My own performance at GP Minneapolis was pretty mediocre, but I had a good time living vicariously through Steve and Ray, both of whom crushed the main event, and I was able to watch a lot of their matches. I even found out, as the top8 was announced, that Corey, Lothamer, and Rob had been cruising through the top tables, sweetening the results well beyond my expectations.

In the end, Steve took it all down while I half-watched via Twitch on the ride home. It’s hard to put into words how happy I felt for him – Steve was a regular on the PT for a while before putting Magic on the back burner in order to better his life. On coming back to play more, he’s had good but not incredible results, and I think this event was the payoff he’s deserved for a long time.

As for me, I played the same vehicles deck that Rob top8d with (Severa’s build). I had a really hard time settling on a list for the event. Typically, at the start of a season, I pay a little attention to Standard and then put a laser focus on the PT results in order to figure out where I want to be. Then I usually have a few weeks of PPTQs and local events to try things out and refine my list to meet my playstyle.

I didn’t have that opportunity here. Because the PPTQ format was Modern I had to learn that format in a hurry and then switch gears the day after the PT. I had very little time to think things through and iterate decklists, so I ended up on Vehicles, one of the few decks in Standard I had some experience with. Severa really liked his version, and I’ve done well playing off the back of his knowledge in the past, but I think it was a mistake this time.

I think an understated aspect of deckbuilding is that two people can be playing different version of the same deck and both of them can be right about which list is better for them, based on playstyle and biases. In this specific case I was worried about the Zombies matchup. My experience had shown me that I was basically an aggro deck playing against a midrange deck that hard-shifted from defense to beatdown around turn 5 or 6. In my understanding, Matt viewed the matchup as a race in the air, and placed a lot of emphasis on his ability to clock them while staying alive with the lifegain from four Aethersphere Harvesters.

As a result, I think that going with Matt’s plan led me to board in a way the required me to make decisions I wasn’t practiced with and didn’t have time to learn. Instead, I think that Ray’s board plan of Declaration in Stone and Skysovereign more aligned with how I viewed the matchup, and it’s the sideboard I should have gone with. I think those cards have the better potential to screw up Zombies’s ability to turn the corner on those crucial turns 5 and 6, and that they force them to continue staying on the defensive when that’s a position that benefits Vehicles.

In the end, I have only myself to blame for my decisions. I’m the only one who knows my own biases and play patterns, and I should have been more comfortable breaking ranks. I went 6-3 in the GP, losing twice to Zombies, and once to a questionable mulligan decision. (Do you keep Swamp, Spire of Industry, Scrounger, Ballista, Inspector, Exemplar, Exemplar on the play in game one?)

I was kind of dejected after losing the last round, and dropped to play in the PTQ, but I now think I should have stayed in the main event. The addition of the bronze pro level makes an extra pro point or two worthwhile, even when the cash is of minimal impact.

By the time morning rolled around, I was pretty pumped for sealed deck. I opened a really solid UGb pool with good fixing, a good curve with a strong top end, a bunch of removal, and a Liliana. There were even a handful of the blue and black color-hoser sideboard cards, which I expected to be quite strong.

I do really like the single-elimination system for PTQs, or I did until I lost round one after dying with three lands in play both games.

To top it off, I was playing 16 lands plus two Amulets, chose to draw both games, and my opponent had three different basics in play on turn 3 both games, with a UR God in play on turn 6 both times.

After the match he commented that he didn’t have mana problems because he had amazing fixing, which he proceeded to lay out for me. He had less than I did, and I scrambled to collect my stuff and get away from the area before I felt obligated to bang my head on the table.

I kept playing for packs, and only one of my other matches was eventful. In game one I flooded out and just didn’t do much. In our second game, I had a good curve into Liliana, which ended the game in a hurry. For game three, she decided to sideboard into a different deck, which is an underused approach to an unfavorable matchup.

Unfortunately, around minute 7 of her sideboarding, I felt obligated to call a judge to ask for extra time. She seemed to take a lot of offense to this, saying that she only went for it because we still had nearly 25 minutes on the clock. I responded that I had no issue with that, and didn’t want her punished in any way, but that I just wanted to make sure that we had time to play our game, and would rather solve the issue now than worry about it if we went to time. In the end she got a warning, and we were given two extra turns for the end of the match.

This seemed to color the attitude of the rest of our match, though, and there was some obvious tension and nervousness: On turn three she tried to cast a red creature with no red mana, which I didn’t make a big deal about. Then a few turns later she sacrificed the green +3/+3 desert and attacked with the pumped creature along with the Camel that forces an opponent to discard when it dies.

I thought a bit about which card I was going to discard, blocked the Camel with a 3/3, and then she said something along the lines of “Oh, I don’t control a desert anymore, that was a mistake.” I didn’t say anything for a moment, and then a bystander watching from her side of the board said “well you still get the trigger with a desert in the graveyard.”

I only took a moment to respond to this, but I figured I had three options.

1) Say nothing to the bystander and discard a card. This risks them pointing out more missed triggers in the future, which I obviously don’t want.

2) Call a judge for outside assistance. I didn’t care nearly enough for this, and actively wanted to avoid inserting even more tension into the match, despite this being the technically correct call. If this had been the main event, this certainly would have been my line, but not for what had a become a random side event for packs.

3) My line, which was to tell the bystander that triggers are the player’s responsibility, and if they see a problem in the future they should call a judge. He responded that she was supposed to get the trigger, and I repeated that if he sees a problem, he should call a judge. He seemed really annoyed by this – maybe from his perspective I was being scummy (maybe from yours’ too?). I dunno.

Anyway, she now pointed out that she did have a desert in her yard, and I was fine with discarding a card.

At this point I was pretty off balance and distracted. The game only went on a few more turns, but I just missed on-board lethal and died to a burn spell on the swing back. No real legitimate excuses here. I should have been more focused. I was, again, mostly just happy to get away from the match.

I think this is a big part of the reason I typically avoid side events at GPs. I’m fine playing nice and easygoing games with people (I let my final two opponents take back multiple plays because it was clear they were still learning some things about the format), but sometimes the matches are close and tense, and it stresses me out to switch back and forth between taking it all seriously and letting small errors slide.

The social aspect of the game is too important to me, and I hate having to call out opponents who don’t know that they’re doing something wrong, or don’t view it as consequential. It’s really not a good experience for either of us.

In the end, the weekend was a net plus. I got to watch good friends have some exceptional results, and I think I figured out some things about my priorities for the upcoming GPs (I’ll be in Indy and DC, skipping Denver). I don’t know much about this draft format, so I’m probably going to be showing up for them more often in the next few weeks.

PS: Oh, and I also got to learn the”Dandan” game thanks to Steve Nesteby! I went ahead and ordered all the cards for it, so if you like quick but skill-testing variant magic, make sure to ask me about it next time you see me.

PSPS: One final congrats to Steve Locke. What an insane run!