I had a chance to play in a GP for the first time in a long while at Grand Prix Salt Lake City, and I wasn’t going to miss it. The format was Magic: 2015 Sealed Deck, and for the first time in a long while, I wasn’t going to be in the coverage booth covering it. The prospect of getting on an airplane and flying to a Magic tournament on a weekend when I didn’t have to was a little daunting, but I miss high level tournament play and decided to go.
Speaking of high level tournament play, my history with it is pretty abbreviated. This would be my fourth individual GP. (I also played in GP San Jose, a team event) I had played in GP Portland, GP San Diego, and GP Austin. I failed to make day two in my first two GPs, but at GP Austin I day-two’d and 2-1’d both drafts to finish in 51st place. This was good for a pro point and some money.
At that point, I felt like I was getting a feel for GPs and how they flowed. I was also building up some byes and looking to play more tournaments.
That same GP is the first GP I was ever in a commentary booth for. I jumped into the booth to cover the quarter finals and semi finals with BDM and Rich Hagon. I was asked to start covering GPs for Wizards based on that, with Pro Tour coverage gigs following shortly thereafter.
This put a major strain on my high level Magic career.
So when the opportunity popped up to play in Salt Lake City, I jumped at it.
One of the few downsides to doing coverage is that it’s quite difficult to build planeswalker points, the things that get you byes. So I tried to earn some byes in a GP grinder on the Friday of the tournament.
Here was my pod for the grinder I entered:
My grinder group was me, Ben Yu, David Williams, and Jameson Painter. Including me, that made three full-time professional poker players and a semi-professional poker player. (They play for all of their income essentially, I play for a percentage of mine).
They are also not bad at Magic.
I lost to Ben in the first round to his stupid Hot Soup deck and was relegated to playing with zero byes in the main event.
Byes are for cowards anyway, right?
I was traveling and staying with my friend Woodrow for the event. I let him book the hotel, but due to him being Woodrow and some weirdness on Google Maps, the hotel we got was about a 40 minute walk from the event site. We decided to get up early and hoof it, thinking that it may wake us up. I hate waking up early, and have always felt like I played worse as a result.
The walk was nice, and when we arrived, I went over to the CFB booth to chat with Andy Cooperfauss, LSV, Ben Stark and Paul Cheon about coverage and other stuff. Luis asked if they could film me building my Sealed Deck and I agreed, of course. Not only would it be fun to build on camera, there is a sort of code amongst coverage people to help out in any way you can. We have asked Luis (and many other pros) for so much over the years, it’s only fitting that I return the favor.
I got my pool on air after the player meeting, and you can watch me build here:
I got lucky with my pool. It was strong, and fairly easy to build as well. I had some interesting small choices, but green-white was definitely the way to go, it was just a matter of exploring all of my options and getting the last few cards figured out.
Here is my final build:
The only thing I would change is taking out the Ancient Silverback for the Titanic Growth. I did this after most Game 1’s. My deck’s overall power level was very high. I had the possibility of explosive draws, and my mana was good enough that my deck operated pretty consistently.
The main concern with the deck was the lack of removal. One Hunt the Weak was not going to get it done. In a format where everyone plays almost every Soul they open, not having any type of answer is bad news.
In order to win, I would have to be assertive and implement my game plan before my opponent could implement theirs.
They decided to feature my Round 1 match on the stream as well. This is pretty common, as it’s cool to see the deck being built, and then how it performs. Also it’s a good time to showcase non-professional community players like me before the big boys come in off of their three byes.
Here is the video of the match:
Game one went OK, but after a decent start in Game 2 I drew a few too many lands and couldn’t keep up. In Game 3 I drew far too few lands and got ran over by a fairly quick start from my opponent.
I lost round 1 of 9, and I only had one other loss to give before giving up on making day 2.
While annoying, I pulled myself together and won the next match pretty easily.
Then I faced a player I know, his name is Seamus and he is from Portland. He’s a solid player, not someone you hope to face sitting at 1-1 on day one of a GP. We had a great match, but ultimately he defeated me with an active Nightfire Giant. The next game he beat me by attacking with 13 3/3 beast tokens from his Soul of Zendikar.
See a trend here? My lack of removal was hurting. Both games I was able to get him low on life, but unable to finish through his bomby creatures that I just couldn’t answer.
So now I am sitting at 1-2, and not feeling great about it. My deck was good, and I knew it. The round one loss felt like a bit of bad luck, and the loss to Seamus was exactly what I feared when I built the deck.
In order to day two and get to the booster drafts, I would have to win six matches in a row.
At this point I had a mental shift. Instead of carefully approaching each match and opponent, I decided that it was my match to win and I was there to take it. I didn’t care who was sitting across from me, my deck was better and I was going to play my absolute best and give myself the best possible chance to day 2.
I rattled off five wins in a row, putting me at 6-2, and giving me the chance to win my last round and advance to day 2. This was one heck of a run, and the support I got on Twitter and such was super cool. I was determined to stay focused as I entered the last round of swiss play.
I sat across from my opponent and before we even got our playmats out, I heard my name on the loudspeaker. We were going to be the feature match.
The pressure was on, as I had a bunch of people rooting for me on Twitter and I knew they would be watching. It’s crazy how different tournaments are when other people are rooting for you. You don’t want to let them down. On top of that, I have a different feeling of responsibility as I host LR and am in the booth at the Pro tour. My list of Magic credentials isn’t very long, and putting up a solid finish at a GP is a nice way to back up my position both behind the microphone and in the booth.
Even though I know that one tournament result is not much of a factor, it still would be great to get one. Being under the cameras and under the scrutiny of great players like LSV, Ben Stark, Huey Jensen, and Paul Cheon is yet another form of pressure. While I am super grateful for the opportunity, it’s also a big magnifying glass on me personally. If I make a bunch of bad decisions or plays, my credibility could take a hit. I want to prove that I can play, and that what I say in the booth and on the podcast comes from a place of actual skill.
The round 9 match is here, and it was incredible:
I decided to mulligan my hand in game 2, but both LSV and Ben thought I should have kept. I stand by the mulligan decision, as my hand did almost nothing, needed both forests and green spells to be a full hand, and would lose pretty horribly to Cone of Flame. Additionally, my mana curve was solid, my mana was solid, and I felt like a random six cards would be more likely to get there. It’s a close one I think.
So I end up on four cards, of course. From there, I was happy with my play overall, though I would have changed a few plays slightly.
But I won!
Winning on a mulligan to four, on camera, with a bunch of people watching was super exciting. I was just smiling for the rest of the night and it was easily my favorite tournament Magic moment so far.
Woody and I walked back to the hotel, got some food, and got to bed early for a long day of drafting ahead.
I sat down for my draft on day one, and was told it was on camera. This time Huey Jensen and LSV would be commentating. Again, I was hoping to not do anything really stupid, but I have drafted the hell out of M15 and I know my approach so I’m not going to make the mistake of trying to not look dumb for the cameras. I will draft the way that I draft and let the chips fall where they may.
I want to note that it’s weird being on the not-commentator end of this equation.
Here is my first draft of the day:
My table was weird. I was four colors halfway through pack 1. I took the 6th pick Raise the Alarm as a fairly strong signal and moved into white. Staying open and willing to jump ship paid off. It’s something I strive for when I draft. My ideal pack one has a strong core of cards in one color, with two or three feelers out into other colors. This way I can move in on another color if warranted in pack two, and even take a bomb if I get lucky and open one.
This draft was more erratic than that, but I was glad my strategy paid off.
Here is the deck:
I chatted with Huey Jensen a bit after the draft was over and he said he agreed with most of my picks and thought I did the right thing by staying open and switching into white. LSV questioned my Gravedigger pick, preferring the Genesis Hydra. Ben Stark said he would take Gravedigger there too, so who knows. It was a close pick either way.
I beat my first opponent pretty handily, and got by my next opponent in a closer match where we both had pretty good draws but my deck was a bit faster and more consistent.
This brought me to match three of the draft. In order to keep my top 8 hopes alive, I would have to win this match, then draft a good deck and 3-0 that pod as well. No room for error!
Here is game three of the match (I couldn’t locate game 1 and 2)
Sadly, I got kind of stomped here. Once the Living Totem came off of the Genesis Hydra, I knew I was in trouble. My opponent played well and ultimately ground me out with card advantage as my draw fell a little flat.
I was disappointed, but I just changed my focus to finishing as strongly as I could. After all, I was still live for a strong finish, and still felt the need to show that I can play at a high level.
My second draft was weirder than the first. I tried really hard to stay as open as possible but still wasn’t open enough as I passed two Lightning Strikes and a Spectra Ward in the third pack. Meanwhile, I was building a blue-green value deck. Normally I am all about green-blue value anything, but in M15 green-blue is one of my least favorite color combinations. It just never seems to work out. I splashed some black cards for more value, and this is what we came away with:
A grindy, durdly, value deck. They just don’t seem to get it done like they used to. I didn’t feel great about this deck, but really wanted a strong finish.
I beat my first opponent pretty handily when I got lucky and faced a deck that didn’t have much evasion. I was able to grind him out with card advantage, even though he was trying to do the same to me. It turns out two divination and a Nissa go a long way to getting ahead and staying that way.
I had an insane game with my second opponent where I played around a Sanctified Charge he didn’t have, and managed to pull out the win in a game where we both had less than 5 cards less in our libraries. I had a quick Nissa in game two and beat him with it.
One more round to go. I faced another green-red deck in round three, and the deck was amazing. I got crushed both games, never even getting my footing despite having good draws both games. Cone of Flame (two of them), Lightning Strike, Kird Chieftain, Goblin Rabblemaster, Hoarding Dragon. My opponent said he deck was absurd, and he was right.
At the end of it all, I finished in 48th place, earning me my 2nd career pro point, and $300.00. Even though the sample size isn’t big, I have now cashed in two of my four GP appearances, both in Limited. I’m proud of that, but wouldn’t mind building on it more. I will be keeping an eye on the schedule for GPs I can realistically play in.
If you tweeted at me or anything during the GP, thanks, you guys made it a special time that I won’t soon forget. Maybe I’ll even top 8 the next one.