Tournament Report – 40th at GP Milwaukee

I think I was more prepared for GP Milwaukee than any other GP I’ve played.  Not only did I put in the hours to practice for the event, but it was the first time I was part of a Facebook group that was dedicated to testing and preparing for a specific tournament.  The work paid off, I got a little lucky, and I put myself in a position to top 8 the tournament going into the last draft pod.  I came up a little short, but I finished in 40th which was good for my first GP cash finish.


I summarized my thoughts on the Kaladesh limited format earlier here: Kaladesh Limited GP Milwaukee Prep.

Below is a quick aside on the testing process and my thoughts on how to prepare for future limited Grand Prix.  For my report on the tournament itself, feel free to skip this section.

Limited is my favorite format, so putting in the practice was more fun than work – that isn’t always the case for constructed.  This event was also unique in that it was a limited GP in the middle of a format.  The GP schedule lately has had a disappointingly small number of limited events.  The limited GPs are typically only scheduled the week before the Pro Tour, right after the set comes out.  This means the format is brand new.  The late release of sets on Magic Online means that it’s often impossible to get adequate testing in before these events which is pretty frustrating.  For Milwaukee, we were able to test a lot.  Getting practice with the cards, building sealed pools and discussing the format with others was a great benefit going into the weekend.

There were 10-12 of us prepping for the tournament in a Facebook group.  We did some things well and there were some things we could have done better.  We posted a lot of Magic Online sealed pools and exchanged ideas on how to build them.  This was great… for a while.  I think we got to the point where most pools were easy to agree on within a few cards.  We never really moved on from this phase to discussing the format as a whole or the evaluations of specific cards.  But the biggest oversight was that we didn’t draft enough.  We were so focused on the sealed portion of the event that we neglected the importance of practicing for draft on Day 2.

In the future I’d recommend the following phases to preparing for a limited Grand Prix (assuming everyone starts with zero knowledge of the format):

  1. Spoiler review and analysis.  For a new set, you’ll have to look at all the new cards.  In my opinion, you can go pretty deep on this and learn a lot about a limited format before you even get cards in your hands.  It is time consuming and may not be fun to some, but there is value in studying the set on paper.  I wrote a primer on how I start to learn about limited formats just from the spoiler here: Contextual Evaluation of Limited Formats
  2. Solo sealed builds.  Each person builds their own sealed pool and plays out the games.  This is just to get familiar with the cards and some of the interactions.
  3. Collaborative sealed builds.  After some experience, building pools as a group has more value since you can share your early experiences from phase 1.  If testing online, one person should open and share a sealed pool.  Others should weigh in with opinions on the build.  Then the individual should play out the pool and report back on what worked or didn’t work as well as expected.  This phase will take a long time and provide the most amount of new information.  At the beginning, posting a complete pool as a blank slate for all contributors is useful.  As you learn more, the poster should provide the pool and their first draft of one or two possible builds so the conversation can focus on the finer details (choosing between two close color pairs or deciding on the 21st-23rd cards).
  4. Review your sealed results.  I am a data-driven person.  I like to record my results with each sealed pool so that I can review the data later.  What pools did I have the most success with? Do they have anything in common?  Which colors did I win with the most?  The least?  You can also use this data to get an estimate of the expected metagame.
  5. Evaluate the sealed format.  After building a lot of sealed pools and playing a lot of games, it’s time to step back and look at the big picture.  As a group, discuss what you’ve learned about the sealed format so far.  What are the strengths of each color?  What color-pairs are seeing more or less play?  What’s the speed of the format?  What are the best commons or uncommons?  Do the rares define the format?
  6. Start to focus on draft.  It’s OK to keep playing some sealed to keep your skills sharp, but it’s important to do enough drafting before the Grand Prix.  There can be a lot of differences between the draft and sealed formats so you need to practice both.  Again I’d recommend doing a few solo drafts at first to get your bearings.
  7. Collaborative drafting.  This can be done a few ways.  If you can get together with others and draft together on Magic Online, that’s awesome.  You can also Skype with your testing partners to draft together online.  If these are not options, you can draft by yourself and then send a draft recap for your testing team to review.  In Magic Online, there is a setting to auto-save your drafts to a text file.  These text file summaries can be uploaded to various websites (I used that will allow your teammates to navigate the draft and review your picks.
  8. Review your draft results.  Similar to the sealed results, I would want to keep track of my draft results.  What decks are winning?  Am I showing a bias towards a specific color?
  9. Evaluate the draft format.  Again I think this is an important step that often gets overlooked.  Step back from the nitty-gritty of specific draft picks and technical play.  What does your team think of the format overall?  What strategies do you think are the best and which ones are you hoping to avoid?  What cards do you think are being over or under valued by others in your group or the community at large?
  10. Maintain and verify.  Once you have practiced both sealed and draft and your team has made some conclusions about the limited format, playing both sealed and draft leading up to the event keeps your knowledge of the format fresh.  Use these final events to verify the conclusions that your team has made – did you miss anything relevant?  In the few days before the Grand Prix, I prefer to take a bit of a break.  I don’t want to go into the start of the tournament burnt out from playing too much in the final hours.  I trust what I’ve learned and prefer to take a couple days off to go into the Grand Prix weekend fresh.

Day 1: Sealed Deckbuilding

Going into the tournament I knew that I was hoping to open an aggressive pool.  I was looking for a a pile of 2 and 3-drops, hopefully backed up by a few removal spells or combat tricks.  I had done the work, but now things were out of my hands as I sat down to look at my card pool.  (I did the sleep-in special which includes a pre-registered sealed pool – I don’t usually sign up for the sleep-in special, but it’s totally worth it for limited and I recommend this to anyone who has byes).


The first rare I saw was Confiscation Coup and I thought, ‘Please no, don’t make me play blue.’  But when I got to the multi-color cards I was very happy to see the RW gold cards.  This was a great start to a RW vehicle deck which was exactly how I wanted to attack the format.  As I looked at the pool though, I realized that it wasn’t going to be a slam-dunk RW deck.  I didn’t have much great in white except for the gold cards.  I also didn’t open many vehicles to make my RW vehicles deck tick.  Dragster is good here, but I didn’t open any Sky Skiff, Renegade Freighter or Bomat Bazaar Barge.  The RW gold cards were still good, but not having playable vehicles would lower their power level significantly.  And the third knock against RW was a lack of interactive spells.  I had a Reprisal and a Welding Sparks, but no other premium removal or even combat tricks like Built to Smash or Built to Last.

Red was clearly going to be the core of my deck.  I laid out RG because it had Bristling Hydra and a couple of spells (Ornamental Courage and Hunt the Weak).  I ended up deciding that the power level of the RW cards was high enough that I just had to play RW even though I knew it was lacking a few things.  I figured it was a 7-2 deck.  If I had better vehicles or better ways to interact, it could have easily been an 8-1 or potential 9-0 pool.  Here’s the build I registered:


GP Milwaukee Day 1 Sealed - RW Aggro

Creatures (18)
Veteran Motorist
Eager Construct
Narnam Cobra
Eddytrail Hawk
Depala, Pilot Exemplar
Chief of the Foundry
Foundry Inspector
Weldfast Monitor
Spireside Infiltrator
Salivating Gremlins
Spontaneous Artist
Propeller Pioneer
Skyship Stalker
Skyswirl Harrier

Spells (5)
Ovalchase Dragster
Ballista Charger
Pressure Point
Welding Sparks
Furious Reprisal
Lands (17)

Sideboard (11)
Cogworker’s Puzzleknot
Inspired Charge
Aradara Express
Ruinous Gremlin
Reckless Fireweaver
Thriving Ibex
Cathartic Reunion
Inventor’s Goggles
Torch Gauntlet
Deadlock Trap

This was a pile of 20 creatures (counting vehicles) and 3 spells.  This deck had one game plan: attack.  I felt like it could kill people reliably but I would have trouble winning if I got behind at all.  I starting imagining how games would play out and what my game plan would be.  I would need to get ahead, stay ahead and keep attacking.  I would need to make aggressive attacks even if it meant trading off my board because I didn’t have many bombs or removal spells to draw into that could break up a board stall.

I don’t usually play Pressure Point, but I felt like I needed to play something that would let me attack through a blocker on a key turn.  With my deck, I thought a lot of games would come down to the opponent stabilizing and if I could use Pressure Point to keep them off balance for one turn, that could be the game.  After discussing with teammates, we decided that I should be playing Inspired Charge and Cogworker’s Puzzleknot instead of the Pressure Point and Narnam Cobra, so I made that change frequently.  I also sideboarded out the second Skyswirl Harrier for the first Aradara Express.  Again, the Express is a card I don’t usually play, but with the vehicle synergy I had from the RW gold cards and my deck lacking any other punchy top end it fit well in this deck.  These changes won me a number of sideboard games so I have to give credit to my teammates for those suggestions.

Day 1: Sealed Matches

R3, 2-1 – RB Lookout (L, 1-2)
R4, 3-1 – GBr Eliminate (W, 1-2)
R5, 4-1 – BW Control (W, 2-1)
R6, 5-1 – RB Artifacts (2-0)
R7, 6-1 – 4-Color Rares (2-1)
R8, 6-2 – UWr Tokens (1-2)
R9, 7-2 – GB (2-1)

In my first match, I couldn’t beat an opponent’s combination of Night Market Lookout and Sky Skiff which they had early in two of the three games.  It felt like my opponent’s deck was fragile, but I had no way to disrupt what she was doing and the Lookouts gained a lot of life.  I was almost able to race in game 1 when she took a turn off to play Whirlermaker but after getting her to 3 life multiple times I just couldn’t close the game out.  I won game 2 easily but she crushed me in game 3 with the Lookout combo backed up by two Unlicensed Disintegration.  It was disappointing to lose my first match, especially when I felt like my deck was more powerful than my opponent’s.

From there, I went on a pretty good streak.

In round 4, I beat a mid range deck after getting blown out by Eliminate the Competition in game 1.  It felt like I was destined for an 0-2 start when I had an Aradara Express stranded with no pilots and no cards in hand in game 2 but I drew Depala and Chief of the Foundry to get the win.

In round 5, I played a really close match against Jamie Parke, who was also in my Facebook testing group.  In game 1 I was able to recover from a Fumigate that got Jaime back in the game.  We ended up in a close race and I was able to Pressure Point a Self-Assembler which forced Jaime to keep his other creature back on defense.  Fogging his attack on this turn was just enough to get me over the finish line despite a huge misplay where I forgot to crew my Ballista Charger before combat.  In game 2 I got rolled by three cheap removal spells (x2 Die Young and x1 Fragmentize) which let Jaime win with Self-Assembler into Marionette Master.

Game 3 is where things got interesting.  I had brought in Aradara Express and it was giving Jaime a lot of trouble.  Based on the removal I had seen from game 2, I knew the card was going to be hard for him to deal with.  He was getting value from Ovalchase Daredevil and Self-Assembler so he had a lot of cards in hand, but he was behind against my board of Eddytrail Hawk, Armada Express and a couple smaller creatures.  After tanking for awhile, Jaime played a Noxious Gearhulk that had to kill my Hawk so that I couldn’t jump my Express.  I was able to play a creature and crew the express to force a double block of Self-Assember and Gearhulk while I got in for a couple points of damage bringing him to 2 and setting up a win the next turn.  Despite the win, I could’ve played better in this game was well.  Instead of committing more creatures to the board to crew the Express, I should have played Ovalchase Dragster.  I forgot that I could crew the dragster and use the dragster to crew the Express.  This would have played around Fumigate better, which he fortunately did not draw.

Round 6 was fast as my opponent was mana screwed in game 1 and got out-raced in game 2.  In round 7, I played against a very powerful 4-color deck with Cultivator’s Caravan, Fumigate, Master Trinketeer and Rashmi, Eternities Crafter.  I beat my opponent who was on a competitive mull to 5.  At first I had trouble just breaking through a turn 2 Kujar Seedsculptor but I did manage to win.  I lost a game 2 where I had a slow start but got to be on the play for game 3.  Against a greedy 4-color deck I knew I had a chance to just run him over before he had the chance to set up his mana.  My opponent had a turn 2 Prophetic Prism, so I knew color-screw was off the table as a victory condition.  Unfortunately for them, they had no turn 3 play.  I curved Eddytrail Hawk into Spireside Infiltrator into Ovalchase Dragster which killed them on turn 5, stranding them with a Fumigate in their hand and never getting a 5th turn.

In round 8 I played against my first Smuggler’s Copter.  My opponent was on a UW tokens deck with multiple Experimental Aviators, white Fabricate creatures and multiple Inspired Charges (which I never saw).  He had a turn 2 Copter in games 1 and 3.  I might have punted away the match with a bad scry in game 3.  After seeing a Copter on the play from my opponent I played a Veteran Motorist and scryed a Foundry Inspector to the bottom looking for an answer to the Copter.  I believe I was momentarily thinking with my Constructed brain.  In a constructed deck where you have a mix of threats and answers, I would push to the bottom looking for a removal spell for the Copter.  But I know that my sealed deck only has 1 good answer to the Copter (Welding Sparks) so I should have kept the 3-drop on top and tried to race.  As it stood, I made no play on turn 3 and my opponent’s only follow-up was a Consulate Skygate.  I was only able to beat my opponent down to 11 before they drew out of their threat-light hand but if I had played a Foundry Inspector on turn 3, things might have swung in my favor.

My final opponent of day 1 was a GB midrange deck.  He played a turn 3 Prakhata Club Security off Servant of the Conduit, which is actually hard for my deck to attack through.  When my opponent attacked with the security, I breathed a big sigh of relief and I was able to race from there.  In game 3 my opponent got stuck with four lands and a hand full of 5-drops which force him to take some sub-optimal lines.

I finished 7-2 after day 1, which was about expectation for my deck.  I was happy with the result, especially after the early loss.  I got lucky to dodge most of the bombs in the format all day.  I played against multiple Fumigates, which is bad for my deck to see, but I didn’t run into many other bombs (one Smuggler’s Copter, zero Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, zero Confiscation Coup, maybe one Renegade Freighter, one Gearhulk).  To be fair, my deck also avoided some number of bombs by going under them and killing my opponents before those cards could matter.

Day 2, Draft #1

My confidence was shaky in the draft format.  As I mentioned earlier, we hadn’t prepared for draft enough as a team.  But I had drafted Kaladesh a decent amount earlier in the format and was looking forward to having fun in my second ever day of GP-level drafting.

After being seated for the first draft, I only recognized Jon Stern from my pod.  Unfortunately he was seated directly across the pod from me, so I was thinking I was going to have to face him in the first round, but I forgot that the pairings are actually random.  In pack one, I opened a Midnight Oil.  It’s a card I had first picked a lot recently even though I’m not really excited about it because it’s unclear to me what the best way to build around it is.  I noted a Night Market Lookout in the pack and hoped that it would wheel.  With the Midnight Oil, I wanted to draft a low-curve aggressive deck that could empty my hand early and use the oil to refill in the mid-game.  The pack passed to me also had a Night Market Lookout, and I was hoping that I’d be able to get two of them early on the wheel and be really well-positioned heading into pack 2.  The first Lookout wheeled, but unfortunately the second one did not, so that plan didn’t fully come together.

I was a bit lucky though as I had started on black and settled into it as the most open color in my seat.  I wheeled multiple Maulfist Squads during the draft, which is a card I like a lot and seemed underrated at the table.  It felt like UB were the most open colors for my seat (taking two Aether Meltdowns), but I’ve had very little success with UB and tried to avoid being pushed into blue.  I picked up a Weldfast Monitor in the middle of pack 1 and by the end of the draft I had picked up enough playable red cards to complement my black core.  Black was open enough that I could build a heavy black deck and fill it out with a few aggressive red cards, even though red wasn’t open for my seat.  Here was the deck I ended up with for the first draft pod:

day2_draft1I was disappointed with the lack of 2-drops, but otherwise I felt the deck was pretty good.  The off-color Narnam Cobra has become my signature card in this format.  I play it in a lot of decks as an additional artifact and to fill out my 2-drops which is the role it served in my day 1 sealed deck and again here.  The goggles were extremely good in this deck, making the Maulfist Squad into an even bigger threat.

Day 2, Draft #1 – Matches

R10, 8-2 – RW (W, 2-1)
R11, 9-2 – RW (W, 2-0)
R12, 10-2 – GB (W, 2-1)

I faced RW decks in back to back rounds.  In round 10, my opponent missed on white mana for the first game.  In game 2 I had a draw with my best 2-drop (Embraal Bruiser) that was able to race a Dragster thanks to Rush of Vitality.  I was able to play around my opponent’s Impeccable Timing thanks to having Rush and Built to Smash in hand.

In round 11, I played a close game 3 where I punted to my opponent and he, luckily, punted right back.  First, there was an interesting judge call.  I played an Ambitious Aetherborn and thought about my Fabricate trigger.  I said I was going to put a +1/+1 counter on it.  My opponent clarified, ‘You’re putting a counter on this?’.  I said ‘Yes’, and my opponent attempted to Welding Sparks the creature with the trigger on the stack.  At this point I called the judge.  My opponent needs to cast the removal spell with the trigger on the stack – they don’t get priority to respond after I’ve made the choice of which mode to use on the Fabricate.

This judge call could’ve gone so many ways.  It could be interpreted that my opponent was cheating, since he asked if I was putting a counter on my creature (effectively passing priority) and then trying to ‘get me’ by casting the Sparks at an illegal time to deny me the 1/1 Servo.  I don’t think my opponent was cheating, and instead he just didn’t know how the cards worked.  Another potential ruling was that my opponent had let my trigger resolve, so the creature was now a 5/4 and then cast Welding Sparks to deal 3 damage to a 5/4 creature.  Based on our description of the situation to the judge, he decided that the trigger had resolved and my creature was a 5/4 but he put the Welding Sparks back in my opponent’s hand.  I believe this to be the correct ruling.  I had forgotten the exact words my opponent had used (an observer reminded me after the match), so I didn’t tell the judge that my opponent had specifically said ‘You’re putting a counter on this?… OK, then I’m going to Welding Sparks in response.’  The fact that he asked about the counter being put on the creature, means he was acknowledging the trigger was resolving and then he attempted to cast Welding Sparks.  If I had remembered the way my opponent worded this question, I might have been able to make an argument that the Sparks was actually cast and that it should be in the graveyard instead of his hand.

The Welding Sparks would become relevant a few turns later.  We were racing in a close game and I made a bad attack, forgetting that my opponent had a Ballista Charger on the battlefield.  I had played a Maulfist Squad and made a Servo, thinking I’d have two blockers to chump with on the next turn.  I was actually dead on board since my opponent could Sparks my servo and then kill the Squad with the Ballista Charger trigger.  My opponent untapped and thought for awhile.  The judge, who had stayed to watch the game, asked my opponent to make a play (one of the few times I’ve ever seen an observing judge urge a slow player to make a game action).  My opponent cast Hijack on my Maulfist Squad and used that to crew the Charger.  He attacked and pinged my Servo, attacking for lethal.  What my opponent forgot was that I had a Chief of the Foundry in play, making my Servo a 2/2.  I was able to chump block and kill my opponent on the following turn.  Not only had I left myself dead on board, with Welding Sparks and Hijack in hand, my opponent could have killed me multiple ways, but chose the one line that let me live.  He admitted after the game that the judge urging him to make a play probably caused him to choose the wrong line – this is an example of why making your opponent’s play in a timely manner is actually very, very important.  I was lucky that a judge was watching and actually made my opponent play at a reasonable pace – and of course lucky that my opponent punted pretty hard.

I was getting a chance to play for 3-0 in my pod, which was awesome.  A friend who looked at my pod after the draft informed me that Dan Cecchetti was a second ringer in the group, which I had not initially recognized.  Dan and Jon Stern played in the first round, so one of them was going to be knocked out of the x-0 bracket.  I ended up playing against Dan in round 12, trying to get to 10-2.  He had a quite solid GB midrange deck built around +1/+1 counters (Kujar Seedsculptor, Fretwork Colony, Fairgrounds Trumpeter, Aetherborn Marauder, Armorcraft Judge).

I lost game 1 to a good curve from Dan.  In game 2, we played a very long game where I had Midnight Oil.  I was able to grind and eventually break through a 4/4 Aetherborn Marauder.  On the final turn I was able to play a Weldfast Monitor and my second Chief of the Foundry to double trigger Salivating Gremlins and make a big attack.  In game 3, Dan wasn’t able to effect the board quickly enough.  He led on Attune with Aether, Harsh Scrutiny, Fretwork Colony, and Fabrication Module.  I decided to let his Colony live despite a removal spell in hand and just race it.  By the time he played Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter I was able to force him into some bad blocks and kill his Oviya in response to a Fabrication Module activation.  Despite his awkward draw, Dan was still able to make the game pretty close.  I ended up winning at 5 life to 3-0 the draft pod and get to 10-2 overall.

Day 2, Draft #2

I didn’t even think to look at the standings.  I was happy with my play so far and knew I just had to keep playing well.  To me, this was no different than any other draft.  It turns out that at 10-2, I was now in 12th place overall and seated in the second draft pod in the room.  My friends were pretty hyped for me, but I just kept pushing them away, trying to take one game at a time.

Only one more draft stood between me and a top 8 and my first Pro Tour invite.  This pod included Joe Demestrio, Caleb Durward, Ryoichi Tamada and then a few other folks that I didn’t recognize.  It was cool to have put myself in this position, within reach of top 8 this far into the tournament.  I will admit that the first pack of this draft was the first time I felt any sort of nerves or pressure during the event.  A few picks in, I was able to push that aside and felt pretty focused again for the rest of the day.

This draft was difficult to navigate and I don’t think I gave myself the best chance to win but I’m not sure exactly where I should’ve drafted differently.

In my opening pack I had to choose between Key to the City, Snare Thopter and Renegade Freighter.  These are three very powerful colorless cards and I’d be happy to start my draft with any of them.  Snare Thopter and Freighter are both great in the same types of decks.  They are good in almost every deck, but they want you to be aggressive.  I felt like Key to the City was a slightly more versatile card.  It can be used to close out games in an aggro deck, but it can also just be a late game card advantage engine and win condition.  I took the Key, but am still not sure on what the right pick is here.

I followed the Key with a Riparian Tiger out of a weak pack, third picked a Thriving Rhino and fourth picked a Filigree Familiar.  I felt like I was really well set up to draft a green midrange deck with Key as a value card.  I haven’t draft Green a lot in this format lately, but that’s because it’s considered by many to be the best color and is over-drafted.  If green is open, I’m be really happy to jump into it but I don’t like fighting multiple other drafters for it.

In the middle of pack 1 (either 5th or 6th) I see an Aviary Mechanic.  I think this card is very good, so I viewed it as a possible signal that white was open.  I think I took a Highspire Artisan over it – even though I think it’s a worse card, I was trying to stay in one color, cut green and look for signals as to what my second color should be.  At this point, I hadn’t seen a lot of white so it wasn’t clear to me if white was actually open or if someone near me was drafting white but didn’t value the Mechanic as highly as I do.  I was watching the rest of the packs for confirmation that white was open.  I speculated on a Cogworker’s Puzzleknot and a late Fragmentize, but these are not strong enough for me to think of them as a signal.  Meanwhile, some mediocre black cards were floating into my pile late – Lawless Broker, Subtle Strike, and Dukhara Scavenger type marginal playables.

In general, pack 1 felt kind of weak and I was searching for a direction.  I had some good colorless cards, a few very good green cards and some mediocre filler in both white and black.  At this point I’m still thinking that I’m either GB or GW, but I’m not sure which.

Pack 2 is where things really start to go off the rails.  I was lucky enough to open another very good colorless rare: Smuggler’s Copter.  Third pick I get passed a Kambal, Consul of Allocation. which I passed.  I had taken black or colorless cards with each of my first few picks so in my mind I was locked into GB.  I briefly considered splashing it, but I wasn’t sure it was even a good splash card.  I didn’t have any fixing yet, but in green I could start prioritizing it.  A pick or two later I see a Restoration Gearsmith, but again I pass it for a black card.  This is a much better splash card, but given that I had already passed the first BW gold card I felt like the ship had sailed.

I thought I was being disciplined, but looking back I should have just taken the powerful gold cards, staying flexible and giving myself the option to splash or switch colors.  I had gotten passed some good green cards early in pack 1 and made the mistake of thinking that I was locked into green, when in reality I hadn’t been seeing any good green cards since my 3rd pick Rhino.  I was even in the fortunate position that I had enough colorless cards that I could have switched into BW and not been short on playables at this point.

At the end of pack 2, I was left with a large pile of black cards, colorless cards and only a few green cards.  I was hoping to get rewarded with green and black again in pack 3 to fill out my deck.

In pack 3, I got passed a fourth pick Fumigate and a 5th pick Wispweaver Angel.  It was too late for me to switch into white, but it confirmed that I had misread the draft.  I had seen a very small signal of white being open in pack 1 but never got a confirmation to finally make the jump.

I think a few things worked against me in this draft.  First, Key to the City was a difficult first pick for me to build around.  I was constantly trying to figure out if I was an aggro deck with Rhino’s and Maulfist Sqauds or a midrange/control deck that wanted to sit behind walls like Highspire Artisan and use Key to break through a stalemate.  Meanwhile, I was being asked to figure out what colors were open in my seat with some generally weak packs.  I think the packs just broke weak for white in pack 1 and I missed my chance to identify it as an open color.  My brain was busy working to figure out where I was going to land on the aggro/midrange/control spectrum and what my complimentary color was going to be and I failed to realize that green just wasn’t open for me anymore after the first couple of picks.  The fact that the rest of the packs were weak in EVERY color, made it especially difficult to realize that green had been shut off.

Once the draft was over, I had to figure out how to salvage a deck from my pool of cards.  It was almost like constructing a deck from a mini-sealed pool which is never a good sign.


When I actually laid out the GB deck I had maybe five green cards, and three of them weren’t even necessarily good.  I had multiple Sage of Shalia’s Claim and Highspire Artisans.  Neither are good and they definitely don’t go into the same deck.  I didn’t get a lot of removal so I didn’t think I could actually play a grindy midrange game with the Artisans.  The pool definitely reflected my indecisiveness between aggro and midrange.  I considered playing mostly black and just splashing a couple of good green cards.  But one of my better green cards, the Tiger, was double green.  I ended up deciding that my best chance of winning was to ditch green altogether for mono-black.  I had picked up a decent number of cheap combat tricks, so I was going to try to play some early threats (including Night Market Lookouts that I had goof-drafted) backed up by Subtle Strikes.  If nothing else, Smuggler’s Copter could provide some easy wins.

Here is what I registered:


Given the opportunity to redraft, I would’ve taken the BW gold cards in pack 2.  Given the opportunity to rebuild, I might play the Sage of Shalia’s Claims and try to be a GB beatdown deck.  This would make my early beatdown draws more consistent and would let the Subtle Strikes and Midnight Oil do more work.  It could  have looked something like this:


Day 2, Draft #2 – Matches

R13, 11-2 – UR (W, 2-1)
R14, 11-3 – RG (L, 0-2)
R15, 11-4 – Concede to Ryoichi Tamada so I can make my flight!

Going into the matches, I didn’t have a high confidence level, but I knew all I needed was to get a little lucky.

In round 13 I was paired against Caleb Durward.  From watching his stream, I know we do not approach draft in most formats the same way, so I didn’t know quite what to expect.  He was playing UR, which is already unusual, and in game 1 he played a Wind Drake and a Thriving Turtle which made me think that his draft didn’t quite go as planned either.  We played a close game but I got the win.  In Game 2 I saw the better half of his deck.  He played Whirler Virtuouso (which I should have expected from someone in UR) and Glimmer of Genius, then got me pretty good with Select for Inspection on my Aradara Express.  That tempo play combined with a Fleetwheel Cruiser into Saheeli’s Artistry making two Fleetwheel Cruisers was more than enough to kill me.  In the final game, I drew the Copter / Night Market Lookout combo which went unanswered and I moved on to 11-2.

Now two wins away from top 8, I was paired against a young kid who looked like he was maybe 15.  I just needed the luck to continue for a little longer, but unfortunately it would not.

In game 1, my opponent 2-for-1’d me with Furious Reprisal but I was still close to racing.  On one of the last turns I had a 3/3 Night Market Lookout with Subtle Strike and Filigree Familiar in hand against my opponent’s tapped Brazen Scourge and untapped Wayward Giant.  I used my Key to the City to make the Lookout unblockable, putting my opponent to 5 and played the Familiar post-combat to go up to 14 life.  I was thinking I had no way to kill the Giant, so I wanted to use the Key to race it.  This was a bad line for a couple reasons.  First, the 2 life from the Familiar actually didn’t change my opponent’s clock.  They had 7 power on board, which was still a 2-turn clock against me.  Second, I should’ve just attacked my Lookout into the Giant.  If my opponent blocks, I can use the Subtle Strike to eat it.  This kills the Giant and has the added benefit of putting the Lookout out of burn range from a Welding Sparks.  My opponent did draw Welding Sparks the next turn and killed my Lookout, attacking me for 7 damage, putting me down to to 7.  I still had a path to victory.  I attacked with my Familiar for 2, putting my opponent to 3.  I was going to have to use my Subtle Strike on his turn to shrink one of his guys, take 6 damage going down to 1, and put a counter on my Filigree Familiar to attack for exactly lethal on my turn.  This worked, except my opponent then played a Fireforger’s Puzzleknot post-combat to deal me the final point of damage.

In game 2, I mulliganed to 6 and then kept a hand of three land, Subtle Strike, and two Metal Spinner’s Puzzleknots.  I drew lands for turn and my puzzle knots also drew a bunch of lands.  I still somehow almost had a chance to win – I was given just enough of a window to have some hope before losing horribly.  On turn 3, I got to Subtle Strike my opponent’s Narnam Cobra in response to a Kujar Seedsculptor trigger.  The only creature I drew was a Narnam Cobra of my own.  My opponent spent turn 4 playing and equipping a Torch Gauntlet to his 1/2 Seedsculptor which let me trade with my Cobra.  I untapped with a clear board and a fist full of lands.  From there, my opponent played some more things like Territorial Gorger that I had no answers to and I died a slow death to some mediocre beatdowns while I continued to flood out.  It was an anti-climactic way for my tournament to come to an end.

My opponent’s RG Torch Gauntlet, Territorial Gorger deck was going into the undefeated bracket of the pod.  This is the third deck I had seen from the pod and all of them looked like they were scraping the bottom of the barrel for playables.  Either the draft went really strangely or the packs were just really weak, but it seemed like the draft was a bit of a train wreck for everyone involved.

I conceded my last match against Ryoichi Tamada because I didn’t want to be late for my flight home.  I don’t usually fly out on Sundays, so when I booked the flight I forgot to account for day 2 taking longer for limited GPs because of the draft pods.  I would have stayed if I were still in top 8 contention, but as it was I missed out on the potential for an extra pro point and more cash.


I was very happy with my performance at the GP.  I put in a lot of work to prepare and it was awesome to see that effort reflected in my results.  It was a great way to end the year as I’ve seen myself consistently improve my GP finishes as the year went on.  It’s also great looking back on a few games where I still could’ve played better to improve my chances at winning.

Getting within striking distance of top 8 gives me hope and motivation that I can continue to do the same in future tournaments.  I’ve been on a good run lately and it’s encouraging to see improvement in tournament finishes.  I can only hope for that trend to continue into 2017.

I’m looking forward to next year where there are a few more limited Grand Prixs on my schedule as well!  I wasn’t planning on going to GP Orlando, but this tournament and the newfound support of the Facebook testing group has made me rethink that decision.  Now I hope to make it to Florida and make another run at top 8!

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