I walked into the big room and I felt very happy. Although it felt sort of silly to feel very happy, given that I was walking into a near-empty concrete convention center hall—hell, I felt happy, and who’s to argue with it? I remember the smell and feel of walking into a comic book convention when I was a kid—just the overwhelming sight and sound of it, the visual fireworks of color and illustrated kinetic energy—and though the feel of walking into a Grand Prix on a sleepy Friday afternoon isn’t quite the same, since the event proper hasn’t started yet, the sensory recall and feeling of impending happiness and fun is (and was) this past Friday at Grand Prix Providence.

I’d been practicing and playing for the Return to Ravnica block team sealed format with an older friend, Christian, and a newer friend, Hipsters’ own Matt “GPs are the fucking best” Jones. We’d done our homework and, as such, after plowing through Tropical Storm Andrea up to Providence and getting checked into the hotel, I didn’t feel like I needed to do any sealed grinders. We also already had one bye, thanks to Matt’s previous 750+ Planeswalker Point season.

After taking the following two-thirds team photo—


—we promptly ran into Hipsters Zach B., Jess, and Dana, and decided to jam a draft. Although things looked good for my Dimir deck and a forestwalking Woodlot Crawler in R1 vs. Jess, when she was at five life, she flipped the script with a timely Saruli Gatekeepers and took over. In G2 she stuck and Aetherling and that was all she wrote.

Jess, looking positively beachy.

Jess, looking positively beachy.

I signed up for another draft and assembled a totally strong yet utterly unremarkable no-rares Boros deck. I beat my opponent KEITH RICHARDS (no kidding) in round one, and got past the kid with a crazy five-color deck in the finals, which Jones had lost to in R2, who was at his first-ever GP with his buddies. Here’s a picture of rock legend Keith Richards about to play Magic cards:


“Yeah, Magic cards, innit?”

And here’s the deck:

The card in the glare is Weapon Surge.

The card in the glare is Weapon Surge.

It was cool in round two, though, when I introduced myself to my opponent, a guy from Maine called Al, at the start of the match, and gave him our Hipsters business card and told him about the site, taking the opportunity to take his picture as well. Al studied the card and asked, “Hey…did you write a story about GP prep, for team sealed?” I said I had. “Yeah! I found your article and shared it with my teammates,” who were in need of a Limited education, he said. That was pretty sweet—first time that’s happened.

Al, from Maine. He said he used to play at Neutral Ground, when he lived in the city.

Al, from Maine. He said he used to play at Neutral Ground, when he lived in the city.

I 3-0’d that draft and then got into a team draft with Rob, Monique, Mike, Judge Connor, and Judge Eric. It was a damn mess of a draft, and I was way too hungry to be playing. I beat Rob—or drove him nuts enough to concede—in about a two-hour match, and we ran through the  pouring rain to get a bite at a bar where we watched the Boston Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to make the Stanley Cup Finals (that’s hockey, by the way).

The judge for the draft I 3-0'd was this awesome Army vet named Jeremy. Check out his sweet Boros Legion tattoo.

The judge for the draft I 3-0’d was this awesome Army vet named Jeremy. Check out his sweet Boros Legion tattoo.

The next morning was a leisurely one, the rain having mercifully moved off, and we reported for our one-bye build time at 11:30am. We grabbed seats across from one other team around a nine-person round table, and soon were handed our bags of pre-registered (totally worth the sleep-in special fee) cards.

Christian and Matt, ready to build.

Christian and Matt, ready to build.

I opened the Return to Ravnica bag, and was a bit bummed out by what I saw—nothing super-strong jumped out at me, besides a Desecration Demon, and a few of our rares were total turkeys. Here’s the deck I registered:

Grixis Control

Creatures (16)
Desecration Demon
Maze Glider
Undercity Informer
Ogre Jailbreaker
Woodlot Crawler
Consuming Aberration
Corpse Blockade
Wind Drake
Incursion Specialist
Hired Torturer
Syndicate Enforcer
Sage’s Row Denizen
Hover Barrier

Spells (7)
Morgue Burst
Death’s Approach
Dimir Charm
Auger Spree
Grisly Spectacle
Stab Wound
Lands (17)
Izzet Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate

Sideboard (10)
Izzet Staticaster
Izzet Charm
Dark Revenant
Crypt Incursion
Spell Rupture
Maze Glider
Blast of Genius
Isperia’s Skywatch

A few notes on the build: I advocated putting Blast of Genius in there instead of Morgue Burst, as it was essentially the exact same splash—but Christian and Matt were adamant that Morgue Burst was better. I didn’t agree at the time, but I was outvoted, so I put Morgue Burst in the deck. Oftentimes I boarded out Morgue Burst, as I just had too few creatures in my yard for it to really do anything. Once I think I killed a 2/2 with it? Long story short, I think Blast is a far superior card—especially with my controlling build—and it should have been in the maindeck. That was the only wrong turn I think we took, though. Otherwise I was very happy with the deck.

My top sideboard cards were Izzet Charm, Blast of Genius, and Izzet Staticaster and Cancel, a couple of times each for the latter two. It’s weird, though: I don’t remember casting half of the cards in my deck: Other than Consuming Aberration, I think I drew and cast the walls portion of my deck far more often than I did the threats portion. Some days the variance just gets you.

On to the tournament. In round two we were paired up against just 3 guyz who were having a good time:

Round 2_2

Jack (in the middle) plus a couple of Ryans.

I lost my first match to Jack, playing the Grixis mirror. In G1, after my opp. had just Abrupt Decayed my Hover Barrier, I was dead on board to his Isperia’s Skywatch and Keymaster Rogue, with a Dimir Charm in my hand. I should have Dimir Charmed my library on his end step, which (I later realized) would have dug me to Morgue Burst, which I could have used to kill one of his guys and survive another turn (although, as we discussed later, he had Way of the Thief for whichever guy survived, and would have killed me anyway). But I didn’t think to do that—I don’t think I’ve ever used the third mode of Dimir Charm—and died. So did Matt, which meant we were 1-1 me, 1-1 team.

Round three, wherein we faced this father-son-friend team—

Jack, Andrew, and Wilson.

—is where my run of terrible mana begins. In game one I never drew a swamp and died to Trostani’s Summoner and Diluvian Primordial in a huge swing, while I had mono-Islands on the field and millions of black cards in hand. “So you’re mono-blue,” my opponent said skeptically after G1. In G2 I was stuck on three mana forever, and the same thing as in the first game happened again, more or less. 1-2 me, 1-2 team.

This was not how we had wanted to start off. That said, after an earlier bit of confusion with respect to how the VIP seating and package was working, we got it figured out, were delivered our complimentary bottles of Absolut, and learned that our seats for the rest of the day would be 409/410/411. That was actually a really cool thing. For (most) of the rest of the day, our team was at these seats, and so everybody learned to come over to our crib between matches, for bad-beats stories and chilling. This was really fun.

Carl and Christian chilling at the "party table," aka 409/410/411.

Carl and Christian chilling at the “party table,” aka 409/410/411.

Doug and Matt Jones.

Doug and Matt Jones.

In round four we played these brosephs:

Round 4_1

Brian, Robbie, and Shane.

In G1 I mulled to four, keeping a one-lander after three successive one-landers. Obviously, I died. I had been having terrible mana troubles in the previous two matches, and this was the last straw—so during sideboarding I actually counted out my lands, to make sure I hadn’t somehow made a major boner and played fewer than 17 lands. (I hadn’t.) In G2 I mulled another one-lander, but kept my six and came back from what looked like a hopeless position thanks to Consuming Aberration. “We had given up on you in that game,” Matt Jones told me afterward. I think he and Christian had even stopped watching.

In G3 I got out Aberration after he cast Gaze of Granite for six, wiping the board. My horror was a 5/5, and he cast Killing Glare on it for five—but I told him (and both one of his teammates and Matt agreed, and I believed it myself) that Aberration’s power increased to six as a result of him casting the Glare, thus blanking the removal spell. I really thought that’s how it worked, because of similar stuff like a 2/3 Tarmogoyf + a Lightning Bolt (when no other instants are already in the ‘yard, of course).

But no: As I learned from Connor, with whom I later consulted to confirm that we were right about the interaction, a spell is on the stack and not in the graveyard as it is resolving. Thus, Aberration’s power did not actually increase to six, as Glare wasn’t yet in the ‘yard, and so X = 5 should have worked. If you dudes are out there reading this, I apologize. I honestly thought this was how it worked. 2-2 me, 2-2 team.

Judge Connor.

Judge Connor.

In round five we played these lads:

David, Daniel, and Joe.

David, Daniel, and Joe.

I lost in three to a super-aggro nearly mono-red deck. In G1 my guy dropped Riot Piker on T2 and burned out everything in its path before slapping Madcap Skills on it and then burning me out. In G2 I got Aberration online, and he did was he does, which is win games. G3 went very aggro for my opponent again, with Daring Skyjek punching through a bunch of damage. He burned me out with Cinder Elemental. 2-3 me, 3-2 team.

In round six we were paired up against these dudebros from Quebec City:

Marc, Kevin, and Frederique.

Marc, Kevin, and Frederique.

I was faced up against a really durdly deck, like mine, and our games were sort of comically interminable. Here’s an example of one ridiculously boring game state:



I mulled to five but won a long game on the back of Aetherling (who, as you might surmise from the above, didn’t really do a lot of getting drawn or cast on the day, and neither did Desecration Demon. In fact, I’m not sure I laid eyes on Demon after round three).

In G2 he mulled to five, but dropped Ral Zarek and Lobber Crew to mess me up (he ain’t pretty no more), killing two of my guys with Ral. I had Aetherling and Aberration in hand, but not enough to cast Aetherling with protection. After a couple key big opportunity mills from Undercity Informer—in response to removal, or out from under an Agoraphobia—I cast Aberration, which became a massive 14/14. On my opponent’s next turn, he taps out for Progenitor Mimic and bolts me with Ral, putting me to six life. So I untap and Grisly Spectacle his Mimic, milling eight cards from Spectacle’s power-mill, plus the Aberration’s own mill trigger, and swung in for approximately one billion damage, killing him from 18. DAMN. I don’t even remember exactly how big Aberration was when I swung, but he was massive. That was my favorite thing that happened all day, no doubt.

These two dudes were just straight-up passed on tables. Is this a Magic meme? Dudes with their faces lying precisely flat on a table? Let's come up with a clever name for it, like "tabling."

These two dudes were just straight-up passed out face-down on tables. Is this a Magic meme? Dudes with their faces lying precisely flat on a table? Let’s come up with a clever, Magic-related name for it. I propose “tabling.”

I’m pretty sure this was also the match wherein Matt and I had probably our best team interaction. Matt was seated to my left, and had been asking me small questions—to great effect, I think—all day. In this match Matt had Five-Alarm Fire on the table, alongside Armored Transport, Tajic, and I think Warmind Infantry. Matt had Sunhome Guildmage in hand, and his opponent was at something like ten life. Five-Alarm Fire was at five counters already. Matt’s opponent had a Gruul Ragebeast and a couple other inconsequential durdles/blockers. We made the decision to swing in with the team, in order to crank the Fire and clear out his opponent’s blockers. I don’t quite remember the blocks, but Ragebeast ended up with two damage on it. I argued for using the Fire to finish off the Ragebeast, instead of Matt’s opponent (as perhaps seemed more obvious) given that this meant we could safely cast Guildmage on this turn, and be able to once again trigger battalion next turn, by making a 1/1 hasty soldier. Matt ended up going with this line, which I think cleared his opponent’s board, and his opp. conceded soon after. 3-3 me, 4-2 team.

We were on a roll, with three wins in a row! Camaraderie and team spirits were at a high point, and we were feeling good. Also, of course I was thinking about GP Pittsburgh, where I’d started off 0-2 before winning out to make day two with an 8-2 record. We just had to win three more! Christian, who finished his R6 match early, ran back to my and Matt’s hotel room to wash the stink and failure of our previous losses off of him, and he came back freshly showered and ready to battle. He may also have set a landspeed record for showering in a hotel room that is not one’s own.

In round seven we faced these bronskis:

John, Andy, and Adam.

John, Andy, and Adam.

My opponent had a really sick Orzhov deck, with Merciless Eviction, metric fuck-tons of extort, High Priest of Penance, and two Stab Wounds. I took G1 off of him with Aetherling, but he got there in games two and three while Matt, with his effectively mono-red creatures, was being beaten down by Lavinia of the Tenth. Worst card ever for him. We all three got rolled this game—Christian particularly badly, as his opp. just had card after devastating card—and were officially dead, at 3-4 me, 4-3 team.

There was some talk of taking off at this point, as Christian’s buddies (and ride) were also dead, and wanted to get back to Cambridge, but I managed to keep us in it for at least round eight, wherein we faced this evil yet devastatingly attractive and hip team:

DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Mike, Rob, and Monique.

DANGER WILL ROBINSON! Mike, Rob, and Monique.

BAM! It’s always good to play friends in big events, especially when you are both already dead. (Jess, Dana, and Zach got paired up against Hugh, Jim, and Joe Shi in their first round out of the gate, earlier on Saturday, and lost. That’s less fun.)

I faced Rob in the middle for a rematch from the night before. I had total control in G1 and was about to mill him out on the following turn—but he swung in with a big army and had Chorus of Might for the win. I’m pretty sure that was the only card that could have done it, as I was not at a precariously low life total.

In G2 Rob got out millions of dudes (Trostani’s Summoner) and I was stuck on mana forever, with nothing but walls to keep me alive. He alpha-striked to kill me. Christian, meanwhile, rolled Mikey Scovazzo and headed back to Cambridge, while Matt beat his nemesis after some deep mind games from Monique. “He can only lose if he’s stupid,” I think I remember Scovazzo saying about Matt, as he considered Mo’s board and hand. 3-5 me, 5-3 team.

At that point we called it a night. After some back-of-the-envelope computations prior to round eight, I knew that with our last win I’d gotten within four points of the 750-Planeswalker-Point, two-bye level, which had been my goal, so there wasn’t much incentive to continuing to grind. (If I somehow end this season on 1450 or so points, aka some small amount shy of three byes, you people are definitely going to hear about it.)

Got there!

Got there!

Despite my early mana troubles and not seeing my bombs as often as I would have liked—and despite losing a lot—I had a really great time at the event. That’s where the team dynamic is pretty awesome—sure, I went 3-5, but my team did OK, at 5-3, and I was more concerned with this latter result. Sitting at our own personal table (with bottle service) all day was super fun, and I deem the VIP package worth it (it didn’t hurt that we accidentally got shipped an extra playmat and All Is Dust each, rather than just the one per man). And I had a really good time advising Matt on interesting play questions and decisions. Christian kept more to himself, only asking me a small question or two on the day, but he did well for himself, with I think the best personal record on the team.

Finally, I was really happy with how we worked as a group. During build time, we were efficient, clear, and got everything done. (This might have had something to do with the fact that fully four of our rares were unplayable, leaving less to argue about, but hey.) I think we built the best decks that we could, and we did it with plenty of time in which to register and check everything twice. As it turns out, our practice sessions had paid off.

Last but not least, on Sunday it was really cool to see these yahoos/friends of mine—

Eric "3P" Phillipps, Andy Longo, and Eric Berger: GP Providence champs!

Eric “3P” Phillipps, Andy Longo, and Eric Berger: GP Providence champs!

—go all the way, taking down the whole tournament after an epic 16-hour day on Sunday. Way to go, Berger, Longo, and Phillipps! I didn’t know this at the time, but it was actually Andy Longo’s first-ever day two. That’s a hell of a feeling. “I want that!” I texted Matt, after these dudes beat the super-team of Ben Stark, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza to secure their spot in the finals. “Get it,” Matt replied. Here’s hoping. GP Vegas, watch out! Rolex is on time.

Me and MJ on the way out of town.

Me and MJ on the way out of town.

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.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.