A Tale of Half-a Grand Prix

June, 2017 — Me and my two buddies are just finishing up the Modern Grand Prix in Las Vegas.  We decided we would make this an annual Bro’s Weekend, even after 5 days of Magic in the 110 degree desert heat and fighting the droves of EDC Headliners that made The Strip feel like a scene out of Resident Evil: Extinction.

Smash-cut to March 2018 and I find myself eagerly and aggressively mashing the refresh button on cfbevents.com to secure my place in the Modern Main event for GP Las Vegas 2018.  After testing out a REALLY BAD 5-Color Jund deck in side events at GP Dallas, I came to the conclusion that Bloodbraid Elf-ing into Ancestral Vision in a Jund deck that splashes White for Lingering Souls is NOT the winning formula.  Fast forward to June 4-8th, just one week before GP Vegas 2018, and I still haven’t figured out a deck to play.  My heart still says Bloodbraid into Ancestral.  My mind says that’s just not good enough.  After consulting my two buddies that are traveling to the tournament with me, and the hundreds of fine gentlemen on the Strictly Average Patreon Discord server (you can find them at patreon.com/strictlyaverage where for as little as $1 a month…ahem, sorry I was channeling my inner Jason E. Alt for a second there…), I was FINALLY talked out of my janky Temur brew.

Now I’m at a decision point where I need to play a deck full of cards I actually own.  This leaves me with Jund, Abzan,  Merfolk, or Burn.  Mind you, I have quite a propensity for playing “my own thing;” my “Burn” option is actually a Mardu Burn list that is heavier on the Black-Red and only splashes White for 3 Lightning Helix, 2 Boros Charm, and 3 sideboard cards.  But the other 3 decks are pretty close to stock lists off mtgtop8.com.

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After running Burn and Merfolk through a couple competitive leagues on MTGO in the days leading up to the GP, I wasn’t sold on either list.  There were a few wins, but there were also a TON of losing streaks.  Even going into the side events on Thursday (the day before the main event) I still hadn’t decided on a deck.  With the help of my two buddies, we refined my original Abzan list, cut the red splash and had a good GBx deck to run (yes, splashing red in Abzan to give Tarmogoyf the 8th pip off Tarfire and, hey why not also try to “Brainstorm Miracle” a Bonfire of the Damned off the Grim Flayer deck stacking trigger, right?!?!?).  In my only side event on Thursday, I went 1-1 and had a 1st round bye thanks to my opponent not showing up.  Good enough for practice!  Let’s ship it!  You would think that cutting my testing short with only 1 side event means I went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the main event.  Oh silly you, this is VEGAS, BABY!!!  The three of us went to Hash House for dinner followed by a few hours on the Roulette and Blackjack tables.

Waking up Friday morning on less than ideal sleep, and my pocket book feeling a bit bruised as well, we headed down to the Einstein’s Bagels in the hotel lobby for some breakfast on our way to the Convention Hall.  Amped up on coffee, bagels, and bacon our journey began with a 2 mile Uber ride to the Convention Hall.  You might be asking yourself why we would stay 2 miles away when the fine folks over at CFBEvents went to the trouble of setting up room blocks at the Westgate right next door to the Convention Center.  Well, as alluded to earlier, I am a degenerate gambler and I absolutely LOVE Las Vegas, so I happen to own a timeshare there.  We were able to get a 1200 square foot 2 bedroom Villa for $80 a night.  That’s value!  Splitting that 3 ways means we got to spend 4 nights in Vegas for about $100 each, full stop.

There was a buzz of excitement about the convention hall when we arrived with side events already under way.  Cosplayers in full costume stopped for pictures with fans, and artists in the gallery were busy chatting with fans and signing autographs.  We were there for the main event however, so ain’t nobody got time for that.  We went straight to the pairings boards to find out seats and get ready to sling some cardboard!  After the head judge rattled through his pre tournament rules and player meeting, round 1 was under way!  Across from me sits the first hurdle on my path towards victory (or at least my first GP day-2, cuz you know, baby steps).

We shuffle up, present decks, and begin our match.  My opponent won the die roll so got to play first and leads with a Windswept Heath into Breeding Pool into Noble Hierarch.  I played turn 1 Fatal Push to “Bolt the Bird”, thinking my opponent was probably on Bogles.  I did not have any hand disruption, but the rest of my opener consisted of Dark Confidant, Grim Flayer, Tarmogoyf, and enough lands to cast them.  My opponent played a turn 2 land and passed, so I lead with Grim Flayer to start stacking my draws and out card-advantage my opponent.  My opponents turn 3 play was a Knight of the Reliquary.  I did not have any removal, so after my turn 3 he was able to untap with an active knight, and Gadilly Bob-Howdy was it active!  After dropping a Retreat to Coralhelm, my opponent proceeded to cycle through every land in his deck to pump up his knight and tap down my team for a lethal attack.  So Bant Knightfall it is!  I board in a few extra pieces of removal, my Rest in Peace and Nihil Spellbomb and shuffle up for game 2.

After mulling to 5, my opener was still pretty solid.  2 lands, Thoughtseize, Goyf, and Grim Flayer.  I turn 1 Thoughtseize my opponent and he reveals 3 lands (he definitely has all of his colors), Reflector Mage, Reflector Mage, Reflector Mage, Voice of Resurgence, Voice of Resurgence.  GULP.  I am DEFINITELY not getting anything through this hand. I took one of the Voices to try to keep him from out pacing my board.  It turns out I was right.  After getting my Goyf and Grim Flayer bounced back to my hand with the first 2 Reflector Mages, my next attempt at casting a creature was met with my opponent tapping 4 lands for a Collected Company, where he hit a Spell Queller!  I knew it was the end of things for me at this point so I scooped ‘em up and took the 0-2 defeat.

Round 2 started off in a similar vein, my opponent winning the die roll.  He lead with a tapped Celestial Colonnade.  Alright, not trying to hide this UWx Control plan here.  After a turn 1 Thoughtseize revealed 4 lands and a Path to Exile, I thought I might have a chance to get in under my opponent as long as they have some bad draws.  Of course they didn’t, and thanks to a Sphinx’s Revelation for X=3, my opponent was able to stabilize and draw the spells he needed to grind me out.  I definitely brought in the 1-of Choke from the sideboard for this matchup, but unfortunately had to mull it away thanks to having only a Plains in my opener.  I never saw it again in game 2.  My 6 card hand was much better, but caused me to have to lead with a tapped Shambling Vent in order to Thoughtseize on turn 2.  I was able to take the Search for Azcanta but the opponent was sitting on a hand of gas.  2 more untapped lands, Path to Exile, Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.  Fingers crossed he stumbles on mana!  Well in a deck that typically runs 24-25 lands, that’s not a very likely scenario.  And it played out exactly as you would expect.  My opponent drew his lands, played his bombs, and cruised to victory.

Starting GP Vegas off 0-2 was bittersweet for me.  I knew for sure I wasn’t going to make day 2 this time.  Another GP down and my goal of day 2-ing still not achieved.  I was looking forward to running 2 or 3 more matches in the main event to get some more practice in with my deck.  I really like it and feel as though if I can get enough reps in, I will be able to start turning a few matches in my favor with superior gameplay.  I got up from my round 2 seat at about noon with 10 minutes left to play in the round.  I found my 2 buddys and we checked in on each other’s results.  The guy running Esper Control was 0-2 as well.  But our other friend playing Jund was 1-1 after losing a VERY close game 3 in round 2.  By now the clock was in negative time so round 2 was in turns and close to completing.  We stood around chatting about plans for the night, where to have dinner, which casinos to gamble at, all just waiting for them to announce pairings for round 3.  This is where the title of the article “Half-a GP” starts to make some sense.  A little bit before 1 o’clock the head judge announced that they were having some technical difficulties with the software and were working to get it resolved ASAP.  There were “informative announcements” asking players to bear with them as the worked through the issues and about 45 minutes into things they came back on to announce that the tournament software had corrupted and there was no ETA for a fix, so they offered a full refund to anyone who wanted to drop.  Considering I was already 0-2, I jumped on the opportunity to get a refund and free up the rest of my day for side events!  As 2 o’clock came and went there was beginning to be a drum of angst in the tournament hall.  As we were approaching hour 3 of the delay, another major announcement was made.  Due to the inconvenience of the delay and knowing that people had to rearrange their lives to make plans around this event, CFB Events and Wizards of the Coast would offer every registered player in the Modern Main Event, whether they chose to drop or not, a “Golden Ticket” for free entry into another 2018 Grand Prix!  So now I not only get 2 Grands Prix for the price of ZERO, but I get to spend the rest of the weekend doing my own thing…jamming side events, talking to cosplayers and artists, watching the panels, and browsing vendor booths for sweet pieces of cardboard!

While the glitch in the software and waiting around for what turned out to be a little over 4 hour delay was not ideal, I feel that CFBEvents and WotC both stepped up in a big way to make sure that the players impacted had the best possible outcome for them.  This is a clinic in customer service!  I fully plan on attending future events run by CFBEvents, and furthermore am planning on making the trek to Sin City next time there is a Magic: the Gathering event!

Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time.
Eric plays mostly casually with his 9-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year.

Please reach out to me on twitter @edubious

Watch my Twitch stream at twitch.tv/edubious

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