This past weekend was Grand Prix Atlantic City 2015, and on Friday I headed down from Brooklyn with fellow Hipsters Dave “Bones” McCoy, Derek “Life Is Pain, Princess” Gallen, and Hugh “Now That’s What I Call Music Vol. 54” Kramer.

Two things: One, I had a shit-ton of fun. Two, I didn’t do so hot, even with a good-to-great pool. I do, however, feel like I made some strides this weekend, both in terms of building my Dragons of Tarkir sealed pool, and in playing my matches.

Dave and I hit up White House Subs before the main event. So good.

Dave and I hit up White House Subs before the main event. So good.

A big shout-out on the first point—even more than usual—to Marshall Sutcliffe and Luis Scott-Vargas, of the Limited Resources podcast, which, if you haven’t gotten the memo, is the hands-down best Magic content out there. Last week they did a sealed episode with Josh Utter-Leyton (so many hyphenated last names in Magic!) and it really stuck with me on Saturday morning as I was building my deck.

I made some interesting choices, at least for me. At previous GPs I might have maindecked the Sultai Emissary or Champion of Arashin, though neither really worked with my deck’s plan, or even included the red package of Draconic Roar, Roast, Sarkhan’s Rage, and Windswept Crag. Now, it’s possible that I was wrong, and that I should have included the red burn spells, but I think I had good enough removal options in white and colorless—Silkwrap, Vial of Dragonfire, Reach of Shadows, Harsh Sustenance, and Pacifism—that it wasn’t worth fucking up my mana to include them.

Here’s my build:

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I was also proud of my decision to include Honor’s Reward, which—while not super-powerful in its own right—really worked with my deck’s plan. Bolstering onto Lightwalker; having a cheap-ish, instant-speed trick; and having another way to trigger my Ojutai Exemplars—in addition to some mild Fog insurance—all felt like good-enough corner-case reasons to include the card.

I had two byes, so I kicked things off in R3, against a strong player and his UB deck. I managed to fight back from like two life thanks to Palace Siege, playing really tightly to get the win, and in R4 I was unfortunately paired up against former Team Draft League teammate and all-around awesome lady Monique Garraud. We each had mana problems, taking a game apiece off each other, and then I won the rubber match, improving to 4-0.

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It’s easy to feel like you’re going on a run in a GP. But even after starting off 4-0, I had a long row to hoe. And, sure enough, the wheels started to come off in the follow round.

I was paired up against a guy who seemed nice enough, but who seemed somewhat nervous; his hands were shaking, and he was taking a long time to choose which lines of play to make with his RB Impact Tremors deck. I got the impression that perhaps this was his first GP, and that he had maybe read a lot about competitive events, and was duly freaked out by them—what with all the recent allegations of cheating—but didn’t have the seasoning to know what might be untoward and should be paid attention to, and what wasn’t.

In the middle of the match, I reminded my opponent a couple of times that “we” needed to play faster, and to his credit he did make an attempt to speed up.

Then a weird thing happened. In game three, I had five mana up on my turn, and five cards in hand: Ojutai Exemplars, Typhoid Rats, Evolving Wilds, and two more spells. Like I said, we were running out of time, so I was trying to play quickly. After I made an attack, I cast Exemplars, cast Rats, and played Evolving Wilds, all in rapid sequence.

“Can I read Exemplars?” my opponent asked. “Sure,” I said. As he picked up the card, I added, in the interest of saving time, “I’m going to go ahead and crack Evolving Wilds.” I set my now-two-card hand down to the bottom left of my playmat, picked up my deck and quickly found a Swamp, which I played tapped to the left side of my mat, just north of my hand.

“Did you play that land from your hand?” my opponent asked.

“What?” I said. I was genuinely confused by what he meant.

“You just played that Swamp from your hand,” he said.

“No, I didn’t,” I said, and explained the process that had occurred. At this point my hand was still face-down on the table.

My opponent wasn’t satisfied, though, and so I said we should call a judge. That’s always the right thing to do in these circumstances. The judge came over, got my opponent’s side of the story, got mine, and ruled that he saw nothing untoward in what had happened, and let the game proceed.

It’s worth examining why I “won” this judge call. My opponent only had a vague idea that something bad had happened—which, it should be noted, would have been really difficult for me to have pulled off; I would have had to have Evolving Wilds + Swamp + another card in hand, and then, when I went to crack Wilds, very quickly grabbed a spell, placed it into my hand, and swapped it with the Swamp. All told, a pretty complex and on-the-fly cheat.

So I told the judge the details of what happened, which I knew intimately: My hand was here, my opponent was doing X while I cracked the Wilds, I played the Swamp here (near my hand but not from it), and so on. I wasn’t trying to hide anything—because I had nothing to hide—and all my information checked out, so I “won” the call. My opponent was still salty about it, though.

In any case, things didn’t get better. Even with our time extension—during which time another judge had been sitting on our match—we went to turns, and my opponent wasn’t able to kill me in time. I was at a low life total, though, and he wasn’t, and so he asked if I would concede to him. At that point I was 4-0 and he was 3-0-1—I had been paired down—and he made the argument that one loss mattered less to me than it did to him, since he already effectively had a “loss,” at least in terms of making Day Two.

I told him that I was sorry, but that I wouldn’t be conceding to him. He argued that a loss for me was the same thing as a draw, which is true if you’re only talking about making Day Two—but going into Day Two at X-1-1 is far better than X-2, and I told him as much, which I’m not sure he got. He jawed at me for a while, and asked the judge if a player should call a judge if they are worried about slow play. “Yes,” the judge said, “but I’ve seen no evidence of slow play from your opponent in this match.” We signed the match slip, which the judge took and went on his way.

“You did play that land from your hand, though,” my opponent said.

“I didn’t,” I said, “and the judge has already ruled on that. If you insist on continuing to accuse me of cheating, I’m going to call a judge about unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The guy was just flustered, I think. He made a weird statement at the end that he hoped we both made Day Two, and I agreed and wished him luck. Still, the match had gone well past time, and I was kind of rattled, despite my experience with such things.

It all went downhill from there. The following round I lost to a T4 Thunderbreak Regent in G1, and T5 Thunderbreak Regent in G2, and in round seven I got my opponent down to a really low life total in G1 before he stabilized and started to pull ahead with Palace Siege. You live by the gun, you die by the gun, I guess. I lost G2 in a less demoralizing fashion but, either way, just like that, my tournament was over.

I knew at that point that my dream of getting two byes for next year—already a long shot—was dead, so after a nice and educational conversation with my opponent about possible lines of play and decisions that had happened in our match, I decided to drop.

Soon I hooked up with BMac and Rich at Wingcraft, a pretty decent craft beer and wings bar nearby, and there we stayed for the rest of the night, while comrades both successful (congrats Hugh, Abe, Rob, Steven, and Zac!) and fallen (sorry Dave) filled the place up. I had a hell of a lot of fun, and the next day I even got to sweat the one and only Hugh Kramer as he played a win-and-in match for Top 8 against Jacob Wilson.

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As we were watching the match, I told Monique that I was as nervous as I would have been had it been me playing for the Top 8 slot; we all were on edge. Sadly, Hugh fell to an on-curve Dragonlord Ojutai in G3, and finished ultimately in 14th. Daggers, but a massive accomplishment nonetheless.

Long story short, go to GPs! They’re super fun, as I think Steven B.—who attended his first GP *and* made his first Day 2, which is no small feat—can attest. Also, call a judge when something’s awry, but don’t get all riled up about it. Ari Lax had a great column this week on StarCityGames (sadly it’s premium) about misconceptions about the Pro Tour, as well as how to handle judge calls that I highly recommend everyone read. He kind of echoes some of the stuff I said above, and it’s all good advice. In the meantime, good luck and have fun! Also check out these handsome mugs:

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23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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