The Road to PT Sydney from GP Sydney (Part 2)
For Part 1 of this tournament report - covering my experiences with preparation and Day One of the Grand Prix - please click here.
Day Two of the Grand Prix
For the second day in a row, I woke up too early as I was unable to adjust to jetlag. Heading to the venue, I felt exhausted and not even coffee seemed to be able to wake me up. However when I sat down for the first Draft, a sea of calmness washed over me and all of a sudden I felt ready.
I’ve never gone worse than 4-1-1 on Day Two of a Limited Grand Prix, and with 12-2-1 looking to be the expected score needed for Top 8, for the first time I felt like hitting Silver was actually a possibility with my 8-1 score from Day One.
Still, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I put my game face on and concentrated on the draft at hand.
Getting ready for Day 2!
The draft started well with a first pick Ulvenwald Captive into a second pick Somberwald Stag. As explained in Part 1, Green is a color I’m happy to be in, and I was ideally looking to pair it with either Red or White. However, both Red and White started to dry up from my right, and I realized I needed to change my focus. However, there were no Delirium enablers or Emerge cards for me to move into the other color combinations.
I wasn’t sure what to do and felt stuck – my draft was quickly becoming a trainwreck. Then, I was passed a late Waxing Moon and a Vildin-Pack Outcast. At that moment, I decided that I’d have to try force myself into Red-Green Werewolves, but in a way to not compete for cards with my neighbours as we were in the same colors.
Therefore, I focused on being based around Waxing Moon and ramp effects so that I could be taking expensive Werewolves that other people didn’t want and not have to rely on having such a high density of early creatures or cheap removal as you’d normally need in this archetype.
In the end, my gamble paid off as I was able to draft a relatively unconventional Red-Green Werewolves deck that was based around ramp effects and Waxing Moon to try go all-in on a big threat. I was lacking removal and early creatures, but was hoping my ability to produce big Werewolves quickly would be enough.
1 Assembled Alphas
1 Backwoods Survivalists
1 Brazen Wolves
1 Byway Courier
1 Conduit of Storms // Conduit of Emrakul
1 Gatstaf Arsonists // Gatstaf Ravagers
1 Hinterland Logger // Timber Shredder
1 Somberwald Stag
1 Stensia Innkeeper
1 Swift Spinner
2 Ulvenwald Captive // Ulvenwald Abomination
3 Vildin-Pack Outcast // Dronepack Kindred
Round 10: Yuchen Liu-Green White Humans (Win)
Round 11: Lewis Ophel-Blue Green Emerge (Win)
Round 12: Eduardo Sajgalik-Blue Red Spells (Loss)
I expected my deck to be a 2-1 or 1-2 deck, depending on what matchups I faced. I believed I was well positioned against the slower decks such as Green Black Delirium or Blue Green Emerge as they’d have a hard time beating a flipped Vildin-Pack Outcast, while I was poorly positioned against the aggressive decks as I lacked early interactive plays.
Thankfully, my first round’s opponent’s Green White Humans deck was much slower than normal, with cards such as Kessig Dire Swine, and I was able to overpower him quite easily. My second round played out exactly how I expected, as he didn’t have enough removal to handle my large Werewolves. I quickly lost the third round to Eduardo’s ridiculous Blue Red Spells deck in two very one-sided games.
Although I was happy to 2-1 with that deck, it also meant that I couldn’t afford to drop a match in the second draft if I was to Top 8.
I knew that at 10-2 my second draft wasn’t going to be easy, but my heart sank when I walked over to my draft table and saw the other seven people I was going to be drafting with…
Pod 2 consisted of the following players:
- Yuuya Watanabe
- Ondrej Strasky
- Kentaro Yamamoto
- Petr Sochurek
- Brian Braun-Duin
- Chapman Sim
- Dan Musser
This was by far the hardest pod I’d ever drafted in – with 4 Platinum Pros, a Gold Pro and 2 Silver Pros! In fact, I was the only player in the pod who wasn’t of any pro club level.
Needing to go undefeated in this pod to make Top 8, I decided that I was going to force Blue Red Spells. Since I didn’t care about any result short of Top 8, I decided to give myself the best opportunity to outright win the pod. In an easier pod, I would have been happy to put faith into my drafting ability to produce a winning deck. However against these players, it simply wasn’t possible and I believed forcing a narrow, yet powerful archetype would give me the highest chance of doing well even if it came at a huge risk.
As explained in Part 1, I believe Blue Red Spells and Red Black Madness are the best archetypes. They’re also both linear and highly synergistic, which means I could be handsomely rewarded if they are open but could be wrecked if I got cut.
I decided to force Blue Red Spells over Red Black Madness because it seemed like many of the pro players were preferring the latter archetype. Walking around the venue during the first draft, I saw many good players on Red Black and was surprised by how little Blue Red there was. While it might have been a wild guess, I decided to gamble on Blue Red being more likely to be open.
The draft ended up going superbly, and my gamble paid off. I was the only Blue Red Spells player on the table and was heavily rewarded, as I was able to pick up 3 Mercurial Geists! The card is the highest pay off card for the archetype and with a good range of supporting spells for it, I knew my deck was going to be great.
This was my second draft deck:
1 Curious Homunculus // Voracious Reader
1 Ember-Eye Wolf
1 Epitaph Golem
1 Geist of the Archives
1 Ingenious Skaab
3 Mercurial Geists
1 Pyre Hound
1 Sanguinary Mage
Jason Chung introduced me to the idea of playing counterspells in Blue Red and I’ve been a big fan of it. This archetype usually relies on burn spells for removal so it doesn’t have a good way to beat big Emerge creatures or bombs. Counterspells, while often inefficient, gives you a much needed way to deal with these type of threats.
Round 13: Ondrej Strasky-Black Red Vampires/Madness (Win)
Round 14: Chapman Sim-Black Green Delirium (Win)
Round 15: Brian Braun-Duin-Blue Green Emerge (Win)
I was very fortunate against Ondrej in the first round, as I had a great draw in the first game while he was mana screwed in the third game.
The second round against Chapman was an absolute nail-biter. In the first game, I flooded out and was dead on board the following turn with a lone Mercurial Geists in play and a Fiery Temper in hand. With Chapman on 11 life, I needed to topdeck either Otherworldly Outburst or Incendiary Flow to win the game. I was able to draw the latter, and managed to steal the first game.
The second game went the other way as I thought I had it locked up on Turn 5, as I was able to kill all his creatures and was about to cast Pore over the Pages with Scour the Laboratory in hand as well. However, from there it went all downhill as I drew into three lands with Pore over the Pages and ended up drawing one spell from that point – finishing the game with 15 of my 17 lands drawn.
Going into the third game, I felt frustrated as I felt like I had just lost a game that I shouldn’t have. I then reminded myself that I had gotten very lucky to win the first game as well, and had run so well over the weekend, that I was in no position to feel bad about my misfortune. There was still a game to be played and I needed to concentrate so I didn’t throw away my opportunity.
Chapman came out swinging hard in the third game, something I wasn’t expecting out of his slow, Green Black Delirium deck. It seemed like I was going to get quickly run over by his aggressive draw, but I was able to stabilize with Geist of the Archives. From then on, I started filtering through my deck for spells while he constantly kept up his pressure, threatening to win at any point. I was able to just survive by the smallest of inches, from which point he then started to flood out.
Eventually, all the filtering from the Geist let me hit my cantrips that drew me into more spells and I was able to take down the game off the back of a Thermo-Alchemist and a Sanguinary Mage. Funnily enough, I had boarded out my Epitaph Golem so had he drawn a creature to block with, or a removal spell, I would have not been able to win the game - by the time I won, I had four cards left in my library which were all lands. As it turns out, the next card he would have drawn would have been Emrakul, the Promised End.
I got incredibly lucky to win that game.
After beating Chapman, I was sitting pretty at 12-2 and thought I’d be able to draw myself into Top 8.
Unfortunately, although the GP was similar sized to GP Sydney last year where 12-2-1 was a lock, the number of pro players with three byes meant that the number of wins in circulation was much more inflated and I’d have to play the last round. Thankfully, I knew I’d be paired against Brian Braun-Duin and had his whole decklist thanks to my friend William Li scouting for me. However, I was also worried about the matchup as he was on Blue Green Emerge which was a deck that had a good matchup against my deck.
As it turned out, the matchup ended up great for me as he was largely based on ground creatures and lacked removal spells so wasn’t able to handle my Mercurial Geists. I also knew about the Emrakul, the Promised End in his deck so was able to play around it accordingly. I was fortunate to draw very well both games and was able to quickly put him away.
As the match came to a close, I could hear a sudden eruption of cheering from my friends in the background. When I packed my things up and exited the feature match area, I was swarmed by my friends all coming to hug me and congratulate me.
Even strangers that I’d never met came to hug me! This was a truly amazing moment that I’ll never forget. Getting to share those moments with my very closest friends and teammates made me realize just how blessed I was – not just for my success over the weekend, but for getting to meet with these people through this amazing game. While Magic may be played individually, there’s very much a team dynamic as you’re always highly invested in how your peers are doing and often seeing them succeed means more to you than your own success.
Top 8 Draft
By the time the Top 8 rolled around, I felt completely drained.
The weekend had been a complete wild ride of emotions and the constant ups and downs had left me feeling exhausted. Even filling out my Top 8 profile required a herculean effort, as I could barely concentrate and had to read the questions multiple times to try figure out what they were asking for. Going into the draft, I knew that I was already done, but I also felt at peace with that as I’d managed to accomplish what I sought out for in the first place.
While winning a Grand Prix would be amazing and such an opportunity comes by so rarely, I also knew how much my body could handle and I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself for this Top 8 because I couldn’t expect much more from it. It had already worked hard enough, so now I just wanted to enjoy the Top 8 as a freeroll, hopefully without completely embarrassing myself.
The draft started out weirdly as I picked a Red card in the first pack and then was immediately passed a Cryptbreaker, with a common missing. Cryptbreaker is one of the best cards in the set and I couldn’t think of a single common that I’d consider taking over it.
I decided to take note of that, as the person on my right may not want to be in Black at all, which is understandable as it’s the worst color. I was then passed a Smoldering Werewolf, Midnight Scavengers and a number of other solid Red-Black cards and decided the archetype was open and moved in. In the second pack, it seemed like I was able to send a strong signal to the person on my left in the first pack, as I was rewarded with a second Smoldering Werewolf, Galvanic Bombardment and a Bloodhall Priest.
The problem with my deck though, was that it had very little madness interactions.
Although I had a decent amount of good creatures and some bombs, the deck was definitely lacking any powerful interactions. This format is heavily synergy based, and it’s very hard to beat synergistic decks with generic creatures and spells unless you’re able to go under them, like Red-White Aggro, or have a ton of removal spells to break up these synergies. My deck was lacking both, as it wasn’t aggressive enough nor had enough removal spells.
The only real "synergy" I had in my deck was Graf Rats/Midnight Scavengers, but a lot had to go right for that to work. It seemed I had fallen into the unfortunate consequence of this archetype, as explained in Part 1, where the colors were open but not enough madness cards were in the Shadows over Innistrad pack for me to be rewarded for it.
This was my Top 8 draft deck:
1 Bloodhall Priest
2 Ember-Eye Wolf
1 Gatstaf Arsonists // Gatstaf Ravagers
2 Graf Rats // Chittering Host (Top)
1 Liliana's Elite
1 Markov Dreadknight
1 Midnight Scavengers // Chittering Host (Bottom)
2 Smoldering Werewolf // Erupting Dreadwolf
1 Weirded Vampire
2 Wicker Witch
In the Quarter-Finals, I was paired against Seth Manfield and his Blue-White Tempo Spirits deck. Our match was a video feature, which you can find the replay of here – starting at 00:16:33.
We both had to mulligan in the first game, and I was unable to draw into lands and wasn’t able to put up much of a fight. In the second game, the glaring weaknesses of my deck showed as I was able to draw a healthy combination of spells and lands, but the lack of synergies in my deck meant that I wasn’t really doing anything. On the other hand, his constant pressure with evasive creatures and good use of tricks allowed him to get ahead quite quickly and he was able to lock the game up with Spectral Shepherd which gave himself immunity to any potential removal I may draw to get myself back in the game.
After the match, I was pretty disappointed at myself. I felt like I played very poorly against Seth, and while I didn’t want to hold myself to a high standard cause of how tired I was, I definitely should have played better than that. Similar to my match against Yuuya though, it showed just how much better these top players were and that I still had a very long way to go if I wanted to be able to compete with players of this calibre.
So there we have it! In a span of a couple of weeks, I managed to go from being qualified for nothing to now being qualified for the next three Pro Tours and the World Magic Cup! It’s been a truly crazy time, and all of this hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
It’s hard to put in words how blessed I have been over these last couple of events – the way everything has seem to come together. I’d like to think that some of it is a reward for all the effort I’ve been putting in, but I can’t deny just how much of it has been me just being lucky.
Next week, I will be discussing my experiences at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon and the Legendary Naya deck that I played. This was an extremely hectic event to prepare for as I had not planned to attend, so I had to fly back to New Zealand on the Monday following the Grand Prix, then come back to Sydney on a red-eye flight on Thursday.
Until next time!
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