GP NJ Tournament Report

Ethan Saks • February 5, 2020

The weekend started out with a bang. Along with 6 other folks from the Lords of Limited Discord, I entered the 11:45 Last Chance Trial to attempt tp qualify for two byes for the Main Event. It was also a chance to practice registering and building a sealed pool as well as a chance to play with Theros Beyond Death in paper. As I opened my packs in front of the person across from me, the first rare I revelead was Polukranos, Unchained. What followed was an incredibly strong string of black and green cards. I assembled the following build (not pictured is 9 swamps and 9 forests).

This deck seemed fantastic to me. I had power with PolyK and Pharika’s Spawn, an incredible suite of removal, a good curve with the double Nessian Hornbeetle and great card advantage with Funeral Rites, Relentless Pursuit and my escape creatures. I was able to rattle off the four wins needed in the event to get the benefit of two byes to start out the Main Event.

I was super stoked and went back to the hotel where the aforementioned Discord group gathered to have an old fashioned Limited Testing Meeting to discuss and rank every card in the format. The entire conversation is available on youtube in six parts here. After a long day of magic and a lovely dinner, I hit the hay to rest up for the (hopefully) long weekend.

Getting to sleep in for the main event is HUGE.  The extra hour and a half of sleep was a big bonus, not to mention the difference between having to go 4-2 and 6-2 to qualify for day two.  I walked over to the convention center and made my way to my table for deckbuilding. Sitting around so many seasoned professionals and across from Christian Calcano, I felt my nerves begin to creep in. The confidence from the day before was already starting to wear off and I crossed my fingers for a pool nearly as good as the one that had allowed me to be in the position of 2-0 to start the day. I opened my packs and rattled off four great Golgari rares: Nightmare Shepherd, Gravebreaker Lamia, Mantle of the Wolf, and Setessan Champion. I knew before even sorting my cards that I had another powerful Green Black deck on my hands. Once the clock started for deckbuilding, it didn’t take long for me to settle on this as the final build.

The deck built itself save for a few flex slots. The biggest tech for sealed I found for the weekend was a main deck copy of Wings of Hubris. This card breaks open the Golgari mirror match or any board stall, and I anticipated to find both of those if I was going to win throughout the day. The only issue I saw with the deck was its curve. Only two creatures before turn three had me a little worried, but the rest of the deck was a dream. As I gathered with my group before round 3 and showed my deck, the responses were unanimous: this deck is busted. I had the two byes and had been very fortunate to open this pool. Now all that was left was to not blow it.

Round 3: RG Aggro

After narrowly winning the first game against a strong Gruul deck (save for a seemingly out of place Satyr’s Cunning), I looked to my sideboard and made a swap that I would be making most of the day: Nexus Wardens for Cavern Harpy. I thought exiling a card from my opponent’s graveyard would be relevant because escape is such a huge part of the format. But with Tymaret, Chosen from Death and Elspeth’s Nightmare I already had good graveyard hate and wished I had the blocker and source of lifegain. Nexus Wardens single handedly won me a narrow game two where my opponent cast The Akroan War and nearly went wide enough with Satyrs and a Heroes of the Revel + Infuriate to bring me down to a precarious 3 life. But I clawed my way back and stabilized to get the win.

Round 4: Temur Splash

This round I found myself opposite fellow limited writer Avenash Pernankil. He was on a Temur base deck splashing for at least Final Death. Both games of our match he mulliganed which is certainly a risk you run when stretching your mana base. I have found splashing in THB sealed to be risky (though certainly necessary sometimes.) In game 1, after his mulligan I had an interesting decision on whether or not to Return to Nature his Altar of the Pantheon, but I elected to be patient with that removal spell.

The day before I had spewed a Return to Nature in a practice game against my podcast partner Ben Werne. A turn later he cast Shadowspear. Lesson learned on not wasting that kind of effect unless absolutely necessary. Letting the Altar stick around did allow Avenash to cast a Final Death and a Skophos Warleader. I was still able to win that game and the following one with the old one-two punch of Gravebreaker Lamia into Pharika’s Spawn.

Round 5 - Sultai Control

My deck was playing out super consistently and I was feeling confident. I won an unmemorable game 1 and on turn 5 of game 2, with nothing better to do, I cast a Funeral Rites and drew into an Agonizing Remorse as a follow up play with my other two mana. And what to my wondering eyes did appear? Kiora Bests the Sea God. Phew! It felt great to dodge that bullet out of my opponent’s hand and go on to win the match with their best card handled.

Round 6 - Azorius Skies

I faced a very tricksy UW deck in round 6. Threnody Singer, Vexing Gull, Starlit Mantle, and of course, Staggering Insight were all cards that showed up in game 1, which I narrowly won. With Nexus Wardens at my side once again and Wings of Hubris already in the main deck, I tried my best to take on the rush of flyers my opponent had in their deck. My timely removal and reach creature out of the sideboard proved to be enough to get me to my bombs and overpower my opponent’s threats. At the end of the match he said, “Well, I never drew any of my good cards.” He then revealed a Dream Trawler and Elspeth Conquers Death.

Another  two bullets dodged as I locked up day 2 at 6-0.

Round 7 - Boros Aggro

I found myself at table 2 against an opponent with a blisteringly fast deck and even faster play. I kept my cool, however, as we dove into game 1 and I kept a hand of 5 lands, Nyx Herald and Soulreaper of Mogis on the play. Not a great hand, but my deck had just been so consistent all day that I felt like it would provide. Unfortunately, I flooded out fairly hard as my opponent curved out with Pious Wayfarers and Incendiary Oracles backed up by a flurry of tricks. I sideboarded as defensively as I could and got the win in game two. Game three I finally got to see the true power of my opponents deck which included Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis and Storm Herald returning an Iroas’s Blessing for a huge tempo swing. Nexus Wardens and Gravebreaker Lamia were no match for this start, and I picked up my first loss.

Round 8 - Simic Rares

This round I sat across from a deck as streamlined and powerful as my own. Lots of support and consistency in blue and green to back up a number of powerful rares like Thassa, Deep-Dwelling Thryx, the Sudden Storm and Mantle of the Wolf. They even assembled a very cute combo in game 2 and 3 with Thassa and Alirios, Enraptured to make a 3/2 reflection every turn. In game 3, a Wolfwillow Haven into a turn 4 Gravebreaker Lamia on the play backed up by some interaction got me to secure my 7th match win of the day.

Round 9 - Orzhov Beats

As the tournament neared its 13th hour, I sat down to face my final opponent of the day on black white curve out with another powerful rare I had yet to face: Archon of Sun’s Grace. I was lucky enough to have a timely Final Death to answer it in game 1 and to snag it out of my opponent’s hand with an Agonizing Remorse in game 2 after they mulliganed and locked up the 9th match to end day 1 at 8-1.

Day 2, Draft 1

Going into day 2, I was in 15th place in the tournament and sat down at a table of many notable players with PT Champion Andrew Elenbogen on my left. With how deep and obviously great black is in the format, I thought going in to the draft that I might try to soft avoid the color in favor of letting other folks at my table fight over it. That notion didn’t last long.

P1p1 I took a Pharika’s Spawn over Shatter the Sky. I think the sweeper is awkward in white since most white decks want to be aggressive. In addition, I find the “draw a card” downside and Escape as a mechanic to make the card even worse. With a choice between that and the best uncommon in the set, I took the Spawn. P1p2 I was faced with a choice between Daxos, Blessed by the Sun and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Though I think Daxos is a better card, I took Gray Merchant with Spawn already in my pile as a tie breaker. P1p3 I was given the chouce between the best common in Mire’s Grasp and Tymaret, Chosen from Death. I think with Gray Merchant (and also just in general) that Tymaret is a less replaceable and more powerful effect. So I grabbed that I moved full steam ahead into cutting black hard.

And I got paid off! In pack 2, I opened arguably the best card to P1p1 in the format: Shadowspear. And got passed an Erebos, Bleak-Hearted from Andrew on my left P2p2. And out of my opening pack, the only two black cards, Discordant Piper and Grim Physician wheeled, so I knew black was open at the table. After running hotter than the sun and opening a second Shadowspear in Pack 3, I saw barely any black and filled out my 17 or so black playables with a handful of blue cards to end up here:

A very powerful deck, but hardly any removal. Blight-Breath Catoblepas, Pharika’s Spawn, and Erebos were just about my only ways to deal with on board threats. But the power level of the deck was quite high, so I had confidence going into the rounds.

Round 10 - Gruul Beats

I sat down opposite my same opponent from Round 6 who was on a red green beatdown deck with a good suite of escape threats. I saw nothing notable in game 1 which I won but was surprised in game 3 when another Shadowspear hit the table on his side of the battlefield. The size of my opponent’s creatures were much better suited for this equipment than mine were and I had no way to deal with the card in my deck and lost the second game.

As I riffled through my sideboard, I saw a Return to Nature, quickly called a judge over, and whispered, “Can I have 5 forests, please?” I cut the blue cards and islands from the deck, brought in Return to Nature, Nessian Wanderer, Gift of Strength, and a couple other filler black cards from my sideboard. It was a great move that ended up not being relevant. My opponent and I both missed our second color in game 3. Luckily for me, I can operate very well on just swamps in my deck, and with no mountains in sight on the other side of the battlefield, my creatures and Shadowspear got the job done.

Round 11 - Azorius Draw-Go

I had heard from my friend Alex Nikolich that Isaak Krut was a very strong player, so I was notably nervous when I sat across from him in Round 11. He had a very powerful draw-go deck. In game 1, I believe I saw 3 copies of Thirst for Meaning, 2 Deny the Divine, Omen of the Sea, Ichthyomorphosis, Sunmane Pegasus, Riptide Turtle, and The Birth of Meletis. I wasn’t quite sure what he was digging for as he churned through his deck in game 1 and eventually conceded. In game 2 I got out to a fast start with Grim Physician, Discordant Piper and Shadowspear. As I marked his life total at 3, I could taste the victory. A number of topdecks would have gotten me there: Gray Merchant, Lampad of Death’s Vigil, Catoblepas. But two copies of Sunmane Pegasus (one real, and one cloned from Protean Thaumaturge) got him to restore his life total over a number of turns and win the game.

Game 3 played out in almost the same way. Fast start from me, life total down to 5 for him, and then a two point life swing every turn from Pegasus. It wasn’t until the end of game 3, when it was largely irrelevant, that I saw what he was digging for in game 1: Dream Trawler. Isaak went on to win the GP and I was not surprised after playing against him. (His deck for reference below.)

Round 12 - Rakdos Sacrifice

My opponent sat down, complaining of the rares he had played against from our pod. We both consoled each other over losing to Dream Trawler in previous rounds, but that soon ended as I played a Shadowspear in game 1 and sheepishly pitched the second one to a Thirst for Meaning. His red black deck was quite strong with two copies of Soulreaper of Mogis, Anax, Hardened in the Forge and a surprisingly powerful Furious Rise outside of Gruul. I was however able to clinch both games and end the first draft of the day at 10-2.

Draft 2

This draft started off much rockier and was a lot more difficult to figure out. I spent a number of picks just taking what I believed to be the best card out of each pack: Archon of Falling Stars into Destiny Spinner into Commanding Presence gave me false hope for some kind of strong white deck. Hateful Eidolon into Furious Rise into a number of middling blue cards like Naiad of Hidden Coves, Whirlwind Denial, Ashiok’s Erasure, and Eidolon of Philosophy left me feeling very poor about my deck at the end of pack 1. P2p1 I grabbed Gravebreaker Lamia with hopes that black could flow from the left since I had passed no good black cards in the first pack. P2p2 a Staggering Insight had me waffling back to my powerful white cards I took early, but a Mire’s Grasp 3rd and a wheeled Devourer of Memory out of my opening pack solidified me into another blue black deck.

It’s not bad. It has removal, threats, and card advantage. I think after the high of my three previous decks for the weekend I was a little too disappointed with a deck like this (though it’s hard to not be disappointed when you have Gravebreaker Lamia and literal zero Escape cards.)

Round 13 - Gruul Aggro

As I approached the table, I saw someone sitting down sleeving their deck. I assumed they were left over from the end of deck building and, after a couple seconds, I told them that I was supposed to be playing at that table. He replied, “I know, I’m your opponent.” I felt quite embarrassed as I made my way to the other side of the table and assured him that it was not my intention to look over his shoulder as he sleeved as I didn’t realize he was who I was playing against. No hard feelings were taken and we began our match.

He had a pretty strong and streamlined Gruul deck was lots of 4 power creatures. Game 1 put us in a race with my flyers trying to go overhead while I chumped his non-trampling threats. I was able to fade a relavant topdeck and got the first game. The next two games would not go as well as a Wrap in Flames ended my chances of blocking in game 2 and Elspeth’s Nightmare awkwardly sat in my hand in game 3 without a target. I still had a chance of cashing the tournament as long as I won one of my next two matches.

Round 14 - Azorius Control

Game 1 against my round 14 opponent was quite uneventful. My Witness of Tomorrows managed to take down their life total and scry me towards additional action. Game 2 played out much differently. They were able to answer my flying threats with a number of Ichthyomorphosis and One with the Stars. And then the strangest thing happened.

They stuck a Sage of Mysteries and began to mill me 2 cards at a time. With 7 cards left in my library and three cards in my opponent’s hand, I shuffle my hand which contains my copy of Thassa’s Oracle and look down at my current 5 blue devotion on board and contemplate whether or not to go for it this turn. Fearing a counterspell or interaction to reduce my devotion, I decided to wait one more turn to try to get the alternate win condition. He untapped, played a land and three different enchantments, bringing my library to one card. I drew the last card in my library and revealed the Oracle.

My opponents eyes got big and then, with a smile, he extended his hand. 11-3!

Round 15 - Azorius Beats

Tournament Magic is not something I have a great deal of experience with. This was only my second individual GP after all. I did check the standings before Round 15 and saw that my opponent was in 18th place and I was in 21st. With no degree of certainty, I asked if he wanted to draw since, if we did, it was very possible that we could both finish in the top 32. He declined my offer and we dove into the first game.

He, like my last, opponent was also on UW and ended up getting a Staggering Insight and a Starlit Mantle onto a Favored of Iroas which was terrifying. And allowed him to gain quite a bit of life as I chump blocked for a couple turns. But without evasion and no enchantments to trigger constellation, his suited up threat wasn’t able to attack past my Gravebreaker Lamia. With my flyers pressuring his life total, he was eventually forced to attack and trade off with my 4/4 lifelinker and wasn’t able to mount any kind of defense afterwards. After taking game 1, I made probably my biggest mistake of the tournament.

I offered the draw again. I felt close to confident that he would take the offer being down a game and I figured if it’s what I wanted at the start of the match, it shouldn’t be any different now. He did take the offer and we drew. (I should have played out game 2 since I had the chance to win out, and then if I lost, that’s when I should have re-offered the draw.) A couple hours later I could only laugh when I saw that he placed 32nd and I placed 33rd.  

Even with bubbling top 32, I was really proud of my performance over the weekend. I definitely got lucky to open some powerful sealed pools, but I also built and played well against a number of skilled opponents and drafted my seat correctly in both drafts. Tournament Magic is something I’m looking to do more of in 2020 and I can only hope that each one goes as well as this.

Hope you enjoyed the recap and, as always, happy drafting!