What Paul Does Do

He puts the lotion in the basket… Wait, that’s not Paul. Paul comes in third at Grand Prix: New Jersey, that’s what he does, and he’ll tell you how he did it in this tourney report.

My last article for StarCity, entitled "What Would Kai Do?", was a strategy article that garnered a lot of good response and feedback from many different people. With that in mind, I’ll be writing more advanced strategy articles in the future… But this one will be more of a mixture of tournament report and random musings, as I’ve been doing a lot of playing and traveling recently.

Grand Prix New Jersey Day 1

It’s hard to know where to start, but coming in 3rd at a Grand Prix is as good a place as any. After an aborted attempt to make a PTQ in LA, this would turn out to be Team Cardshark’s (Adam Fischer, Jason Huang, Paul Sottosanti) first team event together and our best chance to qualify for the team Pro Tour in Boston.

Our first card pool was maybe a little above average, but certainly not stellar, as I ended up with a B/R deck that looked good on paper but ended up having a lot of trouble winning. Jason had a strong R/W deck and Adam had a U/G threshold deck that splashed White for Mystic Enforcer. Although my deck turned out to be only okay, I still think that this build made the best use of our card pool and created the three most synergistic decks.

I’m not going to do a round-by-round but I will highlight some of the more interesting events that I remember.

In round two, I get the worst series of hands that I have ever drawn off the top of a Magic deck. I believe there was one with one land, one with all lands, and one with no lands. My opponent had a weird shuffle with multiple cuts – but try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how he could be cheating with it.

Once our first game gets underway, my opponent plays a Mortivore with swamp backup, which is pretty much game in the B/R mirror. Frustrated, I look to the left and see Jason facing down double-Mongrel with his R/W deck on turn 4 or 5, then look to the right and see Adam facing down Commander Eesha with his G/U deck on turn 5 also.

Talk about bad times for our decks.

I am seriously beginning to consider calling a judge if our opponents’ decks get any more ridiculous, but they start to play out some relatively normal cards and we at least have a chance. Unfortunately, we only manage to pull out a draw after I lose my match due to my opponent topdecking Stitch Together after I had gotten rid of his Mortivore with an early game Last Rites.

The next two rounds were uneventful except for my teammates smashing face, which allowed us to go 3-0-1 despite my 1-3 record (Jason went 4-0 and Adam went 3-0-1… Thank God for strong teammates). Our second card pool still wasn’t broken but was definitely stronger, so this time I ended up with a tight U/B deck as most of the teams seemed to be putting W/U into seat B. Adam took W/U to combat the aggressive decks in seat C and Jason had G/R in seat A to attack the midrange decks. Unfortunately, most of the other top teams thought this way also, so we ended up playing a lot of mirror matches in the second set of rounds.

Here’s the deck I ended up with:

Mesmeric Fiend

Thought Eater

Crypt Creeper

Hydromorph Guardian

Dusk Imp x2

Skywing Aven

Cabal Torturer


Treetop Sentinel

Dirty Wererat


Cephalid Aristocrat

Aven Windreader

Sutured Ghoul

Innocent Blood

Morgue Theft

Chainer’s Edict

Crippling Fatigue

Shade’s Form

Morbid Hunger

Caustic Tar

7 Island

10 Swamp

Seafloor Debris

Actually, the Innocent Blood was in the sideboard, but I can’t remember what it was supposed to be. Churning Eddy, maybe? Anyway, this deck was lots of fun to play, with a good curve and lots of fliers as well as some ground blockers like the Dreamwinder, the Wererat, and the Aristocrat so that it has a chance against G/R.

In round 5, I defeat Jeff Fung who seemed to have a pretty good deck but had problems with mana screw. This led to some amusing conversations between him and Antonino de Rosa that went something like:

JF: I think I’m going to vomit. I hate Magic.

AR: Me too, let’s quit.

JF (turning to me): Are you guys staying at the hotel?

PS: Yeah.

JF: What floor?

PS: The 7th.

JF (turning to AR): Think that would kill us?

AR: Dunno.

JF: I might only break my leg.

In Round 6 we play against JoseMagic.com. Jason and I win our matches and Adam gets utterly destroyed in a U/W mirror match that features Broker, Nomad Decoy, Master Apothecary, Glory, and Llawan all coming out to play on his opponent’s side of the table. This actually comes back to help us in the very next round when we get paired against that unknown team, Illuminati.

At the start of the match, Zvi turns to Alex and proceeds to list off every bomb that was in Adam’s opponent’s deck from last round… Except that he’s telling Alex that they are in Adam’s deck. None of us speak up, but I’m inwardly rejoicing because I know that Alex is going to be worrying about these cards throughout the match. It starts when Alex tells his teammates that they had better win as he is almost certainly going to lose.

In game 1, against Zvi I Fiend him early and see Swelter and Shower of Coals. Predictably, most of my creatures are in the graveyard by turn 8 or so, which makes my next play of Sutured Ghoul that much better. With a 12/12 black trampler on the board, Zvi at eight, and only three toughness of creatures on his side of the board, Zvi decides the optimal play is to scoop.

In game 2, he has mana problems and I pretty much roll him over even though my draw was very slow. He tries to convince me to leave him alive for a few turns, as his position is so bad that there is nothing he can do – but I’m not one to take chances when Day 2 is so close and so I finish him off.

Jason falls to Justin Gary, but Adam wins a close one against Alex using some quick reckless U/W beatdown. Alex makes it clear after the match that he disagreed with Adam’s play in those games… But given that Adam’s deck turned out to be awful in the mirror, I think it was definitely right. Who can argue with the good old notch in the W column?

It is now nearly 2 a.m. and we are matched up against Team TOGIT (Patrick Sullivan, Craig Krempels, Adam Horvath), which is great because we both have insane records at this point but bad because these guys are friends of mine. Actually, I had teamed with Patrick and Craig at Nationals and we made Top 4 of a two-slot PTQ, narrowly losing in a ridiculous tiebreaker after the single elimination match score ended 1-1-1.

Now, since Osyp is out of the GP due to Eugene having to leave, he decides to add some extra stakes to the match between Craig and me by writing "The love of Jill C." on a piece of paper, and it’s decided that the winner of the first game will take it. This goes back a long way to Osyp’s Nationals Report where there was supposedly a bit of a competition – although I claim innocence. After some friendly banter over the stakes, we are underway.

Well, almost.

There’s a judge hanging around the outskirts of the match, who is obviously there to deck check somebody… At least, this is obvious to anyone who isn’t as exhausted and exhilarated as I am. Regardless, I look over my deck before shuffling up and say out loud "Let me make sure I de-sideboarded." It looks good and I present, at which point the judge swoops in and takes the decks. At first this seems fine, but then an inkling of bad times ahead starts to creep into my brain as I remember seeing Innocent Blood in the deck. I had sided it in so much that it seemed like it belonged, but that wasn’t how the judges were going to see it. Over the next two minutes my confidence in getting a game loss grows from about 10% to about 99% and sure enough, I get handed one when the judge gets back. Even worse, I have to start game 2 de-sideboarded against Craig’s R/G deck.

This also means that the piece of paper now goes to Craig without a fight and the spectators start giving me crap, so to recover my pride I pull the Grizzly Fate out of my backpack that I luckily had Jill sign while at Nationals. The "heart, Jill Costigan" trumps the silly piece of paper and I head into game 2 with the momentum on my side again.

But it doesn’t matter, as he rolls over me in short order. To prove to myself that it was just a bad matchup, we play a couple more games and I believe he wins the next one or two as well, but finally my deck starts coming together and I win two after that. Thankfully, Jason wins our favorable G/R on U/B matchup on the right and it again comes down to Adam and the U/W mirror. I didn’t see too much of the match, but I know that a Wayward Angel with Unquestioned Authority delivered the beats in at least one game and soon we had finished the day at 7-0-1.

How lucky!

I’m incredibly excited to be leading the standings after Day 1 without any byes to our name and there’s no way I’m getting to sleep yet. Jason is exhausted so he and Adam head back to the room while I follow Mike Turian up to one of the TOGIT rooms and bug him for draft advice. Paul Jordan is also there and also in Day 2, but he barely seems awake at all. As for me, I’ve never directed a team draft before so I am understandably quite a bit nervous about the task ahead.

Grand Prix New Jersey Day 2

After finally falling asleep around 4 a.m., we awake at something like 7:30 and make our way to the site where most of the other teams are gathering. In round 9, we end up being paired against the eventual winners of the tournament – the Jokas. Kyle Rose is acting like he belongs, but the other two guys are acting clueless, asking the table judge how the draft works and which way the packs go, etc. At the time I suspected that it was an act to put us off our guard – but who knows? They certainly weren’t well-known, but on the other hand they proved that they knew how to play.

The draft went fairly well, I thought. On the left we had R/W facing U/B, which should be a good matchup for us. My deck was pretty much U/W Scaplelexis, although at the last minute I decided to run Krosan Verge, a Forest, and a Seton’s Desire as my deck was really lacking ways to win. Facing me was Kyle Rose with a schizophrenic W/R deck that wanted to be offensive but had Second Thoughts, Chastise, and Vengeful Dreams. I believe he also had Kirtar’s Wrath, but I had at least a couple counterspells for it and it never actually resolved.

Game 1 was rather awful in that I made an annoying mistake early due to getting distracted by the proceedings at Jason’s table. Jason had just cast Overrun, but his opponent Vivified a land and was going to be able to save himself. Instead, he double-blocked a creature he shouldn’t have, thus wasting a point of toughness. When Jason counted the damage and said, "take fourteen,” the guy tried to change his blocks and it took multiple judges to sort it all out. While I was stupidly paying too much attention to that situation, Kyle Thermal Blasted my freshly-cast Shieldmage Advocate and I let it die, ignoring the Prismatic Strands that I had Mental Noted into my graveyard earlier.

Bad Paul.

This made a fairly big difference in the rest of the match – but I was able to stabilize regardless, and eventually it degenerated into the stalemate that I had predicted, with Scaplelexis staying back due to Kyle’s Aven Flock. I had resolved so much card drawing that even though I had Scalped once or twice, I was still down three cards. At some point I had drawn Seton’s Desire, but I couldn’t use it because he never tapped below two white mana and I knew about the Vengeful Dreams, so I needed to draw into my Hydromorph Guardian as well. We played Draw-Go for about ten more turns and I knew Kyle thought he had the match in hand and I was just wasting time – but then he tapped some mana to play Shieldmage Advocate and it was the perfect time to go for it, as he didn’t have the mana to play both Dreams and Chastise.

With him having just four cards left in his library, I laid Forest, played Seton’s Desire on Aquamoeba, played Hydromorph Guardian, and served with Aquamoeba and Scaplelexis. The look on his face was priceless as a sure win turned into defeat and the first game was mine. He did have an Anger on the board, but thankfully he lacked a way to kill it (since that would activate his Shieldmage), although I think I still had a Strands in the graveyard to save it with anyway.

This match and the entire match eventually turned into a draw and we went into the next round hoping for a win against Team JBL, which…

(Pause for some nonexistent suspense.)

We got.

And I don’t remember much of it at all, but we were in the Top 4 and that’s what mattered. In the final round we intentionally drew with Lovespell, collected the draft sets, and headed off to get some food and talk strategy.

Grand Prix New Jersey Top 4

So our opponents would be Illuminati, a team that was looking for some revenge. The Top 4 Draft is covered quite well, except for a couple mistakes that aren’t that important. Basically, Jason’s matchup was even better than we thought, mine was a little worse, and Adam’s was definitely the toughest. Justin’s deck had a lot of Punisher cards and was certainly the quicker of the two, but the B/R mirror is often about attrition and fat creatures and we definitely had the edge there. This is also the reason we let the Arcane Teachings go to Justin, as I don’t think it’s that amazing in the matchup. But speaking of the fourth Judgment pack, if there’s one thing that I’ve thought about this weekend more than any other, it’s:

Stupid Swarmsnapper.

Me taking the Vigilant Sentry from that pack was debatable, as I didn’t have a whole lot of ways to gain threshold – but if I can, it is a very broken card in my matchup. However, I got distracted by thinking about countering the Teachings and forgot all about the little Anurid Swarmsnapper, the presence of which in Zvi’s deck probably swung the matchup an extra 10% in his favor (although I still think it favored my deck overall). If Adam had taken the Swarmsnapper (and it was fine in his matchup against Alex’s Soul Scourge) and passed the Tiger, then Zvi would have only had Krosan Archer, Scaplelexis, and maybe Skywing Aven available to block my flying horde.

But he had Swarmsnapper.

So in Game 1 (coverage is here), down comes the Swarmsnapper and the Scaplelexis and my curve of fliers is stopped cold. Zvi is maindecking two Flashes of Defiance and a Turbulent Dreams and it doesn’t take him long to pitch his hand, bounce all my guys and attack for the win. Zvi made no secret of the fact that he thought the matchup was heavily in his favor, but I still disagree. My flier curve is difficult for him to beat without drawing at least two of his air blockers… But unfortunately, that’s what happened in this game. I also drew Auramancer at least four times during the match, but never a Ghostly Wings. Windreader with Skywing Aven ability is broken, but Gray Ogre is not.

Stupid Swarmsnapper. I hate you.

In game 2, Zvi had mana problems and I won fairly easily, although most of his flier defense was in green and it was islands that he didn’t draw, leading to me believe that I probably still could have won rather easily even had he drawn the right mana. Him maindecking three late-game cards means that I can pretty easily run him over if he draws two of them in the early going.

And in game 3, I didn’t draw an island until something ridiculous like turn 10, leaving much of my team stranded in hand. Flash of Defiance soon sealed the deal and it was all on Adam, which wasn’t good in the least. About an hour later Adam went down to Alex’s strong deck and that was the end of it, but no one on Team Cardshark was complaining.

Which reminds me that I should thank www.cardshark.com for the sponsorship deal. I was a little hesitant about selling my soul (and the right to wear a shirt of my choosing), but they more than made it worth my while… Although the white shirts with the blue trim really need to go. I’ve seen the new ones and they’re much better, so be on the lookout for the new Cardshark t-shirt in Boston, and you’ll probably find me.

Paul Sottosanti

Team CMU