I haven’t played Magic in a couple of weeks. Lan D. Ho writes intelligently and thoroughly reviews his Limited Magic experiences. I asked Lan to write a GP Baltimore report and here’s day one (day two is next week). Thanks for stepping up, Lan!

Some brief notes on Magic and Grand Prix: Baltimore

By Lan D. Ho

Chris Pikula asked me whether I planned on going to Grand Prix: Baltimore. I said that I wasn’t sure. He said that he was driving down Friday night and that I could ride with him. I said, sure, I’ll ride down with you.

I had been playing a lot more Magic recently, and Chris was the main impetus. He had been playing a lot more Magic himself, and Magic is always better when you’re playing and thinking through it with friends. I went to Grand Prix: Portland (M15 team sealed) and played with Brian Schneider and Andrew Longo. We worked pretty hard to learn the format, and with a lot of help from Igor Frayman and Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz we arrived at a fairly deep understanding of the format’s idiosyncrasies. We did OK at the grand prix, pulling out some tough wins day one but opening a tremendously thin pool day two. But all the preparation led to crazed amounts of fever. I jumped into a $100 money draft as soon as the grand prix ended and the fever has pretty much continued unabated since then.

Here are some notes from Grand Prix: Baltimore. I lost my notebook and my relatively fancy pen in the middle of day two, so in lieu of detailed match analysis, I’ll give you some impressionistic notes instead.

Khans sealed is a strange format to me. The multicolor nature of the format allows for a lot of possibilities, but it actually makes deckbuilding a lot easier in some cases. If you open bombs and good cards that are all complementary and the mana to go along with everything, then your deck pretty much builds itself. This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of tough decisions to be made; it’s just that sometimes, if you are lucky, you open a pool that is more or less preconstructed.

My sealed pool was unlike any I’ve opened before; it had only four nonbasic lands: Tranquil Cove, Rugged Highlands, Dismal Backwater, and Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. The three dual lands in my pool were all allied color; these are worse in general as they fit into only one wedge. Tranquil Cove, for example, is essentially a Jeskai card as no other wedge plays both blue and white, whereas Scoured Barrens is both an Abzan card and a Mardu card. I also had only one banner: an Abzan banner. I don’t think that banners are particularly good, but sometimes you have to find fixing where you can get it. (Aside: I opened only three artifacts, which is a good sign as the only good artifact in this set is Ghostfire Blade; a lot of artifacts therefore mean reduced density in card quality.) My pool also contained a foil Dig Through Time, so I was set for life.

But while my pool didn’t contain a lot of mana fixing, it made up for it in terms of card quality. I had Siege Rhino, Wingmate Roc, Armament Corps, Abzan Charm, Murderous Cut, two Bitter Revelation, and other quality cards.

The pool Lan registered.

The pool Lan registered.

The sleeved cards in the middle are the deck that I registered and played. The cards in the upper left are relevant sideboard cards. The other cards are just decent cards from my pool.

The lack of fixing meant that I would playing a mana base straight out of 1997, one that would might even make Mike Pustilnik proud: 7 Plains, 7 Swamps, 4 Forests, and 1 Abzan Banner. I also played 41 cards, a decision that Jon Finkel called “loose.” If I had to do it all over again, I may cut a Salt Road Patrol and just play 19 total mana sources in a 40-card deck; the two Bitter Revelations should help smooth out any mana-heavy draws.

Despite my deck’s bad mana, I am pretty happy with it. This is a pool that I can think can propel me into day two even though I don’t have any byes: I will probably net one loss to my mana not working out and one loss for miscellaneous reasons (mana not working out, my playing terribly, etc.), but I like my chances.

The main sideboard cards of note are Rakshasa’s Secret and Rattleclaw Mystic. I should have arguably started the former, given that I have both Murderous Cut and Dead Drop. I already have two Bitter Revelations, however, so I wasn’t too lacking in delve enabling; if I had a Sultai Scavenger or a Hooting Mandrills, then I think the Rakshasa’s Secret is an easy start. I really like Secret, though, especially in sealed, as it not only nets you a card but also usually trades up and enables delve. I sided in the Mystic when my opponent was playing a fast, tempo-oriented deck with bounce spells as it will help me recover more quickly. If my mana were better, I would start the Mystic as I have some spells along the higher part of the curve, but its producing blue and red mana don’t help my mana issues. Also, green is my splash color: I am playing seven green cards, but four of them are morphs.

I run over my opponents in the first two rounds. In the second round, my opponent, Derek Pendleton, has a Bird token, which he gives me after the match. Round 3 I am paired against a small child named Eli. Colette LeRoux, who is sitting next to me, says, “I’m sorry, Lan, but I’m rooting for her!” I triple mulligan the first game and I think, “Not like this, not like this.”

In the midst of my mulliganing, Eli’s father brings Eli some food, and asks, “Elijah, how is it going?”

“Good,” Elijah says, shuffling the cards in his hands in a very Kiblerian fashion.

Despite Elijah’s age, I took him very seriously: his being in the 2–0 bracket meant that he was either a reasonable player or he had a reasonable deck, or maybe even both. I am behind the first game from starting down three cards but almost manage to come back. I manage to deal with Eli’s threats and claw my way back into the game, and I actually stabilize at 3 life and am about to turn the corner. Eli is out of cards. He topdecks and plays Abomination of Gudul. I manage to kill it and continue to press forward. He then topdecks a Sage of the Inward Eye. I have no answer and lose. Eli’s deck is quite good: a five-color control deck with good removal and good creatures. I side out my Watcher of the Roost and side in Rakshasa’s Secret, a swap I would make a decent number of times throughout the day. I end up winning games two and three and am spared the humiliation of losing to a small child.

After four rounds I am 4–0. I get chicken strips with Matt Jones because that’s what bros do. He tells me that he’s 2–2 and that he probably plans on leaving if he gets his third loss to go play basketball back in New York. I wrangle a promise from him: if he drops, he will run to Starbucks and get me a drink so I can stay adequately caffeinated. He makes good on his promise.

I lose round 5 to Michael Bareniecki, who would end the day 8–0–1. His deck was five color Sagu Mauler and loads of removal. In game one the board is empty except for an Archers’ Parapet on his side. I am at 5 life. I have Dead Drop in my hand and think long and hard about killing the Parapet but decide to wait for him to play a second creature; since he is playing five colors, I reason that his creatures must all be pretty good and so I would like to get two cards for my one. I pass the turn. He shoots me with the Parapet, reducing me to 4, and then on his turn he casts Arc Lightning on me and then kills me with the Parapet. In game three, he is on the play and he casts a morph. I cast a morph on my turn three and then I pass. He untaps, casts Arc Lightning, dealing 2 to my morph and 1 to me, and then swings in. The game pretty much continues in this fashion: I cast one creature a turn, and he kills one creature a turn and then attacks. Eventually he casts Sagu Mauler. I never get an attack step and am reduced to casting a Wingmate Roc without raid. I am at 5 life. I think, OK, if I chump block the Sagu Mauler with my Wingmate Roc and his morph is a blank (or he doesn’t unmorph it), I can go down to 1 and then if I topdeck a Dead Drop, I have a puncher’s chance. He untaps and casts Rite of the Serpent on my Roc and then attacks for lethal.

It’s hard not to be results oriented when the results go against you, and I agonize over whether I should have cast Dead Drop on the Parapet. I ask Brock Parker afterward what he would have done. “A single Parapet?” he asks. I say yes. “I think I’m going down with that ship a hundred times out of a hundred,” he says. “I don’t think I could bring myself to cast Dead Drop on a single Archers’ Parapet while at five life, man.” I feel a little better knowing that Brock agreed with my line, but I still lost the round.

I beat Nick Moran in round 6. He seems like a good player but I think I just curved out and hit all my powerful cards and ran him over. Pros of playing Nick: met and chatted with a good player with whom I shared mutual acquaintances and who seems like an all-around decent human being. Cons: chats took a while and prevented me from running to Starbucks.

I lose to David Snow playing a tempo-oriented Jeskai deck in round 7. I am behind most of game but am in the process of stabilizing: I am at 6 life and I cast Bitter Revelation, going down to 4, and follow it up with Dead Drop, clearing his board. I attack and have lethal next turn. On his turn he casts Sarkhan and kills me. I win game two prettily handily. In game three, I stumble on green mana and by the time I draw it I am too far behind.

I wonder afterward whether I should have cast the Revelation at all in game one, and I think I was wrong in doing so; he is playing Jeskai and therefore has access to not only Sarkhan but also Arrow Storm, Jeskai Charm, and Master the Way. (I don’t remember whether Master the Way would have been lethal at that point, however.) While I do develop my hand by casting the Bitter Revelation, the advantage that I get from doing so is negated by placing myself in range of a burn spell. One of the attributes of good players in limited is knowing when to play around cards that have not yet been seen, i.e., understanding how you can lose and playing around those cards. Of course, you don’t want to play so timidly that you actually give your opponent the chance to win a game that he or she shouldn’t win, but it’s a fine line to consider.

Two illustrative anecdotes: in a draft versus Andrew Longo, I had a very powerful Jeskai deck that included (among other things) two Seeker of the Way, two Hordeling Outbursts, Take Up Arms, two Jeskai Charms, Rush of Battle, and Flying Crane Technique. In the third game of our match, Longo has only a facedown morph on his side of the board and has seven mana untapped. My hand included two Jeskai Charms, Rush of Battle, and Take Up Arms; I had three goblin tokens and a Seeker of the Way in play. At the end of Longo’s turn I cast Take Up Arms and then on my turn I cast Rush of Battle and attack for a million points of damage. What I should have done, however, is cast Jeskai Charm at the end of Longo’s turn, putting his morph back on top of his library: the only card I could lose to was Thousand Winds (although Blinding Spray and Waterwhirl both would be suboptimal for me). I would have three fewer tokens in play, but I would still be attacking for potentially 14 damage, and I would have a Jeskai Charm left in hand. Of course, the morph was a Thousand Winds, I got blown out, and I lost the match. (I ended up going 2–1, however, and our team won, so I wasn’t unduly punished for my mistake.)

On the other hand I was playing vs David Reed in a PTQ in Philadelphia, and he had an Agent of Horizons enchanted with Feral Invocation and five lands in play. If he made the Agent unblockable, he would attack for lethal. However, I was playing blue, and if he did so and I had either Voyage’s End or Griptide, I would blow him out, as he didn’t have enough mana to cast Agent again. (I think if I had Griptide, he would be blown out regardless.) So he just attacked with his Agent and some other creature, and I chump blocked and remained alive. During his end step, I flashed in Horizon Chimera and attacked for lethal.

In the match versus Longo, I would give up very little playing around Thousand Winds, as my position was so strong that I would have almost certainly won had I done so. In the match versus David Reed, however, the game was very close and playing around a potential card could bring about other, possibly unforeseen consequences.

Round 8 I play against Xin Sui, who plays extremely fast. I manage to curve out with Siege Rhino into Wingmate Roc in game two and run him over really quickly. Afterward I run with sour, emotionally distant Matt Ferrando and two of my favorite Andrews, Longo and Boswell, to Starbucks to get another coffee. The service is the longest ever in the recorded history of coffee but we all manage to make it back before the start of round 9.

I am paired versus Orrin Beasley, who I gather from pregame banter with his friend is a pharmacist. In game one he casts a turn-two Ainok Bond-Kin, but I manage to win pretty quickly on the back of Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc. Game two I cast a turn two Ainok Bond-Kin and then ask, “How do you like that? A taste of your own medicine.” (The pharmacy jokes goes over well, I am happy to report.) The game goes really long and he goes wide with Ponyback Brigade and Mardu Hordechief. Eventually he attacks with everything and I get blown out by an unmorphed Master of Pearls. We are running out of time and a draw does neither of us any good. Luckily, I get a super aggressive draw backed with removal (Murderous Cut and Abzan Charm) and manage to kill him in time. His draw wasn’t bad, but I was on the play and managed to keep applying pressure and he never managed to stabilize. So I make day two.

Afterward I go to dinner at the restaurant in the Lord Baltimore Hotel with Jon Finkel, Chris Pikula, Jamie Parke, Colette LeRoux, and some guy from Wisconsin named Dan Cecchetti. Chris is 9–0 and in jovial spirits. Jon is 8–1, and Jamie, Dan, and I are all 7–2. Colette realizes that she is the only one not to make day two and reacts appropriately. The Army–Navy game was earlier that day, and a lot of the people in the restaurant were in town for the game. This old guy stands up and yells for everyone also to stand up. I do so because I’m Asian and am afraid that if I don’t make an attempt to appear patriotic or friendly I will be lynched.

“I wanted to let everyone know how proud I am of my son!” the old guy yells out. “Everyone, raise your glasses! Raise your glasses! Army played Navy today, but there were no losers! No one lost that game!”

“Did the game end in a tie?” Jon asks.

“It’s just a figure of speech,” I say.

About thirty minutes later, the old guy demands that we all stand up again so that he can give another toast. As I am still Asian and still afraid that I will be lynched if I don’t appear patriotic or friendly, I stand up again.

“Everyone!” the old man yells, his face red with drink and passion and his arm around some old lady. “I met this lady tonight, and I got to know her—I don’t mean that I had sexual relations with her, that’s not what I mean! I don’t mean that!”

Chris promises that if he wins the Grand Prix, he would give a similar speech the next day.

Turns out we should have just left Baltimore that night.

Lan D. Ho has been playing Magic for a long time. He has two grand prix top 8s and finished in the money in five of his first six pro tours, including three top-25 finishes. He quit playing in the early 2000s, but no one quits forever.

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