Hanging out on the couch musing the musings…
Firstly I’d like to apologise to everyone. This has taken me more time than I anticipated getting this to you all.  Between post-con-tiredness (“PCT”), Con-Plague (oh the horrors of Con-Plague!), and analysing all the things that went on…

For everyone who has gone to a GP, or other kind of Con before, you know the kinds of stories I have to tell.

Anyway, here I am on my couch, sipping away at a fine pint glass of moonshine ‘n’ ginger ale (Mr P, I need you to lean on Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon about exporting to Australia…), replaying games in my head, remembering all the awesome experiences and pints had a few weeks back.  As such I’d like to talk you all through my Tour De GP, and how things went for me in general.  When I left you all last time, I was hanging out in a pub near Sydney Central railway station waiting for a card shop to open for some EDH games.

Before we get into that, some of you may be wondering about preparations. I mentioned I was going in with four EDH lists, one Vintage list, and one Legacy list. Sydney 2014 was a Limited (sealed/draft) GP for the main event. I had no intention of playing the main event; I was in attendance for some sweet Eternal and EDH action.

I’ll include my lists here for anyone just wanting to see the weapons of war:

Vintage:

Burning Long

Legacy:

OmniShow

EDH:

Divine Intervention
Mucking with Mana
Grixis Psionic Blast
Arcanis Combo

1200 hours Australian Eastern – Sydney…. Shenanigans time!

The thing I love about getting into a city early where I have been before is the chance to settle in at a store for a few games. Sydney is home to a large number of gaming stores; I spent most of my day on arrival hanging out at The Nerd Cave playing some rad EDH games. As I have said before, these guys are rad to play with; it’s just like being back home and cracking a few decks with my Wednesday night crew.

I was able to open the shenanigans by unleashing my Divine Intervention list (I don’t want to say much about that list right now as I don’t want to spoil some future reading for you all) – suffice to say, the lists I was playing are ‘troll’ lists. The second list I was allowed to unleash was my ‘Mucking with Mana’ deck; this is a bit of a different list for me as it wins through resource and action denial, and dropping tubbies for the kill.

One particularly fun game involved the landing of Eon Hub protected with Invulnerability to ensure I could keep both Naked Singularity and Reality Twist in play. I fell in love with Naked Singularity and Reality twist back when I first started playing magic, and the deck is all about (as usual) getting to play cards that are otherwise unplayable.  The hilarious thing about this interaction was that all of the decks on the field required blue in some form. As Naked Singularity had come into play prior to Reality Twist, islands were now producing green mana and no other basic land was producing blue mana. Minds were bent, and then decks were borrowed for some additional games….games which I probably should have passed on to get sleep in for the first day of the GP.

Day One – Commander Pods

Friday kind of sucked- I woke up all headach-y. Totally not the way one wants to go into a three-day grind-fest of gaming goodness.  The worst part was trying to get to Sydney Olympic park; I rolled up 5 mins late, and was immediately out of Friday Legacy. Perhaps this was a good thing, as there were 80+ players signed up for the Legacy event. The redeeming factor was a good chance to have a rummage through the vendor stock. Good news for you guys – I have found some new toys to do horrible things with…plenty of new ideas and content in my pipeline! 

The other awesome thing was the chance to have a good old mingle with the visiting artists.

steve belledin

 

The big advantage for me in missing the Legacy event was the chance to get my teeth into a few of the $5 pick-up Commander pods. How these were being run was as on-demand four-player events. I figured a fiver was cheap enough that I could stack in a few of them…at least until I got sick to death of them, could no longer contain my burning rage or was made unwelcome.  Each player pitched in a fiver, and there were three boosters as player kill bounties. One kill, one pack.  For the first pod I selected a fun casual deck; specifically, I armed myself with {Divine Intervention Hyperlink} as that deck is wacky and fun and I usually get a good response from players I’ve not met before when piloting it.  I figured the game plan was to play the deck, but push it hard to its endgame and see how the rest of the pod coped.

I got my arse destroyed.

I was playing second on the pod; to my left Oona, opposite Purphoros and my right Rafiq. The Rafiq player busily ramped into a swarm of mana dorks and a pile of land including an early game Green Sun’s Zenith.  I spent my formative turns trying to force the board to accelerate with various hug tools. The Oona player basically did nothing the entire game, while our colleague in red bombed down his general and played a mass goblin token spell for pain value. The board rolled around toRafiq again, and saw the landing of a Craterhoof Behemoth into the face of yours truly. I attempted to throw up some kind of meager defense, in order to buy time to put up something more substantial in the form of an exploding golden baby (Child of Alara – this is my boomstick, there are many like it… but this one is mine). Sadly my defense was inadequate in the face of a trampling 30/31 Budgie.  My death was followed next turn by the death of both other players opposing the Rafiq deck.

Once again Dead-Head Navigator ruins a perfectly potentially fun game.

The thing that had my teeth on edge most about this game was the pre-game table talk had all been about settling in for an hour or so for a good game. This then quickly devolved into king-making and trying to wheedle packs. There was no intention of following through on the “good game” plan. I don’t believe in making snap decisions about someone’s playstyle by their choice of commander, but I had to admit I was wary going into the game. Particularly grating were lines like “Yeah I don’t normally play like this, normally I like to be more casual and share the damage around” and “Yeah, I don’t like playing Commander like this”  Then why are you? Due to this, I was not expecting much from future pods, or at least not much more than a fifteen-minute ramp and combo fest.  Thus, I swapped to combo.

IMG_0499

Pod 2 – the guy piloting Purphoros convinced me to play for a second pod. I’d had the time to swap decks as I really didn’t want to be sitting and fiddle-arsing around while the rest of the table masturbated before me. I swapped into my very un-social contract friendly Arcanis Combo list. I figured if everyone else is going to play fast kill no-game decks, I could do that too. I was fourth to play on this pod – probably the worst position, especially when you are the only one without T1 Sol Ring.  To my left we had a different Oona player (Coincidence? I doubt it), opposite me was our friend in red, and to my right Mayael the Anima.

In this game, we were all firing; we had a turn two Purphoros land from the red man, and a turn three Mayael landing shortly after. The Oona player and I were hanging back to drop land and hold counter mana up as best we could. I was fortunate enough to be able to play an early Mana Drain into a few toys, but most importantly, into my general, Lord Arcanis. This was the lynchpin for me, as even though Purphoros was trying to get to a dominating board state, I was able to keep him off-balance with bounce and counters, keeping such threats as Stalking Vengeance at bay. Being able to activate Arcanis twice a turn cycle pushed me so far ahead that I was able to hold up free counters while still tutoring into Mind Over Matter, playing and protecting it through opposing counter magic to draw my deck and free up my lands for further counter magic in order to find Laboratory Maniac and win the pod.

I have to admit I felt downright dirty after that series of plays. Admittedly, we all had chances to make plays that affected the game; we had all threatened the board at one time or another. However, even when others were threatening the board, I have to admit I felt no pressure. That is one of the spoils of playing blue; the pressure is very different in that pilot seat. The good thing about this pod was the post-game chat.  This table had some things to say about this and the previous pod. The conversation talked somewhat about choosing power levels for decks and where that line should be. It is pretty obvious that all the decks on show today were higher-power decks with and obvious desire to win the games. The clear problem between those decks and the pilot’s  greed to win is that it is going to result in escalation and to everyone having nukes. When everyone has nukes, there is no fun for anyone.

The big lesson for me was that to go these events, I can’t just take a fun deck. Taking a fun deck is simply going to get me killed. I can’t take a competitive deck either; if I take a competitive deck, we end up with Vintage commander. It seems to me that unless you are a pack-farming sod or deliberately going into a known combo pod, the best approach to these events would be to take a deck that scales. I know Cass has spoken previously about his ‘Combo-Breaker’ deck, and I have one of my own. These “judo-style” decks in theory are perfectly suited to these types of unknown environments, as they scale their weapons based on what they can steal and abuse from their intended victims. This way, if you are facing a weaker or more casual group, you are not racing into a hard combo and winning, but rather keeping pace with things.

Lesson: next time, combo breaker only

Day Two – Legacy

Day two also saw the first day of the main event. GP Sydney was a Sealed event, and we had over 820 players registered to play the main show. Sadly, Legacy numbers suffered because of this, as we only had just over twenty players for the event. I selected {OmniShow Hyperlink} as my weapon of choice for this event; it’s blue and does big dumb things, and it’s reliable as heck.  It’s also easy to pilot for someone who does not play much Legacy. As a quick breakdown for those not familiar with the deck, it ramps into a fast Dream Halls or Omniscience with counter back-up, generally cheating things in with Show and Tell; from there, it wants to cast Enter the Infinite to draw the deck, placing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on top.  Using Cunning Wish, it pulls Release the Ants, which is cast and recast on the winning of the clash to chain-gun the opposition to death.
I had round one pitched against Breakthrough Dredge.  My opponent was, however, very unlucky in his games, finding literally one Narcomoeba in the whole match. This was very much a 2-0 white blue-wash to me. Round two saw one of the lists that had made the top eitht in the Friday legacy – Show and Reanimate.   This guy was able to take me out 2-0; it turns out that Reanimator is still a thing and Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur wrecks me.

Round three saw me up against an Esper Stoneblade list. I was able to take a game; however I did end up 1-2 with another loss. This was totally my fault; I am still learning how to play Legacy as a format, and I stuffed up in the management of my cantrips. A simple mismanagement of when a Ponder or a Preordain get used can really close your game window rapidly.

In round four, I had my first experience with a 12-Post list.  Apparently this list was a little unusual for 12-Post, but I am not familiar enough with the details to really comment on the list. I was able to pull out a 2-1 win after realising that his primary game plan against me was to get a Mountain in play to hold up Red Elemental Blast.  Round five was make or break for me, and unfortunately it turned into break. It seems we had quite a few Stoneblade lists running rampant, and this variant was the Junk colour combination and as such was a Deathblade (Deathrite Shaman + Stoneforge Mystic) list. I was able to take one of the three games; however, I was unable to keep an Omniscience on the board through the constant hail of hate in my direction, thus ending my hopes of a Top 8 Legacy campaign.

Day 3 – Vintage

Sanctioned paper Vintage is the reason I go to GP events. We had a really good turnout for the Vintage event, with 26 players total. We also had a solid metagame consisting of the usual culprits – Stax, various flavours of Oath, Grixis control, Cagebreaker Dredge and Gush lists.  As far as I am aware, I was the only {Burning Long Hyperlink} player at the event.  To quickly sum Burning Long up, it’s a storm-based combo list aiming to win with a lethal Tendrils of Agony, which it fishes out of its sideboard with Burning Wish.  Burning Wish is essentially acting as a four-of for key cards in the deck like Yawgmoth’s Will. The deck also uses an Oath of Druids package to cheat Griselbrand[/Card] into play for card draw or swinging for the kill.
With 26 players on board, we had five rounds and then a cut to top eight.

My first round was against an unknown opponent, whom I would quickly discover was on a rogue Bant Humans list. I won the toss and kept a hand with plenty of mana, [card]Oath of Druids and Brainstorm. On the play, this is a fairly solid threatening hand. I opened the board by dropping a stack of jewelery and a five-colour land to the board (for those of you not familiar with Vintage as a format, ‘jewelery’ is slang for moxes). From there, my intent was to see what Brainstorm options I had, and pending that data probably to drop the Oath immediately.  Brainstorm found me (to my delight) a Burning Wish; this changed everything. Replacing the Oath and a spare land to the top of my library, I played Burning Wish to the stack and cracked my Lion’s Eye Diamond with the intention of fetching up Balance to destroy my opponent’s hand, as I did not have enough mana for a to go for Tendrils or [Card]Empty the Warrens[/card] for a direct kill.  Unfortunately, my opponent was able to Force of Will the Burning Wish, and while I was able to resolve the Oath later, it was too late in activation to save me. Round one was a loss – 2-0.

Round two I was able to keep myself in the event with a 2-1 win in a pseudo mirror match against one of the other Oath lists in the field.  Oath mirrors are odd matches, as the Oath of Druids can trigger on both players’ turns.  While the first game is often both players discovering the match is the mirror and then trying to get ahead on Forbidden Orchard Spirit tokens, games two and three are often bizarre; a tactic versus Oath is to side one’s own Oaths out. My opponent was playing Dragon Breath Emrakul Oath, which is where the Oath finds and cheats in Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn to play and then attaches Dragon Breath to haste the Emrakul up and swing for the kill. I took the face pounding in game one;  in games two and three, as I had sided my Oaths out, I focussed on correctly sequencing my cantrips and bomb spells to allow me to count to ten and finish my opponent with a lethal storm count and Tendrils of Agony.
The third round was a rematch I had been waiting for twelve months to play.

My opponent was Rob Bartlett, who had defeated me in the top eight of the Brisbane 2013 GP Vintage event.  As such, I was very excited for the match. Rob, like myself, is pretty much capable of fielding any Vintage deck, but I mostly see him playing Stax (Mishra’s Workshop-powered artifact decks). I was very surprised to see him playing one of the few Grixis control lists in the room. Rob managed to win game one on a mistake, as I had attempted to be cute by casting Dark Ritual into Burning Wish to go for the win. I should have instead played for the Yawgmoth’s Will to allow redundancy instead of getting greedy.  In game two, I levelled the match 1-1 through a straight-forward count to ten and Wish into Tendrils of Agony for the kill. Game three was make or break; Rob opened the game, but I was able to hold my own by landing a Balance to reset the board state to something survivable. From there, I was able to generate low level storm and cast Empty the Warrens for a total of 6 goblins. I was able to beat him in the face with dudes for the win.

Round four I hit that mythical Stax list. I won the match overall 2-1, but I lost the first game. This deck was a new Stax variant for me; I was aware of the Thespian’s Stage + Dark Depths interaction, but I was not aware that it was now showing up in Stax lists.  I was taken by surprise by suddenly going down to a Marit Lage token.

IMG_0497

Game two, standard anti-stax sideboarding – out go the Dark Rituals, in come the four Ancient Tomb, out with the Griselbrands, and load up on Hurkyl’s Recall and Shattering Spree.  Finally, swapping to the Laboratory Maniac strategy as an Oath target for cheap wins; stupid Kaka (of course) forgot to side in the Maniac, and from here my only option was to go for a storm kill. Biding my time, I was able to Hurkyl’s Recall his board at the end of his turn, giving me one strong turn to make my move. I was able to lay some draw-seven cards including Wheel of Fortune and Tinker into Memory Jar, and I was able to drop enough jewelery and accelerants to enable me to storm up to ten and Wish for a Tendrils kill.

Game three, I made sure I had Maniac in the deck.  Both of us started with fairly slow play; I landed some jewelery (including Mox Opal), as well as some five-colour lands. My opponent landed a few ‘Spheres to slow the game down and a Phyrexian Revoker.  I was lucky enough to be able to wait him out again until the Marat Lage token came down.  I’d been sandbagging a Hurkyl’s Recall while digging for an Oath, and since the 20/20 death machine was on board it was now or never.

Once again my opponent got Hurkyl-ed in his end step, bringing my Mox Opal back online. I was able to Wheel into accelerants and Yawgmoth’s Bargain; running out Ritual into the Bargain, I was able to draw about fifteen cards, going down to one life. Running out the jewelery I’d drawn, floating mana off the first Mox Opal and sending it to the bin when I played the second one, I was then able to Hurkyl’s my own board to reset my Moxen and ramp my storm count. Replaying my Moxen, I had enough mana available to Wish for and cast Yawgmoth’s Will, but not enough to go for a Tendrils kill.  Through the Will, I was able to replay the original Mox Opal, run out Lion’s Eye Diamond and refire one of the Hurkyl’s Recalls to reset my Mox tap states . By this time we’ve stopped bothering to count storm as it was in excess of twenty, and I was able to cast a Wish I’d discarded earlier to find Tendrils for the kill.
Round 5 I was in a sufficiently safe position to be able to draw into the Top Eight based on breaker maths. Sadly, I was defeated by the eventual winner, Ben, on a Young Pyromancer/Gush control-aggro list. My campaign was over, but I still had a good time watching the rest of the top eight and top four matches. (Regrettably, the final was resolved in a prize split.)

Was it worth it?

Well hell yeah!

I don’t regret anything. If you’ve not been to one of these premier events, it is definitely worth getting your butt in to gear and getting on down. Every time I go, I learn something new. This year, I have learned that if I am going to play EDH at such an event, I must be prepared to play as brutally as possible or come with a power-scaling judo list.  I also learned that headaches suck, but missing out on an event is not the end of the world. I got to have an awesome rummage in the traders’ displays before the main crowds hit them.

I also got to have a really awesome chat with RK Post and Steve Belledin and his partner. Thanks again to those two awesome guys for doing some sweet playmat art on my and my wife’s playmats.
Next time, I’m going to try and put out the call for to you all in advance for the next GP I am going to. It would be awesome to meet up with any of you for a few awesome games of the format we all love.

Until next time-
Kaka