Having never had serious success at Magic, outside of the JSS series, it was weird for me to want to travel across the country for a Grand Prix. However, I felt good about this Extended season. I had hand in developing the RG Aggro Scapeshift deck with a bunch of other Minnesotans, and I felt that I knew this format better than a lot of others. When I heard that there would be a plethora of my friends also attending, and that my frequent flyer miles would cover almost ever penny, I was pumped at the chance to get away from the piles of schoolwork and just battle for a weekend.
The flight from Boston took the better part of 12 hours, but I wasn't worried because I was dead set on playing RG Scapeshift, as I was so invested in the deck. I show up to the event midnight on Friday, too late to play in any grinders, and my friend Mathias Hunt waves me over. He immediately informs me that everyone and their mother is playing the thopter/depths menace and that I would be playing side events by round 5 if I chose anything that can't beat it. Then, he hands me over this little number:
3 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Dark Confidant
4 Umezawa's Jitte
4 Small Pox
2 Chrome Mox
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Verdant Catacombs
3 Marsh Flats
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Leyline of the Void
Of course, I'm skeptical. Vampire Nighthawk? Bloodghast? What was he thinking? The theory behind the cards is that it can't really lose to the Dark Depths plan. When they lay down Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths on the same turn, and pass, you cast one of your edicts, and they have to make a choice, and they end up sacrificing the Hexmage. Additionally, Bitterblossom blocks Marit Lage every turn, which is a big plus. The zoo and Bant matchups are also very positive, and you really only lose when they play 3 one drops over the first 2 turns. Small Pox is also very strong against Zoo, as it messes with their mana, and if they kept a mana-light hand to begin with, its over.
People have qualms about Vampire Nighthawk. Although he may appear terrible, and honestly he didn't perform as well as Mathias promised, he was very solid. The life gain is really clutch at times, and when he is equipped with an Umezawa's Jitte, he is nigh unstoppable. Against zoo, he fights with the biggest and baddest green monsters. I never played against a slow zoo deck, so he didn't really shine, but against those types of decks he is very, very good.
I liked the deck, mostly because Dark Confidant, Thoughtsieze, and Umezawa's Jitte are in the Top 10 cards in Extended, so I was sold on the power of those cards. Also, when someone tells me they have "the tech" I always run with it. I did it at the PTQ at Nationals this year after Conley Woods shared his decklist, and I ran with it.
It was amazing my borrowing power from people I didn't know at 1 am. Its nice to still be able to depend on the kindness of strangers sometimes. I got my cards ready in a surprisingly quick manor, and it was off to bed.
After the maximum amount of sleep possible, I did my normal big tournament routine of going jogging, getting a nice breakfast, and putting on some nice clothes and tie. Personally, if you want to be successful, then dress and act like someone who succeeds. Just saying.
Having played 0 games with the deck, it was time for the tournament.
Round One: Living End
Yeah I don't have any byes. Sucks for me, I never play limited so that's what I get.
It's round one so everyone is pretty bad. This guy is obviously new, but he has a real deck so it's a bit of a challenge. Game one, I don't get a mana source until I mulligan to 4. He keeps a slow hand, and cycles so much that I almost come back. Eventually he Wraths my team and puts an army of terrible guys in play and I die.
Not a good way to start, but I board in Leylines and Damnations and hope to battle back.
Game 2 I start with double Leyline in play. He cycles for a few turns, but realizes he didn't board in an answers and scoops to my first threat.
Game 3 I Thoughteize his only cascade spell, and proceed to kill him with my random bears before he can come back.
Round 2: Tribal Zoo
Game One: I mulligan once, and he leads with Steppe Lynx, followed by Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl. I battle as hard as I can with a Smother and a Gatekeeper, but once all his creatures are dealt with, his burn finishes me off.
Game 2: He leads Steppe Lynx again, but I have a hand of 3 small poxes and a Bloodghast, which kill his first three guys and lands, and eventually we are both stuck on 1, but I have a Bloodghast attacking and he does not. I rip a land first and play Dark Confidant to seal the deal.
Game 3. He plays Steppe Lynx, and follows up with double Wild Nacatl. Can anyone beat that start? I sure try, but I take too much damage in the process, and a pair of burn spells finishes me off before Umezawa's Jitte can take control
Round 3 WR Control
I beat him in two quick games. Although his cards are anti-creature, the card advantage of Dark Confidant plus the power of Umezawa's jitte are too much. Thoughtseizes and Duress take away his important cards. People are always looking for ways to beat the average player in big tournaments like these, and I believe the answer is to play catch-alls like Umazawa's Jitte and Thoughtseize.
Round 4: Hypergenesis
This guy is super nice. We get to chatting and it turns out he is training for the "World's Fittest Man" contest and tells me about his training. I start feeling really lazy by the time the game starts, but I take the first game because he keeps a one land hand on the play. The world's fittest man needs to mulligan a bit more!
Game two, I keep a hand with Thoughtseize, but he has two cascade effects and plays one on turn 2. What gets dicey here is that we both forget that Demonic Dread needs to have a target for you to play it. Of course it resolves before we catch it, so I am stuck facing a Progenitus and a Bogardan Hellkite. I have no way to kill them in my hand, and I am at 15 from the Hellkite. Here are the next two turns:
I draw Gatekeeper of Malakir (sacrifices Hellkite)
I take 10 on his turn.
You just have to believe, I guess.
Round 5 Bant
This is my first experience with an international player. His name is Elric and he is from France. Given that I started learning French last semester, I try it out on him. I couldn't quite guage his reaction, but I have a feeling he was terribly offended. Whoops.
Game one, we both get to see the power of Bloodghast+Small Pox, which is the nuts. I small pox his first two creatures and lands, and while we both are short on mana, I have a 2/1 beating down. Eventually he lands a large Tarmogoyf, but I play a Vampire Nighthawk, and can win the race with lifelink.
Round 6 Teachings
Having never played with or against the Extended teachings deck, I have no idea how the games play out. I only have heard that the games are a grind, so I assume I can win with tight play, and boarded Extirpates.
I win the roll and play a Thoughtseize, taking his Spell Snare so I can land a second turn Dark Confidant. This is very powerful, and I can see that he his hand is full of slow cards like Mystical Teachings and Esper Charm. I play Jitte, and take control. He goes for a desperation Teferi when he is about to die, which turns on my basically dead edicts in my hand, and win from there.
Game two I play an early small pox, which mana screws him, and he scoops when he can't find a fourth land.
Round 7 Hypergenesis
Game one I keep a very good hand with double Thoughtseize and a decent clock. I win on turn six after he draws blanks for a few turns.
Game three I thoughseize him and see that he has two cascade effects, a simian spirit guide but only an Angel of Despair and Progenitus to put down. Knowing that he is casting Hypergenesis no matter what I do, I take the Progenitus and hope that he doesn't rip anything good. Being intelligent, he waits until he draws another creature to cascade, but it is only Bogardan Hellkite. We both resolve the Eureka, and I put down 3 creatures and an Umezawa's Jitte, but I keep a Gatekeeper in my hand. His two creatures are good, but not quite good enough, and get there after two edict effects.
This game ran long, and almost to the end of time. He played very slow, and so I called a judge over to watch our match for proper time on decisions. However, my opponent, misinterpreting my words, thought that I was calling him a cheater. He refused to shake my hand after the match. After speaking with his friend who had better English than he, we resolved the miscommunication.
Round 8 Dark Depths/Thopter
This opponent is from Sweden. He is playing the DD/Thopter deck, which is an alright matchup for this deck, albeit not great. I can usually beat the Marit Lage plan, but not the Thopter combo, especially pre-board.
Game one is a disaster. For some reason, I am on major tilt the whole time. It may have been from being x-1 and this is the round that I need to win for Day 2, or it just might have been from it being a long day. Either way, I miss two Dark Confidant triggers in a row, which is my third total all day. It gets upgraded to a game loss and I am off to game two. He had already assembled the Thopter Combo, so really it just saved me a few turns.
Against this deck, its imperative to stop the Thopter combo, so I board in the Leylines and the Extirpates. Game two, I land a turn 0 Leyline, and Thoughtseize first turn. I see that he had both pieces to the Thopter engine, so I take the Echoing Truth, which was game over from there.
Game three he mulligans twice, which is what that deck does from time to time. He puts up a good fight, and eventually assembles both halves of the Dark Depths combo, but its no match for my Gatekeeper of Malakir. I win easily after his plan fails.
This is a feature match against level 8 pro, Martin Juza. You can read about it in the coverage.
I get smashed, obviously, but I win a game, and come close to winning the third game, but I do draw poorly towards the end. It doesn't change the fact that Juza played around Extirpate the whole game, which arguably a lesser player might not have.
Day 1 record: 7-2
I am very happy with my Day 1 performance, as I have never Day 2'd a Grand Prix before. Another person playing this 75 Day Twos, and a third loses the round 9 to miss out. 40% of the people playing this deck Day 2, which speaks to the power of some of the cards. While I certainly would make some changes, I do like what I saw against the field.
The players in Day 2, as I can see from the standings, are very, very good. It seems that about half of them are professionals to some degree. Yet, instead of feeling nervous, like I usually would, I feel excited to be in the same league as the people I only have read about.
I would be swimming wish Sharks the next day, but its an opportunity to play against the best of the best. I went to bed anxious to see how many level 8's I could take down on my way to the finish line.