#GPPlaneswalkerPoints: My Impulsive Trip to Minneapolis

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

#GPPlaneswalkerPoints: My Impulsive Trip to Minneapolis

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 quite some time since I jotted down an article for LegitMTG. For a while, I anticipated writing a series about archetypes in Magic and how they translated to Modern, but, I got bogged down with work and got a little bit lost in the theory, so I decided to stick to practicing for the time being. Today, I’d love to share what is quite possibly my favorite Magic experience to date. The story starts on Saturday, May 22nd. Having missed Day 2 of GP Charlotte I was 201 Planeswalker Points shy of 2 byes for next season. This was crushing to me as I had recently begun preparation for a 4 month full-time-Magic schedule starting at the beginning of August in which I’d hoped to play in the first 6 US GPs with some money I’d saved from playing, trading, and selling off a portion of my Magic collection. The difference between having byes and not having byes is critical when you want to get to the highest level because your sideboard slots can be more geared towards the real decks in the format rather than the chaff that you might play in the first few rounds. If I wanted to make my mark on the competitive Magic circuit, I had to have 2 byes. On Monday, I sat around my apartment trying to figure out what missing Day 2 in a format I felt like I knew inside and out meant for my professional Magic career. I realized that I needed to go to Minneapolis to try and get my byes and see if I really had the mettle to play competitive Magic. I booked my flight 72 hours beforehand. PSA: Don’t ever do that. Seriously, don’t ever, ever do that. The cost of the flight was quite ridiculous and if I didn’t have a few frequent flier miles to subsidize the cost, it would have been impossible. Regardless, Hotwire plus some finagling made the trip just within my price range and some dicey connection flights made ensured a cheaper than average weekend.

Now, for anyone who knows me, you’ll know that I don’t play Standard. I just don’t play it. I talk about it, I watch it, I brew and theorize for it, but, I don’t play Standard. My last sanctioned match of Standard was probably a PPTQ before SOI. I took Oliver Tiu’s GP Grixis Control list to a 3-1 finish at Tuesday’s Standard Night literally punting my first round twice with lethal on board. I had a long way to go. I bought the last few cards I needed and called all of my friends to get their input on my sideboard guide and main deck choices. I put a lot of work into this. Every night, I’d watch games on mtgcoverage of Grixis playing matches or SCG VS Series videos to figure out how to sequence and how to board. On Thursday night, I had my 75 locked in and my sideboard guide printed out. On Friday, I flew out to Minneapolis and got in around 2:00, which gave me just enough time to play in two Standard grinders. After a 3-0 start, I asked my opponent if he’d like to draw due to prize equity. In between rounds, I made sure to watch over the shoulder of every Grixis pilot I could find. I managed to watch a game that a Magic player named Dominick was playing in which he cast MIND ROT on his opponent. LAWDY, THAT’S SOME SPICY MAGIC. After chatting with Dominick about the card, I immediately sprinted to the dealer booths to see if I could find a copy. I found a foil Japanese Mind Rot for my sideboard and proceeded to 3-0-1 the next Standard Challenge Event. Just in case you’re wondering, Mind Rot is very often just Mind Twist in Grixis. Between Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, you’re often eliminating your opponent’s hand by the 5th turn of the game, with a threat on board. That’s usually good enough to win you the game on its own. I talked with Dominick some more and headed back to my hotel room to get some sleep before the main event.

I woke up and started the main event on Saturday with a bye. Instead of taking the sleep-in special, I made sure to find Grixis Control v. BW Control matches to watch before my second round started. BW felt like the most intricate matchup as they had many planeswalkers and often had an Eldrazi-centric transformative board. I wanted to make sure I knew how to sequence my spells to invalidate their planeswalkers as much as possible.

Round 1: Bye

Round 2: 4 Color Rites (2-0) [2-0]

In the second round, I squared off against 4.5 Color Rites, which is a very good matchup. I saw Radiant Flames both games and my opponent only saw 1 Displacer. Pretty elementary, but, a much needed confidence boost. The Rites deck often revolves around Displacer and, to a lesser extent, Duskwatch Recruiter. Beating those cards will win you the game.

Round 3: Abzan Control (2-0) [3-0]

My opponent had a creature heavy draw of Tireless Tracker, Ayli, and Sylvan Advocate, which was again punished by a Radiant Flames. In Game 2, a Kolaghan’s Command before his main phase forced him to discard a Seasons Past after a Mind Rot had previously left him hellbent. Lucky, lucky.

Round 4: UR Eldrazi (2-1) [4-0]

In this game, I got quickly rattled by an early swarm of Vile Aggregates, Eldrazi Skyspawners, and Thought-Knot Seers, which paired up well against my Ultimate Price, Fiery Impulse opener. I had some difficulty figuring out exactly how to sideboard, given my opponent’s less orthodox deck choice, but, an Infinite Obliteration in Game 2 gave me a much better idea of what I was up against. I managed to take the sideboarded games and advance to 4-0. This is when I knew I had locked up my 2nd bye, and I was quite happy that I had accomplished my goal for the tournament. However, at 4-0, I was in great shape to Day 2 and was very live for cash.

Round 5: GR Ramp (2-0!!) [5-0]

At this point, I had begun my group chats on Facebook letting all my friends back home know how well I was doing. After telling them I beat Ramp 2-0, they said, YOU DID WHAT?! I’ll tell you, dear reader, Transgress the Mind is a heck of a Magic card. Turn 2 Jace into turn 3 Transgress on the play swiped a Veggies and a flashback later peeled a World Breaker from his grip. A timely Ruinous Path awakened my land for lethal with a Goblin Dark-Dwellers. To say I drew well in Game 1 would be an understatement, but, sometimes you get lucky. Game 2 was a bit more of a game, as his Sylvan Advocates and Tireless Trackers made my turn 3 Infinite Obliteration look a little less powerful. Early Duress and a Mind Rot on turn 6 (found off Dark Petition) left my opponent with just his creatures, which couldn’t withstand a pair of Dark-Dwellers.

Round 6: Mardu Control (2-0) [6-0] Day 2 locked up.

This was a grindy game in which a Fiery Impulse I had been holding since the beginning of the game let me kill my opponent’s Needle Spires and win the race in Game 1. In Game 2, a Mind Rot paired with a Goblin Dark-Dwellers left my opponent with 0 cards and myself with a full grip. My opponent’s eyes almost came out of his skull when I cast the foil-y Japanese wonder on turn 4. The Mardu and BW matchups are ALL about Read the Bones. Dominick and I saw Mind Rot as a less painful Read the Bones as it negated your opponent’s card advantage. Mardu doesn’t play many creatures, but, Dark Dwellers and man lands are really tough to deal with. Because of this, Grasp of Darkness is put at a premium over Ultimate Price and Fiery Impulse has some value in the later game. Even further, Rending Volley picks off both creaturelands and Grip of Desolation helps you come back from behind.

Round 7: Stephen Berrios BW Control (2-0) [7-0]

For those of you who aren’t aware, Stephen Berrios is an incredibly strong PT-Magic Origins Top 8 competitor. It’s one thing to play against someone wearing a Pro Tour T-Shirt, it’s another thing to play against someone who gives it meaning. In 2 games, I was able to cast 5 Read the Bones and 1 Mind Rot. An early Virulent Plague in Game 2 and some mana trouble on Stephen’s end gave me my match win and a chance at my best Day 2 yet. The game ended with Stephen in position of a Thought-Knot Seer that had just stripped Ruinous Path from my hand. I had a Dragonlord Silumgar and 11 mana, but, my draw was Grip of Desolation! I could kill the Thought-Knot and his last Shambling Vents and if I drew a land I could deal lethal with Wandering Fumarole. I made sure I had Blue and Red available so any land could do it. Smoldering Marsh off the top. Game. That was a pretty impressive sequence of draws. If I were Stephen, I’d be a little tilted. Stephen was a gracious competitor and even helped me with some sideboarding questions I had. One major difference I’ve found between the pros and the amateurs is the ability to win and lose with grace. Stephen was a class act. Much like Mardu, BW is all about Read the Bones. The Eldrazi take the place of Dark-Dwellers as a must kill threat and Shambling Vents and Ormendahl are pretty good at stopping you.

Round 8: Alexander Hayne GW Tokens (2-0) [8-0]

If Stephen Berrios is a little less known to you, I’m sure the next name will be a little easier to remember. Alexander Hayne is a Platinum Pro with multiple GP Wins, a Pro Tour victory (in his Rookie year no less) and a Canadian national team Captain. He’s also a hero of mine and a player I’ll always root for to win the event. I sheepishly blurted all this out to him as we began our match, and he assured me that he’s not the demi-god I made him out to be. A quick Game 1 and an unanswered Dragonmaster Outcast in Game 2 had me signing a match slip 2-0 against a player I aspire to be. Needless to say, I floated to the match-slip drop off location. GW Tokens is one of the more intricate matchups and I’ve had interesting results against it. Frankly speaking, you just can’t beat 2 drop into Nissa into Gideon. You just can’t. So, I don’t try to. My boarding strategy is a little unorthodox and includes moving A BUNCH of cards around.

-3 Fiery Impulse -2 Read the Bones -2 Transgress the Mind -1 Jace -3 Kolaghan’s Command
+3 Duress +1 Mind Rot +1 Dark Petition +1 Silumgar’s Command +1 Virulent Plague +2 Radiant Flames +2 Dragonmaster Outcast

On the draw, I cut the 3rd Read the Bones and bring in the 1st Transgress. The 2-3 damage spot removal is quite poor and K Commands are not very powerful when they’re not killing your Jaces or Kalitas. Similarly, Dragonmaster Outcast shines if you even get 1 dragon and a removal spell out of it. I dislike Ob Nixilis and Grip of Desolation as you’re rarely losing to Ormendahl and spot removal, again, is quite poor. Your primary concern is beating Secure the Wastes and Gideon. Dark Petition gets Virulent Plague 85% of the time. Transgress is an interesting card to board out, but, if you consider their post board plan, you’re only live to hit 12-14 cards (4 Gideon, 4 Nissa, 4 Avacyn, 2 Angelic Purge) – the card does nothing against Secure the Wastes, Den Protector, or Evolutionary Leap and doesn’t really sequence well in multiples because its hit count is so low, unlike Duress, which hits most everything post board that you care about. You want to hold Ruinous Path for as long as you can and lean on Dragonlord Silumgar to deal with Nissa. Mind Rot is, once again, excellent. It can generally give you an excellent idea of what your opponent is playing to and can put pressure on their shaky manabase. With one match to go, I was seated in a Bermuda triangle of pros. Yuuya Watanabe to my left, Paul Dean to my left, and Matt Severa sitting across from me.

Round 9: Matt Severa Bant Human Company (0-2) [8-1]

Matt Severa is a Limited savant who plays in the hallowed grounds of Wisconsin. In Game 1, I kept a 2 lander with a pile of removal spells and sadly never saw a 3rd land. In tournaments where you run this hot, I think it’s important to ride the lightning but sometimes you get shocked. In Game 2, Matt showed me 3 Thalia’s Lieutenants before turn 5. There’s really no beating that as I showed him 2 Radiant Flames and congratulated him on an impressive Day 1. He said, “You didn’t do too bad either, congrats on the byes and I’ll see you tomorrow.” Matt ended up Top 8ing the event so he helped my breakers quite a bit.

For reference, I was 16-3 on Day 1 after playing against 3 pros and 2 poor matchups. Needless to say, I slept like a baby before Day 2. With Day 2 locked up, my byes in the bag, and great tiebreakers, I set my sights on my next goal. The big goal. A Pro Tour Invite. Just 5 wins away, I could reach out and touch my penultimate goal to this point. At the end of Day 2 I was literal, actual 32nd in the standings. And yes, I did take a screenshot. #vanity.

Day 2:

Round 10: BG Aurora Control (0-2) [8-2]

After having an incredible beginning to my tournament, I was met with a horrible matchup, a mulligan to 5, and a deck check to stew over my bad luck to start the day. My opponent did accept my offer to play Rummy and Speed while we waited for our cards to come back, which did help take my mind off of the mulligan. However, a mulligan to 6 and a turn 6 Ulamog left me looking for other matches to watch. There isn’t much to this match. Seasons Past is brutal, Ulamog is almost impossible to kill, and Dark Petition loops leave you far, far behind. Negates in my board might improve the matchup, but, I’m not sure yet what I would cut to add them.

Round 11: Andrew Boswell GW Tokens (0-2) [8-3]

In between rounds, I bumped into Boswell at the pairings board and asked him if he was slated to do coverage. After a pleasant conversation, I looked at the pairings board and laughed out loud as we were set to play against each other. Sadly, a mulligan to 4 and then a mulligan to 6 left me in the dust. I was probably one card off of lethal in Game 2. I was at 1 life and Andrew was at 8 with a Hangarback on 3 and an Evolutionary Leap with a green mana open, with a tapped creature in play. I had 2 Dark-Dwellers and a Fumarole to activate. If I’d had one more card in hand, I would have had 3 mana free to kill a creature, and kill him on that turn or the following turn. I was a bit disappointed that my Pro Tour hopes had been dashed just two rounds into the day, but, Andrew was a great sport and left me feeling good about the match. Those Sugar Loaf folk are certainly kind. After the match, we talked about our sideboarding strategy. Andrew said he lost to Grixis 3 times in New York and he packed 2 Leaps, 2 Purges, 2 Den Protectors, and a Quarantine Field to improve the matchup. He liked my sideboarding strategy and agreed that Transgress looks much worse when you’re comparing it to Duress and Mind Rot. The games often develop into topdeck wars and additional discard is just too costly when you need to answer something off the top.

Round 12: UW Midrange (2-0) [9-3]

A UW Fliers deck is never bad, but, my deck was all removal and a Dragonlord Silumgar was too much for him to handle in Game 1 and a Kalitas into Radiant Flames finished Game 2. I was lucky to avoid Always Watching into Dragonlord Ojutia. To the Slaughter might be important if this deck picks up steam, though, I felt confident with my matchup.

Round 13: UR Control (2-1) [10-3]

This was a tight game that featured a Confirm Suspicions playing a critical role in Games 1 and 2. My opponent cast Ulamog on turn 7 in Game 1 and I was left with no Blue sources and a Dragonlord Silumgar in hand. In Game 2, I was able to correctly bait my opponent into Kozilek’s Returning a Jace that was about to flip in order to deploy a Dragonmaster Outcast, which eventually won me the game after an Infinite Obliteration eliminated all of my opponent’s abilities to flashback the Return. Game 3 was fairly uneventful as 2 Kolaghan’s Command were able to hit Hedron Archives with no blue sources left untapped. This matchup is about Ulamog. After you deal with it, you’re likely to do well as Jace, Chandra, and even Drowner put little pressure on you. Impulse and Ultimate Price are garbage and come out for your anti-Ulamog package.

Round 14: Bant Rites (2-0) [11-3]

This might have been my favorite round of the day. On a mulligan to 5, I was able to swing the game in my favor despite 3 Collected Companies. I was able to use Dragonlord Silumgar to take my opponent’s Eldrazi Displacer and then steal his Dragonlord Atarka by blinking the Silumgar after Atarka took out the Displacer. That was a delightful sequence. Did I mention Dragonlord Silumgar is gas?

Round 15: GW Tokens (1-2) [11-4]

In the last round, I believe I was live for Top 32 with Boswell and Severa still at the top tables. Severa won his win and in and Boswell later defeated LSV. However, after trading games with my opponent (a Pro Tour competitor who was from Brazil) he began Game 3 with turn 2 Hangarback Walker, turn 3 Nissa, turn 4 Gideon, turn 5 Avacyn in our 3rd game. I signed my slip and hoped I’d still be able to slide into Top 64.

In 58th place at the end of the day, I had convinced myself of three things: #1: I am good enough to play competitive Magic with the best and hard work and dedication will get me to my goal. #2: This flight was TOTALLY worth it (and mostly paid for, at that) and #3: Since I was flying out on Monday, it was time for a win a box or two. After two delightful 3-0s with good ole Jund, I had 57 packs and had to buy a bag from Pastimes to fit it all on my plane ride home #sickbrags.

This weekend was exactly what I needed. I am convinced, without a doubt, that Magic will ALWAYS give you a win when you need it most. I’m so thankful for everyone who supported me this weekend and especially thankful to the LegitMTG staff, Joshua Claytor especially, who gave me kind words and a special shout-out tweet after my 8-1. Even though Magic is an individual competition, I absolutely felt like everyone was standing behind me cheering me on as I played my matches, and that’s an unforgettable feeling. Finally, I’d like to personally thank my two biggest cheerleaders: Ryan Tigro and my girlfriend Caitlin. Both of you were incredible and I don’t have words to express my gratitude for all your love and support these last few months. It’s been a bumpy road, but, I finally got there.

I’m taking a few weeks off from playing to celebrate some important events with friends and family, but, will likely be running Grixis Control back at GP Pittsburgh, when I come off my 2nd bye. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

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