If you haven’t read Part 1 of this three-part story, you can find it here. It covers my journey through the Magic: The Gathering Standard format following Grand Prix Houston. For Part 2, I will look at my preparation for the Modern GP and how I did in my first two rounds.

 

Preparing the Goblins

A few weeks before GP Houston, I pulled out all the goblin cards I had received over the months through Pucatrade and realized I was actually a lot closer to completing 8-Whack than I had originally thought. I made note of what cards I was missing and started testing on XMage.

The Stephenville gang had a Modern gauntlet printed out, but the soonest I could make it there to test was the Tuesday prior to GP Dallas. Out of the list of cards I still needed, I bought whatever the store had available and tested with Grant, one of TJ’s friends that would be traveling with us.

bushwhacker

We focused on the matchups I would be most likely to see. Against Infect, I lost one game and won three or four. Against Affinity, I did about as well. The Bolts and Goblin Grenades were flying across the table right when I needed them. Against Jund, I closed off games before they had even started.

Finally, Grant pulled out the deck he was going to play at Dallas, TitanShift. That was a tough matchup, partly because my hands weren’t performing as well, and partly because Valakut easily shot my goblins one by one.

I thanked Grant for his help and hoped I didn’t have to face Valakut. I was also aware that the increase in Dredge would mean I might face a lot more Anger of the Gods than usual. But I had no choice. It was goblins or bust.

 

Traveling to Dallas

On Friday I met up with TJ, Grant, and the two players who had traveled with us to SCG Dallas a few months back, Chase and Melissa. We had a pleasant trip to Dallas and headed straight to the convention center. TJ and I recognized the venue, as we had played on the second floor during last year’s SCG Dallas Open (there was a graduation below us). This year we were on the ground floor.

I only had a few more cards to purchase to complete my deck, and found every card I needed at a single vendor who was offering very reasonable prices. Excited that I was actually able to put together the non-budget version of the deck (minus the Goblin Guides, but with Legion Loyalists and Goblin Chieftains), I sleeved up the new cards.

loyalist

After everyone had concluded their business in the convention center, we found our hotel, checked in, and ate some delicious food at IHOP. In the hotel room, we filled out our deck registration forms (we had all preregistered during the days prior) and made sure everything was sleeved up and ready to go.

The next morning we got to the convention center early enough that a few people could make some last-minute purchases. At the player meeting, everyone got their playmat vouchers and promo cards (the same Stoneforge Mystic we had gotten at GP Houston).

Moments later, pairings went up and it was time to play.

 

Round 1: 1-0
David, Death’s Shadow Aggro (2-1)

In Game 1, I think David got a little greedy. Death’s Shadow Aggro focuses on getting your own life total down far enough that Death’s Shadow kills your opponent in a single hit. The deck is also reminiscent of last year’s Standard Prowess deck that combined Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage for one-hit kills.

David paid a lot of Phyrexian Mana, had two Monastery Swiftspears by Turn 2, and played Become Immense. I untapped at 1 life. David? 6 life. All it took was a Goblin Grenade and Lightning Bolt, and I closed out the game on Turn 2.

deaths-shadow-art

Game 2 played out similarly, but David killed me on Turn 3 while at 8 life.

Game 3 went the opposite direction. My life total never went down, and I curved out my hand of goblins perfectly.

What I learned: I’m not sure what this match taught me about Death’s Shadow Aggro that I didn’t already know, except that the Death’s Shadow player needs to be mindful of their life total if they let their opponent untap after Turn 2, especially when playing against Burn or 8-Whack.

 

Round 2: 1-1
Cory, Affinity (1-2)

Even though I had already tested the Affinity matchup, I had no idea what to expect. I suspected when testing with Grant that he had fallen victim to several bad opening hands in a row, and I was curious to see what would happen at the Grand Prix level.

Cory opened up Game 1 with a good opening hand, but I closed out the game in one Bushwhacking fell swoop on Turn 4.

In Game 2, I found myself unable to draw one of my 3x Goblin Chieftains, and my veritable army of Goblin tokens slowly got picked off by Ghirapur Aether Grid. Smart sideboard tech, and I drew poorly to answer it.

etchedchampion

In Game 3, Cory landed two Etched Champions. I would venture to say that card is outright unfair, but it’s definitely a card worth playing in Affinity. I wasn’t sure if it was maindeck or sideboard, but it completely shut me down.

What I learned: I sided in all four copies of Smash to Smithereens, and it felt underwhelming. The matchup came down to who could start the game ahead and stay ahead, and I always felt behind at the moments that Smash to Smithereens needed to be cast. I had absolutely no answers to Etched Champion. Before sideboarding, the deck did what I had chosen it for – steal games whenever possible.

At 1-1, I was starting GP Dallas at the same record I had started GP Houston. My goal coming into the tournament? To improve upon my old record. It was go time.

To be continued…

You may remember my tournament report from Grand Prix Houston 2016, which I posted here on TableTopVector back in February. This will be a similar report, tracking my preparation for the tournament, and how each match went.

In Part 1, I will begin by talking about what has happened since Houston, and my journey through Standard between Shadows over Innistrad and Kaladesh. In Part 2, I will talk about my Modern preparation and start looking at how I did at GP Dallas.

 

Shadows over Innistrad Rotation

Following GP Houston, where I sold my Mono-Green Ramp deck to pay for the trip, I didn’t feel any inclination to invest in Standard. Rotation was in a month, and there was no big event to go to.

Instead, I had some fun on XMage with Mono-Blue Eldrazi, a deck that would still be mostly intact after rotation except for one key card, Stubborn Denial. I still had no plans for what I would play after the SOI release.

As the SOI spoilers began to come out, I looked over potential build-around cards and used my store credit with Manaleak to make a huge pre-order of playsets I wanted. Nothing too expensive, just any card that seemed useful but fairly priced. As a result, I was able to get a playset of Tireless Tracker and Declaration in Stone at around $3-4 each, before they skyrocketed to $8 and $16, respectively. This wasn’t a speculation I was looking to “turn around”, as I intended to play with the cards, so I didn’t make any sort of insane profit. Both cards leveled off significantly by the time I was done playing them, and I more than got my value out of them.

bishop

What fascinated me about Shadows was the Investigate/Clue mechanic, so I wanted to brew around it. Originally I had an idea for combining Clue tokens and Thopters with Ghirapur Aether Grid, then I started brewing around Bygone Bishop and Tireless Tracker. Not long after SOI released, I saw a lot of potential in Bant Company and started to work on a list I liked (that didn’t involve an expensive Jace playset).

In lieu of Vryn’s Prodigy, I built the Megamorph version of Bant and had a lot of success with it at my local store. I read articles, watched featured matches, and learned as much as I could.

 

SCG Dallas Open 2016

In the month prior to SCG Dallas, ChannelFireball began to have a lot of success with decks built around Cryptolith Rite. I liked my Bant Megamorph deck, but I was worried it wouldn’t do well at a bigger tournament. The week before SCG Dallas, where I was going to join TJ and two other Stephenville players at the Sunday Standard Classic, I switched to CFB’s Bant Eldrazi Rites list and bought the last few cards I needed at the venue.

I was nervous about playing this particular version of Bant Company, especially since the maindeck had no hard removal and focused instead on using Cryptolith Rite to power out Reality Smasher as quickly as possible. It looked really, really fast and I was convinced it would do well in a metagame of GW Tokens and Bant Company/Humans pseudo-mirrors. I was packing a Displacer/Reflector Mage combo specifically for those two matchups.

realitysmasher

Then Dallas happened. I’m going to get into the specifics of how the weekend went as part of an upcoming vlog, but the short version is: it was a bad weekend. Standard-wise, I faced one Bant mirror (which I barely lost), three Kalitas control decks, two Humans decks (mono-white and RW), and one Eldrazi ramp deck. I lost every match except in my last round against Eldrazi ramp. Including a bye late in the day, I finished the tournament at 2-6.

I reiterate that I will be going into greater detail about my weekend at the Dallas Open as soon as I have time to record a deeply personal vlog (which has been planned since August, if that’s any indicator of how much time I’ve had for side projects). My conclusion following the Classic was Eldrazi Rites simply did not have enough removal or resilience to do anything but roll over and die against aggro or control. If I had only seen a field of Bant and GW Tokens, there might have been a shot.

It’s hard to predict Standard Classic metagames. One person I traveled with almost made the Top 8 with Mono-Red Eldrazi. Her best card in most matches was Chandra, Flamecaller. When I heard that, I had an epiphany: SOI Standard decks were defined by their most powerful cards.

 

 

Eldritch Moon Standard

Following that epiphany, I spent the next few days brewing up the deck that I believed would have done exceptionally well at Dallas. Built around the idea that SOI Standard decks were defined by their “bombs”, I built a CoCo-less Bant Midrange deck (I even sold my CoCos) that packed removal, counterspells, and strong threats like Avacyn, Sylvan Advocate, and Westvale Abbey (a combo with Secure the Wastes).

archangelavacyn

The deck performed. I tested with TJ the following week with his GW Tokens and maindeck Negates ruled the matchup. I looked at spoilers for the upcoming Eldritch Moon, and decided this is what I would play after EMN, with the new Tamiyo as the newest addition to the deck. I briefly considered Spell Queller in the list, but I was worried about Brisela decks and decided Void Shatter was the best answer to that threat.

At this point, two contributing factors caused me to change course: there were no upcoming Standard tournaments I could go to until after the release of Kaladesh; and while my deck’s intended purpose – a good matchup against Bant Company, GW Tokens, and aggro – was successful, I was still losing to control decks intended to have a good Bant matchup. Turns out, Bant Midrange is still Bant, and still needs creatures to win.

This was a tough realization, and I once again hit a burnout point. I couldn’t play Bant anymore. I couldn’t take it anywhere, and it wasn’t good in my local store metagame full of planeswalker control decks. I began the process of selling most of the deck, and started looking for something else to play. My goal, since I had no events to plan for, was to just have fun brewing inexpensive decks for the next few months.

pyromancers-googles

My friend Zac Elsik tweeted out that he had built a prison-style deck for Standard that wasn’t too expensive, so I put the cards on my Pucatrade Want list. At the same time, I had also brewed up a fun Goggles/Devils/Land Destruction deck just prior to the release of EMN, and I wanted to convert it to a burn deck of some kind.

A few weeks later, I convinced my wife to play WU Prison at FNM while I played a nearly complete BR Madness Burn deck, based on a list I had seen on MTGGoldfish. I knew the more popular burn deck was UR Fevered Visions, but I didn’t care for it. I liked the BR version because it packed more burn and Bedlam Reveler seemed very, very powerful.

After that FNM, my wife told me she wasn’t going to play WU Prison anymore because her opponents got too salty and her matches took too long. That happens when you’re playing playsets of Orbs of Warding and Dampening Pulse. I played the prison deck the following week, had some fun with it, then began to focus on refining my burn deck.

A few weeks before the release of Kaladesh, I was very happy with my deck. I won an FNM against a diverse field of aggro, midrange, and control, and regularly placed in the Top 3 (it’s a small player base, I’ll be honest about that). Most importantly, it was consistent.

 

Kaladesh Standard

At this point, I was finally out of the slump that hit me way back before Elritch Moon. I had a deck I liked, and I was having fun. Just before Kaladesh release, TJ asked if I was interested in joining the Stephenville crowd at Grand Prix Dallas, which was Modern.

For several months I had slowly been building 8-Whack, the goblins tribal Modern deck that had been featured on MTGGoldfish. For almost a year, I’ve been trying to build Lantern Control, ever since my article about it following Zac’s infamous GP OKC win. The deck experienced a surge in popularity, which coupled with the surge of Affinity after Splinter Twin’s ban caused Lantern’s key pieces to skyrocket in price. Still about $600 off from completing the deck, I decided to focus on finishing 8-Whack for Modern over the months leading up to Dallas.

collectivedefiance

In the meantime, Kaladesh Standard began to take off, and I couldn’t really afford to invest in any of the new archetypes. They were just too expensive, or didn’t interest me. Instead, I dusted off BR Madness Burn, which had completely survived the rotation, and took it to FNM. My only loss was to RW Vehicles, as Fiery Temper is my only answer to Smuggler’s Copter, and any sort of pump effect puts it out of Temper range. I tossed in a copy of Unlicensed Disintegration following the tournament, went to Game Day the next day, and went undefeated.

I apologize for forcing you to sit through 1500 words of Standard talk in a blog series about how I did at a Modern Grand Prix. It’s important that I set the stage with my journey as a player, which will be further explored when I finally film and release my personal vlog. The important takeaway here is: I hit a burnout point, found a deck I enjoyed, won the Kaladesh Game Day with one Kaladesh card in my deck, and started brewing fun Standard budget decks.

I had no big Standard event to go to, so I learned from my mistakes and focused on brewing rather than investing in a top tier deck. I do about as well with my brews as I do with Tier 1 decks, at least at a local level, and that’s all that matters.

In Part 2, I will look at how I prepared for GP Dallas, and how I did in my first few rounds.

To be continued…

If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part story, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Part 1 covers my journey as a Magic player in the past year leading up to Grand Prix Houston, and my preparation with Mono-Green Ramp.

Part 2 recounts the day before the Grand Prix, and the first three rounds of the GP, over the course of which I went 1-2.

 

Round 4: 1-3
Derek, Atarka Tokens (1-2)

This was the third aggro deck in a row. I had hoped I wouldn’t see Atarka Tokens, but I knew I would stand a chance if I could get Ugin out. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Bloodstained Mire – 1
Cinder Glade – 1
Mountain – 1
Smoldering Marsh – 1

Creatures:
Abbot of Keral Keep – 1
Monastery Swiftspear – 1

Spells:
Dragon Fodder – 2
Fiery Impulse – 1
Atarka’s Command – 2

Game 1 (on the play): I hoped that being on the play would increase my chances. Unfortunately, a Turn 1 Oath of Nissa didn’t find anything useful and I didn’t have any action until Turn 4. At that point, I was at 9 life. I cast World Breaker, exiling a green source, then went down to 3 life. I cast Whisperwood Elemental hoping to establish a board presence, but it wasn’t hard to finish me off.

Atarka’s-Command-Dragons-of-Tarkir-MtG-Art

Game 2 (on the play): Hangarback Walker did some work for me, blocking and creating two Thopters. Ugin cleared the board when I was at 14 life. I even hold a Winds of Qal Sisma in hand that I didn’t end up needing.

Game 3 (on the draw): Having lost Game 1 threw off my rhythm on the match and I regretted it when I was on the draw for Game 3. The only note I wrote for this game was: “Couldn’t ramp fast enough.”

What I learned: While Hedron Archive is great for ramp, I kept encountering situations where playing multiple Archives was cumbersome and it might have been better to play Explosive Vegetation to turn on Shrine of the Forsaken Gods sooner. I don’t know that cutting a single Vegetation drastically affected the deck’s probability, but in a long tournament you definitely start to feel the effects. Once again Chandra, Flamecaller would have been nice in this matchup if I could comprise the double red.

 

Round 5: 2-3
Joseph, Mono-Green Ramp (2-0)

Both of us were named Joseph, and both of us were playing Mono-Green Ramp. By this point, I was at one of the last tables. This was a make-or-break match. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Forest – many
Haven of the Spirit Dragon – 1

Creatures:
Rattleclaw Mystic – 2
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger – 1
Void Winnower – 1
Whisperer of the Wilds – 1
Thought-Knot Seer – 1

Spells:
See the Unwritten – 1
Hedron Archive – 1
Nissa’s Pilgrimage – 1

Game 1 (on the play): Joseph had to mulligan to 6 at the start of this game. I fired off a Turn 3 Veggies, then cast two Thought-Knot Seers taking a maindeck Void Winnower and Ulamog. Joseph cast See the Unwritten and it whiffed, only finding mana dorks. He told me he usually tried to hit Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Ulamog so he could give it haste.

Surrak-the-Hunt-Caller-Dragons-of-Tarkir-MtG-Art

Game 2 (on the draw): This game, I had to mulligan to 6. I got another Turn 3 Veggies after Joseph’s Turn 3 Nissa’s Pilgrimage. His Thought-Knot Seer took my World Breaker, and I followed up with a Whisperwood Elemental. After finding another World Breaker, I exiled his Sanctum. Joseph cast See the Unwritten and it whiffed again.

What I learned: I had the more consistent deck for this matchup. I felt pretty prepared for the mirror. I sided in my playset of Warping Wail and didn’t get any, even after a mulligan in Game 2.

I finished Round 5 in about half an hour (it was the only match I played that didn’t go to Game 3), and I was famished by this point, so I got in the line for food while it was still short and ate some nachos.

 

Round 6: 2-4
Noe, Mono-Green Ramp

Noe’s version of Mono-Green Ramp ran Ruin in Their Wake and Matter Reshaper. He also ran what seemed like a playset of Jaddi Offshoots, so I felt like I would have an advantage with no dead cards in my deck. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Forest – 2
Wastes – 3
Mountain – 1
Evolving Wilds – 1

Creatures:
Jaddi Offshoot – 2
Conduit of Ruin – 1
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger – 1
Matter Reshaper – 1

Spells:
Ruin in Their Wake – 1
Nissa’s Pilgrimage – 1
Explosive Vegetation – 2

Game 1 (on the draw): It felt pretty bad to be on the draw in the mirror. Noe started off with 2x Jaddi Offshoot, so I was hopeful I could outramp him. I got a Turn 3 Veggies, and the next turn Noe played his Veggies to gain some life. I played Whisperwood Elemental and manifested World Breaker. Noe cast Conduit of Ruin to put Ulamog on the top of his library. I had no way to eliminate his Conduit of Ruin, even with Ugin on board, so he was able to cast Ulamog. I had no way to find my own Ulamog, so the game was over.

Ulamog-art

Game 2 (on the play): My opening hand was sketchy and had no Warping Wails, so I mulled to 6. There were no lands in that hand, so I went down to 5, and eventually 4. My back was against the wall and I had nothing more to lose, so I was determined to have a good hand. At my final mulligan to 4, I had two lands, Rattleclaw Mystic, and Thought-Knot Seer. Still no Warping Wail, but it was a good hand. I drew another land and got a Turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer, which showed that my opponent had kept a hand of just ramp. I played Whisperwood Elemental and started a clock that he couldn’t answer.

Game 3 (on the draw): I kept a hand similar to the one Noe had lost with in Game 2. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I told myself I would draw my threats. Noe went down to 6 and kept. I fired off a Turn 3 Veggies, so I was well ahead on ramp. As I expected, I drew no action and mana flooded badly. Whisperwood Elemental applied some board pressure that didn’t end up mattering when Noe played Ulamog and I had no way to find my own, yet again.

What I learned: I felt like I had outplayed Noe in every way throughout the match, but in Game 1 he searched up Ulamog with Conduit, and in Game 3 he drew into it. That’s all that mattered. My deck decided that I didn’t deserve Ulamogs, and I never got to hard-cast a World Breaker during the entire match either. I should have also known better than to keep a hand in Game 3 that had no action.

I had told myself I would only drop at four losses, and here I was at my fourth loss.

 

What Did I Learn at my First Grand Prix?

I looked over how I had done that day. I had seen a lot more aggro than I anticipated, and Whisperwood Elemental hadn’t done the job against it. I had expected more midrange, control, and Dragons, and instead it had been mostly aggro and ramp. Should I have played Chandra instead? Why did the top of my curve feel so inconsistent, when it felt fine in testing? Should I have played 1x, maybe 2x Conduit of Ruin in place of Whisperwood? Or a third Ulamog?

The one thing I could say for Whisperwood was it only manifested an actual threat once or twice, which is exactly how I preferred for it to play. It often manifested Oath of Nissa, Hedron Archive, or a land. But maybe Conduit of Ruin would have been the right play as it would search up a threat to hard-cast and provide a clock not too dissimilar to Whisperwood’s.

Whisperwood-Elemental-Fate-Reforged-MtG-Art

As I had already planned to do regardless of how I did at the Grand Prix, I went to a vendor and sold my deck. It more than paid for the trip, which was the intent. The next big event for Standard is this summer, and I had no intention of playing Eldrazi Ramp without Ugin to stabilize the board.

Even so, I missed it.

I had been testing Eldrazi Ramp for about half a year and was more attached to it than I thought I would be. Part of me was proud of how I did for my first Grand Prix, but I was also disappointed that I hadn’t accurately anticipated the field I would see.

Upon finishing the GP, I knew immediately what I would have done differently with my deck if I had known what I would see.

I would have played Chandra, Flamecaller for a quicker board wipe. I would have played Conduit of Ruin to increase the consistency of my high curve. I would have sideboarded more than two Winds of Qal Sisma, as I never seemed to have it when I needed it against aggro. I would have played the playset of Explosive Vegetation no matter what.

qalsisma

I also learned, or perhaps reconfirmed, some things about myself as a player that I wanted to change. I need to either be more picky with my opening hands, which I have really improved at in the past year. I need to take more time when making decisions so I don’t keep an opening hand without being 100% sure, and so I don’t miss triggers.

When choosing my deck, I need to keep in consideration that all variables will come into play in a 9+ round Swiss. Any inconsistencies or lack of redundancy will come to light eventually. I need to be more prepared for the meta I will see at a tournament, although I don’t know how to achieve this short of investing in MTGO or burning money I don’t have to travel across Texas every weekend grinding GPTs and PPTQs.

Nobody in the group I traveled with made Day 2. TJ got the closest at 5-4 with BR Dragons. The next day, a few of them did the Chaos Draft. I hung out at the convention center, disappointed there were no on-demand sealed events. Tyler split the final of his draft, and we finally departed Houston.

I arrived home around 1:00am Monday morning, exhausted and ready to get back to normal life. Grand Prix Houston was a good experience overall, and I learned enough to give me things to think about for the next few months as Khans and Fate rotate and we dive back into Innistrad.

Shadows-over-Innistrad-Jace-615x346

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences at my first Grand Prix. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,
Joseph Dunlap

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this three-part story, you can find it here. It covers my journey as a Magic player in the past year leading up to Grand Prix Houston, and my preparation with Mono-Green Ramp.

 

Registration and Last-Minute GPT

I arrived in Stephenville Friday morning and started the journey to Houston with Draw 4 Podcast co-host TJ Love, along with three of his LGS friends – Matthew, Tyler, and James.

Our first impression upon reaching the venue was the convention center was surrounded by construction, and traffic was insane. Parking was hard to find because the Grand Prix took place on the same weekend and in the same building as Anime Matsuri (“festival”).

I registered for the Grand Prix and decided to enter one of the on-demand Grand Prix Trials for a chance at two byes Saturday morning. Worried about the amount of aggro I would see at the GP, I made a last-minute change and swapped out two ramp cards for 2x Whisperwood Elemental before the trial.

Whisperwood-Elemental-Fate-Reforged-MtG-Art

TJ and I ended up in the same trial, and we both had similar builds of Mono-Green Ramp. The GPTs on Friday were 8-man single elimination. I won my first match, but TJ lost a mirror match due to Kozilek’s Return wiping his mana dorks. Following the loss, TJ sold his Ramp deck and bought BR Dragons for Saturday.

I struggled against my second opponent, who was playing Bant Company Megamorph with some countermagic, and lost Game 3. The upside was I got a ticket for 50 points for my win and got five packs of Oath of the Gatewatch. There was pretty good value in one of the packs.

GPTpack

I was still learning how to use the camera on my new smartphone.

That evening we found a good Chinese buffet that also had American and Italian food. It was amazing.

I had intended to go to bed early, but that plan fell apart after I tested against TJ and Matthew, took a quick shower, and became engrossed with a thriller flick on the TV. Not long after the movie ended, I drifted off to snoozetown.

 

Saturday Morning

The next morning, after grabbing breakfast at McDonald’s (the coffee was pretty good), we made our way to the convention center for the 9:00am players’ meeting. We each received a small box containing a Reality Smasher playmat (which I had also received at the GPT) and custom ChannelFireball card sleeves for which I quickly swapped out my 2 year old Dragon Shields over the course of the short meeting.

I had purchased life total pads at a vendor the day before, so with the pad I received from ChannelFireball, I now had a pad for life totals and a pad for extensive match notes. I decided to make full use of both.

This was the list I registered for Grand Prix Houston:

Mono-Green Ramp

Lands (24)
4x Sanctum of Ugin
4x Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
1x Blighted Woodland
1x Haven of the Spirit Dragon
13x Forest
1x Wastes

Creatures (19)
4x Rattleclaw Mystic
3x Whisperer of the Wilds
3x Thought-Knot Seer
2x Whisperwood Elemental
4x World Breaker
2x Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1x Kozilek, the Great Distortion

Spells (17)
4x Oath of Nissa
4x Nissa’s Pilgrimage
3x Explosive Vegetation
4x Hedron Archive
2x Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Sideboard (15)
3x Hangarback Walker
3x Jaddi Offshoot
2x Winds of Qal Sisma
1x Spatial Contortion
4x Warping Wail
1x Orbs of Warding
1x Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Worried about a field full of aggro, I replaced my 1x Hedron Crawler and one of my Explosive Vegetations with 2x Whisperwood Elemental. I felt like having a playset of Hedron Archive would be more important than a playset of Veggies, especially when I needed to represent Warping Wail on Turn 3 against the mirror or anyone attempting to play Infinite Obliteration.

infinite_obliteration_by_fooyee-d90oerf

In the sideboard, I was only running 3x Jaddi Offshoot and 2x Winds of Qal Sisma so I could make room for the playset of Warping Wail and the singleton Orbs of Warding. Orbs seemed good against aggro and disruption, so I was willing to give it a try.

Moments later, the pairings for the first round of the Swiss were posted…

 

Round 1: 1-0
Kevin, Orzhov Control (2-1)

This was the kind of matchup I was hoping to see. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Plains – 3
Swamp – 3
Blighted Fen – 1
Caves of Koilos – 1
Scoured Barrens – 2
Shambling Vent – 1

Spells:
Grasp of Darkness – 1
Murderous Cut – 2
Ruinous Path – 1
Utter End – 1
Secure the Wastes – 1
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – 1
Read the Bones – 2

Sideboard?
Duress – 2
Transgress the Mind – 2
Immolating Glare – 1

While it is a sweet deck, Orzhov Control does not have the proper tools to disrupt a linear Eldrazi Ramp deck. I took Game 1 with World Breaker and Ugin, which is the dream against Warrior tokens and a Gideon emblem. Kevin took Game 2 when my deck stalled.

gideon-ally-of-zendikar

Immediately after Game 2 ended and I said I would be on the play for Game 3, Kevin made a pained face and knew how the game would go. Warping Wail countered hand disruption in the early game, then I quickly ramped into Whisperwood Elemental and established a board presence that he couldn’t stop.

However, I did miss a Whisperwood manifest trigger near the end of Game 3 that could have cost me the match. Kevin was at 4 life and I should have had a Whisperwood plus three manifests, rather than the two I ended up with. He was able to cast Secure the Wastes for 3 during my next combat step to block all three attackers, so I exiled one of the tokens with Warping Wail. That would have been lethal had I remembered my trigger the previous turn, but I had gotten overconfident and missed it. The two remaining tokens chump blocked Whisperwood and one of the two manifests, the other took him down to 2.

I played Thought-Knot Seer the following turn to see what he had drawn that turn, and he showed a land in hand. The match was mine.

What I learned: Be more careful about triggers. Whisperwood Elemental gives a nice clock against control.

 

Round 2: 1-1
Dustin, Abzan Aggro (1-2)

I had tested quite a bit against Abzan and found that it was a typically favorable matchup. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Wooded Foothills – 2
Forest – 1
Canopy Vista – 1
Shambling Vent – 2
Windswept Heath – 1
Plains – 1
Swamp – 2
Smoldering Marsh – 1

Creatures:
Warden of the First Tree – 1
Wingmate Roc – 1
Anafenza, the Foremost – 2
Siege Rhino – 1
Sylvan Advocate – 1

Spells:
Silkwrap – 1
Murderous Cut – 1
Sorin, Solemn Visitor – 1
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – 1
Abzan Charm – 1

Sideboard?
Transgress the Mind – 1

Game 1 didn’t start off well. Dustin put a Silkwrap on Rattleclaw Mystic, and hit Whisperwood Elemental with Murderous Cut. Eventually, I landed an Ugin and cleared the board at 2 life. Terrified that Dustin would topdeck a Siege Rhino, I increased the clock to an Ugin ultimate by replacing it with an Ugin from hand – a risky move, but a necessary one. The gambit paid off and I got the ultimate.

ugin-art

In Game 2 Dustin had to mulligan to 6, but it paid off when he got Whisperwood Elemental with Transgress the Mind and went to town. I played Orbs of Warding, which did next to nothing, then my life total went from 13 to 6 in the next attack. I played another Whisperwood Elemental which manifested Ulamog, but the manifest got hit with Silkwrap and that was game.

In Game 3, it was my turn to mulligan. I went down to 6, saw two lands, and hastily said, “I’ll keep.” It’s a mistake I’ve tried to break myself of. I quickly realized there were no Forests in hand, but I wasn’t going to ask for a take-back. I stuck with my mistake and paid for it, missing my land drops on Turns 3, 4, and 5. Instead, I topdecked World Breakers back-to-back-to-back. The game ended quickly.

What I learned: Orbs of Warding was underwhelming since I couldn’t ramp into it. Whisperwood felt bad against Abzan’s removal suite, when the plan needs to be ramp as quickly as possible and drop Ugin. I did side in a third Ugin, but I didn’t see it. Regarding my Game 3 blunder, I knew coming into the GP that I had to mulligan if a hand wasn’t balanced and didn’t have a Forest. I paid for that mistake.

 

Round 3: 1-2
Andrew, Temur Prowess (1-2)

I lost the die roll in this match and it cost me. My opponent played the following cards (the numbers represent the most of each card that I saw in a single game):

Lands:
Shivan Reef – 1
Mountain – 3
Windswept Heath – 1
Island – 1
Cinder Glade – 2
Polluted Delta – 1
Wooded Foothills – 2

Creatures:
Monastery Swiftspear – 1
Stormchaser Mage – 2
Abbot of Keral Keep – 1
Elusive Spellfist – 1

Spells:
Slip Through Space – 1
Atarka’s Command – 1
Become Immense – 1
Treasure Cruise – 1
Titan’s Strength – 1

Game 1 (on the draw): We both had to mulligan. Andrew went down to 6, I went down to 5 with 1 land. I played Thought-Knot Seer and stripped his Become Immense, but it didn’t matter after he played Atarka’s Command.

Atarka’s-Command-Dragons-of-Tarkir-MtG-Art

Game 2 (on the play): I got a Turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer that once again took Become Immense, then Ugin cleared the board.

Game 3 (on the draw): Much like Kevin in the first round, I knew there was no chance on the draw in Game 3. Andrew finished me off a turn before I could cast Ugin. If I had been on the play, the match would have been locked up.

What I learned: I might have had the tools to combat Andrew’s deck if I was splashing red for Chandra, Flamecaller. Ugin was too slow on the draw, and nothing else could really combat the deck quickly enough to matter.

 

At this point, I was determined to finish at least 3-3, maybe better. Even at 1-2, I was already doing better than my 0-3 drop last summer. To break the losing streak, I needed to win some die rolls and face some slower decks. Either way, I was determined to keep playing.

To be continued…

Part 3

That’s right, a new post on Tabletopvector!

Since the retirement of my gaming blog, I was brought on as a Featured Writer at Manaleak.com, a UK-based Magic: The Gathering website. This week after I write my article about things I learned at Grand Prix Houston, I will have written 22 articles for Manaleak, and featured on the mothership twice. I also started Draw 4 Podcast a few months ago, a community-based Magic podcast which gets around 120 hits per episode across all platforms. At this point, it’s safe to say I am beginning to make a name for myself.

I would like to share with you my experiences from this past weekend at Grand Prix Houston, but first I need to set the stage a bit.

 

SCG Dallas Open 2015

Before this past summer, the highest level of play I had achieved was reaching the finals of two FNMs. I was on Abzan Midrange last year, which seemed pretty powerful. Just before Fate Reforged dropped I made it to the finals of a local FNM and lost badly to Constellation (Ajani, Mentor of Heroes feels really bad when he tucks away two board wipes post-sideboard). After Fate released, I had to take a break from playing for a few months because of, you guessed it, time and money.

rhino-art

When I got back into playing, I stuck with Abzan, updated the list, and decided to go with some friends to the SCG Open in Dallas (well, technically Ft. Worth). I prepared by going to as many FNMs as I could before the event, culminating in a strong finish the night before the Open. I powered through the competition and split the finals with a friend.

I felt pretty prepared at that point. As it turned out, playing an FNM the night before the Open, which was three hours away, was a mistake. We spent the night at a friend’s house and got up at 4 in the morning to make the trip to Dallas.

My first round at the Open was a grindy match against Mardu that I eventually lost in Game 3. My second round was against Heroic, which I couldn’t seem to disrupt. I lost my third round to a landslide of Whisperwood Elemental manifests.

Whisperwood-Elemental-Fate-Reforged-MtG-Art

After a disappointing 0-3 drop finish, I felt completely unprepared and outclassed.

I reexamined the field and realized I just didn’t have the proper tools to deal with all the powerful, noninteractive decks out there. I built Sam Black’s Atarka Bees and played it for a bit. It was a lot of fun to play, but not as consistent as just playing dragons. After that I switched over to Atarka Dragons and it felt very strong and consistent.

Unfortunately, I had to stop playing altogether at that point. Money was tight, and I was about to start teaching music at a university and had no idea what time I would have to play. Also, there was nothing about post-Origins Standard that appealed to me. As a result, I sold my decks and went on hiatus from cardboard Magic.

 

Writing, Podcasting, and Getting Back into Standard

Ironically, it was right around that point that I started writing for Manaleak. Being able to write about community issues and spotlight notable Magic personalities helped to abate my need to still be a part of the game. I made contacts within the community, I watched tournament livestreams, and I observed the shifting landscapes of Standard and the still (somewhat) unfamiliar Modern format.

In September, following my article about Lantern Control which Zac Elsik had piloted to the top of Grand Prix Oklahoma City, I became intrigued with Lantern Control and started testing it online. In the meantime I began to accumulate funds from writing articles so I could get back into the game as soon as I knew what format and deck I wanted to try out.

lantern-art

As I began to develop more contacts and a modest reputation in the community as a Magic writer, I decided to start a Magic-themed podcast. I had already been podcasting for about 9 months at that point with another podcast, so I sent out a feeler to the Magic community and my fellow Manaleak writers and Draw 4 Podcast was born a few weeks later. Our first episode was a review of Battle for Zendikar right before the Pro Tour. Episode 12 of Draw 4 comes out this week.

After the release of Battle for Zendikar, I became intrigued with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and wondered if it had Standard potential. On the first episode of Draw 4, we had even talked about its potential. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that a green Ramp deck with Ulamog emerged in a Top 8 showing. I looked over the list and decided it was worth testing online.

Ulamog-art

Over the next few months of testing Lantern Control and Eldrazi Ramp, I made a handful of videos for my MTG YouTube channel showcasing both decks. TJ Love, one of my Draw 4 co-hosts, was also looking at Eldrazi Ramp, so we decided in late November that we would test together and travel to Grand Prix Houston in February. For the most part, I ended up having to test by myself on XMage, but testing was fruitful.

testing-ramp

 

Getting Ready for the Grand Prix

At this point, I was ready to take the plunge and begin building Eldrazi Ramp. Ugin had already skyrocketed to $50, but Ulamog was pretty easy to get. The rest of the list was bulk rares, uncommons, commons, and basic lands, which really appealed to me when I looked at all the $700 Standard decks running multiple copies of fetch lands.

By the time Oath of the Gatewatch released, I had the entire deck put together – which was both a good and bad thing, if you think about it. On one hand, I had to turn around and devote time to getting World Breakers and Kozilek (and look at the successful post-Oath lists), but on the other, I had pretty much everything else I would need. I continued to test online, I brainstormed with two of my Draw 4 co-hosts, Brenda Smith and TJ Love, watched tournament coverage, looked at different possible builds, and attended as many FNMs as possible.

ugin-art

At Oath of the Gatewatch Game Day, I got 3rd place with a GRw Radiant Flames build. The next Friday, a week before the Grand Prix, I got 3rd place at FNM with the Mono-Green Ramp build. The Mono-Green list seemed consistent and fast enough to get the job done, and a build similar to mine had recently gotten 2nd place at the MOCS.

As Grand Prix Houston drew nearer, I finally felt like I was ready. I had taken extensive notes while testing and had around an 80% win rate on XMage.

In the days prior to the trip, the group I was traveling with – TJ and some of his LGS friends – warned me that Ramp was becoming popular online and to expect a lot of hand disruption and Infinite Obliteration. I opted to stay the course I had set out upon months ago and altered my sideboard to bring in a playset of Warping Wail. At the very least it could help me still hit my Turn 3 Explosive Vegetation, but it could also counter sorcery disruption if I was on the play.

wb-art

I tested a few games online with Warping Wail. It seemed like it could do the trick. I was expecting a lot of Abzan and BR Dragons, and I was confident in those matchups as long as I could counter the disruption. I shifted my focus at that point to testing out opening hands and mulligans so I wouldn’t lose to keeping a bad hand.

Finally, Friday morning came and I made the trip to Stephenville to meet up with TJ and his group. It was time to attend my first Grand Prix.

To be continued…

Part 2

Find me at Manaleak.com!

Posted: October 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

Thanks for visiting Tabletopvector! It’s encouraging to see traffic to this blog, so long after I’ve stopped publishing here.

Speaking of which…

Did you know I’m writing for Manaleak now?

That’s right! I’ve been writing all kinds of awesome articles over at Manaleak.com. You can check out my author profile here and read all the articles I’ve written, ranging from news articles to overall fun Magic nerdiness.

Thanks for visiting!

http://www.manaleak.com/mtguk/author/joseph-dunlap/

In case you missed it, Wizards of the Coast recently released the artwork for all the basic lands that will be appearing in the upcoming Magic: The Gathering set, Fate Reforged. It became immediately apparent that the basic lands in Fate Reforged are intended as part of a cycle with the previous set, Khans of Tarkir.

In the lore of the Khans of Tarkir block, during the Fate Reforged set the planeswalker Sarkhan Vol travels back in time to the past of the plane of Tarkir (1,280 years before the Khans set takes place) to change the course of history, specifically in regards to the dragons of Tarkir (oh, by the way, the final set of the block is called Dragons of Tarkir!).

The lands of Fate Reforged depict some of the same locations as Khans, only over a thousand years prior to their counterparts (and who knows, now that Sarkhan has changed Tarkir’s timeline, maybe the lands of Dragons will be altered versions of other Khans lands). Over the next few posts we will look over these land cycles and take note of any changes that occur.

Plains

plains1a fate

The first plains of Fate Reforged features a mesa and rolling grass. In the distance, we see what might be a mountain or volcano with smoke spewing out of it. Possible clan: Mardu Horde.

plains1b khans

Over 1,000 years later, the mesa has undergone some erosion. In the distance we still see smoke billowing in the distance, but this time it is white instead of red. It could be the time of day (perhaps the first picture is at sunset), or something else could be different. If it’s coming out of a volcano, the volcano could be in its dying stages.

plains2a fate

Here we see a thriving fortress city either in or near a desert. Large ballistae sit on the parapets, either to fight other clans or to fend off dragons. This is most likely the fortress city of Arashin where the Abzan Houses are located, but it could be a predecessor to Arashin due to what we see below:

plains2b khans

In this picture, the desert looks nearly identical (with minimal erosion), but the parapets of the city that once held large ballistae are now overgrown with fauna. This could be for one of two reasons: 1) The city is now overgrown and abandoned, or 2) There is no longer need for ballistae since the dragons are now extinct, and this is in fact Arashin, home of the Abzan Houses.

Islands

island1a fate

What we see above is indisputably one of the many monasteries of the Jeskai Way. On either side of a river, various dwellings have been built along the side of two tall island-crags.

island1b khans

Some time later, additional dwellings have been built on the top of each island-crag, and the houses along the sides have either been improved, replaced, or left to disrepair. The water level of the river appears to have lowered significantly. The large mountains in the distance of the first picture have almost entirely eroded for an unknown reason.

island2a fate

In this picture, it is not fully clear what we are looking at on first glance. Perhaps it’s a barren tundra, maybe it’s some other kind of wasteland. In the background we see some odd rock formations, and in the foreground, even more bizarre ice or crystal formations. Possible clan: Sultai Brood.

island2b khans

After over 1,000 years, the only noticeable difference is the ice/crystal formation has been shattered and its fragments are lying about in nearby patches.

Don’t miss Part 2: Swamps and Mountains!