Derf Escapes to Vegas

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I had planned to go to GP Vegas since the beginning of the year: before the Sword of Fire and Ice playmat was revealed; before preregistration ratcheted up to 1,500, then 2,000, then 3,500; and definitely before we had the largest Grand Prix of all time on our hands.

I just wanted to break out of my routine. I hadn’t been on a plane in over 10 years. Four years of university followed by five years of work instilled a sense of complacency in me. Routine, routine, routine. I had decided that Vegas would be a good way to break that cycle.

Personally, the 5-day weekend is still sinking in. There were so many new people I met; so much good food I ate; so many cool places I saw. And then there’s the Kraken and Cokes…but I’ll try my best to provide a firsthand account of the monstrosity that was GP Vegas.

Wednesday

I flew in from Toronto with local buddy and compulsive trader Ryan Abcede (@RyeABC). After a relatively painless flight we were greeted by some wonderfully dry and hot Vegas weather. As a first-time visitor, it was surreal seeing all the extravagant architecture and signage amidst a literal desert. Giant advertisements are plastered across entire hotels; animated billboards flash and spin and dazzle; and the lights, especially at night, are enthralling. And the women are unreal, but I’m sure you knew that already. Vegas is a one-of-a-kind city and almost anything elsewhere looks pedestrian in comparison.

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#InVintage! (photo courtesy of Heather Meek)

After navigating through a table flip-worthy wifi experience (and realizing Starbucks has the best wifi anywhere ever), we had the pleasure of meeting LegitMTG’s Heather Meek (@RevisedAngel) as well as Adrienne Reynolds (@DreamTimeDrinne), who is likely the first actual genius I’ve ever met. For anyone who follows Heather on Twitter, she is as bubbly and energetic in person. Heather was gracious enough to invite us over for an amazing home-cooked dinner and Magic. She and her family showed us all an extraordinary amount of hospitality.

I also got to play #InVintage for the first time (courtesy of Alex Moore (@CrushgrooveSC) and co.) with a BUG fish deck, which played surprisingly similar to Team America in Legacy. I was crushed by Adrienne’s 22 Goblins in my match against her Storm deck, then eked out a win against Heather’s GW hatebears. Awesome food and cool people! What a way to start the trip.

Thursday

We kicked off Thursday morning with a ubiquitous Denny’s breakfast, joined by the inestimable Reuben Bresler (@MoxReuby). After gabbing over mountains of eggs, sausages and pancakes, we parted ways and prepared for the touchdown of Heavy Meta’s @MattyStudios.

You’re never entirely sure what podcasters are like in real life compared to their online personas. Any preconceptions were obliterated when we met Matty. He’s as outspoken, outgoing and friendly as they come. To celebrate the occasion, we invoked our inner Americans and went to shoot some guns at The Gun Store – a novelty for us Canucks.

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All the feels

In the evening we caught the Blue Man Group: a technophilic, hallucinogenic display of kaleidoscopic awesomeness. We couldn’t take photos during the show, but we were able to snap pics during the finale.

Friday

Ryan, Matty and I loaded up for the day at Hash House A Go Go, where we incidentally ran into KYT and the Montreal Crew, including Alex Hayne and Franky Richards. They began to relay horror stories about the four-hour registration lineups at the Cashman Center. I guess that’s what happens when you have a 4,000+ player Grand Prix.

(As VIPs, we still had to wait 2 hours to register, but that was all a distant memory when Heavy Meta’s @KevyMetall showed up. The dude is a walking whirlwind and is honestly one of the coolest guys ever.)

Looking back, I was actually impressed with the way the Grand Prix was handled. When you have a GP of such an unprecedented size, there is so much that could go wrong. I agree that it’s not right for people to wait three hours outdoors. Obviously, Friday’s wait lines likely weren’t instilling confidence for Saturday, but when Saturday actually rolled around, the main event was handled quite well – no worse and perhaps better than any other GP I’ve been to. For such a milestone event, Tim Shields and the organizing team pulled it off and did just fine.

On Being A VIP: I thought the VIP package was worth the money in May, long before the Vegas hype had kicked into full gear. Being able to skip the outdoor wait line, guaranteed a Vegas playmat, gifted free water, AND free buy-in for a VIP draft? As a Magic player, how could you say no to that value? If future events offer the same level of benefits for VIP, and if you can spare the extra cash, it’s a no-brainer.

My only criticism was the placement of the pairing sheets in relation to the VIP “fixed seating” tables. When the “V” pairing sheets are located eight tables down from the VIP section, and when 600 VIPs often meant you had to move at least once in the tournament, the resulting experience was that you still had to get crushed within the throng of players to check your pairings – a rather un-VIP-like experience.

On Being More Than A Tournament: Almost a dozen Magic artists came out to this event. Some of them are old-school: we’re talking Beta old-school gangsters like Mark Tedin and Anson Maddocks. One of them, Julie Baroh, was curating a gallery of high-res Modern Masters and The Gathering artwork. Having such high-profile artists and Vorthos-friendly attractions was a significant factor into my decision to cross the border for a GP.

These side events are what needs to be added more often to existing Grand Prix to transform them into genuine convention-type experiences. Give the players more than a tournament! While many people play in Grand Prix for the opportunity to take it all down, some attend simply because they love the game. How cool would it be to have a panel discussion or a workshop at a GP? I’m sure players would love a little something extra that adds more to their Grand Prix experience.

Saturday

Let’s just say that I had not touched a Modern Masters card prior to registering my sealed pool. I built the following list:

I was familiar with many of the existing mechanics in Modern Masters, but coming into the event cold, I was tripped up by several sequencing mistakes early on. The minute interactions between all the cards in the set were, to me, one of the most enriching aspects of the format as well as one of its greatest challenges.

I was grinded out in the first match by an army of BW rebels backed by Meloku the Clouded Mirror(!). The second round wasn’t much better, getting stomped by a UG suspend deck with Errant Ephemerons, Durkwood Baloths and a Vedalken Shackles (!!!). I handily won my third match against a multicolour brew, but wasn’t impressed with what I built. With a 1-2 record, I was sure that any future rounds would be an exercise in time-wasting. In hindsight, had I known the format was so bomby (duh), I would have built WR and splashed for removal and Kiki-Jiki targets. Here’s the pool – what would you build?

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1-2 drop for steak

Regardless, I decided to drop late afternoon alongside Matty and Ryan and, being super f*king hungry, we consoled ourselves with steak:

The real highlight of the day, and possibly my entire trip, was the barbeque at the Booze Cube house. Combining a barbeque, Kraken and a Booze Cube tournament, it was an amazing way to meet so many people I had only known from Twitter. The best part was that for a gathering of generally random people, everyone was so friendly and cool to hang out with. It’s occasions like these that Twitter connections become more than just words and pictures – they’re genuine connections with real people.

I also tried Kraken for the first time. It was a good night.

Sunday

On the last day of the GP, I had the pleasure of meeting Commander aficionados Karsten (of @TopAndGo Productions) and Brionne (@SnappleCoffee on CommanderCast). We had been trying to connect all weekend, and finally made it happen! They are two of the nicest people I met the entire weekend, and I had a blast signing all of the things.

I later joined a VIP draft, and using my genius-like drafting prowess I was able to 2-0 (with a second round concession) with this sweet sweet brew, earning me a few Modern Masters packs:

I am a drafting GENIUS!

We capped off the weekend at the Rio Buffet with none other than Captain Canada KYT, who was finally knocked out of Day 2 but not before casually drafting a Tarmogoyf as a consolation prize. Over the years, KYT has become one of my closer friends, and I’m not just saying that because my comic is on his site! It’s a rare and valuable thing when your friendship with someone transcends the game.

Unfortunately, our Monday 4am departure from Vegas was just as abysmal as it sounds. Our hour-long layover became a four-hour layover, and neither Ryan nor I were impressed with sitting around an airport lounge that long.

But…looking back on that whirlwind of a weekend, I can’t imagine a Grand Prix that can replicate this kind of community-building experience. Vegas brought a lot of us together, and if there’s another event that can do a repeat, I’m all for it.

And if it’s in Vegas again? Well…who’s up for a reunion?

Shoutouts:

The sick day 2 runners:
@MarcelMTG
@CHosler88

The Brainstorm brewers:
@JasonEAlt
@CryppleCommand

The Heavy Meta SVUers:
@Spencer13H
@SlickJagger
@T_Moles
@BoltTheBird

The All Around Cool Guy-ers:
@JoBottDMB

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