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Impressions from Grand Prix London 2013

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Bernhard Zander
Bernhard Zander

About Bernhard Zander

Bernhard Zander is a PTQ level Magic player from Sweden who has been playing Magic since 2006. In addition to playing, he also blogs about Magic on his blog "The Exploration". When he is not playing Magic, Bernhard is a master student in computer science and mathematics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

  • 12 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Runner-up Swedish Nationals 2010
  • 127th Worlds 2010
  • 71th GP Paris 2011

Impressions from Grand Prix London 2013

I just got back from playing at Grand Prix London this past weekend and thought I devote this month's issue to share some of my impressions from it. Result wise the GP went not as well as I had hoped, as I once again fell right before the finish line with an ever so disheartening final score of 6-3, but we will get to that in a bit. In addition to telling you about my experience in the tournament, I will also conclude with a couple of observations and tips for you who are looking to play some Gatecrash Limited in the near future.

The Grand Prix

I got to London and Heathrow Airport on Friday evening after a pleasant flight with no complications, but getting from the airport to the convention center and subsequently my hotel for the weekend proved to be a bit more challenging. Prior to the trip I had been informed that the journey with the tube from Heathrow to ExCeL would take roughly an hour but that proved to be either a great understatement or just a pure lie, as it took me and my travel buddy just short of 2 hours to get there.

After having enjoyed the trip's first encounter of the stereotypical London weather, we were eventually registered for the Grand Prix and checked in to our adjacent hotel. After some food we were joined by our additional roommate for the weekend, Ludvig Londos, who makes winning PTQs look as easy as taking candy from a small child. Before turning in for the night, we exchanged some thoughts about the format and it became quickly apparent to me that there was some clear differences in how we perceived the format. While we were on the same page about how important the early game is and the importance of having a sufficient number of plays on 2 mana, Ludvig would also speak very highly about one drops, in particular the lowly Spire Tracer.

Spire Tracer
Versions:
Gatecrash (Foil)

Even though the Gatecrash format is one of the more aggressive Limited formats we have had in a while, having a bunch of cheap creatures with little long term effect clashes heavily with my usual perception of how to construct a deck for Limited play. Normally I tend to gravitate towards playing 18 lands, controlling decks with a superior late game than my opponent and I like to draw whenever it's feasible. Therefore playing 1/1s for 1 isn't something I'm normally in the market for. That said, even though I was a bit skeptical on Friday night, I absolutely see Ludvig's point. You can definitely build decks in this format that are aggressive enough to warrant playing one drops. Spire Tracer in particular happens to be a really fine carrier of the more impacting commons in the format, namingly Madcap Skills (more about that card later), and an excellent way to sneak in the final points of damage with the help of Bloodrush.

After a good night's sleep and a full English breakfast, we were at the site and ready to battle. I had seen tweets the previous evening saying that over 1500 people had pre-registered, which was quite surprising as the previous GP London had just over 700 players. Rumor had it on site that the organizer had anticipated and prepared for about 1300 people to show up and for a while I was genuinely concerned about if the convention hall could house what would turn out to be 1967 players. But in the end, the organizer made it work and I have to say that I was quite pleased with the whole arrangement considering that ~50% more people showed up to play.

Not too late the tournament was rolling and I soon was greeted with the Sealed pool I would have to work with for the Grand Prix, and I wasn't very pleased. Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking ahead enough and failed to remember to actually save the whole pool, but I can retell the fundamentals of it:

My rares were a Rubblehulk, a Gruul Ragebeast, a Mystic Genesis, a Borborygmos Enraged, a Realmwright and a Breeding Pool. The black was very shallow and had very few standout cards, there were only 2 Kingpin's Pet that were the only cards that could make a case for black, and thus black was easy to dismiss for deck construction. There were a couple of pretty powerful cards in Simic in the form of Zameck Guildmage, Elusive Krasis and the aforementioned Mystic Genesis that, along with the Breeding Pool and the 2 Gruul Guildgates I had, could make a Simic deck with a splash for the red-green bombs. That idea didn't seem feasible though as I laid out the cards as the rest of my blue was very shallow and subsequently would force me to play a virtually straight up 3-color deck. With black and blue out of the picture, there were basically two viable approaches left in my eyes. The first was just to play straight up red-green (the face-down cards in the picture are Mountains and Forests respectively):

The admirable quality of this build is that both Rubblehulk and Gruul Ragebeast are in it and thus I made sure that I played as many of my bombs as I could (within a reasonable limit, of course). However, the list of good things I can say about this build pretty much ends there. With two 6s and a 7, I really wanted a 18th mana source, as I didn't think my single Greenside Watcher along with 2 Gruul Guildgates would do the trick. I have tried to play with 18 lands a couple of times in this format and I haven't been liking it much. It seems to me that there is just too much action going on during the early turns in this format to afford having that many lands in your deck on a regular basis. The fact that there is no manasink (like a Guildmage) whatsoever didn't help the case for the 18th land either. A keyrune or a Verdant Haven would have done the trick for me but I was blessed with none.

In addition to this predicament were also that I would have to play some truly subpar cards to keep the deck 2-color. Bomber Corps isn't a card I want to be playing, unless I'm really aggressive or know I'm playing against someone who has a lot of X/1s. Wildwood Rebirth is okay, but from my experience I typically wish it was just any real creature most times I have drawn it. I'm not particularly crazy about maindecking Naturalize either in this format as you have less time than usual to durdle around in games. I think it's fine though as most people will have at least a couple of Armored Transport, Millennial Gargoyle and/or keyrunes in their decks and it does handle the otherwise hard to beat enchantments that exists in the format (Madcap Skills, Gift of Orzhova and Holy Mantle come to mind). It's also cool to have an incidental way to handle Assemble the Legion before sideboarding.

Lastly, I wasn't very keen on the prospect of having a grand total of 1 creature with Flying or Reach for obvious reasons.

As you have probably understood by now, I was a bit skeptical about this build and thus I tried out my other feasible option:

Although this build has a more demanding manabase than the previous build and it does not include Gruul Ragebeast, there are a couple of admirable features with the Boros-base. First, there are significantly more fliers in this build than in the straight Gruul one. Secondly, this build has a stronger early game and finally, the white offers a couple of things that will help offset land heavy draws in form of Truefire Paladin and the Extort of the twin Syndic of Tithes.

I took my time during deck construction, but eventually decided that I liked what the white-based build offered me more than just keeping in straight red-green, and the 40 card you see above were those I eventually registered. In hindsight it's possible that the Bomber Corps you can see in the straight red-green build should have been included over the Knightly Watch in order to keep the curve down and increase the chances of aggressive starts; fast aggressive starts are the most probable way a deck like this with few bombs will win against an average opposing deck. Both the Bomber Corps and a Righteous Charge that I also had in my pool were frequently boarded in over the course of the Grand Prix.

Because I took a minor break from competitive Magic during the fall and subsequently didn't play a whole lot during the last Planeswalker Points-season, this Grand Prix was the first one in a long while where I didn't have any byes at all, so I was in for a grind.

I took the first round after winning a game one which came down to my opponent dying to his own Duskmantle Seer and then having problems assembling his 5(!) colors in game 2. The second round was a flashback to the finals of Swedish Nationals 2010 as I was pitted against fellow Swede Anders Melin. It was basically a mirror match, except his deck had a significantly higher powerlevel, featuring cards such as Aurelia, the Warleader and Frontline Medic. Game 1 was a slaughter for me, but the second game was close before he eventually stabilized and turned the tide with Frontline Medic-powered attacks. In round 3 I was paired against an opponent seemingly running full-on Esper. Game 1 looked really good for me but I eventually hit a landpocket in my draws and my opponent capitalized on my rounds of inaction by securing the board with a Sapphire Drake and Urbis Protector. I was down to 6 cards for the second game and it looked horrible for me for the longest time. However, I was rewarded for zealously keeping my Skyknight Legionnaire alive and could therefore turn the losing game into a win when I ripped my Rubblehulk on the do-or-die-turn. In the third game I came out fast and attacked while he missed his third land drop for 2 consecutive turns and subsequently quickly died in a fire.

I then took a rough loss in round 4 which was mainly decided by the fact that I took a couple of mulligans and could not properly curve out as a consequence. My opponent's deck looked solid though, with both Firemane Avenger and Boros Reckoner to show for it. Reeling at 2-2, I then won 2 fast rounds. I also took down round 7 in one of the weirdest matches I have played in quite a while. In game 1 I went down to 5 cards before I kept and then proceeded to win despite never drawing red mana. The fact that my opponent missed is 3rd land drop for a couple of turn and then his 4th for another did help, I have to admit. In the second game we both drew a substantial amount of land, but one of the few spells I did draw was a Truefire Paladin, which basically was an abyss in the later stage of the game. An answer to the hard-hitting Paladin didn't materialize for my opponent and thus he eventually succumbed.

My run ended though in round 8 in fairly anti-climactic fashion. Game 1 was very much decided by the die roll, which I lost. We traded a little bit of damage early on before I was on 13 life and forced to let a Crowned Ceratok with Madcap Skills on it through in order to setup a kill on the following turn with the Rubblehulk I was holding. He had Boros Charm though and made sure I took 14 and died on that very turn. Then I won game 2 when my opponent missed 2 landdrops and then couldn't beat my Skynight with Madcap Skills on it and the roles were reversed in game 3. I missed a landdrop and then couldn't beat his Madcap Skilled creature. Even though I was technically eliminated for day 2 play I went on to play round 9 for some redemption, which I got versus an opponent who didn't seem in it in either head or heart.

The following day was spent bombing out of the Super Sunday Series-event, birding friends and countrymen playing day 2 and then drafting with a couple of Swedes that were then heading for the Pro Tour in Montreal this week. After a not too early awakening on the following morning, I was off towards Stockholm. As I earlier mentioned, result wise Grand Prix London wasn't overly pleasing, but it didn't stop me from having a good time. Then again, going on trips to events like GPs most often means having a good time despite your results.

Gatecrash beyond Grand Prix London

As promised, I will conclude this article with a couple of teachings and epiphanies I had about the format from playing at the Grand Prix this weekend that I recommend you to take notice of moving forward with the format:

Skillz that kill

That Madcap Skills is a very real card in this format was something I was already in the clear coming into the Grand Prix, but yet, I was still amazed what an effect this card has on games. Traditionally, cards like Madcap Skills aren't particularly good as you are so easily foiled by any removal spell. The thing about Gatecrash is that the removal spells are, generally speaking, very crappy, at least at the common rarity, which means cards like Madcap Skills get way more playroom. And if you don't have say a Mugging (which is usually the best answer to an early creature with a Madcap Skills on it), you are in for some rough times and sketchy blocks to follow. Also because Madcap Skills is so impacting and screws up the tempo of any game where it's cast and creates a demand for cheap creatures to put it on, like Spire Tracer, and thus you need to value these creatures higher than you would normally do.

Cipher + Extort = True

An interaction I saw people miss quite often at the Grand Prix was the one between Cipher and Extort. If you read the fine print of the Cipher rules text you will notice that you actually "cast" the encoded spell and thus it will trigger Extort! I guess it's easy to overlook the interaction as many similar effects in the past haven't worked like that, like the copies you get off of Pyromancer Ascension or copies of spells put on the stack by a Storm-trigger. Of course, it's hard to miss if you play on Magic Online as the program points the interactions out for you and asks politely if you would like to Extort, but remembering when playing paper Magic is another thing.

Dimir is very real

Dimir got a really bad reputation after people's experience with it at the prerelease, where it was unofficially labeled as the "worst" guild in the set. However, after playing a couple of drafts with aggressive Dimir decks, I think the guild is the real deal. The key for my initial success with the guild is to mostly ignore the mill-portion of the guild and rather move in on cheap evasion guys and the deceptively powerful Cipher-spells. The Cipher-spells are hard to evaluate on paper and look mostly overcosted, but due to the high number of evasive creatures available in black and blue it's easy to set up situations where you at least get the effect twice...and have the possibility for more. When you put cards like Last Thoughts, Shadow Slice and Hands of Binding in that perspective, they suddenly don't look particularly pricey at all! I understand that Dimir will seldom come together in Sealed as the guild does suffer from having basically two mechanics but in draft it's another story where you can mostly ignore the mill cards.

Attacking > Blocking

That you would much rather be the guy attacking than the guy blocking in this format wasn't something that was a brand new concept for me coming into the Grand Prix, but I'm bringing this up here as I'm probably more fond of this statement after the GP than before. I was expecting the opposite to be true, as that was the trend I was experiencing during my practice Sealeds and drafts right before going to London. The set just has so many mechanics (Bloodrush, Batallion, Cipher), combat tricks and other cards like Madcap Skills that reward people for attacking furiously. I'm not saying being defensive and profitable blocking is impossible in Gatecrash Limited, but from my experience, at the time I'm writing this it's not something you want to be doing if you can't help it. The odds are just stacked against you.

That was what I had in store for today; before signing off, I just want to take this opportunity to say congratulations to fellow Swede Per Carlsson for his Top8 performance at the Grand Prix. Well played, sir!

Until next time, happy grinding.

Bernhard

@bzander88 on Twitter
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