This past weekend, as everyone on the planet who’s ever come within 50 feet of a Magic card knows, was Grand Prix Las Vegas. I had a shit-ton of fun with all my friends, and I even managed—spoiler alert—to make Day Two, playing exactly the second Modern Masters 2015 sealed deck I’d ever built. The first, my MMA15 “prerelease” was Friday of the Grand Prix.

So I wasn’t necessarily expecting to do fantastic, but I wanted to take advantage of the last of my two-bye year. I was lucky enough on Saturday morning to be issued a super-bomby yet hard-to-build pool. I had five bounce lands, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Apocalypse Hydra; Wolfbriar Elemental; Scute Mob; Lodestone Golem; and Creakwood Liege. Yes, I was playing all of my rares. It was a very, very good deck. Here ’tis:

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I managed to start 6-0 before losing in the seventh to Eduardo Sajgalik in three close games. I locked myself for Day Two by winning round eight, and hoped to pick up a final win in round nine against pro Jesse Hampton. I was even seated next to this fine fellow, who also was trying to go 8-1:

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Alas, it was not to be. I did make Day Two, though, and thus got to draft twice on a Grand Prix Sunday, which is basically my favorite thing ever. These were my very first Modern Masters 2015 drafts, though, so I wasn’t expecting to do amazing. Thanks to some sage counsel from Limited master Hugh “Grade 8” Kramer, though, I went into the drafts feeling good, and indeed my first draft deck was amazing. Here that one is:

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My second draft deck wasn’t as hot. I felt like the first 1.5 packs were weak, and without much strong direction, but sometimes that just happens. Towards the end of pack two and especially in pack three I started seeing some sick blue go around—two Argent Sphinxes and a metric fuck-ton of Smokebraiders—but even in retrospect I didn’t feel like the UR deck was open. Here’s the deck:

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I think the GW tokens archetype was open, and that I was drafting the right deck for my seat; it just so happened, though, that the packs didn’t really have ideal cards for that deck. I got a late Scion of the Wild and a very late Raise the Alarm in pack one, for instance, to sort of solidify me in GW tokens—but from thenceforth, though I was able to pick up another Raise the Alarm, I kept my eyes peeled for any mass pump, like Fortify or Sigil Blessing, but only saw one of the former in the entire draft, which I took. As a result, I was forced to play some janky pump like Mighty Leap and Vines of Vastwood—not what you want to be doing in a token deck.

At any rate, broken drafts happen. Maybe I could have done something differently, but I’d have to go back and look at each of my picks, and obviously I can’t do that.

What I can do is analyze a few big mistakes I made over the course of the tournament, and that I think probably lost me a match or three. If I ever want to be in contention for a GP Top 8, I’m going to have to not make these mistakes in the future.

1. I misbuilt my sealed deck

Admittedly, I didn’t misbuild it by much, and I think I did pretty well considering it was exactly my second ever MMA15 build—but I was definitely off by a couple cards. The Scion of the Wild and the Root-Kin Ally should have been 2X Blinding Souleater. It seems obvious in retrospect, but honestly what happened is that A) I ran out of time and B) I was worried about not consistently having enough white mana to activate the Souleaters without taking damage (I had something like six white sources). Even so, this was stupid, because a 1/3 I can cast with any colors of mana in a four-color deck on T3; that can block a lot of two-drops; and that in a pinch can trade two life for five is very valuable. I sided out the Scion and the Ally after every game one.

2. I used my resources ineffeciently/I wasn’t patient

In my second draft on Day Two, with my janky GW tokens deck, I was facing GB sacrifice. At one point in the game I had out a Kozilek’s Predator, a couple Eldrazi spawn, and two 1/1 soldiers, with a Fortify in hand. I was worried that my opponent was about to start assembling the GB sacrific Voltron, and that the value I was going to get out of my Fortify was about to start dropping. So I swung in with the team, traded off a couple creatures (including my Predator), and got in for like nine (non-lethal damage), putting him to like five life. Sure enough, my offense faltered after that, and I eventually lost the game. A couple turns *after* my ill-advised Fortify, though, I drew Otherwordly Journey, which could have blinked Kozilek’s Predator, adding two more bodies to the board. I should have recognized that I wasn’t going to win from my current position, and waited to draw some cards and see what happens. (Now, I am able to learn from my own mistakes, even mid-round: The following game, I specifically saved up a Fortify, Mighty Leap, and Vines of Vastwood, and one-shotted my opponent with an 18-power Artisan of Kozilek.)

3. I overcommited to the board (maybe)

I faced a RB opponent in R1 of my first Day Two draft, with my sick UG proliferate deck. Now, I’m not sure I actually did anything wrong here, as kind of the whole point of UG proliferate is to overcommit to the board, but what happened was brutal. My opponent was at not much life, and I swung in with an incredible force of like two Thrummingbird, two Cloudform Elemental, a 9/9 Kavu Primarch, and a couple other durdles with counters on them. What happened? My opponent cast Comet Storm for three, kicking it three times, and killing four of my creatures, while chump-blocking my Primarch. Still, I knocked him down to three life with the 9/9 and an Elemental still on the board, and felt like I was in good shape. Not so. The following turn, my opponent ripped a land, evoked Spitebellows on my Primarch, and cast Wildfire, utterly wiping my board. I had like one land left when the dust cleared. Did I do wrong here? I’m not sure. Those spells are pretty much the most brutal one-two punch in the game, but still—it’s worth thinking, when you are far ahead, about what cards could flip the script.

4. I was tired, and made a stupid decision

This happens, but man this was as bad an instance of it as I’ve ever experienced. In game three of R9 I was playing against Jesse Hampton for an 8-1 record. I had kept a hand with Vengeful Rebirth, Apocalypse Hydra, and Savage Twister, and a couple early plays, but lacking red mana. I think this was a fine keep, though it took me much longer than I needed for me to find a Mountain. By the time I did, my opponent had played some brutal cards against me, finishing up with Etched Monstrosity. Thankfully, on the turn after Jesse mostly tapped out to cast the Monstrosity, with about nine mana available to me, I drew a Mountain, giving me the option of Savage Twister for eight or Apocalypse Hydra for 16 counters (or maybe it was 14, I forget). In any case, I decided that what I needed to do was snap off the Monstrosity before he could bring it up to a 10/10 and draw three cards, so I cast Twister (I had an empty board) for seven. “OK,” Jesse said, and responded by tapping five mana to put the Monstrosity out of range of Twister and draw three cards. What the actual fuck. I honestly don’t know. I could have sworn his mana was tapped, but it wasn’t. I think what happened was that on his previous turn he had kind of half-tapped five mana, but then decided against it. That turn and the turn before that, when he did tap that five mana (to cast the Monstrosity), kind of conflated in my mind, and that’s why I made that play. It was a brutal way to lose, and I was very embarrassed: all my friends were around. But once the shame burned away, I wasn’t even super sad about it, because what can you do? It’s not like I made a strategic error; it was just the end of a very long and mentally taxing day, and I was fatigued. Still, though, I need to make sure whenever I’m about to make a big, game-altering play, to double-check that my understanding of the board state is correct.

5. I didn’t believe I could win

This is the biggest one, and this is what I believe prevented me from finishing Day One with an 8-1 record. I was a little intimidated by Jesse Hampton, to be honest. I knew he was a good player, and he kind of wasn’t the most pleasant, either, so that put me off my game. But I also knew I’d never finished at 8-1, either, and so I think there was a self-fulfilling prophecy at play where I made sure I wouldn’t. I beat Jesse in game one—by casting Tribal Flames for four and following it up the next turn with a Burst Lightning for four, burning him out; it was pretty sweet—and then we sideboarded and I drew my opening seven, on the draw. I considered my hand: six lands, in all my colors, and Blinding Souleater. I felt like this: that I was up a game, and that I needed to get a little lucky in order to beat Jesse. But that’s bullshit. I’ve beaten some of the best players in the world, and I had a good deck. I should have trusted it, and myself. Instead I kept my seven, drew too many lands, and eventually lost. Died by my own hand.

That’s all I’ve got, kids. I ended up 10-5 in the tournament, at 223rd place, which just barely snuck into the money, for $200. Not a terrible record by any means, but I’m with BMac: I’m sick of 10-5s. I want to play at a higher level and be in contention for Top 8. If I can learn from my mistakes above, maybe—just maybe—I can make that happen next time around. Until then, good luck and have fun—and play smart.

Oh, and I had a great time with all my friends, playing the best game in the world, despite what this 1:30am headed-the-airport-for-a-redeye picture might have you believe:

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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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