I arrived in the convention center Sunday morning with an 8-1 record, ready to draft at table five. This is the story of my second day at Grand Prix Montreal.

The first draft of the day was really interesting. My table was on the cusp of the 8-1 players and the 7-1-1 players. This meant the players with the worst tiebreakers from 8-1 (like me) were in the pod. It turned out some of the others were really inexperienced with the format and had never done a called draft. The signals were all over the place, and I think it was because the first-time day-two-ers in my pod had a hard time not being able to look at their picks while drafting. Just a theory, but I was between drafters who didn’t know to stack the cards so I could count them, and I was chasing after colors all draft. I’m not experienced enough myself to know if this is a real thing that happens, but it sure seemed that way to me.

In pack one, I snapped up all the powerful cards I could, which included late picks of Fated Intervention and Fate Unraveler. The pack I opened had Mogis, God of Slaughter and Bolt of Keranos in it, and I chose to pick Ghostblade Eidolon rather than take the bolt and risk shipping a Mogis into an eager drafter to my left. But I also got some powerful blue cards, in Sudden Storm (which is generally strong) and Whelming Wave, which is situationally strong. Going into pack two I was open to what came.

My old friend Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is what came when I opened pack two. Blue black didn’t seem super open in the first pack, but Ashiok is so powerful that I wanted to give it a try. I passed some good green and green-blue cards, but I was able to pick up enough strong black cards to make it a possibility. And then the strong green came back late. My last three picks of pack two were Voyaging Satyr and two Horizon Chimera. Crazy, right? I took them and thought maybe some sort of deck would come together between those two colors and black. I picked up cards for the various colors throughout pack three.

In the end, I drafted two separate decks. I tried combining them, but it ended up breaking down like this:

Blue Black Deck One

Creatures (13)
Shipwreck Singer
Baleful Eidolon
Blood-Toll Harpy
Pillar of War
Wavecrash Triton
Burnished Hart
Scholar of Athreos
Nimbus Naiad
Breaching Hippocamp
Fate Unraveler
Returned Centaur
Thassa’s Emissary

Spells (9)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Sip of Hemlock
Sea God’s Revenge
Whelming Wave
Sudden Storm
Dissolve
Viper’s Kiss
Fate Foretold
Stratus Walk
Lands (18)
Island
Swamp
Plains

Sideboard (4)
Ghostblade Eidolon
Dawn to Dusk
Borderland Minotaur
Pyxis of Pandemonium

Blue Green Deck Two

Creatures (15)
Sedge Scorpion
Voyaging Satyr
Agent of Horizons
Wavecrash Triton
Burnished Hart
Pillar of War
Nimbus Naiad
Pheres-Band Tromper
Horizon Chimera
Nylea’s Disciple
Graverobber Spider
Breaching Hippocamp
Thassa’s Emissary
Pheres-Band Centaurs

Spells (8)
Fated Intervention
Sea God’s Revenge
Sudden Storm
Dissolve
Fate Foretold
Stratus Walk
Nylea’s Presence
Lands (17)
10 Forest
Island

Sideboard (4)
Satyr Wayfinder
Aspect of Hydra
Charging Badger

Drafting two separate decks is weird and rare, but both looked strong in different matchups. I decided to go with blue-black control and delay, backed up by Ashiok and a splashed Scholar of Athreos, along with Fate Unraveler. If that deck didn’t seem like it could win a specific matchup, I could sideboard into blue-green tempo beats. That deck would probably do even better if my opponent sideboarded against my Ashiok deck and didn’t see the second deck coming. People sideboard into a second deck in sealed, but it is hard to make that work in draft and the unexpected has special power. It came together for me because the core bluecards I had were so powerful, and the tempo/bounce spells offered powerful resilience when combined with Ashiok. Most of the time the green cards work better with the Sudden Storm and Sea God’s Revenge strategy, but the Ashiok strategy is less expected and harder to answer. So I went with it to start. I may also have been half asleep.

On to the matches.

Round Ten—Steve Patelakis playing Green Red Beats

I was still drowsy for this match. I am not a morning person. For example, I put Stratus Walk on my Thassa’s Emissary and attacked into a Staunch-Hearted Warrior bestowed with Leafcrown Dryad. Oops. I would never do that at 8:00 pm. In game one I almost milled my opponent with Returned Centaurs (doubled up by Whelming Wave) but flooded and eventually died. I decided that my Ashiok deck was strong for the matchup, given how close I came to winning despite my bad play and mana flood.

pokey

The sleepy little Brendan.

Game two I got Ashiok going, which bought a lot of time while I deployed the fliers that won the game. In the decided, Steve got stuck on two lands, forcing him to play three straight Leafcrown Dryads into my active Shipwreck Singer. Haumph! 9-1 in matches.

Round Eleven—Maxime Dore playing Green Black Ordeals

Maxime was on quite a hot streak. He told me he had only drafted the format once, and that he only knew to take Keepsake Gorgon because he read an article the night before. I don’t think he was kidding either. Anyway, here’s how game one went. I played Ashiok on turn three into his Nyxborn Eidolon. He then put Feral Invocation on it and attacked Ashiok to one loyalty. I had a Breaching Hippocamp so I passed. When I flashed in the 3/2 to block his 4/3, he had Bile Blight before blocks. I died to his unending stream of creatures four turns later.

Game two was not as close. I drew a lot of lands. Maxime drew ordeals and Centaur Battlemaster and Keepsake Gorgon. 9-2 in matches.

Round Twelve—Adam Mancuso playing White Black Control

In game one Adam was able to overwhelm my controlling position and race my Fate Unraveler with Akroan Horse, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and a Hopeful Eidolon bestowed on Sentry of the Underworld. That was too much.

Seeing as my slow deck had no chance against Adam’s better slow deck, I sideboarded into my blue-green deck for game two. I switched into the deck listed above, except I replaced Dissolve with Whelming Wave. Swapping those two cards was probably wrong, but I was concerned about Akroan Horse so that might have influenced my decision.

Game two I won with beatdown backed up with lifegain from Horizon Chimera. Then in game three Adam had mana issues and I won before he could make use of the Elspeth, Sun’s Champion lanhguishing in his hand. By the end he had the mana to cast Elspeth, but it didn’t matter. This was a great match and I felt really proud to have won it with my unorthodox strategy.

10-2 in matches.

Going into draft two I was ranked 30th and sat down in draft pod four. Or I tried to sit down at the table that seemed to be for draft four, but it turned out we were the video feature draft. Kenji Egashira, aka Numot the Nummy, a prominent Magic Online limited streamer was the spotlight drafter, and I was immediately to his right.

Montreal feature draft

“Hunter, I think your side draft is firing now.”

The feature draft was a lot of fun. Hunter and Sam watched from the sidelines, although I believe Hunter had to go leave for a side draft which hadn’t fired for almost an hour.

My first pack had Fated Conflagration, Akroan Skyguard, Asphyxiate, and Archetype of Courage as potential first picks. I wanted to take the Skyguard, but I was wary of getting in a fight over white heroic. Red and white are the overdrafted colors in Born of the Gods, so I wanted to take the opposite approach and try to play black. Thus Asphyxiate. (Kenji also opened and first-picked Fated Conflagration, so he was happy to snap up mine and ship the white on.) Next I was passed another opportunity at the white archetype, so I took it. First strike on your team is very powerful in a white control strategy, which pairs best with black. I was happy to go that direction, and it was mostly open the rest of the way. I had one interesting pick, second in pack two, when Kenji shipped me both Hythonia the Cruel and Keepsake Gorgon. Oof. I took Hythonia, but I tanked a while because Keepsake is so good and cheaper. But ultimately I figured I might get another chance to pick up a Keepsake, while Hythonia was now or never. And Hythonia is a real finisher. Sure enough, a Keepsake came to me in pack three.

I was very happy with my draft deck, and I thought it would have strong resiliency against aggressive strategies. It would take careful play but that’s what I love most!

Black and White and Dead All Over

Creatures (14)
Archetype of Courage
Servant of Tymaret
Wingsteed Rider
Scholar of Athreos
Observant Alseid
Disciple of Phenax
Returned Centaur
Cavern Lampad
Sentry of the Underworld
Keepsake Gorgon
Hythonia the Cruel

Spells (8)
Sip of Hemlock
Divine Verdict
Pharika’s Cure
Excoriate
Necrobite
Last Breath
Ray of Dissolution
Read the Bones
Lands (18)
Plains
Swamp

Sideboard (19)
Fated Retribution
Asphyxiate
Eye Gouge
Viper’s Kiss
Revoke Existence
Dawn to Dusk
Read the Bones
March of the Returned
Cavern Lampad
Archetype of Finality
Forsaken Drifters
Marshmist Titan
Setessan Griffin
Cutthroat Maneuver
Grisly Transformation
Rescue from the Underworld
Scourgemark
Titan’s Strength
Karametra’s Acolyte

I ended up leaving Asphyxiate in my sideboard, along with Fated Retribution. Both are good cards, but I had so many spells and I felt those were the most redundant. Asphyxiate is a little bit awkward in control decks because you have to use it immediately. It is bad against bestow specifically, as the creature is often not worth killing until it gets bestowed, but then it is attacking and tapped on your turns.  It basically plays like a counterspell that has to be cast the next turn as a sorcery, like Pact of Negation. Maybe that’s still good enough, but I thought I could do better.

Round Thirteen—Kenji Egashira playing Blue Red Spells

This was a feature match against Kenji. You can watch the video coverage here. I really enjoyed the match, and had some playful banter with Kenji which you can almost hear in the video. I felt at home. This was great Magic.

Game one I was hampered by failing to draw a second Swamp for many turns, even after I Read the Bones. I was still able to get value from my many black spells in hand, like Pharika’s Cure hitting the Vaporkin, but having to Sip of Hemlock the Crackling Triton at six life was not ideal. If I had been able to defend earlier, I wouldn’t have felt so much pressure.

Montreal feature match

Kenji takes me to brown town. Horns up! Marshall Sutcliffe enjoys watching two Limited Resources listeners battle it out on camera.

That said, I think I should have won the game. When Kenji attacked his 3/3 Ill-Tempered Cyclops into my board of Servant of Tymaret (with no regeneration mana available) and Hythonia the Cruel, I should have blocked with the Servant. I would have gone to one life from a monstrous Cyclops, but then untapped, monstroused Hythonia, and attacked him down from 14 to seven to zero over two turns. He had one card, but I had stripped his hand with two Disciple of Phenax. I should have taken that chance. Instead I chose to trade Hythonia for the Cyclops and tried to stabilize with Servant drains. that looked like it would work, especially since Kenji had so few cards left in his library, but he drew Stoneshock Giant and I didn’t have the next removal spell. I really wish I had played Asphyxiate in the main deck over Excoriate, at least for this matchup. Alas. It was a great game regardless.

Game two was tough. Kenji had two early Crackling Tritons, which was the best card for him in the matchup (other than the pair of Fated Conflagrations). The 2/3 bodies matched up very well against my creatures, and the threat of sending two damage took away some of my important life resources as I needed to buy time to stabilize then take over the game. I kept trying to bait him into sacrificing them to kill my creatures, but Kenji was too smart for that. That explains why I played out the 2/2 Observant Alseid and why I blocked the Triton with Servant of Tymaret when I couldn’t regenerate if he sacked. I wanted him to do that (or waste a removal spell). But he didn’t bite, and Fated Conflagration took out my Keepsake Gorgon.  It was probably too cute of a line. I had considered sideboarding in Fated Retribution, and I wish in hindsight that I had. My only two swaps were Ray of Dissolution and Excoriate coming out for March of the Returned and Asphyxiate.

I felt pretty helpless here. Too much card draw and cheap spells for Kenji and my attrition strategy couldn’t get enough mana to keep up. I had March of the Returned in hand most of game two, waiting for a point to buy back Keepsake Gorgon and Wingsteed Rider, but I never had the time because of the pressure from the Crackling Tritons. That’s the weakness of March of the Returned, and why I don’t like basing a strategy (live self-mill) around it. Speaking of Returned Centaur, I joked at some point that there was no risk to milling Kenji because he already had so many great spells in his graveyard to get back with Mnemonic Wall. So it goes.

10-3 in matches.

Round Fourteen—Jamie Blanchette playing White Red Aggro

I built my deck to beat white-red aggro, and Jamie put me to the test. Fortunately I passed. Game one his took forever to hit his first Plains, which bought me enough time to beat him in the air with Sentry of the Underworld and Wingsteed Rider. Ray of Dissolution provided a helpful three-life cushion. It’s so important to be able to change the math for the aggressive deck with an unexpected bit of incidental lifegain. Just having the card in hand provides confidence and reduces the inherent stress of being beat down by the most aggressive strategy in the format.

Game two Jamie mulliganed. We eventually ended up in a similar position to where I was in game one against Kenji. Jamie was at 14 life and I was at five. I played Hythonia the Cruel, this time with seven lands. Fortunately I topdecked the eighth land, monstroused, and swung twice for lethal. Jamie didn’t draw Portent of Betrayal (aka the most underrated limited card in Theros) and I won.

11-3 in matches.

Round Fifteen—Felix Tse playing Blue Green Prophet

Felix had a fantastic Prophet of Kruphix deck. Game one he curved it into Arbor Colossus and I never had a chance.

I lost game two on turn five when I wasted Pharika’s Cure on Opaline Unicorn. That meant I had to use Sip of Hemlock on Horizon Chimera. So he could monstrous his Arbor Colossus, killing the Sentry of the Underworld I could not afford to pay three life to regenerate, before I could kill it with a Wingsteed Rider block plus Necrobite. Later I had to use Fated Retribution to stay alive making my Hythonia the Cruel vulnerable to a well-timed Griptide. So I died from three to Chorus of the Tides on turn 15 or so. A cascade of failure from one fatigued-induced mistake.

lilengine

I think I can keep doing well at Grand Prix!

I never thought I’d say this, but my deck really could have used a Decorated Griffin in this match, and against Kenji. Wow. I have previously stated that I would never play that card. Perhaps I’ve found its home. Born of the Gods is such a deep and rewarding format to those who spend the time exploring it. I love it! What a great format!

And so ended my run at Grand Prix Montreal. I really liked the Orzhov control deck that was wide open besides the lack of Gray Merchants. But I was improvising the archetype on the spot. Thus I missed some key decisions and misvalued some cards. I would love to draft and play a similar deck again. Going 1-2 was disappointing, but I improved from my 0-3 second draft from Grand Prix Sacramento two months ago.

Overall, I ended 11-4, for 33 Swiss points and 48th place. Wow! I made $300 for playing two days of Magic, which surprisingly seems like a lot of money. Just below me in the standings (with lower tiebreakers) were Pro Tour Champion Alexander Hayne (11) and World Champion Shahar Shenhar (7). Heady company indeed. It’s humbling. The lowest 33 pointer ended painfully in 65th. Next up is PTQ season and Grand Prix Philadelphia!

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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