Grand Prix Coverage – 11-13/05/18, NEC, Birmingham

Hi all, last weekend was the UK double-GP in Birmingham which I attended alongside a few of the MasterofMagics crew. It was a wholly enjoyable weekend with several highlights for me, for MasterofMagics and for Magic the Gathering in the UK in general.

I was fortunate enough to experience all four days at the NEC, but this article will be mostly covering my experience playing in the Legacy and Standard main events. I’ll go through event preparation and the main points from my matches. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Legacy

Preparation and deck choice

I love playing all types of Magic, including Legacy, but if Standard and Limited are more like the meat and veg in my Magic diet, Legacy’s a bit more like dessert. Something sweet and satisfying in moderation. Joking aside, I don’t actually play a lot of it despite being surrounded by quite a few Legacy enthusiasts. This is likely down to the fact that I can only go to so many events in my spare time, and I prioritize the PPTQs, RPTQs and GPs which are much more likely to be Standard, Limited or Modern. Alas, now is a great opportunity for me to dust off some old cards and do battle with a bit more power and style.

The most recent Legacy event I played in was a local tournament in Sheffield. I took Jeremy Dezani’s 2nd place Sultai Control deck from GP Seattle this year, changing one of the graveyard hate cards in the sideboard for an Umezawa’s Jitte, a choice made easier by the fear that 20%+ of the field would be playing red burn. I split the finals of the event (beating a couple of burn decks in the process with the Jitte), however, the main thing I took away from this event was that I thought I really should have just played the 4 colour Leovold deck or Czech Pile. It didn’t feel like there was very much difference between the two, other than that you are a smidge better vs Delver because Abrupt Decay can answer the fast threats a turn earlier than Kolaghan’s Command and is uncounterable. I imagine you are actually unfavoured vs the 4 colour version unless you randomly screw them with Wastelands.

This process led me to see if I could build the 4 colour deck myself. To my amazement I actually had all the cards except for one Badlands and some sideboard cards I could be playing such as Liliana, the Last Hope or even Bitterblossom. Fortunately, Callum Smith, one of my Legacy-enthusiast friends, was very supportive and promised to lend me the last few cards required for the deck. He also advised me to check out the MTGO Czech Pile lists of HJ_Kaiser, someone who had been having a lot of success with the deck online. I had a look, made some slight tweaks to his list and registered the following for the event.

Maindeck (60)
Badlands
Bayou
Bloodstained Mire
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Tropical Island
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island
Island
Swamp
Deathrite Shaman
Baleful Strix
Snapcaster Mage
Leovold, Emissary of Trest
Brainstorm
Fatal Push
Lightning Bolt
Preordain
Abrupt Decay
Diabolic Edict
Hymn to Tourach
Kolaghan's Command
Toxic Deluge
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Force of Will
Murderous Cut
Sideboard (15)
Blue Elemental Blast
Flusterstorm
Pyroblast
Red Elemental Blast
Surgical Extraction
Diabolic Edict
Marsh Casualties
Sylvan Library
Liliana, the Last Hope

In some ways, it can be quite hard to prepare in terms of ‘choosing the right deck’ or ‘building the best sideboard’ for a Legacy event because the possibilities of what you could reasonably face, even deep into the tournament, are quite extensive. My strategy was to gear my deck with an emphasis on the following four decks/archetypes in mind as I expected to face them the most:

  • Grixis Delver
  • Mirror match
  • Miracles/UW control
  • Mono-red Stompy

I feel that the flex slots in the maindeck as well as the majority of the sideboard card choices reflect this as well as the almost ‘obligatory’ consideration to combo decks like Storm and Dredge. I felt particularly confident in facing off against Grixis Delver, which I thought would be the most popular deck by a long way and had a whopping 3 spells to counter/destroy Blood Moons! My friend Rob Catton played pretty much the same deck with a few differences in flex slots and the last couple of sideboard cards.

The event

There were about 1200 players in the main event but it was just me representing MasterofMagics. I had two byes to kick things off which was helpful. Here’s how the rounds played out afterwards.

Round 3 vs Grixis Delver

My opponent is Michael Bonde, who is a past (Legacy and Team) GP Champion and part of the Danish team Snapcardster. Nice uphill start for me in this GP.

  • Game one: My opponent uses countermagic to protect his early threats, but fortunately my deck is full of removal. In general, I think this match-up is quite straightforward. From my point of view I just want to stabilize, create a late-game, and win through the inevitable dominance such a thing brings. The things I can lose to are; a particularly fast draw, too many burn spells (Price of Progress is the main worry after sideboarding), an unanswered Gurmag Angler or True-Name Nemesis. My opponent gets an Angler down, but I have Murderous Cut. The first Gurmag is then followed up by a second, but Snapcaster Mage allows me to Flashback the removal spell and take over the game.
  • Game two: I miss a land drop on my third turn after getting my Deathrite Shaman killed by a Lightning Bolt. I then proceed to get hit by a Wasteland and am unable to keep up with early pressure from my opponent.
  • Game three: This game is a bit more interesting with a bit of ‘back and forth’ both ways, but eventually comes down to my opponent’s Gitaxian Probe in the mid-game. He considers my hand containing Blue Elemental Blast and Snapcaster Mage very carefully, for quite some time in fact, which signals to me that he wants to resolve two important red spells and is annoyed that I can answer them both while at all times being able to pay for Daze. At least for now, this is the read I have on my opponent. He eventually plays a Young Pyromancer which I counter with Blue Elemental Blast. His follow up Grim Lavamancer meets a similar fate via Snapcaster Mage. I then establish control and win. 

2-1

3-0

Round 4 vs Elves

  • Game one: My opponent opens with Green Sun’s Zenith fetching Dryad Arbor. Annoyingly, the removal spell in my hand is Abrupt Decay which is the only one that can’t immediately use to Stifle his growth. I pass with it ready to gun down pretty much any threats that get added to the board with the safety net of a Toxic Deluge the following turn if things get really out of hand. My opponent plays Glimpse of Nature the following turn and manages to play about four creatures including a Quirion Ranger which allows him to untap his Dryad Arbor for a fourth mana this turn. I sweep away the board with Toxic Deluge. Unfortunately getting rid of my own Deathrite Shaman as I want to kill two Nettle Sentinels. He reloads with more Elves. My worst fear being a Natural Order. I luckily manage to fade a draw step, discard his hand with Hymn to Tourach which included a Craterhoof Behemoth he was hoping to cast via a topdecked Gaea’s Cradle. The rest of the game involves his board getting removed and mine growing via Snapcasted removal and an inevitable concession to the “Jace, Fateseal, Keep it on top” sequence.
  • Game two: My opponent starts quickly and I don’t have the Deluge to sweep the board on turn three. I do try to pick off as many creatures as possible with my spot removal, but I’m unable to stop the turn four Natural Order, which I assume would get Progenitus or Ruric Thar, the Unbowed (if that’s played at all?) but it simply gets a Behemoth that crashes in for nine damage. I brainstorm into a timely Toxic Deluge, sweep the board and I soon find out that my opponent had unfortunately drawn the Progenitus and couldn’t Natural Order for it as it discarded to Kolaghan’s Command. After shooting down the elves, I establish control and win in short order.

2-0

4-0

Round 5 vs Czech Pile (mirror match)

  • Game one: Both of us play out a number of lands for a few turns trying to pick the best moment to unload our hands and overwhelm. Unfortunately, my opponent is able to resolve more Hymn to Tourach than me, and even manages to place one while I have two cards in hand. I am the first person to get Jace down, but my opponent has more cards in hand, eventually finds a Jace and a Leovold. In my inexperience, I activate Jace’s Brainstorm ability and scoop in shame (I think my opponent had things covered in any case).
  • Game two: Starts off similarly to game one, only my opponent breaks the standoff with Thoughtseize. With knowledge of my hand, and me not really improving it, it’s then very easy for him to sequence his spells to dismantle me and establish the Jace plus Leovold lock again. Completely schooled!

We talk a bit after the match and my opponent is kind enough to share his thoughts on the deck and shows me how to sideboard properly (you can cut Island and Swamp in the mirror!). He then tells me that this is the deck with which he has had by far the most success on Magic Online. I ask him for his Magic Online name and he confirms my suspicion that he is in fact HJ_Kaiser. No wonder I got crushed! – serves me right for messing around with his list!

0-2

4-1

Round 6 vs Abzan Enchantments

  • Game one: My opponent’s Veteran Explorer makes me think that he is on some kind of ‘Nic Fit’ brew. I don’t think these are good matchups, but I note to keep my basics in my library if possible. Soon enough I am hit by Cabal Therapy which tears away my Force of Will before my opponent lands and sacrifices an Academy Rector which puts Overwhelming Splendor into play! I don’t really have an out to this other than attacking with powered down Snapcasters and Leovold. My opponent takes a few pitiful hits but soon casts a Lingering Souls to stop me. Even though the game is basically over, I let my opponent play out some more cards to see what else is up. I’m also mostly thinking about how I can possibly win the sideboarded games. Maybe a Hymn to Tourach, plus Snapcaster and Force of Will on my opponent’s last threat, followed by Jace’s +2 ability is my only chance! In addition to Overwhelming Splendor, I also have Curse of Death’s Hold and Dovescape to look forward to.
  • Game two: I open up a hand with Snapcaster Mage, Hymn to Tourach and Force of Will plus lands. A good start perhaps, until my opponent immediately puts a Leyline of Sanctity into play. There goes my gameplan! Suffice to say, this game isn’t really a game, we just play out a few turns, my opponent assembles a similar lock to the first game and I concede, I simply cannot meaningfully interact enough.

0-2

4-2

Round 7 vs Grixis Delver

I unfortunately don’t remember much about this match. I remember game one was pretty straightforward and I was ahead in game two, but a Gurmag Angler backed up by Force of Will and a Sulfur Elemental (of all things) made it very close in the final stages, but I was able to get over the line in the end.

2-0

5-2

Round 8 vs Eldrazi

  • Game one: My opponent opens with the classic Chalice of the Void on one. I’m not too disheartened as I can still play Baleful Strix and Diabolic Edict. I then have to deal with an Eldrazi Mimic and Reality Smasher, which I do, but I don’t follow up with anything of note. My opponent meanwhile adds Chalices on two AND three. Unable to continue to play Magic, I succumb to the medium-sized Spaghetti-monsters.
  • Game two: I think I play this game quite badly. My opponent has the Chalice on one again and also Karn, Scion of Urza. The key part where I mess up is attacking Karn on a turn where I should have attacked my opponent as it would have constrained my opponent’s ability to use Eye of Ugin’s search ability later on. My opponent continues to play spells that are annoying, but not game-breaking such as Thorn of Amethyst and medium-sized Endless Ones, but I keep drawing Fatal Pushes I can’t cast. In the end, the nail in the coffin is Walking Ballista, which prevents me from using Baleful Strix and Snapcaster Mage to block and buy time to deal with my opponent’s board (or attack back).

0-2

5-3

And there we have it, the Legacy journey comes to an end! I definitely had fun playing a format I don’t play so often (with a deck I’ve actually never played before, but will probably sleeve up in a future event). On reflection, the signs of not having prepared much or practiced with the deck were quite evident in the way I played. For instance, if my round five match had randomly been a feature match, I’m sure it would show my inexperience compared to that of HJ_Kaiser and Twitch chat would have been relentless!

Standard

Preparation and deck choice

I had a much better idea of what I was going to be doing for the Standard GP given I play a lot more of the format, have played it recently, and sort of locked in on some kind of vehicles deck about a week before the GP. I find that Standard events are little easier to prepare for because there’s more content to consume, the cards are a bit more straightforward than some of the ones used in Legacy, and although the new set release was recent and things are reasonably unexplored, there are fewer possible decks to play against compared to Legacy. There was maybe a shortlist of about six decks that are peaking in popularity that you can expect to play against, a much more manageable number than I might expect in Legacy. My personal prediction for the most popular decks for this event, given what I had seen were (in order): U/W Control, B/R Vehicles, B/W Vehicles, G/B Constrictor, Mono Green (possibly splashing black or blue for sideboard disruption) and U/R God Pharaoh’s Gift.

I won a PPTQ in April with a B/W Vehicles deck which is explored in more detail HERE. I liked the broad strategy and the power of the white cards supported by black disruption and the resilience of Scrapheap Scrounger, but I think there was too much emphasis on Benalish Marshal, which was reasonably powerful in the deck, but probably wasn’t worth warping the manabase around. I instead took inspiration from a list that was victorious at the SCG Classic the week prior to the GP:

B/W Vehicles by Zan Syed

Maindeck (60)
Concealed Courtyard
Ifnir Deadlands
Isolated Chapel
Scavenger Grounds
Shefet Dunes
Plains
Swamp
Walking Ballista
Toolcraft Exemplar
Scrapheap Scrounger
Knight of Malice
Lyra Dawnbringer
Fatal Push
Heart of Kiran
Gideon of the Trials
History of Benalia
Thopter Arrest
Karn, Scion of Urza
Cast Out
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Fragmentize
Treasure Map
Doomfall
Golden Demise
Settle the Wreckage
Angel of Sanctions
Fumigate

I thought initially that actually playing more black cards would make the deck more versatile so I took the deck through a few Competitive Leagues on Magic Online. I went 4-1 in a few but 3-2 in most of them, which is a reasonable result considering that on average 3 out of 5 of my opponents were playing G/B Constrictor or Mono Green, reputedly poor matchups for the deck. I also encountered and defeated ‘bukatov’ (Dimitri Bukatov, the current Magic Online champion), who was playing a B/R midrange deck (could this be the current favourite of the ‘pros’?). Now for some initial observations on some of the differences between this deck and the deck I previously played at the PPTQ.

  • Swamp and Ifnir Deadlands: Lack of the Marshal means you can definitely play Swamp, and while we’re at it, the Ifnir Deadlands is basically a free throw-in. It’s a great way to add removal to the deck without using up spell slots, something I was mindful couldn’t be done with ease in my previous build.
  • Fatal Push: This felt like a necessary evil to stop opposing Heart of Kirans and allowing the green decks to take advantage of cards like Llanowar Elves, Winding Constrictor or even Steel Leaf Champion.
  • Knight of Malice: Very strong against the UW control deck in particular. Despite my decision not to play it in the PPTQ deck, I was now coming around to its immunity from Seal Away.
  • Karn, Scion of Urza: Four copies felt like a bit much at first, but I liked its role in the deck. It could be a card advantage engine or a way to pile on more and more pressure through construct tokens. When I needed to be aggressive, I would just repeatedly use the -2 ability, play more copies of Karn and make as many constructs as possible. On the flipside, in most of the postboard games, where you sideboard out all the Toolcraft Exemplars and Scrapheap Scroungers against aggro and midrange, he’s the glue bridging your early game removal into the late game in conjunction with History of Benalia, Angels or Gideon. Having four maximises your chances of making that journey during the game.
  • Lyra Dawnbringer maindeck: This was a great trump card for red-based decks (though they are now adding black for Unlicensed Disintegration) and the green decks also tended not to have an answer for it game one. I remember getting a couple of ‘free wins’ online against such decks just by playing it on turn five and attacking four times.
  • Angel of Sanctions: If I’m honest, I thought this was great deckbuilding. In postboard games you wanted to transform into a more controlling role against other creature decks and this card combined a potential win condition with the ability to remove the opponent’s strongest threat (sometimes twice). Also, bonus tribal synergy with Lyra Dawnbringer!
  • Doomfall: This card also appealed to me as additional disruption against control but also a great part of the plan of trying to pave the way for Karn to land on a clear board on turn four (another reason I opted for a Thopter Arrest over the third Cast Out). Alternatively, a lot of players playing the green decks (who knew about Angel of Sanctions) would sideboard cards like Crushing Canopy to answer your fliers and Cast Outs or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to pressure your Planeswalkers so the hand disruption option was also nice to have.

I thought a bit more about sideboarding and decided that I had many cards that I could bring in against control decks, but not enough that I particularly wanted to cut from the maindeck. I know Walking Ballista and Gideon of the Trials aren’t particularly great against them, but I like maximising my threat density when playing against any of the blue control decks. I ended up cutting one Duress as I felt Doomfall played a similar role (and answered random Lyra Dawnbringers which could actually be annoying for the deck to have to deal with). I wanted another speedbump for the red-based decks to deal with in the early game that wasn’t always going to be a dead topdeck and eventually settled on Sunscourge Champion. I also felt that splitting Fragmentize and Invoke the Divine might be more versatile than having two of either one. Invoke could kill things like Verdurous Gearhulk, God Pharaoh’s Gift and Skysovereign and packed bonus lifegain which might help buy a turn against the decks looking to beat you down once you became a control deck in the postboard matches. Here is the list I registered for the Grand Prix.

Maindeck (60)
Concealed Courtyard
Ifnir Deadlands
Isolated Chapel
Scavenger Grounds
Shefet Dunes
Plains
Swamp
Walking Ballista
Toolcraft Exemplar
Scrapheap Scrounger
Knight of Malice
Lyra Dawnbringer
Fatal Push
Heart of Kiran
Gideon of the Trials
History of Benalia
Thopter Arrest
Karn, Scion of Urza
Cast Out
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Fragmentize
Treasure Map
Doomfall
Golden Demise
Invoke the Divine
Suncscourge Champion
Settle the Wreckage
Angel of Sanctions
Fumigate

The event

There were just under 1200 players in the event. I’m sure there were a few would-be Standard battlers who were tied up with Day 2 of the Legacy event. I felt confident that if I could consistently face what I predicted I would and enable the deck’s gameplan, I’d have a good chance to do well. Here’s how the rounds played out after two byes.

Round 3 vs Sultai Constrictor

I actually ended up playing against a friend, Jared Laverick-Stovin, with whom I was catching up with during byes. We knew what each other was playing and joked that we’ll see each other in round three. Joke’s on us, so it seems.

  • Game one: I feel unfavoured in this matchup but I keep a hand that has two History of Benalia, a card which gives us a decent chance. I also have Gideon of the Trials. Fortunately for me, my opponent doesn’t deploy Winding Constrictor and I’m actually able to sandbag the Gideon and use the knight tokens and Scrapheap Scrounger to first pressure my opponents life total and then grind the board down so that my opponent feels obliged to make a solitary 8/8 Gearhulk. This is where I slam Gideon to answer the 8/8 and start to pressure with multiple attackers to get the last bits of damage in.
  • Game two: My hand has land, Planeswalkers and removal. The game unfolds in pretty much the way I want throughout. I’m able to keep the board relatively clear in the early game, deploy planeswalkers, and maintain control. In the end unanswered flying angels are able to get it done while walkers, tokens and some removal keep the opponent’s offence halted.

2-0

3-0

Round 4 vs B/G Constrictor

  • Game one: My opponent starts well with Winding Constrictor into Rishkar, Peema Renegade, but I have Fatal Push to off the Snake in response and Gideon to stop the 3/3 legend. I’m lucky enough to curve Karn into Lyra to put this one away before my opponent actually draws relevant removal like Vraska’s Contempt. I’m crediting my deck for not giving me any Toolcraft Exemplars or too many Scrapheap Scroungers as they’re very bad in the Winding Constrictor matchup.
  • Game two: I manage to implement the intended postboard plan. There’s a slightly awkward moment where my opponent uses a Crushing Canopy on an Angel of Sanctions to free their Karn, but luckily he doesn’t get anything good from the +1 ability and I’m able to embalm the Angel to re-establish board dominance and secure victory.

2-0

4-0

Round 5 vs B/R Vehicles

I’m paired against a friend, Usama Sajjad, who is a recent GP Champion from Bologna! We haven’t actually played against each other in a competitive event since 2015 (where he defeated me twice in that PPTQ). He is a stronger player than me but we’ll see if I can even things up from last time.

  • Game one: The game is quite back and forth. I remember attacking into his Chandra, Torch of Defiance with Heart of Kiran while it is at 5 loyalty. He doesn’t block (with his Pia Nalaar thopter token) and I am able to finish it off with a Walking Ballista that sticks around until Glorybringer shows up. I eventually deal with two of them after taking about 8 damage and having two creatures killed. As the dust settles, I close in on his health total with only a Heart of Kiran that doesn’t seem to have any crew. I put him dead on board if he doesn’t topdeck removal or a blocker to stop my Scrapheap Scrounger from getting in for the last damage. He topdecks a Goblin Chainwhirler which can either block or crew the Heart, but in the end step I sacrifice Scavenger Grounds to enable revolt on Fatal Push and kill the Goblin so that there’s nothing to crew the Heart of Kiran in his turn.
  • Game two: I keep a potentially weak hand as it is removal heavy but does not have any pressure like History of Benalia or a Planeswalker. Consequently his Chandra and Karn remain unanswered and generate a lot of advantage. I try and contest the board with Lyra and Angel of Sanctions but he has enough removal to get these off the battlefield and crash in for the win in a couple of turns.
  • Game three: Again threats are traded off and we put one another into ‘topdeck mode’. My opponent is able to establish a board quicker and doesn’t fall for my Settle the Wreckage bluff (This simply involves the slamming of a land, sighing and looking annoyed and quickly passing the turn – arguably terrible against good players but it’s worked for me in the past, so on the off chance he slips up it’s worth trying). While I play to clearing the board, I’ve amassed a pretty decent hand but my opponent takes History of Benalia with Doomfall after adding Chandra to the board. Gideon can’t quite remove Chandra by himself, but I’m lucky enough to topdeck a Walking Ballista to finish off Chandra after Gideon hits her for four. From here I start to develop control of the game and although the game goes to extra turns, I’m confident I’m far enough ahead to get it done barring some insane topdecks from my opponent. I do.

2-1

5-0

Round 6 vs B/R Aggro

  • Game one: I notice the Soulscar Mage, Kari-Zev, Skyship Raider and Earthshaker Khenra which distinguishes this deck from the R/B vehicles deck I just faced. My opponent’s deck appears to be much lower to the ground and aiming for a quicker win with fast threats and Hazoret, the Fervant. Luckily for me, Lyra Dawnbringer means lights out for my opponent as they clearly don’t have any Unlicensed Disintegration and I’m able to hold the ground with History of Benalia tokens while Lyra wins the game by herself.
  • Game two: My opponent actually misses a couple of land drops on turns three and four which allows me to hold the ground, take away delayed Hazorets with Cast Out and the Angel of Sanctions. A bit unfortunate for my opponent, but I’m super happy to have made it this far undefeated and guarantee day two. Maybe I can win the next two to go 8-0. I’m on a roll right now.

2-0

6-0

Round 7 vs U/W God Pharaoh’s Gift

I’m paired against a friend Alex Hugill who has been playing the GPG deck for a long time. I remember facing him sporting the deck in a PPTQ and I was playing Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner.

I unfortunately receive a game-loss from the judges as it’s discovered during a deck check that I accidentally presented a 59 card deck for game one! One of my maindeck cards landed on the wrong side of some of my tokens when I last put it into the deckbox. Therefore, when I took out what I thought was my maindeck to shuffle it was missing a card. I didn’t count the deck in piles this round because I was talking with Alex. So, lesson learned, it’s always worth counting your deck before the match in case this actually happens. We go to game two with me choosing to be on the play, but we aren’t allowed to sideboard.

  • Game one: I apply pressure on my opponent as quickly as possible with Scrapheap Scrounger, Knight of Malice and History of Benalia. My opponent is unable to ‘combo off’ so I win. Simples?
  • Game two: I try to do the same but my curve is a little off. Unfortunately for me, my opponent also manages to get the Gift into play relatively early and use Angel of Sanctions to halt my beatdown by exiling knight tokens. I eventually answer Gift with Cast out and try to race his 4/4 Angel back but he gets it back into play and reanimates another Angel of Sanctions. With hope all but lost, I topdeck an Invoke the Divine which can buy me a turn as I can use Scavenger Grounds to deal with the Gift trigger (if I need to, there’s not much in the graveyard) and free cast Invoke the Divine on my opponent’s Ixalan’s Binding to free Cast Out to get rid of an Angel mid-combat. I manage to do this, but a post-combat Angel of Sanctions on one of my knight tokens prevents the swingback from being lethal (my opponent’s next attack will be lethal. I topdeck nothing of use and extend the hand.

1-2

6-1

Round 8 vs U/R God Pharaoh’s Gift

  • Game one: I have a great start, turn one Toolcraft, turn two Heart, turn three Scrapheap plus Toolcraft. Unfortunately, even though I put my opponent dead on board, he is able to combo off from almost nowhere using Gate to the Afterlife and Skirk Prospector, as well as a couple of Walking Ballista’s (for 0) to dump a bunch of Combat Celebrants and Vizier of Many Faces into the graveyard, search for GPG while gaining some life in the process. Victory snatched from me at the last second.
  • Game two: I start similarly, but I don’t draw a third land. It’s not too bad as all my cards cost one or two mana and I put up a bit of a fight and apply pressure, but eventually I run out of gas as I continue to draw no lands. This gives my opponent the opportunity to stabilize and combo off for the win.

0-2

6-2

Losing the last two after going 6-0 meant it was a more disappointing end to the day than it could have been, but at least I had made day two!

We try and get a cube going, but everyone is wanting to do different things so I instead go for a quiet dinner with a couple of friends before finding out. On my return to the hotel, I find out that the Legacy main event has been won by Gary Campbell. At the time, I can’t put a face to that name, but it’s one I recognize from even my earlier tournament days. With no shortage of Magic players at my hotel, I’m reminded =that this is the ‘Grandfather’ of Scottish Magic (52 years of age). As soon as I see pictures on coverage I recognize the face as someone who I’ve seen at events over time. I’ve posted a link to a video that better demonstrates the significance of Gary winning this event as I believe there’s much more to it than a regular tournament win, particularly to the Scottish Magic community.

Back for day two, I need to run the tables to make Top 8.

Round 9 vs Mono-green

  • Game one: My opponent plays a few early threats in the form of Resilient Khenra, Steel Leaf Champion and some explore creatures. I deal with the Champion, but the incremental damage from the other creatures keeps my opponent on the front foot and he is able to supplement it with enough Blossoming Defence to get there.
  • Game two: I manage to slow my opponent down significantly with Gideon of the Trials, but he is able to go wide and overwhelm him. I reset with Fumigate but he quickly adds more monsters to the board. Angel of Sanctions deals with a Steel Leaf Champion but my opponent offs it with a Nature’s Way powering up Rhonas, the Indomitable and taking down Gideon. I’m fortunately able to embalm the Angel of Sanctions and use another Gideon to hold off the Champion and also add Lyra to the board. The angels then win the game from there.
  • Game three: I deal with an early Steel Leaf Champion from my opponent and unfortunately he draws a lot of lands. This allows my planeswalkers to operate without pressure. I am able to attack quite freely with Gideon while knight tokens and constructs holds at bay the subsequent smaller threats my opponent deploys.

2-1

7-2

Round 10 vs Mono-green

  • Game one: I remember I won the first game quite easily, despite it normally being a bad matchup. It was kind of down to dumb luck in that I didn’t draw Toolcraft Examplar or Scrapheap Scrounger and my turn three Gideon of the Trials, turn four Cast Out (on Rhonas) and five Lyra Dawnbringer were not answered. I guess that’s one way to win to do it.
  • Game two: This one was a little tricker because my opponent sideboarded in many Crushing Canopies. Who wouldn’t want to after being hit four times by Lyra Dawnbringer in the last game? Gideon of the Trials was instrumental for getting my opponent to commit multiple attackers and ensure my opponent played right into Settle the Wreckage. From here, the planeswalkers allowed me to take over the game drawing into flyers in the form of Lyra and Heart of Kiran. They both got crushed by canopy, so my secondary airfleet of Heart #2 and Angel of Sanctions had to be called on. I asked my opponent how many of the common from Ixalan he boarded in, to which he answered “All four!”.

2-0

8-2

Round 11 vs R/B vehicles

  • Game one: My Toolcraft Exemplar gets in some damage but is then offed by a Goblin Chainwhirler, I deploy a second one to try and keep up with Chainwhirler beatdown and get a second dose of the new Goblin. This game gets worse as my opponent curves into Glorybringer and without Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage to save me. I’m picking up my cards pretty quickly.
  • Game two: I start well as I Fatal Push my opponent’s Heart of Kiran and add my own, but it eats an Abrade very quickly. I fail to draw much else relevant and find myself facing down a Goblin Chainwhirler and Walking Ballista on 1. My hand is three Karns and lands. I decide that my best option, although pretty dumb looking, is to play the Karns into almost certain death and try and use the +1 ability to dig into gas and gain life. First Karn reveals two lands and is attacked to death (opponent spends mana to add a second counter to Ballista and then finish off Karn after combat). Second Karn reveals a Settle the Wreckage and a land, a little better but still not quite what I need. My opponent kills Karn again in exactly the same way but I’ve prevented them from doing other things in these turns. I draw Angel of Sanctions which I think is a better play than the third Karn as it deals with the Walking Ballista before it can get out of hand. It lands and takes the Walking Ballista. Goblin Chainwhirler fearlessly crashes in which signals Abrade to me. I’ve just saved myself 12 life so I take three and draw a Gideon of the Trials which nulls the Chainwhirler and means that even Chandra isn’t enough pressure. A few good topdecks have put me right back into this game. I do wonder what would have happened if my opponent had ignored both Karns and just attacked me for the damage over two turns. .
  • Game three: My opponent comes out of the gates with Scrapheap which I quickly Fatal Push. I cast Doomfall on my opponent’s hand on turn three and see that he has a lot multiple removal spells but is a bit stuck on lands. I have a lot of room to establish good board control and card advantage. I’m able to advance my board over a number of turns while always holding up Cast Out, and while I am not pressuring my opponent with anything (Gideon and Karn don’t really have ‘ultimate’ abilities), my opponent isn’t really in this game. He eventually realizes this and concede.

2-1

9-2

Round 12 vs B/G Constrictor

This match was actually played in the feature match area but wasn’t selected for the live coverage or the recorded Time Walk match. Alex Hugill was on a bit of a tear at this point and was 11-0 so I understand completely why they focussed on that match instead!

  • Game one: My hand is fine and my opponent mulligans to five on the play. I Fatal Push their Llanowar Elves to cut off resources, but my opponent manages to stick a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and recoup lost card advantage through it. My pressure is then squandered by a Walking Ballista that is powered up by a Verdurous Gearhulk. All of a sudden I could be losing this game! I dispatch the Siphoner and Walking Ballista and manage to use History of Benalia to hold off the Gearhulk. I bring the game to a bit more of a standstill and use Gideon of the Trials to prevent damage from the Hulk while attacking with two creatures to force the last bits of damage through.
  • Game two: I’m able to enact the postboard gameplan for this matchup as planned. I use Fatal Push and Doomfall on curve to keep the board clear and deploy Karn and Gideon. My opponent’s draw is fine, but it’s not enough to pressure the Planeswalkers. Sooner or later he needs to overcommit creatures to the board to do this and Fumigate is there to mop up. From a position of real strength I take the game very quickly.

2-0

10-2

Round 13 vs Mono-green

I recognise my opponent’s name (Elliot Boussaud) from various GP/PT coverage and we talk a bit before the match and he explains he is trying to reach Gold Pro status at the moment. He wins the die roll.

  • Game one: I Fatal push his turn one Llanowar Elf and am able to use another Fatal Push on a Steel Leaf Champion by triggering revolt via Walking Ballista. I then hold off another Steel Leaf Champion with Gideon of the Trials. The rest of the game is actually quite underwhelming for him as he cannot answer my turn five Lyra which simply hits him four times.
  • Game two: I keep a land-light hand but it has two fatal push, a Fragmentize and a Walking Ballista, so plenty of interaction. I deal with the first few threats including an Aethersphere Harvester, but I don’t draw a third land on time and he keeps playing Steel-Leaf Champions which stomp me down pretty quickly.
  • Game three: I play out Knight of Malice after he plays a turn one Llanowar Elf. He then uses the Llanowar Elf to play a Greenbelt Rampager, which bounces back to his hand. Then he thinks carefully about his next play. Does he have another land? What’s stopping him from just playing the Rampager again so it can stick to the battlefield sooner? The pause is a bit unusual, so I come to the conclusion the Doomfall in my hand is going to be great and he’s thinking about selling the line that he’s a bit screwed on mana, with the hope I’ll use the Doomfall on the Elf. This is very risky as it will put him a few lands behind. In the end he decides not to do this and plays his land and a second Llanowar Elf. I untap and slam the Doomfall to his disappointment taking a Skysovereign Consul Flagship as the only relevant card in his hand. At this point he sticks his Rampager to stop the Knight. I kill his elves with a 2/2 Walking Ballista to really constrain his mana and add Gideon and History of Benalia with a view to potentially attacking. He does add a Rhonas and a Nissa, Vital Force, but he’s very constrained on mana and is on low enough life that he actually needs to leave them back on defence. I then draw an Angel of Sanctions which is able to fly over while my opponent can’t make any progress on the ground.

2-1

11-2

Round 14 B/R Aggro

  • Game one: I see Soul Scar Mage and Earthshaker Khenra again so I put my opponent on the faster variant of RB. I maintain reasonable control of the game with Gideon of the trials and History of Benalia but my opponent fights through this. I keep a Cast Out for a while, saving it for a Hazoret, but after one isn’t played for a couple of turns. I use it on a Scrapheap Scrounger to prevent damage from Unlicensed Disintegration and allow Gideon to start attacking. This turns out to not work out very well as my opponent then topdecks Hazoret (either that or he was doing a huge slowroll, which I doubt), gets rid of Gideon and puts me in a really tough spot. I’m able to amass some blockers, but he has burn to finish me off. I feel this one slipped away.
  • Game two: I have a decent curve but no black mana. This game is all about being able to play Lyra Dawnbringer or turn five and my opponent not answering it, the lack of black mana for Knight of Malice being irrelevant.
  • Game three: This game has a little more back and forth and my draw is quite good so I’m able to hold the board reasonably well but then my opponent starts to dismantle it with Goblin Chainwhirler and Soulscar Mage. The crucial play is when I’m at about 12 life, my opponent attacks me with Bomat Courier and Hazoret. I have a single Knight token to block and can choose to take the damage and limit the number of cards he can get off the Courier or preserve my health total. I choose to keep my life total as high as possible and luckily topdeck a Walking Ballista. Unfortunately, I have to play it for only two mana as priority number one is using Thopter Arrest on Hazoret. From this point my opponent doesn’t topdeck anything particularly scary and I draw into Karn and Angel of Sanctions. As my opponent’s board dwindles I get excited and accidentally attack him with a summoning sick token (it’s a turn where I -2 Karn, play a new Karn and -2 that one also to make 2 constructs). I receive a warning from the Judge, but am able to close out the game shortly afterwards.

2-1

12-2

Round 15 vs B/R Vehicles

This is it. I can’t ID into Top 8 but I can potentially make my first GP Top 8 if I win! This match was covered live on Twitch so I’ve put a link to the video immediately below

Watch Grand Prix Birmingham 2018 (Standard) from Magic on www.twitch.tv

Unfortunately the match is neither particularly exciting, nor does it end well for me. In the first game, I put up a bit of a fight, but ultimately fall behind in the mid-game and am put away by a great tempo swing by my opponent’s Unlicensed Disintegration and subsequent lethal attack. In the second game, I keep a hand of: Isolated Chapel, Ifnir Deadlands, Fatal Push, Walking Ballista, Sunscourge Champion and two Karn, Scion of Urza and draw no lands. Not a great way to go out, but maybe it was a weak keep on the play. All I have left to do is wish my opponent the best of luck in the Top 8.

0-2

12-3

It felt so close yet so far. Luckily the rest of team Masterofmagics and other content creators from Orcshead have been watching and they’re just outside the feature match to congratulate/console me and reassure me that I’ve done very well, even though I just missed out. This was very heartwarming, and at the suggestion of a Chaos draft to distract me from negative thoughts, I’m already convinced.

During the Chaos draft they announce the Top 8 and that the standings after round 15 are available. All that’s on my mind is whether my tie-breakers are good enough to make Top 16 (as opposed to Top 32). I rush over to the standings mid-draft and find that I’ve finished 14th, which I guess makes me feel a bit better about missing out on Top 8. I also win the Chaos draft while they start the Top 8.

The event is eventually won by Simon Nielsen, one of the six B/R Vehicles players in the Top 8. If I remember correctly, he made Top 8 of the Modern GP in Birmingham last year! It’s also a little amusing to learn that he slept in on day 2 and no-showed for one of his rounds. Guess that still wasn’t enough to stop him.

I’m planning to follow this article up with a deck guide and some more strategic content. However, this article is already super-long as it is and I want to use the rest of it to issue some props, thanks and shout outs to the many people who achieved great things inspiring me to play on and/or supporting me as a friend, fellow player and content creator. This event was a particularly great experience, and, while a 12-3 record is a factor, it’s really down to the input from these people.

  • Callum Smith and Stuart Emerson for lending me the missing cards from my main event decks;
  • Luke Southworth for making the Top 8 of the Standard GP!
  • Rob Catton for a strong 12-2-1 finish, ending up so close to Top 8! Also for being an encouraging and supportive friend and fellow player;
  • Other members of my (roughly) Leeds-based ‘Magic Family’ who provided the usual fun and amusing company at the event and haven’t been mentioned already – Lawrence Arnell, Alex Roebuck and Tommy Hayward;
  • All of my fellow players who helped to spur me on during the GP (particularly the Standard event). Whether you are from the North of England and I see you regularly at local events, or further afield and only really get the chance to see you at the odd PPTQ, RPTQ, GP or Axion Now event, I’m very grateful for the encouragement during the event from so many people! You’re definitely all a key part of why I enjoy going to events so much and playing the game.
  • My fellow content creators, particularly Jordan Halligan and the team at Orcshead who stayed at the same hotel as me and with whom I was able to enjoy a light-hearted and fun Chaos Draft and Commander game to wind down from all the main event stuff;
  • Chris Castro-Rappl (CCR) for staying in touch and introducing me to Zan Syed so I could tell him (in person) that I thought his list was good (and that I only changed 2 cards). Chris and Collins Mullen do a pretty awesome podcast which you should check out! (It’s made me a better Magic player);
  • All the Judges for helping to keep me and my fellow players in line. Thinking about it, I’m thankful I got to sit on chairs for most of these main events – I know some of you were on your feet throughout both events;
  • Channelfireball for a great double-event! All the staff were friendly and helpful when I had any issues. I’m also really pleased to see that there is a maintained interest in what the UK content creators are up to and I’m thankful for the profiling opportunities given to us at the GPs. Also, Magic TV, Hit or Myth and Top 8 BETA draft picks with Mashi Scanlan and Ben Seck was very entertaining!
  • And last, but probably most of all, Abbie DeLeval, James Wise and Sean Johnson, my fellow Masterofmagics crew members who attended the GP alongside me as well as Chris Warrington and Jonny Roberts who were there on Sunday. You made me feel part of something greater throughout!

I’ve had time to reflect and am accepting of my 12-3 instead of mourning my potential 13-2. The performance in the Standard GP has given me a bit more confidence that I can perform at Grand Prix level, which I was beginning to lose as I haven’t day 2’d the previous three I played in. So, I guess the real disappointment during the event was actually the cube on Saturday night not quite firing – but I bumped into some more friends at the hotel bar and I got over it pretty soon.

Stay tuned as my next piece to follow shortly will break down the more strategic elements of the deck – looking at the gameplans, sideboarding and how I see the deck evolving in Dominaria Standard. Thanks for reading and sticking with me.

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