Despite having written articles habitually for quite a while now and traveling to tournaments almost as frequently, I've never written a full-fledged tournament report. I've had plenty of events where I did well or had a good time, but the specifics of the events are almost never that interesting, especially to the extent where I feel compelled to share them. The tournament report era heyday was well before my time, but I've read a few from players like Mark Herberholz and Gadiel Szleifer, and even the most ridiculous things that have happened to me while travelling are far less interesting than what seemed like an average event for them. But the series of oddities that took place during my venture up north this past weekend has inspired me to channel my inner storyteller, and write my first tournament report style article.
As of a month ago, I had no intention of attending GP Toronto. I normally won't go very far out of my way in order to attend a Grand Prix. I don't consider myself an SCG grinder or a Modo grinder like many would label me; I just simply play in the events I want to play in, and those events are rarely Grand Prix. But as of late, Grand Prix are certainly more appealing to me than they used to be. The allure of using the event as a stepping stone to test myself against the best has started to cloud my better judgment, and it's likely going to result in me making some horrible decisions from a value perspective. And the first decision of this kind was to attend Grand Prix Toronto. I started looking into flights and asking if anyone around me was going, and I was then offered a spot in a car with Gerard Fabiano and Peter Ingram. The drive from Long Island to Toronto is a bit longer than I'd like, but if Gerard was willing to drive I was content tagging along.
After the Pro Tour, I started preparing for the event. I determined early on that Death's Shadow was still fine, and likely what I should play. The only question that remained was which version I should play. The three lists that intrigued me most were Immanuel Gerschenson's Traverse list with Blue, Team CFB's Traverse version with White, and the Grixis list I worked on with Ben. While Grixis has been my version of preference for the last few months, I really liked the idea of just going back to Traverse and having a more consistent gameplan. You sacrifice some equity against the more unfair decks, but you'll have a significantly lower number of non-games. But I still had a lot of respect for the unfair decks, which is why I settled on Gerschenson's list. Also, Delay is nice. After some testing with the deck, I was starting to panic. I went either 2-3 or 3-2 in eight straight leagues, and the deck had a few noticeable problems. The mana base was rougher than I would've liked, counterspells play very poorly in your Liliana of the Veil deck, and the deck had way too much air in the late game between all of the discard spells and counters. On the Thursday night before the Grand Prix, I was wondering if bailing was still an option. Driving to Toronto to make what I was expecting to be an early exit from the tournament sounded like a nightmare. I decided that I would feel bad about upping the cost of the trip for Pete and Gerard at the last moment, and that I wasn't dead money in the tournament. With a few hours left, I started messing around with the CFB list from the PT. I started crushing everything. I was 13-2 after playing against a wide variety of decks, and everything about the deck felt great. For the first time in the week, I was feeling optimistic about my chances. About five minutes after I called it quits for the night, I got a message that Gerard was considering skipping the event. A storm was coming in up north and it was worse than originally anticipated. So by the time I actually wanted to go, we no longer were. In the morning, Gerard confirmed he didn't feel comfortable driving up in the weather. This was probably the best decision anyone has ever made, and Gerard is smart. The next decision I made was probably the worst decision anyone has ever made, and I am dumb. Almost immediately after Gerard decided not to go, my friend, Hunter Cochran, said he was considering a last minute trip to the GP. He had just gotten back from the PT in Spain, so he didn't plan on going originally, but was afraid he would regret skipping it. So Pete, Hunter, and I, decided we would make the drive together. I'm sure recency bias is a thing, but I'm not sure I've ever regretted a choice more in my life.
Around an hour into the trip, I make a joke about not having my passport which prompts Pete to realize he had actually forgotten his passport. We consider just heading back and calling it quits, but Pete convinces his brother to meet us halfway. So all things considered, it could've ended up a lot worse. We get back on track, and everything is going smoothly. At some point during the trip, our friend, Terrence Campo, asks if we can swing by and pick him up. We look into it, and his upstate New York residence is basically on the way, so we comply. While on the way to Terrence, I decide to book our hotel room. Hunter, who had asked me to book a room earlier, was now out cold in the back while Pete was behind the wheel. As we get close to Terrence, Hunter wakes up, checks his phone, and hastily asks me if I had booked a room yet. When I tell him that I have, he informs us that we might have a problem. Before he fell asleep, he messaged Terrence to book a room for us. So when we finally pick up Terrence, we get back on the road and start trying to resolve the room situation to no avail. Both hotels won't refund us for the first night, so we decide to just eat the fee on one and keep the other. At this point the weather is starting to become problematic, and we're still several hours out of Toronto. The storm continues to pick up over the next several hours and nearly halts any forward progress at points. At 5am on Saturday, after about fifteen hours into what was supposed be an eight hour drive, we finally arrive at one of our hotels. When I go to check in, the hotel informs me that they weren't able to reserve our room because we arrived so late, and they no longer had any rooms with two beds. They can only offer us a room with a king bed and a cott. I would normally attempt do my best Jim Davis impression, and complain until I was given some sort of coupon that had no real value but could be used as evidence of my moral victory. I protest a bit, but I honestly just didn't care at this point. Fortunately, I won the cott lottery and the other three snuggled up together in the bed.
I wake up feeling surprisingly fine for only getting three hours of sleep. We get to the site with plenty of time to spare, I acquire all of the cards I need, and I'm genuinely feeling good about the tournament.
Round 3 -- Robert Leitner -- Mono-Blue Tron
I was pretty worried about my Tron matchup heading into the GP. The choice to omit counterspells entirely was costly in the matchup, but it was a calculated decision to give me a bigger edge against the field. So when my opponent led on a Tron land, I was concerned. Fortunately he was on Mono-Blue Tron, a deck that sacrifices raw power for consistency and the demand for interaction on my side isn't as steep. Discard spells into threats were enough to get there in both games.
Round 4 -- Derek Pite -- Grixis Death's Shadow
I've played against Derek a bunch of times online, but this was our first meeting in paper. Our games online have always been close, and I have a lot of respect for him as a player. It was a bit unfortunate that our games came down to some slip-ups on his side rather than conscious decisions.
Round 5 -- Garret DeBruin -- Burn
We both had great hands for the matchup in the first game. I had an Inquistion into, a Push, into a Goyf, and he had a Guide into an Eidolon, into some Burn. It came down to him needing to brick for a turn before I could Battle Rage for lethal with Tarmogoyf on the following turn. And for the first time ever, my Burn opponent actually did brick. I mulled to five in the second game, but I couldn't have picked a better five. By turn three, I had played an Inquisition and two copies of Collective Brutality. By the time my opponent was out of resources, I was at 15 life.
Round 6 -- Travis Benedict -- Affinity
Our first game was really close. I picked apart his hand, but a top decked Cranial Plating combined with an Inkmoth Nexus in play had me a on short clock. The first Nexus put me on five poison. I was still two turns away from being able to deal lethal with my Death's Shadow, so I needed to find a removal spell for the Inkmoth. I picked up a Dismember during my draw step, and put my opponent on a one turn clock after jamming with my Shadow. My opponent actually neglected to go for the win on his turn, instead choosing to play two Arcbound Ravagers. My next draw was a second removal spell though, which let me take out both Ravagers and get in with my Death's Shadow. The second game wasn't nearly as I close. I was very lucky, and I drew pretty much every card from my sideboard including multiple copies of Ancient Grudge and Grim Lavamancer.
Round 7 -- Terrence Campo -- Dredge
This is the guy from the Story! I was paired against one of the guys I drove up with, which while unfortunate did give me the slight advantage of knowing what deck he was on. I mulliganned aggressively in Game 1, looking for a hand with a Death's Shadow and a Temur Battle Rage. Despite having no lands, my five card hand on the draw contained a Death's Shadow, a Battle Rage, and a Street Wraith, so it was a pretty easy keep. I was able to find some lands quickly, and we jockeyed back and forth on damage a bit, both knowing the only way I could win was with a Battle Rage. A Thoughtseize into a fetch was able to put me low enough to Battle Rage for lethal on the last turn before he could untap and kill me. While I had a few more relevant cards after boarding, my plan was still to mulligan aggressively. This time going down to four cards before finding anything acceptable. Terrence had a great start, though, and handed me my first game loss of the tournament. In the final game, I continued my streak of drawing all my sideboard cards in games, and I won an uneventful game.
Round 8 -- Justin Murphy -- B/R Hollow One
I hadn't played this matchup much, but it seems a bit unfavorable in my small sample size. So that, combined with the fact that you can just get rolled some amount of the time, didn't have me excited to be facing off against it for the 8-0. I got to play my first land without any 4/4s in play, so that was step one. The game was actually really interactive and we traded back and forth a lot. I was pretty sure I was going to come out ahead out one point, but two consecutive Street Wraiths off the top that I couldn't afford to cycle left me in a position where I had to fade a burn spell for a turn, and I didn't. While I again avoided a nut draw in Game 2, the game wasn't nearly as exciting. My five card hand was bad, and my opponent's seven card hand was good.
I'm a bit disappointed to not be 8-0 at this point, but I ran well most of the day, so I have nothing to complain about. We go out to this great all you can eat Sushi place. Having a normal night after a normal day is a relief after everything we dealt with the day before. I get to bed at a more than reasonable time, looking forward to having another solid day on Sunday.
We all get up and start to get ready like normal. We're running a bit behind schedule, but it's nothing to be too concerned about. As I head the out the door in the morning Terrence follows me. There's a young guy, probably early 20s, in pajama pants standing outside our door with a blank stare on his face. He asks me "what's up" in an exhausted tone, and I ask him "how's it going" and what is he waiting for. He then just walks past me into our room where Pete and Hunter still are, and he shuts the door behind him. We were checking out, so I don't have a key on me at this point, and I start banging on our door. Pete opens up the door and we politely (we are in Canada after all) inform him that he needs to get out of our room. We don't really have time to figure out or process what had just happened, and we start heading to the car. While exiting the parking garage, we run into an obstacle. There's a car parked in the path of the only exit. We begin circling the levels of the Garage, before we find our way out by going in the wrong direction on multiple ramps. We're actually cutting time really close at this point, but we should just make it. Hunter has plenty of time until his PTQ, so he can drop the three of us off at the entrance before parking. When we finally reach the exit, Hunter makes a quick turn around the wall of the parking garage, likely in an attempt to get us to the event as fast as possible. When he's wrapping around the bend of the wall, he catches a curb that couldn't be seen from the car. We get out to inspect the damage and quickly realize his tires have pretty much exploded. In a panic we call an Uber, and leave Hunter to fix his car. In hindsight, leaving our friend, who didn't have cell service, to fix his car in a foreign country while we go play in a card game tournament, may not have been the most reasonable thing to do.
Round 9 -- Mariano Mercado -- Grixis Death's Shadow
I received a game loss for being late to my match, and I only narrowly avoided receiving a match loss. It was a rough matchup to receive a game loss in because I'm a slight dog in Game 1, but a favorite after boarding. Some timely topdecked Snapcasters for my opponent left me with my second match loss.
Round 10 -- Josh Herron -- B/W Smallpox
I somehow managed to steal Game 1 in what has to be my worst possible matchup. So getting two games with my White sideboard cards had me rather optimistic. My optimism quickly faded as I was absolutely annihilated in the next two games.
Round 11 -- James Solar -- Mardu Pyromancer
In Game 1, I mulled to five and the only land I played was a Godless Shrine. Game 2 was a bit better for me. My opponent had a Leyline and a fast Blood Moon in the third game, but neither did too much to slow me down and the lack of action on their end was noticeable. Game 3 was really back and forth, and I was pretty confident in my position at one point, but a Liliana off the top put the brakes on my pressure. After exchanging resources for several more turns, another one of my games came down to fading a burn spell on the last turn.
Round 12 -- Christopher Anderson -- Traverse Shadow
I was feeling dejected at this point, and just wanted to get through the day and make sure I we could even get home. I throw the first game pretty hard, but battle back in the next two to snap the losing streak.
Round 13 -- Gagnon Jean-Philippe -- Amulet Titan
I actually played this matchup against Daryl Ayers multiple times in the week leading up to the GP. I won every time, but it seemed like Daryl was just drawing poorly and the matchup might not be very good for me. When I played against Gagnon, it seemed like he just drew really poorly and the matchup might not be that good for me. So either all of my Amulet opponents are very unlucky, or the deck is horrendous.
Round 14 -- Alexander Hayne -- Traverse Shadow
As one would probably expect, the match was really close, but he played better than I did and won because of it.
Round 15 -- Alex Watt
Opponent: Do you care about the pro point?
Me: Sort of.
Opponent: Okay, I'll concede.
Gerard Fabiano -- For being responsible and not attempting to drive to Canada in a snowstorm. I should've listened.
Jon Stern -- I don't know him well, but every interaction I've had with him has been pleasant. He seems like a great guy, and I was upset for him after he fell apart at the end of the last PT. Good to see him rebound with a solid finish
All you can eat
AT&T -- For turning my phone into an iPod Shuffle for the weekend.
Hotels.com -- Insane that you can't get a full refund within two hours of booking.
Wizards -- I was about half way done with my Traverse Shadow guide when they unbanned Jace and Bloodbraid Elf. Then I didn't know what to write about, so that article turned into this.