This week I have a special report from the first ever Theros limited grand prix, held in scenic Seattle Oklahoma City. Hipsters’ own Two Bye Crew of Dave, Hunter, Matt, and I made the trek to the heartland. Dave and I were none too excited to be wandering into enemy territory. Dave hails from Seattle and both he and I were students at the University of Washington in 2008 when the nascent Oklahoma City Thunder erupted from each of our hearts, Alien-style, and left a gaping hole where our beloved Sonics used to reside. The room keys at the Sheraton, where Matt and I stayed, proudly proclaimed, “We Are Thunder!” Indeed.

In addition to the Sonics pain, my beloved Atlanta braves lost their playoff series to the Dodgers during the weekend. Perhaps the bad sports karma worked against our team as well. Each of us played well in the Grand Prix but had just enough bad breaks to come up short of the 7-2 record needed to make day two. Dave, fittingly as a native Seattleite, was tortured the most. He started 6-0 with an impressive Blue/Black fliers deck, but finished 6-2-1 and ended up in 131st place, aka first place among those who failed to advance. Hunter was 6-3, while Matt and I were 5-4. Our collective record was 22-13-1. Sure, that counts our 8 byes, but we earned those byes so they count. I know I earned mine the hard way, by wining a Grand Prix Trial a few weeks ago at Kings Games.

gp hall

The night sky over Theros, as replicated by the tournament hall lights.

Hunter and I purchased the sleep-in special, while Dave and Matt chose to build with rest of the field. Here’s the pool I opened:

Brendan's Sealed Pool: White

(16)
Yoked Ox
Hopeful Eidolon
Setessan Battle Priest
Cavalry Pegasus
Traveling Philosopher
Wingsteed Rider
Scholar of Athreos
Silent Artisan
Chosen by Heliod
Last Breath
Ray of Dissolution
Gods Willing
Divine Verdict

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Blue

(13)
Vaporkin
Crackling Triton
Wavecrash Triton
Breaching Hippocamp
Prescient Chimera
Aqueous Form
Swan Song
Dissolve
Curse of the Swine
Griptide
Sea God’s Revenge

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Black

(16)
Tormented Hero
Fleshmad Steed
Returned Phalanx
Blood-Toll Harpy
Felhide Minotaur
Returned Centaur
Disciple of Phenax
Cavern Lampad
Keepsake Gorgon
Dark Betrayal
Scourgemark
Ordeal of Erebos
Read the Bones
March of the Returned
Sip of Hemlock

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Red

(14)
Akroan Crusader
Spearpoint Oread
Fanatic of Mogis
Spark Jolt
Titan’s Strength
Dragon Mantle
Messenger’s Speed
Magma Jet
Lightning Strike
Peak Eruption
Anger of the Gods
Portent of Betrayal

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Green

(11)
Sedge Scorpion
Satyr Hedonist
Nylea’s Disciple
Nylea’s Emissary
Staunch-Hearted Warrior
Nessian Asp
Hunt the Hunter
Commune with the Gods
Ordeal of Nylea

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Gold

(5)
Akroan Hoplite
Battlewise Hoplite
Triad of Fates
Pharika’s Mender
Sentry of the Underworld

Brendan's Sealed Pool: Colorless

(9)
Witches’ Eye
Bronze Sable
Prowler’s Helm
Fleetfeather Sandals
Opaline Unicorn
Akroan Horse
Colossus of Akros
Unknown Shores

Looking at my pool, I had a lot of powerful Blue and Red spells, but almost no creatures in either color. My Green creatures were quite good, and Black also looked strong with creatures and spells. White was mostly weak, but had Divine Verdict and the only artifact or enchantment removal in the pool, Ray of Dissolution, unless you count Swan Song. Along with those two spells, my gold cards provided some incentive to splash white. Sentry of the Underworld is quite strong and Triad of Fates can take over a game if it lives for a few turns. Add in Pharika’s Mender, and a green/black deck splashing white looked like my best option. I was tempted to splash Blue for the two Griptide and Sea God’s Revenge, but my white cards seemed too important. Likewise, I could splash some Red burn spells if I needed to kill small creatures, but that’s not the best way to splash. By the time I could reliably have Red mana, killing small creatures becomes less effective. On turn five Nessian Asp does as well as Lightning Strike in shutting down a Vaporkin. And if I splashed White, I got access to Scholar of Athreos, which is a great win condition in a grindy control deck. It proved to be quite strong in the tournament, although there’s not much value in running two copies. Here’s the deck I submitted, with relevant sideboard:

Grind My Junk

Creatures (17)
Sedge Scorpion
Fleshmad Steed
Returned Phalanx
Felhide Minotaur
Opaline Unicorn
Scholar of Athreos
Returned Centaur
Cavern Lampad
Nylea’s Disciple
Nylea’s Emissary
Triad of Fates
Keepsake Gorgon
Pharika’s Mender
Nessian Asp
Sentry of the Underworld

Spells (5)
Divine Verdict
Sip of Hemlock
Ray of Dissolution
Read the Bones
March of the Returned
Lands (18)
Forest
Swamp
Plains
Unknown Shores

Sideboard (16)
Dark Betrayal
Hunt the Hunter
Staunch-Hearted Warrior
Disciple of Phenax
Blood-Toll Harpy
Spearpoint Oread
Spark Jolt
Magma Jet
Lightning Strike
Griptide
Sea God’s Revenge
Prowler’s Helm
Fleetfeather Sandals

Overall I was pleased with my deck. It is a little short on removal for a control deck, but it is full of card advantage. Its main weakness is against armies of fliers, but can grind out other ground-based creature decks. Because I feel that Green/Black and Green/Red are the best decks in the format, I felt well-equipped for this slow and grindy format. I was sad I could not justify playing heavy Blue to use Curse of the Swine and Dissolve. So it goes.

I chose not to play Blood-Toll Harpy because it is better in an agressive deck. While it could trade with a Vaporkin, it is very weak to bounce if your opponent is putting on early pressure. I considered running Staunch-Hearted Warrior with my two ordeals, but that seemed too cute and inconsistent. I boarded in Disciple of Phenax against Blue decks, along with Dark Betrayal and Hunt the Hunter against Black and Green decks.

On to the games!

Round Three - Ben

Round Three, Ben Wiley playing Green/Black

I was pleased to start off round three against Ben playing Green/Black. Ben was a great opponent who played well, but my deck was made to win the mirror match. Sure enough, it did. Game one we joked as we played out the same lands and early drops. We traded off resources early. Eventually we ended up in a race, with his bestowed ground creatures against my Sentry of the Underworld bestowed with Nylea’s Emissary. I was able to hold Sip of Hemlock as I passed the turn with ten life to his four. He played Arbor Colossus and passed, which I poisoned before swinging for lethal in the air.

Game two, Ben stumbled on land. I drew both my sideboard cards, Hunt the Hunter and Dark Betrayal in my opening hand. These proved perfect to apply early pressure. After he played Voyaging Satyr, I was able to eat it with Hunt the Hunter on my Sedge Scorpion and then swing for three. Then his Blood-Toll Harpy ate my Dark Betrayal. Next turn I bestowed my Scorpion with Cavern Lampad and beat in. After Ben cast Read the Bones to dig for answers, his life was low enough that Scholar of Athreos and Sip of Hemlock sealed the deal. Ben had been able to drop a Whip of Erebos but he couldn’t draw enough lands or creatures to put up a fight. I won the match 2-0, bringing my match record to 3-0.

gpokc r4 conley

Round 4, Conley Woods playing Blue/Black

When the pairings went up for round four, I was excited to see I was playing the great Conley Woods. I’ve played a couple pro-level players before but never a big name member of team Channel Fireball. Conley was playing Blue/Black. Game one we jostled for position early, while he used Disciple of Phenax to get ahead on cards. He was up on life, 16 to 11, when he played a devastating Gray Merchant of Asphodel with devotion of six. With the life totals now 22 to six, the game was over quickly.

Game two I brought in Dark Betrayal and Disciple of Phenax, taking out Fleshmad Steed and Returned Phalanx. I was able to play a long game and grind out card advantage with March of the Returned and Pharika’s Mender. At one point I cast Disciple of Phenax with devotion of three while Conley had four cards in hand. He showed me Baleful Eidolon and two Griptides. Eidolon is much better against me than Griptide, which I can play around. So I took the Eidolon. Eventually I was able to beat down with Nessian Asp and Nylea’s Disciple for the win.

Game three was another long grind. I played a Triad of Fates and it never left the battlefield. Sure enough, I was able to win. When Conley played his fourth land, he asked me how many cards I had in hand. I knew that meant he had Disciple of Phenax, so I held a swamp in hand to make sure I could protect my best cards whenever he chose to cast it to make me discard. With my life at eight and Conley’s at 12, I bestowed Cavern Lampad on Nessian Asp and swung for six unblockable damage and passed the turn. I had put fate counters on my Nylea’s Disciple and his Thassa’s Emissary, so I could blink either with the Fates as necessary. Conley had two cards in hand, and he activated his Returned Phalanx and swung in with it, the blue emissary, and a Prescient Chimera. I tanked on my blocks because he had three devotion to black on board and did not want to go to five life and then die to a post-combat Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I ended up choosing to block his Phalanx with my Nylea’s Disciple so they would trade and reduce his black devotion, then blink the emissary with Triad of Fates to remove it from combat and prevent him from drawing a card. I took three from the Chimera, dropped to five, but Conley only had enough black devotion to drain me for four. It turns out he had only lands, and I was able to swing my intimidating two-headed snake in for the last six damage and win.

I felt very proud to win this game, and was now excited about my prospects as the 2-1 win improved my match record to 4-0.

gpokc r5 bones

Round 5, Dave McCoy playing Blue/Black

Round five I was paired against Hipsters’ own Dave McCoy. We had just been comparing decks and talking strategy, so he knew I was on grindy Junk and I knew he was on Blue/Black fliers. I was not excited to face down his Abhorrent Overlord and Prognostic Sphinx, but I felt I could probably dig out late-game wins. Instead, Dave went all aggro on me. Game one, he curved Vaporkin into Blood-Toll Harpy, with Griptide for my Nessian Asp. I died.

Game two, he got out a little slower, but turn three still had Blood-Toll Harpy to start the beats. When I finally stabilized the board, he dropped Sea God’s Revenge. I wept, and I died again. At least someone on the team improved to 5-0, but I dropped to 4-1.

gpokc r6 efro

Round 6, Eric Froehlich playing Blue/Black

My reward for picking up the first loss was a feature match against Eric Froehlich. Wow! You can watch a bit of it on coverage here. The end of our game one is on air at the ten minute mark, and the end of our game two shows up at the very end of the video. For some reason they focused on Ben Stark battling Shuuhei Nakamura instead. It was amazing to sit at the same table as three of the top-ten ranked Magic players in the world. I tried not to resign myself to a second loss, but I was definitely not favored here.

Efro was also playing Blue/Black, which would prove to be my nemesis deck for the tournament. Game one, he played two Vaporkin and pounded away. At the end of his turn I was able to use Triad of Fates and put a fate counter on my Pharika’s Mender, which I needed to blink to get back the Nessian Asp Efro had made me discard earlier with Disciple of Phenax. In response, Efro killed my Opaline Unicorn. That was my only source of white, so I would lose the ability to blink. Naturally, I immediately peeled Unknown Shores. Instead of shuffling it into my hand, I slammed it like a Bonfire, just in case I could tilt Efro a little. So I blinked my Mender and got back the Asp. If you watch the video, you can see me play the Asp and pass the turn. That’s when Efro goes Magma Jet you, untaps and plays Gray Merchant of Asphodel for the win.

Game two started with Efro casting Thoughtseize. I had a good hand, but the ability to plan the game was a huge benefit to Efro. Overall he played brilliantly, seeing that he was the beatdown in the matchup and playing accordingly. A funny moment happened when Efro cast Disciple of Phenax. I had two cards in hand, and he knew one of them was Dark Betrayal. I had three mana up, which I wanted to use to drain a life with Scholar of Athreos. So instead of casting Dark Betrayal to kill his Disciple while the discard effect was on the stack (which would have dropped his devotion to zero and saved my last card, which was a land), I tossed the removal spell in the yard. Right after doing that, I asked Efro if I could have cast it to kill his Disciple in response. He said, “yes, you could have.” So I took the opportunity to ask if I could take it back and cast it instead of discarding, just for whatever value I could get. He of course said no, and then said he hoped I would have cast it instead of draining with the Scholar. The only real disadvantage to keeping the Disciple alive was increasing his devotion for the inevitable Gray Merchant.

If you watch the end of the match, Efro has a Vaporkin and a monstrous Sealock Monster threatening to swing for 10 damage. I was at 12 life on my turn, and I played Triad of Fates, tapping my Opaline Unicorn for the white mana. That left my only blockers the Triad and Scholar of Athreos, both of which I really needed to keep alive if I had any hope of stabilizing and coming back to win. Thus, when he swings in with his big sea monster the next turn. I chose not to chump block, instead taking 10 damage and dropping to two life. I knew I was dead to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which he then played for the win, but I felt I had no choice but to hope he didn’t have it and untap and chump block while I get the Triad active and use excess mana to drain life. Alas, it was not to be. I lost 0-2 and dropped to 4-2 in matches.

gpokc r7 zach

Round 7, Zach playing RUG

Round seven I played the elimination match against Zach and his fantastic rainbow unicorn sleeves. Game one, we did mulligans a minute before they let us start playing the round, and Zach made it clear he kept a loose seven. Thus, I knew he was short on lands when he cast Magma Jet targeting me at the end of my second turn, and then bottomed both. He missed his third land drop, and I was able to apply pressure and win. I cast Returned Centaur and milled him, seeing Steam Augury, Nimbus Naiad, and a couple other cards, so I knew he was running blue as well.

Game two, Zach played turn four Ember Swallower and turn five bestowed it with Nimbus Naiad. I did not live long.

Game three, I was stuck on lands and missed my third land drop. Then he played Akroan Horse, which threatened to prevent me from racing my ground beaters against his fliers. I was able to drop Triad of Fates once I got my fourth land, and I was looking forward to using the black ability to exile the Horse and draw two cards. But Zach had the removal spell. He followed that up with Demolish on my Unknown Shores, which was a strong sideboard move considering how powerful my splash cards were. The rest of the game I was just short on lands and could never compete with his threats. I was able to hit my fifth land the turn before he hit his seventh, which allowed me to kill his Ember Swallower with Sip of Hemlock (aided by my unicorn), which averted the certain doom that would have followed from Zach monstifying the Swallower. But I still was short and succumbed to his multiple fliers. Losing 1-2, I dropped to 4-3 in matches as was eliminated from day two.

gpokc r8 scott

Round 8, Scott playing WURG

I decided to play out the last two rounds because my deck was fun and I could use the planeswalker points. Round eight I met up with Scott Gerhardt. As you can see from his shirt and playmat, Scott makes videos of his matches with a chest camera and posts them on his site The Gamer’s Dome. Scott is playing this weekend at Pro Tour Theros in Dublin, but after he gets back he will load the video of our match and you can watch it there. Go check it out! He told me he had forgotten to drop before the round, and lamented being 4-3 after starting with three byes. Scott has been on quite a heater, with top 25 finishes at both GPs Vegas and Oakland, and a PTQ win. I relayed my absolutely horrible run in Theros limited prior to the GP and hoped I was on the upswing. I wished him luck in Dublin and then continued his downswing by winning a great three-game match. He was playing a messy four-color deck featuring Arbor Colossus, Medomai the Ageless, and two Spellheart Chimera, made possible with two scry lands, Voyaging Satyr and Sylvan Caryatid.

Game one, Scott played turn two Vaporkin and I commented that I had lost more life to that card than any other. I was able to get down a Sentry of the Underworld to stabilize the air, when he played Medomai the Ageless. Next turn he swung with the timewalking sphinx plus Vaporkin and said, “I think I know who you’ll block.” I actually chose to block and kill the Vaporkin, letting Medomai hit me and give Scott another turn. He hadn’t done much on his turns anyway, and I was at 18 life, so I figured it was better to get rid of the Vaporkin. It didn’t seem very good to block Medomai and regenerate, for three life, and then my Sentry would be tapped leaving the board open for his 2/1 flier to hit me again. When it was finally my turn again, I bestowed the Sentry with Nylea’s Emissary and went on to win. Those cards work pretty well together.

Game two Scott played a pair of Spellheart Chimera. He only had one instant or sorcery in his yard, and I was able to get ahead. But I could tell he had a big play because when I was at 14 he asked my life total and spent a while counting. One of his Chimera has an Ordeal of Purphoros and two counters, so I asked him if he had Dauntless Onslaught. Sure enough, he did. Fourteen damage later, I was dead.

Game three, Scott played mana creatures into a turn four Arbor Colossus. Then on turn five he bestowed it with Hopeful Eidolon and swung for seven lifelink damage. I was in a bad spot. After two hits, the life totals were 31 to six. That’s when I went into super grind it out mode, and I refused to lose. Earlier I had played out Cavern Lampad so I could start getting in a little damage. Then I cast Sip of Hemlock at his 7/7, and he Griptided it back on top of his library in response. I was happy to see that. Eventually, I got Scholar of Athreos on board along with a monstrous Nessian Asp. That was enough to hold off his now-monstrous Arbor Colossus (which had no fliers to kill). Then I proceeded to slowly win the game by attacking for two intimidate and holding up nine mana to drain three with scholar each turn. I kept drawing good cards, including Divine Verdict to protect me if anything went crazy, but I never cast another spell as I drained for the win. It was incredible and a match I was very proud to win 2-1. Now I was 5-3 and could play for a 6-3 finish.

gpokc r9 ian

Round 9, Ian playing Blue/Black

Round nine, I once again faced Blue/Black, piloted by Ian. Game one, he played turn three Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. That card destroys my deck, and sure enough it did here. He kept +2ing Ashiok, hitting a bunch of my awesome creatures. I kept attacking, keeping Ashiok low on loyalty, but never able to kill it. When my library got down to five cards, I scooped. Ian admired the many great cards in my deck. Game two we got in a fliers vs ground beaters race. I was able to hit him down to six and then play a Nessian Asp. Ian had a Horizon Scholar and a bestowed 3-power flier. I was also at four life, so Ian needed to find a way to get in one more damage, or deal with my Asp. I passed and Ian cast Read the Bones, dropping to four. He bottomed both, but in the next two cards he drew a Blood-Toll Harpy, dropping me to three life. He swung in with his two fliers, and my Asp was insufficient to keep me alive. Just like that, I lost 0-2 and my Grand Prix was over with a match record of 5-4.

Overall, I thought I played well. I was surprised to play Blue decks in every round from four through nine. I still think Green is the best color, and I was somewhat unlucky to run into so many Vaporkin decks. Regardless, it was an awesome GP! I went 1-1 against members of team Channel Fireball, got my first feature match, and had a great time with Dave, Hunter, and Matt. I can’t wait to run it back in Theros sealed at Grand Prix Toronto in November.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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