Dateline Sacramento. Saturday night. I went 7-2 in the sealed and have a spot in the day two drafts the next morning. Day one finished around 9:00 (which was fantastic, and the GP was run exceptionally well overall) so I went back to my hotel and had a nice light dinner in the lobby steakhouse.

GP salmon

No merfolk were harmed in the creation of this fine meal.

As I went to sleep Saturday night, I dreamt about my favorite decks to draft. My sleep was nightmare free, and oddly enough, all of my previous Theros drafts and sealed decks had also been nightmare free—no Ashiok, Nightmare Weavers. What does it take for a crafty dimir mage to open our ally planeswalker? Sunday morning would be a good time to show up, buddy. The only other card in Theros I had yet to play with was Stormbreath Dragon. I’d prefer Ashiok, but Ivan Drago is welcome too.

I hate waking up early in the morning, but for day two I was ready to go! After the epic struggle to navigate the day one sea of thousands with a random sealed deck, the Grand Prix hall is serene on Sunday morning. I remembered this from GP Toronto, where I accompanied Matt Jones to his first Sunday drafts. Sitting among the day two competitors you feel special. Draft lover’s paradise! I was at home.

Draft One

This was my first called draft, and I couldn’t wait. It’s so exciting. The rhythm is peaceful. Stacking ziggurats of cards to your left and right: ritualistic, invigorating. Five four three. “You should have twelve cards.” I opened my first pack and scanned through. Aha! What’s this? My very own stamped Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver???

robocops

I’ll buy that for a dollar! Again!

I’m stoked. A first pick does not a full draft deck make, but it’s a start. I was immediately passed a pack with Thoughtseize and Voyage’s End. This is a tough pick for blue-black, and in a competitive setting the usual “take the $20 card” factor doesn’t hold much weight. But Thoughtseize is quite good in Theros limited. Some people view it as a sideboard limited card, but I will run Thoughtseize main deck all day long. Both cards can “answer” an early ordeal. I took the rare and hoped to pick up the common later.

The rest of pack one went OK. I got an Insatiable Harpy, a fourth pick Voyage’s End (see!), a Returned Phalanx, and some on-color filler. Black didn’t seem super open, but I had a solid start.

Pack two Istarted with Keepsake Gorgon into Nighthowler. The strong early picks were working for me at least. The rest of pack two was also OK but not amazing. Two Prescient Chimera were the best of the rest.

Going into pack three, I am looking for some removal, a Baleful Eidolon, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I got Sip of Hemlock followed by Thassa, God of the Sea. Thassa won’t go active as a creature very much (two Prescient Chimera notwithstanding) but in a deck that wants to go long, scrying each upkeep is fantastic. Plus, Thassa can make Nighthowler unblockable.

I was able to fill out my deck in pack three: Read the Bones, two Dark Betrayals, a second Returned Phalanx, filler, plus a late Psychic Intrusion that could be spicy out of the board. The Dark Betrayals were nice as it was clear black was heavily drafted at the table.  I never saw a Gray Merchant.

Here’s what I built:

GP Sac Draft one deck

All dreams are welcome here! (real slogan from my alma mater c. 2001)

Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Creatures (15)
Omenspeaker
Returned Phalanx
Mogis’s Marauder
Opaline Unicorn
Blood-Toll Harpy
Thassa, God of the Sea
Nighthowler
Cavern Lampad
Returned Centaur
Insatiable Harpy
Keepsake Gorgon
Prescient Chimera

Spells (7)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Thoughtseize
Voyage’s End
Viper’s Kiss
Sip of Hemlock
Read the Bones
Annul
Lands (18)
10 Swamp
Island

Sideboard (20)
Dark Betrayal
Triton Tactics
Stymied Hopes
Psychic Intrusion
Fate Foretold
Mnemonic Wall
Cutthroat Maneuver
Triad of Fates
Scholar of Athreos
Triton Shorethief
Bronze Sable
Tymaret, the Murder King
Spellheart Chimera
Nylea’s Presence
Karametra’s Acolyte
Savage Surge
Commune with the Gods
Borderland Minotaur
Deathbellow Raider

Not the best creature suite, but good early defense and a few super-powerful cards. I left Triton Tactics in the board because it’s just a conditional Frost Breath in my deck.

Round Ten—Tanner Gaede playing Esper (UWB)

Here we go! Game one I looked at a hand with one land and dutifully mulled to six cards. My opponent led with turn three Wingsteed Rider into turn four Hopeful Eidolon. If I knew it was going to be that kind of party, well, you know. I managed to stretch the game out quite a bit, taking my opponent’s life total of a revolving tour of the twenties while I slowly died. When my opponent gets off to a powerful start in game one of a match, and locks up victory in the early turns, I like to make them work to finish me off. Let them know I’m bringing it for three games.

Game two I again mulled to six cards. This time, however, my opponent didn’t do much early. I played Prescient Chimeras on turns five and six. A few attack steps later, we were off to game three. My opponent mulls to six. I look at my opening seven: Island, Island, Omenspeaker, Omenspeaker, Ashiok, I Forget, and Who Cares. Keepable hand. My opponent then mulls to five. As he’s shuffling, someone comes over and (with a hint of surprise) says to him, “oh, you made it to day two!” Your friend is about to get his nightmares weaved, dude. Let him have a moment alone. Omenspeaker finds a swamp, and just like that I win my first professional draft match.

8-2 in matches.

Round Eleven—Craig Johnson playing Green Black

Game one I played turn three Ashiok and proceeded to exile 14 creatures from Craig’s deck with six Ashiok activations. Among them were three Gray Merchants, Nessian Asp, Reaper of the Wilds, Disciple of Phenax, various Harpies, Leafcrown Dryad, Vulpine Goliath, etc etc. So that’s who got all the good black creatures.

The Dark Betrayals came in obviously. I also brought in Psychic Intrusion, as I figured the game would go long as I would be happy to play pretty much any of the cards in Craig’s deck.

In game two, I had a turn three Thassa. Craig got early beatdown going, but on turn six Thassa scryed into Ashiok. From this point, I spent a number of turns plusing Ashiok (exiling many less creatures than in game one) and trying to keep Ashiok and myself alive. We traded a lot of creatures in combat. I certainly led Craig to believe that decking with Ashiok was my planned route to victory, so he continued to keep it in check (generally at 5 loyalty) while he hoped to draw into Gray Merchants to kill me. Ashiok only exiled one of the three. At the key turn, I was at 7 life with only Ashiok and Thassa on board. Craig had a couple two-power creatures. Ashiok was again at 5 loyalty.

I had the feeling that Craig would just attack me, ignoring Ashiok, and then drop Gray Merchant to end the game, so for the first time ever I used Ashiok’s minus ability, playing a Leafcrown Dryad to block. Craig had 12 cards in his library. I still had Returned Centaur in my deck to speed that process up if necessary, but I also had Nighthowler to draw. With Thassa scrying away, it was only a matter of time. Craig was around 23 life, and Nighthowler would be around 15/15. Two unblockable hits would end the game out of nowhere, and Craig would never see it coming.

After playing the Leafcrown Dryad, Craig used Pharika’s Cure to kill it, then attacked Ashiok with both creatures and got it off the board. But then I drew and played Returned Centaur, milling him some more and solidfying my ground defense. Craig played a Gray Merchant, dropping me to two life. I then drew and played Insatiable Harpy, which traded off and gained me back to four life. He had six cards left in his library, one of which was the final Gray Merchant. I drew my Psychic Intrusion, took the Dark Betrayal out of Craig’s graveyard and killed his Gray Merchant to take him down to zero devotion. Then I drew Nighthowler and won in two attacks. Thassa, baby. Thassa. I scryed so much.

9-2 in matches!

Round Twelve—Greg Purpura playing Blue Green

Greg had a great blue-green tempo deck with Prophet of Kruphix. Game one he played a turn three Nimbus Naiad, then put Ordeal of Thassa on it, popped the ordeal, and then played a Horizon Chimera. I didn’t have answers and I lost.

Game two was closer, but Greg had Artisan’s Sorrow to kill the Nighthowler I had bestowed on Insatiable Harpy. Then he untapped and played Prophet of Kruphix. I extended the hand and congratulated him on taking down our 7-2 bubble draft pod. We chatted a bit about the draft and our decks, and I wished him luck in going 6-0 and maybe making top 8. In the end, Greg did go 6-0. He ended up in tenth. No top 8, but a pro tour invite for being 13-2. Great result for a really nice guy!

9-3 in matches. I was hoping to 3-0, but I was still on track to place in the money with a solid second draft.

Draft Two

As we waited around draft table 13 to start opening packs, we all thought about the stakes. Some of us would cash this event and others would not. Spoiler alert—I would not.

GP Sac draft pod 2

What a beautiful sight!

My first pack was weak. I took Dauntless Onslaught. Next I was passed Daxos of Meletis, then Observant Alseid. I took these cards. The packs seemed thin, and I didn’t think blue-white heroic was very open, but both Wavecrash Triton and Chosen by Heliod wheeled from my first pack. That made me think I would be OK if I stuck it out and got some better packs to pick from.

Pack two, I opened Prophet of Kruphix and Battlewise Hoplite. Prophet is one of the best rares in the set, but you need to have a strong blue-green tempo deck to take advantage of her. I knew most of my strong cards from pack one were white, and that if I jumped for blue-green, I would be almost starting from scratch. B-Hops, on the other hand, is exactly what I want, so I took it and shipped the Prophet to my right. And then the rest of the draft was a total disaster. Pack three I opened Anax and Cymede and Wingsteed Rider. So close and yet again so far on the gold rares. Wingsteed is a fantastic card, but I didn’t get much more.

This is what I built.

GP Sac draft two

Well that leaves a lot to be desired.

Jar of Flies

Creatures (16)
Favored Hoplite
Battlewise Hoplite
Traveling Philosopher
Cavalry Pegasus
Omenspeaker
Daxos of Meletis
Wingsteed Rider
Wavecrash Triton
Triton Fortune Hunter
Observant Alseid
Lagonna-Band Elder
Breaching Hippocamp
Prescient Chimera

Spells (7)
Dauntless Onslaught
Divine Verdict
Last Breath
Aqueous Form
Stymied Hopes
Lost in a Labyrinth
Lands (17)
Plains
Island

Sideboard (19)
Sealock Monster
Ephara’s Warden
Anvilwrought Raptor
Setessan Battle Priest
Mnemonic Wall
Yoked Ox
Guardians of Meletis
Glare of Heresy
Annul
Lost in a Labyrinth
Stymied Hopes
Vanquish the Foul
Traveler’s Amulet
Psychic Intrusion
Agent of Horizons
Two-Headed Cerberus
Defend the Hearth
Demolish

It’s about four cards short of being solid. Those four cards being Voyage’s End, Ordeal of Thassa, Hopeful Eidolon, and Thassa’s Emissary. At this point I hoped that the entire draft pool was as mediocre as it seemed to me. I’m still not sure if I screwed up my draft, if I was in a horrible seat, or what. But you go to battle with what you have. Three more rounds, and I can cash if I win two of them.

I probably should have put the second Lost in a Labyrinth in the main deck so I could have some way to use my Wavecrash Tritons. Last Breath is pretty horrible in a weak aggressive deck, as the four life is a big deal, but I figured it could enable heroic in a pinch. Lost in a Labyrinth probably does it better, though. How much does my deck have to suck for this to be an actual conversation? Oof.

Round Thirteen—Anonymous playing Blue Green

I am not going to mention my opponent’s name because I believe he cheated me out of game three. I’d like to know what you think about it and what I should have done differently.

We split the first two games. Game one I was able to break the stalemate after we both hit a patch of lands midgame, thanks to Aqueous Form, B-Hops and Observant Alseid. In the second, I never drew a fourth land and my opponent cast a Shipbreaker Kraken.

And here’s where my tournament went off the rails. Game three opponent mulled to five. I had a solid hand with Daxos on the play. On turn two, opponent played Omenspeaker, which I followed with turn three Daxos. We talked about how Omenspeaker was a great card for him in this spot. I played a Wavecrash Triton turn four, and he played Thassa’s Emissary and passed it back to me.

I have an Observant Alseid in hand. Before I play it, opponent says something about how I need to trigger my Wavecrash Triton so I can get in with Daxos. Obviously, that is what I do, bestowing the Triton, tapping the Omenspeaker, and swinging with both. His Emissary can’t block Daxos and doesn’t want to block the 3/6 Triton. The Daxos trigger happens, and opponent reveals Shipbreaker Kraken off the top. I gain six life. We chat a bit about how Daxos works, and I joke that I can never cast the Kraken but I’m just fine keeping it exiled. I pass the turn.

Opponent untaps. Everything. Including the Omenspeaker. For whatever reason, I don’t notice. (Perhaps the distracting banter about how Daxos works.) At this point, a judge sits down to watch our game. (It was late in the round and judges watch the remaining matches at professional rules enforcement level.) The judge didn’t see the previous turn and didn’t know that Omenspeaker should have stayed tapped off the Triton heroic ability. Opponent plays out his turn (doing nothing) and passes. I go to attack, and have a weird feeling that I should be able to get in with Daxos but the stupid Omenspeaker is in the way. I say something along the lines of “stupid Omenspeaker” and attack with only the Triton. Something feels wrong but I don’t know what. I pass the turn. My opponent draws a Staunch-Hearted Warrior and plays it. He once again passes the turn (having no good attacks and not much in hand off his mull to five). At this point I realize what happened, and I say “wait, shouldn’t the Omenspeaker have been tapped last turn?” My opponent says something like “oh, yeah.” So I ask the judge at our table.

The judge gave my opponent a game rule violation and me a warning for failure to maintain the game state, then asked my opponent if he had any previous rule violations in the tournament. My opponent said yes, and hedged about what it was, suggesting it was just a failure to maintain warning. When the judge dug deeper, my opponent explained in detail and said might have been a rule violation. I was really suspicious at this point. The judge went off to check with the scoring table. When he came back, the judge confirmed it was my opponent’s second rule violation, and that a third would disqualify him. I asked if we could back up or do anything about it, and he said no. And we proceeded with the game. Opponent started bestowing the Staunch-Hearted Warrior (which I should have drawn and played off Daxos!) and eventually overpowers me to win the match.

Maybe I win if I get the SHW in play (and gain four life) and maybe I don’t. But there is no way my opponent totally forgot that the Omenspeaker should have stayed tapped. It’s one thing to accidentally untap, but at some point he must have realized it before I did, if it wasn’t his plan all along to angle-shoot me on his mull to five in a game that could decide who wins cash from our pod. My memory may be spotty. I am certainly biased. In the moment I was unsure what to think. But I am close to certain that I was deliberately cheated. I felt that way pretty much within minutes of losing this match, as I relayed the details to friends back east via text and email. Thinking about it and discussing further over the last week, my opinion remains the same.

What should I have done? Obviously, I should have remembered that Wavecrash Triton locked down Omenspeaker, and at least figured it out when I went to attack and wondered why I couldn’t get Daxos in. But should I have appealed to the head judge? Tell the judges that I think my opponent is cheating? Ask permission to walk away from the table to gather my thoughts? Live and learn. Live. And. Learn.

9-4 in matches.

Round Fourteen—Andrew Murch playing Red Green

Andrew and I had a funny battle of bad decks. Game one I flooded but was able to successfully bluff Divine Verdict. Andrew continued not to attack with his Ill-Tempered Cyclops. Eventually I drew the Divine Verdict. Then I made an attack, he used a combat trick, and I could have gotten value off the Verdict, but if I did I was just dead to the Cyclops in two turns. So I chose not to use Verdict, hoping he would then decide to stop playing around it, and let me kill the Cyclops. That is what happened. But I continued to draw lands and lost a few turns later.

Game two I played turn three Daxos. Turn four I did not have another land to play, but I cast Aqueous Form on Daxos to get past Andrew’s Spearpoint Oread. Daxos flipped over Voyaging Satyr. Best Daxos flip ever! I cast it with my remaining two mana, and used the Satyr to power through my lack of lands and win the game.

Game three the only relevant spell I cast was Last Breath, to kill a Two-Headed Cerberus enchanted with Dragon Mantle, after it had hit me for 8. I lost.

9-5 in matches. Out of the money. Just playing for pride.

Round Fifteen—Kevin Nguyen playing White Black

This was the “can I get a win” match of futility. Kevin was fun to play, but this was a painful match for me. I’ll let my lifepad tell the story. M is me, Y is you, aka the opponent.

GP Sac r15

You can see the moment where my heart breaks in half…right…here…

My notes for game two say “flood plus Gray Merchant.” For game three (some of this is cut off): “drew so many bad cards, died to a bunch of Tormented Hero triggers.” What a way to go out. You can see the 4-3-2 vs. 6-7-8 and 3-2 vs. 5-6 dance there at the end. I absolutely should have boarded in my second Lost in a Labyrinth for this matchup even if I was correct not to play both maindeck. How sad is that?

9-6 in matches. I ended up in 161st place. That’s top ten percent! Here’s a shot of the final standings for the 9-6 range, taken during the top 8 draft. Apparently I lost a place later on.

Gp Sac standings

At least I’m on the paper.

After sitting in my seat at the end of round 15 for at least twenty minutes, slowly desleeving my deck, I went to eat sushi and decompress. I had rebooked my flight to leave at 11pm (direct from Sacramento to JFK on JetBlue, aka best flight ever) so I had some time. This is what I ate.

GP sac chirashi

CHIRASHI RECHARGE!!!

The fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks (yay!) and the San Francisco 49ers (boo!) was on the TVs in the sushi bar. Most people were for the 49ers. I enjoyed watching the Hawks pull it out while eating fish.

At some point I got over the sadness of ending the GP on an 0-4 skid. Then I walked back to the GP hall. Tom Martell was playing a game in the top 8. It turned out to be the quarterfinals. Over an hour later, when I left to go catch my ride to the airport, Tom was still playing. I think it was the semifinals by then. At some point before my flight took off, Tom won. Maybe now Channel Fireball will make him a new token based on Scholar of Athreos. Or maybe Matt Jones will make me a token based on the lady in black and white. Best card ever. (ps. I finally figured out that those glowing round things in her art are coins!)

How do I feel? Great! At the end of GP Toronto, when I went 6-3 with a bad sealed pool, I felt great because I knew I could do better. And so I feel now. Going 2-4 in day two drafts is a disappointing result, but I know I can do better. See you in Montreal!

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) 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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