Fair warning: This article is about the adventure that is a Grand Prix and has less tech than most articles. I will have another article soon with more tech for upcoming tournaments.
I had high hopes going into GP: Denver. I had done well at the local drafts leading up to the Grand Prix and felt I understood the format fairly well. I had performed poorly at my only Grand Prix Trial, finishing ninth, but I felt good nonetheless, as my pool was a pile*.
I had been planning on leaving around noon on Friday and driving all day, getting to Denver around midnight the day before the event. I was going with several friends and two of them were committed until then, so leaving earlier to get in a few side events on Friday wasn't an option. I always prefer to go to events earlier whenever possible, as that gives me more breathing room if anything goes wrong, not to mention the extra side events and trading opportunities. Getting to town at midnight the day before the event was not exactly how I was hoping to start my Grand Prix Experience, but it looked like those were the breaks.
Then fate dealt me pocket Aces.
My older brother had been planning on going to Central America, but he wasn't sure of the exact plans. He knew he'd need a flight at some point, but was considering hitchhiking down to the border before getting on an airplane, and his plans were very vague. Then he saw a listing for a ride to Denver. Whether he continued hitching rides or took a flight, Denver was a better starting point than Bozeman, so he got in touch and secured a ride for early on Thursday morning. I went over on Wednesday night to say my goodbyes, as I hadn't heard anything about the trip before then and hadn't given him a sendoff yet. He was mostly packed but still running around the house like a fresh-chopped chicken when I arrived, as he couldn't find his Passport. He was about ready to call his ride and cancel when I stopped him. I could take his spot in the Thursday morning car while he could ride with my friends on Friday afternoon, then we'd all meet up down in Denver.
I went to my place and started packing as soon as we realized this just might be crazy enough to work, but it was already around 1 AM. By the time I had gone home, packed, built a deck or two for the various formats of side events, and sorted the piles of newly acquired treasure into my trade binders, it was close to four in the morning. Setting my alarm for just two hours later, I crashed on the couch.
The ride my brother had secured showed up on time, and after a bit of discussion they agreed to take me in my brother's place and we started towards Denver. My general plan was to end up at the public library in Denver and use their computers to find a place to spend the night. My friends would be coming down on Friday night, so I only had to arrange for one night on my own. I arrived at the front doors of the library just in time to watch the last librarian walk out and lock the door behind them. This trip had just been upgraded from "Interesting" to "Adventure". I now had no contacts and no idea where I was going to spend the night. After hearing my general outline of a plan, my ride had suggested I call him if I ended up needing a place to crash, but we never got around to trading phone numbers so that was out.
I had some familiarity with the downtown Denver area, as this was not my first time getting lost while alone on a trip for Magic. Last summer Star City Games had one of their tournaments in the same hotel in which the current GP was going to be held (also the same site as the last GP Denver, which Gerry T won), so I made my way towards familiar ground. After an hour or so of backtracking and general durdling, I was able to figure out where I was and how to get to the hotel site. Running well, I had even passed a hostel that I figured would take me in for the night. After dinner and a movie, I made my way back to the hostel.
It was closed.
Aside: If you haven't heard it yet, the scale goes Awk, Awker, Awkest, all derived from the original Awkward.
Another night I may have just crashed in the park I found nearby, but last weekend was something less that toasty warm and I wanted to stay inside, so I found a cab. The plan at this point was to find a couple of gamers and talk my way into sleeping on their floor, as I had the last time I was in Denver. This time, however, it was not to be. I only saw one group of gamers after I set up camp in the hotel lobby, and they quickly no-sirred me. After crushing nearly a hundred pages of my book (A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre), I gave up and resigned myself to sleeping on the couch.
A story is an important tool in your arsenal if you ever find yourself in a situation like this, as there's a decent chance that the hotel staff won't be particularly happy about you sleeping in their borders without paying for a room. After deciding my friends John Perkins and William Damian had gotten a reservation but had their flight delayed from San Diego, I wrapped my backpack strap around my leg to make sure no one walked off with my cards while I was asleep and let myself close my eyes.
I woke up a few hours later, around five in the morning, in time to see Brad Nelson walking past. I don't know if he was just tired (safe bet, given the hour), but he looked so sad and in his own world I didn't have the heart to congratulate him or ask him to sign some random card in my highlander deck. He was shuffling his feet with his shoulders slumped, staring at the top of his shoes and looked like he was about to cry. Again, I had been awake less than two minutes when I saw this and maybe he was just tired, but I wouldn't have been surprised to learn his fiancee had just dumped him.
I rolled over and went back to sleep.
After waking up for real and getting some breakfast, I wandered into a money draft to pass the time while we waited for the doors to open and the GPT Grinders to start.
I had a BG Infect deck that I was fairly happy with, minus its slight lack of removal, while my partner's deck was a pile. He had misread one of the other team for Black and had hate drafted away a Skinrender and two Grasp of Darknesses and couldn't play any of them. He had half Dinosaurs and half green Infect, with exactly zero cards I would be happy about take earlier than fifth pick. I thought I was going to get crushed, as this was my first 2v2 draft that wasn't 2HG and I wasn't sure exactly how the drafting changed, but it looked like I was going to be playing Michael Mann to his Michael Bay**.
As I dreamcrushed Enemy Number One with back to back turn two Plague Stinger, turn four [card Flesh-Eater Imp]the 2/2 flyer sac-a-guy-to-pump[/card], he lost to Enemy Number Two. After we swapped partners I got crushed by the nuts UR Control, and when my teammate lost again that was all she wrote.
Ten bucks poorer, I went back to the main site where I played in a grinder, followed by FNM for some more sealed practice. Neither one proved particularly enlightening or fruitful, as I beat the opponents that made mistakes and misbuilt their decks, and I lost when they opened better Mythics than I did and didn't misplay too badly. Both sealed pools were fairly straightforward to build, with only a couple of playable colors and no really tough calls. Other than a sweet Treasure Mage-Spine of Ish Sah-Piston Sledge combo (which never got off the ground, unsurprisingly) in pool number one I had nothing worth mentioning.
As FNM was wrapping up my friends and brother showed up, so after finishing a few trades (my two Kuldotha Pheonixes, foil Myr Matrix and Myr Matrix for your Wasteland, two Ancient Tombs, four Mana Leaks and three Propagandas? Sure, I can toss in the foil Palladium Myr, but you owe me one) we went to crash for the night. The Rungoods continued, as one of the guys had a brother-in-law that lived in Denver and wasn't in town at the moment, which meant we could all crash there for free. The next morning was the main event, so we skipped drafting and went straight to bed.
The next morning I ended up with a pool that can only be described as Massacre Wurm and some filler. I played BG infect and dropped after losing four games running after after my bye, like a boss. After spending a bit of time reworking my deck for Legacy, I was ready for the side events.
I was working on a hybrid of the Thopter-Sword and Counterbalance-Top combos a year or two ago when AJ Sacher stole my thunder by top eighting a SCG Legacy Open with a list that was five cards different from mine, and I thought the metagame now would be right to bring it back.
After Survival got hit by the ban-hammer, I expected the void to be filled mostly by Counterbalance decks, especially considering Ben Wienburg's win at the last SCG Open. This was built to be good against the Counterbalance mirror without conceding to the rest of the field. Engineered Explosives is quite good in the mirror because you can pay several mana of the same color to increase the mana cost beyond Counterbalance range while still only having Sunburst of two to clear out any opposing Counterbalances that have resolved. The general plan was to lock the opponent out of the game with either of the two card combos, with the Planeswalkers playing backup.
I hadn't played any games with it yet, but Counterbalance-Top in various shells had been my deck of choice since I first started playing Legacy, and since I knew how all the major decks worked fairly well so I wasn't too worried.
I played in a Legacy win-a-box and was paired first round against a Bant deck with the usual suspects - Counterbalance-Top, Tarmogoyf, Natural Order-Progenitus, etc, in the hands of a player I knew was competent but not amazing. I had birded the last Legacy win-a-box and seen him make several play mistakes, and though my Ensnaring Bridges and Peacekeepers seemed insane against his fatties, I managed to lose anyway. I hadn't considered that Ensnaring Bridge doesn't do a very good job at fighting a full playset of Noble Hierarchs on the other side of the table, and I forgot to not draw infinite lands after landing the Bridge.
Following that disaster I tried to sign up for another Legacy event, but they weren't firing so I entered a Star City Qualifier instead, playing Mystic-Go. I gather the Channel Fireball crew that built the Caw-Go update have been calling it CawBlade, but my first thought when I saw the list was either Mystic-Go or Stoneforge-Go. Either way, I'm glad it has some name as there has been a great lack of original deck names for quite a while. We used to have Fruity Pebbles, Napster, Frog-in-a-Blender, Karsten-Bot Baby-Killer, and all kinds of other interesting deck names, but today all we have is Color-Color Archetype or Central Card, and we deserve better. I had been playing UW in various builds for a while and won a $500 tournament the week before the GP, so I felt confident in my build.
Round one I had to dreamcrush a guy that thought he knew me and greeted me as an old friend, playing Boros. His face did ring a small bell when I saw him so I could believe he used to play at my shop and had moved away or something like that, but he didn't give any clues about where we knew each other from and seemed so happy to see me again I didn't want to ruin his memories by asking who he was or where we knew each other from. His draw should have been bad news bears for me, but he made enough combat mistakes and sideboarding errors that I picked up an easy 2-0.
Round two I sat down across from a guy wearing a Channel Fireball hoody. Before the start of the Grand Prix I was 2-0 in lifetime matches against ChannelFireball members, a fairly meaningless statistic I brag about whenever possible, so I wanted to know whether he was actually one of the crew, or was some guy that had just purchased one of their hoodies. He said he was Christopher Otwell, the owner of mtgcast.com, and he was a little connected with CFB at the moment as they were gradually becoming more integrated. Good enough for me.
Lifetime record vs Channel Fireball members: 3-0.
Round three I 2-0ed a GW Quest deck, and round four I played Brian Grewe, the financial writer for CFB.
Lifetime record vs Channel Fireball members: 4-0.
I was one of only two undefeateds at that point, so two draws later I was a in the top eight.
In the quarters I had the bye, being matched against Mono Green Eldrazi. Pretend decks are pretend.
We agreed to a top four split of the $250 and packs and to play for the invite to the invitational, but Star City vetoed any splits before the finals because they hate freedom. I lost in a rematch with Brian in the semis when he had tripple Oust to keep me from developing lands, and I was out. I don't like Oust much in the CawBlade mirror because all the creatures have gained value after they resolve and one-for-oneing them after they've already resolved seems bad, but I guess if you draw three to time walk the other guy three times while they're light on land it's pretty good.
Lifetime record vs Channel Fireball members: 4-1.
I took my twelve packs and went for another draft. After picking [card Vedalken Anatomist]Vedalken tapper -1/-1 dudes first[/card] and second, I was ready to battle - what two card deck beats that? Unfortunately, we had to continue drafting for a while to give the other decks a chance. I ended pack one in mono Blue, and a late pick Quicksilver Geyser convinced me I was the only player in Blue. I wheeled a Volition Reins in pack two and picked up two Tumble Magnets and a Trigon of Corruption to go with my earlier Vedalken Infuser which seemed pretty good, and then I opened a Steel Hellkite in pack three because mise.
My second draft was more of the same, as everyone else was fighting over infect, battle cry, and dinosaur cards and letting me take all the Blue cards. Opening a Steel Hellkite in pack three again didn't hurt, but my deck was so insane already I honestly don't think it made much of a difference.
Blue-based Control is currently my favorite archetype in draft for several reasons. First, it seems many people are underestimating Blue in Scars block draft which means you are often the only person taking those cards. That means that even if your cards were slightly weaker than other archetypes, you are likely to end with a stronger deck because the other archetypes are being split between multiple people while you get to wheel everything you want to. Second, Mirrodin Besieged has slowed the format down considerably which buys you more time to develop your board and hand. If you are playing a Control deck this is exactly what you want - you want to not die long enough for your more powerful cards and synergies to take over the game.
Underrated cards for this archetype are Oculus or Myr Sire to buy time, Vedalken Infuser (safe bet you'll get a Tumble Magnet or Trigon later), and Tangle Hulk. I've been happy splashing two Forests in my decks with Tangle Hulks so far as holding back a Hulk with regeneration mana open makes attacking a losing proposition much of the time, and they also hit hard when you have stabilized and want to start attacking.
What I like most about drafting the goodstuff/control deck instead of trying for one of the other big archetypes (poison, dinosaurs, battlecry/aggro) is that you are taking less of a risk. If you open a pack with Rot Wolf, Blightwidow, Myr Sire, and Accorder Paladin as the most notable cards Myr Sire is the safest bet. If you take the Rot Wolf it commits you to a color and an archetype, and the person to your left may see the Blightwidow as a sign that green Infect is open which will set the stage for a disastrous second pack. The Blightwidow is more useful than the Rot Wolf if you don't end up Infect as it is a fantastic blocker and could easily find a home in a Ug Control deck, but it also commits you to a color and pushes you towards an archetype. The Accorder Paladin is strong but not strong enough when compared to the Myr Sire to be worth the risk of being dead if you don't end up with an aggressive White deck. The Myr Sire can be played in either an Aggressive deck or a Control deck and doesn't commit you to any colors, which seems worth a slight drop in power to me.
I played another draft after crushing the first two and got manascrewed out of the first match with a slightly less insane Blue deck, then played another Standard and got manascrewed out of out of the first match there as well. I mulliganed to five both games looking for land number one and my opponent had the nerve to GG me, which I didn't even mind as much as the fact that I lost to Valakut.
How Valakut wins is still a mystery to me. While I have plenty of losses to it, I have exactly one game loss to the pile since it came out in which I was not manascrewed. The only time I lose to Valakut with UW is if I am manascrewed or do something awful, and this match was no exception. If any readers have experience with Valakut and have better than 30% percentage against UW I would love to hear how.
After sitting down with the dealers and selling off enough to cover my trip, we went out for some real food. Dinner was Casa Benita, a restaurant with an in-house waterfall and diver for entertainment, as well as a tour of Blackbeard's cave, mariachi band, and sketch artist. If you are ever around Denver, it is an experience not to be missed.
I got home from the weekend late in the afternoon on Monday, twenty dollars and twenty packs richer than when I left. Only one of the crew made it to day two in the main event, and he didn't manage to Q for the PT, but he ended in the top sixty-four which was good enough for two hundred dollars and bragging rights as the only Montanan with a Pro Point. My Legacy deck lost the only match I played with it in a tournament but I was a little unlucky and would have won if he had seen only two of his Noble Hierarchs instead of all four and it seems like it has potential. My CawBlade took me to the top four of SCG Standard Qualifier despite my poor sideboard plan for the mirror, and after talking to Ben Stark about the mirror a bit I feel better prepared for it in the future. I also made him sign my playset of Mystics, because mise. I also tracked down Brian Kibler and got him to sign my foil Oona, Queen of the Fae, something I'd been looking forward to since the last Grand Prix Denver***. A successful weekend, all in all.
Bonus: my 3-0 random cube/random pile of cards draft
1 Azorius Chancery
2 Volition Reins
1 Frostwind Invoker
1 Vedalken Anatomist
1 Ballista Squad
1 Sawtooth Loon
1 Bonds of Quicksilver
1 Mysteries of the Deep
1 Leaden Myr
1 Silver Myr
1 Simic Signet
1 Azorius Signet
1 Lumengrid Gargoyle
1 Isperia the Inscrutable
1 Mana Leak
1 Story Circle
1 Spiketail Drakeling
1 Goliath Sphinx
1 Halimar Wavewatch
Thanks for reading.
*My pool was... let's say "Quality Challenged." I had been forced to splash White in my RG Dinosaurs deck for the only cards in my pool that could even pretend to be removal, two Banishment Decrees and a Divine Offering, and was surprised to finish as well as I did, given the mana issues.
**If you don't get it, watch a couple of movies by Michael Mann, then a couple (if you can sit through them) by Michael Bay. If you still don't get it, congratulations, you fail at Knowing A Good Movie.
***After getting my third loss at the last Grand Prix: Denver I started playing a side draft. While playing the first round some guy was telling a Judge a story within earshot, which went as follows: Some Guy was with a Name Pro, discussing whether Scrub should keep or mulligan a hand. Some Guy said keep and Name Pro said mulligan, and after hearing both sides The Scrub said "I'm going to mulligan, because he's a pro." The Judge and Some Guy both laughed, then Some Guy shook his head, saying "Oh, how quickly they forget!" When I inquired, the judge told me that Some Guy was Brian Kibler. I dug around in my backpack until I found my deck and pulled out the first thing that looked like a Dragon in flavor if not in type, which turned out to be my Oona, Queen of the Fae, and ran after Kibler to collect a signature. Half an hour later I had traded for a foil Oona and spent the rest of the GP looking for Kibler to get another signature on my upgrade but couldn't find him again. Since then my foil Oona has sat front and center in my binder waiting for the day I would meet Kibler again and get my upgrade. Mission Accomplished.