Grand Prix Coverage – London – 26-28/01/18

Hi all, This week I’m reporting in with a special write-up of my experience at GP London. Normally, most of my content is rooted in competitive strategy. However, In this article, I’m aiming to provide a more rounded account of the whole experience at the Grand Prix, rather than just the competitive elements.

Preparation

First and foremost, I am attending to try and perform well in the main event. Given the release of Rivals of Ixalan was not so long ago, there was actually very little window for preparation. I had attended a Prerelease, done two live drafts as well as a couple of Sealed Leagues online. A few days before the tournament, I met up with Alfie Bennett (Alf) and we built about six sealed pools together and played the different decks against each other. However, the games played out rather as expected in most cases – first person to miss a land drop losing, first person to ‘double-spell’ likely staying ahead and winning. These are normal heuristics for Limited play given what we knew already knew about the set. Here are some more things we learned about Rivals of Ixalan:

  • The common removal has improved; there are more ways to deal with ‘bombs’ and auras like Mark of the Vampire or Swashbuckling open up the 2-for-1 a bit more frequently. A lot of the removal outright deals with a creature as opposed to being damage-based – for example, Luminous Bonds, Divine Verdict, Impale, Waterknot all deal with most threats.
  • Having said this, there are even more ‘game-winning’ bombs in Rivals of Ixalan and with improved mana-fixing in the form of Evolving Wilds, Traveller’s Amulet and the dual lands that come into play tapped (e.g. Highland Lake etc) splashing your bombs is much more viable.
  • All the Fore-runners are great! The red and green ones are even decent even if you only have a couple of other targets to fetch and get value if they subsequently trigger only once or twice. The white and black ones lose a little value if you are only able to use the repeatable triggered ability once or twice.
  • Obtaining the ‘City’s Blessing’ is much easier than first thought. Blocking in the early stages is quite hard to do, which results in less creatures trading off early.

Unfortunately, not many other players local to me were going to the GP itself, so while I’m not excusing the lack of preparation, I’m more explaining that circumstantially, there weren’t many other people to band with in terms of preparation. For instance, it was very easy to get fellow players on board with preparing for New Standard in the wake of the bannings, and it’s possible that if that hadn’t happened a couple of weeks ago, I might have been able to invest more time in preparing for the new Limited format.

Friday – Day 0

I travelled to this GP with Abbie Deleval, as well as two other players from Sheffield; Fabian (@MtgBro2Pro) who is looking to play Magic more competitively, and Ash, someone who I don’t see as often nowadays, but I do remember playing in ‘old PTQs’. It was an early start as we had to be at the venue for 12:00 for Spell-slinging!

Spell-slinging

This GP gave me the opportunity to represent Master of Magics alongside professional players and content creators in the Spell-slinging arena providing GP attendees with the opportunity to play some games against us for prizes, as well as get to know us and find out a bit more about what we do as pros or content creators. The line-up included professional players Lukas Blohon, Joel Larsson and Andrea Mengucci as well as fellow content creators Nissa Cosplay, Lifebeginsat20, Pleasant Kenobi, Orc’s Head Magic  and TotalMTG. I arrived just as they were setting up, so it was straight into battle.

I had brought a range of constructed decks with me allowing me to play most constructed formats. Huge thanks to my friend Luke Kay for letting me borrow some of his decks for this. At first, I was a little anxious, thinking it would be pretty embarrassing if nobody wanted to play against me (as I’m arguably much less well-known than most others in the arena) but I was pleasantly surprised when people started coming up to me, introducing themselves and challenging me to play a range of formats.

I played Standard, Modern, Pauper and Commander against people different countries, different ages, different levels of competitiveness – for some it was their first GP some had been to more GPs than I had. I really had fun and awarded everyone I played with a booster, and a bonus booster if they beat me (So those who chose to play me at Commander got the best deal!).

Abbie had organised for us to all stay together in an apartment very close to the venue who we met up with after spell-slinging. We found a nearby diner and grabbed some food before I went to drop Alf off at his hotel which turned out to be more than ‘five-ten minutes from the venue’. I then retired in a vague attempt to stay fresh for the main event tomorrow.

Saturday: Day 1

I headed into the venue a little early despite having two byes to grab some breakfast and trade in some cards – hoping the dealers were going to be a little less busy during rounds 1-2 of the main event. I managed to do this and went to the are where Sealed pool registration was taking place for people with byes.

My Sealed pool

I was actually really impressed that Channelfireball had already registered all the pools, all we had to do was verify the contents and mark which cards we were playing in our main deck. This is definitely a huge upgrade on previous Limited GPs where I’ve had to register the whole pool. This made the experience smoother – huge thumbs up! I opened the following cards.

Artifact (9)
Captain's Hook
Gilded Sentinel
Gleaming Barrier
Orazca Relic
Pillar of Origins
Pirate's Cutlass
Strider Harness
Traveller's Amulet
Treasure Map

Land (1)
Forsaken Sanctuary

White (13)
Cleansing Ray
Divine Verdict
Imperial Ceratops
Imperial Lancer
Kinjalli's Caller
Luminous Bonds
Moment of Triumph
Pious Interdiction
Pride of Conquerors
Pteradon Knight
Skymarcher Aspirant
Sanguine Glorifier
Sun Sentinel

Blue (14)
Deadeye Rig-hauler
Kitesail Corsair
Lookout's Dispersal
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Opt
Release to the Wind
River Darter
Pirate's Prize
Sailor of Means
Siren's Ruse
Soul of Rapids
Spell Pierce
Spire Winder
Storm-Fleet Aerialist

Black (18)
Arterial Flow
Blight Keeper
Canal Monitor
Costly Plunder
Dark Inquiry
Dark Nourishment
Dusk Charger
Fathom Fleet Boarder
Grasping Scoundrel
Impale
Mausoleum Harpy
Moment of Craving
Revel in Riches
Skulduggery
Skymarch Bloodletter
Vampire Revenant
Voracious Vampire

Red (13)
Brazen Buccaneers
Brazen Freebooter
Buccaneer's Bravado
Daring Buccaneer
Fanatical Firebrand
Fiery Cannonade
Goblin Trailblazer
Hijack
Nest Robber
Shatter
Stampeding Horncrest
Sure Strike
Swaggering Corsair

Green (12)
Ancient Brontodon
Colossal Dreadmaw
Crested Herdcaller
Enter the Unknown
Giltgrove Stalker
Hunt the Weak
Jadecraft Artisan
Naturalize
New Horizons
Orazca Frillback
Pounce
Tendershoot Dryad

Gold (4)
Deadeye Brawler
Dire Fleet Neckbreak
Journey to Eternity
Merfolk Mistbinder

It was disappointing that the creature quality was a bit thin in all the colours, apart from in red and black where they were aggressively slanted. I felt almost forced to play those colours, but was mindful that it would leave very little in the way of options for much mid-late game, unless I wanted to play Canal Monitor and Mausoleum Harpy while my opponents were playing game-winning bombs. Before resorting to this, the first deck I tried to build was based around green as I wanted to try and play the Tendershoot Dryad and Crested Herdcaller but there simply weren’t enough creatures in green for it to be a ‘main colour’. I tried it supported by all the colours until it became clear that I should probably just try to to splash the Tendershoot Dryad with a single Forest and treasure in the aggressive red/black pirates deck with a more consistent creature core. Here is what I registered in my maindeck.

Lands (16)
Forest
Mountain
Swamp

Creatures (16)
Daring Buccaneer
Fanatical Firebrand
Grasping Scoundrel
Goblin Trailblazer
Nest Robber
Fathom Fleet Boarder
Skymarch Bloodletter
Swaggering Corsair
Voracious Vampire
Brazen Buccaneers
Brazen Freebooter
Dire Fleet Neckbreak
Dusk Charger
Vampire Revenant
Tendershoot Dryad

Other Spells (8)
Skulduggery
Buccaneer's Bravado
Moment of Craving
Treasure Map
Fiery Cannonade
Pirate's Cutlass
Impale
Dark Nourishment

After two byes I immediately found a few flaws with my deck. Firstly, I was playing Pirate’s Cutlass, but not Captain’s Hook as well. After only a few games with the deck, I felt that splashing the Tendershoot Dryad was a deckbuilding error. The main gameplan of my deck was to put my opponent away as quickly as possible. If this worked well, then I likely wouldn’t have five lands on the table, let alone my splash colour. While it’s true, that, if this deck did not put your opponent away in the first few turns of the game, it was very difficult to get past powerful mid-game and late-game plays. The Tendershoot Dryad allowed you to do this, but I think it may have been better to simply maximize preventing my opponent getting to the mid or late game.

As it happens, this primary objective turned out to be pretty hard to achieve consistently. Between mulligans and some draws that weren’t able to aptly pressure the opponent if they blanked by first couple of threats with a Sailor of Means, I crashed out of the event after going 1-3 after two byes. While the opponents who beat me were fielding cards like Regisaur Alpha, Rekindling Phoenix and Tetzimoc, Primal Death, and I hadn’t been lucky enough to open cards like these, I’m not going to put it down to that entirely. I don’t think I played my best because I resigned myself into a mindset that my deck was not very powerful and that there was no way it could win. It’s disheartening to open what is arguably a weak Sealed pool, and though it’s true that in a 2000 player GP, you can expect most opponents to have stronger cards, I think I let it get in the way of playing 100% to my outs, or maybe even trying to figure out if there was a better 3,4 or 5 colour deck to transition into for the postboard games.

Alf hadn’t done particularly well either, and had also dropped from the event. I lent him my 5 colour humans Modern deck while I caught up with Abbie and some of the other Sheffield players who were playing Cube and some boardgames like Coup, which I enjoyed playing with them. While I was happy to hear some of my friends have more success than I in terms of the main event, I was glad to be able to take it a bit easy in the evening and not worry about an early start the following day. After dinner, I played a game with the Sheffield players over many beers that was quite similar to ‘Pai Gow’ Magic using cards from the cube we were using earlier.

Frank Karsten’s article explains very well the rules and how the games are played. The only difference is, as there were six of us, so we played in two teams of 3 in a multiplayer game. There were some interesting interactions with some of the cards. For example, Careful Consideration played in someone’s upkeep became an instant-speed Wit’s End. Hands with two burn spells were very strong, but only able to take out one of the opposing team most of the time. I think the only other rule we played with was that all ‘soft counters’ such as Mana Leak were upgraded to ‘hard counters’ (effectively Counterspell). I can’t remember who won, but obviously that wasn’t particularly important – a lot of fun was had simply seeing the games out to a conclusion.

Sunday: Day 2

After a rather relaxed start to the day, I headed in to play in one of the Modern side events. Despite only being a three round event, I was impressed to see that over 400 players were competing in it. I fielded my usual 5 colour humans and beat affinity, probably my hardest matchup, in the first round. I then lost to burn, one of my better matchups, by narrowly losing the damage race in the first game and mulliganing to three cards in game two. I then faced Jund, which was impressively all foiled out (though the Tarmogoyfs weren’t from Future Sight). I lost convincingly to my opponents 1-of Grim Lavamancer and 1-of Liliana of the Last Hope in game one before mulliganing again, this time to four, in game two and being quickly overwhelmed by those Llurgoyfs I scorned for not being original set edition!  It’s always disappointing to lose, but I wasn’t to disheartened by the result as I was happy with the way I played, even if it was with only three or four cards in hand instead of seven.

Alf and I then signed up for a two-headed giant sealed event for a bit of fun. In this event we got twelve boosters to build two decks. Alf played quite a powerful blue-green merfolk deck, splashing Charging Monstrosaur and Unfriendly Fire. I sleeved up a black-white midrange deck with a bit of spice in Mastermind’s Acquisition (which Alf told me, I shouldn’t be playing – and was probably right, but it seemed more fun!). We went 2-1 in the end losing the middle round to Azor, the Lawbringer, which we couldn’t remove while the ground was held by a herd of dinosaurs. The game was still very close. After the two-headed giant event, we headed back home to Leeds.

It was a really great overall experience, despite the main event not going so well for me. Spell-slinging was a really enjoyable experience, as was catching up with some players who I don’t see so often, in some cases months or years. Although the overall quality of my Sealed pool had a hand in my chances of success in the event, I still think I stand to improve a lot at building Sealed pools and playing Limited in general. Hopefully this article has provided some perspective on the GP experience and some ideas for approaching Rivals of Ixalan Sealed. Channelfireball put on a great event and I’m keen to see how the UK content creators can continue to contribute to their events in the future.

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