Grand Prix DC has come and gone and a good time was had by all. The end.

The truth is that the in-game stuff doesn’t leave too much to be discussed, as team limited is a rare and obscure format on its own, not to mention the lame duck status of Battle for Zendikar//Oath of the Gatewatch limited as well. Add the fact that there was no video coverage to talk about and we’re left with an outlier of a tournament in terms of reports. But that’s a shame, because the format is great and the event was a blast. Worthwhile stories and lessons can just disappear into the aether without a platform.

So, here’s my report from Grand Prix DC 2016 for those who want to know about my experience, sans a lot of the muddy details of gameplay that can happily fall to the wayside as we wait for Shadows Over Innistrad.

These journeys begin with finding a team. For a minute there was talk of making Team NumotGaming happen, but Egashira got swooped up by some young guns and I tied myself to a fellow old-dog, so our paths diverged early enough in the process. The aforementioned old dog is none other than Charles Gindy. You may not know who he is, which we find hilarious. It has become an in-joke of sorts, as he is a truly great player with an impressive resume, but is massively underappreciated by the community at large.

On more than one occasion, our opponents would recognize me and not know who Gindy was. No one should really know or care who I am, and Charles is a flippin’ Pro Tour Champion! And US National Champion. And Team Limited Grand Prix Champion. The idea that I would ever be captain of our team over him is truly an amusing suggestion, and that amusement comes at his cost. It’s not that he’s particularly forgettable, it’s just that he didn’t really produce content, much of his time in the spotlight was before there was video coverage at every event (which is becoming not-a-thing once again, it seems), and his PT win was in 2008, before the recent Magic boom that brought so many new players into the game.

Suffice to say, I’m not only happy to get to play with him, but honored he would team with me. He was even dumb enough to do it twice! Last time we played together, our third was the illustrious Tim Aten, another master of limited who is especially skilled in team limited. Sadly, Tim is no longer with us–he has left us for greener pastures, which is to say he’s gone to a farm up north where he can be happy. That is, he works for Wizards of the Coast now. What did you think I meant? Why, doesn’t everyone call WotC HQ “The Magic Farm”? It’s where Magic comes from!

As happy as I would be to run back that squad until the end of time, we needed a replacement third. Before I could even poke some bushes, overturn some rocks, see what masterminds we could pull out of retirement, Floridian manchild Minh Nguyen stepped up to the plate. I’d met him once at an SCG Invitational in Las Vegas and he seemed a nice enough guy, but I’d never seen him play. Despite his name being a homonym for Min-Win, Charles assured me the kid could play and was willing to listen, and his word is good enough for me. Normally, I wouldn’t fly across the country to have my fate in the hands of such an unknown quantity, but I’d fly across the country twice to have my fate in the hands of Gindy, so it evens out in the end.

Thankfully, not only did Minh get his fair share of matches, he fit right into the flow that Gindy and I had in terms of deckbuilding and team decisions. I think having good rapport with your team is crucial in these events, to the point where a slightly lesser quality team who meshes is often a favorite over a theoretically better team that doesn’t get along. Being able to get input on key decisions and relaying important info is made easier if you speak the same language, both metaphorically and sometimes literally. Getting through deckbuilding with a team that doesn’t have that rapport falls somewhere between hellish and impossible.

I’d wager there wasn’t a team out of the 1300+ in DC that didn’t use [nearly] all of the time allotted for deckbuilding: it is an immensely difficult process and obviously extremely important. Being able to converse smoothly and understand each other well saves a lot of time. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so being concise and staying organized and focused is vital, and it’s hard to delegate and take direction if you don’t have an immense amount of respect for your teammates’ abilities. Even after deckbuilding, if you don’t have faith in your teammates it can lead to poor decision-making in your own games, or draw much-needed focus from your own match to supervise theirs. If you feel the need to babysit one another, it’s really hard to experience success.

It’s also a temptation for players less versed in team formats to want to make their own deck as good as possible, or to want to play the best deck of the three built rather than distribute them optimally. Having both experience and that good team rapport together helps make sure you end up with your decks in the right hands and the sideboard cards in the right pools. Building sideboards correctly is one of the most overlooked aspects of team limited, and as someone who loves to utilize sideboarding in limited anyway, it was something we consciously invested time into. That is a decision that has never failed to return dividends.

I fly into DC Friday evening and spend some time with a friend who is out there for school. She made time for me despite having a music festival on Saturday and leaving for a week in Mexico on Sunday. Nice life. Charles and Minh fly in later on and we all get picked up and brought back to Gindy’s in-laws’ who graciously took us in for the weekend (Thanks Trish and Chuck!). We got about 5 hours of sleep, which would’ve been a lifetime of rest back in the day but left us old men exhausted–a recurring theme throughout the weekend. With Gindy and me being from a different era than the relative newcomer Minh, we got to share some of the all-time classic Magic stories with him from the late 2000’s. Nostalgia is heroin for old people, and hopped up on the good stuff we were ready to battle.

I will say that SCG ran an amazing tournament (as they always do) and one of the best parts of the weekend was that they preregistered our pools. This is a massive saver of both time and confusion and makes cheating incredibly harder than the “player registers and passes” system. I hope it becomes the norm for limited tournaments going forward. That being said, we were stuck in the middle of the room and had a very hard time hearing announcements. Compounded by the fact that the two clocks we could see from our seats were set to the time of day rather than counting down the time in deckbuilding, we ended up starting to build a couple minutes after the time started as we instinctively sat there waiting for the pools to be passed.

Our pool was odd, as the power level was extremely high, but it was essentially 3.5 colors, as our green was entirely unplayable and the blue was extremely light. We avoided the green trap despite multiple Relentless Hunters and Timber Gorges and split both our black and our white. This left us with a BR Devoid deck with all the red removal, a UW tempo deck with the white removal, and a BW control deck with all the black removal. Building this way ensured all our decks got removal, had a gameplan, and good mana. That last part is key because the BW bombs deck had multiple wingdings (colorless mana requirements) and building our pool that way let that deck have all of the colorless sources at no expense to the other decks. That meant it got both Hedron Archives, the Seer’s Lantern, the Hedron Crawler, and all 6 of the lands. That also included Wastes with Evolving Wilds, which can also help with colors too, seeing as there was so much colorless mana.

With Minh wanting to be aggressive and Gindy wanting the duck-and-punch tempo deck in the middle seat, I happily ended up with the busted BW deck. Great removal, great mana, multiple bombs, above-curve plays in every stage of the game, I really couldn’t ask for much more. Besides being great, it was also definitely the most “my style” of the three, long games with lots of removal, card advantage, sideboard flexibility, etc.

Having the best deck on the team has a weird pressure to it, as if you have the dregs and lose, then it’s somewhat expected, and when you win then it’s awesome that you made it work. With the best deck, the expectation is to win and you’re letting your team down if you don’t. Obviously that’s just a perception thing, but it is an interesting dynamic. The good news is that I played my role and, despite some close calls, I was able to win all of my matches on day 1.

Despite that, our tournament was off to a shaky start as we lost round one to Wenzel Krautmann’s team. I think if the match-ups of our two close losses were reversed we would have easily won both, but that’s the way it goes. A bit down already, I lost my first game of round 2 to a Felidar Sovereign trigger when he comboed me out with Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim. This would not be the only time we lost to Test of Endurance on the weekend.

Thankfully we were able to pull out the match and rattled some off before running into Ross Merriam’s squad. I had my closest, hardest-fought match of the day against Andrew Shrout. The thing most worth mentioning was that, in game 1, Shrout cast a turn 6 Worldbreaker on my Sea Gate Wreckage, sacrificing Sanctum of Ugin to find Kozilek, the Great Distortion. I realized I’d have to pull a miracle out to win that one, so I quickly untapped and snap attacked with my 3/3 flier which prompted Andrew to raise an eyebrow then block. Rats. I got the other two, both of which were good games in their own right, but Ross and Bryan Gottlieb got Charles and Minh in their own very close matches. The fear in these events is always to just get screwed/flooded/topdecked against a scrubby team, but we all played close, three-game matches against competent players and lost straight up, so it’s hard to complain about this one.

We squeaked past a solid team in round 8 composed of Christian Benafel, Jordan Berkowitz, and Mark LePine. Things got a little tense towards the end as the clock ticked down, I didn’t like the way the clock was being managed but was more aggressive about expressing my frustrations than what was called for which is pretty out of character for me these days. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed (Chris’ and Charles’ heads to be specific) and we pulled it out in turns (or would have had they not conceded). This locked us up for day 2, but we’d have to win our last one as well if we wanted to start Sunday with a shot at making the cut.

So of course we get our hardest pairing yet: captained by PT T8’er Yoshihiko Ikawa hot off a team limited top 4 in Beijing a couple months ago, his wings are PT Battle for Zendikar champion Kazuya Takimura, and my opponent is none other than Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura. Now, Ikawa and Takimura are more current/recent Japanese stars that I’ve never really interacted with, but Kenji and I go way back. He was my favorite player growing up and became a good friend, so of course I took the opportunity to talk some trash.

As we approached the table, I began shouting in Japanese, the equivalent would be a very patronising, “HEY LITTLE BUDDY, COME ON DOWN! Long time no see, are you any good yet?”

His teammates look to Kenji for a reaction, as I’m sure they have no idea who I am. ‘Why is this white dude talking trash to our hall of fame teammate? And in terrible Japanese, no less…’ When Kenji was laughing and sparring back they realized it was all in good fun, and got a good laugh themselves when I told my teammates to win one of their matches because I got the bye.

Kenji ended up with mediocre beaters and missed land drops and I buried him with good draws from my bomby deck. At the point where it was clear he was losing game 2, he asked what my personal record was. I sheepishly told him X-0 which prompted a knowing chuckle and eye-roll. I explained that it’s good strategy to give the worst, dumbest player on the team all the good cards so they can beat real pros like him.

One of my teammates won–or both, I was so tired I didn’t bother checking–and we went straight home to get 4 more precious hours of sleep. It’s a cruel, sick joke to put daylight savings time on the night between days of a two-day tournament.

Our day two pool was much weaker than our first, but at least we had playables in all our colors. A BW allies deck built itself, and we were left trying to piece the other two together. There were only enough colorless sources to support one deck with wingdings, and the blue was deep enough to split up, so it became UR devoid with the red removal and UG with the blue removal (Containment Membranes and some bounce spells). Double Void Grafter and a powerful curve was what we had to hope could take some matches. I suggested fitting some more fliers into the deck but was outvoted, so I just put them in his sideboard and suggested boarding them in every round instead.

Our round 11 loss came at the hands of one of the truly impressive squads in the field. I played Ondrej Strassky, who made lots of 3/4 fliers that my UR deck couldn’t combat effectively. Gindy beat Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa quickly and handily, but Minh flooded a bit and couldn’t put a win together against Thiago Saporito. This was a feature match, so I’d link you to the coverage here if I could, but no such luck.

Our second loss was the only really frustrating match of the tournament. There’s something that stings a bit extra when your opponent makes a lot of sequencing mistakes and misses triggers but still wins handily. That’s what happened to Charles. Minh got his match, but my opponent Pulse of Murasa’d Omnath, Locus of Rage and Gindy joined the Felidar Sovereign trigger victim support group, or FSTVSG for short. Our opponents were super nice and courteous people and our matches were nothing but friendly, to be clear. Sometimes post-tournament frustration or disappointment gets retroactively mistaken for in-tournament poor sportsmanship or even judgement/dislike for the person(s) and I’d like to see the conflation of those two die down.

The last round came down to a rubber game of 3v3 Magic where we essentially dodged half of their deck for at least 3 turns to barely come out ahead by a single turn in a tight race thanks to the sideboarded fliers. A really good sweat at the end of a really good game to end a really fun tournament. That last win got us to a record of 10-4, which put us at 30 points; a score that ranges from 35th place all the way to 67th when only 58 teams get paid. And with the tiebreaker luck of the Irish, we ended up in 57th! That’s worth a pro point and $200 each, not to mention the expedition Polluted Delta and Mana Confluence that we opened. Sleeve, value, flop, and so on.

For a little added value, we drafted against good friends/better foes Tommy Ashton, Stephen King, and Cedric Phillips. I had a RW Ally deck with some things that like equipment, and in deckbuilding it became obvious that at least two of our opponents would be heavily devoid, so I ended up maindecking two Hedron Blades which absolutely tore Ceddy apart. I then signed one in gold sharpie, put it in a sleeve, and gave it to Tommy to gift Cedric later in the night.

Team events are the best, and I’m already looking forward to Louisville. Thanks for reading!

-AJ Sacher

P.S. In addition to shouting out SCG for a great run event, I also wanted to give props to Wizards for their new payout system. For most of my career, after you cashed an event, you would hopefully, theoretically, eventually receive a check some months after the tournament. With this new system, I was paid digitally in under a week. This is the difference between being able to afford to go to the next tournament and not for a lot of people, so I’m very happy with this massive improvement!