So took a little bit to get this Grand Prix Chicago report up but such is the life of a travelling player. Let’s face it I like writing this blog but I like playing Magic more and that has thankfully been an option the past couple weeks, so yay for me! Anyways let’s dive into my Chicago sojourn and how the points chase is shaping up.
Early morning at Navy Pier, optimism abound!
When we last left our hero, me, I had just spent a week down in Louisville Kentucky. Bored aside from a fun draft at a local game store and looking to take a rare opportunity at a US Grand Prix. As a very new player I am not really overly up on the Modern format. That’s not to say I haven’t followed it a bit or played a bit, however given the very fledgling state of the format here in Victoria my time spent actually playing and tuning my weapon of choice has been incredibly small. So why go and subject yourself to a Modern Grand Prix you ask? Well it’s a Grand Prix! These things are great.
Over 1100 showed up to play Modern, seems legit!
Anyone can enter, you get to meet pros and artists, if you bomb out there are tons of side events of any ilk, generally a great time. Events like this are even better if you’re doing it with friends as the support makes all the difference. I have to say from the snap that doing these solo is a bit sucky but I met a number of genuinely nice players in Chicago that made my time spent in the event site a bunch of fun. Grand Prix Chicago was held at the very cool Navy Pier event site. If you haven’t ever been here and are heading to Chicago, gotta check this place out, it’s really hard to describe but it’s basically a big mall, promenade, fair, conference center, museum thing set at the foot of downtown Chicago on Lake Michigan.
Ominous clouds aside, this place is pretty amazing.
So what did I bring to battle? The only deck I have and the only one I knew how to pilot, Affinity. Of course like most Affinity decks these days there are no cards with Affinity so I simply wrote on the deck list submission ‘No Affinity’ as the deck name. The build I utilized was a slightly modified version by Ari Lax, writer for Star City Games, a red burn based smash your face quick aggro deck. These kinds of decks are perfectly suited for my play style and great for those with very little experience with these things. To say that I was inexperienced with the deck would be close. I have played it in less than a handful of small 6-8 man modern events at Skyhaven. This build in particular I had done nothing but gold fish the deck about 100 times. I hadn’t even played with the Arcbound Ravagers before! Anyways here’s the decklist.
No Affinity by Ari Lax
Going into the event I thought I had a single round bye, earned from last Winter and my 400+ point season. Turns out…. Nope. That expired back in August, kind of awkward when round 1 pops up and instead of BYE next to my name I have a matchup. This put me off a bit as I went and inquired and sure enough my name was no longer on the list of players with any byes. I had checked the list prior to making my travel plans and I was on it still, must have been an old list. Not that this would have deterred me but a win is a win and it always changes your odds and how far you will go. When I had 3 byes for Grand Prix Seattle, won at a GPT at Skyhaven, the 3 wins put me in the thick of the pros and grinders and gave me a real shot of making day 2.
Feature match battle, pros, grinders and durdles (me) look on.
My win and in match at GP Seattle I ended up losing to a poker pro and long time magic player in a tough 3 game match. This is the double edged sword of 2 and 3 byes. You get a much better shot at Day 2 by taking a full 3rd of your matches out of your hands but if you keep up your winning ways you are typically playing really good players. It becomes a lot harder to skim under the line. It’s really neat to get to play pros, I’ve now faced a few great players. I’ve beat some, lost to some, and always had a good time and came away learning something. Most pros are really good to play against and understand what it’s like to be a new player sitting across from someone with multiple pro tour top 8’s.
So no bye for me, how did the matches go? Let’s get into it!
Vs. Alex with Gifts Ungiven
This is where my inexperience rears its head. I have heard of the card, seen it I think in cube but I have never played against this deck and it showed. Thankfully Affinity just allows you to smash and dash but that only works until Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite shows up….
Game 1 – I start kind of slow, in fact I’m just plodding along swinging away with one or two guys, not really running a great draw. I get him down to 9 on a pretty open board, he pulls the old Gifts Ungiven fail to find two cards play. JUDGE!. I have to gain clarity on this as I suspect it won’t be the last time this happens. Gifts Ungiven says go find 4 cards with different names, you can apparently just fail to find two of them and pitch them into the yard. Uhh, well that’s something. OK. Unburial Rites, Elesh Norn? OK I’ll just go ahead and bin my board. I hadn’t taken damage so I let him hit me while I drew hoping to find a couple burn spells. No dice and we’re on to game 2.
Game 2 – I manage to jump up a lot faster and even land a sided in Rest In Peace. Turns out it doesn’t matter he just puts up Lingering Souls tokens and oddly enough, pretty good against my deck. Hmm forgot that was a card and no Whipflare sided in. What’s that? Hard cast Norn, great. What are you at? 3 life? Blerg. Norn’s spirit friends hit me, I have one draw to find a burn spell, nope. Guess they’re at the bottom of the lake. :-\ Lose – 0-2 / Now 0-1
OK so that didn’t go well but maybe it’ll be an outsider deck….
Vs. Christian with Jund
So apparently Affinity has a good matchup here. In a previous build of my Affinity deck I have played Kentaro and his Jund deck at Skyhaven and it didn’t go well. My build had changed a lot so we’ll see where this goes.
Game 1 – I start off pretty quick dropping Signal Pest onto the board with a bunch of 0 drops. By turn 3 I’ve hit him for 10 which isn’t even that bad. He finds some burn and I have to rebuild. A handy Steelshaper’s Gift into Cranial Plating and a swing for 7 forces the scoop and we’re on to game 2 with Christian not really playing much of anything.
Game 2 – This game I basically just hit hit for 3 while he stalled on lands. It happens to everyone. I had set up a double Arcbound Ravager and Vault Skirge on the field. He goes and casts Pyroclasm and I find the power of the Arcbound Ravager when I quickly remember to sack both in response and put the +1 triggers on the Vault Skirge. The skirge rides out the storm and I literally do nothing else but hit him with that Skirge and he bricks out. Win – 2-0 / Now 1-1.
Vs. David with Jund – Won Roll
I knew Jund would be a popular deck but wasn’t looking forward to another back to back. David, you could tell, knew what he was doing with this deck and it showed in our match.
Game 1 – This was a crazy game, the note I wrote for myself was “Stalled on 1 mana, he draws 4-5 removal spells”. One mana keeps aren’t all that odd with Affinity, at least not for me. I’m no expert but with the other mana acceleration it is rarely an issue. Despite this 1 land keep I still hit him pretty hard while restocking the board, getting him down to 8 before he got Modern’s new darling Deathrite Shaman online. I managed to keep his Tarmogoyf at bay but finally he just overwhelmed me and I scooped it up.
Game 2 – Simple note in my damage column. ‘Smash Turn 5’. My deck went off this round, just like his did with drawing most of his removal in Game 1. I hit him for 5 turn 2, turn 3 and then after getting rid of my Signal Pest only for 1. A Cranial Plating equipped Blinkmoth Nexus hits him for 6 and he scoops it up at 3 when I flash the Galvanic Blast. Easy game!
Game 3 – Did I say easy game? That Jund deck is very strong and David showed off his play skill and luck. I mulligan to 6 and keep the nut smash your face in hand and spew 5 of 6 cards onto the battlefield. He is bug eyed at the power I dropped onto the field. He draws for his turn and slams down a Pyroclasm. Oops forgot about that card again. He later claimed it was in his opening hand but the way he drew, then played a card it and his reaction to my opening play I am 95% sure he top decked it. My over extension cost me that game (could have also won it though) and I fall to a Goyf and Kitchen Finks over 8 or 9 turns. Lose – 1-2 / Now 1-2
This was a tough loss just for the fact that my deck can beat it, I know it can now. I’ll never know for sure if I did just play right into that ‘clasm but either way I was probably too overeager to spew and smash that game with the removal he was packing.
Vs. Matt with Gifts Ungiven – Won Roll
Another Gifts deck though this time I understand the match-up a little better. I’m hoping these don’t get to frequent though I always feel less in control of these matches than I do versus Jund or other decks.
Game 1 – Darn those Lingering Souls tokens. I came out pretty quick and start hitting with a guy I had barely seen all day so far Etched Champion, this would be a trend that would bear out all day unfortunately. Game 1 was a bit protracted but Matt managed to limit my damage and I drop to 4 spirits after a pretty pitched battle.
Game 2 – I get a Vault Skirge online followed by a Blood Moon. After four or five swings I am up to 26. He managed to get a few guys out and we end up in a stalemate until I finally find one of my four Etched Champions. I’m now able to get through for 2 at a time but it turns out to be enough to get him down to 4. A Shrapnel Blast for 5 closes out the game just before he was going to be able to untap and obliterate my board with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
Game 3 – I’m feeling better about this match-up despite it being very tough. All I need to do is rest in peace and blood moon him and everything is good right? Well a very sad mulligan down to 4, my first ever in competition magic makes this a pretty tough game. I kept a hand with a land, creature, blood moon and a Springleaf Drum. I actually land the Blood Moon and start hitting him a little but it’s just dribs and drabs. He isn’t under any pressure and it took just long enough to get the Blood Moon out that his mana dorks have enough time to assemble the Gifts Ungiven combo and Elesh Norn and friends smash me for 13 and I scoop. Lose – 1-2 / Now 1-3
A bit crestfallen at my mull to 4 but those are the breaks. I am now completely out of contention for day 2, not that I had any allusions to making it but this is where a lot of people would just drop.
So why not drop if I’m out of contention? I had decided at this point to make a run at getting an invite to the World Magic Cup Qualifier, as discussed in my last article. Part of taking in this Grand Prix was the max opportunity at points. In addition to this Grand Prix events are just great! At this point regardless if I miss day 2 there were still a max of 5 more rounds. Let’s face it, the players now in the X-3 or X-4 bracket that stuck around were likely not cream of the crop and there was a good chance at more points. I had 64 Points just for showing up and my single match win was worth 24 points. I was already up 92 points, more than half of the points I had accumulated grinding FNM and drafts so far that quarter. I had to keep going.
Vs. Matt with Splinter Twin – Lost Roll
This was a pretty funny match. It wasn’t actually until Game 2 that I knew what he had. Matt was not overly experienced but he knew the deck, he just couldn’t find anything he wanted. He was good through the whole thing and we had a good chuckle through the match and chatted a bit afterwards, a nice guy that likely just got a bit unlucky.
Game 1 – Matt does nothing but dig. I don’t even see any parts of the Splinter Twin combo, about one of the few decks I actually have any familiarity with. I at one point thought it might be the weird Izzet NivMagus Elemental deck piloted by Gerry Thompson. Not the case though. I beat Matt down without taking a hit and I have no idea what to sideboard in aside from Rest in Peace as he had some little bit of flashback in his deck.
Game 2 – More of the same, at this point I genuinely feel quite bad for him. He gets out a few blockers but Galvanic Blast clears the way. He is starting to find some removal and I have to work a bit harder to keep guys on the field but a Cranial Plating around Turn 6 and the writing is on the wall. One swing with that, he goes to his draw step lamenting his inability to deal with the artifact and scoops it up. Win – 2-0 / Now 2-3
Vs. Will with B/W/G Tokens – Lost Roll
Will seemed pretty assured of himself going into this match; guess it hasn’t been that hard for him. I have played a similar deck with Josh R. at Skyhaven so I knew a little of what to expect. The darn Lingering Souls tokens would be a pain either way.
Game 1 – Smashy Smashy? We both get stuck on mana but my deck can get through that. I finally drew Cranial Plating and hit for 5 and then 7. Will isn’t so lucky and we move on to Game 2.
Game 2 – Will showed me how his deck worked and I realized my hand was way too slow. I was on the fence for the keep and it turns out I should have just mulliganed. The deck mulligans pretty well with its low land count but I was just being cocky after my first game win. This one is pretty protracted though as we both basically just poked away at each other for dribs and drabs. He finally stabilizes at 10 and I can’t keep enough blockers in play.
Game 3 – I snap keep and go with a Turn 2 Etched Champion, pretty much impossible to beat without a lot of cards or a sweeper. He starts to build out his board though and I can sense I’m really just a turn or so away from losing this game. I land a second Etched Champion with him at 8, swing the next turn and flash the Galvanic Blast for the win. Win – 2-1 / Now 3-3
Vs. Taylor with Affinity (Blue) – Lost Roll
As it turns out Taylor was a recent member of the X-3 club and didn’t seem too pleased, who would be? Sucks to get that far and just miss a few rounds short.
Game 1 – I was on the other end of an Affinity ROFL stomp. He kept a nut hand and just spewed. As it sometimes happens I keep a loose hand game 1 as I don’t want to give up cards against an unknown deck. Something I’ll have to work on with this deck. Not much to say here I really was flat footed and he killed in on turn 4.
Game 2 – This was a protracted match with both of us keeping pretty decent hands and building up some arms. The key cards for both decks, Galvanic Blast for me and Thoughtcast for him really pulled their weight. In this case because the match went so long Thoughcast really pulled through with the extra cards. I could have pulled off the win though if I ever had drawn more than 2 lands. As we had a ground stall the only path to victory was in the air. I managed a single swing hit for 8 poison off of an Inkmoth Nexus equipped with Cranial Plating, a move that surprised him. Despite me blasting his sole blocker, his own Inkmoth when he blocked my follow up attack, he drew well though and went Blinkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus to stifle that plan. I also screwed up here and didn’t respond to the activation and missed the spot to burn out the moth, letting him block with it for whatever reason. One more land would have allowed me to dual activate Inkmoths and then snap attach the cranial Plating to whichever one he couldn’t block. Sadly I was only able to get one more poison through and he had lethal on board next turn. Lose – 0-2 / Now 3-4
I had gotten a taste of the sweet, sweet 0.500 club and I wanted more. So in spite of my old ass getting really damn tired and my plethora of snacks and water running out, I decided to stay and try and win one more.
Vs. Logan with Emrakul Ramp – Lost Roll
You might notice a trend here; I lost 5 of 8 dice rolls. I don’t tend to fare well with die rolls in general it seems but here my deck definitely cares whether I win the roll or not. It can make a huge tempo difference, especially with decks that have enough removal.
Logan was in the same club as I, trying to get to 4-4 and leave even on the day. He wished me good luck but said he wanted to be 4-4 so he wasn’t being overly truthful about the luck part. I said the same went for me and we laughed and shuffled it up. Logan was another that was above the rim when it came to having a good time. I’m not sure if he was just punch drunk like I was at the time or he’s like this all the time, all the same it was a pretty fun match.
Game 1 – Logan durdled around and dug like you would not believe. I kept a reasonable if not slow hand (again!) but it had a lot of power so it paid off. A Cranial Plating and swing for 7 on turn 3 had Logan shaking his head and digging some more. Turn 4 I swung for 10 and after his draw step Logan scooped it up and we went to game 2.
Game 2 – This time it was my turn to watch Logan do something powerful, I started off reasonably well but he found all his Urza lands and cast a turn 5 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn while he was sitting at 7 life and about to die on the next swing. Logan took his extra turn and I weathered one swing from the big Eldrazi and I held on at 5. I waited for my draw step as another Galvanic Blast would let me win the game with my remaining mana. No such luck and I scooped.
Game 3 – No messing around this time I kept a lighting fast hand with my best buddy Signal Pest. His deck really relies on surviving and then turning the game around. I swung for 5 on Turn 2, 6 on Turn 3 and then after removing my Pest I was only able to get in for 2 and then 1 damage. I held onto my burn though and a Shrapnel Blast with him on 6 and no way to block my remaining 1/1s forced Logan to scoop and I managed to draw even on the day again! Won 2-1 / Now 4-4.
So that wraps up the action side of things for Modern. In other wanderings that day at the Grand Prix I managed mid day to get LSV to sign my Sun Titan playmat. The same mat I had him sign in Seattle after we played Round 6. LSV is always a class act and doesn’t mind taking a moment to sign or chat, great guy and one of my favorite players by far. I also picked up a few John Avon Unhinged lands, pimping my modern deck out a little and finishing my set of 1 each. Minor pimping but still amazing art none the less.
Each John Avon Unhinged land these days costs 3-5$ each (non foil). For just $18 you can have an A4 sized lithograph of each land. I have a signed Forest and it’s great!
Tired and in need of food I started the long couple mile walk back to my rental car and the 30 minute drive out to the airport where I was staying for the night.
After a quick meal at Chipotle (yum!) I got back to the hotel and checked out the event list for the following day. I didn’t have a lot of time before I had to drive back out but I wanted to get in something on day 2. I decided that rather than play my solid G/W deck that won game day in the TCGPlayer Standard event I would just play in the TCGPlayer Sealed event. Some pros would be in it and for my entry fee I would at minimum get a few rounds of play and some cards out of the deal. Standard would just be a chance to win points. Not that it wasn’t what I was going for but I felt pretty good about what I earned the day before.
Sunday started off well, I got to the site and registered for Sealed nice and quick. I noted that Steve Argyle wasn’t in. Steve’s one of the more popular artists in Magic these days, check out his contributions here.
As luck would have it as I was walking away from his booth he was just walking up. I ended up chatting with him for a few minutes, genuinely a great guy. As a side benefit I also was first in line thanks to my lurking so the new 20 deep line was not even a concern. I got a Deathrite Shaman signed and a signed print for my wife and headed over for the soon to be firing TCGPlayer Sealed event.
Sealed was a non-event though. It was oddly slow to start compared to a lot of these I’ve been to and we lost at least a solid half hour or more to the organizers and judges screwing around. To make a long story a little shorter I opened a weird pool that wanted to be three completely different decks. My bombs were either Corpsejack Menace & Lotleth Troll or ‘Niv Mizzet, Dracosmartypants’. I had much better support in G/B/r so I built that as my main pool. With the couple minutes I had left I slapped together a U/W deck that would have splashed for some additional red removal if I had the time but my pool was such a quandary I simply ran out of time.
Nobody puts Niv in the sideboard! Except maybe Shawn… Durr.
I ended up going 0-2, 1-2. My 1-2 came after I sided in my U/W pool round 2 and stole a game with it. The guy didn’t even notice I started playing with an un-sleeved deck all of a sudden. How I lose to unobservant people like that I don’t know. After dropping game 3 with that U/W deck in a tight fight I threw my stuff in my bag and power walked out of there. I was running 15 minutes late for my trip back to the airport and I never like cutting arrival times close when you have to go through security on a Sunday.
So the end result of my Grand Prix points chase?
8 Points x 8 Multiplier for Attendance = 64
160 Points24 Points Per Match Win x 4 = 96
4 Points x 3 Multiplier for Attendance = 12
Grand Total for weekend = 172
Points entering weekend = 160
New points total = 332
Sunset over the Chicago skyline, great city! I’ll have to check it out more in the future!
So all in all, I think a pretty successful weekend. I was sitting at 332, more than double what I had the week before and now closer to my goals. I still was 68 short of the 400 I need for a 1 Round Bye and 168 away from the World Cup Qualifier invite but I am now in striking distance whereas before it was a hopeless cause.
Thanks for sticking with it if you read this far! Make sure to come back for my next article with more points chase endeavors leading up to my deadline for the 400 points mark.