This past weekend was… unexpected to say the least. I traveled to GP Cleveland with Hipsters’ own Hunter and Carrie, as well as friend of the site and prolific streamer Gabe (aka SGDOC). This is the second Grand Prix I’ve been to since last March, so I had the rare opportunity to enjoy my two byes before they expire (due to my not having/making time for GPs this past year). I’ve got a few stories to share with y’all on the subject. For this article, I’ll focus on the first day of the Grand Prix.

Stench of Decay

Last week I got pretty sick. I’ve been slowly recovering, but the day before I flew to Cleveland, I took a turn for the worse. The primary reason I didn’t cancel the entire trip was because I couldn’t refund my flight. So, I went to Cleveland (I was on meds and wasn’t contagious; otherwise I’d not have gone). My throat was sore, my voice was hoarse, and I was congested from head to toe, but by George, I was going to compete.

I took Friday easy (after all, there was no point in grinding, since I already had the maximum number of byes I’d obtain by winning a grinder). I played in a draft, won it, had dinner, and went to sleep, hoping to both feel better and get a great pool.

Neither happened.

Curse of Thirst

I woke with almost no voice. I had a slow morning, ate breakfast, and arrived at the convention center just before noon. I had a sleep in special, so I received a preregistered pool.

Aside: sleep in specials are absolutely worth it. Even with only a single bye, you get to skip the player meeting and pool registration. That comes out to two extra hours of sleep/breakfast time/mental relaxation. Plus, you avoid the pointless and pervasive “should I drop for this $100 pool” line of thinking. 

The first card in my pool was Ugin, the Spirit Dragon—an insanely powerful, albeit extremely slow card. Deeper down I found Daghatar the Adamant, Wildcall, and Ghostfire Blade. These cards range from very to absurdly powerful. I was pretty excited to have these bomb rares; I’d need them to contend with my opponents’ bombs, particularly as the day went on and my opponents’ decks got better (assuming I did well).

Looking through the rest of my cards, I discovered that white, black, and green were all light on both playable cards and fixing. All of my fixing was in Jeskai, the majority of my creatures were in blue-red, and most of my creatures were aggressive two-drops. So, I started building UR aggro.

Smoldering Efreet

I had three of these (none were foil).

I couldn’t splash Wildcall in UR without fixing and I couldn’t play heavy green without creatures. So, Wildcall was out.

Daghatar the Adamant isn’t particularly strong without access to black or green mana, and I’d be splashing him as just a 4/4 for four in UR, so he was out, too.

My UR deck was fast, so Ugin, the Spirit Dragon was going to be a dead card unless I was losing the game very badly. I already knew from TDL that splashing Ugin in UR hyperaggro never ends well, so the planeswalker was out, too.

Suddenly, the only bomb I was playing was Ghostfire Blade, and it only had two colorless creatures to pair well with (a splashed Sage-Eye Harrier and War Behemoth). I splashed white (with plenty of fixing) for two copies of War Flare to combine with my aggressive creatures. I registered the following:

GP Cleveland Day 1 UR maindeck

I had slim pickings in the board.

GP Cleveland Day 1 sideboard

You can call me crazy for not playing Whisk Away. I chose not to because it’s not a very good spell in aggressive decks. You want your cards to either be threats or help your threats kill your opponent. Whisk Away is a conditional removal spell that doesn’t help you get damage in. If either copy were a far more proactive Will of the Naga or Force Away, it’d be in the deck for sure.

GP Cleveland Day 1 Abzan alternate deck

Here’s the alternate Abzan deck I made. It plays all of my bombs and Abzan creatures. I chose not to maindeck it because it has awkward fixing, an incoherent game plan, and a difficult time beating decks with powerful bombs like Torrent Elemental, Wingmate Roc, and Whisperwood Elemental: cards that I am nearly guaranteed to face if I do well in Sealed.

I chose to maindeck UR over Abzan because, assuming I did well, I’d almost assuredly be facing decks full of bombs that would presumably be slower, more inconsistent, and less streamlined than my UR (but superior to my Abzan deck in these respects). Those decks would fall to my aggression before they’d have a chance to get their powerful cards online. Against less powerful decks, I’d side into Abzan.

In my first round, my opponent mulliganed to 5 on the play against my hand full of two-drop 2/2 creatures. I was ready to flood the board and take over the game. Instead, on turn 3, my opponent played a third land and won the game.

Jeskai Infiltrator

Jeskai Infiltrator, by itself, defeats an infinite number of 2/2s for two. I failed to find a third land, so Ghostfire Blade and War Flare, my only outs, were uncastable. I boarded into Abzan for game 2 (won) and game 3 (lost due to mana screw, an expected problem with the deck).

With that, I realized that my lackluster pool was indeed going to flunk out of the event and started debating the merits of playing in the Sunday Super Series versus rescheduling my flight. I decided to not even think about making day 2 and just focus on playing good Magic and grinding Planeswalker Points for byes.

Abandon Hope

The next several rounds were pretty much identical.

  • I win game 1 with UR. (The deck rarely has to mulligan and mulligans reasonably well.)
  • I watch my opponent sideboard in a pile of cards to deal with aggro, mostly removing their strong, but very slow cards (y’know, presumably doing things like sideboarding out Ugin, the Spirit Dragon for Highland Game).
  • I board into Abzan.
  • My opponent, unprepared and incorrectly boarded for a slow deck with bombs, loses game 2.

Come round 8, my first win-and-in (I’m still X-1 at this point), I lose game 2 against a deck I discover to still be incredibly bomby and fast. I board back into UR, smash face against what should have been a mulligan, and like that, I’m locked for Day 2. For the second time ever. For the first time in Limited, the Magic format I’m best at. I DID IT!

ShockerI didn’t know how to react. I didn’t have any expectations of making it nearly this far. Making Day 2 simply wasn’t a possible outcome in my mind. I didn’t even expect to be at the event site that late in the day: I’d been popping pain pills, lozenges, and decongestants all day just to stay on my feet.

It was… so much easier than I expected. I hadn’t been playing particularly skill-intensive or interesting Magic; I was just smashing face with aggro then switching into a midrange deck. The cards practically played themselves. My opponents didn’t mulligan enough, particularly when Day 2 was on the line, and gave me a couple of free wins along the way.

To be frank, my matches were easier than an average Team Draft League match. I say this not to insult my opponents, because they were good, but to establish just how talented and competitive the TDL community (that I’m lucky to be a part of) is.

I lost round 9 to a turn 5 Whisperwood Elemental on the play, then lost game 2 to a 5/5 lifelink Abzan Kin-Guard which had been bolstered by Elite Scaleguard, which stabilized my opponent at 1 life. I didn’t care. I didn’t have to play Sealed anymore! I could finally, FINALLY draft! And best of all, Carrie and Gabe had made it to Day 2 as well!

Second Wind

The majority of my stories fall on Day 2, but that’ll have to wait until next week. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my tale so far, because Day 2 is when all the best stuff happened. Sorry there isn’t room for it now.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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