NB: This is the second part of my GP Charlotte tournament report, mostly covering Saturday. For part one of the report, click here.

I set my alarm for 9:30am, intending to get up and have a leisurely morning—shower, breakfast, etc.—before heading over for the two-round-bye build time at 12:30pm. But my girlfriend called me a little after 8am, to say thanks for having bagels and lox delivered for her and her mom and her sister, who were all sleeping over at her sister’s place before heading out to look at wedding dresses. So I was up early. I read a while, and the Hobo Mage got ready and split for the venue at about 9am.

All this time I was checking Twitter, looking for updates on attendance. Last night, before I’d gone to bed, I’d seen reports that pre-registration was already over 1,900. And soon the reports of lines around the convention center began to come in over Twitter, too. I was texting with Brandon, as well, and he said at 11:30am that they’d just posted seatings for the player meeting—an hour and a half late. The final tally came up to 2,693 players, if you can believe it.


iPhone panorama of GP Charlotte.

Meanwhile I’m over at Bruegger’s Bagels, having a not-at-all-bad bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel, drinking coffee, and just chilling out. Sure enough, they pushed back seating times on the sleep-in special, as well, with the two-bye time pushed back to an incredible 2pm (three byes was 3:15!). I was already up and about, though, and so I figured I would hit the one-bye build time, at 12:45pm, which would allow me plenty of extra time to tune my deck and maybe jam some games against another guy or girl twiddling his or her thumbs.

One quick note: I learned that they were pushing back the sleep-in special times via Twitter, which came in super handy this weekend. Not once on Saturday did I have to jostle in line to see pairings on the sheets of printed-out computer paper; StarCity—in a GP first—posted them on Twitter. Evidently it had been WOTC policy up until then that you couldn’t do that, but somebody must have made a snap decision to reverse it. Good thinking, and good implementation by StarCity.

Also RE: Twitter—it was dope to get good-luck messages from several Brooklyn players, many of whom were back home trying to spike the Twenty Sided Store’s Modern PTQ, including HOTC writer Li Xu, fellow journeyman Charles Hagaman, 20-Sider Kadar Brock, 2HG teammate Christian Rudder, and Pauper impresario Alex Ullman, who cleverly coined GP Gigantor. (Oh, and if you want to follow me, you can do so @hrslaton.)

So I make it over to the venue and check in at the sleep-in special area, running into Travis Sowers, a guy I’ve seen at a few GPs now, and who was win-and-in for the top 8 in Philly against Harry Corvese, as well as Russian guy named Alex, who I’ve played against and seen at GPs before. Alex is a reticent guy, but as we were sitting around waiting for everyone to get their SCG box with a pre-registered pool in it—and a Gold Rush envelope—we were joking around with him.

Speaking of the Gold Rush envelope—I pulled a Cursed Rack. Sounds about right.


Nothing but potential (well, except the Cursed Rack).

After we’re given the signal, I crack my deck box and start checking through the pool. My rares are Alms Beast (!), Five-Alarm Fire, Signal the Clans, Foundry Champion (!), Fathom Mage, and Wrecking Ogre (!). Black and BW have some good/decent stuff—Grisly Spectacle and two Executioner’s Swings, plus the aforementioned Alms Beast—but literally all of the black and white cards added up to about 18. So no go there. I saw that there was a Simic deck, but I didn’t think Simic was what I really wanted to be doing. And the Boros looked good. Not amazing, but good. Here’s what I built (spells in italics, creatures in bold):

Mugging (fine, but doesn’t kill big stuff; I probably could have used its “can’t-block” mode to greater effect)

Truefire Paladin (great card, but would have killed for a Sunhome Guildmage as well)
Wojek Halberdiers (love this guy)
Bomber Corps (did a surprising amount of work. 2X of him, as I had in my grinder pool, is just sick)
Syndic of Tithes (solid dude)
Boros Charm (highly excellent card. All its modes are top-notch.)
2X Martial Glory (I rarely cast this as anything other than an expensive Giant Growth)
Ground Assault (I boarded this out often. Nice how it scales.)
Madcap Skills (This on a Transport is often GGs. Just wait and be safe with it.)
Pit Fight (Despite Boros having typically small butts, I could usually find a use for this.)

2X Court Street Denizen (Definitely an MVP.)
Warmind Infantry (Excellent card. Love the three-butt.)
2X Armored Transport (Love ’em.)
Hellraiser Goblin (This guy caused me to have to play a little weirdly, but on balance I’d say he’s a positive.)

Viashino Shanktail (Most of the time I bloodrushed him.)
Cinder Elemental (I was disappointed in this guy. Just way, way too slow and resource-gobbling.)
Homing Lightning (Excellent.)

Nav Squad Commandos (Was totally happy with this guy.)
Wrecking Ogre (I very rarely cast him as a creature; I was most often waiting to bloodrush him FTW.)

Foundry Champion (Had a bit of trouble hitting my mana for him. And I only swung with him once all day.)

2X Gruul Guildgate
8X Mountains
7X Plains

That’s 15 creatures and eight spells. On-color, non-total-garbage stuff I didn’t run:

Foundry Denizen (I often brought this guy in from the board, when on the play)
Boros Keyrune (maybe could have been good w/ 2X Martial Law?)
2X Riot Gear (never boarded ‘em in)
Towering Thunderfist (I left him on the sidelines in favor of Nav Squad + 2X Denizen)
Furious Resistance (I often boarded this in when I was going to be on the draw)
Prophetic Prism (never boarded it in)
Debtor’s Pulpit (I boarded this in maybe once)
Five-Alarm Fire (I just had no experience with this card. Is it any good?)

Probably my hardest decision was running Ground Assault, Debtor’s Pulpit, or Five-Alarm Fire. Fire was probably the easiest cut, just because it seems like a win-more card. Debtor’s Pulpit seemed too slow for what I was trying to do. And Assault was almost a free splash, with my two Guildgates. You can definitely make an argument that I should have been running the Foundry Street Denizen instead of any of these three, and in fact I often did board out the Assault + Guildgates for either Denizen or Resistance and another Plains and Mountain.

I also built a second Simic deck, but I won’t bore you with those details.

After we were done building, Alex and Travis and I talked a bit about our decks. Travis took off, but Alex and I actually stayed and ended up jamming some games with our Boros decks against each other. I think we each took a match or two. Turns out we both had potential Simic second decks, so we took a minute to look at each other’s builds and then jam those decks against each other and the Boros decks. Alex and I discussed when to bring in the Simic deck, and he advised doing so when in G1 it didn’t look like Boros would be able to punch through. My Simic build had significantly less removal, but more evasion, and so the idea would be to sneak under or over, say, Orzhov or Simic’s defenses. I did end up bringing in the Simic deck a couple of times during the day—though I was never sure I was making the right choice when I did so.

By this time it was 2pm, and the R2 had only just started. Alex wished me luck and I did the same, before going upstairs to get something to eat and clear my head before R3.

Another thing I should mention is that, all thought the morning, I’d been getting tweets from fellow Twenty Siders, some of whom were competing at the store’s Modern PTQ that same day. Everyone wished me luck at GP “Gigantor,” as Pauper expert Alex Ullman dubbed it, and I even got a tweet from Helene Bergeot (thanks to a tweet from Alex), praising my GP Prep article on HOTC from the day before! So I got that going for me.


Hey there’s Eric Berger!

My first opponent was a cool dude named Alain Sothikhoun, from the West Coast. I believe it was his first GP. He was also on Boros. I won G1, and then died in G2 to Assemble the Legion (I would have killed for one of those in my pool) after being stuck on three lands for a long time. I had Homing Lightning in hand, along with Boros Charm, Martial Glory, and Foundry Champion. I used Lightning to kill SEVEN would’ve-been-very-lethal soldier tokens, but couldn’t find the win on the next turn.

In G3 I fought through Angelic Skirmisher to win the match—thanks to a key tap from Court Street Denizen—after maybe killing his Kingpin’s Pet a little too early/quickly with Homing Lightning. But man, I hate letting those extort guys live. After the match, my opp. showed me that he also had Aurelia and Spark Trooper in his deck. JESUS. 3-0.


Downtown Charlotte on Sunday, just because.

Round 4
Wai Tam, a somewhat older and skittish-seeming (but nice) guy was running Orzhov-splash-Dimir. In both of the games I lost, I got hurt bad with Purge the Profane, of all cards—at one point, in G2 I believe, I dropped my sixth or seventh land and passed the turn, with another land and Madcap Skills in hand. Sure enough, next turn: Purge the Profane, and I had to sadly bin Skills along with my land. I’m not sure I should have thought to play around Profane at that point, as I hadn’t seen it yet, but maybe I should have. Ogre Slumlord also came down on Wai’s side of the table all three games and, while I was able to mitigate the damage, I had to spend valuable resources to do so. Righteous Charge was also a stone beating for Wai.

In G3 I kept a no-plains hand and, while I was able to cast some on-curve red and artifact creatures, I never found a plains and therefore was never able to cast Truefire or Halberdiers—and, of course, I lost the both of them to Purge the Profane. 3-1

Round 5
Back to the Boros mirror against Jacob Patton, a no-nonsense-seeming player. I won G1 when he was at 10 life on the back of an unblocked Armored Transport + bloodrushed Wrecking Ogre, my first Wrecking Ogre kill of the day. Jacob had a fairly hefty board, having just cast a Knight Watch to complement his two or three other dudes—and we chatted after the match as to whether or not he should have blocked the Transport. I still don’t think he should have—best-case scenario he would have lost a knight token—but Jacob seemed to think so. What do you guys think?

In G2 I sided into Simic, thinking I’m on the draw, and I need some stopping power for his ground forces—but I lost to 2X Halberdiers. That card is really a beating for Simic, because three power just breaks through a ton of what UG can put up to block.

G3 I went back to Boros, and won with a Madcap Skills-ed Denizen in a very close game. Lots of trading happened early, and I just managed to have the last big threat on the field. I did make a misplay here though: He Angelic Edicted my Transport, while he had a Halberdiers (and nothing else) on the field and I had a Pit Fight in hand. I just didn’t think to Pit Fight in response to his casting of Edict, and put my guy in the yard. 4-1

I’m feeling good. Jacob was not a bad player, and I was psyched that I had gotten the W. At this point I’m thinking maybe I can make a run. All I needed to do at this point to make day two was 3-1—or so I thought.

At some point, probably earlier than this, but still, the head judge announced how the cut to day two was going to go. (Until this point, the number of rounds in day one had been “unknown,” or so I’d heard.) The judge said that we were going to play nine rounds of Swiss today, after which there would be the standard cut at X-2 or better.

But then, he said, we would come back tomorrow for not one, but TWO more rounds of Swiss, with our same sealed decks. That all seems fine. At GP Philly, there was a cut on day one after nine rounds, and then everyone played a 10th—but win or lose during that 10th round, if you’d already survived the cut, you were drafting on day two. Sure, anyone with a 7-3 record at that point was highly unlikely to make top 8, but many players would be psyched about just making the cut and getting to draft—me included.

Not so, though, for GP Charlotte. The judge announced that there would be another cut after round 10, early on Sunday morning. If you lose R10, you’re out. As it turned out, both LSV and Kibler lost their 10th rounds, and were done for the day. Kibler in particular was really pissed about this, since R10 on Sunday started at 8am—when R9 on Saturday night didn’t finish until after midnight.

Bummer. So suddenly it was like one of my byes had just been erased. I thought, with two byes, that I needed to go 5-2 to make day two—but with this announcement I found out that in fact I had to go 6-2. And, as everybody knows, every match counts.

Round 6
This is where everything starts to go south. My opp., Jesse Bradbury, was on Borzhov (aka Insane Clown Posse). G1 he dropped Gift of Orzhova on a Halberdiers and I just couldn’t keep up. G2 he got stuck on lands and I blew him out.

In G3, I out-attritioned him, killing his Madcap Skills-ed Skynight with Ground Assault, and got him down to eight life. He misplayed by putting Death’s Approach on my Shanktail, when no creatures were in my yard—but it didn’t matter much, because the next turn he topdecked Merciless Eviction and, the following turn, ripped Obzedat. Nothing I could do about that, even with Pit Fight in hand. 4-2

Round 7
This round, against Orzhov yet again (piloted by Dominick Nasta), was even more demoralizing. In G2 I managed to kill his guy w/ Gift of Orzhova on it, but he followed it up with Eviction, wiping my board. Then he dropped Treasury Thrull, getting back Gift and then Vizkopa Guildmage on the following two turns. Between games I sided in Debtor’s Pulpit, ditching one of the Martial Laws.

In G2 he went T2 Skyjek, T3 Gift, T4 Holy Mantle. I died four turns after that, when he was at 14 life, after a suicide swing with my Goblin Hellraiser-ed team. “Sorry for the all-in,” said my opponent (genuinely) afterward. “It’s all good,” I said. “You gotta do what you gotta do.” 4-3—and I’m out.


A feature match on day two. They had everybody playing down in this pit, and everybody up along risers watching them like it was a dog fight.

Round 8
But I keep playing, as per my commitment to always play it out. The points and the high-level play experience are worth it. And, now that the pressure is off, you can just have fun.

In R8 I faced Chris Lee’s Naya—the first time all day I’d played against any green cards. I lost G1 after being forced to mull to four, after shipping a seven with no plains and two mountains, and then two successive one-landers. Even still, I managed to make a game of it with a key Boros Charm getting me a two-for-one by killing two of his guys in combat, courtesy of the Charm’s indestructible mode.

So here’s an interesting puzzle. At the end of G2, I sort of cavalierly didn’t block his lone Ruination Wurm, and died (I’ll tell you how in a minute) from 12 life. In his hand he had Nav Squad (which I knew about, from him earlier accidentally playing it instead of his Angelic Edict) and two unknown cards. He had six mana untapped.

He was at five life, and I had Nav Squad and Halberdiers (both untapped) and Transport (tapped) on the board, with Wrecking Ogre and Ground Assault in hand. I had one mountain and four plains on the table (aka, one mountain shy of bloodrushing Ogre).

He swings in with Ruination Wurm. What do I do? I thought about what he could or could not have—he offered that “Scorchwalker could do it,” which I took to mean he didn’t have Scorchwalker in hand. If I block with Halberdiers and he plays just one more creature—and I knew he had the Commandos in hand—I can no longer win unless I draw the mountain to bloodrush the Ogre on whoever he elects not to block, when I swing in on the following turn with Transport and my Commandos. That seemed like a gamble.

So I gambled on not blocking the Wurm instead. And, sure enough, he had it, bloodrushing Rubblehulk FTW. 4-4. BOO.

I still think I made the right decision. As it turned out, I would have drawn the mountain for Ogre-bloodrushing on my next turn—but I don’t think I can really take that into account. And my opp’s third card in hand was Massive Raid, so even that plan might have gone poorly.

What would you guys have done?

Round 9
I won this one in three in a funny, chill match—for the love of the game!—against Minh Nguyen. At one point in G2 we had an interesting exchange with Wrecking Ogre (on the field), Boros Charm, Smite, Pit Fight, Bomber Corps, Basilica Guards, and Towering Thunderfist. I swung in with Ogre, Bomber Corps, and another guy, pinging his Guards. He blocked Ogre with Thunderfist and cast Smite, to which I responded with Boros Charm, choosing indestructibility. He then casts Pit Fight in response, to which I responded with my own Pit Fight, targeting his Guards and my Ogre. A lot of stuff died, and a lot of cards were exchanged. I was left wondering whether I shouldn’t’ve just let the Ogre die and save my Charm for Minh’s dome, as he was at eight life at this point. After the match, though, we chatted for a while and Minh said he felt I played it correctly. 5-4—and we’re done.

The Aftermath
By this point it was nearly midnight. I wasn’t as exhausted as I have been at GPs, thanks to the super-sleep-in special, but you could have certainly put a fork in me. I collected the Hobo Mage, who also finished 5-4 (but with no byes) and we wandered around the hall for a bit, as Brandon literally scavenged uncommons and commons for his set cube from a discarded pizza box. No, I am not kidding. Then we left the hall, lamenting our tough luck, and went up the road to Charlotte’s “downtown nightlife” center, which consisted of a bunch of really, really wasted people in really, really tiny dresses (well, the women, at least) trying to traverse stairs and get into clubs. We passed one woman who was just standing there openly crying. It’s scenes like these that make me absolutely feel great about the fact that I never “go out” anymore. Brandon got a slice at a pizza joint, I got a ginger ale, and we called it a night.

A few interesting notes on the weekend. First of all, obviously I got up the next day and headed back over to the hall to draft, but more on that next week—I want to talk in detail about the two Dimir decks I force-drafted, and I’ve gone on too long here as it is.

I realized somewhat later that I didn’t have a single judge call all weekend. I think that’s a first for me. Maybe it has something to do with the new (and now thrice-refined, if not more) trigger rules?

And, while I wasn’t pleased with my performance, I wasn’t pissed at myself, either. On Saturday I really felt like I was consistently making the correct plays; I don’t remember a single misplay other than neglecting to Pit Fight in R5. So that feels like progress.

Of my four losses, two—the back-to-back Orzhov beatings in R6 and R7—were simply unavoidable. I don’t think there was really anything I could have done; I just faced much, much stronger decks. My other two losses were a bit more suspect. Against Naya, I think I made the right play by not blocking his Wurm—but I could be wrong. Against Orzhov splashing for Dimir, in R4, I think I could have played it better, by playing around Purge the Profane (even though I hadn’t seen it).

There is always room for improvement. I am definitely hitting GP Pittsburgh in three weeks’ time, and I am committed to testing at least weekly with some of my HOTC and Twenty Sided crew until then.

So, a sort of farewell: On Sunday after my last draft loss, it was a little early—I didn’t have to head to the airport until 5pm or so. It had been drizzly and cold-ish all weekend, kind of like where I’d come from (New York)—but on Sunday morning when I left the hotel, the air felt fresh and clean, like an early Southern spring. I fairly jounced down to the convention center.


Peace out, Charlotte.

On the way out, though, I felt a sense of loss. Not because I’d lost games, but because a fun, awesome weekend was over. I stopped by the main event stage and thanked the judges for judging and the TOs for TO-ing, as is my custom, and said goodbye to judge Aaron LaCluyze, who is friends with the Hobo Mage and who I happened to meet over the weekend.

I guess it was the “sense of falling” that Philip Larkin writes about in the last stanza of his amazing poem “The Whitsun Weddings,” which is all about traveling and movement and “success so huge and wholly farcical.” And yet, as I strolled up Trade Street in Charlotte, with my backpack on my back, headed for the bus to the airport, I was happy:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Traveling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

Merry GP, everybody! See you in Pittsburgh.


On the road again, like a minor-league ballplayer.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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