After a phenomenal Tuesday Night Modern performance at my LGS, where I went undefeated with my Angel Pod list, I felt fearless and ready for battle at GP Boston (aka GP Worcester 2014). The deck felt well positioned against almost the entire field, and I was confident enough in my experience with the deck to know I could run it at high octane. Bring it on, I thought. Let’s grind.

My carpool included fellow Hipsters writer Tim Akpinar, and friends of Hipsters Charles Hagaman and Anthony Loman. We dropped our bags and made for the GP site, a one-mile walk from the hotel. I love walking. It’s akin to meditation the way it warms the body and smoothes out the mind. And Worcester provides a density of old, rust-belty buildings in the short distance to the DCU. Growing up in New England I have a hole in my heart for this kind of dilapidated, used-up architecture. It can feel overwhelmingly bleak when juxtaposed against modern loft spaces and colossal convention centers.

Upon entering the site I quickly scribbled out a deck registration sheet and hopped into the next available grinder. Round one I was up against one of my worst matchups, RG Tron. My opponent had a sweet mohawk and easily Tron’d early each game. Unfortunately for me I play neither [casthaven]Tectonic Edge[/casthaven] nor [casthaven]Fulminator Mage[/casthaven]. I just sit and watch him cast enormous spells. It’s fun for him, I guess. Somehow I win a game and in game three I naturally draw my [casthaven]Archangel of Thune[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Spike Feeder[/casthaven] combo, getting the pieces on-board against an active [casthaven]Oblivion Stone[/casthaven]. On my end step he pops the Stone, and I respond by gaining infinite life. Instantly he concedes the game to me! All he had to do is drop [casthaven]Karn, Liberated[/casthaven] and ultimate him, in which case everything resets, including life totals! Don’t ever scoop. It’s always a mistake.

The rest of the grinder went quickly, and soon I was in the finals against a delightful and competent [casthaven]Scapeshift[/casthaven] player named Arthur. We had spoken earlier during the grinder and revealed to each other what we were playing, so when we sat down we joked about the matchup before we dug our hooves in to battle. He got there in three very close games. I liked him sideboarding in [casthaven]Obstinate Baloth[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Inferno Titan[/casthaven]. Sheesh, with this matchup and with Twin, it seems these combo decks are siding into big fatties to win the midrange game post-board. It sure worked. Attack me from two different angles and eventually you’ll resolve your Valakut tutor. I shook his hand, congratulated him, and he very gentlemanly broke down the Scapeshift deck’s structure, and the matchup, with me afterwards. I met my hotel-mates at a bar for a beer and crawled back to the hotel and into bed shortly thereafter.

Saturday morning I got up early, pumped myself with supplements and electrolytes, and readied my mind for a long-ass day playing Magic with the obligatory bathroom selfie.

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This was where I played. The arena was fantastic: quieter than the main hall, cooler, and upstairs bathrooms inaccessible from the main hall.

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TJ Collectibles had a system on their website which allowed a player to access their table number, pairings, and previous match records from their smartphone. Kudos to them for such an efficient method: Systems such as these are the model for enabling future tournaments to run smoothly and efficiently.

ROUND ONE vs. RUSSELL ROBERTS on WASTED RACKS

Russell was piloting a black/red version of Eight Rack that adapted itself for a [casthaven]Waste Not[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Burning Inquiry[/casthaven] engine. I smash him in game three when he’s one mana short from dropping his [casthaven]Ensnaring Bridge[/casthaven] against a swelling [casthaven]Archangel of Thune[/casthaven].

ROUND TWO vs. CORY PHILIPS on AFFINITY

Ah, the old Affinity match. Cory was friendly and we exchanged business cards. He punished me for poor draws by running over me in two quick games. I thought about not winning the grinder and losing in round two. It really hammered home how badly I need to earn two byes for next year.

ROUND THREE vs. EMILIO CIOFFI on MONO GREEN DEVOTION

Emilio was such a great opponent. He had a Moody Blues playmat and was probably almost my dad’s age. I had never seen his deck before and didn’t know what to expect at his top end, so when he crashes in with [casthaven]Craterhoof Behemoth[/casthaven] early in game two I laugh as he comes on swinging in for 40. He just loves turning big green dudes sideways. It’s the easiest way to play Magic when you grew up partying like he did. I got there in game three with flying angel four-butts.

ROUND FOUR vs. ANTHONY BASS on HATEBEARS

Anthony was a very sweet man from Maine. Our match was fairly quick, as I went infinite with [casthaven]Archangel of Thune[/casthaven] game one—hey, fuck those [casthaven]Leonin Arbiter[/casthaven]s and [casthaven]Hushwing Gryff[/casthaven]s, I’ll just draw my combo!—and he choked on mana game two. The deck seems powerful at disruption but has trouble with resolved permanents. If they don’t draw [casthaven]Path to Exile[/casthaven] they can have a hard time without enough fat to punch through.

ROUND FIVE vs. RYAN MIELBYE on JUNK

This wasn’t much of a round: Game one he keeps a one-lander and scoops early when I cast [casthaven]Birthing Pod[/casthaven] on turn two and he misses his second land drop. I figured he wanted me not to know he was on Junk so that maybe I would sideboard incorrectly, but my midrange matchup is good enough that it wouldn’t have mattered much to me if I didn’t have enough information. Game two I stomped him and it was all over in just a few minutes. It always feels shitty to mull and choke your way into a loss, no matter how many times it occurs. I wished him luck, and I was suddenly 4-1 going into round six.

ROUND SIX vs. TIM PURCELL on UR TWIN

Tim and I had a lot of fun playing each other. Other players around us were boisterous and having a blast and we caught the bug and were laughing throughout our games. And I love the Twin/Pod matchup; it just feels so classic. Game one I mull to five and he [casthaven]Electrolyze[/casthaven]s my two mana dorks and drops [casthaven]Splinter Twin[/casthaven]. Games two and three I drew the way my deck wants to against Twin: early dudes and a few disruption spells for his combo, which proves too much for that deck to handle. I think I got him trying to go off game two with [casthaven]Slaughter Pact[/casthaven]. That always feels good.

Wait, I’m 5-1? I find fellow Hipsters writer Rich Stein and exclaim how I want to play a pro. I was really itching for it, and I quickly got my wish.

ROUND SEVEN vs. BERNHARD LEHNER on TARMO-TWIN

Bernhard and I had an amazing match and a lot of fun. He’s a great guy and we hit it off almost immediately. Berhnard is part of the MTG Madness group out of Europe and GP Worcester is the pit stop along the route to Portland.

Game one I keep an awkward hand and telegraph a threatening [casthaven]Abrupt Decay[/casthaven] for his early Twin setup, which he buys long enough to give me a chance to stabilize. After I tap out to advance my board, he sees what’s going on, and the turn before I have Archangel/Feeder together he drops Twin.

Game two was a real game, one that we both agreed was awesome all the way to the end. I had an early force that included [casthaven]Spellskite[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/casthaven], but he dropped [casthaven]Huntmaster of the Fells[/casthaven] to keep my [casthaven]Kitchen Finks[/casthaven] at bay and eventually was able to resolve [casthaven]Keranos, God of Storms[/casthaven], which quite simply took over the game, as the God of Storms will do. I get real close, Townshipping my fliers, but a clutch [casthaven]Cryptic Command[/casthaven] to bounce my huge Linvala swings the tempo of the match, and gives him the window to drop Twin.

I had just witnessed myself get outplayed by a pro-level player. Sure, it was a tough two games for me, but maybe I hit the tip of the iceberg. I have come so far since last year, getting better with each passing week, demanding more from myself. But just what is it that separates me and my practice from what Bernhard has access to? It may very well be that, aside from his skill level, or his experience, it’s the people he surrounds himself with that level him up. His resources are stronger. His vision of a given board state is trained beyond mine. He’s an excellent player, surrounded by excellent people playing at the highest level. And it was a pleasure to see all that, even if only for one match.

ROUND EIGHT vs. ANDREW KERRIGAN on MERFOLK

Uh-oh. Merfolk is a tough one. And when piloted by Andrew I would need some good draws. Well, those draws simply didn’t happen. I really needed my Pod this match to stay afloat (ahem!) and for him not to [casthaven]Spreading Seas[/casthaven] me. Neither of those things happened. He smashed me in two quick games. I’d love to know what sideboard cards I could possibly use against them to shore this one up. A sweeper is the only thing that comes to mind. And the Melira combo, again, is the best strategy against aggressive decks. Andrew was super nice, polite, and funny. I was out of contention for day two, just like that.

I decide to stick it out for the last round.

ROUND NINE vs. CHRISTIAN TRUDEL on UWR CONTROL

I told Christian when he sat down how I watched him play Brian Braun-Duin earlier that day. He started mouthing off how he hates the [casthaven]Birthing Pod[/casthaven] matchup, and I crack a smile. Oh fuck, he cries, are you on Pod? Yep, I shake my head. Melira? Ehhhh… not exactly. I thought it was fair to tell him, since I saw his deck earlier, that I was on Angel Pod. He slumps down into his chair. He’s a goofy dude and seemed really frustrated with his Day One performance.

Game one I get a quick Pod online and start chaining [casthaven]Kitchen Finks[/casthaven] into [casthaven]Restoration Angel[/casthaven] into [casthaven]Phyrexian Metamorph[/casthaven]. He scoops early, saying he won’t waste any more of my time. Game two was a lot closer, but I got there even though I played like shit. For whatever reason I loosened up and gave him two draw steps to draw a lethal Bolt. I didn’t like how I played that game, but I got lucky in the end. He was so self-defeating over the matchup that we ended up laughing almost the whole way.

So I ended 6-3. I didn’t make Day Two by one win, but I blew my Richmond performance away. That alone was more than enough to satisfy me. Turns out my whole LGS crew got knocked out of contention for Day Two, either on round eight or nine. A group of us all had dinner together and, once back at the hotel, struck by exhaustion, I crashed, the weeks of stress over the past nine rounds melting out of me, and I slept.

I now know the importance of having two byes, and feel the fissure between where I had gotten to and where I want to be once again. On Sunday, watching the main Legacy event, I found myself in a conversation with Jared Boettcher’s parents. “Are you going to Portland?” His father asked me. No, I said, but some of my friends will be there. “All it takes is one win,” he said. True, I thought, it’s just one win, but getting to that state of being requires many, many wins—and from where I’m standing, definitely some more losses along with them.

After a ten-year lapse from Magic, where his favorite combo was [casthaven]Tradewind Rider[/casthaven] with [casthaven]Stasis[/casthaven], Derek is back to learn the new-border variant of the game. While less frustrating cards have been printed, he now has to get used to Planeswalkers, and people rolling dice when he resolves [casthaven]Hymn to Tourach[/casthaven]. He qualified for the Junior Super Series in 1999 at Pro Tour New York, then used his collection to finance his college education. Years later, he works in the fashion industry as a stylist, consultant, and sometime-matchmaker for brands. He loves all things black leather, and is out to journal his level-ups with hopes of playing at the highest competitive level of the game. You can reach him at [email protected].

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