When last we left off, I’d just made day 2 at GP Cleveland. I’d picked up my second loss in round 9, so I entered Day 2 at 7-2, just like BMac and Gabe. The three of us got a much-needed bite and pint with Hunter, GCB, and friends. I left early, to shower (‘cause man, one gets scuzzy at a GP), take NyQuil (‘cause I was still getting over being sick and was getting worse from overexerting myself), and sleep (‘cause it’s necessary for maintaining homeostasis).

Come the morning, BMac, Gabe, and I were all thankfully sorted into different pods—we wouldn’t have to play each other in the first draft. My draft went very well: I P1P1ed Whisperwood Elemental, one of the strongest cards in Fate Reforged, and settled into blue-green tempo, one of my favorite decks (with a light splash of black for Throttle and Abomination of Gudul). My matches were generally uninteresting and uninteractive: I had plenty of fixing and good mana, so I won games when my opponents got colorscrewed. I also had Whisperwood Elemental, which wins games by itself.

GP Cleveland Day 2 Draft 1

I lost the finals of my pod in three games. Game 1, I curved out and my opponent didn’t put up much resistance, so I won.

Game 2, we both mulliganed to 6 but my opponent got out a turn 5 Wingmate Roc with raid, so I lost (even if I’d had the fifth land to deploy the Whisperwood Elemental in my hand, I still would have lost, because I was on the draw).

Game 3, I managed to stabilize against something like a 17-point life swing involving a Jeering Instigator (my Sultai Flayer gave me just enough of a life pad to survive), however, I’d bricked on all six extra draws gained from Abzan Beastmaster and Treasure Cruise, so I failed to find my answers to the Abzan Skycaptain that pecked me to death.

Aside: I have to give huge props to Luis Chato and Twenty Sided Store for giving me practice with called drafts. Had I never done them before, I’d have been very nervous. However, with a few under my belt already, I was comfortable with and pretty darned excited to be drafting on Day 2.

I strongly recommend trying a called draft, even if it’s just a competitive draft with friends. You should know what it’s like to have a finite amount of time per pack, how to count and lay out packs quickly, and how it feels not to look at your picks in the middle of the draft.

Just Fate

For my second draft on Day 2, I drafted a substantially less consistent and powerful Sultai deck. This draft ended up having significantly more stories worth sharing, however.

GP Cleveland Day 2 Draft 2

(The card that’s cut off at the top is a Rakshasa’s Secret.)

Flash forward to round 1, game 1, and join me in the present tense. I’m in pretty good shape against BRw aggro. I’ve stabilized and am not under pressure. I have a high life total and I’m attacking with Tasigur, the Golden Fang. I activate Tasigur and get a Glacial Stalker from the top of my deck. I play it face down, pass the turn, my opponent passes back, and I draw. Then I realize: Glacial Stalker is still in my hand. I have played a face-down Ainok Guide by mistake.

That’s not a good thing.

I call a judge and begin with, “you’re about to give me a game loss” before explaining the situation. The judge is very kind and seems to really want to downgrade my penalty. I smile, knowing full well that my screw-up, particularly when caught this late (a turn has passed), has to end in at least a game loss (and likely will, since I’ve made no other infractions in the tournament). Another judge comes by, confirms that I will be issued a game loss, and like that, I’ve lost game one—a game that I was almost certainly a favorite to win—all because of my lapse in attention.

(If you’re reading this, Yoni, thanks for your kindness and assistance. Please contact me to finish the interview. You already found me! Hooray!)

I keep smiling. It’s not a forced smile – I’m not on tilt. I’m still in the same, good mood I was in at the start of the game. I make mistakes and that doesn’t make me a bad player. All players makes mistakes; good players don’t let one punt snowball into more misplays. And besides, the day before I was convinced that I’d go 0-X and flunk out: I’ve already vastly exceeded my expectations. I keep my calm, I play my cards, and I manage to 2-0 my next two games, winning the match. It feels good.

Scout's Warning

I meet up with BMac and he tells me all about his first round opponent’s insane Temur deck. Brendan had passed him (the person was directly to his left) a P3P2 Savage Knuckleblade and a P3P4 Sagu Mauler (apparently, everyone to the left of me was in Mardu/Jeskai and couldn’t/didn’t take the splashable bomb). The person had Disdainful Stroke, Stubborn Denial, Dragonscale Boon, Goblin HeelcutterSnowhorn Rider, and ample fixing. In short, his deck was very good and he had defeated Brendan and his very strong Jeskai deck. A minute later, pairings go up. BMac’s round one opponent is my round two opponent.

I’m at a disadvantage card-wise, since my opponent’s deck has more bombs than mine (he even discards a previously unknown Temur War Shaman to my Game 1, Turn 3 Rakshasa’s Secret). However, I have a huge information advantage, and my opponent knows nothing about my deck. In game 1, rather than apply pressure with my Disowned Ancestor or use it to hold off his small creatures, I set about making it a 4/8 as fast as possible. When my opponent gets both Sagu Mauler and Savage Knuckleblade out, he doesn’t have good attacks (because my small creatures would end up trading 1-for-1 for either of those bombs, thanks to my enormous blocker). I draw the game out, stall the board, and kill my opponent with a pair of Archers’ Parapets, and a Lotus-Path Djinn (with help from an Abomination of Gudul on the last turn).

Game 2 I board in my second Rakshasa’s Secret and Cancel. I die to Sagu Mauler + Dragonscale Boon + Temur Battle Rage in short order.

Game 3, I make some plays that would normally be suboptimal, like bouncing a turn 3 morph (which was, of course, Sagu Mauler, all to buy time and keep my opponent guessing—if he plays the Sagu Mauler it can die to Douse in Gloom; if he doesn’t, he might discard it to Rakshasa’s Secret; if he waits too long, it’ll get stopped by Cancel). Eventually, a face-up Sagu Mauler comes down, but I’m able to block it with Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Lotus Path Djinn, using Cancel to stop Temur Battle Rage and trade 1-for-1 the Mauler with my khan.

Later on, I trade a Glacial Stalker + Douse in Gloom with Temur War Shaman and suddenly the board is clear. I have two Archers’ Parapets and less than four minutes to bring my opponent down from 23 life. I play some of the fastest Magic of my life, apply as much pressure as I can, see one of my Parapets fall to a Burn Away, and manage to win game 3 with thirty seconds left on the clock.

It was the most exciting match I played all weekend. It wasn’t the match that made me day 2 (my first ever Limited Day 2). It wasn’t the match that knocked me out of top 8 contention. It was just a very hard, very interactive match against a very talented opponent with a very strong deck. It was a match that reminded me just how skill-testing and rewarding Magic is. It also made me appreciate the assistance and value of my friends: if BMac hadn’t lost his match to that player (or at least shared with me what he’d passed), I wouldn’t have known what I was up against and very likely would have lost.

Truce

With that, I’m 11-3. My adrenaline is still pumping from the match. I’m now guaranteed cash and a Pro Point. I have almost no time to refocus myself, as my match went so long.

For my fifteenth and final match in Cleveland, I’m paired against the friend of my previous opponent (so now I’m presumably at an informational disavantage). I want to play it out, both because I’m confident in my deck and I could use the Planeswalker Points. My opponent wants to split; if we play, it’s highly unlikely that either of us will crack the top 32 (the next tier up for prizes) and very likely that the loser will be knocked out of the top 64. I accede to his reasoning (deciding to instead consign someone not in our match to 65th+ place) and intentionally draw. It turns out, my opponent was correct – had I won, I’d have come in (I think) 34th place, just shy of the top 32.

I finished in 42nd place, at 11-3-1. I cashed for the first time and got my first Pro Point. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Marshdrinker Giant

At the airport, just after checking in, I’m flagged down by some acquaintances I’d met through Team Draft League. They invite me to join them for dinner and a drink. These gentlemen happen to be exceptionally skilled Magic Pros.

At first, it’s awkward, being so proud to have come in 42nd place in the company of folks who’ve top 8ed, if not outright won the Pro Tour. My accomplishments (and likely everything I’ll ever accomplish in Magic) won’t ever measure up to what any one of them has already done. They don’t know how I feel, of course, and they’re nothing but kind (and absorbed with the top 8 of the GP). The shame I feel is just a product of my own, awkward mind.

I then realize that of the four folks sitting at the table, I’m the only one who made day two. Plus, I managed to do so with a pretty lousy pool (it’s not like I rode a deck of bombs, removal, and perfect mana to victory). Sure, they’re better players than I, but that doesn’t denigrate my accomplishment. They’ll make day 2 more often than I, because they’re better players; however, they’re not guaranteed to make day 2 every time, and the fact that I did make it means both that I’m no slouch and that I can do it again.

Voyage's End

I hope you enjoyed some of the stories from Cleveland. It was a wild ride and one that I’m still nursing a cough from. Here’s looking forward to GP Atlantic City, and more stories to come. 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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