You could be forgiven for failing to keep a close watch on Grand Prix Baltimore this last weekend. After all, there was plenty of coverage competition, what with an SCG invitation out in Seattle, a constructed GP in Europe, and Baltimore a bit of a lame duck format with months-old Khans of Tarkir limited.

There was one exciting new thing happening at GP Baltimore, though: GCB was doing video coverage for the first time. Yes indeed, yours truly was up there in front of the camera sporting a suitcoat and a lav mic, mispronouncing card names for those dedicated limited-magic viewers on Twitch. Actually, there were plenty of exciting things happening at this tournament. If you missed it, check out the archive coverage (the top 8 draft was especially fun), or read on.

MTG Happenings, GP Baltimore Edition.

1. Chris Pikula, bridesmaid

Chris Pikula has two Pro Tour top 8s from back in 1996, when I was first becoming aware of the Pro Tour. He also won an invitational and made by far the awesomest invitational card, had a top 8 at Worlds ’98, and has four GP top 8s from the days where GPs were much less common, including three runner-up finishes. Not only that, but he’s been within one or two votes of being elected to the Hall of Fame *twice*. Chris caught a nasty case of adulthood at some point, and despite his passion for the game and undeniable ability, has not been able to dedicate himself to competitive Magic as much as he’d like to in many years. Friday night, Chris and I chatted over a beer in the hotel bar, and he lamented how a promising year of Magic in 2013, including a momentary return to the Pro Tour in Dublin, had made his lackluster 2014 season especially disappointing: “I haven’t had a single good tournament!” Well, Chris appeared to turn that around completely on day one in Baltimore, piloting a good, but by no means great, sealed deck to a 9-0 record.

We watched his first draft on day two, and though it could have gone better it certainly was no disaster. Chris’ matches were, though, and he dropped from the tournament after five straight losses. Was the Meddling Mage inconsolable? Only for a moment. By the end of the swiss rounds, Chris had recovered: joking, talking about where he could improve, and readying himself for the next event. You don’t get results like Chris has had without the ability to recover from a bad beat or two.

2. Kin-tree Warden, auto-include

As I mentioned on coverage, I love the way mature limited formats evolve. All day long from the booth, we saw very good players unmorphing the little 1/1 that survived Duneblasts, blocked Woolly Loxodons, and shrugged off every gigantic unmorph for a paltry three mana. Want to know why you didn’t top 8 your PTQ with that mediocre sealed deck? Maybe it’s because you didn’t run this little guy!

3. Duneblast: all style, no substance

During the draft portion of the tournament, we watched a lot of players cast Duneblast. Inevitably, those players lost: I don’t remember the exact stats, but I know we saw at least five Duneblasts cast in losses, and perhaps one cast in a win. One of those losses included two of the Duneblasts! We were watching, of course, some of the top players in the world work around this crazy bomb. So how do you beat Duneblast? Well, countering it is great. So is following it up with some big expensive effect, like a Villainous Wealth. Check out the day two coverage for some impressive Duneblast-stumping. Don’t get me wrong, the card is very, very good. The best players in the world are ready for good cards, though.

4. Coverage: really hard

I watch a good bit of coverage, and I often talk to the coverage people as if they could hear me, as they explore play sequences that don’t actually match the game state or express befuddlement at plays which seem very clear to me. This weekend, I caught myself misinterpreting a lot of gamestates as I tried to listen to my broadcast partner, identify the cards in both players hands, and think about Magic strategy all while tracking the usual gamestate chaos.

5. Cardspotting, I can do it

I am pretty good at identifying cards in players hands from the slightly-obscured, angled image you get from the overhead coverage camera. On many occasions I was able to confidently identify cards when my cohorts could not.

6. Cardnaming, I can’t do it

I called Rite of the Serpent “Rise of the Serpent” all weekend. I also routinely had to describe cards by their traits rather than saying the names, and that’s just bad commentating. I gotta start learning the card names if I’m going to do this more.

7. Sportsmanship lives

If you haven’t watched the finals of this GP yet, you should do it for a number of reasons, but here’s one: Gerrard Fabiano and David Foster misunderstood the interaction between Anafenza, the Foremost, and Sultai Flayer, and it resulted in a judge call. However, since the incident was already two turns old when the mistake was discovered, the error in Gerrard’s favor was ruled uncorrectable. It was also an error that saved Gerrard from certain death in game two, and left him in a winning position. After the judge made his ruling in Gerrard’s favor, Gerrard immediately conceded the game, taking it to a deciding game three. Afterwards, Gerrard explained that he didn’t want to win that way. Chris Pikula would be proud.

8. All your card advantage are belong to us

Gerrard Fabiano, despite his standing atop the lifetime Planeswalker Points rankings and countless Pro Tour appearances, didn’t make it on to our feature match cameras until very late in the tournament because he started out 3-2. He went on to win his next thirteen matches in a row to take home the trophy, which means he put up a perfect 9-0 record in draft. How did he do this? Card advantage. Gerrard, the oldest of the old-school, was taking Rakshasha’s Secret over anything short of a bomb. He didn’t agonize over the limited size of his library or graveyard while selecting delve enablers, loot effects, and every non-creature delve spell in site. He completely eschewed red cards and forced his strategy again and again, and he beat… everyone.

9. Coverage is fun

At times, doing coverage was exhausting: all that talking, few breaks in which to recharge with food or silence, and sitting in the same chair for two days straight takes it’s toll. My final break came in the semifinals of the top 8, and you know what I did? I went over to the feature match area to watch Ben Stark’s insanely good Mardu deck fall to Gerrard’s insanely insane Sultai masterpiece.

Marshall and Randy told me we were pretty lucky in Baltimore with the quality and entertainment value of the matches. I can’t wait to try my luck again.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.