Winning Grand Prix Toronto
Going to Grand Prix tournaments is not something I do often. With finite vacation time, work and home responsibilities it’s hard to justify missing work and spending money to go somewhere to nerd out for a few days. This GP, like many others, was largely a last minute decision and could have very easily ended up not happening.
I played about 12 Sealeds in this format and 6-8 drafts and I felt like I kind of knew what was going on. After this weekend, I feel like I learned so much more about the format thanks to some real great players.
For those who know me less, I’ve worked as inventory manager at Face to Face Games for about 6 years. I was also a customer for a number of years before then, and in that time, I saw a local card shop run by a pizza man turn into an internationally known and respected brand in the TCG marketplace. Since running a Grand Prix takes so much work and staff, my job was to make sure the warehouse was running smoothly while most of the staff was in Toronto preparing the booth and tournament logistics.
Since I had to close the warehouse on Friday at 6pm, I had no real options for rides, so I took a Megabus down. Since everyone had a hotel booked, I was welcomed by longtime Toronto sketchbag —NAME REDACTED—. We were 6 guys cramped in a small hotel room with weak A/C, but hey that’s Magic.
What I loved to see was these 4 guys jamming Modern games on a bed at 2am. This is Magic. They weren’t even playing the main event. They were playing Magic for fun and going to jam some Modern side events. I find that so awesome and wish I could just relax and play for fun sometimes, but at this point I am a competition addict.
I arrived at the Enercare Center on Saturday morning and was welcomed by the massive and gorgeous Face to Face games booth. I can’t put into words how amazing it is to see the work Vincente, Sal, Mat, Kelly and the rest of the staff put into showing the world how awesome Face to Face Games is. We had close to 20 staff serving customers and it felt like it wasn’t enough, it was packed all day.
With one bye, I was given a prereged pool wrapped in a decklist. I could see the “multicolored” Hour of Devastation section so I had a peek to see if I was fortunate enough to get gods or Bolas. I was not. However, the pool I got was great.
The first thing that stood out were blue and black. I tried building decks with green, white and red but ultimately, I ended up with this.
I really like do-nothing decks, and this deck did a whole lot of nothing! However, I was surprised how many games I won with simply zombie aggroing my opponent and finishing them off with Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs and Torment of Hailfire.
The red splash was free, but would turn out to be for naught, as in close to 15 games with the deck I never once drew Trial of Zeal. It made the Cartouches less impressive but still okay on their own.
I didn’t really know how to evaluate Hour of Eternity. Everyone I spoke to was either calling me stupid for not playing it or saying it was unplayable. Clearly not a widely solved format.
Since my creature count was lower and some of my creatures already eternalized or were walls I left it in the board. I didn’t want two X spells and I felt like Torment of Hailfire was the better of the two. Sammy T made the most sense in saying that Torment is the worse of the two in my deck because I am not aggressive, and there was one game where I actually cast it for 6 and my opponent simply took 18 and killed me.
I like how the deck had hard removal, a way to steal gods (but not to exile) and some late game potential. I told people I was nervous that I didn’t have counterspells because I can’t beat planeswalkers. Most people just said “That’s normal. Nobody can beat planeswalkers”.
Day 1 was not terribly eventful, most games I stalled out and won with walls or out-tempoed people with some cheap threats, Plague Belcher, and sweet removal. At 7-0 I was feeling great, I felt I had beaten a few decks that were better than mine through outplaying or getting lucky. I cannot stress enough how luck was a major factor in my success and I won at least 4 games from my opponents’ mana screw or mana flood.
Then came Andrew Noworaj.
I heard tales of the pool that had Bolas, Nissa, The Scarab god, Resilient Khenra, Champion of Wits, 2 River Hoopoes and all the fixing a young lad could ever want. Surely this was the tale of a fever dream from a madman and nobody could have opened anything that good.
He played 2-drop, then Nissa, and was able to sculpt a board that put him at something around a 15 card advantage and thoroughly ranched me.
Game 2 I decided my only hope was to go all out aggro, so I boarded into B/R and when it looked like I might win a game, a Cartouche of Ambition on an Eternalized Champion of Wits dashes my hopes, killing my Combat Celebrant who was going to make me double attack with Pursue Glory.
The next round I went against someone who had a great deck with Gideon and Crested Sunmare (to henceforth be referred to as Horsebro), and made an egregious error in playing Horsebro, then not attacking with his lifelinking camel because he didn’t want to trade down to a zombie token. Horsebro is on my team and he NEVER brings his homies.
One Lethal Sting later and I was 8-1.
I watched Andrew in an amazing match. He got his opponent to 7 and then he was getting Bolased (feels bad, doesn’t it?) while he had his own Bolas in hand but no red. He had some ragtag creatures but his opponent took his Scarab god, Champion of Wits, and other stuff but left his 1 card hand intact. On the last turn, Andrew peeks at the top card, flips over a Survivors’ Encampment, gets R with a dork creature and 7s his opponent for the win.
Fun fact: I cast Kefnet’s Last Word twice in Sealed, once on a Oketra’s Avenger, and once to steal back my 3/4 drake the turn after my opponent stole it with his own Kefnet’s Last Word. The card is definitely less broken than it looks.
Sunday morning I awoke to Huey playing Finkel in the more skilled Grand Prix and realizing I have no idea how to draft.
On MTGO I’ve been drafting red based aggro decks, B/W zombies, and U/R tempo with moderate to poor success.
The new flavor seemed to be green based 3-4 color decks with lots of deserts and stalling power. I still have no idea what I’m doing.
I sit in a pod with two players that I know. And I know they are good. And I am sitting between them. Andrew Cuneo was to my left and Edgar Magalhaes was to my right. I prefer being around players who know what they’re doing than getting bad signals from players misevaluating card quality.
I opened my first pack containing Horsebro. The rest of pack is fairly weak in white, blue and red so I feel like I have a game plan. Edgar passes me Resolute Survivors. Perfect, red white exert is in my wheelhouse, it has some life gain for Horsebro, things looking good!
This is about where the wheels fell off. I was seeing nothing. No Open Fire, Puncturing Blow, Khenra Scrapper, nothing. Pack 2 I get a Burning-Fist Minotaur and a Fervent Paincaster but very little else. It’s okay, Amonkhet had all the good stuff for this deck anyways. Hopefully I get some Gust Walkers, Nef-Crop Entanglers, Unwavering Initiates, removal, etc. Nada. Nothing.
I register this pseudo trainwreck:
My best card is basically a hard to cast Colossapede. I have the Survivors, one Solitary Camel with 2 deserts, and I end up cutting one for a Crypt of the Eternals to hopefully make some more horse bros.
Round 1 am paired against Edgar. Obv. I go plains, mountain, Defiant Khenra, he goes plains, sighs, plays a mountain and plays a Nef-Crop Entangler. We had successfully gimped each other’s decks. “I guess the Resolute Survivors hooked you?” He says. Yup. I get stuck on 3 lands game 1 and get ranched. Game 2 and 3 are closer, with Unconventional Tactics carrying me game 2 and Fervent Paincaster roughly 4-for-1ing him game 3. I felt bad beating Edgar but he quickly rallied a 2-1.
R2 I go against a solid BGr deck with great cards like Dreamstealer, Cartouche of Strength, Sand Strangler and generally solid creatures. I had to 2 for 1 myself into a Soulstinger on turn 4 just to force through enough damage to be able to eventually Tactics him out. That card was MVP of this deck. Horsebro never really showed and if he did, he greedily told his homies to stay home.
R3 I go against Cuneo. I figured this would happen. He had a great Esper wall deck (I remember passing at least 4 Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs his way) and neither of the 2 games were close. I was ecstatic to 2-1 with this pile. I still have no idea what I’m doing.
Draft 2 pods go up and I only know one person, Mike Ferneyhough. Passing to me, again, obviously this game is rigged. I open a pack with River Hoopoe, Rhonas’s Last Stand, Rhonas’s Stalwart, Ambuscade and Torment of Venom. I’m not fighting over all that green so I took the Torment.
Pick 2 I see Desert’s Hold and more green. Cool I like B/W, i’m happy with that. Pick 3 I see Champion of Wits. I pause for a while, I thought this card was insane and first pick over all but most premium C/U? I give it a shot.
Pack 2 I open FoF sphinx. So long black! More Unsummons, more fliers, life is good!
Pack 3 I open Glyph Keeper. Okay this is getting stupid, sphinx tribal? This also breaks my 4 event Dispossess streak. I get an Impeccable Timing pick 2 to help with the early game, then pick 3 comes.. GIDEON? Mike I could hug you (I did after the draft). End up with this:
Deck was easily and 8.5+/10 and I’m ready to 3-0 this thing as Rob Lombardi repeatedly tells everyone there will be no draws for this top 8.
R1 Mike Ferneyhough. Who is running this tournament exactly?
He knows what he’s in for and feels defeated before we even sit down. I win 2-0 with some non-interactive games.
I talk to Cuneo and he is locked for top 8. I ask him for advice about my deck and he says it’s good but he doesn’t really like Aven Reedstalker which I have 3 of. He says 2 power for 4 mana is not great and you can rarely ambush things. I just loved Sentinels of Glen Elendra and was traumatized by losing to Cuneo’s walls that I wanted a way to fly over them.
R2 I’m going against the guy I was passing to. Perfect, I passed him multiple Ambuscades, green Cartouches and Rhonas’s Last Stand. I have 4 Unsummons. He plays turn 2 Rhonas’s Last Stand, Cartouches it and destroys me. Hey just because you have 4 doesn’t mean you always have it.
G2 and G3 I draw Unsummons, stabilize with Gideon and sphinxes and take it down.
Being in a win and in situation and feeling nervous as hell, I ask Sammy for advice. He agrees with Cuneo somewhat, but recommends my sideboarded Unconventional Tactics and a Dutiful Servants over a Reedstalker and a land. I was worried about mana screw and I felt with 2 Seekers and the Champion of Wits I could filter out excess lands.
R3 was a great match against hometown hero Kenwrick Mayo. He is as nervous as me and it’s great to be able to break the ice and relax. He has a very good RW deck with Angel of Condemnation and a lot of tricks, but Unsummon, Gideon and sphinxes helped that. He had to exile my FoF sphinx just to see his angel get Unsummoned and have me get another FoF. He tried to alpha knowing I had a lot of answers in hand but when he saw I wasn’t dead (partially thanks to a Gideon emblem!) he extended the hand.
I made top 8 of a Grand Prix! I can’t believe it. Amazing. I still don’t know what I’m doing.
Doug Potter made it too. Amazing! Great guy who always crushes Toronto GPs. Unfortunately he has a weakness to Robs. Like my weakness to Andrews.
We are seated for the draft and guess who my round 1 opponent is? This GP is rigged.
I open Bontu’s Last Reckoning. Wraths are good right? Although in hindsight they are far less good when your opponent has your pool list, which is not something I realized at first. I passed an Open Fire and an Ambuscade but not much else. Pick 2 I get shipped Pride Guardian. I love cats (Hi Rosa!) and unchecked this card wins very quickly. I get Torment of Venom, 2 Sandblasts, ok green black splash white, black white splash green?
I then pick up some Oketra’s Avengers, Harrier Naga, 2 Quarry Beetles (4/5 vanilla for people like me not smart enough to grab deserts) and a lonely non-lifelinking camel. Pack 2 Horsebro is all like “sup, I promise I’ll bring my homies this time” so I give him another chance. Ok black is not happening so let’s just throw all these cards in the garbage. I even had 2 black deserts! I draft Spidery Grasps over Hooded Brawlers because I need tricks and Grasp is great, and was MVP when I played it correctly.
Ended up with this:
I have a very medium deck. I look at Doug’s decklist.
What the hell? 4 Spellweaver, 4 Crash Through, 3 Blur of Blades? This is extremely scary. I had never seen this particular deck before, all my U/R decks have been flier-oriented. I only have 3x 2 drops and they all die to Blur of Blades, ugh. He only has 1 way to kill Pride Guardian in Abrade. 2 bounce spells to out-tempo.
Doug had not been playing much MTG lately. He 9-0ed day 1 with little to know knowledge of the format and got through 2 drafts to make it here. That’s what kind of sicko he is. I need a spoiler just to go to a prerelease. He reads my deck list and says “this is so embarrassing, I really have no idea what these cards do.”
G1 he floods terribly and I run him over. He tells me he’s only playing 14 lands. Wow! I board in an unplayable card: life goes on. Horsebro still didn’t show up even though I brought drinks.
G2 I curve 2 drop into Pride Guardian, block his Moloch with my Guardian and exert it. “First strike?” “Sure” “Okay Guardian dies?” “….No I have 2 cats”
Doug realizes he may have made a terrible error but is able to salvage the situation with a fling. He still draws a lot of lands but one of them is the red desert and gets my last 2 points with it.
G3 I curve Pride Guardian into Spidery Grasp, he sighs and tells me his last 3 cards are lands. I feel awful winning like this but this is the game we love. Doug easily had a better deck than me (I think everyone did?) but Magic giveth and Magic taketh away.
I watch the match between Matthew Nickolai and Cuneo and they are on game 3. It’s been long and they are stalled. Matthew Nickolai counts Cuneo’s library and mills him out with Ipnu Rivulet. Whhhaaattt?
He has a Temur deck with Sand Strangler, 2 Ominous Sphinx lots of cycling, fatties, deserts and my favorite: walls! Once again, his deck feels better than mine. I unfortunately don’t remember much about this match except for us going to 3 games and me getting too greedy. He was at 9 with a Rampaging Hippo in play, I have a 4/4 flier and a 3/3 flier and a Spidery Grasp. I attack in and he played me masterfully. He had been drawing poorly all game and I was sure I could close it out. I try to Grasp my 4/4 (also not the right target) and he Ambuscades me. Epic punt by me. I gave him 2 extra turns to draw something, but the Magic gods were on my side and I’m off to the finals.
G2 I curve out and Catbro shows up to kill him before he can play Archfiend and commit cat genocide. I also draw my Shefnet Dunes to make my cats lethal.
G3 was a spectacle. Once again, I was extremely lucky as I had been all weekend. In games 2 and 3 he never drew his haymakers. This time he made a very costly mistake. Horsebro brings the beats but still doesn’t bring any homies. Horsebro gets Nevered. I play Oketra’s Ascendant and suit it up with Cartouche to start bringing the pain. I just need a few more turns and I’ll be ok. He Lethal Stings my Ascendant and passes with 4 mana up.
Did I just win the lottery? I draw for my turn and immediately embalm before he can realize his Never has a second side. He realizes his mistake, casts Return Horsebro (RIP Homie, you were the best Colossapede ever) and can’t really pull back. I get an Angel of the God-Pharaoh out, and he can’t stop my giant fliers and extends the hand.
Total deserts played in all 3 of my draft decks: 4
Disappointed camels: 2
Horsebros showing up to the crib: 0
It’s ok Horseapede. I still love you.
I still have no idea what I’m doing.
SAPPINESS WARNING – THIS IS ALL SHOUT-OUTS AND ME TELLING EVERYONE I LOVE THEM IF YOU DON’T CARE THEN THE ARTICLE IS OVER THANKS FOR READING ALL OF THIS WAS WRITTEN BETWEEN 3-5 AM THE NIGHT RIGHT AFTER WINNING.
I wanted to take some time to thank the Magic community for being so awesome. We all make mistakes, get unlucky and have tons of stories but no matter what, everyone in this community will always cheer on a friend who’s on a tear. Special thanks to Kelly and Sal for running an amazing event. Couldn’t be prouder to take home the final (for now?!) FaceToFaceGames.com GP trophy.
Doug P – You’ve always been an inspiration of positivity for me. Sometimes the game punishes you when you did everything right but you will always smile and be happy and remember what the game gave you, something I am still learning to do.
Will Blondon – You never hesitate to lend me missing cards or a whole deck (more often this one), will laugh at my lame jokes and in return I will laugh at yours. You are always in the same place when I need someone to talk to. At the information booth. Always.
Andrew Noworaj – I feel you and I share a common bond of loving magic but not quite breaking through to be regular PT contenders. You and I share the same struggle of being a semi-pro, and to be honest the PPTQ/RPTQ circuit is actually a lot of fun, hitting bronze level is a bit bittersweet for that but I’m still always gonna want to know who’s winning PPTQs. Nats is your tournament and I’ll be stoked to see you there.
Alex Hayne – The true master. We were grinding together as team Westmount and even when I won 3 PTQs and he won zero I knew you were way better than me and destined for greatness (and that system was criminally punishing you). Seeing you make the finals of GP Montreal was wonderful – to finally see you get rewarded for your skills. You taught me so much about the game and generally how to be a cool guy, and I’m so proud that this game gave you the confidence to brave the world.
David Schnayer – You’ve been around so long you’re the pseudo father figure of the Montreal Magic community. Always willing to lend decks, give rides, and talk trash about bad plays. You’ve always been great and I couldn’t have been happier to queue for Australia with you. Your deck tech at that PT was one of the Magic highlights of my life and your pod on day 2 is the stuff of legends. Keep it up!
Vince D’Agostino – You are so sick and always a pleasure to be around. I love joking around with you and hearing you tell stories about your matches. Your stream is forever in my heart and your magnificent ginger beard fills me with hope. You’re a great player and have the skills needed to get there once the gods stop punishing you for your life choices.
—NAME REDACTED—: RIP Marco, he will be missed. Despite what certain people think, you’re hilarious to be around and I like to live vicariously through your actions that I would never do in a million years. Thanks for giving me a place to crash and keeping me motivated to come to this GP. Too bad you didn’t make it but hey you got your top 8 already 😛
Matt Stein – It’s great to see younger people are playing Magic and you are a champ. You are skilled at MTG, Smash, hockey, Hearthstone and probably other stuff, no idea where you find the time. You always get to the RPTQ and I’m super happy you got to play the PT. You will be playing many more! I’m sorry about your retainer.
Sammy T – You’re such a crazy amazing player and watching you play is fun for so many reasons. I love when you do something sick and look up at me with that “you see that shit?” look. When you watch me play I get so nervous because of all the mistakes you’re going to tell me I made. You teach me so much about all the formats and you’re always on another level. You’re going to top 8 a PT in the near future and get the trophies you deserve.
Mike Ferneyough – It’s kinda funny to see your ex-commercial rep at tournaments but it’s awesome you’re back in the game and grinding with the rest of us. Without your wonderful generosity in passing me my second draft deck I don’t think I’d have got there. You’re a great player and have had some strong finishes, keep it up!
Sal – When traditional jobs weren’t working out for me you gave me a chance at Face to Face and seeing the company grow over the past 6 years has been a life-changing experience. Thanks for cheering me on all these years and letting me pursue my hobby!
Davies – Having you come back was so great. You are a really good player, you just like to play decks based on how mad your opponents get and not how good they are, but I see that changing! You’re always smiling and happy and great to have around.
Other people from the tournament who are great but I can’t write paragraphs about everyone geez…
– Edgar “Hook ’em and cut ’em” Magalhaes
– Rob “Can you please tell me I’m a decent player now? I need validation” Lombardi
– Mike “Aspiring bronze pro screwed by wotc’s terrible organization” Brierly
– Jon “How is your GP sealed pool always a 9/10, also grats on being a dad!” Rowe
– Dan “Newly crowned bronze pro thanks to wotc’s terrible organization” Fournier
Face to Face games, tons of magic, yugioh, pokemon and vanguard singles for outstanding prices! www.facetofacegames.com
The entire Face to Face games crew at the booth:
– Stephen “Swole Star Wars Superstar” Reda
– Josh “Does that make sense” Mullins
– Waley “Confucius” Lei
– Kar Yung “Rob we can’t have you on the podcast because you’re a has-been” Tom
– Will “Nothing brings me more joy than cracking packs. Seriously if I found a sealed Alpha box in my closet I woke crack it. Also Hodor.” Britt
– Mark “I can make it happen, just don’t ask questions” Almojera
– Vicente alvarez de araya mexico socialism enrique el heffe
– Amir muhammed jafar something
– Kelly “seriously, what’s with the hat?” Ackerman
– Venu “dirtiest man with a wife and kids I’ve ever met” Malhotra
– Brian “cartouches have too much text” Su
Waley and Will especially never gave up on me even when I told them my deck was terrible and I lost game 1. Waley claims to know voodoo curses. I’m inclined to believe him.
– Justin “Believe in me who believes in you” Richardson
– Scott “Canadian redneck Mr. Fixit” Lapointe
– The rest of the shipping team (but not Eli)
– Stephane “Rage Quit” Faure
– Kyle “Let me tell you where to eat in the West Island to get diabetes the fastest” Hooper
– Joey “umad?” Smith
– All my PPTQ Grinder crew, too many to name, keep grinding guys!
– Christine “The love of my life for close to 15 years!!” Barrie
– Rosa “Foot destroyer” Barrie
– Lazarus, the geckos, the fish, corals, and whatever else is lurking in the depths
– Dan “only anime characters can achieve hair this magnificent” Lanthier
– Pascal “Second best Canadian finish at a GP this week” Maynard
Crush this PT guys and have fun in Japan!
– All the pros who decided to stay in Japan and let a local scrub win one.
Thanks everyone and anyone I may have missed. I love all of you!