I’ve had a rough patch of Grand Prix performances following my cash showing at GP Vegas. (Supposed cash—I still haven’t received my check.) Flying to Atlanta I was determined to right the ship. The whole sick crew was coming down from New York: Hunter Slaton, David McCoy, Nick Forker, Andy Longo, Monique Garraud, Rob Kofsky, and many more friends I was excited to see. Casthaven‘s own, Jesse Ma was there. Even the infrequent traveler Hugh “Grade Nine” Kramer made the trip.

Atlanta is my old Stomping Ground. In addition to growing up in the area, I lived for three years off Howell Mill Road, about a mile from the Grand Prix venue down Marietta Street. As official Atlanta ambassador (abetted by fellow “I don’t hate the South” scalawags Hunter and Bert), I took Dave to his first Waffle House breakfast before our sleep-in sealed building. Hash browns were scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, and diced. I don’t know if anyone topped with Bert’s chili, but clearly they should have.

My sealed pool looked familiar: decent but not great. The headliner was Omnath, Locus of Rage. I’m not known for my love of Gruul, unless Matt Jones counts, but good card is good. The resulting deck isn’t amazing but is flexible, and the Plummets help against the powerful Azorius flier decks. I had a version of that deck too, headlined by three Courier Griffins, but it looked underpowered for the archetype.

Here’s the deck I registered:

Gruul Runnings

Creatures (15)
Valakut Invoker
Tajuru Stalwart
Valakut Predator
Firemantle Mage
Tunneling Geopede
Pilgrim’s Eye
Eyeless Watcher
Murasa Ranger
Broodhunter Wurm
Vestige of Emrakul
Kozilek’s Channeler
Bane of Bala Ged
Omnath, Locus of Rage
Breaker of Armies

Spells (7)
Seek the Wilds
Sheer Drop
Nissa’s Renewal
Lands (18)
Looming Spires

Sideboard (13)
Oran-Rief Invoker
Makindi Sliderunner
Slab Hammer
Tajuru Beastmaster
Ruin Processor
Boiling Earth
Void Attendant
Nettle Drone
Reckless Cohort
Blighted Gorge

It has nine legitimate sideboard cards, a valuable resource in sealed. This biggest main deck omission is Oran-Rief Invoker, but Ruin Processor and Tajuru Beastmaster may also be surprising. I felt the latter two were worse than the expensive spells I played, and I never lost from running out of finishers.

Back to Oran-Rief Invoker. I’m not a fan of the card. It’s too vulnerable when you pay eight to pump it. Even when you get full value from the +5/+5 it ties up your mana. Two drops aren’t great in Battle for Zendikar sealed, so I went with Seek the Wilds, an underrated sealed card, a.k.a. the green Anticipate. All that said, the invokers are better than Firemantle Mage or Tunneling Geopede, and make the two Outnumbers more versatile.

Here’s a picture of the alternate deck I sleeved up using my three Courier Griffins and friends:

gp atlanta sealed 2

The glare was especially brutal from the Georgia World Congress Center overhead lights.

Folks thought this deck looked good, but I don’t know. The power level is not quite there. As Brian Wong says, if one of your sealed decks is better than the other, don’t switch it for a weaker deck.

Round three was brutal. Both games, my opponent was on the play, mulliganed to six and bottomed the scry, then played Hedron Archive into big Eldrazi into awaken spells. He gained more life (four) off an Angel of Renewal than I dealt damage (two) in the entire match. Before I knew it I was 2-1, and I felt sick.

I would not give up so easily, and rallied to win my next four before stumbling against another powerful Azorius deck in round eight. The highlight of my run was round five against Chapman Sim. Omnath plus six elemental tokens (thanks, Nissa’s Renewal and Seek the Wilds!) helped me overcome his Felidar Sovereign into Part the Waterveil shenanigans. Chapman is a fantastic opponent and incredibly gracious. He looked over my deck after the match, convinced me to play the invokers, and agreed my secondary deck was too weak.

At 6-2 and playing for day two I faced Rick Carr, a friend who you may know as the Magic Online limited master dave_finkle. Rick is awesome, both as a person and a Magic player. We played a spectacular three games. Luckily I won, but I would have left the table feeling good either way.

And so I advanced to the second day of competition. Draft one was very kind to me, starting with Planar Outburst:

gp atlanta draft 1

Did you know that Noyan Dar is an ally?

Somehow I got a fourth pick Retreat to Emeria in pack two. I don’t know how three people pass that card, even if none were in white. I put my Evolving Wilds love from last week to work, taking a pair to start pack three. I already had Plummet out of the board, and the fetch land is incredible with Retreat. Then Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper fell into my lap third pick. Now that is a card worth splashing!

The deck absolutely crushed. In round ten I beat a big spell blue-red deck with awaken. Mire’s Malice forced the discard of Akoum Hellkite, Turn Against, Serpentine Spike, and Stonefury in the two games I won. Then in round eleven I crushed a pretty good green-black tokens deck by playing ten allies a game and wreaking havoc with Roil’s Retribution.

Quickly I was 9-2 and had the opportunity to 3-0 a professional draft for the first time. At both Grand Prix Las Vegas and Cleveland this year I had great decks but fumbled round twelve. I was determined to finish the sweep this time. My foe was David Reed, a great player and even nicer person. He wielded a sweet blue-red devoid deck with two Molten Nursery. My Kalastria Healers came to play, and when I finally drew a fifth land in game two and got Retreat to Emeria going to stabilize, David extended the hand.


Too bad they don’t have codes you can enter at Grand Prix to advance to round 13.

Finally! I was 10-2 and drafting for top eight in pod six, along with William Jensen, Brock Parker, and Tomoharu Saito. Pack one was a real clunker, but some late black cards gave me hope. Then pack two I opened the best pack I’ve seen: Emeria Shepherd, Grip of Desolation, Retreat to Emeria, Halimar Tidecaller, Touch of the Void, and Clutch of Currents. Grip of Desolation is one of the ten best cards in the format, or close enough, but Emeria Shepherd provides an almost unbeatable late-game engine. That deck felt open, so I hopped on the angel train.

Here’s where I ended up:

Shepherd's Pile

Creatures (16)
Serene Steward
Stone Haven Medic
Nirkana Assassin
Makindi Patrol
Malakir Familiar
Bloodbond Vampire
Courier Griffin
Hero of Goma Fada
Kalastria Nightwatch
Emeria Shepherd

Spells (6)
Gideon’s Reproach
Smite the Monstrous
Mire’s Malice
Rising Miasma
Hedron Archive
Lands (18)
Blighted Steppe
Mortuary Mire

Sideboard (17)
Fortified Rampart
Angelic Gift
Ondu Greathorn
Kitesail Scout
Altar’s Reap
Dutiful Return
Desolation Twin
Halimar Tidecaller
Coastal Discovery
Spell Shrivel
Tightening Coils
Cloud Manta
Roilmage’s Trick

It’s short on removal for a control deck, but three Nirkana Assassins (with Stone Haven Medic) and Malakir Familiar provide defense against big attackers. The deck has plenty of creature recursion, making deathtouch especially good. Kalastria Nightwatch plays well in both directions. The blue cards are also quite strong, maybe better. The black felt more consistent and offered better defense, so I went with it.

First I faced Tomoharu Saito. I was excited but nervous. He led off with Tide Drifter. I shuddered. A slow control mirror against a true master who also has a reputation for stalling did not sound like a great matchup. We played a 30-minute game one. Ultimately, his two Benthic Infiltrators sucked away my cards and life, disrupting my Mortuary Mire recursion. He was able to keep my Stone Haven Medics mostly under control. When he had the second Spell Shrivel to stop my desperation Emeria Shepherd, it was on to game two.

With twenty minutes remaining, I knew I’d be hard-pressed to win the match. Should I have swapped the black cards for blue and tried to win off Coastal Discovery plus Halimar Tidecaller? I was too pressed for time to evaluate that. Instead, lacking a clear way to win quickly, I added Desolation Twin to trump his threats and counters. We played quickly, and it was exhilarating. I really appreciated Saito’s friendly, quick play. We had good rapport and he grew in my estimation quite a bit. When he ingested my Desolation Twin, Saito smiled and nodded. Soon after it was over. I was sad to be eliminated, but I was ready to close out strong.

tree of redemption

Unlucky thirteen. And fourteen, apparently.

I lost game three of round fourteen to most improbable and ridiculous series of plays. My opponent resolved three Planar Outbursts, two awakened, using Greenwarden of Murasa, yet he still needed Infuse with the Elements and Swell of Growth to outrace me. Suddenly I was 10-4. That’s Magic sometimes.

I’ve never done better than 3-3 on day two, but I’ve never 0-3ed a draft either. Fortunately my deck completely overpowered my red-white opponent. In the final game, I held off an army of ally tokens plus Angelic Captain long enough to set up Emeria Shepherd, Courier Griffin, and Serene Steward. It was beautiful, and I was 11-4.

I earned $250 cash, two pro points, and a 75th place finish. This was my best Grand Prix, surpassing in difficulty my 11-4 48th at Grand Prix Montreal 2014. It felt great, as did sharing it with friends. Hunter finished 79th. We both won our final matches, listened to the top eight announcement, and hopped a car for the airport. I was home by 10:30 mountain. Beat that.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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