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Posted by on Jun 12, 2014

Grand Prix Atlanta Top 8

Grand Prix Atlanta Top 8

Let the good times roll!

Pro Tour Journey into Nyx didn’t go quite the way I wanted, but I bounced back and managed to rack up another GP top eight before I left Atlanta, just two weeks after my first.

So what were the keys to success?

Here we go!

Preparation

I was holed up in Atlanta for a week after busting out of the Pro Tour. My inventory contained:

1 Laptop Computer
1 Internet Connection
1 Mediocre Understanding of the Format
1 Magic Online
1 Limited Supply of Clean Boxer Shorts

Obvious exits were NORTH, SOUTH, and ANYWHERE IN THREE-DIMENSIONAL SPACE. I immediately tried combining all my items with each other and with every hotspot and NPC while I told myself, “That doesn’t go there.”

Eventually, I figured out 1 Laptop Computer + 1 Internet Connection + 1 Magic Online = 1 Recipe for Success. 99 Packs Worth Very Little, and 1 Loss of Value were created as a side effect, but I’m sure they’ll be used later on to defeat the Last Boss or something. The most useless looking items always do something amazing. The Recipe for Success taught me this:

Coming out of the Pro Tour I realized I was having lackluster results because I was treating the format the way I wanted it to be, not how it actually was. I was focusing on drafting the BUG shard and was losing too many games to getting swarmed by aggro. I started having more success when I shifted my mindset in two directions.

The format is more aggressive than I thought. Journey into Nyx slowed things down a little, but most games were still decided by tempo and beatdown. You need to be curving out. I needed to draft faster decks with a lower curve.

When in doubt, draft and play more creatures. Just load up on beef and supplement with your best removal and tricks. It’s hard to stabilize since there are a bunch of good combat tricks, bestow creatures, and weak removal in general.

With this in mind, I began drafting better and improved my grasp on the format. I also peppered a few sealed tournaments into my practice, found it predictably slower and more bomb-centric, and was ready to go.

I got a great night’s sleep (the sleep-in special is overpowered) and was feeling the anticipation that comes with every new sealed pool. I was pleasantly surprised and ended up with this:

Relevant Sideboard Cards:
1 Font of Fortunes
2 Weight of the Underworld
1 Spiteful Returned
1 Deepwater Hypnotist
1 Ashiok’s Adept
1 Polymorphous Rush
1 Felhide Minotaur
1 Countermand
1 Aerial Formation

Well, that was a freebie. A great UB Control deck falls right into my lap. It’s just my style, complete with mill theme and Phenax. I still managed to misbuild by about three cards. If could do it again I would change my maindeck by swapping:

1 Spiteful Returned
1 Interpret the Signs
1 Font of Return

FOR:
1 Font of Fortunes
1 Deepwater Hypnotist
1 Felhide Minotaur

Time got away from me, and my mind traveled down some strange rabbit holes that involved milling my Phenax and returning it with the Font. Not to worry; that’s why God invented the sideboard.

Speaking of sideboards, I also sleeved up a GR deck to swap into against dedicated aggro.

Relevant Sideboard Cards:
1 Shredding Winds
1 Karametra’s Favor
1 Hunt the Hunter

My three byes cleared, and I was ready to go.

Round 4 vs. Jasper Johnson-Epstein on GU Bombs

I thought I was in for an easy game one when he mulliganed to five on the play until he dropped a Polukranos, The World Eater. I tried to buy time but eventually died to a Setessan Tactics, Eidolon of Blossoms, and Rise of Eagles despite Interpreting the Signs for five. Game two I evened the score when he flooded out.

Game three I set it up to exactly mill him out the turn before I died with a Phenax and Thassa’s Devourer, but Voyage’s End blew me out.

3-1

Round 5 vs. Graham Lanceford on Junk Good Stuff

Game one he mulliganed and had mana issues. I milled Hundred Handed one and Hunter’s Prowess before finishing him off, so I knew what was coming for me the next games.

Game two, Shipwreck Singer started luring his guys to their doom, and despite having to absorb a Hunter’s Prowess by chumping with most of my team, I was too far ahead and took the match.

4-1

Round 6 vs. Zachery Byrd on RW Aggro

I lost game one when he came blazing out of the gates with a bunch of weenie dudes, including a very large Akroan Hoplite. I flooded out a little and he barely managed to finish me off before I could stabilize. I also saw he had Iroas, God of Victory.

Game two I tagged in my GR Anti-Aggro deck and it worked out, as I Magma Sprayed his early drops and followed with a bunch of fatties. I eventually crashed through for the win with a bunch of Trampling Cyclopses, delivering the killing blow in one hit to ignore his Spear of Heliod. What’s with all these pools spitting out cohesive on-color rares?

Game three, my Anger of the Gods got a three-for-one, and Destructive Revelry blew up Spear of Heliod. He didn’t recover.

5-1

Round 7 vs. Chris Riddle on Wx Elspeth

Game one Disciple of Phenax took his Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, while he was on five mana, and Thassa’s Ire and Shipwreck Singer ate his team while I milled him out with Thassa’s Devourer (which took a long time).

During sideboarding for game two, I saw that he was de-sleeving most of his deck, presumably to change colors, and it was taking a long time. Game one had eaten a lot of our time up, and I was worried my deck might not have time to win if we made it to game three.

Obviously the correct thing to do was call a judge here. His sideboarding was going to take more than the allotted three minutes. I have a mental block about calling a judge to watch for slow-play-type things from my opponents. It feels like you are accusing them of doing something wrong and calling the cops to come get them. So I waited a while before finally biting the bullet, when I should have called a judge immediately. I let my opponent know what I was doing before I called the judge and that I wasn’t accusing him of doing anything wrong. He apologized, and it seemed like their were no hard feelings on either side. I think this is the correct way to handle things when your opponent isn’t cheating or doing anything intentionally wrong; no reason to make it adversarial or scream judge as loud as you can out of nowhere. He was just sideboarding slowly: not a big deal.

So the judge came and gave us two extra turns if the clock ran out, and he warned my opponent. I also asked for extra time, and he gave us three extra minutes. All told, the sideboarding probably took six or seven minutes.

Of course, it ended up not mattering. My opponent had Dictate of Heliod but flooded out and had nothing much to go with it. Lesson: there is nothing wrong with calling judge; do it more often!

6-1

Round 8 vs. Thomas McKee on Wx Aggro

Game one he was on UW Aggro, and I thwarted his offense and took the game.

I was ready to swap into my GR deck, but he shuffled in his sleeved sideboard, which gave me pause. I couldn’t be sure whether he was swapping decks or just trying to fake me out. I decide to hedge my bets and stick with my UB Control deck but sideboard it to beat aggro.

Turned out he swapped out his blue for red and was still on the aggro plan. My UB deck was still good enough to close out the match, but my GR deck would’ve been a better choice. Lesson: there are many things you can do to confuse your opponent and make them second guess themselves.

7-1

Round 9 Pierre Dagen on GR Midrange

Game one I mulliganed, and Polis Crusher did what he was named to do. Polis Crusher is a huge problem for my deck. Thassa’s Ire is good against the Deserters Quarters I saw, and GR midrange in general but terrible versus the Crusher. I decided to swap it out.

Game two we both mulliganed, and I Interpret the Signs’d and scried three lands to the bottom, flipping a… Returned Phalanx. Hey, I’ll take it! I beat down with Rise of the Eagles and evened things up. Crusher didn’t come out to play.

Game three I finally got Phenax online, in all his glory, even having enough devotion to make him a real boy, which was quite the way to finish the day. I’m especially stoked having started the day losing my first match but finishing at 8-1 anyways.

Day 2

After getting a good night’s rest I was ready and hopefully raring to go. I had expanded my range and was happy drafting any colors that were open, though I preferred to stay out of red.

Draft 1

I was sitting to the left of Martin Juza and Todd Anderson. I got passed a couple Gnarled Scarhides and didn’t look back.

Green was wide open pack three, and I passed two late Nessian Asps. The two Gnarled Scarhides got me set into aggro even though the probable best deck I could’ve drafted was likely GB Control if I had sniffed out whether it was open early enough. I was happy with my deck but not ecstatic.

Round 10 vs. Todd Anderson on UB Control

I came in knowing I shipped two Drown in Sorrows in his direction, which is pretty much the blowouts against me.

Game one He got a Disciple of Deceit transmuting and Pinned my main threat to the Earth.

Game two a brick wall of defenses stabilized him, and Spiteful Blow kept me from casting a lethal Gray Merchant before I died.

8-2

Round 11 vs. Corey Paul on RW Aggro

Game one he mulliganed on the play but curved out with a bunch of hasty Minotaurs while I flooded out. We got into a topdeck war, and he finished me off while I was one creature short of stabilizing. Game two, I was the beatdown and he couldn’t recover.

Game three, I got a sideboarded in Returned Reveler and Tethmos High Priest combo, chumping his Voltron’d Oreskos Sun Guide each turn and going off with a whole bunch of ways to target my Priest. I chumped his big kitty four times and eventually built a bigger cat while he flooded out, since I luckily milled most of his threats.

9-2

Round 12 vs. Farand Lee on UB control

Game one I came out the gates fast, but he semi-stabilized by loading up a Screeching Harpy with a bunch of bestow. We teetered back and forth, and he killed me a turn before I could cast the Feast of Dreams I drew off a Grisly Transformation, since I only have one black source.

Game two he flooded out despite having a Sigiled Starfish, and I swarmed over him.

Game three he kept having to bounce and replay Riptide Chimera, while I amassed my forces. Feast of Dreams cleared the way, and I smashed my way to victory.

10-2

I was happy to 2-1 the draft and ready to win some cash, as well as to hopefully top eight after the second draft.

I was in pod 3, and what a pod it was! I was sandwiched between LSV and Owen Turntenwald and had Jacob Wilson and Dave Sheils waiting on the other side of the table.

My draft was covered on stream, and you can watch the draft here:

Well that’s not half bad. It was smooth sailing the whole way through; I got hit with the deck and took the right colors.

My biggest mis-pick would probably have been Aqueous Form over Prescient Chimera, but I wheeled the Chimera anyway. My deck was absolutely bonkers, and I felt like I had a good chance of 3-0’ing the pod and making top eight.

Round 13 vs. Dave Shiels on UR Tempo

The other blue drafter in the pod: fortunately he was also in red, which is widely consider the worst color combination.

Game one he suited up a Satyr Hoplite with Fearsome Temper and rode it to victory since I was lacking in the bounce and removal department.

Game two Bident took him to town, luring his dudes to their death. Not even Master of Waves made a difference. Game three was the same, only this time with Flitterstep Eidolon and Bident.

11-2

Round 14 vs. William Lowry on Something Aggressive

Bident, Thassa’s Ire, and Eidolon of Countless Battles all did good work and propelled me to a quick 2-0, giving the opportunity for a win and in.

12-2

Round 15 vs. Owen Turtenwald on 4 Color Masterpiece

Video Here:

Game one I was cautious, having passed him Fated Retribution and knowing how powerful his late game could be. Thassa’s Ire kept his durdles occupied and took me to victory.

Game two I continue to play slowly and cautiously, holding onto a Whitewater Naiads until after he three-for-oned me with Retribution. I loaded it up with Nimbus Naiads for some sweet Naiad on Naiad action, and he couldn’t stop the flying beats.

Sweet, I made Top 8!

Top 8 Draft

I open Hour of Need and go for the nut UW Repeat deck. This version ends up more controlling with fewer bombs.

I probably would have had a stronger heroic version of this deck the way the packs broke, which was weird since I correctly read Saito was White Aggro on my right. Otherwise I was very happy with my deck and was ready to win the GP!

Quarterfinals vs. Jon Stern on UG Good Stuff

A showdown versus Canadian superstar Jon Stern himself in the quarters, and we’re not even on the secondary camera table. This top eight was stacked!

Game one he dropped Prognostic Sphinx, but I suited up an Hour of Need token with Card Draw Crab and conveniently drew into the blockers I needed to take the victory.

Game two he finished me off quickly with Raised by Wolves.

Game three, I was certain I was going to win when I Dauntless Onslaught my Triton Fortune Hunter and Thassa’s Emissary, leaving him with nothing. He droppers Prognostic Sphinx and I dropped two Oreskos Swiftclaws. He attacked, which raised alarm bells, and he tried to Time to Feed my Crab. I bounced my Crab back to my hand with Voyage’s End and bestowed it back on the Fortune Hunter, and then swung with the team. He Savage Surged his Sphinx and ate my Fortune Hunter. Unfortunately most of the cards I’d drawn by this point were lands and he was able to drop a few more fatties and stack his deck until I died.

Well won by Jon Stern who went on to take down the entire tournament.

Conclusions: Things I Did Right

– I’m proud of taking my losses on my first round each day and managing to not tilt. If at the point of taking your first loss you look down the road and see how many more rounds you have to win and think about how much can go wrong it’s easy to lose hope and fall into a downward spiral.

– Practice. Draft until you can’t draft no more. Get to know the format intimately. Buy it dinner and invite it back to your place. In the beginning you are just bumbling around running into tricks. There is a certain sweet spot where you start predicting the cards your opponent has and weaving around them. Have a plan.

– I identified and corrected a good number of mistakes in my draft game. I’d say I only got up to about 85% efficiency and struggled a good deal in Theros block draft, but I didn’t give up.

– I played pretty well. At the end of the day, how you played is still the most important part. I probably could’ve won my match versus Jon Stern if I had taken some different lines, but overall I performed well.

– I took care of my body: food, sleep, water, and all that good jazz that matters a whole lot during long days of play.

Conclusions: I Wanna Get Better

– Assessing whether I’m aggro or control during a draft and being able to straddle the line between taking cards with power and synergy.

– Not locking in my colors too early. It’s easy to take one good card in a color and then think you’re locked in forever. I did ok here, but I probably should jumped out of white in GnarledScarhide.dec

– Tightening up my limited deckbuilding. When in doubt, the maindeck should be built to beat aggro.

– Closing things out. No excuses!

Conclusion

I’m about ready for Theros to hit the road, and M15 is already looking spicy. I also would like to give a shoutout to my sponsors over at WizardTower.com.

I’m absolutely stoked that I put up such solid finishes after my Pro Tour win, and I hope to keep this gravy train rolling straight to the top of Mashed Potato Mountain. Running good, playing good, feeling good, looking good, winning good. Good as gold. Everything is good. And that will never change. Forever. Guaranteed!

  • Mathew Schmaltz Tziritas

    Only loses to other Canadians in GP – TOP 8s

    • Shaun McLaren

      Hmm good call should at least do well in the WMC :D

  • Brendan

    Shaun your articles are the nut. One nit-pick, your profile picture on SCG makes you look like a god damn mad genius. It’s vastly superior to “Good guy Shaun”. Keep up the awesome work!

    http://static.starcitygames.com/www/images/writers/McLaren.jpg

    • Shaun McLaren

      Thanks for reading. I hear a bunch of different opinions about that pic. I’m all for the mad genius vibe ;)

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