Brendan is enjoying the summer before heading out to Grand Prix Vegas this weekend. Enjoy this look back at GP Vegas three years ago.

Grand Prix Las Vegas was amazing. The main event ran smoothly. With each of the two tournaments divided into four flights, and all of the games and pairings for each flight contained to a small area, it was easy to navigate and felt like a much smaller tournament. I was fortunate to end up in the same flight, Vendilion Clique, as many friends including both of my champion teammates from Team Draft League season two: Hunter “Omega Seamaster” Slaton and Dave “Mother Brain” McCoy.

My Vegas vacation began on Thursday morning. After dropping off my stuff at my hotel and catching a couple hours of sleep I didn’t get because of my early morning flight, I ventured out into the desert fires. I don’t really enjoy playing side events at grand prix, but I do enjoy playing poker at a casino, so I swung down to the Venetian to play some No Limit Hold ’em. I played poker semi-seriously (for low stakes) for a few years before I came back to Magic in 2010, and since then I have focused more on Magic but found that the games complement each other exceedingly well. I’m a better poker player now than I was five years ago, despite focusing my gaming energies almost exclusively on Magic. And honestly, a four hour poker session was an incredible warm-up for the Magic tournament ahead in Vegas. Up $350, I felt ready to take home some cash in Magic as well.

And I did! It seems like every time I make day two of a grand prix, I end up at 11-5 around 105th place for no prize. In Vegas I did the same thing, but in a giant tournament that 11-5 was good for 188th place and a $200 prize. At first it felt bittersweet. Once again I went 3-3 on day two, underperformed for the quality of my decks, and lost the last round to end on a sour note. But in a field of 3700 players, that’s a bigger accomplishment than usual. And now I can say I cashed one of the biggest Magic tournaments ever. I want to be better than that, but it’s a good benchmark.

By virtue of alphebetical proximity, I sat down across from this fine gentleman for my sleep-in sealed build.

dave

Beside me on my right sat GP Vegas enfant terrible Pascal Maynard. I glanced longingly at the Karn Liberated and Comet Storm in his pool. Mine had no such bombs. But it had some good stuff:

All Colors All Removal

Creatures (12)
Dimir Guildmage
Nest Invader
Matca Rioters
Cathodion
Alloy Myr
Fulminator Mage
Etched Oracle
Skyreach Manta
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Spitebellows
Aethersnipe

Spells (11)
Rampant Growth
Sylvan Bounty
Fiery Fall
Wildfire
Vengeful Rebirth
Arrest
Burst Lightning
Oblivion Ring
Agony Warp
Repeal
Lands (17)
Boros Garrison
Azorius Chancery
Simic Growth Chamber
Evolving Wilds
Plains
Swamp
Island
Mountain
Forest

Sideboard (22)
Ulamog’s Crusher
Puppeteer Clique
Celestial Purge
Deathmark
Combust
Plummet
Vapor Snag
Gut Shot
Sickleslicer
Kitesail
Alloy Myr
Blinding Souleater
Instill Infection
Stoic Rebuttal
Surrakar Spellblade
Remand
Telling Time
Tezzeret’s Gambit
Kavu Primarch
Aquastrand Spinder

I made a few deckbuilding errors, but overall this was a sweet build and surely the best figuration of my pool. I absolutely should have played Ulamog’s Crusher over Fulminator Mage, and I switched them out after each game one. I never drew either card, so it didn’t end up mattering, but I was wrongly seduced by the idea of killing an early bounceland. Interestingly, the one time my opponent blew up my early bounceland, with Wrecking Ball, I won anyway. Luck Skill Victory, right?

I probably should have played Tezzeret’s Gambit, but I didn’t want to cut any of my removal spells or fixing, and I felt I had enough card draw from Dimir Guildmage and Etched Oracle. Sickleslicer over Cathodion is also a close call. I liked the idea of a no-nonsense 3/3 and didn’t think giving my creatures +2/+2 would be necessary given all of my removal.

The most interesting and challenging card to evaluate in my deck is Wildfire. Playing Wildfire but not Ulamog’s Crusher is a horrible idea, but I never drew either, so go figure. It seems incredible generally but might not have been amazing in my deck. I already wanted to play enough mountains (barely) to support the double red because I had Spitebellows to evoke, the stupid Fulminator Mage, two Burst Lightning that are useful early, and Fiery Fall to possibly cycle on turn two. But it kills all of my non-eldrazi creatures except a 5/5 Skyreach Manta and maybe Matca Rioters if I can somehow sacrifice four lands yet keep full domain. That wasn’t happening unless I had four of my eight “surplus” basics, or I sacrificed bouncelands, which is a really bad idea unless it’s just one to keep the rioters on an otherwise empty board. In other words, it wasn’t happening.

My pool just didn’t have the big creatures to build around Wildfire. Still, it is good against swarms and the three game-ending X spells that show up in many of the best sealed pools, so I think it was correct to play it.

I did have a plausible black-red aggro deck that maybe I should have considered siding into in round nine against the broken Karn Liberated deck that knocked me down to 7-2. Here’s what I could have put together:

Suicide Rakdos

Creatures (16)
Vampire Lacerator
Goblin Fireslinger
Viashino Slaughtermaster
Bloodthrone Vampire
Stormblood Berserker
Duskhunter Bat
Soulbright Flamekin
Sickle Ripper
Ashenmoor Gouger
Fulminator Mage
Cathodion
Puppeteer Clique
Spitebellows

Spells (8)
Sickleslicer
Cranial Plating
Copper Carapace
Burst Lightning
Brute Force
Sign in Blood
Wildfire
Lands (16)
Swamp
Mountain

Sideboard (13)
Deathmark
Combust
Fiery Fall
Gut Shot
Instill Infection
Kitesail
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Blinding Souleater
Goblin War Paint
Lodestone Myr
Darksteel Citadel
Evolving Wilds
Boros Garrison

This deck can steal games from unexpecting opponents in game three, and it can combo kill with Wildfire plus Bloodthrone Vampire or Puppeteer Clique, but I’m not sure it has enough payoff to be a good sealed deck. This style works in constructed because you can build it to be so consistent that it will almost always do what you want. Sealed decks are never that consistent over the first five turns, and if the game goes longer (when strong slower decks become consistent) you probably can’t win. Still, it is a reasonable-looking deck with solid sideboard options.

I started round three against a blue-green proliferate deck that I crushed. For the rest of the tournament, I played other four or five color good stuff decks like mine. In round four I lost to a strong player, Tom Huteson, who had a bunch of bombs that matched up well with my removal. And in round nine, at table six sitting beside Hunter at table seven, I lost eight turns after my opponent resolved Karn Liberated in game one and then got stuck on three lands in game two to end the day at 7-2.

The draft format is awesome and I was stoked to play it on day two. My first drafted started out with the best card for the best archetype, Wilt-Leaf Liege. After following that with Nest Invader, I looked down at a pack without a single good card. A few were marginally playable or decent in a narrow archetype, but instead I chose this:

emrakul cake

Birthday cake Emrakul, get in the deck! This shameful raredraft did not hurt me, and I picked up some amazing cards very late. Seventh pick pack three Selesnya Guildmage? Why hello there. My deck was fantastic.

Wilt Scores 100

Creatures (15)
Tukatongue Thallid
Gnarlid Pack
Nest Invader
Kami of Ancient Law
Aquastrand Spider
Sunspear Shikari
Selesnya Guildmage
Scion of the Wild
Blinding Souleater
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Kavu Primarch

Spells (9)
Scatter the Seeds
Spectral Procession
Flayer Husk
Sigil Blessing
Fortify
Commune with Nature
Terashi’s Grasp
Lands (16)
Selesnya Sanctuary
Forest
Plains

Sideboard (20)
Blinding Souleater
Vines of Vastwood
Sundering Vitae
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Celestial Purge
Mighty Leap
Simic Initiate
Otherworldly Journey
Commune with Nature
Sunspear Shikari
Taj-Nar Swordsmith
Gut Shot
Tribal Flames
Sylvan Bounty
Bone Splinters
Deathmark
Shrivel
Bloodthrone Vampire
Goblin War Paint
Steady Progress

I am certain this was the best deck in my draft pod, and I was excited to try for the 3-0 sweep. I crushed an affinity deck in two games, laughing off an opposing Karn along the way. Next I took an easy game over a clunky four color spirits deck. But in games two and three I mulled to six and drew ten lands each time. “I didn’t think I could lose,” I whimpered. “I didn’t think I could win,” my opponent concurred. But so it goes. I don’t even remember what my third opponent was doing. Mostly admiring my turn four Spectral Procession plus 7/7 Kavu Primarch play. And so I went 2-1 and entered the second draft at 9-3.

My second draft went poorly. Blue-green was open in pack one, but some late red cards tabled and I never saw good blue again. I tried to be red-green domain, but none of the fixing or domain cards tabled. I never saw anything good enough to pull me in another direction, though. I ended up with a solid but underpowered deck:

Can I Get a Kodama's Reach?

Creatures (13)
Noble Hierarch
Soulbright Flamekin
Nest Invader
Matca Rioters
Blood Ogre
Etched Oracle
Gorehorn Minotaurs
Karplusan Strider
Skyreach Manta
Mulldrifter
Spitebellows
Ulamog’s Crusher

Spells (10)
Bestial Menace
Mortarpod
Savage Twister
Tribal Flames
Repeal
Lightning Bolt
Fiery Fall
Everflowing Chalice
Splinter Twin
Lands (17)
Forest
Mountain
Island
Swamp
Plains

Sideboard (21)
Plummet
Deathmark
Spread the Sickness
Sunlance
Gut Shot
Mana Leak
Smash to Smithereens
Helium Squirter
Thrummingbird
Steady Progress
Scion of the Wild
Tukatongue Thallid
Vigean Graftmage
Telling Time
Thrive
Bloodshot Trainee
Flayer Husk
Eldrazi Temple

There’s simply not enough there, there. The domain splash was pretty pathetic, and I lost multiple games to awkward mana draws. Don’t put Splinter Twin in your deck, either. Every time I drew it I wanted to die, and usually I did a few turns later. Unsurprisingly I went 1-2, but I really felt great winning round fourteen. Here’s my best play of the weekend, and what makes Magic such a visceral, joyous game.

My opponent is crushing me in game three, up 20 to 9 in life with Profane Command in hand but only forests, and island and Rakdos Carnarium in play. (He killed me with Comet Storm in game one.) His board is 5/5 Skyreach Manta, 3/3 Cytoplast Root-Kin, Aethersnipe, 3/3 Ghostly Changeling, and three eldrazi spawn. My board is six lands, two-counter Everflowing Chalice, a newly-cast Ulamog’s Crusher (that was bounced by Aethersnipe the turn before), and a wolf token from a previous Bestial Menace.

I untapped, cast Savage Twister for five, annihilated two forests, and crushed his will to live. That’s game.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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