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The VIP Treatment (Top 100, GP Las Vegas)

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

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Modern Masters has been an absolute pleasure to play. The format is vibrant with archetypes, has room to explore new deck types, and carries the “lottery ticket” mentality that is always fun when opening packs. Well, the reason why the lottery is so profitable is because of people like me. After opening my first 20 Modern Masters packs, the most valuable card I had opened, by far, was a Glimmervoid! I had been passed such things as a crimped Bridge from Below, a foil Kitchen Finks, a foil Eternal Witness, and an Engineered Explosives, but I was definitely hoping to break my slump at Grand Prix Las Vegas.

I had decided to make the trip the day the tournament was announced. Boldly writing it on my calendar, I constantly brought it up each time the word “June” was mentioned at home. Because I lived in Tempe for seven years, I planned on flying into Phoenix and visiting old friends in the days leading up to the Grand Prix, followed by a tradition brought to you over the decades by movies, TV, and bachelor parties alike: the Las Vegas road trip.

While others equate Vegas with lots of “adult” behavior, late nights, and general craziness, I have a debilitating condition that prevents me from doing a lot of those things: being unreal old. Just as running backs in the NFL are considered “old” once they hit their 30s, I might as well be a dinosaur in terms of Magic: the Gathering. I talk to players all the time who say things like “I started playing forever ago. When I was in high school, we opened a lot of Champions of Kamigawa,” and I am forced to think about how I was already out of graduate school, married, and paying my own bills when CoK block came out.

Day 0

We arrived early Thursday evening at our hotel in downtown Las Vegas, which has been converted into the “Fremont Street Experience,” a constant barrage of light and sound coming from multiple stages that feature cover bands and a five-block-long LED video screen above the casinos. The street was a constant stream of humanity, and the clientele was distinctly different than that of The Strip; very few people were beautiful by society’s standards, but every last person I saw had a smile on their face. It was blue-collar Las Vegas, as opposed to the white-collar glitzy feel that you get on The Strip. It made me wonder if people were missing the real vacation spot.

After crashing before midnight (but after Game 7 of the NBA Finals), we woke up and went to the site early in order to get to the vendors. Twenty minutes early should be enough, right?

Yeah, right.

Even though we had signed up for VIP treatment, the line infamously went around the entire convention center, much like people camping out for concert tickets. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait in line long; once the doors opened, some judges said VIPs actually had a separate line. We wouldn’t have to wait in the 100-plus degree heat for the hours it would take to get inside and registered. After waiting only about thirty minutes in the VIP line, we got our swag and sat down for a rousing single elimination bracket of Mini Modern Masters. Free packs are free packs, am I right?

VIP was easily the best $60 I have spent in my Magical career. The guaranteed playmats were selling for anywhere between $50 and $140, bottles of water were $2 or so onsite, and avoiding the press of humanity between and during rounds was just priceless. I had enough space to play during my rounds that I could almost stretch my arms out from my sides and not hit another player, and I was always seated in the same location for each round. You have no idea what a pleasure both of those items are until you actually experience them for an entire day of gaming. That doesn’t even include the free DGR draft on Day 2, guaranteed sleeves, or artist “access.” That word is in quotes because there was only a two-hour window for special access, and the lines were so jammed with VIPs that there was a serpentine line complete with chairs because of the wait time at some artists. That was the only remotely negative part of my whole VIP experience, and I would gladly do it again without hesitation, especially as Grands Prix seem to be steadily over the 1,000-person attendance mark.

In order to hedge my bets on opening a foil Tarmogoyf, I did the thing most people should do at every Grand Prix: I collected buylists from various vendors to figure out what cards to sell and to whom. Most people have lots of golden nuggets in their binder without even realizing it, and getting some extra cash for cards that are doing nothing for you should be done as often as possible. Sitting down with buylists also lets you get the most for your cards, as there can be quite a swing in prices; Fulminator Mage was being bought for $5 at one table, while another was paying $8.50 each! While Reuben Bresler and Tannon Grace grid-drafted my Cube, I was able to organize about $1,100 in card sales for myself and a friend. Not bad for about an hour’s work.

Day 1

Well-rested, fed, and armed with zero byes, I showed up to the convention center to look for a Revised Angel and doughnuts, but struck out. Doughnutless, I registered a pool that was unspectacular but had a strong Dredge theme, with multiple Worm Harvests and Stinkweed Imps … and no big-money rares (streak: 26, or more than one whole box). While checking my neighbor’s registered pool, I saw an unbelievable blue/red deck: Cryptic Command, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Vedalken Shackles, and foil Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in some of the rare slots, with foil Spell Snare, lots of burn spells, two Pestermites (to complete the combo), and other goodies in the pool. Wow! Could I possibly wind up with this marriage of power and value?

Nope.

After the deck swap (and a message from a roommate saying “I got foil Bob and Goyf in my pool, going to drop and go poker”) I wound up with a very solid pool of cards that left me with two possible decks. Oh, and no money rares (streak: 32). Here is the two-color deck I wound up playing, mainly to avoid tempting the mana gods by playing three colors over nine rounds, since a record of 7-2 was needed to advance:

Avitollo Sealed

Every card was certainly useful over the course of the event. Some observations about my deck:

  • I got quite a few frowns for including Erratic Mutation, but it was actually very solid since it was always good for a -2 on toughness. It was great for killing utility creatures and finishing off larger creatures in combat. Sometimes you just need removal spells, you know?
  • I never lost a game in which I cast a Feudkiller’s Verdict.
  • The two Saltfield Recluses made combat impossible for most opponents.
  • Some decks just can’t deal with a 4/4 flyer permanently.
  • Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is virtually unbeatable versus removal-heavy decks.
  • Casting Otherworldly Journey on your Mulldrifter in response to a removal spell feels just as good as it sounds, if not better.

The main event actually started with my first-round opponent getting a game loss for arriving about five minutes late. Our second game, however, took 40 minutes and I won with four cards left in my library. The ground was gummed up, and I couldn’t push through his entwined Tooth and Nail for Jugan, the Rising Star and Yosei, the Morning Star until I drew my Blinding Beam.

After rolling through my next two rounds pretty easily, I was paired against someone named ‘Robert M300’ in Round 4. I was a bit confused why someone would have a last name like that. Was it a DJ name? As it turned out, it was none other than Pro Tour Hall of Famer Bob Maher, Dark Confidant (v.1) himself! We had two very tight games in which I felt I was going to win if I was able to untap, but Bob had the needed spell both games to snatch victory away from me. It was a bit disheartening to lose my first match so early, but Bob was an absolute pleasure to play against, and it is certainly no disgrace to lose to a player of his caliber. I even got a souvenir from the match:

Avitollo Button

I had made a wrong judgment call about which creature to kill with Erratic Mutation, but I still felt good about my deck, so I resolved to tighten up and get back in the win column. As it turned out, my deck was pretty darn good. I won the next 10 games in a row to finish the day at 8-1. Some play highlights included:

  • Tapping my three Kithkin to activate Cloudgoat Ranger, then casting Gleam of Resistance to tap them again in order to swing for a lethal 13 damage in the air. (I had an Errant Ephemeron as well.)
  • Getting Blinding Beamed for what looked to be lethal, only to untap my team with Gleam and effectively “wrath” my opponent’s board.
  • Time Walking my opponent twice by playing Grand Arbiter Augustin IV a.k.a  Justin on Turn 4 on the play in the UW mirror. As it turned out, his hand ALSO had a Justin along with a bunch of other four-plus-drops, so he had to skip Turn 4 and spend his Turn 5 killing my Timberlake with his Bieber. He never recovered.
  • Winning on a mulligan to four in my last round. My opponent was a BW Rebel deck, and his main avenue to victory was activating his three Blightspeakers. I suspended Ephemeron on Turn 2, played my sixth land on Turn 6, and proceeded to cast Feudkiller’s Verdict on Turns 6 and 7.

Whew! It was off to another insane dinner with friends, followed by a lengthy text conversation with Adam Prosak about draft strategies and approaches. Since I likely needed a pair of 3-0 decks to make Top 8, we determined I should abandon the “stay open” strategy and try to force a green attacking deck unless I opened something particularly powerful on its own (e.g. Meloku, the Clouded Mirror) or in an archetype (e.g. Mad Auntie). I also had to promise not to pass Tromp the Domains!

Did I mention that this was my first Day 2 ever?

Day 2

The tiebreakers being reset for Sunday was a double-edged sword; I got to scrub away the bad tiebreaks that come without having any byes, but winning early would be much more important than winning late. The first draft needed to go well to have a chance at Top 8. The only name I recognized in my draft pod was Ben Stark. I tried my best to stay on target with my deck, and remembered that I likely had as much real-life experience playing with these cards as anyone at the table.

My first pack contained a few nice ones: Yosei, the Morning Star, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Mulldrifter. It was between the two white cards, and I chose the giant because of how good he is in aggressive-style decks, especially ones with mass pump tricks like Tromp the Domains, Stir the Pride, Gleam of Resistance, and even Echoing Courage. Here’s the final deck:

Avitollo Draft 1

It was plenty aggressive, but unfortunately the tricks never really came. Not only were they few and far between, but they were also bunched up in the same pack each time, which prevented me from getting more than one. I did have some nice possible draws that could include Turn 3 dinosaurs and Turn 3 attacking 5/4s, but it wasn’t the overall package that I wanted. Oh, and Yosei was by far my best value open (streak: 35).

I lost in Game 3 when I mulled to six with a double Giant Dustwasp hand but no Plains. I kept, suspended both Wasps by Turn 3, and then my opponent promptly made 10 goblin tokens on Turn 4. As it turned out, I never drew white mana anyway and died before my bugs unsuspended. Not good.

I then had another close match that went to Game 3. Once again, my opponent had a great curve of plays. He curved on Turns 1-4, then played Incremental Growth and Slaughter Pact on Turn 5 to force me into awkward “don’t die” blocks. On Turn 6 I could have unsuspended my Ivory Giant and Dustwasp to swing for lethal. Dagger.

I won round three against an oft-mulliganing opponent playing BW Rebels. I was pretty disappointed about the previous two matches, and hoped I could still finish strong if I 3-0’d my next draft. Hopefully my opponents would continue to do well! I did notice that I won all of the games in which I played first, and lost every game in which I did not. Important die rolls, much?

For the final draft, I decided to get a read early and jam it hard to build the best version of that deck. I figured there was a possibility of rare-drafting in this pod, so I might see some cards that I wouldn’t usually see at this event level. Maybe it was because the whole table was rooting for “non-LV” packs once it was revealed there were some non-stamped cards floating around? Once again, there was only one name I recognized in the pod: Reid Duke.

After opening a non-bomb/non-archetype pack, I settled on the foil Countryside Crusher as my first pick. I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t pick it solely for play reasons, even though I do like the card quite a bit. I play it in my Cube, and a foil stamped version from the largest event ever and my first Day Two ever would make a great keepsake. I know, for shame. 🙁

But when the second Countryside Crusher came in the next pick followed by a pair of Rift Bolts, I knew the giant game was (under) afoot. I was mostly monored in Pack 1, picking up a Demigod of Revenge as well. That all changed when a pair of Kithkin-toting Rangers were passed to me in Pack 2, and I would up with the following deck:

Avitollo Draft 2

This deck was pretty good! This looked much more like a 3-0 deck than my first one, that’s for sure. When I sat down for deckbuilding, the person across from me had drafted a very similar deck in his pod. By similar, I mean that he had four Kithkin Greathearts, four Avian Changelings, four Bound in Silences, three Amrou Scouts, and three Glacial Rays, among other things. Jeez.

Oh, and I blanked all my packs for value again. Final streak: 38. A box and a half with no significant money cards!

I played Reid Duke in Round 1, and he was sporting a UB Faeries deck. All my creatures were larger than his, and although he did have a couple of Pestermites to slow my attacks down long enough to hit his sixth land and a Skeletal Vampire (Batman!), I simply untapped and cast Thundercloud Shaman to wrath his team and swing for lethal. Reid was stuck on lands in Game 2, which was anticlimactic.

After handily beating another UB Faeries deck, my final opponent of the weekend was playing BW Rebels featuring at least three Blinding Beams and two Feudkiller’s Verdicts. After I won Game 1 fairly easily, in I missed drawing a fifth land for two turns in a row in Game 2, when I could have put my opponent away with Thundercloud Shaman; instead he cast double Verdict and two Beams to stay in the game and steadily chip away at my life total. Since I had seen at least four Blinding Beams in the draft, I kept myself from dying to the third one in his deck and just slowly took the game back under control, not allowing his Amrou Seekers or Avian Changeling to swing through for a couple of turns unchecked. Eventually, I dealt all 40 damage I needed and took the match.

As we were signing the match slip with a judge present, I noticed that the table lower than my seat was filled with none other than my first two opponents on Sunday, which wasn’t good for my tiebreakers. When I noted this aloud to my opponent, Reggie, he replied, “That’s OK, you’re gonna make money anyway, right?” At that point, I explained that 12-3 may miss out, and a look of crushing disappointment came over his face.

“I was 11-2-1, and thought you were the same,” he sadly proclaimed.

Ugh. Had Reggie won, he would have made Top 32 and earned some money and pro points. For someone his age (high school likely, possibly early college), a performance like that could have really meant something to his Magic-playing career, and I would have gladly given it to him had I noticed or something was said beforehand. Especially because I was fairly certain I would not make any money, I wouldn’t have hesitated to give this nice young man a reason to be inspired. Maybe that is wrong from a competitive and “tournament purity” viewpoint, but that’s just the way I feel. What I wasn’t willing to do, however, was commit tournament fraud by trying to change the result somehow, so we both had to accept the bitter pill of what might have been.

I wound up finishing 73rd out of 4,500 people, with a record of 12-3 overall (26-6 in games). I won 80 percent of my matches, 81.25 percent of my games, finished with a better record than 98.3 percent of people entered into the event, and won 0 percent of the prizes.

Pretty crazy, huh?

Some more craziness:

  • How well Cascade ran the event. I could not imagine anyone running it any better, and I am even more impressed considering the circumstances. They communicated clearly throughout the entire registration process, and were rewarded with a HUGE event that was run well. Congratulations to them.
  • How hard it is to find people in a hall of 5,000-plus people. I tried for days to run into Las Vegas local and fellow LegitMTG.com writer Heather Lafferty, and it just never happened. I got to see most of my non-local gaming friends exactly ONCE all weekend, and I feel lucky to have seen them at all.
  • How I earned more Planeswalker points as a participation award than I did for Top 4-ing a Legacy Open. I also earned more total PWP at this event than my last two PTs combined!
  • How I didn’t Cube once! I made sure to bring it and take special care of it, but I guess I’m just not used to playing relevant Magic all weekend, heh.
  • How I continued my streak of 38 packs with nothing awesome opened. I have two boxes of Modern Masters waiting in the wings, and at this point there is no way that I’m opening them without drafting them. The format is way too sweet, and my luck is way too sour.
  • How, as Magic players and people, we can go for years without seeing other friends in person, but still catch up and have a great time as though there was never an absence. We have one of the best communities, and it is those friendships that keep me playing the game, no matter how many times I move to a new state.

I’d like to say “I 12-3-d a Grand Prix, and all I got was this lousy button,” but the weekend was much more than that: It was an experience I’ll not soon forget.

Thanks for reading!

Anthony Avitollo
@Antknee42 on Twitter
Listen to The Third Power, my Cube Podcast with co-host Usman Jamil!

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