But I Played a GP in Reno, Just to Take 72nd Place

Hello! Got back from GP Reno in a somewhat mediocre 72nd place, with a bunch of tales to tell instead of cash. This is the story of how I lost to a Hall of Famer, almost split with Dana Fischer, and became the greatest hero beat the #1 player in the world...

Day 0:

We drove in to Reno late Thursday, so we could hit the con on Friday. I played in the Sealed PTQ, with a medium as all hell GW deck getting me to drop as soon as I 3-2. I enter a Sealed Last Chance Trial to try and win some GP byes, going 3-0 with a sick WB Ashiok pool, and end up with a bye on round 4! Just look at that skill.

Day 1...

Sleeping in with byes is the best thing ever (though I'm also happy to see them go, as I'm always on the "earn them in LCTs" train). I register a pool that's medium-ish on rares (well, Aphemia goes up a lot in my estimation) but very deep in commons and uncommons:

I don't remember much from my earlier rounds, mostly just ground a bunch of games with my escape creatures. Sometimes a curve out of Aphemia into Mire's Grasp just freerolls, too. I'm lucky enough to mostly dodge the Dream Trawlers and Kiora Bests the Sea Gods, and my opponents keep choosing the play for some reason, which I think is wrong in games 2 and 3 -- THB Sealed games are already slow and get slower after the more controlling player (i.e. me) puts in cheap creatures to interact.

[6-1] Round 7, I'm playing Allen Wu (@nalkpas) on some 4 color pile. G2 is long and grindy, with him recurring Atris once. My Atris splits:

Atris 1: Shadowspear, Island, Altar of the Pantheon. He's missed a land drop, currently on 3 lands + Caryatid; I've been beating down with random dorks -- think he was at 9 life. I show Shadowspear and he picks the other two -- apparently he was holding an Elspeth Conquers Death and wanted to hit it on time to stall my board, but I felt like Shadowspear might have accomplished approximately as much in terms of stabilizing, and definitely gone on to win a longer game.

Atris 2 (reanimated from from Elspeth Conquers Death): Rage-Scarred Berserker, Island, Deny the Divine. I show the Island + Deny, which he takes (using it to counter my Mire's Grasp on Atris). I'm pretty happy with this sequence, too, as it means he's just stalling, but my multiple escape creatures should be able to carry the late game.

We get to a point where he has Omen of the Stars for either Tyramet or a random dork; he picks Tyramet, which proves to be his undoing in a tight race, as I activate Tyramet repeatedly to undo his attack steps. I do misplay rather badly when I make Aspect of the Lamprey while he had 1 card in hand; I was pretty sure it was a land but mentally shortcutted to discard first to get information, not realizing it was the 5th card to escape his Cling to Dust. Even afterwards, I should have activated Tyramet in response to Cling on my noncreature to deny him a card draw... but in the end I narrowly win a race where Entrancing Lyre on his best creatures + lifelinking Underworld Charger carries the game and round.

Feels great to be locked for Day 2!

[6-2] Round 8, facing Eric Wei. He tells me that my previous opponent, Allen, was the top ranked player on MTGEloProject... Good thing nobody told me at the time or I'd have been a lot more nervous!

Interesting line in game 1:

Turn 4, he makes Archon of Sun's Grace. I respond with Venomous Hierophant, milling Pharika's Spawn, with 4 total cards in graveyard.
Turn 5, he makes Elspeth's Nightmare (with no target on first chapter!). I put Aspect of Lamprey on Hierophant (he pitches two lands).
Turn 6, he Duresses me, misses, and sees my hand of Pheres-Band Brawler and second Hierophant. He casts his own Hierophant.

Now my main options are:

  • Brawler off his Archon immediately while he's tapped out.
  • Escape Pharika's Spawn before it gets exiled to third chapter of Elspeth's Nightmare.

After some consideration, I opt for the second. He clearly didn't have another enchantment in hand or he would have just made a Pegasus instead of Hierophant (and also not just thrown out Elspeth's Nightmare like that); he has no reason to wait on hitting Constellation when I could have removal spell for the Archon. Plus, he's in W/B, which has fewer overall auras to pump his Archon I think. Even if he topdecks an enchantment creature or something, Pharika's Spawn is eating his current Pegasus (he needs is Hierophant to answer to my lifelinking Hierophant), so the cost of waiting to Brawl is just one more hit from his Archon.

Of course, he then topdecks Sentinel's Eyes and all I can do is stare at his no-longer-killable 4/5 flying lifelink vigilance monster.

[7-2] Round 9: playing Nate, my 3rd R/W opponent of the day -- I didn't expect this color combo to be so popular in Sealed. I definitely maindecked all my expensive cards under the impression that

G1: I'm at 15, he has Hero of the Nyxborn, 1/1 Soldier, 7/3 Cyclops. I'm Tyramet and Loathsome Chimera under Heliod's Punishment with 3ish counters, with Wolfwillow Haven on board. He Iroas's Blessings on Hero, I Final Death in response. He swings into me; what is my play...?

  • Block the 2/1, go to 7?
  • Block the 8/3?
  • Take 10 down to 5, with the idea of double-blocking the 7/3 next turn with Wolf and Tyramet?

I picked the first line, which in retrospect is probably the worst line. I whiff on a draw, chump my Wolf into the 7/3, draw Pharika's Spawn which could help stabilize but ultimately take exactly lethal to a topdeck Sentinel's Eyes. I'm quickly developing ophthalmophobia...

Game 2 goes super late; We start game 3 with just a few minutes, and I'm playing speed chess as I'm pretty sure my deck is better overall.

I pass t2 with Aphemia in hand to try and guarantee one activation, which in retrospect seems a bit silly when he misses 2nd land drop. Nexus Wardens, Aphemia (under his Dreadful Apathy) + Mire's Grasp + Hierophant milling enchantments, Zombies start dropping his life total until he stonewalls me with an Akroan War. Now he has my Hierophant, while I've got a 2/2 Zombie, Loathsome Chimera and a Nexus Warden on board. My hand is Caryatid, Berserker, and Brawler -- all idiots who die in the War.

Normally I might just pass here, to reduce the impact of Akroan War, but under time pressure I slam down Berserker, pumping my Zombie and swinging. He trades off my Hierophant for my Chimera.

Next turn: He puts down the 7/3, and I make the forced attack with Nexus Warden, Berserker, and a 4/1 Mogis's Favorite Zombie. He's at 11 and decides to trade his 7/3 for my Berserker, instead of eating my Warden -- this feels pretty wrong to me, given that Akroan War is about to kill it anyways and my Warden will survive and return as a 3/3. I guess he was scared to go down to 2 life instead of 4, even if having a 7/3 lying around would probably have been worth the life.

We play a bit more Magic -- I think I can grind with the Chimera in graveyard, but there's literally seconds left on the clock. When hit time on his Turn 0, I feel like I can eke out a win over 3 combat steps, but on Turn 1 I topdeck Lamprey with sufficient creatures and mana to lethal him. Welp, cool.

Day 2!

Pod 1: I start on Elspeth's Nightmare over Hound and Final Death. Second pick a Catoblepas, and Black turns out not to be that open -- I'm basically trying to force it while seeing late Turtles and Tritons. Midway through pack 2 I consider switching to Blue, speculating on a relatively late Thassa's Intervention, but close-to-last pick Loathsome Chimera makes me reconsider. Pack 3 getting passed Nessian Boar feels pretty good, 'specially when the rest of my deck feels particularly unplayable. I think I tried too hard for Black, which my friends agree on after seeing my deck:

[7-3] Round 10: facing Sam (@samdsherman), on R/B with multiple Portents and sac outlets. Game 1 he rolls me with monsters and auras. Game 2 I set up Nessian Boar + Catoblepas to set him to 5 total power, Plague Winding him (and even getting through for trample with Nylea's Forerunners, nice.)

Game 3 I mull to 6, but I think I have it locked after an Elspeth's Nightmare leaves him with a hand of Infuriate and Portent of Betrayal, while I've got Berserker on board and two Nylea's Huntmasters in hand. He topdecks Pharika's Spawn, though, trading that + Infuriate for Berserker, and I can foresee my loss as he Portents just to fuel Spawn. I whiff a few more draws and die to the Gorgon.

Turns out Sam had been passing to me, having opened a Phoenix and getting passed Spawn P1P2. No wonder Black was cut...

[7-4] Round 11: vs Brian, on what looks like Mono-Black but is actually B/w. Why was I fighting so many people for this color?

G1. We're both slamming monsters at each other; while I'm at 15, he sends a Berserker and Nyxborn into my Berserker and tapped Chimera. I consider trading, but decide I want to hold out for the devotion so my Catoblepas can actually kill something. When he plays Hierophant as his only blocker with Swamp and Plains up, I go for lethal -- but his Flicker of Fate keeps Hierophant alive. Suddenly my attacks don't look quite as good, and I lose the game in short order.

On the mull game 2, and just end up dying. I keep taking the play for whatever reason -- probably wrong.

[8-4] Round 12: Wtf, I got another bye -- the other 0-2 in our pod must have dropped. Definitely still think 7-4 is worth playing out, as a 2-1 in second draft probably means I cash. Time to retire this G/B deck never having won a match (in fairness, it felt like around a 1-2 deck in power level.)

Pod 2: I'm drafting in the Feature Match area, with Shuhei Nakamura and Dana Fischer in my pod. Feature Match doesn't actually mean anything, though -- no cameras, just some watchful judges.

I open a Calix and take it over nothing. Pick 2 is the white 3/1, and I'm suddenly very unenthusiastic about my chances in this draft. Spec on a Mire's Grasp pick 3, but the black doesn't show up and I stick to mediocre white and green cards -- at the end of pack 1 I have like 3 Indomitable Will's, with some blue cards late (most notably a Triton Waverider).

Pack 2 I waver a bit, picking up Staggering Insight over Commanding Presence while passing 2 Final Deaths. Try to wheel a Siona, opting for solid white cards like Transcendent Envoy and Daybreak Chimera. I find another Siona, but the first one doesn't come back. Hm...

Still haven't really settled on my colors going into Pack 3, but I highroll when an Archon of Sun's Grace smiles back at me. A couple picks later, I'm passed Nylea, which looks decent enough as a late-game card engine (and indestructible O-ring with Calix). Better than Eutropia, anyways? I fill out the rest of my deck with solid cards, and I'm reasonably excited to try this deck.

[8-5] Round 13: Look at that, I'm playing Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura (@nakashu_) on UB control. I don't manage to do much round 1 -- a well-timed Stern Dismissal counters my Setessan Training, and his Ashiok sets my board to mostly empty. I concede on his first 2/3 attack, just to hide information about my deck.

I think through how to beat Ashiok, and settle on taking out a couple Indomitable Wills (weak to his removal) to put in Triton Waveriders and Staggering Insight -- on the theory that I really need to kill it in the air. I do mess up my splash, though, putting in an Island and Traveler's Amulet but only taking out one Plains, putting me at 18 mana sources for my already low-to-the-ground deck.

We get deck checked, and I chat with him a bit about Magic, my upcoming trip to Japan, etc. Turns out he was playing in Dreamhack, and of course he already has PT invites, but is playing in this GP just for the love of Magic. It's a little surreal to be making small talk with a famous pro just like every other opponent I played against today, but also quite pleasant, even if we have minor English miscommunications. I do wish I practiced a bit of my Japanese with him there.

Game 2 is quite a doozy. I'm on the play, and he passes turn 2 and goes to discard with one land in play. Even though he hits lands soon after, I feel like I should be quite ahead, and I spend the entire game on offense, fetching Staggering Insight to put on my Triton Waverider, and a Daybreak Chimera carries a Setessan Training. He's at 12 when I swing with both, I think Chumping a flyer under my Waverider. Then he passes with all his mana up.

I put him on Final Death, which he showed me last game, but Flicker of Fate targeting my Setessan Training doesn't draw a response from him. I put it back on the Chimera and swing again, and indeed my Waverider Finally Dies. My next attack takes him from 8 to 4, and I hope for lethal on the turn after -- but after flashing back Think Twice Glimpse of Freedom, he shows me a Stern Dismissal to buy a bit more time. I replay the Chimera, intending to kill him over two turns.

Then he plays his Ashiok, bouncing my Chimera. Okay, I've planned for this by holding a couple lands in my hand, so I reply it. Ashiok upticks, and I decide killing Ashiok is better than setting Shuhei to 1 -- even attacking straight into Shuhei, Ashiok's -3 will buy him yet another turn, so I might as well take Ashiok off the board.

He untaps, and casts Ashiok.

Didn't I just kill this thing...? I have to actually look at his graveyard to verify, yes, this is his SECOND copy of Ashiok, bouncing my Chimera yet again. I'm running out of lands in hand -- a topdecked Envoy joins my Chimera to present lethal, but he fogs the damage from Chimera (with a Chain to Memory, maybe?), and one more Ashiok -3 finally exiles Chimera for good. I find Nylea, but he starts suiciding in Nightmares and Wave-Tower Mystic. Suddenly those Nylea activations aren't looking like such a great idea... my Envoy dutifully pecks in for one damage at a time, bringing him down to 1 before he manages to mill me out completely. What a game!

We play one more match just for fun, and he rolls me again. Apparently he opened an Ashiok and got passed one in a later pack, which I'm super envious of, but he good-naturedly acknowledges what a strong deck he ended up with. In the end, my biggest regret is not getting him to sign my own copy of Ashiok...

[8-5-1] Round 14: Playing Ricky, on some U/W combination. My Heliod's Pilgrim eats his two Omen of the Sun tokens in combat with help from my first Indomitable Will; the second lets it devour his Daybreak Chimera. I'm seeing bomb after bomb, with my Calix drawing Nylea drawing Archon, and feel like I've got this game on lock. So when he plays a Brine Giant and a Protean Thaumaturge, I don't think too much, sticking his Giant under my Nylea.

Then he Dreadful Apathy's my Daybreak Chimera, and then Calix dies to his Daybreak Thaumaturge. Right, he can do that. Unfortunate -- but like, I still have Nylea on board and Archon in hand. I make my Archon, planning to leverage that into a win instead.

Then he copies my Archon. Turns out, he's heavier into Constellation than I am, with blue and white Omens chaining into each other.

Then he makes a Nadir Kraken. And his Thaumaturge is a second Kraken. At some point, I swing my Archon into his empty-ish board and his fourth Omen turns his Thaumaturge back into Archon, ambushing mine in combat...

Apparently Thaumaturge is really, really good.

Game 2, with less than half our time in round. I finally hit my dream curve of Turn 2 Wolfwillow Haven, Turn 3 Calix on an empty board. He can't answer the consistent stream of card advantage that follows it, and dies.

Game 3, with 8 minutes on the clock. I'm on the back foot this time, as Ricky pulls out Nadir Kraken and Thaumaturge while I'm struggling to hit lands. My saving Grace is a topdecked Archon, which he of course copies. Good thing I put in 2 Plummets!

Nadir Kraken keeps ticking up, and at some point Revoke its Dreadful Apathy from Existence -- but we hit turn 0 of time, and he counts my power on board before he passing with 10 tentacles (10tacles, amirite?).

I finally find my fifth land, run out Siona and pick Indomitable Will over Warbriar's Blessing. His swing out with 10tacles, Kraken, Brine Giant, and assorted 2 power guys runs into my line of Pegasi and random dorks, taking me from 10 to 3. But another Nylea grows my flock, to the point where his alpha on Turn 4 of time would not be lethal. He's at 21 life, though, so my flying lifelinking army won't be able to kill him either.

Now comes the uncomfortable tension. Honestly, I don't think I'm super favored to win this game -- I would need to continue drawing a stream of Auras or something like Calix to hold of his biggest creatures -- but he also has no fliers, so my Pegasi would end up carrying the game if that were to happen. At any rate, he's not willing to concede to me, and I think we would be able to prize at 9-5-1, so we end up with a draw.

[9-5-1] Round 15: I'm matched with Dana Fischer (@DanaFischerMTG), on G/u/r. Feels kind of nice getting to play a bunch of Magic celebs, maybe that means I'm getting somewhere. Before we start playing, though, I find out she's 8-6, whereas my record is a single point better at 8-5-1 -- and thus likelier to hit the top 64 cutoff to cash in $300.

I start talking to her about a prize split, but a judge drags me away before I figure out how to get myself DQ'd. So: yes, we can agree on a split before the game, 50-50 is pretty safe, I want to do something like 70-30 split for the winner of the game but Judge isn't sure if that's kosher, Dana seems eager to get started, let's just say 50-50 split and start.

Game 1: I'm feeling much better about the split when I mulligan a 1-lander into a six-lander, finally keeping Plains, Plains, Forest, Nyxborn Courser, Setessan Training, bottoming a Captivating Unicorn and Warbriar's Blessing. She leads with Caryatid into Nylea's Forerunners and I feel pretty dead.

A topdeck Daybreak Chimera curves decently after my Courser, and with Setessan Training it attacks past her Nexus Warden. She tries a block, followed by Return to Nature on my Training, and I have Flicker of Fate for the blowout. I had been planning on Flickering it onto the Courser to trade for the Forerunner, so I'm quite pleased about this turn of events. Relatively pleased, anyways, while her Warden of the Chained and Forerunner knock me down to 5.

She shows me a second Return to Nature destroying my Courser, and I'm basically forced into trading my Chimera and Lagonna-Band Storytellers into her Forerunner and Warden, going down to 3 in the meantime. I'm quite happy to have found an Archon, sticking that and a Setessan Skirmisher. She shows me a Nylea's Huntmaster, which she buffs on a Caryatid that goes into town; I'm happy trading off for my dork.

So my board is Archon and a Wolfwillow Haven to her Nexus Warden and Huntmaster. I decide that there's no way I can win if I trade of Archon for Huntmaster, so I start running Archon into her Warden just to gain 3 life a turn. I go up to 6, Huntmaster puts me to 2, I go back up to 5, then chump the Wolf under Huntmaster while her other two 1-powered dorks knock me to 3... Finally I get a lucky break, finding Dreadful Apathy to make a Pegasus and take out Huntmaster. Pegasi quickly bring the game out of reach, and I'm elated to have won on a mull to 5.

Game 2: Dana seems a bit flooded while I curve out, Siona and Heliod's Pilgrim both finding Auras. Her Nylea's Forerunner runs right into a double Indomitable Will, and I generate a bunch of tokens, using Dreadful Apathy to clear Nyxborn Colossus out of the way. She eventually finds a Klothys and starts draining me, but at that point I'm too wide for her monsters to handle.

We play another Game 3 just for fun (well, all the games are fun since the prize split). She mulls down to 4 and still almost kills me just with Klothys activations. I'm pretty sure I saw and passed that very same Klothys; my estimation of the card has gone up somewhat after seeing her put it to such good use.

It's nice chatting with her and her dad, Adam, talking about their sideboarding strategies, Adam's work at Riot, their sponsorship with ChannelFireball... and she even signs and gives me my own Dana token! Unfortunately, my friends break the news that I ended up 72nd place, a few ranks out of the money. I guess I'm not splitting cash with a famous Magic player today.

That's a wrap

Overall, my day 2 ended with a pretty disappointing result (1-3-1 in matches, plus a bye). At least Reno brings my MTGElo to 1701, just enough to start showing me my global ranking. I feel like I could have played a bit better pod 2, and definitely drafted better in pod 1, but getting to pit my skills against some renowned Magic players (and also just talk to them) was a super highlight of the weekend. Huge shoutout to my team this weekend (Richard, Michael, Karthik, Derek, and David) who helped me prep and kept me fed, and thanks for reading along!

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