Four letter word, clue is “Event I went to this weekend”

I haven’t written anything in a while, and in my sleep deprived state I was able to convince myself that firing up the ol’ blog was a good idea.

The Plan

I started eyeballing GP NJ a few months back. I don’t fly to events all that often, but this one looked to be pretty convenient. My parents live on Long Island, so I could easily tie a GP trip into a meetup with them, and in addition, I knew I would have an RPTQ two weeks ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have to put much effort into extra testing. A solid plan overall.

The aforementioned RPTQ went about as well as possible for a total failure. It was my second “finals” loss in a row, but the deck was great and I was capable of piloting it at a not-embarrassing level. With a ton of homework stopping me from actual testing, all my further preparation for the GP was just looking at event results and figuring out what kind of metagame I wanted to adjust for.

In the end, I knew that I basically wanted to play a ballista vehicles build that was specifically tuned for the mirror and 4C Saheeli, which was probably a pretty obvious choice to anyone who had actually been putting in games. Severa was on the same page about the deck’s overall positioning in the format, so I was happy to just take his advice regarding specific card choices.

Getting There

On Friday, Sam, Severa and I left for the airport shortly after sunrise, with the intention of arriving in New York early enough that I could have dinner with my parents, but snow in that area delayed our flight long enough that the option disappeared. They wished me good luck over the phone, and I switched over completely to tournament prep thinking.

When we finally got onto the plane, I was seated further back from the other two, and so I jumped right into a printed-out version of this crossword:

When I saw that this one had a theme of “Bad Puns” I knew it would be golden. Our plane sat at the gate for nearly an hour before taking off, and I had made my way through most of the puzzle, but I got stuck working on 27-Across and the clues around it, so I started soliciting help from my seat-mate Jamie, who was very friendly.

Jamie was on his way home to New York, and we got to talking about the difference between Manhattan and Madison rent (large), the best public transit options(subway, by a lot), etc. We even found out that we both went to high school in the Philadelphia suburbs and graduated a year apart. Normal airplane small-talk.

He eventually asked what I was doing in NY, and I explained that I was travelling for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, which he said he’d heard of, but never played, and he began to pepper me with questions about it. This is basically the ideal scenario – I love talking about my hobbies, but I feel bad when I monopolize the conversation with my own experiences, so when someone is asking questions, the floodgates open.

I could tell he actually had some reason to be interested – he mentioned that his brother in-law was good friends with some Magic pro and wanted to know if I’d ever heard of Seth Manfield. I told him I was familiar with most world champions. Eventually he asked me to teach him how to play. I had my deck close by, so we went through the basics. He was unimpressed by my beta basics, but was a big fan of Avacyn.

We got to LaGuardia and started comparing transit options. We could either pay $109 for a 45-minute Uber, or pay about $10 each for a 90-minute public option. We went with the latter, and waited in the cold for our bus. New York was FREEZING. It’s rare that I get off a plane coming from Wisconsin only to complain about how cold it is when we land, but this was bad.

When our bus arrived, we found out that we didn’t have the means to pay for it. They didn’t take cash. Our only options were to already have a metro card, or to pay with coins – that is, 11 quarters each. Since we didn’t have 33 quarters, we had to take a 15-minute shuttle to a different gate, one that sold the cards, purchase cards from a kiosk, and then get on the bus from there. It seemed poorly thought out to have a big bus terminal right outside one of the gates that you simply couldn’t use if you were an out of town person just arriving, but the rest of our trip went well.


We had a few drinks and got to work on our final decklists and sideboard plans. Sam wanted to try out a last minute brew, so we rearranged the hotel room furniture to accommodate battling. I ended up going 6-1 against him, he decided to go with an already tuned build of 4C Saheeli, and I registered my deck feeling good about all my choices.

2 Archangel Avacyn
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Walking Ballista
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Fatal Push
4 Heart of Kiran
4 Unlicensed Disintegration
4 Aether Hub
4 Concealed Courtyard
1 Foreboding Ruins
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Mountain
1 Needle Spires
2 Plains
4 Spire of Industry
2 Swamp

2 Anguished Unmaking
1 Archangel Avacyn
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Oath of Chandra
1 Oath of Liliana
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Painful Truths
1 Release the Gremlins
3 Transgress the Mind

Many of the choices are pretty conventional.

Anguished unmaking ended up being an MVP that I was happy to draw 100% of the time. 1x Release may look odd, but we were cutting our Hearts in the mirror, and we expected the best players to be doing the same, meaning that release would have either no targets, or only bad targets. We talked a lot about playing one or no Chandras to have better mana, playing more Ob Nix instead, but decided that Chandra on turn four was just too good. Transgress was a consolation to the people trying to play decks based around Marvel or Tower, and they were useful the times I faced those matchups.

The Tournament

I started off playing pretty poorly in my first round, but tightened up as the day went on. Most of my matches were straightforward, other than my feature in round 6, against Chris Lansdell on pure Marvel. I made a decision in game 3 that may or may not have cost me:

My board was four lands, an Exemplar, a Thalia, and a Scrounger. Another Scrounger, a Disintegration, and a Transgress in hand. His board was lands, green Puzzleknot, and a Servant of the Conduit, with lots of energy. I transgressed him and saw another green Puzzleknot, an Unnatural Obsolescence, a Whir of Invention (which essentially finds a Marvel), and a Fumigate, any of which he’d be able to cast the next turn.

So if I take his Fumigate, I can play my other scrounger and attack for 6 (he’ll Obsolete my first scrounger). He can’t block or he won’t be able to Whirl, and he’ll go to 9. That leaves him DOB to my creatures, plus I’ll have a disintegration in hand. On his next turn, he’ll have to Marvel and basically find either another Fumigate or an Ulamog. Any other creature and he dies.

If I take his Whir, he Fumigates, I can bring back scrounger, he buys a few turns with Puzzleknots, and I’ve got very little action going forward while he tries to find his own.

I take his Fumigate and things go according to plan. At first. When I attack the next turn, he blocks with Servant, Whirs for Marvel, and spins. If he hits Fumigate or Ulamog I’m probably toast, but anything else should be good. His creatures all come into play tapped, and I’ve got my disintegration for the last few damage. Instead he hits Confiscation Coup, steals my Thalia, goes to 6, and then untaps, plays and cracks some Puzzleknots to pad his life total, and just Marvels out monsters for the rest of the game.

I finish day one at 8-1, beating Josh Ravitz in the final round, and fill myself with some drinks and Outback Steakhouse to prepare for . . .

Day Two

Round 10, my opponent Radiant Flames away two creatures, but can’t answer the Gideon I play after, and we’re off to game two. We get deck checked mid-round, and when the judge comes back with only my deck and a slip, I’m pretty sure one of us is about to get blown out. He tells me I’m all good (I was NOT very confident, given that it was my first time using the online registration form) and takes my opponent away. He comes back furious. Apparently he submitted 59 cards, and when he opened his box, he points to a Wandering Fumarole in his board, claims that he would “NEVER BOARD OUT A LAND, I DID NOT PUT THAT THERE.” The judge walks back to the deck check station, deliberates, and then comes back and confirms that the land was in his sideboard when he passed it off.

In round 12 I’m up against Corey Baumeister. We’ve interacted very little in the past, but I know he’s related to Brad Nelson so I assume he’s on the same deck(4C), and I know he’s good, as he lost to Cecchetti in the finals of a GP, and won his last two RPTQs (GEEZ, WHAT’S THAT LIKE?!). He’s super personable and very nice throughout our match.

In game one, he’s tanking a lot, so I push him to speed up a bit, which he acknowledges and responds to well. On his last turn, with just about 25 mins on the clock, he taps out (and starts tanking again), which leaves him dead to a line that I’m showing on board. I inform him that I do see the line, to save some time, and we sideboard in a hurry. All that time pressure ended up being for nothing, since I have a busted curveout in G2 while he struggles with his mana, and the game lasts all of two minutes.

In round 13 I’m battling Paul Rietzel in the mirror at table one. He’s the last undefeated player and playing against HOFers is one of the best parts of doing well at tournaments. I also watched him sideboard during one of his other matches, so I knew what his available options were.

The first two games are one-sided, but the third is a slugfest. Multiple Avacyns flipping, planeswalkers getting killed, etc. Finally we reach a board state where we’re both super low on life. We both have flipped Avacyns, so I attack mine into his, and when he blocks, I cast another. Now my board is a flipped Avacyn, an unflipped Avacyn, and I’ve got 5 life to his empty board. End step he returns a scrounger, untaps, peels an Unlicensed Disintegration, which lets him kill my Avacyn, and then me.

Now I’m sitting at 11-2, needing to win both my final rounds to top8.

I lose them both instead.

Round 14 I get smashed by Frank Skarren on GB. I saw him chatting with some mutual acquaintances, so I assumed he knew what deck I was on, while I didn’t know the matchup. My hand was terrible vs GB and I got destroyed, and then in game two he was able to grind me out with Kalitas and Skysovereign while I couldn’t find an answer to either.

Dead for the invite, I was now playing for top 32 in the last round.

He was also on GB, but we traded our first two games.

In G3 I start with a Concealed Courtyard and Thraben Inspector on the play, then on turn two, I play a Spire. My hand is Mountain, Mountain, Chandra, Oath of Chandra, Fatal Push. He passes back on turn two and I crack my clue. I draw a Gideon I now can’t cast. I use Chandra to kill his turn 3 play, and then cast a bunch of removal while ticking up Chandra. I keep drawing white spells and non-white lands, we keep passing back and forth for a while, me pinging him with Chandra repeatedly, until he eventually gets out a Skysovereign and a Kalitas. I die with two Gideon and an Avacyn in hand and no second white source, when I would have dominated the game simply by not cracking my clue on the second turn.

I finish in 53rd to cover most of the trip’s expenses.

Back Again

Our trip back is easier than the way out, although we got blown out by the subway. Apparently, if you swipe your ticket and go to the wrong side of the tracks, you’ve got to swipe (and thus, pay) again to get the correct side. We make it to our gate and battlebox for a while to kill some time until we get on our plane. After sitting on the runway for an hour (all seated together this time, at least) we get told that the brakes aren’t working (is that bad?) and we’re asked to deplane, wait in the terminal for another 30 mins or so, and then board all over again. Luckily I’ve got more crosswords, and Severa (reluctantly) and Sam (happily) help me out.

We land in Chicago after 1am thanks to the delay, which felt significantly warmer despite the heavy snowfall. Our drive back to Madison is a bit rough since the roads aren’t really plowed yet, but I manage to climb into bed just before 4am.

Looking at the immediate future, I don’t have much Magic to play. There are a few local modern tournaments, which is nice because the format looks excellent right now and the stakes are low, so I don’t feel priced into testing any more than I want to. Other than that, it’s all clear until Amonkhet is released. I intend to play a TON of that format since the RPTQ is sealed, and I’d like to win because Japan sounds awesome. Fun fact: I’m 1-5 in matches that qualify me for the pro tour. I should probably improve that record one of these days.

My final semester is almost over, and I’ve got new jobs on the horizon, with much better pay and a lot more free time expected. I’m hoping that means I’ll get to focus on Magic more. For the last two years, I’ve felt myself improving, but haven’t quite had the time or energy to make a push I’ve been satisfied with. It is taxing to consistently watch your efforts wiped out by single games of magic, and despite my efforts to stay relentlessly positive, they payoff I’ve been waiting for can’t come soon enough.