Monthly Archives: June 2014

Grand Prix Chicago: Too Long, Didn’t Read

Trying to be gracious in victory and in defeat is a skill I am still trying to perfect. I do not know if I have ever pulled it off, but I am very sensitive to how my opponent feels and try to act appropriately. So far, I was in rough shape having suffered from insomnia for at least a week before the GP and just stressing very badly. Not that I felt pressure to win or even place highly (really, I probably had a better chance of winning the Powerball without a ticket) but I am “very hard on myself” as many people close to me have said. I started playing in 1996 and this was the first really high level event I have played in.

There was a long gap between active phases, I gave up Magic after returning to WI after my service in the Army, only getting my cards out sporadically after that and actually playing even more rarely. When I found out people still play Magic and met some around here to have regular games with, it still took a while to start getting new cards. I cannot remember the exact circumstances but there were real tournaments I played in during the Army days in Kentucky, though none were even close to the size of a Grand Prix. I simply mean that the 37 year old me is a very different person and player than the 21 year old me. Back then I was all about burn, mana flared fireballs and forked were among my weapons of choice. I thought the older, wiser, more patient player was a U/W control kind of guy but after my poor showing despite all the work I put in to succeed I have to confront the possibility that I’m just not cut out for this.

Joe and Dan, my first two opponents at the GP were not exactly fun but they weren’t jerks either. The next matches were the high and low of it. My next opponent was Marvin Abram and a more jovial, good-natured fellow I probably could not have found. He came all the way from Virginia to play so I was a little bit intimidated. Would you travel almost halfway across the country if you did not think you had a good chance of taking down some dollars? Love of the game is one thing, but gas is not cheap. Anyway, Marvin had a Bant ‘Walkers deck and we had practically identical sideboards, this made for another grueling slog as we tried to resolve spells, build board presence, and answer each other’s threats. After 2 rounds of going to extra turns I was not looking forward to it again but I flashed the thought that another draw would actually be a pretty good result. So after going to a third game with only about 13 minutes left, I thought maybe I could stall enough to be saved by the bell. I am blanking on the exact events but I did not make it. First loss of the day, but I like to think I played well and accepted the defeat graciously. I finally found Vince on my way outside for a smoke break (at that point, I did not care that the next round could begin any minute, I had to take a hit the restroom and needed to recover my nerves a little) and was telling him about the match with Marvin. Then, when we actually saw Marvin talking with his buddy I got a kind of after-action report, he told Vince that our match was awesome and I’m pretty sure he was sincere. So Marvin, if you’re out there, you’re alright in my book.

I was not so lucky next round, there was enough time for me to get to the assigned table (I think) but by this time my brain was pretty much fried. I read that his name was Gary on the slip but there was no friendly banter, no questions, no nothing. Just an angry white guy who could barely contain his aggrieved sense of entitlement to easy wins. Gary had a Jund Monsters deck, under better circumstances I know I would have beat him but that’s the way it was. Combat and street fights are rarely under ideal conditions, in some respects magic is the same way. I tried to be cool, but it was just a waste of time. This was the only time during the day that I was tempted to simply sign the slip, punch him in the face, and walk away. First impressions are often correct and the match did not get any better no matter how polite I was. So Gary, you’re a dick and I don’t know how I put up with sitting across from you for an hour.

Next was the “gift” I alluded to in an earlier post. I have not played against a female Magic player since Caleb’s little sister stopped playing in our group. Now, there were women playing, and I know that a lady made it all the way to the finals but it was still a surprise to see Jaelene when I sat down. She was very nice but had only been playing a month so all the misplays she had were not really mistakes, just lack of experience. Her boyfriend came over while we were still playing and I gathered that he had taught her to play and gave her the Selesnya Aggro deck she was using. It was a really good deck and even with all of the missed triggers and missed attacks winning was no cakewalk. Even though I knew she must have won a match to be playing me at that point I still kind of felt bad beating her the same way two games in a row. It was exactly how an Azorius control deck is supposed to work, survive the first few rounds to stabilize the board, establish control, and get an Elspeth on the board for the win. I went ultimate with Elspeth several times that day and kept saying “I’m going to get an emblem for her right after this, I promise.” I usually do not need to announce that I am casting a Sphinx’s Revelation in response to my opponent’s end step, it is just implicit but against Jaelene I did. It was a little unnerving.

Could anyone say I “deserved” that win because of all the work I did? There is a saying “if hard work was all it took to succeed, every woman in Africa would be rich.” So no, there is no entitlement in Magic, I did not deserve to win because I was more prepared anymore than I deserved to win because she was a girl. I put together the full standard control after the last outing to Chicago, gone were all the creatures and Ephara, in were all the regular mix of counter spells and removal. I practiced and refined every chance I got and tested it at FNM and our local tournaments but it is never enough. MTG is still a game that depends on chance, you can try to improve your odds by playing the strict minimum of 60 cards and the maximum of 4 copies of key spells but there is still a chance of mana-flooding or drought, or never hitting the card you need at the time you need it. Even the best pro players still lose games and matches. Defeats are as inevitable as bad dreams, bad days, and paying taxes. My last match was against a guy from New Jersey, he had a Jund Monsters deck too. I lost to him, life goes on.

Grand Prix Chicago: My Take on the Tech

My last post was just a preamble of what it took just to get to GP Chicago. Now I can get into my experience a little, this is just from me. I wanted to record my impressions before reading the big picture coverage at wizard’s site or anywhere else. I did see who won but I am mostly ignorant about the metagame and analysis. There was first a heat wave outside, then a thunderstorm and flash flood warning; my wife and mother-in-law’s situation was never far from my mind as I got text messages from her about all the adversity she was having. Between that and the stressful trip I was really tense, I unfortunately keep all my tension in my shoulders and they were just on fire most of the day. That is not an excuse, I gave this event my best; there are always obstacles and unforeseen bad news so I tried to be prepared for playing at less than 100%. I do not think I am being pessimistic to state that I cannot think of any positive or good surprises that can jump out of a competition, the one “gift” I received made me feel guilty as hell. In fact, both of my wins were basically flukes (2-1-3). But hey, I got to play at a Grand Prix!

My first match was with Joe Hletko, nice guy I would have a beer with him. He was playing mono blue devotion and I felt kind of confident despite my haggard condition. I practiced against mono blue and had a pretty good record against it. This was definitely not practice though, both games we finished were long, draining affairs even though we were friendly competitors. I was kind of relieved when we ran out of time in the third game even though I had just resolved an Aetherling and probably could have pulled out a win with more time. It really was a good match and I wished Joe the best of luck as I hurriedly packed up my stuff with shaking fingers.

I should probably state that I have been working very hard on my deck. I played U/W Control, partially because I feel it reflects my personality and partially because the very first card I pulled at a Return to Ravnica Draft was a Sphinx’s Revelation. I may not be the best judge of power but I have never seen a combination Alabaster potion and Braingeyser, and knew that this was really something. Since then I pulled 2 more revelations, 2 hallowed fountains, an Elspeth, detention spheres, Azorius charms, and a few other components of the deck. Then I traded a Wasteland for 2 Jace Vs. Vraska sets, 4 Temples of Enlightenment, and 4 Supreme Verdicts (a test Esper deck I made with proxy sweepers convinced me some months ago to keep on this path). I spent what my wife believed to be an obsessive amount of time refining and practicing with this deck and GP Chicago was probably my only shot at really testing whether it was worth it or not. Jim Davis’ innovation of removing D-spheres for planar cleansing caused me some consternation but in the end my deck contained none of the latter. My only contribution was two main decked Kiora’s Dismissals to recall my D-spheres, bounce my opponents’ enchantments, and in a prime testament to my commitment to cutesiness I believed I could use this card to reset D-spheres if I they played additional copies of whatever I was detaining. I do not recall actually pulling this off but in my next match I did make Dan sacrifice a Jace when two of them were suddenly in play on his side of the table.

That would be Dan Johnson, not Charles Johnson who had originally sat down across from me in the second match. In all honesty despite winning this match, I would almost have preferred Charles’ Boros Burn to the control mirror with Dan. This epic struggle pretty much consumed my will to continue. Even with an extension of time due to the mix-up of Johnsons, there was only one game completed in this match. I am almost 99% sure that I would have pulled the second victory if time had permitted but Dan was very upset that 1-1-0 is still a win, not a draw. Whereas some players will simply concede if they are going to lose, nothing I did in either game convinced Dan to let it go so that was what we were left with. It was such a mess, at one point all 8 Detention Spheres and a couple of Banishing Lights were in play but no advantage was to be gained. One think occurred that I had never experienced or thought of before, the text box of D-Sphere where it says “target nonland permanent and all other cards with that name” means your side too,  oops. Not sure if that particular copy of Jace would have given either of us the edge for victory but you never know. I definitely will consider that in the future and try not to make the same mistake again.

Grand Prix Chicago: The Hard Road to Magic.

It is still 106 miles to Chicago, it was dark when we left for the windy city but I did not wear my sunglasses and I brought an extra pack of cigarettes. This time the cast of characters was different as my wife and mother-in-law accompanied me. The ladies wanted to do some sight-seeing in the big city while Vince, Devin, and I attended the tournament. For various reasons I was the only member of team moo to make the journey back to Chicago. And a rather harrowing journey it was.

If the event begins at 10am and Google maps estimated a 1 hour 53 minute travel time, one would think leaving at 7:30am would give us a comfortable buffer, but I should have marked movement for 7 because comfortable is not enough. Vince arrived at the AA ahead of schedule and the four of us set out to pick up Devin along the way, but Murphy’s law intervened. One thing you have to understand is that my wife is the boss in our family, I lose all capacity to make decisions when she is around and often times she refuses to take command. So the cluster f#$ks along the way were a direct result of my inability to overcome this state of indecisiveness. She forgot the Ipad with some of the info they would need for the day, so a reverse wheeling maneuver was performed and I dismounted the driver’s station to execute a search for said gadget. After fruitless minutes of our buffer evaporated Kristin came to tell me that it was in the van all along. “It’s going to be one of those days,” I said to myself. I also discovered that when travelling to a big city it is important to update your GPS maps.

But, several missed exits and reverses later we did in fact arrive at the Donald Stephens Convention Center only a few minutes late. Luckily registration is online for GPs and after Vince and I stood in line for a few moments at the “missed” counter we consulted a judge who informed us that we did not need to check in at all and could just consult the posted seating arrangements to turn in our decklists and waiver forms. At this point we also received our promotional Batterskull cards, so everything turned out alright. I will at this time give thanks for Xanax, without you my friend there may have been blood. It was also great that the other players near me were quite cool and we had some good dialogue, it was at this time that I found out the count stood at 2,023 competitors assembled for the first day. Team moo was also not the only outfit experiencing difficulty as the event organizers drew much ire from the floor, at least as far as I could tell but I may not have overheard a representative sample. I was just glad to have made it to the event alive, unharmed, and suffering no penalty for being late.