Monday, September 16, 2013

Grand Prix Detroit

Subtitle: Sometimes you just wanna punch someone in the face.

Okay! So I went to GP Detroit this weekend, with two other local players/friends, Dustin and Michael. This is gonna be a long one, so bear with me...

We left Madison probably a little after 8am after taking care of some last-minute logistics. The trip to Detroit was pretty uneventful, the only snafus being very minor: we forgot about the time zone change, and we were a little later than we would have liked; and gas was a little expensive at one station I stopped at in Michigan.

We got to the Cobo Center at around 6pm, and Dustin and I were scrambling to make it to the last grinder, and Michael went to go check in at the hotel across the street. We made a couple of last-minute purchases and played in the last Modern-format grinder.

Okay, let me back up a bit. I'm working on goal-setting lately, and I figured it was important to set goals for myself for this weekend. So I set two of them:

1. Introduce myself to Steven Briggs, my Judge Regional Coordinator.
2. Win a match in the GP main event.

Then I realized I could create stretch goals, Kickstarter-style:

3. Win a match in the grinder.

Yeah, maybe I set my expectations too low so as to avoid disappointment. I dunno.

Anyway, I actually met my stretch goal. I won not only one, but TWO matches in the grinder. I lost a close round three (and a very good match). And I had a lot of fun. I love Modern. :)

Oh yeah, so I'll go over the matches in more "tournament report detail" further down.

Dustin got up early and wandered over while Michael and I were still dozing. I didn't sleep super great, mostly because hotel pillows are weird. They need to be like 50% thicker or thinner than they are. Because one is too small and two is too big. Oh well...

I was pretty astounded at the scope of the whole thing. The room was cavernous, like an indoor soccer venue or something. There were somewhere around 1450 players. This made logistics for getting players to their seats somewhat awkward, with giant clumps of hundreds of players crowding towards kiosks. You have to push your way up front to see where you're sitting at, and then push your way back out once you find it. "There must be a better way!"

Anyway, I found my table, found my opponent, and proceeded to meet my final playing-related goal of the weekend: I won a match. My opponent admitted he probably kept some sketchy hands, but a win's a win, amirite?

The next few rounds were back and forth. I got to play round 2 at table 6 (out of 500-something? 600-something?), and lost a very good, very close match. We split the first two games, which were very back and forth and lots of fun. The third game, he had a good draw and I didn't, and I got stomped. But we had a blast playing. And he was the FIRST player in the 4+ years I've been playing again to catch the Spinal Tap reference I like to use: he attacked me down to 11 life at one point, and I stated, "Like Nigel Tufnel, I'm going to 11." And he was like, "Nigel Tufnel? Really??" And we laughed. And then he beat me.

Third round, I dropped to table 500-something. Easily the single largest table-number drop of my Magic career. I think that was the round I got stomped by Bogles. But I'm not sure. They're starting to all mush together in my fragile memory. Either way, I was dead by round 5 with a record of 2-3. I needed to finish 7-2 or better to make Day 2. But I was still having fun, so I kept playing. If I lost some more, I figured I'd drop and maybe play in a side event, but ... yeah.

Then I started winning again. 3-3. 4-3. 5-3. I figured, I was probably just gonna play in a Modern side event anyway, so why not just keep playing Modern, right? Plus, sweet sweet Planeswalker Points!

Last match I looked at the pairings board, and I faced off against ... Michael. Doh. :( Well I wasn't going to dial it back just because he's my friend. Neither of us had anything to play for, really, so we gave it our all. And yay for me, aww for him, I won.

So my final record for the day: 6-3. WOAH. The best finish I've ever had at a competitive event. I've had lots of 5-4s, but never 6-3. Being a two-day event, it wasn't even close to being good enough to win anything, but I didn't really care. I had a blast playing. :)

Michael and I picked up our stuff and headed back. While wandering over towards the elevators, we saw a group of somewhere around 8 women, African-American, and dressed in a way that I can only describe as somewhere between club-fabulous, and hooker. I don't really know what they were doing/going/whatever, but the group of us geeky white guy dorks just couldn't help but to be all like: O.O

So that happened.

Then Dustin and I ordered pizza, snarfed it down, and went to sleep.

Dustin went over early and let us know that the side events were getting ready to fire, so we all wandered over. Michael got into an event right away, and Dustin signed up shortly thereafter. I wandered around to scope out vendors and try to overcome my anxiety about schmoozing. I did cross paths with an L3 that I worked with in Minneapolis, and we chatted for a minute (after I reminder her who I was). Then I talked to a couple of vendors about selling my playmat (since I had no plans to ever use it). One vendor offered me $10-12 for it, and the other one $20-24, so I traded it in for some cards. I picked up a foil Japanese Judge's Familiar, a Spanish Judge's Familiar FNM promo, and an Academy Ruins. Not bad for, well, nothing. :) Later, I found out that Dustin had traded his in for $35 of credit to a different vendor. Oh well. :/

I couldn't find Briggs, so I just wandered back to the side event signup, saw that the one Dustin was in had an opening, so I signed up. Heck with it. It fired shortly thereafter, and I promptly scrubbed out in two not-very-close games. So Michael said, hey, could you talk to your person now? So heck with it. I did. And shockingly, he didn't bite my head off. We chatted for like a minute, and then he wandered off to do .. stuff? So there you go. I met my final goal for the weekend. SUCCESS.

Oh yeah, so then I set another stretch goal: get out of Detroit alive. And ... well, I did. So yay!

The trip back was also pretty uneventful. Just lots of random chitchat about Magic and other geeky things. Good company. I'm glad we all went together. We got back to Madison around 8:30pm, and ... yeah, that's that!

So, I guess here's a more in-depth report?

Friday Grinder:
So I'm playing U/W/R Midrange. It's similar to the U/W/R Control lists out there, but it has more threats than just Colonnades and Ajani V. My list looked something like this:

8 Fetchlands
5 Shocklands
4 Basic Lands
3 Celestial Colonnade
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 "Buddy" Lands
2 Tectonic Edge

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
1 Spell Snare
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Mana Leak
3 Lightning Helix
1 Remand
3 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Electrolyze
3 Cryptic Command
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Gideon Jura
1 Thundermaw Hellkite

2 Stony Silence
2 Wear // Tear
2 Hallowed Burial
2 Sowing Salt
2 Counterflux
2 Aven Mindcensor
1 Electrolyze
1 Spell Snare
1 ???? I forget :(

Round 1: vs. G/W midrange. I'm not sure what was going on with this deck. It looked like it should be deploying a bunch of critters and pounding face, but I didn't have much trouble keeping threats off the board. I think he got flooded in the second game. It looked like he was hinging on Wilt-Leaf Liege to boost his team, but it just wasn't happening.

Round 2: vs. Tron. I think it was a combination of the R/G and mono-blue Trons that I know are out there, but I'm not sure. I know that he had fetchlands and a Breeding Pool, but I don't remember for sure if he had Burnwillows or not. Either way, I think he got me quickly in game one, and game two I landed a turn-two Stony Silence, and that pretty much shut him down. I was able to keep him off Tron, and won pretty easily. Third game was even worse. I had a turn-two Stony Silence, and a turn-four Sowing Salt. I just saw the life go out of his face. I felt kinda bad, but you know, when your deck threatens a turn-three Karn and a turn-five Eldrazi, then ... yeah. He understood and was a good sport about it.

Round 3: vs. Robots. Hooray for accomodation! My opponent was wheelchair-bound, and had his mother with him to shuffle and draw cards and such. They were very friendly, though the mother admitted to being very tired and not especially looking forward to 9 rounds the next day. The games were very close and lots of fun. I think he won the first game pretty handily, but the second one was very back and forth. I think he hit me with a rather large Plated Inkmoth, but even though I was able to get rid of the Plating (somehow? I forget), he had another Inkmoth he was threatening with. I eventually topdecked a fetchland to get my 6th land so I could block with a Celestial Colonnade, and then I took over from there. I don't remember the last game, but I think it was another close one. Lots of back and forth. I misplayed at one point, though: I Clique'd him at some point, and saw a Spell Pierce, but then forgot to play around it when I slammed a Hallowed Burial. Oops. :( Great games, though. I don't mind losing those.

So I got 6 booster packs for my efforts (M14). Plus, I got lots of experience with the deck, which was awesome. I decided I wanted another source of colored mana more than I wanted a token-making land that I never used, so I swapped the Haunt out for a 3rd Steam Vents for the main event

Saturday Main Event:
Heh, that subtitle sounds like wrestling event or something. Anyway ...

Round 1: vs. Robots. Yup, more Robots. Am I gonna see this deck all day? Well, it turned out that he kept a couple of marginal hands, and I was able to keep him in check pretty easily. It helped that the second game he kept a one-land hand and didn't draw a second mana source for like 3-4 turns. So I happily took those Memnite beats while assembling a great hand and an offense. I won pretty easily. 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Robots. Like I mentioned, this one was very back and forth and lots of fun. We joked, bantered, chatted, and played some great Magic. Unfortunately the games were kind of long, and we had to kinda rush game three. He had a great draw, and I didn't, and he ended up beating me pretty easily. And I found out: Stony Silence is actually pretty good against this deck. At first, I was only thinking of Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager, but it also shuts off Springleaf Drum, Mox Opal, Steel Overseer, and Darksteel Citadel. Dang! Maybe I should have three of these in my 'board. But yeah, like I said, tons of fun. 1-1.

Round 3: vs. Bogles. I think. This might have been round 4. I forget. Anyway, this one wasn't close. He had the turn-one Bogle both games, and stomped me pretty bad. I felt in game one I could have burned him out before he could Bogle me to death, but turns out, Daybreak Coronet gives lifelink. What the crap. :( 1-2.

Round 4: vs. Burn. I don't think I've ever lost this match. I don't even have to play it perfectly. Protect my life total, kill his critters, and eventually they just run out of gas. Lightning Helix is an all-star in this match. If I suspected I'd see more of it, a 4th Helix would definitely be warranted, as well as a Baneslayer somewhere in the 75. 2-2.

Round 5: vs. U/W/R Midrange. I must have lost this one, because of the other matches I played, I can't think of what else I would have lost to. Yeah, now that I think about it, I think he got me in this one. Apparently I don't remember that much about the actual match. But we were discussing the deck, and the difference between this one and the Control version. His comment was along the lines of "Sometimes you just wanna punch someone in the face." And that sums it up perfectly. Sometimes I love playing Draw-Go, and just countering and/or killing everything my opponent does. But sometimes I get tired of poking someone to death with a manland and I just want to throw a Dragon at them. I think that's the Red part of this deck. I like it. :) 2-3.

Round 6: vs. Melira Pod. I think this deck is like the Aristocrats of Modern. They have the combo, which is pretty straight forward (infinite life and/or damage with Finks/Redcap), but they also have a very tricky elusive combat-based gameplan, too.  If I disrupt their combo, they can just poke me with Voice tokens, or Lingering Souls tokens, or attack with Revillark, or drain me with Deathrite Shaman. I don't remember for sure how the match went, but somehow I won one of the first two games, and the last one I was able to shut him down pretty hard with Aven Mindcensor. I guess that card works! 3-3.

Round 7: vs. U/W/R Control. I don't remember much about this match. My opponent was kinda quiet, but pleasant enough. It seemed like he was kinda new to the deck and/or Magic in general, and he did all kinds of strange plays, like tapping out on his turn for a Lightning Helix to the dome, leaving himself wide open for a Geist. It seemed like he was on the burn plan for most of the match. So I dunno, maybe he just didn't draw his counterspells? Well either way, I won, I believe in two not-terribly-close games. 4-3.

Round 8: vs. R/G Aggro. Looks like a Modern port of the current Standard deck, with upgraded creatures (e.g., Kird Ape vs. Stromkirk Noble). This is pretty much exactly the kinda deck I wanted to face, and my deck didn't disappoint. Kill/counter everything early and often. And then .. punch him in the face! >:O Not literally. Kids, never literally punch your opponent in the face. 5-3.

Round 9: vs. R/G Tron. So I playtest against Michael quite a bit back home, and he almost always beats me. But this time, I was a little better prepared. I know both our decks much better by this point, and I was able to get a good feel for what his gameplan was at any given point, and to keep him just barely behind where he wanted to be. So I countered those Sylvan Scryings and Tec Edge'd his Tron piece. Even though I didn't necessarily draw a bunch of hate (honestly, I don't remember if I drew any), I had enough disruption to keep him just unbalanced enough to race him with burn and random critters. Sorry Michael. 6-3.

Sunday Win-a-Box:
Round 1: vs. Melira Pod. He beat me. I tried mightily to disrupt him, but for whatever reason I just couldn't stabilize or mount any kind of counter-offense. Oh yeah, I think the reason was because I got pretty badly flooded, at least in the second game. Dumb deck. I don't like it. I was told by the Melira Pod player I played on Saturday that I should never lose this match, but I just don't really get it. I feel like I have to get lucky to win. 0-1.

So .. uh ... that's the tournament! Thoughts about the deck:

* Seriously, tons of fun. I get to counter spells, I get to kill things, and I get to use cool spells and cool creatures. The only thing I don't like is that I want to use ALL of the cool cards. Every turn I want to Cryptic Command something, Helix something else, use Elspeth to pump Geist into a 5/5 flying, tap something with Ajani, kill something else with Gideon, and attack with everything. The Melira Pod player from Saturday plays this deck too, and he swears by Ajani and Restoration Angel. But to me, they're just really expensive. I might end up cutting something from the other threats to try them out, like maybe Elspeth or Geists.
* The sideboard is taking shape, but needs a bit of work. I ended up never bringing in the Counterfluxes. But then again, I never faced Twin. I'm not sure whether or not I actually want to do that for that deck anyway, or if what I already have is enough. I suspect that I still want them.
* Wear // Tear was pretty unremarkable. I think Disenchant does the same thing most of the time. I've never fused it, and in Modern, I don't think I ever will. Even Disenchant would have been underwhelming. I could probably cut them.
* The Bogles deck could be a problem if more people start playing it. I wonder if Celestial Flare is something I could do against that and/or the Infect deck.
* I know that some decks run fewer fetchlands, and I'm starting to wonder if I need to do so, too. Most games, I don't take too much damage from my own manabase, but some games, I don't think I have much choice but to pay 3 life every turn for the right colors of mana, and against some decks, that's tough. I might cut one or two fetches for something else. Maybe a filterland or another buddyland or something.
* The boogeyman of the week appears to be Jund. 6 out of the 8 decks that made Top 8 were Jund or Jund variants (i.e., without red, splashing white for Ajani). We argued in the car a little bit about what card or cards are really pushing it over the top, and we did all agree that Deathrite Shaman is probably the card that pushed Jund (and variants) over the top recently. It's gotta be one of the most powerful pound-for-pound cards in the format.

So this week ... Second to last week for ISD/RTR Standard. I'll probably still rock the Blood Barons until I get sick of them. And then this weekend is Theros prereleases. Should be fun!

Okay, well that's it for now. Thanks for reading. :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wear, Tear, Snare ... Pierce?

One of these days I'm going to run out of not-terrible titles for these posts. One may argue that that's already happened. :/

Anyway! So I want to play other Standard decks, but I just can't bother myself to actually put something else together. So I played Blood Baron again. Deck is sweet. I played it at Misty Mountain last night, and went 3-1. Here's a rundown:

Round 1: vs. Boros. He was somewhat aggressive, but not super blitzy, which was perfect for my deck. I could take my time burning his random soldier folk, set up a Blood Baron and a Mizzium Mortars, and I won pretty easily. 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Boros .. Tokens? Okay, this one was a little different. This one was more of an engine deck, built off of Assemble the Legion, Legion's Initiative, and ... what's the weird white enchantment from M14? Gains you life when you attack, and your doodz get bigger when you're at 20+ life? Yeah. It was a bit slow to set up, but once it got set up, it was pretty tough to beat. Game one I tried to set up a Blasphemous Reckoning, but he played a Reckoner of his own. So I figured I'd try to Helix him to 13-ish, and myself well above 13-ish, but then he played another Reckoner. Then the token swarm came and shut me out of the game. The next game I played three Vampire Nighthawks on turns 3-5, and shrugged at his Burning Earth. Third game I had the Tear for his Burning Earth, and he couldn't keep up with my superlative midrange beaters. 2-0.

Round 3: vs. Big Red. Okay, I've got Wear and/or Tear for Burning Earth, so this should be doable. Nope. Turns out that a Chandra followed up with doubple Hellkite is pretty hard to beat. Oh, and I actually have to draw the Tear. I should think about going up to 3 in my board. 2-1.

Round 4: vs. Junk Midrange. I beat him pretty handily in game one when he appeared to get flooded, and I had all the removal for all his doodz. He took one game when he had Blood Barons of his own, and I couldn't quite get to Blasphemous Act mana. The key mistake I made: I Warleader's Helix'd his token instead of his dome when facing a lethal Blood Baron attack. He Resto'd the token in response to fizzle the Helix and I died. Next turn I (probably?) could have Blasphemous Act'd to stay alive. Third game I played got him with the Blasphemous/Reckoner combo in rather cheap fashion. *shrug* 3-1.

So yeah, still having fun with the deck. I'd love to try to play a Tibalt deck before rotation, but honestly, I just don't think that's gonna happen. :( But I'm okay with that. Blood Baron.dec is decent, and fun. So Imma keep playing it, k?

But hey, I finally got to play Modern with my new deck! I was pretty excited. Here's what I sleeved up, give or take a few cards:

4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Glacial Fortress
3 Celestial Colonnade
2 Tectonic Edge
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Moorland Haunt

3 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Spell Snare

4 Mana Leak
3 Lightning Helix
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Remand

3 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Vendilion Clique

3 Cryptic Command
1 Restoration Angel
1 Isochron Scepter
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Sphinx's Revelation
1 Gideon Jura

2 Wear // Tear
1 Spell Snare
1 Path to Exile
2 Stony Silence
2 Molten Rain
1 Sowing Salt
1 Electrolyze
2 Aven Mindcensor
3 Counterflux

Here's how it went:

Round 1: vs. M14 Slivers. Okay, this guy is fairly new to Magic and just threw together some cool Sliver cards and made a deck. Surprisingly, it wasn't as one-sided as you might think. It took several turns to establish a board presence with my plethora of removal and countermagic, but once I did, victory came quickly. 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Simic Wizards. Huh? Yeah, I played against this guy a couple weeks ago, and had a great time with his crazy Wizards tribal deck. He had all kinds of interesting little synergies, with Spellstutter Sprites, Graft and +1/+1 shenanigans, and countermagic (including Glen Elendra). I think he took me to three games, but in that third game, he was severely flooded, and I was able to win pretty easily. 2-0.

Round 3: vs. Infect. Ugh. Seriously. Okay, so I'm a Judge now, and I'm becoming a little more visible in the local Magic community, so I'm trying to maintain a better sporting demeanor. But. Ugh. :( I suspect that this matchup is actually pretty decent for me, but I need to figure out better lines of play. Example: his turn two, he has a Glistener Elf out, I have two untapped lands and both Lightning Helix and Mana Leak available. He casts Rancor on his Elf. So I go for the two-for-one and Helix it. He responds with Vines of Vastwood (I believe) and hits me for three poison. Next turn he responded to another removal attempt with another trick, and finished me off with a Groundswell. If I Leak the Rancor, it's possible I only take one poison that turn (unless he'd have pumped it, which he very well may have done). Regardless, I need to think more about these kinds of things before I do something. So yeah, I got kinda frustrated and probably let it show too much. 2-1.

Round 4: vs. Living End. I felt pretty good about this matchup, too, but there's one thing that I didn't count on ... Living End can be cast off of Violent Outburst, an instant. I held up one counter, but not two, and he was able to get his cycle'd doodz back. The other game, he had Ricochet Trap for my Cryptic Command. So I couldn't even draw a card. :'( Again, kinda frustrating, but ... Oh well. I didn't grumble [as loudly] about it, at least. 2-2.

So am I ready for prime time (Grand Prix Detroit)? Heck no! But I'm going more for the experience than to try to win a tournament. I just like playing Modern, and I have Level 2 Judge aspirations, so I need to do some networking. And this is a great opportunity to meet my regional coordinator.

Thoughts about the deck, then:
* Probably could have used moar Electrolyze somewhere. I'm not playing the hardcore UWR Control deck that most UWR players are rocking, so I need to find card advantage where I can get it. Even if they're playing combo or control or something, I can just dome them and cycle.
* Restoration Angel and Isochron Scepter are adorable, but I think unnecessary. They were both experiments in late game reach and card advantage. But the Scepter is inherently risky, and very slow in the early game. Restoration Angel is pretty unexciting without a good blink target. These slots will probably be that Electrolyze and maybe another counterspell of some sort.
* Speaking of which: need moar counterspells. Especially of the cheap variety. Probably some mix of Spell Snares and Spell Pierces.
* I need to find room for a sweeper of some kind. Supreme Verdict is the common one for UWR decks, but I like Hallowed Burial a lot. I'm gonna grab me a couple, methinks.
* I'm not sure about the mix of late-game cards. I definitely like the Elspeth, but I'm less certain about the Revelation and Gideon. Other lists play Batterskull, Baneslayer Angel, and/or Thundermaw Hellkite. I'd hate to cut Revelation, because, well, cards. But given that my gameplan isn't really about stalling with removal and winning long games, it's probably the wrong card for the job. Batterskull is another way to help my critters bust through, and it might be a little better than Baneslayer. Thundermaw is a big giant fireball in the sky, and pairs nicely with Elspeth and Gideon. Hmmm. Maybe I'll go in that direction.

So yeah. Modern! I like it. :) I'm getting closer to having most of what I need/want for the format. Just need a 'goyf #4, and Bobs #2-4. And then I can spend a few bucks and buy singles for whatever else I might need. I'm already thinking about brewing other stuff for the format, like Loam, or Vial.

Oh yeah, so I got some sweet Modern cards at the Judge Conference a couple weeks ago. The conference itself was great, with lots of good talks, shared wisdom, and general schmoozing. But I'm not gonna lie, the foilz are pretty sweet too. Especially when I can turn around and trade the ones I don't really care about for stuff I actually want to play.

I did a bit less "networking" than I would have liked. I think that's part of my whole social anxiety thing. I can talk to people one-on-one just fine, or even in small groups. But walking up to someone in a crowded room and introducing myself ... HARD. One of these days I'll get over that.

In the meantime, I'm having to be very careful about what I accept for judging assignments. I noticed myself slipping too far away from the "life" part of "Magic/life balance". I love being a larger part of the greater Magic community, but I gotta be a part of my non-Magic home community, too.

Okay, I think that's enough rambling for now. Thanks for reading!