By Gabe R.

“Cmoooooon’—you can’t just farm 8-4s on MODO forever, man. Besides, it’d be good for you,” seemed to be the consensus among my viewership at-large and my Magic-playing friends here in NYC. So I relented and signed up for my first Grand Prix. I mean, what better place could I spend my spring break than GP Cleveland? Some prefer Florida beaches, but after this past weekend, I’ll take Ohio basements every day of the week.

So who was to be my posse? Hunter “Hail” Slaton, the man behind the most famous mustache in Magic, Zach “High Sentinels of Barashin” Barash, fellow Upper West Sider and writer of the “Drawing Live” column, and Brendan “BMac” McNamara, Brooklyn bro recently turned Denver-ite and PT competitor. We all flew in at different times, but we ended up at the same “Bar and a Kitchen” on Friday night. We had some good beers, discussed sealed, and when we were done, we headed over to the Marriott for some rest.

I slept that light, kid-on-Christmas-eve sleep, dreaming of Sieges and Rocs and Torrents. I also didn’t have much time for sleep, since, unlike my three amigos, I was on the honest, no byes plan. You see, I play almost all of my Magic online or in art studios with a bunch of people who look like this:

hipsterdraft

Shockingly enough, that style of play doesn’t leave me with many Planeswalker Points. So I shuffled across the street to the convention center bleary-eyed and alone, but I was met with some friendly faces once I got there. Apparently, I am not just talking to myself five nights a week in my room late at night. Well, actually, I am, but there are some people who watch and actually enjoy themselves despite my best efforts. I was asked to sign a bunch of playmats and cards, the highlights of which were a foil [casthaven]Boros Cluestone[/casthaven] and an [casthaven]Ascended Lawmage[/casthaven]. I was very fatigued from travel and lack of sleep, but all these friendly faces woke me right up.

I spoke with Zach at the Card Advantage booth, who had told me on Twitter to stop by, and I caught up with a lot of viewers before deck registration started. Even some judges said “Hi, Doc,” as they passed through the aisles. It was nice to put faces to the various usernames in the chat, and everyone was excited to follow me throughout the event. I reminded them that it was my first GP and they shouldn’t get their hopes up, but they seemed far more convinced than I that they’d be sweating me on Day 2.

Okay—right—Magic. My sealed build was tough. It was obvious I had to play U/B (see Silumgar, [casthaven]Murderous Cut[/casthaven], [casthaven]Treasure Cruise[/casthaven]), but beyond that there were choices to be made that weren’t so obvious. I had 34 Esper playables and 27 Sultai playables, but the fixing was pretty mediocre for Sultai.

I ended up very heavy U/B, with six white sources to sneak in [casthaven]Dragonscale General[/casthaven], 2x [casthaven]Feat of Resistance[/casthaven], a [casthaven]Kill Shot[/casthaven], and a [casthaven]Master of Pearls[/casthaven] (I had 2x [casthaven]Write Into Being[/casthaven] to flip it for 1W, which happened multiple times). Then came the toughest choice: whether to splash [casthaven]Warden of the First Tree[/casthaven]. I ended up doing so with the knowledge that it was a turn 15 play so that I could win the game if Silumgar failed me or I was low on life against an [casthaven]Arrow Storm [/casthaven]deck. My main complaint about my deck was that not one card in my pool had the words “counter target spell” on it. That’s a huge issue in sealed when you’re playing blue, but I bluffed [casthaven]Disdainful Stroke[/casthaven] all day, and some people bought it.

I started the tournament by losing R1G1 to my own inexperience. I should have appealed a very bad judge call, but I didn’t. I lost that match as well. After losing R3 (to [casthaven]Wingmate Roc[/casthaven] + double [casthaven]Palace Siege[/casthaven]), I was feeling pretty low at 1-2. Even still, the viewers who came up and thanked me for streaming were convinced that if anyone could run six wins in a row, it was the Doc. I smiled and explained that at this point I was just playing for fun and points. Then I started winning … a lot. In round 6, at 3-2, I beat a guy who resolved Tasigur, [casthaven]Whisperwood Elemental[/casthaven], Anafenza, and [casthaven]Necropolis Fiend[/casthaven] (all four, all three games). He wasn’t even mad; we had played an awesome control mirror and I won with Warden as time was called. It was at this point I started to feel hope creeping up on me. I had rattled off three in a row, but I needed another three. I got what I needed, and my round nine opponent was classy in defeat as I buried him after stabilizing at 2 life by dousing my own [casthaven]Dragonscale General[/casthaven] in gloom in response to a lethal [casthaven]Arrow Storm[/casthaven].

I was ecstatic, and so was everyone else who had been schvitzing throughout my progress. BMac, Zach, and I (the Day 2 crew) met Slaton at a nice bar/restaurant nearby for some drinks with Chris Pikula and Jamie Parke. I had played next to fellow Gabe and known PTQ crusher Uncle GCB in round nine, but he had not fared as well and joined us at the bar for some consolation drinks. An old friend of mine (the OGs of the stream will remember him as Flakmagnet or Phil) even drove down from Detroit just to come drinking and lend moral support in case I scrubbed out. He joined us at the next bar as well, but is not pictured with the other misers here:

miserbeers

Day two is a blur. So I’ll just share with you the parts I remember well and the parts Phil described to me from the sidelines. The one thing I will never forget from my first draft pod is the feeling of picking up the last two cards from the right (pack three, pick 13) and being BLOWN AWAY by the [casthaven]Feat of Resistance[/casthaven] I found there. Marshall Sutcliffe (another very nice guy) couldn’t believe it when I told him that evening, either. Mardu had been as open as ever, and I was ready to crush with it.

Meanwhile, Phil was watching from the aisles between the tables, and later described to me a moment in which there was no loud talking or clanging of chairs or movement about the room. There was only shuffling of decks before the first round of draft; “everyone had the same look on their face,” he told me, “cordial and pleasant, but ruthless and bloodthirsty.” From my perspective, the room was as calm as it had been that weekend, and I was ready for the 3-0 that followed.

Pod two was not so soft, and my seat was particularly wonky, but I ended up with an okay deck (Sultai splashing [casthaven]Duneblast[/casthaven]). My round 13 draws were abysmal, and the dream died there. Fortunately, I still had the pleasure of being combo’d out by Sam Black (who is really nice even when he’s [casthaven]Master the Way[/casthaven]-ing your face for 14) and having a very kind viewer scoop me into the top 100 in round 15 (I didn’t even have to ask). My goal had been to Day 2, and I had surpassed it: I left the tournament with a pro point, a cashing 11-4 record, and this degenerate:

kenjigpcleve

Oh, right! I met Kenji (another really nice guy) after round two of Day 1! We swapped decks (his pool was very unfortunate) and made plans to chill later in the weekend. After round 15, we grabbed dinner and drinks with some viewers and friends at another bar across town. I jokingly suggested he should fire up a remote stream when he got back to his hotel, and he proceeded to do so. I was too busy drafting with the coverage team to join him (see BMac’s article for details on how we crushed).

So … I played a LOT of Magic, as is to be expected from a GP weekend, but that’s not what I enjoyed the most. I was lucky enough to have played against 15 consecutive nice opponents: No one was salty or gloating, and all of the other people I interacted with, whether they knew me or not, were super cool. I was happy to have met all of these fantastic spell-slingers on my way to 92nd place, and I’m looking forward to running it back whenever I can make it to my next GP.

Gabe R. aka Doc is an Upper West Side keyboard cage fighter. He began his training at age six with Visions and Tempest under the tutelage of his older cousin, and was taught the wax-on, wax-off of card interaction at an impressionable age. He has been a Limited hound since Limited first came to the competitive Magic scene, and he polished his drafting chops as a high-schooler at Neutral Ground. After spiking an unhealthy number of FNMs and other local events, he took a break from the cardboard crack for college, and has since made a return as a law-school punk. He began streaming on Twitch about a year ago as “The Doc” (based on a childhood nickname), and has grown his channel into the largest non-professional stream on Twitch’s Magic: The Gathering page. He has had little time to play in PTQs or travel to Grand Prix due to schoolwork, so he channels all his run-goods into MTGO 8-4s and Team Draft League matches.

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