This past weekend marked my first Grand Prix. While I would have considered myself a competitive player for a while now, I don’t really travel that much for larger tournaments, and it seems that something always comes up when there are local GPs or SCG Opens. Needless to say, I was stoked about being able to go to Grand Prix Nashville 2014. What could be more awesome than playing at a Grand Prix? Well, making it a format that I have wanted to play at a major event since I first saw it as a kid watching Pro Tour coverage takes it up a notch, not to mention the fact that my two teammates are both good friends and players that I respect within the game.

The format, for anyone who doesn’t know, was Khans of Tarkir Team Sealed. As a team of three players, we open 12 packs and build three decks between them. From there we get to play nine rounds (for day one) with those decks, our team sitting across from another trio each round, playing three individual matches. First team to two match wins gets the round win, regardless of the third match result. The coolest part, though, is that you’re allowed to discuss everything with your teammates. Even after your match is done, you can pull your chair over and start talking with them. It’s a rare format for tournaments these days, but it’s one that I grew up watching, and it’s surreal to get to play it at a Grand Prix. (For those of you who don’t know me well, I have spent way too much time in my life watching old event coverage. It’s not a hobby so much as an obsession with the game that transcends currently useful information. Also, if BDM ever retires, I’ll have a solid base for my Pro Tour Historian resume.)

Each team has to decide where the players sit each round at the beginning of the event (labeled A, B, and C. B always sits in the middle, while A and C match the opponent of the same letter). Ours turned out as such:

  1. A) Me
  2. B) Joshua Caldwell (owner of Silver Creek Game Shop)
  3. C) JD Emerick (apparently knows everyone in Tennessee)

The pool we ended up with was pretty solid. In testing, we’d decided that JD was basically going to play Mardu no matter what. He was willing to play something else, but every pool we cracked throughout testing had a solid Mardu list within it, and it was an archetype he felt very comfortable piloting. We’d come to the decision that I needed to play the long-game grind deck, as I enjoyed the amount of various lines of play available within the slow decks (which can greatly reward a player more experienced with playing that archetype, but can greatly hinder a player who isn’t used to it). Luckily enough, every pool in testing had one of these decks, whether it be straight Abzan or a deck I’ve dubbed “Four-Color Sultai.” Josh decided he wanted to play more tempo-reliant decks, such as Temur and Jeskai, and we lucked into having three players with three different playstyles, all of which fit nicely into the KTK Sealed metagame.

JD ended up in a Mardu deck that was somewhat slower than we were used to seeing, but it was very powerful against anything except the low-drop Mardu mirror. Cards like double Raiders’ Spoils and Butcher of the Horde solidified the list enough that we were happy with the deck. We ended up with plenty of Abzan and Sultai cards, ranging from Siege Rhino to Sultai Ascendancy, but after some discussion on the builds, I ended up straight Abzan, as it looked more consistent than the four-color variant. Josh’s deck was the most interesting in comparison to our practice, as he was able to play straight U/R. He had the aggressive Jeskai creatures in those colors, as well as plenty of removal between bounce spells and burn spells, rounding out the top with Ashcloud Phoenix and Riverwheel Aerialists.

More than happy with our decks (and grateful that we didn’t end up with the pools that were opened around us), we felt very confident going into the tournament.

Our first round was easy enough for myself and Josh, with me crushing the mirror and Josh taking down a Temur player, but JD fell to the Mardu mirror due to the lack of low-drops and the explosiveness of Mardu commons. While we got the match win, we noticed around us that a lot of Mardu players were in seat C, and JD’s deck was even worse in the mirror than we’d expected. If he could get paired against anything else, his deck ended up much better than expected, but that wouldn’t come for many rounds.

The second round I lose on a mull to five that was trolled by my opponent’s double Force Away draw, losing to Temur. Josh wins against a Sultai deck that couldn’t handle his evasion, and it comes down to JD, faced against Mardu again. He gets out-Mardone and we move to the 1-1 bracket.

The whole day ends up very similar. I win every midrange mirror that I find, Josh crushes the decks that are clunky or the tempo mirror, and JD keeps getting paired against the Mardu mirror.

After eight rounds, Josh and I are sitting at 6-2, my losses being to the mull to five Temur game and a player who, in both games, had Anafenza, the ForemostNecropolis FiendSiege RhinoHigh Sentinels of Arashin, and Butcher of the Horde. I can’t complain, though, as I beat a deck with two Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and even against bomb.dec I felt I played optimally and had a chance in both games. Josh’s first loss was from misreading a card and a hiccup from a mull to five, and the second was a game loss due to scooping up his cards after a draw without revealing his morphed creature. JD ended up 3-5 after eight rounds, crushing the two non-Mardu decks he played without competition, and finally winning a Mardu mirror after getting raid-slammed for five rounds. Altogether, we sat at 4-4 after eight of nine rounds, and we decided that we were happy enough with our performance (which yielded no prize support, sadly) that we should drop and go support a friend who rode up with us in his event.

Yes, it sucks not making Day Two of the Grand Prix, especially considering how comfortable we were with the format and our play. That being said, after walking away from the tournament, I realized that I wasn’t unhappy about the day. I went 6-2 in my first Grand Prix. That’s ridiculous. While I wanted to come home with a trophy, I’m more than happy to come home with a record like that, as well as the experiences I had playing in a team event.

Not to mention, I spent all of Day Two trading and vendor-hopping and walked away with a complete UR Delver deck for Modern, even down to the matching Beta basics. That’s kind of a trophy, on top of getting to watch matches over the shoulder of players that I’ve followed in tournaments for years. While it can seem silly, it’s kind of like watching the Dream Team play in ’92 when you’ve followed basketball your whole life. It’s just cool.

Looking back now, it’s the best experience I’ve had with Magic. I played better Magic and had more fun than at any event beforehand, so I think that I ended up winning, anyway.

Duncan Martin is an artist/musician/writer/whatever from Jeffersonville, Indiana, who spends his days sorting cards, helping people brew decks, and petitioning to have Second Sunrise unbanned in Modern. He likes to draw cards, dredge cards, scry cards, and talk about old formats, Pro Tours, and awesome decks that have long since passed.

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