By Hugh Kramer, Grade 8


I play a lot of Limited Magic. If I had to guess, I’d estimate that at least 30% of any given day I spend my waking hours thinking about Limited Magic. Leading up to Grand Prix Atlantic City I set high expectations for myself and was thrilled with the outcome. I missed Top 8 by one game and finished the tournament at 12-3, good for 14th place. My best finish in a GP to date. I’ve certainly been on a hot streak within the last year; winning a PTQ and two PPTQS while also losing playing for Top 4 in last season’s RPTQ. But the variance of winter is coming so I guess I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

And enjoy the weekend I did! Immensely. Winning certainly helped, but the amazing feeling of having my friends and supporters behind me every step of the way cannot be overstated.

I started the weekend with two byes. I was gifted what I thought to be a very strong Dragons of Tarkir sealed pool that I figured I could pilot to Day Two. And, with a bit of luck, perhaps finish 8-1 or better. And as luck would have it I went 9-0 with this understated beauty:

GP AC Rakdos 9-0

Creatures (15)
Marang River Skeleton
Marsh Hulk
Minister of Pain
Pitiless Horde
Shambling Goblin
Vulturous Aven
Atarka Efreet
Qal Sisma Behemoth
Merciless Executioner
Typhoid Rats

Spells (8)
Coat with Venom
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Twin Bolt
Reach of Shadows
Kolaghan Monument

Land (17)
10 Swamp

On Day One I opened well, played well, and ran well, as I mulliganed very few times, if at all (if I recall correctly). I had a few misplays, as is inevitable over the course of a long grindy day, but nothing so big as to cost me a game.

This format in both draft and sealed is about tempo. Like most Limited formats, it’s difficult to play from behind. I’ve been thinking more and more about how pros approach Limited with things like pick orders and card evaluations in a vacuum, and the more I’ve thought about it the more I think they are trying to crunch something into numbers that cannot be crunched. There are simply way too many variables both during a draft and during a game that can cause the “value” of a card to go up or down at any given point. I guess when testing for a Pro Tour, teams only have so much time to test for Limited, so things like pick orders are just the most efficient way to save time. However in my opinion, Limited, especially drafting, is more art than science.

With that said, my sealed deck was the perfect mixture of high creature quality and five to six solid removal spells. I didn’t have any “bombs” in the sense of a card that can win the game on its own, but the consistency and power level of my deck and my experience with the format was enough.

I don’t really like writing a round by round report of tournaments as I don’t believe there is much value to it unless there are specific turns or plays which are interesting or important to discuss. I don’t take many notes during tournaments, either, for the sake of a potential write-up because I want as few distractions as possible.

Overall on Day One I played very nice and very good opponents. My toughest match came in Round 9 against Ben Friedman at 8-0 each in a RB mirror. At the same time it was also the most fun match of the day for me both because of the high quality of play and how jovial of an opponent he was. We had two super close games but I was able to eke out a win.

I was exhausted that night but too amped to sleep properly and only ended up with about four to five hours of sleep. In the future I will be using sleep aids when going to GPs, as I definitely felt fatigued on Day Two.

I started Day Two in Pod 1 and opened a Sarkhan Unbroken, a card I had been not really wanting to open, to be honest, as I hate splashing generally—but the planeswalker is so high in power level that it was very difficult for me to pass. UR and especially UG are not very good in this format either (enemy colors in general are not where you want to be). I ended up overall with a decent UR deck splashing for Sarkhan. My deck ended up pretty strong and felt to me like a 2-1 deck at the very least.

My first pairing of the day came against Andrew Cuneo in a feature match. His GW deck was able to produce very aggressive draws both games which is exactly what you want in this format. Meanwhile, for the first time in the tournament, I stumbled with mana problems.

Not tilting in Magic is a very hard thing to do (unless you are named Bert Phillips), but sometimes forces are beyond your control. Something that I think has vastly improved my game in the recent past has been to get better about tilting and simply being able to move forward with my matches if I lose. That’s not to say I won’t be upset when I lose to a player I don’t think is as good as me or a matchup I think I’m favored in but what helps me the most is that I think about how if I tilt I may play worse and lose even more. My desire to win is so great that the threat of more potential losing is enough of a tilt deterrent.

This Limited format is nearly always about racing. Board stalls are rare. Blocking is not nearly as good as attacking. Creatures are efficient and most removal spells are clunky, overcosted or situational. Control decks are not good. If you are drafting UB, for example, you should be drafting it as a tempo deck with evasive creatures where your removal spells are being used to help you win races rather than helping you stabilize (how removal should be used in most games of Limited). Even if you are lucky enough to get a good number of solid removal spells in a controlling deck, eventually, if you don’t draw your finishers or they kill your finishers, even if you stabilize your opponents will draw more threats than you have removal and you will still lose. Additionally, when your deck is so threat-light, good players will simply save their best removal for the only creatures that matter.

Starting pretty much on turn two, using your mana every turn to either add a threat to your board or remove one from theirs in this format is essential. In Limited formats that are about racing like this one, every turn from turns two to seven that you do not use mana to do something that affects the board, you are time-walking yourself and are likely to start falling behind.

In Round 10, after my loss to Cuneo, I found myself paired against Chris Fennell at 9-1. I felt extremely favored in the matchup and I knew pretty much his whole decklist. As the featured drafter in our pod, every one of his picks was shown on camera. My friends provided information on basically his entire deck and I knew exactly how to use my cards to counteract whatever he was doing. While it was completely legal for me to do what I did, I won’t lie and say that it felt right, but I also wouldn’t lie and say I wouldn’t do it again. There has been a lot of Internet and Twitter buzz recently about scouting by pros, amateurs, and people not even participating in a given tournament. I’m still not sure exactly where I fall on the spectrum myself but I will say that having any—let alone a large amount of—information on an opponents deck is an insane advantage for anyone who is capable of putting it to good use. I think I would probably say if scouting could be eliminated or significantly diminished it would certainly be better for the game overall since a huge part of Magic is hidden information, but I’m just not sure how to go about it or even how it could be realistically enforced.

I finished my first draft 2-1 and needed to go 2-0 (possible ID) or 2-1 in my second pod to secure Top 8. My deck ended up being nearly mono-red, splashing for an Ambuscade Shaman and Kolaghan’s Command. It felt like a 2-1 deck to me at best, however I was worried that in games where I flooded out I would have no good mana sinks and very little power at the top of my curve. Sure enough I lost the first round to exactly what I had feared, won the next round exacting revenge against Cuneo (with a control deck), and was paired against Boy Wonder and Lotus-Wielding Monk Jacob Wilson in an on-camera Top 8 win-and-in feature match.

I was definitely the most nervous I had been all tournament—exacerbated by the fact that I was on camera—however I felt I played fine and was comforted by the fact that my friends told me I did not outwardly appear to be nervous. After flooding to lose game one and putting enough pressure on Jacob to win game two, in game three Jacob had a pretty unbeatable draw ending in a turn five Dragonlord Ojutai that I just had no answer to and lost on turn seven.

I was disappointed to miss Top 8, but my overall feeling was of great satisfaction at my best finish yet, confirming for me that all the time I put into this game is paying dividends. I again would like to thank all of my colleagues from Hipsters of the Coast, Team Draft League, Twenty-Sided Store, and anyone else who I can call a friend because of this great game! A GP Top 8 will be mine … oh yes, it will be mine.


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