GP Montreal started July 29, the week after Eldritch Moon’s set release. The way Wizards has scheduled GPs lately, the only limited GPs occur right after set release (the week before the set’s Pro Tour). They do this because hype around the new set is at it’s peak. They want the first GP to highlight the new set without giving away too much information about the standard format before the Pro Tour. I understand slotting the limited GPs into this week for these reasons, but I really wish they weren’t the only limited GPs for the year.
It’s really hard to prepare for a tournament when the cards aren’t available on Magic Online. After a set release, it takes 2-3 weeks before the same set is actually released on Magic Online. This has been a controversial topic for awhile with pros trying to prepare for the Pro Tour because the set is usually only available for 1 week prior to the event. In my opinion, this gives a big advantage to the large professional testing teams who have the resources to test constructed and limited in paper, weeks ahead of the Pro Tour, but that’s a topic for another day. I’ll just add my voice to the crowd wishing that the Magic Online development team would more closely sync the online and paper release dates.
Without Magic Online as a way to prepare for GP Montreal, I did an above average number of in-store events with some other players planning to attend the GP. Even so, I think I only did 2-3 sealeds and 3-4 midweek drafts. Enough to get a feel for some of the cards but nowhere near enough to really be prepared for a tournament. I printed out a list of the combat tricks to review on the drive up. Even if I couldn’t play much with the cards I wanted to be familiar with the removal and combat tricks in the set.
I would have liked to be more prepared, but I was traveling with a larger group than normal and we were planning on just having a great time hanging out in Montreal. I didn’t mind treating this as a more ‘casual’ GP, having a fun weekend and not worrying about my finish. This was setting up to be a soft tournament regardless. Most pro players were already going to be in Australia, preparing for the Pro Tour. From what I’ve been told, the Canadian Magic community is also bit softer than the typical American GP. Even without a ton of in-game practice I was putting more effort in than the average player and I felt like I would have a reasonable edge on the field heading into the tournament.
A lot of my preparation time was spent trying to lock down accommodations for the stay in Montreal. There was going to be a music festival on the same weekend so it turned out that hotel rates near the convention center were very expensive. A non-Magic friend of mine was planning to go to the music festival so she was going to come up on her own and stay with us (what a brave soul to share lodging with me and 6-7 unknown Magic nerds). She suggested we look at Airbnb. I had never used the service before but I signed up and found some good options. One day I got lucky and came across a new listing within walking distance to the convention center at a great price. I jumped on it and hoped for the best.
When we arrived we were all pleasantly surprised. We had a huge 2-story apartment right next to the beautiful Notre-Dame Basilica in downtown Montreal. Even Shaun McLaren would’ve approved as we woke up Saturday morning to the soothing sounds of pan flute coming from the public square across from Notre-Dame.
When we got there on Friday, we headed to scope out the venue. We picked up some sealed product and headed back to our tournament prep house to do some practice sealed pools. I have to say, staying all together in the same apartment/house, being able to hangout, playtest and chat was a far superior GP experience compared to the typical hotel. It’s an arrangement I’d like to look into doing again for future Grand Prix whenever possible.
Day 1 Sealed
Those of us with the sleep-in special arrived at the venue a couple hours into the event after a nice breakfast in the morning at Eggspectation (which I can fully recommend and we went there every morning). The case for having 2-byes grows stronger with every GP I attend.
My sealed pool had a lot of powerful cards but I was struggling to find a cohesive deck to fit them in.
I had 3 bombs of the set: Cryptbreaker, Niblis of Frost, and Decimator of the Provinces. And this doesn’t even mention the planeswalker, Nahiri, the Harbinger. So I had great bombs spread across 5 colors. My black was too shallow to be playable. In fact, blue green and black had my most powerful cards but none of those colors had any depth. Normally I would try to pair a powerful but shallow color with a color deep in playables, but none of these three colors had any depth. My most powerful cards looked to be in blue and green but when I laid out a potential deck I was concerned about the lack of interaction and removal in my pool. In order for my bombs to win, I’d have to play some long games and I wasn’t confident in my deck’s ability to manage the board and beat the rares from my opponent’s side.
I moved on to RW, which were the deepest colors in the pool. This color pair had a very aggressive game plan with a low aggressive curve, a few removal spells and pump spells, and topped off with Nahiri. I’m sure my inexperience with the set played a role, but given the time constraints this was the most obvious deck that jumped out to me. In my gut I had a feeling I was making the same mistake that I’ve made with many sealed pools: not playing my most powerful cards for fear of being outclassed by my opponent’s bombs and instead playing an under-powered aggro deck that was trying to steal wins.
I had a lot of playables that ended up in my sideboard. I cut anything that cost 4 mana or more or didn’t kill the opponent (Spectral Reserves, Faithbearer Paladin, Weaver of Lightning, Apothecary Geist, and Blessed Alliance). These were all good cards, but they didn’t fit my deck’s game plan and I wanted to be lean and mean. The only exception was Nahiri, which isn’t a particularly aggressive card, but is too powerful not to include.
By the end of deckbuilding, this is what I had registered but I wasn’t super confident in it:
[Note: After revisiting the pool months later I do feel like I had a build available that was much better and got to use all of my bombs. I’ll present that after my Day 1 summary.]
RW Aggro - GP Montreal Day 1
R3 (3-0) RG Midrange(Win).
R4 (4-0) UR Spells (Win).
R5 (4-1) GB Aggro (Loss).
R6 (5-1) BW Control (Win).
R7 (5-2) RW Aggro (Loss).
R8 (5-3) GB Emrakul (Loss).
R9 (6-3) BW Midrange (Win).
The deck actually played out very well. I steamrolled my first couple of opponents and didn’t drop a game on my way to 4-0. I talked my pool over with some friends and we agreed that there was another build in there somewhere that made better use of the green cards. I wrote down and sleeved a potential transformational sideboard plan that went to GW splashing Nahiri but I rarely used it.
In round 5, there was an awkward moment that resulted in a judge call which didn’t go my way. My opponent had an unusually aggressive GB deck and I had brought in Blessed Alliance from the sideboard. I had an active Nahiri and my opponent declared a single flying attacker at Nahiri to kill her. He paused, and, thinking that I had priority, I went to tap mana (for Blessed Alliance), though I hadn’t announced the spell yet. He interrupted and said ‘Wait, and I’ll send this at you.’ I called a judge as I felt he had already declared his attackers but the judge allowed him to attack with both creatures. I should have clarified if I could go to blockers, but I was so excited at the possibility of being able to nab his flyer and save my Nahiri that I jumped the gun. I think my opponent may have taken advantage of that, but who knows.
In round 6, I played a really tight match against Chris Pikula. He was on a BW midrange/control deck that had a few life gain creatures and decent removal. He said after the match that he felt favored against decks like mine. In game 1 I got him to 4, but without an answer to his 3/4 lifelinker I couldn’t close the game out. In game 2, I had a good draw and his was a bit clunky. He had to tap out for some powerful but expensive threats (Bruna, the Fading Light, Dusk Feaster) and I was able to maneuver around them for a win. In game 3, I wasn’t able to get out as ahead as I would like and he actually put me under pressure. Against an Avacynian Missionaries and an equipment I neglected to use Bound by Moonsilver because I forgot that it also prevented the creature from transforming. He got the missionary to flip and exile a creature. But the whole game I was setting up for a big turn where I could use Stern Constable to tap two creatures, Bound a third creature and then hopefully Borrowed Grace for the win. Finally, Pikula made a big attack and I went to two life with Pikula having a Skirsdag Supplicant in play but I had found my opening and was able to deal exactly lethal through a flashed in Drogskol Shieldmate.
After the win in round 6 I needed to win just one of the last three rounds to make Day 2. I even had a chance at finishing with a decent record of 7-2 or even 8-1.
In round 7, I played a RW mirror where my opponent had all of my best cards plus good removal, which my deck lacked. He had Stern Constable, Nahiri, Borrowed Grace, and an aggressive curve, but he also had Savage Alliance, Alchemist’s Greeting, Sigardian Priest, Lunarch Mantle, Hanweir Militia Captain, Lightning Axe and Subjugator Angel. I lost in two.
In round 8, I played against an opponent who’s deck didn’t seem that great and his play didn’t seem that great. I won game 1 pretty easily. I considered going into my transformational sideboard because I had seen a number cheap x/4s that blocked my aggro creatures pretty effectively. Thinking about my opponent’s deck and play though, I figured he must have some insane bombs to have gotten this far in the tournament and decided I didn’t want to compete with his late-game. In game 2, I kept a 1-land hand on the draw that didn’t pan out and we went to game 3 which is where things got interesting.
My opponent stumbled, flooding out, and I got way ahead on board. I had 4 creatures out and an active Nahiri against my opponent’s empty board and 10 life. He had spent the previous turn drawing cards trying to find answers and not affecting the board at all – I felt like I had this game in the bag. He untapped and cast Dark Salvation for 3, killing my best creature and stabilizing the board. I still felt ahead but it was going to be a real game. Nahiri was on 14 and I could have tutored for a few turns but the most relevant card I could think of to search for was Selfless Spirit. It was going to be hard to win at this point in the game without a lot of beef left in my deck. Then he untapped and cast Emrakul, the Promised End. He took my turn, made me discard with Stern Constable, made some unfavorable attacks and minused Nahiri to kill something, leaving me with only Nahiri and a Stern Constable. As bad as it was, I was still in the game because I had an active Nahiri on 12 loyalty. I completely missed that on my extra turn I could have tapped Emrakul with Stern Constable and then exiled it with Nahiri. I saw the play right after I passed the turn but I wasn’t too worried because I could still make the same play by tapping Emrakul on his turn and exiling with Nahiri on my next turn. His draw was To The Slaughter, which is a questionably playable card to being with, but he even had delirium to kill my last creature and my Planeswalker. I had misplayed and justice was served, though I don’t think I’m winning that game no matter what after those runner-runner-runner topdecks. I was pretty surprised that I lost, but hey, it happens and even I was impressed by my opponent’s comeback.
I managed to limp in to Day 2 with a 2-0 victory in round 9. It was not an exciting finish, but I was really happy for the opportunity to draft for the first time at a Grand Prix.
As for the RW build, if I were building it now I think I would make room for Cultist’s Staff and Spectral Reserves, especially with two Borrowed Grace. I could see cutting Otherworldly Outburst and going down to 16 land. But based on my experience here at the end of the format, I really wish I had registered a completely different deck. I picked up the sealed pool as I’m writing this 2 months after the Grand Prix and was surprised at how much better my UG deck looks now. The green has some great mana sinks with three flip werewolves and the deck has lots of late-game power with 5 emerge creatures. By splashing white, I think I would have plenty of interaction to compete at the top tables and I’d get to play almost all of my best cards. This is the deck I wish I had registered:
UGw Emerge - Day 1 Alternative Deck
Even though 6-3 isn’t a great Day 1 performance, I think it was actually ideal for this tournament. I was happy to be drafting on Day 2 for my very first time, but at 6-3 I felt zero guilt going out to the bars for the night and just having a good time. I was there with friends and I wanted to enjoy it. We stayed out until well after 3 AM and had, shall we say, an interesting night exploring what Montreal has to offer.
Day 2, Draft 1
Amazingly I woke up on time for the second day of competition. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I actually didn’t feel terrible. Adrenaline is a lovely thing and I headed to the draft tables. Jake Haversat had also made it up on time and was there as well, but neither of us were functioning humans yet so we hadn’t gone together or even spoken yet.
The only deck I knew I liked was UG emerge. I had picked Wretched Gryff early in my few practice drafts and was very impressed with UG. Unfortunately, it was open in either of my drafts so I had to find my way into other archetypes. I always draft what is open rather than forcing a particular archetype.
I don’t really remember the details of the first draft, but I ended up with a pile of unexciting GW cards. I overvalued Fiend Binder which put me into an ‘aggressive’ GW humans deck that didn’t have enough 2 or 3 drops to support that game plan. I had the intelligence to pass an Angel of Deliverance in the middle of the pack, but I ended up taking the second one that I saw towards the end of the pack and made a huge mistake by playing it.
GW Stuff - GP Montreal Day 2, Draft 1
Day 2, Draft 1
R10 (7-3) UR Spells (Win).
R11 (7-4) UG Crawling Sensation (Loss).
R12 (8-4) RB Madness (Win).
I was lucky to go 2-1 with this by curving out against a couple of opponents. I stole the match in Round 10 when my opponent attacked with a prowessed Ingenious Skaab and two mana open. I had a Puncturing Light in hand but no way to sequence in a way that would let me kill the Skaab. After tanking I declared no blocks and my opponent went for the double-pump in order to kill me. I was able to Puncturing Light in response and win the game. If my opponent had resolved the Skaab activations one at a time he would have won. My only loss was in Round 11 to a pretty good UG Crawling Sensation deck that had Epitaph Golem. We went into board stalls in each game and my opponent’s late game was much stronger than my own, even with the Angel of Deliverance.
Day 2, Draft 2
Between drafts, the rest of the late-night crew stumbled into the venue (at close to 2 pm). We chatted for a bit and they headed off to do side events while I settled in for my last draft.
Julian Wildes and I had been discussing the constructed possibilities for Bedlam Reveler all weekend so when I opened it in my first pack I slammed it as my first pick. I wasn’t sure how good it was in draft at the time but I wanted to have some fun. I think that was actually the right pick. Pick 2 I grabbed a Mercurial Geist, followed by Take Inventory and I just prayed that UR was going to be open. Unfortunately, the draft wasn’t going to go quite that smoothly and I had to abandon the archetype in the middle of pack 1. I identified that black was open and switched into it fairly late, but was rewarded in pack 3 when I was passed three Dead Weight.
I ended up with a solid but unspectacular UB control deck.
UBg Control - GP Montreal Day 2, Draft 2
Day 2, Draft 2
R13 (8-5) UG Emerge (Loss).
R14 (9-5) Mardu Aggro (Win).
R15 (10-5) UR Control (Win).
In round 13, I was paired against the player who had been passing to me directly on my right. It turns out he was in UG emerge so it made sense that he passed me all the Dead Weights. My one for one removal lined up really poorly against the value generated from his emerge threats and I lost pretty handily. I recovered in round 14 against a Mardu aggro deck with clunky mana that was splashing for some decent rares but my Dead Weights shined here. I closed out the tournament beating a UR control deck in round 15. My opponents damaged based removal wasn’t good enough to contain my late-game and I was able to go over the top of him, especially after he stumbled on mana in game 2.
A 2-1 record in both drafts brought me to a 10-5 overall record and earned me my first pro point. Of course this was the last event of the season (except the Pro Tour) so that Pro Point would be short-lived. Looking back, neither of my draft decks were works of art, but the second one was more playable than their first. It just goes to show what passes for a 2-1 deck so early in the format when people don’t know what they are doing yet (myself included).
Limited GPs felt so much easier than constructed GPs. I had a bit of a sweat getting into Day 2, but the draft tables felt so comfortable for me. Limited, and drafting in particular, is where I feel most comfortable playing Magic. It was great to go into Day 2 of a limited GP and put up a 2-1 in both drafts without much difficulty. Day 2 of the constructed GP in Pittsburgh felt like a mental grind, but here in Montreal I was playing very comfortably for all of Day 2, even without much sleep.
I hope in the future I get the opportunity to play more limited Grand Prix. If I can open a good sealed pool and get a little lucky, this experience gives me a lot of confidence heading into draft on Day 2. A limited GP feels like my best chance to spike a Grand Prix and head to the Pro Tour.
After making Day 2 in two Grand Prix in a row, it’s starting to feel like GP success is within my reach. All I have to do is spike one and I could be within reach of a Top 8 and an invite to the Pro Tour. My progress and success at these recent Grand Prix finishes has left me hopeful and hungry for more success in the future!