all evil, evil little creatures that can kill a critical piece if I am outstacked.
Our first game is progressing as one might expect over the first few turns when I am suddenly presented with a decision: She has a few gobbos down and has been taking chunks out of my life total, but nothing terribly nasty (A couple of Mogg Sentries and something else). So she’s holding stuff. It’s my turn, and I have Aluren, the means to cast it, but I only have a Wirewood Savage in hand. In other words, I can’t even begin to go off. If I play the Aluren, I am handing free mana to my opponent since most of her critters can be put into play for free, including Goblin Warchief (more free mana). It is possible that she could dump enough out of her hand end of turn to kill me dead.
On the other hand, she might be holding some kind of disruption (or could draw into it). It seems unlikely that she would have zero discard spells maindecked in this environment. If she comes after the Aluren in my hand, I’m probably going to be set too far back to win this game. No guarantee either way.
Well, it’s my gamble to make. I elect to pass the turn.
She drops a Swamp and knocks Aluren out of my hand. I don’t recover.
We sideboard, and she lets slip she’s bringing in Cranial Extraction, presumably to make me nervous. I blew the first game, but all I can do is the play the game that’s in front of me, so here we go. Bring on the nasty!
Game two is of little interest. She gets no early disruption. I win quickly, and I even have the resources to flashback Cabal Therapy to knock out any Mogg Fanatics and check for other problems before I announce Aluren.
Game three, I am again fortunate that she doesn’t come after my hand in the first couple of turns. This allows me to get Aluren into play the turn before she wants to cast Cranial Extraction. I drop Raven Familiar, but no Cavern Harpy awaits me. I am forced to the pass the turn, but I am holding Intuition and Wirewood Savage, so I feel good about my chances. On her turn, she removes all of my Cavern Harpies from the game, and she kills the Raven with Sparksmith. I get Living Wish and fetch a Harpy, and it’s over.
This is the second time in this tournament an opponent has chosen to rely on Cranial Extraction without early disruption support. It is not a path to victory.
My opponent and I exchange pleasantries. I feel lucky to have beaten her. I can say with confidence she’s a better player than I am, and I did not do myself any favors by losing that first game. Meanwhile, the Welder/Reanimator has come out on top against the Cephalid Brunch. Once again I’ve managed to dodge that bullet.
Finals — Welder/Reanimator
His game plan is pretty simple: Beat the crap out of me with something so large it should be illegal. Get it into play as early as turn 2. Oh, and play Duress/Cabal Therapy early for good measure.
My game plan is simplified, since I can drop Aluren as soon as possible regardless of whether I can win right away or not. He can’t take much advantage of Aluren’s effect, and I don’t believe he has enchantment removal.
Before we begin, we agree on a prize split. Neither of us is going to make it out to Seattle, it seems, so the byes are essentially bragging rights. It’s important to me to play it out, though. I haven’t tested this matchup much, and I’d like to see how I fare. The product is split down the middle, but we agree my opponent should get the couple of tournament packs since he is practicing Team Sealed. Thus, I get more boosters.
Tension is high at the start of the first game. I won the die roll, and I open with Cabal Therapy, naming Goblin Welder. I miss, but I see he has Careful Study, two Intuitions, and Sundering Titan. He lays down Seat of the Synod and plays Careful Study on his turn, discarding Titan and Platinum Angel. I drop a land on turn 2, and my opponent says “C’mon, no Wall of Blossoms.” Alas, he gets his wish, and I am forced to pass the turn without being able to flashback my Therapy. This sucks, because his second turn is land, Goblin Welder.
My third turn is taken up by Living Wish for Maggot Carrier, cast Maggot Carrier, flashback Cabal Therapy to knock the Intuitions out of his hand. No sense in letting him get anything more ridiculous into his yard before the Welder goes active. His turn he Exhumes, and he reminds me that I get a critter back as well if I’d like. So, we now have a 7/10 staring down a 1/1 (and I lose two lands). I may be a little outgunned. And I’m already at fifteen life from painlands and Maggot Carrier losses. The next few turns involve a lot of blockers. However, I am able to stave off death, and I get enough mana back to resolve Aluren and go nuts with the combo. Of course, he gets his Angel into play while Maggot Carrier is on the stack before he hits zero, so I pass the turn. He takes his turn, and on my next turn I Living Wish for Stern Proctor.
Game two is just ridiculous. He knocks Aluren out my hand with Duress and I am very quickly staring down Bosh, Iron Golem and Sundering Titan. However, I get lucky and topdeck another Aluren. This gives me another turn of blocking and hope (go, Wall of Blossoms!). On my next turn (which would be my last) I draw and cast Brainstorm and end up with exactly what I need to win (and I needed two cards).
The key to winning against Welder/Reanimator is to be the luckiest sack ever.
So I won. Unfortunately, I lack the necessary resources to haul my scrawny butt out to Seattle to use my byes. Still, it’s better to have byes and not use them then to need byes and not have them. That’s what I’m going to be telling myself for a while, anyway. However, my victory unsettles me to a degree. After all, I’m supposed to suck at this game. Do I suck less now? Have I lost my shtick?
Of course, even as I type the words my mind drifts back to that first game in the finals. If you will recall, I had Wished a Maggot Carrier out of my sideboard early in the game. It perished for the cause twice. Later, as I was going off my opponent had put Platinum Angel into play via Goblin Welder in response to Maggot Carrier. Thing is, I should have responded with Eternal Witness and fetched the Maggot Carrier out of my graveyard and killed him with it. Instead, I let him untap.
So, yeah… I still suck at this game. My shtick is safe. At least, it’s safe until I win a PTQ.
All details presented above are to the best of my memory. But I am old.