“You can’t lose what you don’t put in the middle … But you can’t win much either.”
— Mike McDermott, “Rounders”
I’m not a gambler.
When I travel to a big event like a Grand Prix, I don’t play anymore. I trade instead. After all, you can’t get mana-screwed in a trade and lose out on hundreds of dollars because of it. Trading is a much safer, low-risk and profitable way to spend the weekend, as long as you’re OK giving up some Magic along the way.
But, sometimes, that’s just too much to give up.
It began two weeks ago in Houston when I decided not to resist the urge to play in a side event. And it ended with a 24th-place finish at the largest TCG tournament ever hosted.
My first Grand Prix in three years. My first Day 2. And my first Pro Points.
But that’s not where the story begins.
Enjoying some vacation time from work, I planned an ambitious two-week road trip. It would start with a trip to GP Houston (eight hours away) and lead in to an 18-hour drive from Oklahoma City to Las Vegas after Brainstorm Brewery’s Ryan Bushard and Jason Alt came down from Michigan to swing by my house.
Despite a record-breaking 4,492 players, Grand Prix Las Vegas was run pretty smoothly for the most part. GP Houston, though only a quarter of the size, was not. The main event was hours behind schedule, although this didn’t mean much to me, since I was just there to trade and sell some cards.
But, strolling by the main-event stage after selling a few hundred dollars of commons and uncommons, I noticed a sign for the GP Rebound tournament. It was a Sealed event that was supposed to begin at 3 p.m. sharp. The Top 8 finishers received a box and entry into another tournament. There were exactly 26 registrants at 2:45 p.m. and the main event wasn’t even finished with Round Two, so I decided, Why not give it a shot?
Of course, what seemed like an easy box quickly became much more difficult when they delayed the event by two hours and all of a sudden it was a 130-person tournament. But I was already committed, so I went for the Voice of Resurgence lottery. Instead, I opened a pretty poor pool that was highlighted by double Search the City.
With plenty of lucky breaks (bolstered by being in a tournament full of players who 0-2-dropped the main event), I somehow managed to 5-0 and double-draw in to the Top 8. Although content with my box, I couldn’t turn away free value with the opportunity to open another pool in the Super Sunday series. This time I opened a pretty bomby pool, which I turned into a Top 4 appearance and another box.
I had been on the fence about Vegas before Houston. But after going 12-2-3, there was no doubt.
It was time to put my money in the middle.
For the first time at a Magic event, we decided to forgo the hotel room and rent a house. Not only was it reasonably priced, but it was a house where we could meet and host all those friends we only previously knew through Twitter.
And what a house it was.
The “Podcast House,” as the Mothership dubbed it, was as awesome as advertised. Not only did we have a ton of awesome people (too many to name) staying with us, it was the perfect way for people to come hang out while Marcel cooked some amazing food.
Sincere thanks to everyone who came out and introduced themselves throughout the weekend. It was great, even if I was too busy playing Magic to hang out as much as I would have liked.
GP Las Vegas
So, to no one’s surprise, Vegas itself was awesome. But I also played some Magic.
Here’s the pool I played in Modern Masters Sealed on Saturday:
I had a ton of artifacts and artifact recursion, and I only played a UWg build early, but I couldn’t justify skipping out on so many good green cards. I certainly made the right decision to play what I did, though the build was a few cards off. With a base GW deck and a small black splash (and four Vivids for Academy Ruins), I wasn’t positive how good my mana would be.
But the mana worked out pretty well all day long, and I should have maindecked Stinkweed Imp. I also cut Myr Retriever quite a bit, and Stonehewer Giant turned into Hillcomber Giant in all relevant matchups, since I had no playable equipment to fetch.
I started off 4-0 before picking up a draw, thanks largely to poor play on my part. I won Game 1 and died Game 2 to an Elspeth before getting into a long Game 3. Somewhere along the way I brainfarted that Thallid Germinator actually had a third ability, so I ended up letting my Imp die in a spot where it shouldn’t have, as well as another creature that could have lived. After dredging, the misplay cost me two or three attacks, and we ended turns with him at about five life and both of us locked out by Blinding Beams.
I was frustrated with myself and considered dropping to go trade, but figured I’d wait until at least my second loss, if it came soon enough.
It didn’t. I made it to Round 9 at 7-0-1, with some pretty cool games along the way. Twice I won in turns and another round went past time (though we had an extension).
Not expecting this success, I didn’t exactly keep great notes, but the coolest play was beating an opponent who entwined a Tooth and Nail on Turn 7 to fetch up a Jugan, the Rising Star and a Woodfall Primus. After several turns of stalemating — I had Adarkar Valkyrie and a lethal crackback if he swung through — I was able to Scout-search my library for a Bound in Silence to drop on Jugan. That forced him to get frisky with Woodfall Primus, and I was able to trade off in combat and get on top of his persist trigger with a Valkyrie activation. Keeping the Primus back on defense so it wouldn’t persist back to him, I was able to get there through the air a few turns later.
I finally lost in the last round of the day. I mulled to five and then six and never saw a fourth land in either game, though I don’t think it mattered much. He had Stonehewer Giant into Sword of Light and Shadow both games, and a Figure of Destiny in Game 2 to boot. He also had double Kitchen Finks and plenty of other good stuff in his deck, so it’s no surprise he went 8-0-1 on Day 1.
Pumped for my first GP Day 2, I nonetheless knew the EV of what was happening. I needed to 6-0 to Top 8 and do nearly as well to cash at all. That means the clear play is to rare draft.
So I did, first-picking Doubling Season.
That certainly worked out for me when the Thallids started coming around, and I quickly cut green. White wasn’t particularly open, but I was able to pick up a Cloudgoat Ranger and Feudkiller’s Verdict to supplement my nearly monogreen Saproling deck that also had Incremental Growth and triple Penumbra Spider.
Here’s what I ended up registering:
I had a pretty difficult match in Round 1, playing against a five-color Domain deck. I won Game 1 after topdecking Pallid Mycoderm (one of five outs) to kill him by sacrificing Saprolings the turn before his double Errant Ephemerons were going to kill me.
I tried to punt Game 2 by Incremental Growthing Spiders instead of Kithkin tokens (with Doubling Season out). My reasoning was that if he had a trick, I wanted to get “value,” but I neglected to actually do the admittedly complicated math and figure out that by pumping tokens I had lethal even through a spell. This gave him an additional turn to draw one of his five outs that would have made his Tromp the Domains lethal. Instead, he whiffed and I won the game at one life.
I easily won Round 2 and ran into a very strong UR Arcane/fliers deck in the finals. I’m pretty sure I was heavily favored, but being mana-light for much of Game 1 made me just miss finishing him off before I died to armies of 2/2 and 2/1 birds.
I pulled out Game 2 and went on to Game 3, where I kept a four-land hand that had Incremental Growth, Moldervine Cloak, and Feudkiller’s Verdict on the draw. I’m pretty sure there’s no way to ship this hand since I knew that his deck wasn’t blindingly fast.
Instead, I drew no early action and played my first spell of the game (and first Spider of the MATCH) on Turn 4. He then bounced it for two consecutive terms, and despite me replaying it with an Eternal Witness, he was able to topdeck into a way to remove the token and get through for exactly enough.
This match knocked me out of Top 8 contention (probably a blessing in disguise) and almost made me regret rare-drafting Cryptic Command over the fourth Spider. But in all likelihood, three Spiders is plenty for the deck, and to only see one through three games was a bit tilting.
Sitting at my next draft table, where only the winner would cash, the rare-draft plan was back on. I first-picked a Murderous Redcap and grabbed several other BR Goblin cards as the packs went on. I had never played or seen the archetype (I did exactly two Modern Masters drafts before Vegas), so I didn’t think it was particularly strong. But a seventh-pick Mad Auntie in Pack 2 was a gift and cemented me in the archetype.
Anyway, here’s what I registered:
Though I didn’t think so at the time, this is actually a very powerful deck. I was able to get a Mad Auntie out and alive in Game 1 (a recurring theme) and looped through enough 2/2 tokens to poke down my GW opponent two at a time even through his triple-Thallid hand and a kicked (for 3) Verdeloth the Ancient. It was a really intense match and a really fun one to play.
I steamrolled Round 2 when my Rebels opponent found out no amount of Bound in Silence can really shut down the Mad Auntie. I knew I was playing for cash in Round 3, and I was certainly nervous. I was playing a German “pro,” who had traveled for GP Vegas and Miami, and we couldn’t draw into Top 64.
Like I said, I’m no Matt Damon. I would have gladly drawn or scooped if I had gotten something for it rather than play what amounted to a $400 match. But, down to the felt as far as options were concerned, I just took a deep breath and shuffled up.
And I found out how absurd Goblins could be.
And Game 2 wasn’t much different. Mogg War Marshal on 2, Stinkweed Imp on 3 (which I traded), prowl out Auntie’s Snitch and another Mogg War Marshal on Turn 4, Turn 5 Dredge the Imp and mill Mad Auntie, which I promptly returned with Warren Pilferers and then played on the next turn. More trades, and a Warren Pilferers returning the other Warren Pilferers earned the concession, and suddenly I had stumbled into a 24th-place finish and my first Pro Points.
Like I said, not so bad.
Ryan, Jason, Aaron, and I decided the best way to cap off the weekend was to ironman it back from Las Vegas to OKC in one 18-hour session (we stopped to grab dinner and watch the Hawks win the Cup in exciting fashion).
The trip with these guys and the weekend at the house made this, without a doubt, the best Magic trip of my life, and winning some cash at the tournament just topped things off perfectly.
I didn’t play perfectly by any stretch, and I won’t deny that I missed one or two suspend triggers on Day 1, but it’s hard to be too disappointed with my play considering how infrequently I play high-level Magic. The fact that I managed to go 12-2-1 (just missing the Pro Tour invite) is pretty cool, and though I’m happy to be a somewhat honorary part of Team LegitMTG, I’m not going to suddenly start globetrotting to play this game and giving up on trading.
But sometimes you just have to, as our pal Mike McD puts it, “play some [expletive] cards.”
Thanks for reading,
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