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GP Detroit: A Story of the Little Guy

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

GP Detroit: A Story of the Little Guy

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I’ve put together any content on this site and I hope you all haven’t forgotten about me. I’ve spent the last three weeks grinding standard PPTQs with Rally and preparing for the abomination that was GP Detroit. Needless to say, I was incredibly frustrated. In preparation for the tournament, I incinerated tickets on MTGO, burnt out at local tournaments, and spent many nights pulling my hair out, scouring Gatherer for tech to beat Eldrazi. Nothing.

About two weeks ago, I had narrowed my scope down to two decks: Kiki Chord and RG Scapeshift. I almost wrote an article about this Scapeshift list, because I was quite proud of it. I had initially built it after the Twin banning because Twin was historically non-blue Scapeshift’s worst matchup. The list was also thrashing Eldrazi and putting up reasonable numbers against the rest of the field. However, I couldn’t beat Infect. While this did not completely turn me off from playing the list, I knew that I wanted a deck that had game against everything, particularly the top 5 decks if I was going to play in the Grand Prix, and I knew my 3 weeks of experience with RG Scapeshift was nothing compared to my 6 months of experience with Kiki Chord. At the end of the day, it was always going to be Kiki Chord.

This was the deck I registered:

I had been waffling on the inclusion of a Reveillark in the sideboard, as well as the Fulminator Mage. They were both important bullets in matchups that I had faced on MTGO, so I included them. Additionally, I wanted a 2nd Obstinate Baloth in my deck so I just shoved it in the main deck the night before. 76 cards is a powerful drug. I had spoken to a few other Kiki Chord pilots and was confident in my matchups against Burn, Affinity, Anafenza Company, Living End, any midrange creature decks, and UWx control variants. I knew my chord bullets and I knew how to sideboard. I had also played approximately 100 games against Eldrazi variants since the Splinter Twin banning and felt confident in how to sideboard and how to treat the matchup. I knew that UW would be difficult, but, close, UR would be favorable and the controlling GR variants would be unfavorable for me unless I got lucky or could outplay my opponent. I would show my testing partner opening hands and we would take a minute or two to discuss how much worse it could get if my opponent had Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher or a Mimic draw. I was not happy about the prospect of playing against Eldrazi, but, I thought that an 0-3 Eldrazi matchup could still get me into Day 2. It’s also worth noting that I asked a few people if I could borrow an Eldrazi deck for the weekend. No one could assist, though.

I left for Detroit on Friday and made it to my friend Jon’s house in the evening. I had brought two friends with me. One was playing Storm and the other hopped in the car for trades, EDH, and a fun weekend. After a few stories and some light-hearted catching up, we started eating pizza and jamming a couple games before bed. I was trying to get everyone but myself to audible to Scapeshift. I even had the 75 in a box for someone to use. We got to the convention center the next day and, before I knew it, I was shuffling up for Round 1.

Round 1: RG Eldrazi

My opponent mulliganned his seven cards and dropped a World Breaker on the table as he shuffled. I remember thinking: “Well, it’s not like I hadn’t expected to face this deck.” I looked at my hand of Chord of Calling, Wall of Roots, Wall of Roots, Voice of Resurgence, Stomping Grounds, Wooded Foothills, and Windswept Heath and hoped that it was good enough. My opponent played a Thought-Knot Seer, but, my Wall of Roots was able to hold it off while I tried to draw a quick combo kill. Eventually, I drew a Restoration Angel that was able to blink and save my Wall of Roots from a Kozilek’s Return, and I was able to Chord for Kiki-Jiki. Against every other Eldrazi matchup, I board out Scavenging Ooze. However, Ooze is great at stopping World Breakers and Kozilek’s Returns so I opted to keep them in.

-1 Lone Missionary, -2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar -1 Wall of Omens -1 Orzhov Pontiff
+2 Dismember +1 Reclamation Sage +1 Obstinate Baloth +1 Shriekmaw

My opponent mulliganed to 5. I played 2 drop, 2 drop, Restoration Angel and took up my first match slip of the day. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t gotten incredibly lucky.

Round 2: Abzan Company

This was a matchup that I was very unfamiliar with three weeks ago. I knew it was a grindy creature deck, I knew that it had a quick combo, and I knew that Scavenging Ooze was good against them. However, I’d recently adopted a new strategy to the matchup, which was to hold all of my removal and let my opponent gain infinite life. You can let them combo and ignore almost everything they do until you can assemble your combo and deal infinite damage. The only caveat is you do have to disrupt the combo before they are able to play a Murderous Redcap. I mulliganned to 5 cards in Game 1 and decided to deliberately not fetch red and pretend to be the mirror. This would mean that his Worships would look useless and he would rely on a card like Scavenging Ooze to beat me, which, while strong at disabling Eternal Witness shenanigans, would do nothing against a Restoration Angel or a Kiki-Jiki. Additionally, he may leave in a card like Orzhov Pontiff, which is not nearly as good against me as it is for me. In Game 2, I was able to play Wall of Roots into Birds of Paradise into a surprise Restoration Angel at the end of turn. My opponent was tapped out and my Chord for Kiki-Jiki ended the game. As I shuffled my cards for Game 3, my opponent quickly returned to his sideboard. I knew that the decision to conceal information was instrumental in winning the 2nd game. My opponent played a Worship on the 3rd turn of Game 3. I attacked with two Voice of Resurgences and, eventually a Restoration Angel, until my opponent was down to 3. At this point, I had pathed my opponent’s Kitchen Finks and cast a Lightning Helix on a Melira. I attacked into my opponent’s Viscera Seer, Birds of Paradise, a Phyrexian Revoker naming Qasali Pridemage and Eternal Witness. As soon as my opponent declared no blocks, I saw my window. A Chord of Calling for Orzhov Pontiff killed all of my opponent’s creatures and allowed me to get in for lethal.

Round 3: Living End

I sat down at the table against a delightfully friendly Canadian (probably redundant phrasing, right?) who told me that he had been testing with Pascal Maynard. I knew that Pascal had talked about playing a lot of combo decks in the article he had recently posted. However, there was a strong chance Eldrazi was the option. My opponent led on Blackcleave Cliffs and passed. At that point, I assumed he was either on Jund (least likely), Lantern Control (also unlikely, given the lack of a turn 1 play) or Living End. Sure enough, my opponent cycled a pile of creatures and killed me in short work. In this matchup, it’s important to get an early Scavenging Ooze or Eidolon of Rhetoric without leaving yourself open to Fulminator Mages. I usually like boarding out Big Game Hunter, a Kiki-Jiki, Orzhov Pontiff and a Qasali Pridemage so that I can board in Eidolon of Rhetoric, 2 Dismembers, and a Spellskite. The reason I board out Big Game Hunter is that it actually doesn’t hit many, if any, cards against Living End. Deadshot Minotaur, Street Wraith, Fulminator Mage, Architects of Will, Faerie Macabre, Shriekmaw and Ingot Chewer are all misses for the Big Game Hunter. Game 2 involved a Bird into a Scavenging Ooze and a Voice of Resurgence to pressure while Ooze slowed him down. There wasn’t much to say about this game as my opponent looked frustrated shuffling into Game 3. The third game was incredibly grindy. I remember being able to hold off an early Living End, despite having his multiple Fulminator Mages cutting me off of most of my red mana and all of my black mana. I was at 4 life when I started to turn the corner. I played my Spellskite for my turn, which joined a Restoration Angel, a Wall of Omens, and a Voice of Resurgence along with all of my basics on the battlefield. My graveyard included my Sacred Foundry, a Stomping Grounds, a Fire-Lit Thicket, and an Overgrown Tomb. I could Chord for Kiki-Jiki after playing my Spellskite. However, I drew Kiki-Jiki for the turn! I was now unable to Chord for my combo, and, unless I played a Bird of Paradise, Kiki-Jiki would be stranded in my hand for the rest of the game; I was going to have to win off of natural damage. At this point, Pascal finished playing his game and walked over to our table. He stood right behind me and began watching our game. I usually don’t crack under pressure, but, I felt my heart racing. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, as I was ahead on board and could convert this to a win if I didn’t screw up. My opponent entered his attack step and swung with a Monstrous Carabid. I took this opportunity to Chord for Eternal Witness to get back a Path to Exile. If my opponent casts Living End at that moment, he’d lose his board and I’d get back all of my creatures plus an Eternal Witness, and if he doesn’t cast Living End, I’d be able to block the Carabid and ensure further Living Ends favor me. I got back a Path to Exile and blocked the Carabid with the Eternal Witness. While Eidolon of Rhetoric shuts off my opponent’s ability to cast Living End altogether, I believe Eternal Witness was correct in this spot because I’ve now made casting Living End more beneficial to myself than to my opponent. Additionally, Eidolon prevented me from playing additional spells on my turn, for example, I wouldn’t be able to cast a Chord for Eternal Witness and then play the card I returned with it; my opponent hardcast two Simian Spirit Guides before conceding the game to me. I breathed a sigh of relief and get ready for Round 4.

Round 4: UG Infect

I sat down at the table against Twitch streamer Brad Hammond, otherwise known as MaxLongitude. He’s playing Blue Green Infect. I don’t remember much of this game, but, I know it had me dying before I play my 3rd land. As we began to sideboard, I brought in my Spellskite, all my removal spells, and a Sin Collector. The second game began with a Bird for me and a Noble Hierarch for him. A Twisted Image for my turn 2 Spellskite and a Distortion Strike on his Blighted Agent left me dead on board with 30 minutes still on the clock. Golly. I ran across the street to a Subway and get a sub to take my mind off of the beating I had just received.

Round 5: Affinity

My opponent won the die roll and dumped his hand: Memnites, Signal Pests, Vault Skirges, and Springleaf Drums. I cast a Wall of Roots into a Birds of Paradise and proceeded to eat a pile of damage the following turn. My opponent played a 2nd Signal Pest for the turn and crunched in which left me dead on board the following turn without an answer. I drew my 3rd land for the turn which was really important because it meant that I could Chord for an Orzhov Pontiff, which would wipe my opponent’s entire board. My opponent fired up all of his creaturelands and attacked for lethal. I turned everything sideways myself and cast a Chord of Calling and preceded to 8 for 1 my opponent.

I boarded into my Stony Silences, my Lightning Helixes, my Reclamation Sage and a Phyrexian Revoker.

I took out Big Game Hunter, Kiki-Jiki, 2 Wall of Omens, an Obstinate Baloth and a Chord of Calling.

I also cut a Chord here because it generally looked weak in your opening hand and without a powerful target to Chord for, this made up a huge turn investment as a Chord usually does in the early turns. The second game, I cast a Stony Silence and he cast a Torpor Orb. I am left with a 2/1 for 3 (Reclamation Sage) a 2/2 for 4 (Pia and Kiran Nalaar), and a 2/1 for 2 (Lone Missionary). He wins on mediocre beats. I cut the Scavenging Ooze to re-add a Chord of Calling. If he has Torpor Orb, I need to have a way to answer it. This game included an Early Revoker naming Cranial Plating and a Spellskite to beat a Ravager. I eventually draw a Stony Silence and kill him with Restoration Angel beat down.

Affinity is a very swing-y matchup and I’ve really enjoyed the addition of Phyrexian Revoker to slow down explosive cards like Ravager and Plating in Affinity.

Round 6: Affinity

Game 1 included the following sentence on turn 1: “Ensoul Artifact my Ornithopter?”

Ornithopter, Glimmervoid, Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, Ensoul Artifact. I played a Qasali Pridemage on turn 2 and it gets Galvanic Blasted. Onto Game 2.The second game, sadly, was just as uneventful. I managed to cast a Pia and Kiran Nalaar and trade off with his Vault Skirges. He played an Etched Champion and Galvanic Blasted my Pia in response to a potential Restoration Angel blink. A Cranial Plating equip later and I’m signed the slip. Again, Affinity is a swing-y match and anytime the deck adds more powerful haymakers like Ensoul Artifact or Master of Etherium the matchup will likely get more difficult.

Round 7: UR Eldrazi

My opponent led off on an Eye of Ugin and passed the turn. I played a Birds of Paradise and prepared for a Thought-Knot Seer. Instead, my opponent played a Shivan Reef and an Eldrazi Skyspawner. I played a Wall of Roots and pass the turn with Path to Exile in my hand. My opponent sacrificed his Scion token and played a Reality Smasher which was promptly Path to Exiled, and I discarded an extra land to the trigger. I played a Pia and Kiran Nalaar and passed the turn. My opponent played an Eldrazi Temple into a Drowner of Hope and a Vial Aggregate. I passed the turn with Restoration Angel and Chord of Calling in hand. It’s times like this where I’m very happy to be playing cards that are able to be cast at instant speed. My opponent attacked in with Aggregate and Drowner. I chump Drowner with a token and take 5. My opponent passed the turn and I chord for Big Game Hunter to kill Drowner of Hope. On my turn, I cast a Restoration Angel to blink the Hunter, killing Aggregate, played a Voice of Resurgence and pass back to my opponent. He looked at the top two cards of his library and conceded.

-2 Scavenging Ooze -1 Lone Missionary -1 Wall of Omens
+2 Dismember +1 Phyrexian Revoker +1 Obstinate Baloth +1 Shriekmaw

My opponent cast a Thought-Knot into a Reality Smasher into a pair of Aggregates. I die.

Game 3 I kept a removal heavy hand and my opponent flooded out on lands, Endless Ones, Mimics, and Skyspawners. It’s really true what they say: you have to get lucky to beat Eldrazi.

Round 8: UW Eldrazi

At X-2 I have back to back win and ins for Day 2. I’m 2-0 versus Eldrazi on the day and I feel very confident about the next two rounds. I sit down across from my opponent with a fire I haven’t felt since my RPTQ. I’m playing for this milestone and I’m doing it my way. My opponent leads on Eldrazi Temple and an Eldrazi Mimic. I play a Birds of Paradise and hunker down for a good old-fashioned throw-down. My opponent’s Thought-Knot Seer reveals my hand of 2 Path to Exiles, Chord of Calling, Wall of Roots, land, land. He takes a Path to Exile, plays an Eldrazi Mimic off his Eye of Ugin, cracks for 4, and passes the turn. I draw a Big Game Hunter for the turn. I play my land and pass. My opponent plays Reality Smasher. Excellent! I Pathed the Smasher, Big Game Hunter the Thought-Knot Seer, and use Big Game Hunter to chump one of the Mimics. I drew a Wall of Roots off the Thought-Knot Seer. I played Wall, Wall and passed the turn. My opponent played a 2nd Smasher and I conceded. I boarded out my Oozes, my Lone Missionary, the Orzhov Pontiff, the Qasali Pridemage, and both Pia and Kirans. I boarded into the Revoker, a Lightning Helix, both Dismembers, the Shriekmaw, the Reclamation Sage, and the Obstinate Baloth. I was a little disappointed about my opponent’s draw, but, I had been very lucky against Eldrazi so far today so I remember thinking “it could be worse.”

It was about to get worse.

I mulliganned my 7 and 6 card hands and I was left with Wooded Foothills, Path to Exile, Dismember, Helix, and Chord of Calling; serviceable. I scryed a Birds of Paradise to the bottom, played my land and passed. My opponent played turn 1 Grafdigger’s Cage. Yuck. I drew a 2nd Chord of Calling. I drew a 3rd Chord of Calling. I drew a 4th Chord of Calling. “This can’t be happening”, I think to myself. In fact, I may have even said it out loud. My opponent has played another Grafdigger’s Cage and an Eldrazi Displacer. I drew Reclamation Sage for the turn; finally. I cast Reclamation Sage and blew up a cage. My opponent tapped out for two Eldrazi Displacers and a Phyrexian Metamorph. I used Restoration Angel on my mainphase to blew up the 2nd Cage so I didn’t get blown out by Dismember. My opponent Dismembered my Angel and cast Path to Exile on Reclamation Sage to kill me for exact damage. A friend of mine finished his game just as I finish and I asked him if he has any headphones. I signed the slip and immediately took a lap around the hall to escape from whatever nightmare it felt like I walked into.

Round 9:

I returned to the tournament hall a little before pairings were put up. I read that I’ve been paired against Lexi Mettler, who, in case you don’t know her, is a great content producer for HipstersoftheCoast. Lexi and I began talking about our mutual love of Scapeshift and she congratulated me on making Day 2. What? I told her that we’re both X-3 and this was a win and in. She went blank. She immediately called for a judge and explained that the match slip was filled out wrong and she had been mispaired. I took this opportunity to ask a judge to watch my things as I used the bathroom and collected my head for the final match of the day. After about 10 minutes, my new opponent appeared. He’s a nice guy who looked very happy to be here, but, also ready to play for Day 2. He won the die roll and led on Urborg, Thoughtseize. 8 RACK?! Please, God, not like this. I began to feel sick to my stomach as I played a land and pass to my opponent. My opponent casts another Thoughtseize and then plays a Wooded Foothills. Suddenly, everything is better. This meant he could be on Jund, which was likely my best matchup. I slammed down a Wall of Roots and a Scavenging Ooze. I no longer had to slow-play my hand to dodge rack effects. He played Tarmogoyf and I ate away at the yard. He played another Tarmogoyf and I ate the rest of the graveyard. A Restoration Angel and a Spellskite later, we had finished Game 2. I brought in an additional Obstinate Baloth and the Reveillark along with the Dismembers and a Phyrexian Revoker. I boarded out Lone Missionary, a Wall of Roots, a Kiki-Jiki, and the Orzhov Pontiff. The second game felt surreal. After I mulliganned a 7 card hand, I had an opening hand of Birds of Paradise, Reveillark, Restoration Angel, Eternal Witness, land, land. I scryed my 3rd land to the top and proceeded to gain tons of value as I drew Voice of Resurgence and Scavenging Ooze. I hit my 4th land drop and slammed Reveillark, a card that had been useless all day, but, was easily my favorite card in the list, to seal my ticket to Day 2.

I’m well past my word count so I’m going to summarize the rest of the event. I won the first two games against Red Green Eldrazi (!) and Affinity and then lost a not-even-close-to-close match against Infect to get my 4th loss of the day and likely lock me out of cashing. I sent my RG Scapeshift list to a buddy a week or so back. He and his friend both played the list to Day 2 finishes. The weekend was great. I came out ahead against Eldrazi and I loved my list. The only change I would make is adding a Melira to the 76; likely in place of a Fulminator Mage or the Reveillark. I’m probably not going to touch Modern until April as I set my sights on Standard PPTQ season hoping to re-qualify for the RPTQ circuit.

Thank you all so much for reading.

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