I stepped out of the airport into Louisville and realized I’d made a huge mistake. I’d come from across most of the country to play with some viewers in my first ever team GP, my third total. I was now standing outside, two thousand miles from home, to meet near total strangers and play in one of Magic’s biggest events. That wasn’t the mistake, though.
It was cold and dry in Canada and I’d unthinkingly packed accordingly. Louisville was hot and muggy and I felt like I was going to die. The actual thought of playing in the event was exhilarating. This wasn’t some last minute, spur of the moment idea. The team had practiced for weeks beforehand with Mike, Bob, and I skyping in practice sessions of sealed builds, discussing strategy, spoilers, podcasts we’d heard and videos we’d seen. I was excited and I felt prepared.
We spent the first day before the GP practicing at the side events available to us. It was a slow day at the event hall, with only a tiny fraction of the tables seeing action. We ended up 2-2 with a lackluster build, some mediocre draws and play. Bob ended without losing a game; I ended by losing most of mine. I had an uptick at the end, finishing my last two matches with wins and soothing my bruised ego and helping my shake off a bit of tilt from the first rounds.
The actual day of the GP the hall was bustling, not crowded, but pretty busy. After the first day I had been afraid it would be dead. We took seats at the far end of the hall, listened to the usual player meeting and excitedly opened our packs. We sorted out the following pool, shown here. It was a difficult build for us, with very little removal and mediocre rares. I’m very curious to see what other players would make from our build and I’ve added details for a contest at the bottom of this article to see what you would make. We settled on a Red/White aggro build for Mike, a Blue/Green emerge deck for Bob, and a Green/Black delirium deck for myself splashing Spreading Flames.
Round one started nicely with a very long, grindy, and interactive match in a GB delirium mirror. Game 1 took most of the round time; with me winning on about ten cards left after both of us went to top-deck mode.
Game 2 I was almost dead, but with Midnight Scavengers in hand and Graf Rats on the field to meld into Chittering Host, hoping for an opening. I top-decked Spreading Flames to live and wipe out some creatures and then have probable lethal on the meld crack-back. I play Scavengers and start to count the board when the team informs me both of them won and opponent scoops.
Opponent was playing a White/Black value removal deck that grinds game one down almost to a halt. I managed to flood the board with some 2/2 zombies and opponent keeps racing, despite my Cryptolith Fragment. We both hit less than ten, Cryptolith flips and opponent concedes.
Game 2 was insanely close, with multiple top-decks on each side. Both end up grinding down the board to almost no cards in play and none in hand. I find a Cryptolith and when it flips, opponent finds a Murder for it. I start losing, but hit Ishkanah, Grafwidow with Delirium and stabilize again and drain the opponent to 8. Opponent top-decks Ever After for a Distended Mindbender and a Sanctifier of Souls, churns out some Spirits and forces me to block down to two Spiders. I drain the opponent to 2 and then end up blocking down to 1 spider again next turn, with opponent overwhelming me with Spirits while at 1 life.
Game 3 I get run over and lose the match for the team. Hand develops slowly and opponent powers out a Gavony Unhallowed into Mindbender to shred what was left of my hand and then slams Sanctifier. With no cards in hand and only a single 2/2 I lose quickly.
Sit down across from RC from Twitch chat, who was very pleasant. He’s on a mono-White aggro deck and has an explosive start with Steadfast Cathars, Dawn Gryffs and Spirits, but I ramp to Spreading Flames to wipe the board with Ishkanah in hand, which swiftly ends the game.
Game 2 RC curves out 2-3-4, which I try to counter with a side-boarded Watcher in the Web. RC has the Choking Restraints and a further Collective Effort quickly finishes me.
Game 3 I keep a mediocre hand and draw 4 lands as RC curves Guardian of Pilgrims into Thalia, Heretic Cathar and a turn four Guardian/Lunarch Mantle on Thalia. With nothing left but lands I scoop and the team again loses. We’re quickly seeing just how hard it is for our decks to pull out of any decently long game with very little removal. The upside is Mike’s White/Red aggro deck is performing pretty well by just curving and forcing blocks, covering up our lack of removal by using combat tricks.
Game one was the probably the closest game of the day, even more than the Ishkanah top deck game in round 2. Opponent and I stay even at life from 8 to 7 to 5 to 3, with his fliers staring down a board of big GB fatties. I go to finish with a Graf Rats for meld, but opponent has Spell Queller to stop it and gain a blocker, which exactly stops lethal. Opponent plays a Stitch-Wing Skaab on their turn, but is once more staring down what I think is a lethal board position thanks to several creatures untapping from a Chilling Grasp. Opponent spends over two minutes consulting team mates about how to attack and I am about to call a judge for slow-play when they decide they can’t attack, but I can’t either as they have enough blocks and can lethal on the crack-back. They pass and I draw a land. At this point, my opponents’ line of reasoning got into my head. I stare at a complex board filled with creatures trying to see if my math is correct as I had believed I had lethal and don’t want to toss away an important game. The judge comes over because of the slow play of our game and after 60 seconds tells me I need to play, so I swing out. My opponent moves to blocks and says, “Oh wait, you had a Stallion of Ashmouth too?”
I spent over a minute agonizing over my attacks to have my opponent reveal they had simply missed a lethal attacker. Whoops.
Game two opponent mulls to five with one land and never plays. The team ends up sweeping the match on similar bad luck from their opponents and we advance.
My opponent was playing a much stronger Blue/Green deck that I felt made me the heavy underdog. I got lucky that my opponent was playing quickly and made a number of play mistakes. In game one my opponent was far out in front when they attacked a Tangleclaw Werewolf and Bloodbriar into my Gnarlwood Dryad and Thraben Foulbloods without checking that I had delirium, losing both creatures for nothing, making the Oath of Liliana that had been stuck in my hand better. I managed to force blocks over the next few turns and pull ahead, leaving my opponent no creatures and Oath still in hand, when he top-decked a Vexing Scuttler to rebuy a Prey Upon, with mana to cast it. It would kill my only creature and we’d be in a top-deck war, with most of my few threats gone. My opponent failed to play the Prey Upon and passed the turn, allowing me to cast Oath and win the game.
Game 2 I started out the gates quickly, but my opponent ramped to a flipped Ulvenwald Captive and I was stuck, having little removal to deal with it. I ended up with Midnight Scavengers in hand and Graf Rats in play, waiting for an opportunity to go wide. Opponent played a Lashweed Lurker and started to attack in with their larger creatures, giving me the opening to swing for 16, exactly lethal. Unfortunately, both Bob and Mike lost.
There was really not much to talk about in this round. I kept a slow hand in game one on the draw and my opponent ended up being a very fast Red/White aggro deck. Game two, I mulliganed to 5, kept two land and never drew the third causing our team to bow out of the tournament.
Despite the tough pool and some hard matches, I felt that the tournament went pretty well. Our team played pretty well considering the issues we came up against and we did well in the side events on Sunday. I learned a lot watching Mike pilot the Red/White aggro build we made, as aggressive builds are not my strong suit. It was by far our strongest deck, with the combat tricks like Borrowed Hostility doing a lot of heavy lifting in the absence of real removal, more than I thought it would. I enjoyed myself immensely and getting practice playing at a Grand Prix level is always a great learning opportunity that I recommend for anyone serious about Magic. I’ll be back, ready for GP Atlanta in October!
I’ve included the link to the deck so you can download it and edit new decks from it. Follow me on Twitter @IlyonMTG and tweet me a build featuring three unique decks made from our team sealed pool and in two weeks I’ll select a winner to receive 50 MTGO tickets. Also as a bonus, you can check out my vlog of the event:
We want to thank the three awesome, amazing and incredibly cool judges that helped us locate enough land to draft at the last minute. You know who you are and well, this editor forgot your names, but I promised a shout out on the site and so it shall be!