Grand Prix Richmond was the first tournament that I legitimately could have won. The cards came to me, and for the most part I played them well. A few key mistakes turned four wins into three losses and a draw. Add in one round of Swiss where my opponent’s deck totally outclassed my own strong pool, and I finished the GP at 10-3-1 for a lone pro point. Its my tenth lifetime pro point, so that’s something. But I know I can improve on this. Most importantly, I learned some valuable lessons on the way, which I will share now.

My sealed pool was quite good. It’s been a while since I’ve been excited by my pool at a Sealed grand prix, so I was excited to play with this one. Plus, I love grinding people out with Orzhov decks. I also like Liliana.

Yeah, that’s a ridiculous number of planeswalker-themed cards for one Sealed pool. My blue cards were tempting, especially Curator of Mysteries and Lay Claim, but Start // Finish and the two Anointer Priests really locked me in on this deck. For the most part, it was amazing.

I started off the tournament with a tough battle against my local friend and Limited guru Brandon Montoya. He had a sick Rakdos aggro minotaur deck, and despite the massive lifegain that my deck can produce, he got the jump on me with Neheb, the Worthy into Ahn-Crop Crasher. You’d think Soulstinger would put a stop to those beats, but Ahn-Crop Crasher is a powerful Magic card. I stupidly chose to put Compulsory Rest on his giant Grim Strider instead of the Crasher, which was a total punt. My Soulstinger never got to block, and I lost to start the tournament. At least I kept that win with the good team, though.

Round nine was my other failing on day one. I was 6-11 with a chance to finish the day strong. I got bogged down in a big staring contest with a Jund deck full of giant ground creatures that blanked my armies of zombies. In the end, I got too cute trying to end game three quickly. I cycled away Oketra’s Attendant and reanimated it as a token zombie because the pump from Liliana’s Mastery and the In Oketra’s Names I sided in, plus the lifegain from two Anointer Priests, mattered and would let me win next turn. But he somehow had Electrify to kill it, even though he would have used it on the Gust Walker that was my slower clock that he also couldn’t answer. If I’d played the Attendant normally, maybe I win in time. But instead we drew.

I was effectively eliminated from winning the tournament, but I came back for day two ready to rock the draft tables and see what could happen. Draft one started out super rough. I did not take “sweet” rare New Perspectives, so I took Oketra’s Attendant to help correct my misuse of that card on Saturday. The first two packs were bereft of amazing cards, but I cut white in both directions and picked up some decent black here and there, hoping to get paid off in pack three.

Let’s just say, mission accomplished:

Opening Archfiend of Ifnir and then being passed Regal Caracal sure changed my feelings about this draft. I thought I was going to have to grind wins out of a weak pool of cards. But nope, things were getting good. I also picked up that Binding Mummy seventh pick pack three, which blows my mind. It suggests that the draft was just a little short on zombies cards rather than being fought over heavily. I heard from one opponent that he passed Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, so I guess that’s where the other white embalm creatures went. Anyway, I cruised to an easy perfect six wins to sweep the draft.

Sitting at 9-2-1 on the back of mostly skillful play with Orzhov decks, I sat down for draft two with a theoretical shot at top eight but more likely a nice top sixteen. That would be my best finish in the grand prix, so I was hungry to sweep again. That’s never an easy task in the late rounds of draft, though.

Gruul aggro decks are my least favorite. Even so, I draft them when they are wide open:

Yes, I will take two Combat Celebrants. I got the first as the second card of hte draft, after starting with Chaneller Initiate. The second I opened in pack two, and took over Magma Spray. That’s probably wrong in general, but I wasn’t going to pass up really building around a sweet Mythic. The colors were super open in my seat, except two drops and premier tricks were hard to come by. Not only that, they tended to come in the same packs. So I had to take Bitterblade Warrior over Brute Strength. So it goes. Maybe I made some bad picks. Gruul is not a deck I have the best instincts for. The deck still looks great, though.

I was able to crush a slow Dimir deck in round thirteen, but I lost an extrememly close round fourteen to a Golgari deck with just enough beef to hold me off and race my explosive multiple-attack turns. I won game two by attacking for nineteen on turn six through final reward. But in game one I did a double attack to get my opponent down to one with two removal spells in hand but he had three more creatures and I drew lands and died before my creatures could untap. And in game three I foolishly did not exert my Bitterblade Warrior and Hooded Brawler despite holding Spidery Grasp and got wrecked by Synchronized Strike. That cost me the match. I then closed out with a loss against Alexander’s Hayne’s amazing Drake Haven masterpiece. I won a game with a huge attack fueled by Trueheart Twins and Rhonas’s Monument, but I drew too many noncreature spells and succumbed to Essence Scatter and Lay Claim to end with a disappointing loss to a truly great player.

In the end, I would have finished eleventh if I had won my last two rounds. If I had done that and also won round nine on Saturday, who knows. I felt like I let a golden opportunity slip from my grasp, but at the same time I feel confident that I can improve and finally seal the deal. I have plenty of opportunities to play more Amonkhet Limited in Las Vegas, local PPTQs, the upcoming RPTQ, and in the team Grand Prix in Cleveland. I can’t wait to build on my near success in Richmond.

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

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