I wasn’t really expecting to do well at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. I love me some Gatecrash limited, but serious sealed events have a high degree of luck involved, and it sometimes leads to awkward outcomes. But I ended up going 6-3 with an interesting Gruul pool with a slight Simic splash for Master Biomancer, and I think I could have done better had it not been for a few instances of variance biting down on me hard.

When I opened my pool, I was looking at five rares, two mythics and only a Verdant Haven for fixing. My only gates were two Simic ones. Now, I generally try to have the best possible mana when I am playing GTC limited. I draft gates high for this reason, since my ideal deck in the format is two colors that splashes off of a guildgate, and not any basic lands. I just think it makes the deck stronger to have its primary colors readily available. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I try to play green when at all possible in the format, and think Verdant Haven is a sweet card. But mana is important, and I think sometimes people overlook how important having good mana can be. There’s an argument to first pick a shockland in a draft not just because it’s valuable, but because it leaves your options open and helps you if you end up wanting or needing to splash.

Anyway, that’s background for a decision I made about which cards to play. These were my rares/mythics: Master Biomancer, Hellkite Tyrant, Molten Primordial, Wrecking Ogre, Assemble the Legion, Blind Obedience and Five-Alarm Fire. I ended up playing the first four cards main, and left out the final three. I know! That sounds crazy, since those rares pretty-much scream running Boros, or at least Naya. But I put together the base Boros deck and it was weak on a lot of the key white cards. Meanwhile, my Gruul was rock-solid, and with two Greenside Watchers I was probably going to be running the Simic Guildgates anyway, even if I stayed purely Gruul. So it made more sense to me to run a Gruul deck that had a couple of ways to ramp, and a ton of bombs, than to try to wedge my manabase into some Naya concoction just because my rares could potentially give me an inevitability my deck couldn’t do alone.

It’s possible I should have played Five Alarm Fire main, though. I tend to like it in the Naya tokens build, with Assemble or the Sunhome Guildmage. But I think it might be a better card in draft than in sealed. Sealed decks need to be capable of dealing with both early aggression and late game stall, and in both cases the Fire is a pretty bad top-deck. Meanwhile, a draft deck can have a consistent plan, and so long as you know how your deck is going to keep drawing out, the Fire can provide a pretty solid degree of inevitability. I did side it in several times, and it clearly won me one game I had no business winning, but I think I made the right choice keeping it in my sideboard when I initially built my pool.

I don’t think anyone would be too interested in a round by round breakdown, so I am just going to summarize my experience and highlight some interesting moments for me. First, my losses were all because of mana screw. I know! That sounds like such an un-self-aware thing to say, but hear me out. I don’t mean to say my opponents lacked any skill; the one that went on to take a chunk out of Kadar was particularly talented at tightening the noose in a game where I didn’t see red mana until I top-decked a Verdant Haven my final turn. I played for the win and let through an attack I knew was lethal if he had the pump, and he did. Had he not had it, the plan was to untap and Gruul Charm my way through his blockers for exactsies, and as such I couldn’t lose my blocker in a bad chump. But I mulliganed a lot with my deck. I don’t really know why, either. I kept shuffling and drawing hands with one or two lands, and having to throw them away in the hopes of getting at least three lands or some better plays. I did win a mutual mull to four against a Boros player, but the next game I still had to mulligan and he took the round through a fairly brutal seven-creature Aetherize. It was frustrating, but I was making the right decisions. Variance!

But, just as I had some ridiculously bad rounds, I also had a few where I just beat face. In two separate rounds I dropped a turn three Master Biomancer followed by a turn four Experiment One and then a two drop, which resulted in eight power of creatures for a paltry three mana. I won those games. Similarly, some decks just could not deal with Hellkite Tyrant; even the ones with their own fliers found themselves outclassed. Wrecking Ogre is an absolute champ and you should always grab that guy if you’re playing red. Molten Primordial is less of a necessity, but if you can survive the Boros onslaught games tend to go long, and he was very rarely stranded in my hand. The all-star card for me was Gruul Charm; it killed almost all of my opponents’ fliers and also provided me with several victories when my opponent was left without the ability to block my alpha strike. It was an excellent deck, and I only wish I hadn’t bombed out in the sixth round, because I feel like the deck had legs to get there in the hands of someone with slightly better luck.

If you haven’t been to a Grand Prix event yet, you might not know all the fun things you’re missing. The benefit of falling out of the competition is that you can drop and play side events (not that I did on Saturday). But Friday and Sunday I spent taking in some of the other available opportunities, including engaging in commerce with the singles stores that invariably show up in droves at these things.

I love me some cheap singles, but often it’s a pain in the butt to put orders together over the internet. To get things at the best price you often have to shop around, and then delivery charges end up eating into any savings you might otherwise have had. At the GP, though, I managed to buy a French Grove of the Burnwillows for a surprising discount, while finishing out my playset by trading in a Revised Badlands for almost the right amount of store credit. I also managed to find a foil Endrek Sahr and get about 20 foils for my cube, things that I would never order from the internet since the individual value is so low, but that are great when you have a few spare dollars and want to spend some time sifting for treasure in a giant box of miscellaneous cards. Many people don’t find that soothing. I do!

This is not to shortchange the actual side events in which Dana and I played. Dana tends to like the competitive aspect of Magic more than I do, whereas I will usually shy away from side events that seem to have a low fun-to-success ratio. So while she tried out grinders and competitive drafts on Friday, I did a Two-Headed-Giant draft with my judge friend Connor. We won that on the back of Obzedat, Blind Obedience and my sweet Gruul deck, because of course. In the finals, we survived a swing that knocked us down to nine life, with Obzedat exiled and a Vizkopa Guildmage in play; upon Obzedat’s re-entrance to the battlefield, Connor turned on the life loss ability of the Guildmage and between the soul-suck and the lifelink our opponents ended up losing about 22 life even if they chose to block. Gatecrash was not built for Two-Headed-Giant. But the last time I had the opportunity to do a 2HG draft was in Zendikar block. I like weird rare formats like that, especially when they have a cooperative edge.

On Sunday, to finish things out, Dana and I rocked one of the side event GTC drafts after our 2HG draft failed to fire. It’s always interesting to see the ways in which skill levels vary over the population of people who play Magic; since I play at a store with a particularly high level of play sophistication, when I run into a pod that’s a little softer I tend to do quite well. Dana ended up feeding me in the seating, and I proceeded to draft literally the best draft deck I have ever put together. My first two picks were Crowned Ceratok and Crocanura, and it quickly became clear that Simic was wide open. I ended up being the only person in the guild when everyones’ decks were revealed; people had been fighting over Boros and Gruul and we ended up with a lot of Naya and four-color-high-jinks decks. Meanwhile, this was my deck:

3 Frilled Oculus
2 Hands of Binding
1 Agoraphobia
1 Greenside Watcher
1 Zameck Guildmage
1 Shambleshark
2 Simic Charm
1 Sage’s Row Denizen
1 Crocanura
4 Drakewing Krasis
Four-Drops and Higher
3 Keymaster Rogue
1 Last Thoughts
1 Crowned Ceratok
1 Mindeye Drake
2 Simic Guildgate
8 Island
7 Forest

My games… were not close. 17 creatures, 5 pieces of pseudo-removal and a draw spell all added up into a pretty brutal combination. I had a bunch of playables riding in my sideboard, including two Leyline Phantoms and a Voidwalk, but with the little amount of evolve it seemed like curve was more important. I also had Pit Fight and Rapid Hybridization in there, but again it seemed like having the tempo spells better fit what my deck could do. Dana thinks two drops are the key to the format, and I don’t know that she is wrong. What I do know, though, is that I got every one of my Oculi on the wheel, and that can’t be right.

AND THERE’S MORE! Not only was the GP a great shopping experience, offered many unique and interesting side formats, and let me brutalize some people with a ridiculous deck, but I also got to play some Modern in between rounds. I didn’t want to commit to a full Modern event, since Pittsburgh was a lovely town and I wanted to get some time outside the venue, but I played a bunch of games against Matt and Dana, both with my UW Titan deck and the newest addition to the team… RG Tron. I’ve had the deck together for a while, the Groves finished it, and I wanted to experience it for myself. So, I should get this out of the way.

People who play RG Tron are monsters in the same way Vampires are monsters: they do the things they do because it feels good, and they leave trails of bodies in their wake. But both have a weakness! RG Tron is weak to certain combo decks. In particular, Dana kept beating me with the Legendary Deck (my new name for the Goryo’s Vengeance/Through the Breach thing). It doesn’t target you, so you can’t stop it with Leyline of Sanctity, and a skilled player can minimize the degree to which Relic of Progenitus can break the gameplan by either waiting until they have more Vengeance than you have Relics, or by just dropping it in Through the Breach. But I beat up on Matt’s Zoo deck, and I had a fair amount of game on UW Titan. Robots wasn’t as easy a matchup as I had hoped, but I think I can get better at that one with time. It’s always been fun to win with Wurmcoil, though, and Emrakul basically says, “win the game.” I have the itch now, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to refrain from running it in the future.

Other than the best Thai food I’ve had in ages, that was it for the weekend! It was a great bonding experience with the dudes, and a lot of fun in general. If you haven’t yet made it to a GP, I highly recommend the experience. The next one Dana and I are trying to go to is GP Providence, which will be a Team Limited format. It should be a ton of fun.

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