I have been very busy in Modern lately. Followers of my articles should be quite familiar with my deck of choice for the Grand Prix in Worcester; UWR #TEAMGEIST was a complete and tuned masterpiece ready to carry its followers to glory and leave desolation and wonder in its wake. I was proud to be a part of the testing process with my immediate team mates Jason (@realevilegenius) and Larry (@krazykirby4), as for the very first time in my life, I had the feeling that I had only heard about from a number of professional players before. I finally knew what it felt like to have the best deck in the room, and to have the right plans for all of the major decks which we knew we would face. I was going to find success this weekend. I knew this. What I didn’t know was just how much of it I would find.
I was sitting in my house, packing for my trip to Boston. I knew that I had a really early start and a long drive ahead of me, so I wanted to make sure that I had everything packed. I was finishing up my card packing when the #TEAMGEIST Facebook chat goes off with a last minute suggestion to switch the 2 copies of Pillar of Flame in the sideboard to 2 copies of Magma Spray. Our initial reason for going with Pillars over Sprays was based on the flexibility of Pillar to be able to go to the dome of the opponent, often off of a Snapcaster in the late game. We decided that losing to a top decked Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap against pod was going to be far worse than missing by 2 damage in our deck full of burn spells. The fact that the card is an instant allowed us to be able to kill these top decked threats in response to the enters the battlefield triggers, denying our opponent the ability to use Birthing Pod to end our games. With my decklist finalized and packing now complete, I was free to enjoy this with my beautiful wife in the quiet of summer and peace of our back yard.
I went to bed early, and set the alarm for the hour of 430am in anticipation of the long day that would lead me down the path to expected fun and hopeful glory. Sleep was quickly forthcoming and unfortunately, so was the alarm. I pull my old bones out of bed, into the shower, then get dressed, kiss my wife good bye, pour a coffee, and get my car on the road; all in the span of 25 minutes. The day is warm, the sun is just beginning to lighten up the horizon, and I put on some music to kick off the road trip. Special thanks to @semulin for this one.
My trip was taking to me to Worcester by way of Kingston, ON. I was very aware that I was not going to make a 10 hour road trip by myself, and similarly was not going to spend 10+ hours and cross the border with just anyone. I selected Andy Peters as my car mate for this adventure, as he is one of the better Magic players that I know, and one that I graciously can call friend. He has always been a great supporter of mine, and I of him. He is used to the big stage, and has been consistently one of the most consistent finishers I know. I was happy to discuss magic strategy, community, and generic life impacting stuff with him all the way down to Boston. We crossed the border, and I had to put this on the stereo.
One amazing thing of note about the drive down to Worcester was that WOTC finally announced the news that I had been near to bursting about for the better part of 2 weeks now. I have been selected to represent you all in the MTGO Community Cup. I was genuinely amazed that I was chosen, not just by WOTC, but most importantly by all of you. The public outcry of support has been amazing, and it helped to temper my resolve to succeed at the upcoming GP, as I was no longer able to scrub out quietly. I knew that I had to do you all proud. I had to prove that you picked the right person. I still do. In fact, I think that I will feel this way in every game of Magic I play until we beat the WOTC team ragged for all of your viewing pleasure.
We arrived in Worcester and our hotel in the afternoon, and got to the site around 2:45pm.
After making the rounds and seeing the vendors, (shout out to @amistod!!!) Andy and I signed up for a grinder. Andy has about a million Planeswalker points, so already had 3 byes. I however, could not get out to enough GPT events, and as a result had no byes. Together, we figured we would try to earn me some. We signed up for a grinder, and ended up waiting over an hour (almost 2) for us to start. I get the chance to finally find the rest of my Canadian brethren and Jason and his travel mates. I also meet the amazing Adrian (@mathematricste) and Jon Celso (@balduvianbears). My grinder fires, and I get paired against a kind gentleman running (of course) Red Green Tron. I lose game one, and get a timely Geist on 3 with Castle to take game 2. I end up playing 3 games in one for the third game and end up losing in sudden death turns since my opponent took both turns 4 and 5 with his second ultimate of Karn. He already had byes of course, and ultimately chose not to concede to me. Andy’s opponent meanwhile instantly dropped after getting the playmat, and he ended up playing out 3 rounds before we could get out for dinner.
I have a reputation for running good events and parties after hours during GPs or PTs. I can honestly say that there is someone else that could easily assume the mantle should I ever quit doing it. Friday night was Steve(@SlickJagger)‘s birthday. If you don’t know who Slick is at this point, do yourself a favor and fix that. Our crew from the site rolled in to Armsby Abbey for what we thought was going to be a nice intimate gathering. What we found was intimate all right, but only because the population density of the establishment had passed “comfortable” about an hour before we arrived. What the Abbey did have going for it, was it’s unbelievable menus of both decadent foods and ambrosial beer selections. I was able to find a seat (not a small feat) happily next to Anthony (@aw3someeveryday) and quickly ordered the Pulled Pork sandwich on a Brioche bun with a Spicy Vinegar sauce with 2 glasses of an unbelievable Sour Beer, which was the primary reason that Slick and Jason (@offensivemtg) booked the place for this event. The sheer joy that this evening brought me is really hard to explain. I was fortunate enough to eat and drink some unbelievable food and share some fantastic company. I was able to wash the filth of the 5 game match from my memory, and was on the way back to my room well before midnight. Andy and I retired to the room, and I played one match of magic against him and his UWR Twin deck before shutting it down to get sleep before what would promise to be a long day. One of the things that I was being fed from Andy all weekend was the idea of the Killer Instinct. It’s a consistently powerful mindset that forces you to stay positive, and readily let go of the mistakes and variance that can occasionally plague many players. I play very well when I feel confident. When I believe in my plays, they often find a way to be correct. As soon as I start to doubt myself, my play falls apart. Knowing this, the idea of forcing the Killer Instinct really appealed to me. This attitude needs to be so complete, that you cannot falter even in the face of extreme variance. I actually went so far with this that during one of my worst matchups during the swiss, I had to mulligan to 5 on the draw. My opponent, who was a super nice guy, frowned sympathetically and apologized. I cheerfully told him with a smile that it was ok, since it would make a far better story later when I beat my worst matchup on a mulligan to 5. Yeah. I was that guy. I’ve never been that guy. It was going to be a fun day.
I wake up early for Day 1, get showered, dressed and fed all in great time, and end up getting into the venue right on time with the whole crew ready to rumble. Larry shows up as we are all sitting relaxing before the players meeting, and the #TEAMGEIST is finally complete. Our lists are complete, the plans are solid, and none of us have any byes. It was going to be a long road ahead for all of us, but we were ready. Rounds 1 through 3 are typically the wild west as far as decks are concerned, as it is likely in these games that you will see the highest variety of deck types and pilot competencies. Player meeting was easy, the event was to be split into two GPs, with all three of us fortunately in the same room. Pairings thankfully were available online, allowing us to avoid the cattle call which I hate so much, and I found my first round opponent.
Rd 1 – Chris – Mono Black Infect
I’m on the play, and start with a fetchland. Chris plays a swamp, and then casts Blackmail. I had to not only read the card, having never heard of it before, but also had to ask him when it was printed in modern card frame. I assumed I was playing against 8 Rack, and expected my first loss to come in round 1, so I showed Chris an Island, a Moorland Haunt, and a Lightning Helix. Chris chose the Haunt for me to discard. I play the Island, and then when Chris responds with another Swamp and a Night’s Whisper to take 2 and draw two, I run out the Snapcaster Mage on his end step in Ambush Viper mode in order to protect the real threat on my main phase in Geist of Saint Traft. When Chris plays a Phyrexian Arena on his main phase, I figured that a win would be academic. Thankfully, Chris played a Phyrexian Vatmother on his turn 4, showing me the truth of his intentions, and my Path to Exile ended up being good enough with the Helix. Game 2 I end up able to Remand Chris’s turn 3 Phyrexian Crusader, and then take it during his draw step with my follow up Vendilion Clique, leaving him way too far behind for his other plays to matter.
Rd 2 – James – Melira Pod
This was a match that I was going to be happy to play all day long. Its not often that you end up with a matchup where you should be sorely underwhelming on paper, but the plan which you execute with the deck operates on another level that messes with your opponent’s ability to win the game. Melira Pod is that matchup for us. I win game one academically with Geist of Saint Traft, Restoration Angel and removal. Game two things are moving along perfectly, while my opponent naturally draws the two necessary parts of his infinite combo in back to back turns, and kills me while at exactly 1 life. Game 3 I end up suiting up an Aven Mindcensor with a Batterskull, and my opponent can’t keep up with it and Keranos.
Rd 3 – Brandon – Junk (GB with Souls)
I was on the high of potentially entering into the real rounds of the tournament undefeated, and the chance that I might eventually find myself in a feature match. My opponent was quiet and reserved, with a mostly foil version of his deck, except for the white cards. I quickly was able to discern that my opponent should not be underestimated. I win game one from the play quite convincingly, as my removal and Clique is able to stop him from formulating much of an offense. I ask him as we are boarding how long ago he made the switch to white, noting that I noticed the foiling discrepancy. We both chuckle and buckle up for game 2. I end up looking at the opening hand and my mulligan leaves me with two copies of Remand, and a copy of Engineered Explosives with lands and a Helix to spare. I end up sequencing my spells incorrectly, and instead of leading my opponent into a blowout with Explosives, I end up just stalling him long enough to run myself out of gas. Its during the remainder of this match that I get shaken. I get too wrapped up in how I could have solved the puzzle of my mistake from the last game instead of focusing on making the most of my last game. I mulligan on the play, and fail to find a third land for some time, while my opponent has everything he needs to punish me for the variance. I think I very easily could have won game 2 if I kept my head together and sequenced my spells properly, saving the remands for a flashback on the souls, and the Explosives after leading the opponent into it by allowing souls to resolve. I did it backwards, and it cost me.
Andy and John Wasson are there to try to pick me up after my loss there, and the Killer Instinct is once again revisited. They do a great job of putting me back on the tracks, and I’m ready to go again going into round 4.
Rd 4 – Tony – Mono Blue Tron
I find myself against Tony, who is a very nice guy, and similarly enjoying his time while keeping his eyes on the prize. We chat a bit, and resign ourselves to have a fun game of magic. Tony wins the play, and opens with a Tron land. I sigh a little, and decide that my run is going to have to be Bolt into Geist and then follow up with as much gas as I can muster. Tony has Map on turn 2, and then Tron on 3. I play Geist on time, and Tony plays an Island, followed up by a…Sundering Titan killing all of my lands. I frown. He shrugs. I play an Arid Mesa from my hand, get my plains, and cast the Path in my hand, getting in for 6. I would not be deterred. Tony untaps, and then plays another large creature from his hand. This time, a Platinum Angel. I keep whittling away, leave him with no Angel and 5 life before he assembles the ultimate doom machine of the dreaded Mindslaver lock. After reminding me that I will draw my deck and he will only ever draw the Mindslaver, I go to game 2. Game 2 looks like more of the same, as I end up getting Geist on 3, after a Bolt to the head. I continue to pressure, having Tony dead on board should I untap, but he has a timely Tower off the top of the deck to give him enough resources to run the Lock again, cutting me out of the match.
I was deflated a little. I was already 2-2. It was not even halfway through the day of Magic, and I could not lose anymore if I was to make the dream come true. I was given a good dose of “wake the hell up” and “get your head out of your ass” by Andy, John, and Andrew Huska. I was able to solve the puzzle from the previous round, tell the spectacular beat story of game one of the last round, and then found out that my teammates were all doing well. Jason was 2-1-1, and Larry was 4-0. I would not be the only one of us to fail. KYT I found was 1-3 with his bye, and already eliminated, and his words to me also were very motivational. I knew the deck, I put in the work, so it was time to start acting like it. I decide in that moment that I was no longer going to lose. Losing was not an option, so play to win.
Rd 5 – Hiram – UG Infect
Hiram is new to the format, but was an otherwise pleasant and friendly opponent. Thankfully, Infect is really hard pressed to beat a deck with a near infinite amount of cheap instant speed removal. I close in two very quick games, taking only 4 poison in game one, and not a single point in the second game.
No losing, no excuses. Bring the next one on.
Rd 6 – Charles – Mono Green Devotion (elves)
It turns out that this deck is almost impossible to beat with all lands and no gas. I get pounded in game 1 by a bunch of mana elves before the Leatherback Baloth shows up to finish the game. Game 2 I have the perfect mix of removal and threats, as Geist gets there backed up my Magma Sprays and Path to Exiles for the Strangleroot Geists and Kitchen Finks. Game 3, I get into a position where I have to deal 13 points of damage to my opponent in one turn, or I would fall to the grip of insanity that my opponent was able to assemble with the help of Garruk, Caller of Beasts. I was surely dead to the 13+ (26+ in hindsight) mana which my opponent would generate with Nykthos(es) and the 36+ damage that would be dealt by the Craterhoof Behemoth which I was graciously shown by Garruk. I thankfully had exactly lethal burn in my hand after a swing with the team.
I guess I’ll just keep playing magic until they stop putting opponents in front of me…
Rd 7 – Cassie – Merfolk
Cassie was a very nice woman, dressed comfortably and clearly at ease in the tournament environment. She has a bunch of SCG supplies, all well used, which communicated some experience. As soon as I saw the physical mechanics that she used, I knew that she would demand full respect and attention. Her card placement was crisp and deliberate. Her board was kept clean, and her tapping and untapping reminded me of watching Gerry T play at PT Gatecrash. This matchup can be fine or tough for me depending on the list and pilot. I figured I would be in for it. I lose game 1 with lots of lands in play. During sideboarding I comment on her mechanics. She tells me that she’s normally a Standard player that plays a lot of Mono Blue Devotion, and that this is her first Modern tournament. I put that one in the knowledge pool, and wish her luck for the second game. She again has Vial on turn one, but in a grindy turn of events, I close the game after a 4 for one off of Engineered Explosives. Game three there is no Vial on turn one, and I draw all 4 bolts plus a Combust, a path, and a Snapcaster Mage in the top 10 cards of my deck. A Vendilion Clique and a Restoration Angel help to close it out. Item of note: Combust just straight kills Kira. Ain’t nobody got time for two spells on that creature.
Can’t stop, Won’t stop. Keep pressing forward.
Rd 8 – Will – 4C Goryo’s Vengeance
Will is a quiet and gloomy opponent. We both know that this is an elimination round, and it clearly matters to both of us. Will is on the play, and casts Inquisition of Kozilek followed by Faithless Looting and a… Breeding Pool? I have little to no idea what to expect from him, but since it is likely a combo deck, the burn goes to the head, and the Geist of Saint Traft gets the beats on. Vendilion Clique buys me a turn, and when Will goes for the Vengeance on Griselbrand while at 6 life in response to my attack; a Path to Exile sends us to the boards. I’m not used to the 4 color version of this deck, as Legit’s own Tyler Premier is a noted advocate of the straight RB version. That deck is very lean, and can completely devastate on turn 2 or 3 with startling consistency. Knowing that I had all the time I needed in that game made the deck I was facing much less scary. Will sees only two lands by turn 4 while I drop two bolts on him and cast Geist on turn 3. With my Remand on his Goryo’s Vengeance on turn 5, he scoops and grumbles about it for I don’t know how long; I walked away you see.
One more round. Andy was out. John was live with one more win. Huska was out. Jason was still x-1-1, Larry was x-1 after losing a feature match to Mengucci and his “go big” Jund deck. All I wanted was to play against Pod. I didn’t much care who the opponent was, I just knew I wanted to battle against what I felt was surprisingly one of our best matches. I knocked for a one time. Then pairings went up.
Rd 9 – Xin – Jund Pod.
I sit down to see my opponent wearing the MTGMintCard outfit, as I pleasantly ask him if he`s here for the Pro Tour on the following weekend. He indicates that he is, and I know that I should have been more specific about what I asked for. I was not losing. This was the one person who stood in the way of my goal. I had to win this match of magic to get the day 2 monkey off my back. I had come this far. I was on a heater. I had the killer instinct. THOU SHALT NOT PASS!!! I shook hands with my opponent, and wished him luck. I mentioned that I knew this was a win and in for both of us, and that the games would be business. I got the pleasantries out of the way.
Game one I get very fortunate. Xin mulligans to 6 on the play. He plays a fetchland for a forest on turn 1 into a Noble Hierarch. I play a fetchland, crack and shock for the Steam Vents, and kill the Noble with a quick Lightning Bolt. I fetch again on his end step after he does nothing on 2, and then when he plays a Pod on turn 3, I respond with a Geist of Saint Traft on my turn. He untaps, and then plays nothing. I swing for 6, and jam a clique in his draw step, bringing forth the concession. I knew it was close. I could taste it. I was the shark in the water and my opponent was bleeding and drowning. It was all so close. Now I needed to tighten up and close. Xin plays a fetchland for a swamp, and then casts Thoughtseize, taking a Geist. I play a shock land tapped. He plays a Stomping Ground tapped, and Thoughtseizes me again, taking a Path to Exile. I end up running out the Geist on 3 that I freshly draw, and put Xin on his heels. He untaps and plays a Kitchen Finks, but the Snapcaster into Path to Exile clears the way for the Geist Daddy to get in. When I have the Magma Spray for the Murderous Redcap, the game ends on the spot. I quickly wish my opponent good luck at the tour, and deliver the match slip.
I had done it. I had finally reached the first goal in front of me. I rattled off 5 wins in a row and reached day 2. I felt invincible. With the two GPs being merged in day 2, the tie breakers were being reset, meaning that the next day was truly a brand new ball game. I was able to watch Jason play his last round, and I might have celebrated a little too loudly when he closed out his match to make day 2 also. (sorry). I was able to take stock of the last match during my recounting of it to supporters that asked, and I can honestly tell you that I experienced something that had been previously thought to be just legend. I was in the zone for the first time in my life. Many people talk about the zone, and nobody really does it justice. I can tell you these things: I was looking through my opponent. I was not playing with my cards on my opponent`s turn. I was watching him. I watched his eyes. I watched his hands. I knew his outs, and I knew what I would be doing for each one of the next 3 of my turns. I saw the game ending. I played to that result. It was amazing. I was unbeatable.
After the day was over, we ended up heading back to the hotel, and after I cleaned up quickly in the shower (stress sweat smells terrible) we headed out to another epic meal at the 111 Chophouse. I have always been taught to celebrate the small victories, since you never know when a failure could be around the corner. This meal was to be one of those victories. Dinner with amazing company and delectable food was the order of the day. One 28 oz bone in Ribeye deck with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Asparagus with Olive Oil and Basil and a half bottle of a nice 2010 California Zinfandel was all I needed to refresh myself for the next day.
I was in a great mood headed back to the hotel. I was on top of the world. I rattled off 5 in a row. I would have to continue my velocity deep into day 2. I could. I would. I must. It was undiscovered country that I was in at this point, but I was ready. Now the field would consist of good decks, good players, and predictably good results. Now all that was left was to turn all my best laid plans into my new reality. As I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, I could hear the Hawaiian ukulele music carried to my ears on the back of warm tropical breezes.
Part 2 to come later this week.
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