Lan D. Ho is filling in for me with the debilitating conclusion to his Grand Prix Baltimore saga. I’ll be back next week with an article on Destiny.

Grand Prix Baltimore Day Two

By Lan D. Ho

Sunday morning, I wake up and have a semi-leisurely shower before packing up and heading over to the site with Jon, Chris, and Jamie. I sit down at my pod and recognize a few of the players: Gerard Fabiano is to my right, passing to me, and across the table is Jamie. To my left is Dan Cecchetti, who sat with us at dinner the night before.

The draft feels very strange. My pack is unspectacular and I take Secret Plans. I’m not really sure what’s going on in the draft, and after pack one I am essentially monoblue. I remember opening Scion of Glaciers and passing one pick 2. I take a Scion of Glaciers pick 6 and am surprised to see Efreet Weaponmaster pick 7, which suggests that Jeskai is open. I see nothing else in the remainder of the pack but make a note to keep my eyes open in pack 2. I get two Scions of Glaciers picks 9 and 10, which seems fine and suggests that I am on the right track drafting blue. Pack 2 I open Savage Knuckleblade and take that. The cards don’t really go my way, and it feels as if someone is cutting me off, but that can’t possibly be right as I still haven’t fully committed to a wedge yet. (I am probably going to end up in either Temur or Jeskai, more likely Temur.) I keep an eye out for morphs but precious few are making it my way. Pack 3 I open a Hooded Hydra and happily take that. Then in the middle of pack 3—picks 4, 5, and 6 I think—is a spectacular run of Jeskai cards: Mantis Rider, Jeskai Charm, and Sage of the Inward Eye. So my guess that Jeskai was open in the middle of pack 1 was right, but the cards just didn’t fall that way.

Here is the deck I end up playing:

2014-12-14 GP Baltimore Draft 1

I’m not very happy with the deck, but it does have some play. The Cancel will probably trade up and is better with the two Force Aways. Weave Fate and Blinding Spray are not particularly good cards but work well in concert with one another and also get better with Cancel. (You can leave your mana but still have something to do if the opponent does nothing during his or her turn.)

Round 10 I am paired against Dan Cecchetti. He is playing a Mardu deck that goes wide with Ponyback Brigade and Trumpet Blast. I lose game one pretty quickly. I notice that he was playing an Island, so I surmise that he is probably greedily playing the Mantis Rider and the Jeskai Charm that I unhappily shipped along in pack 3 of the draft. Game two is pretty much the same as game one and ends quickly. I feel pretty pessimistic about my deck, but to be fair Dan’s deck is also a bad matchup for mine. If I draw Arc Lightning and Blinding Spray, I do have a chance, but my Force Aways and my combat tricks are very suboptimal in this matchup.

I am paired against Daniel Stella in round 11. He comments that the draft was weird, which I take to mean that his deck, like mine, was not very good. It turns out that his deck was one of the worst I had ever seen. If I recall correctly, his deck contained two Jeskai Students, two Mardu Banners, and two Dazzling Ramparts. (“That’s a nice curve,” the astute reader will remark.) I never feel threatened during this match. I throw away an Awaken the Bear attacking into Dazzling Ramparts in game one because I think it has 5 toughness instead of 7. “People don’t really know what this card is because no one ever plays with it,” Dan says apologetically.  During both games I remember thinking, wow, he has a lot of mana—what’s going on over there? and looking over and seeing that he had only one or two cards in hand. He had played out his hand in the form of banners, so it felt like he had mulliganed a couple of times. The games are pretty quick but friendly. Afterward, he says that that was the worst deck he had ever drafted and that he felt lost during the draft.

My spirits are somewhat buoyed after this match. No matter how unhappy I was with my deck, at least I didn’t have Dan Stella’s deck. (Even I am privy to a little bit of schadenfreude from time to time.)

Round 12 I am paired against Chase Kovac. He is playing a Mardu warriors deck that is primarily black and white. It’s not outrageously fast but instead based around various outlast guys more so than warriors and Rush of Battle. In game one I manage to lose to Abzan Falconer and other flyers. The second game goes long and is close; I manage to win when I suspiciously attack with an Alpine Grizzly into his board, which contains a Disowned Ancestor with one +1/+1 counter on it and a Salt Road Patrol (with none). He is at 2 life. He blocks with the Disowned Ancestor and I cast Awaken the Bear, trampling over for lethal. Afterward he is muttering to himself, angry that he didn’t double block. (I would have killed the Salt Road Patrol and the game would have continued. I think I would have been advantaged going forward, but he certainly wouldn’t have lost on the spot as he did.)

Game three of round 12 is a really tight game. We both develop our board, and I am getting in with a Jeskai Windscout. He has a Salt Road Patrol on his side of the board, which prevents my morphs from attacking. At some point he puts a +1+/1 counter on it. The morphs are a Woolly Loxodon and a Snowhorn Rider, but I am never in a position where I feel comfortable spending a turn unmorphing them. Eventually he casts an Abzan Falconer with two mana up. I have Arc Lightning in hand and I draw Crippling Chill. I have six mana. I think about casting Arc Lightning on the Falconer, removing Chase’s most relevant threat, but it really seems to me that he has Feat of Resistance in hand. If he does, casting Arc Lightning would be a total disaster, as it would not only counter my spell but also give the Falconer flying. On his turn he outlasts his Falconer, turning on flying. On my turn I draw Savage Knuckleblade. We are both at 12 life.

I wonder whether there are any profitable attacks for me—he has a 3/6 flyer untapped with enough mana for a Feat of Resistance, and a tapped 3/4 flyer. If I attack with everything, I think I will be committing to spending my mana unmorphing something this turn. If he blocks a morph, then I have to decide which morph to unmorph. If I unmorph the unblocked morph, I will deal at least 7 damage, reducing him to 5, leaving the board as Windscout and either a Loxodon or a Snowhorn Rider on my side and he with a 3/4 Falconer and a 3/6 Salt Road Patrol in play with a Feat of Resistance in hand. He will at that point be at 4 or 5 and will not be able to attack profitably unless he stabilizes the board. On the other hand, he will have the initiative, as I will not be able to attack into him until I further develop my board. So it seems bad to unilaterally decide to unmorph the unblocked morph. If he blocks a morph and decides to block the Loxodon, then I think I should unmorph that one, potentially dealing enough damage to kill the Salt Road Patrol. At this point he would probably cast Feat of Resistance on it, saving it. I would deal 4 damage, reducing him to 8. He would no longer have a Feat of Resistance in play and I would have an untapped Loxodon along with a Windscout and a morphed Snowhorn Rider, which I could potentially unmorph next turn. However, he would then have a 4/7 Salt Road Patrol, which makes my attacking less profitable. But because he would have burned his Feat, my Crippling Chill would be active. On the other hand, if he blocked the Snowhorn Rider and I unmorph that, he simply takes 4, going down to 8, and he is left with a 3/4 Falconer, a 3/6 Salt Road Patrol (both flying), and a Feat of Resistance. If this is the case I can attack again next turn and then unmorph the Loxodon. Assuming nothing changes, I will be able to start swinging in with everything these next two turns and then put pressure on Chase. But if he starts casting creatures who can chump block, then my attacks suddenly don’t seem great.

On the other hand, if he blocks the Windscout, I lose my only potential chump blocker (as his creatures all fly) and also I spend my entire turn unmorphing a creature. He then has the initiative, as any sort of removal spell just blows me out.

Given all of this, I’m not convinced that attacking is right. I cast Savage Knuckleblade and pass the turn. Knuckleblade is big enough that casting it is like unmorphing one of my creatures.

On Chase’s turn, he attacks with both Falconer and Salt Road Patrol, bringing me down to 6. He then casts Timely Hordemate, bringing back Mardu Hateblade and leaving two mana untapped. On my turn I think through things but per my calculations I have lethal. I cast Arc Lightning on his Hordemate and his Hateblade, dealing 2 and 1, respectively. He thinks for a long time and then casts Feat of Resistance. I go through the math: the Hateblade will die, leaving only the Hordemate. However, the Hordemate will have 3 toughness because of the +1/+1 counter, so it will survive. It will also have flying. But he is at 12, and I have 8 power on the ground. The Windscout is now a 3/2, and as soon as I cast Crippling Chill, I will have two prowess triggers, I will have 12 power on the board, which is lethal. Chase grabs a die and puts it on the Hordemate and then says, “I’m naming blue.” I say, “Hold on—in response, I’m casting Crippling Chill targeting the Hordemate.”

At which point he explodes, saying that the spell already resolved.

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

He is insistent that Feat of Resistance resolved, which to me doesn’t make any sense. We call over a judge. As we explain things to the judge, I see myself unbelievably losing the argument in the judge’s eyes: Chase declares everything and speaks in absolute terms, whereas I express things in terms of what “probably” and what “likely” happened. To think that you’re 100 percent certain of something and then to be wrong is to expose yourself to risk of ruin; because that has been drilled into me so deeply, it has bled over into my everyday communication. In this case, my expressing myself in such a manner probably made it seem that I was unsure as to what happened. The floor judge ruled in Chase’s favor. I am incredulous and immediately appeal to the head judge. The two co-head judges, Carlos Ho and Sean Catanese, come over. We go through the whole scenario again and Carlos agrees with the floor judge’s ruling. I ask how this could possibly be the case, but Carlos’s reasoning is that “enough time had passed” and so the spell resolved. This reasoning to me makes no sense to me—I don’t understand how a spell can resolve without my letting it resolve. But Carlos was adamant in his ruling and forced me to play as if the Feat of Resistance resolved. I end up attacking with no creatures. I try to cast Crippling Chill on one of his attackers and plan to chump block with my Windscout. Chase has the Rite of the Serpent and I lose the game.

Afterward, I am livid and I refuse to sign the match slip. I think Chase was still angry with losing the second game by not double blocking and suddenly saw the match slipping away, and so he latched onto whatever argument he could. I would not be so upset if the game weren’t deterministic at that point: he was at 12 life and had no mana untapped; I had 12 power on the board and had dealt with all his blockers. It was as if Carlos had forced me to misplay and lose the match.

I am overcome by anger and I react badly after the round ends. Sean Catanese, the other head judge, asks to speak to me before the next draft starts. He witnessed the ruling but did not comment or intervene while it was going on.

“Look, I know you’re angry,” he says, and then I interrupt him.

“I’m very angry right now,” I say. “I’m really upset, and I feel like I’ve been cheated. But that doesn’t excuse my behavior. I’m out of line, and I want to apologize for that. I’m sorry. I’m just very angry, and I let my emotions get the best of me.”

He tells me that he understands. He also says that, during the remainder of the event, if I get seated in proximity to Chase Kovac, if I feel that it will make me unduly upset, I can just get up and find a judge and request to be moved and that the staff would accommodate me, no questions ask. I wouldn’t even have to call a judge over to make it awkward, he said—just get up, find a judge, and explain the situation. I thank him for this. While I find Chase’s angle shooting (or whatever you want to call it) and the ruling both outrageous, Sean’s resolution afterward was probably the best I could have hoped for.

At this point I am on full-blown monkey tilt, but I am cognizant of this, so when I sit down to draft I tell myself, “Look, you’re on full-blown monkey tilt, but don’t let that affect your draft. Just draft a good deck. Pick good cards and try to read the draft.

Unfortunately, a man on full-blown monkey tilt doesn’t listen to reason, even—especially?—if it stems from his superego. I open a mediocre pack and I take a first-pick Summit Prowler, harkening back to a deck that Dan O’Mahoney-Schwartz played in a team-sealed grinder at Grand Prix: Nashville: a red-green beater deck with lots of Alpine Grizzlies, Summit Prowlers, and Savage Punches. I wanted to cast big stupid creatures and I wanted to attack my opponents with them!

And that, my friends, is how you end up with a deck that looks like this:

2014-12-14 GP Baltimore Draft 2 TILT

But I wasn’t the only person on full-blown monkey tilt at that moment: Chris Pikula, who finished day one 9–0, went 0–3 in his draft pod. Man, this was shaping up to be an unhappy car ride home.

In between drafts I talk with Mark LePine, who hears the story of the ruling and can’t believe it. He himself was the victim of a bad ruling, although in his case it was bad at the institutional level: at Grand Prix: Orlando, he had gone 7–2 day one and had ripped off five straight wins on day two. He was playing for top 8 and in game three his opponent cast Force Away on his morph. He picked it up without revealing it. While he and his opponent both agreed which card was the card that he picked up and the entire thing was caught on camera (as he was playing a feature match), the judge was compelled to give Mark a game loss because of the way the rules were written. He had continued to communicate with Toby Eliot after the incident, and I think that that incident led to the rules change that would be effective this weekend in Baltimore.

Mark was just as incredulous as I was regarding the ruling, however, so he went to talk to head judge Carlos Ho about it. Carlos reiterated the reasoning he had made on the floor: that enough time had passed that the spell had implicitly resolved. He walked back, still not really believing or understanding what happened.

Sometime before round 13 starts Mike Stein comes over and shows me his deck: he has three Mantis Riders. I wasn’t really in the mood to be jovial, as I am still on full-blown monkey tilt, but I try to be friendly.

Also in the midst of all this drama I lose my notebook and my relatively fancy pen.

The next three matches are kind of a blur.

In round 13 I play against Timothy Guy. He has a mediocre red-blue deck, and I win pretty quickly in two on the back of Summit Prowlers and Dragon-Style Twins. Holy shit, maybe my deck is better than I thought.

Chris lost round 13 as well, bringing his day 2 record to an ignominious 0–4. “If I lose the next round, I’m just dropping,” he tells me. “I can’t deal with the shame of possibly going 0–6 day two.”

My newfound optimism, however, was just an example of recency bias, and my newfound happiness just an example of peak-end theory. In round 14, I get paired against Kevin Zhao, who is playing a red-white based Mardu deck. In game one he is on the play and manages to do 10 damage with a pair of Valley Dashers before I stabilize the board, at which point he casts End Hostilities (!). He then casts Ashcloud Phoenix and administers the beatdown. I side in Cancel because of the two bombs that I saw. Game two he forgoes the Valley Dashers and just casts Ashcloud Phoenix and other stupid creatures before finishing me off with two Arrow Storms.

Magic is stupid, anyway.

Chris loses round 14 and true to his word drops. Andrew Boswell has six losses and drops as well. He and Chris play side games of Legacy—the last refuge of a scoundrel.

In round 15 I get paired against Matt Mu. During our match, I tell him, “That’s a nice jacket. What is it—Julius?” He is very surprised that I recognize such an esoteric brand. We chat amicably over Julius and both agree that Julius’s leather jackets are much better than Rick Owens’s. After the match, he said, “I can’t believe that someone at a Magic tournament knows what Julius is.”

He is playing a green-blue deck that doesn’t look great either but (again) is better than mine. I blow him out in game one with Swift Kick in response to a Savage Punch (which prompted a raised eyebrow from Matt and the comment, “Wow, Swift Kick,” to which I reply, “It’s not good, but it was good here”), but I manage to lose the game anyway. Game two I win on the back of Barrage of Boulders. Game three I lose because my deck suxxx.

I think we listen to metal on the way home. I don’t remember because I don’t care. I’m pretty wabi sabi about winning and losing these days, but the bullshit with Chase in round 12 left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m guessing that Chris felt similarly with bombing out on day two.

But after we got back to the suburbs of Philadelphia, Chris and I had this exchange via text:

2014-12-14-23 Screenshot Pikula

Who am I kidding? Magic is awesome.

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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