Grand Prix Providence is the tournament that I’ve spent the most amount of hours preparing for while feeling the least prepared for the event. Since the GP was right after Pro Tour Kaladesh, I had made a conscious decision to mostly ignore standard until the results of the Pro Tour were in. I don’t usually put my faith in the early SCG Open events and wait for the Pro Tour to define the metagame. This is especially true for the Grand Prix that directly follows the Pro Tour, but it left me with little time to get my feet wet in standard, choose a deck and get some practice.
The big headline of the Pro Tour was the number of Aetherworks Marvel decks. They didn’t over perform, but they were in the spotlight in big numbers. The breakout deck of the tournament was UW Flash, which put up multiple 9-1 finishes in constructed (in fact, every deck that finished 9-1 in Standard was a version of UW Flash). This made sense because Spell Queller was the perfect answer to Marvel on the weekend. It was yet to be seen whether UW had staying power or was just well positioned for the PT weekend. Also, the finals of the Pro Tour featured a control mirror match between Grixis and Jeskai, so those would be expected to see more play over the next week.
In the week leading up to the GP, I spent many hours testing a wide range of standard decks online. I streamed all of my testing at (www.twitch.tv/n_walker). I played 4-5 hours every night after work and a full day on Friday, the day before the GP. I was able to play 40 matches of standard across 8 leagues with 5 different decks.
UW was the first deck I knew I had to test based on the PT results, but I had a couple other archetypes in mind as well. I tried and had miserable results with RW Tokens (featuring Servo Exhibition and Reckless Bushwhacker) and various graveyard strategies (Grixis Emerge and RB Madness). The RW deck had no way of punching through the bigger creatures of GR Energy combo (with Bristling Hydra, Electrostatic Pummeler and Larger than Life), which was an extremely popular deck online. It also lost to Radiant Flames out of the control decks, so I moved on. The graveyard strategies had some powerful potential, but I wasn’t sure if they were good and I decided I didn’t have enough time to learn how to play them well after going 3-7.
As I tested UW Flash, Eric Blanchet was testing Eric Froehlich’s GB Delirium Aggro. I was doing OK with UW, but it wasn’t knocking my socks off with its power level. I went 3-2 in a league, and then 3-2 in a second. The decks I was losing to were the graveyard decks, which is what made me consider Emerge and RB Madness in the first place (until I realized how much practice they would take). Meanwhile, Eric was really liking GB and recommending that I try it.
I had this gut feeling all week that I should be playing GB. I fought it as long as I could since I had already spent between $200-$300 online testing other decks. I didn’t want to have to drop another $100 or more to get Lilianas, Kalitas, Grafwidows, etc. By Friday morning, I still hadn’t found a deck that I felt confident in. I knew I needed to make the tough choice and just buy GB online as well and give it a try. I wasn’t going to put all this time and money into testing only to stop short of testing the last deck that I thought would give me a good chance to succeed at the GP.
I dropped the remaining $150 on finishing GB and lost my first match in a close three game series to Willy Edel. I then rattled off nine straight wins and finished 9-1 with the deck. I was rewarded for my decision to trust my instincts and relieved to find a deck that clicked with me. After about 25 hours of testing and close to $300 spent online, I shut off the stream and got ready to pack for the GP. Fortunately the tournament was close by since I was still going to have to buy pretty much the entire deck in paper at the Grand Prix the next morning. I knew it was going to be expensive, but I had decided over a year ago that I wasn’t going to attend a Grand Prix without finding a way to play the deck that I felt gave me the best chance to win.
Last Minute Changes
Friday night I told Eric that I had decided to join him and play GB. We had discussed some card choices while he was testing it during the week, but he had way more reps with the deck than I did. Eric made some suggestions of changes to make to Efro’s original list. I decided to trust Eric’s experience and sleeved up a 75 close to what Eric recommended.
I had suggested Skysovereign, Consul Flagship as way to fight against UW. It kills a Spell Queller, blocks Avacyn, attacks Gideon and can’t be countered by Spell Queller. Eric had confirmed that the card was great for him. The other card we were experimenting with was Distended Mindbender. We thought this would be good in the mirror, while also attacking UW. Eric was all-in on the 3-drops that ramped into 5-drops or Mindbender. In addition to a playset of Catacomb Sifter, Eric had added 3 Scion Summoner. This was the change I was most skeptical of, but I trusted Eric here.
GB Delirium Aggro, GP Providence
I wanted to run a Flaghship in the main since I expected UW to be all over the GP and with the two Mindbenders, I felt like I couldn’t find room for all four Gearhulks. Eric told me this had to be wrong and it was the best card in the deck. In retrospect, he was probably right. I also found a couple slots for Murder in the 75 as I felt like the deck needed some more instant speed removal to answer Avacyn, Voldaren Pariah or the threats out of RG Energy combo.
R3, 3-0 – RG Energy Combo (2-0)
R4, 3-1 – UW Flash (1-2)
R5, 4-1 – BR Aggro (2-1)
R6, 5-1 – RW Vehicles (2-1)
R7, 5-2 – Mardu Vehicles (1-2)
R8, 5-3 – UW Flash (1-2)
R9, 5-3-1 – Mardu Vehicles (1-1-1)
I lost 3 matches on the day, including both of my matches against UW Flash. In my games against UW, I finally realized the power of the archetype. When I was playing with UW, it didn’t feel like it was very hard to play or doing anything overpowered. But playing against it was really hard. UW has so many angles of attack and it’s hard to play around all of them. As I sat there still trying to figure out how to play my GB deck, I was also trying to figure out how to play against the UW deck. This combination led me down some bad lines and I threw away some close games in both matches. In the end think the GB deck was great, but I just didn’t have enough experience with it or playing against UW in general.
An Anecdote on Concessions and Sportsmanship
Even after a number of blunders against UW, I still had the chance to make Day 2 by winning the final round. I was paired against a Mardu Vehicles opponent and I felt confident in my ability to overpower my aggro opponent. I had lost to Mardu Vehicles earlier, but felt I had gotten unlucky (I lost game 2 with a 2 land keep on the draw and made a questionable keep in game 3 that didn’t work out).
We started out having a friendly match. At 5-3, we were both disappointed with our current record and so we chit-chatted as we started play. We both joked about how playing day 2 at a record of 6-3 is hardly worth even coming back for. We played some really close games with both of us thinking at different points along the way. I lost game 1 pretty handily. I was able to claw back from 1 life thanks to a Kalitas in game 2. In game 3, I had been down to 3 at one point, but similar to game 2 I stabilized the board and was pulling ahead thanks to Kalitas. My opponent called the judge with a question and the judge stayed to watch the rest of the match.
It was only at this point that I realized we were at time. The match clock was ~2:30 past time but I hadn’t noticed or heard any announcement (and presumably my opponent hadn’t either). As the judge watched, he asked if we were in turns and I said yes. There was a die nearby sitting on 3 counters (which had previously been used to reflect Energy). The die currently meant nothing, but the judge, seeing it, asked if we were currently on turn 3. I said yes because having seen that we were already a couple of minutes past the clock, I figured turn 3 was about right to reflect where we would be if we had actually started counting turns when time had expired. I shouldn’t have said this. Admittedly, I felt guilty that we had missed the end of round announcement and I didn’t want us to get in trouble if the judge thought we had intentionally ignored the end of the round, which we hadn’t. I thought turn 3 was ‘about right’ and didn’t want to make a big issue out of it.
The reality was, we didn’t realize that the round had ended and so we hadn’t started counting turns yet. I should have made this clear to the judge and let him figure out how to handle it rather than just using my judgement to approximate which turn we should have been in. My opponent, hearing my response to the judge, confirmed which turn it was. I got turn 3, my opponent got turn 4. On turn 5 I finally was able to make a massive attack and bring my opponent from 19 to 7. And that was the end of the match. Note – if we had started at turn 1 instead of turn 3, I would’ve gotten one more attack and surely won.
I was dominating the board at this point and it was clear I was going to win the game. I fully expected my opponent to concede. After all, we had been friendly to each other in the match leading up to this point. We were both sitting at a 5-3 record. A win would let one of us move on to day 2, and a draw left both of us dead in the tournament. A draw did not benefit either play in any way. When I asked my opponent to concede, he refused. I was in shock. He had no way to win, and all he was doing by forcing the draw was preventing me from making it into day 2. He had nothing to gain except to negatively impact my outcome and make the tournament result worse for the both of us. He said that he didn’t know me, he didn’t owe me anything and that he wasn’t going to concede.
It is my opponent’s right to do this. They have not broken any rules. But I can’t stress enough how much I disagree with my opponent’s decision. My opponent had absolutely nothing to lose by conceding. They were not going to be coming back for day 2 no matter what. I think my opponent let pride or frustration or anger come before doing the sporting thing and offering the concession to an opponent who had clearly earned the victory. I think it was particularly egregious in this case because my opponent had zero outs and the victory was 99.999% going to be mine. However, even if the result of the match was completely up in the air, I still think it makes no sense to end in a draw. If you’re in that scenario, why make a decision that punishes both of you rather than making a decision that benefits one of you? Taking something away from someone else shouldn’t make you feel any better about your day. If it does, I feel bad for you and I suggest you reevaluate your outlook on life because that is more than just a Magic-related shortcoming.
I had never put this much into a tournament before: time, money and mental energy. This a little misleading. It felt that way because all of my preparation was crammed into one week between seeing the Pro Tour results and playing in the Grand Prix. Even though I didn’t finish as well as I would have liked, I walked away happy knowing that I did everything I could in that last week to give myself the best chance. I had followed my gut and ended up on what I believe was the right deck for me for that weekend. Still, there were some important things I learned.
- Tournament preparation. It takes more than a week to prepare for a tournament. Especially with a full-time job, I can’t go from zero to one-hundred in terms of understanding a format and getting practiced with a deck. The Pro Tour is so influential in defining the standard metagame that I usually wait until the Pro Tour is over to start thinking about the format and what deck I want to play. However, if I’m planning to play in the Grand Prix directly following the Pro Tour, I just can’t wait that long to become familiar with standard. Even if I don’t have a deck decided on yet, I should become familiar with the existing decks in the format. Then I can use the Pro Tour results to refine my understanding of standard rather than starting from zero.
- I play by intuition. This reinforces something that I’ve already learned about myself. If I didn’t design a deck myself, I need reps with it in order to get a feel for the play patterns with the common matchups. I can’t just look at the deck on paper and understand how all the pieces work together, or more importantly what the common interactions with other decks are or the common decision points in a matchup. I rely on practice to develop muscle memory of how to play each matchup so that I can play most turns without thinking too much and focus my mental energy on the tough decisions that really matter. As I played in Providence, I was mostly learning my own deck and each matchup on the fly. Each board state and each opening sequence was new so I had to think about all of it. I got overwhelmed by the decisions I had to make and I misplayed or took bad lines of play as a result.
- Mental state matters. For whatever reason, I just wasn’t mentally ready to play Magic on Saturday of the GP. Maybe I was frazzled because I had to rush around to vendors on Saturday morning and buy the pieces for my deck while filling out my deck registration sheet. Maybe it was because this GP was a local GP, which took me out of my usual GP routine: flight, hotel, dinner, breakfast, etc. Instead I stayed with my parents the night before and drove to the venue in the morning. As humans, anything that takes us out of a routine is disruptive to feeling comfortable and focused. It also didn’t help that I wasn’t properly prepared with my deck. All of these mental stressors added up and I was out of sorts on Saturday. In one round I forgot my dice cube, which I hadn’t lost in maybe I year. The next round I forgot my tokens. The round after I forgot the water I had gotten to help get me hydrated and focused.
This ended up being the first Grand Prix of the season that I hadn’t made Day 2 of. Considering the amount of effort I put into it, I was definitely disappointed in my finish. But looking back on it, I’m happy with how I prepared and the deck I played. Next time I’ll know to start playing standard earlier though.