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By: Jyalt, Judah Alt
Mar 18 2014 12:00pm
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Whenever I read about how someone won high value in a huge (1622 person) limited tournament consisting of nine rounds of sealed (8-1) and two drafts on the second day (3-0 and 2-1), I always wonder how they prepared. If I prepared the same way, could I repeat their performance?

Trip Planning and Expenses (Skip if only interested in Online Magic):

 My group of friends decided they wanted to go one of the closest Grand Prixes to our physical location of upstate New York in mid-February. Jason dropped out after five days because he decided he’d rather play five or six local tournaments than pay for the trip out. We could respect that, and ended up going with three. Rex, Rob, and I all pre-registered in advance to lock in the cheapest price ($37.10 USD after the Canadian currency conversion). This was one way we saved on value because onsite registration the night before was $50 CND. We also booked our hotels through hotel.com and saved money.

 For the border we didn’t have problems. Rex and I had passports. I spent time in February helping Rob deal with our local government and get his enhanced driver’s license, which is government approved for US/Canadian travel.

 My local bank changed my USD into Canadian money. This saved me about 3% in currency conversion rates, compared to my friends who paid in American dollars or used debit. We brought our own food for the convention, likely saving $40+ on overpriced meals. Personally I went with apples, granola bars, mixed nuts, and cookies. In addition to saving money, eating something after every round helps energize you and keep focus.

Magic Practice -- Sealed and Draft:

 Theros limited practice, what did I do?  Opportunities for local events dealing with sealed pools are few and far between. Players usually prefer constructed or draft events, even with access to more than one local store.  

 What I did for sealed practice was play in two Born of the Gods Game Day events in early March. I won both of the them (each had less than 20 people and were 7 rounds total including the end playoff), and each time I traded the Championship playmat for a Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Neither of my pools were particularly memorable, but it showed me the common archetypes and validated my impressions of the format. This told me I had a decent handle of the limited side, and I could concentrate more on draft practice.

 What my travel companions Rob and Rex did for sealed practice was invite me over two nights the week before the event. We evaluated and discussed every common and uncommon card from Theros and Born of the Gods. Rob wrote our observed conclusions in a notebook. Then we made ‘limited packs’ out of the bad cards and played them against each other, drafting them in a weird way. (This helped in both limited and draft.) Then we did the same thing with the good cards. We each played 8 or 9 decks against each other, though Rex had to miss half of this from work obligations. I won every single match I played against both Rex and Rob. I even commented, “This is homework I didn’t have to do” when they teased my about my string of victories. For the record, Robert Wicks directly attributed his own $400 finish (he also had no byes) to learning how to play with the bad cards in this practice.

 For my own draft practice I used Magic Online -- Born-Theros-Theros drafts from the beginning of March along with a couple release events.  Most nights I did one event, two on weekends. Online may have had stability issues lately, but simple drafts still work fine. I preferred 8-4 for the stronger competition, and the (Lion’s Eye Diamond) up for 15 QP’s was a nice secondary incentive. At the end of this practice I’d done 17 drafts and received 7 QP, having made the finals in 9 of them and having lost to first round shuffler issues in 5 of them. I was nearly able to chain my winnings into more drafts, but I still had to sell about 80tix worth of singles to finance this practice. It was far cheaper to spend 9-10tix on a BTT draft set from a trading bot than buy the packs from the store. (If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that tip for Magic: Online!)

Here is my day one sealed pool, a group of cards I was lucky to receive. This took a long time to type, so if you want to get something from the article, try and build the deck yourself. I’ll give you limited tips, a huge hint, and then my 8-1 decklist.  

Akroan Horse, Bronze Sable, Burnished Hart Fleetfeather Sandals,    Ephara, God of the Polis, Prophet of Kruphix, Ragemonger, Kragma Warcaller

 Akroan Crusader, Arena Athlete, Akroan Conscriptor, Akroan Conscriptor, Bolt of Keranos, Impetuous Sunchaser, Kragma Butcher, Messenger's Speed, Messenger's Speed,  Nyxborn Rollicker, Nyxborn Rollicker, Priest of Iroas, Scouring Sands, Spark Jolt, Rise to the Challenge, Satyr Nyx-smith, Searing Blood

Baleful Eidolon, Eye Gouge, Felhide Brawler, Felhide Minotaur, Forlorn Pseudamma, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Grisly Transformation, Necrobite, Nyxborn Eidolon, Pharika's Cure, Read the Bones, Returned Phalanx, Weight of the Underworld

Annul,  Benthic Giant,  Crypsis,  Dissolve,  Divination,  Floodtide Serpent,  Gainsay,  Griptide,  Meletis Astronomer,  Nyxborn Triton,  Nyxborn Triton,  Prescient Chimera,  Prescient Chimera,  Sealock Monster,  Triton Fortune Hunter,  Tromokratis,  Voyage's End

Charging BadgerCommune with the Gods, Culling Mark, Culling Mark, Defend the Hearth, Karametra's FavorNemesis of Mortals, Savage Surge, Sedge Scorpion, Setessan Oathsworn, Staunch-Hearted Warrior, Warriors' Lesson

  Akroan Phalanx,  Elite Skirmisher,  Ephara's Radiance,  Excoriate,  Gods Willing,  Hopeful Eidolon,  Leonin Snarecaster,  Loyal Pegasus,  Loyal Pegasus,  Mortal's Ardor,  Oreskos Sun Guide,  Plea for Guidance,  Setessan Griffin,  Soldier of the Pantheon,  Traveling Philosopher,  Vanguard of Brimaz

Some conclusions I took with me to the GP from all of my own practice:

--Green/White is deceptively bad. The archetype *seems* good enough, but does not lead itself to winning consistently. A good removal or tempo package disrupts all of the pump spells. I did not lose a single match to green/white the entire GP.

--Green/Blue is a good option if you have no relevant rares. It loses to bomb rares because it lacks good permanent removal at common/uncommon. (I don’t mean tempo, I mean how does it kill something like an on board Eater of Hope with a token source?) I never want to play Green/Blue if I can avoid it, but it is a good metagame draft call against the aggression strategies.

--If you play red versus red, you better side in your Peak Eruption. The tempo matters that much!

 --Retraction Helix is the best common card in Born of the Gods, leading to blowout situations when combined with Breaching Hippocamp, Crypsis, and (Kiora’s Follower).

 --Hopeful Eidolon is the best common card in Theros. Bestowed either on a flying heroic, a voltron-bestowed anything, or a huge man it leads to huge life advantages. Making it impossible for opponents to kill you in races means if your deck has endgame; you’ll win later if you can’t win early.

 --Loyal Pegasus is only playable in one archetype -- white/red aggression. With Impetuous Sunchaser it makes an awesome flying, attacking pair on turn two. Played in blue/white or black/white, it sits useless on the board 60% of the time.  

 --Provided both players get lands, expect the games to last about seven turns total with an aggressive deck. That means in aggressive control, you can play 7-drops if you are playing against aggressive control or a slower-type deck. For example, I did not play a seven-drop main deck in my sealed pool on day one, but I sided one in against six of my nine opponents who weren’t trying to quick-kill me.

 Ordeal of NyleaOrdeal of ThassaOrdeal of ErebosOrdeal of PurphorosOrdeal of Heliod

Those are the best uncommon cards in Theros. With two Theros packs, you can still draft ordeal-heavy aggressive decks, or decks capable of early game blowout openings. They are not as common as in triple Theros, but they require you still play main deck cards like Revoke Existence to hedge against blowouts in both sealed and limited.

   Akroan HorseEphara, God of the Polis
This is the over-the top combo that let me 8-1 day one. I think it might even be constructed playable. Getting a soldier token [their turn] means an extra card on your turn, which is so amazing in limited. Plus if you played a creature on your turn, you draw a card AND get a free token on their upkeep. Better than Howling Mine!  If you didn’t pick white/blue with that combo in your build, re-evaluate the power level of this combination.  It is that good.

Now let’s talk about art while you reconsider.

Check out the pic of Ephara, artist credit. Guess who? I had brought cards for artists attending the GP, which included Eric Deschamps. Mike Bierek was so popular I never noticed a time when a long line of players wasn’t queuing up in front of him and so I never tried to get my Frostburn Weird playset signed. Veronique Meignaud had a small line at one point the first day, so I stood at the end of it for ten minutes after a quick win (round 6 or 7?). When it came for me to be in first place in that line, her timed deadline for signing had expired. I asked her to sign only a single card for me, an Act of Authority. She refused politely, saying “I’ll be here tomorrow”. Two hours later she was still at her booth, and I noticed more people waiting in front of it, perhaps earlier commissions or print buyers? I do not know the circumstances, but I was disappointed.

On day two Eric Deschamps had a small line, so I gave it a try between round 12 and 13. I managed to get second place in that queue, and then they called the round 13. Eric quickly signed my three cards, and I offered him $25 to do something interesting with the Ephara which had let me go 8-1 on day one. He said he didn’t want to lose my card (because I would not be present) and refused the commission. Eric Deschamps is a good man, and I wish I could have paid him the money for the alter later, but I was too busy with the event and his line got long.

Here's a quick overview of Day One:

R1, Hoang Ha Pham:  My opponent has Stormbreath Dragon and Purphoros, God of the Forge.  I win quickly and he asks to play more games.  I agree and beat him 2-0 a second time, including a game I mulliganed to five cards in.  Win.

R2, Adam Wilson:  He's got Wingsteed Rider, the Green Ordeal, and wingsteed's little 1/1 flyer cousin in game one.  I answer with bounce, gain some life, and then kill him.  Game two he plays Fabled Hero, (Hunderd-Handed One), (Nessan Asp), and (Nessan Wilds Ravager).  I never attacked him, but he did gain 4 life with a Snake of the Golden Grove.   Game three he mulligans but still gets some good men.  I take over the tempo because he makes Nessian Asp monstrous and in response I use Griptide, setting him back several turns and letting me attack for the eventual win.  Win.

R3, Jean B:  He mentions he won two byes by going 5-0 in a trial, so I'm sure I'll have a tough match ahead of me.  Then he gets no land game one, and I kill him after his slow start in game two beginning with an early Soldier of the Pantheon.  He shows me Brimaz and Pulkranos from his deck after the match.  Win.

R4, Josh:  I lost game one to mana problems after a mulligan.  Game two seems to be a race I won with bounce and some life gain.  Game three I get Horse + Ephara and begin drawing many, many cards, leading to an inevitable victory.  Win

R5, Chen Li:  His deck utterly crushes me.  He's got 10 bestow guys including Nighthowler and 3 Nimbus Naiads.  Should he lose some of them, one of his pair of Odunos River Trawler bring the best ones back.  I nearly deck myself with Ephara/Horse one game, and in the other I have to chump block with Tromokratis because he grave-returned a Nighthowler via River Trawler and cast it on the same turn.  Lose.

R6:, Chris:  I did not take good notes this match, winning in two games after I lost the die roll. I believe Crypsis untapping something tapped with Sudden Storm gave me enough damage to take one of the games that was a close race. Win.

R7, Jesus:  After making some biblical jokes about our names, we begin the game.  I have Hopeful Eidolon bestowed on a big ground guy, and he has the black extort-inspired guy that regenerates and blocks it every turn.  When I get up to 80 life he concedes, since his life total was at 3 and I just played Akroan Horse, stopped attacking and began waiting for token build-up.  He had (Eater of Hopes) for a lot of the game, but I somehow dealt with it pre-Horse.  Game two I see Reaper of the Wilds on his side, but I make him block by pure voltron aggression and use Gods Willing to save my bestowed from its deathtouch.  That man (I think a 6/7 sun guide?) then goes all the way. Win.

R8, David:  Game one we are racing, but I'm gaining two life a turn from Oreskos Sun Guide, which is enough to win the race.  Game two is epic back and forth -- first I'm close to killing him, then he manages to Mortal's Ardor his Fabled Hero with a bunch of counters on it and gains 18 life.  I deal with the hero, and get him all the way down to one life and he plays Elspeth, Sun's Champion and makes three guys (enough blockers).  Elly goes all the way, goes ultimate, and kills me.  Game three my notes say he kept 7 cards and I tempo'd him out (or he had a slow start). He was playing white/black and I believe Thoughtseized my best card all three games.  Win.

R9: Lewis:  He is also playing white and blue.  He achieves victory game one by copying my best creature with (Artisan of Form)'s heroic trigger, and then his Perplexing Chimera stops any of my outs.  In comes Gainsay, Divination, and Tromokratis for Plea for Guidance and some non-flying low drops (he had many flyers).  Game two I get Ephara/Horse and grind out an eventual win with card advantage on a stalled board.  Perplexing Chimera went back and forth several times this game.  Game three I have a fast start and give my early Vanguard of Brimaz protection from blue to stop an Artisan of Forms heroic trigger.  This ends up being important, allowing me a constant tempo.  I draw Ephara and she is a creature on my next attack... this is quite good for me, as he cannot deal with her.  This was a long match with many interesting decisions and interactions, and I really enjoyed playing magic against Lewis. Win.

End day one 8-1.  I had no byes.

Skipping over the standard life details, over to day two, draft one.  I opened Temple of Enlightenment, and second picked Spirit of the Labyrinth.  My next picks were Retraction Helixes, Oracle's Insight, and one Revoke Existence.  Then I took a Floodtide Serpent because I wanted more creatures, and I was hoping to combo it with draw-card enchantments.  Then I saw a second Revoke Existence fairly late.  Finally I remember getting Kraken of the Straits near the end, maybe 10th?  

Theros first pack gave me Ember Swallower without a good blue or white card, and briefly I thought I might be red somehow and 2nd picked Spearpoint Oread.  Then red disappeared and white looked open again with 3rd pick Hopeful Eidolon and 4th Akroan Horse.  The Theros packs are blending together in my head, so I'm not sure if this entirely accurate.  I know I first picked Master of Waves third pack making me solid blue, and got like a fifth pick Curse of the Swine.  I took Wingsteed Rider pick two third pack over an off-color Ordeal.  Wavecrash Triton was around 7th pick over really good green cards.  All the Chosen by Heliods and Thassa's Bounties were near the end of the packs.  Evangel was like an 8th pick.  (Breeching Hippocamp) was 5th pick, I think?  Well that's about all I remember, aside from passing up amazing green cards despite counter-drafting a few when I saw no good blue or white.

Solid Blue/White
3-0 Draft One Day Two GP Montreal
1 Nyxborn Triton
1 Akroan Horse
1 Hopeful Eidolon
1 Spirit of the Labyrinth
1 Sealock Monster
1 Breaching Hippocamp
1 Evangel of Heliod
1 Floodtide Serpent
1 Wavecrash Triton
1 Master of Waves
1 Lagonna-Band Elder
1 Wingsteed Rider
1 Coastline Chimera
13 cards

Other Spells
2 Chosen By Heliod
1 Gods Willing
2 Retraction Helix
2 Revoke Existence
1 Oracle's Insight
1 Aqueous Form
1 Curse of the Swine
10 cards
8 Island
8 Plains
1 Temple of Enlightenment
17 cards

Temple of Enlightenment

Round 10, Adam:   He had Elspeth, Sun's Champion and his own Akroan Horse (he never drew this).  Game one was just my fast attack.  I won the match in game two by keeping him off white mana with Revoke Existence.  In the second game he drew four swamps and an Opaline Unicorn, and only got the second plains too late.  In game one he actually had Elsepth too, but he scooped rather than show it to me and lose anyway (I had flying damage her tokens could not block).  I only learned about this later; it turned out taking down the unicorn was extremely the right play. 

Round 11, Zac Reiber:  I dominated this blue/white mirror match because I had bounce cards and my opponent played tap-down board tempo instead.  Zac drafted the good two drops I never saw but was looking for in the draft.  I had better larger creatures though, and his small guys were not aggressive enough in the face of bounce to deal with heroic counters.  Zac's tempo-ish white/blue included 2 Triton Tactics, Glimpse the Sun God, Wavecrash Triton, and Sudden Storm.   Whenever Zac had something going with Heroic, I used Retraction Helix.  When Zac had a superior board position in the first game to the point he was clearly winning on board, I commented "Those are some awful nice creatures you have there", and played Curse of the Swine for five.  My Floodtide Serpent/Chosen by Heliod return cycle ended up doing good work this match with Wavecrash Triton.  I won both games, taking the second with Hopeborn Eidolon on Kraken of the Straits (sided in), and let him use up all his tempo cards tapping my guys down while just building up more resources on my side.  

Round 12, Max:   I rode Oracle's Insight all the way to game one finish by drawing cards and playing carefully with my life total against Max's green/black, going down to about 6 life by playing around combat tricks (not blocking).  Game two I think was decided by Hopeful Eidolon on Wingsteed Rider?  Max had a good deck with 3 Ordeals, black flying harpies and a Keepsake Gorgon.  But I had bounce spells for the ordeals bearers and Curse of the Swine for his flyers.

In the second draft I opened Temple of Malice and passed it for Satyr Nyx-Smith, then supplemented that with a second pick combo-enabling Springleaf Drum.  I took an Akroan Crusader over an Excoriate third, followed up by a Revoke Existence.  (End up with a second Revoke Existence quite late.)  Then I 4th'd an Oreskos Sun Guide to keep with a solid r/w drum-combo theme when I saw a second Temple of Malice at my 6th pick.   {Spoilers:  I would never draw Springleaf Drum in any of my games.}  This was a big decision for me, and I took the temple, counting the on Temple of Malice I opened to table (it did, I took it 9th pick) and opening up the archetype of white beatdown splashing both black and red for removal.  Again in the Theros packs, it's sort of blurry.  One of my first picks was Ember Swallower, and the other the Ordeal of Heliod.  I took Wingsteed Rider very early again.  My hardest choice was Hero's Downfall versus Ordeal of Erebos, I think 4th or 5th pick, and I took the Downfall despite the double black requirement.  Rage of Purphoros came to me very late, like 11th or 12th, and Sip of Hemlock was like 7th.  I took the boons and unicorn in the earlier picks.  Curse of the Swine was my only deliberate counter-draft, in part because it won me so many games in my first pod.  By the way, the official event coverage total gets my colors wrong in draft two having me at White-red-green when I was White-red-black.


I made a mistake in my land distribtion.  Every game I sided out Plains + something for Swamp + Sip of Hemlock.  I think I also sided in Plea for Guidance in one of the matches, but I never drew it.

Round 13, Gerard Fabiano:  He crushed me, it was not close.  He had a blue/black deck with two Shipwreck Singer, Thassa, God of the Sea, Griptide, and Triton Tactics.  Game one my Ordeal'd flyer met a Griptide, he got an active Thassa, and it looked bleak.  I put down a pair of Akroan Hoplites and then an Evangel for 5 tokens.  The next turn he played a Shipwreck Singer and I swung with everything, putting both my Hoplites at 10/2.  He used Triton Tactics, blocking one with Thassa, and the other with a Vortex Elemental.  Then Thassa killed me.  Game two I took a mulligan, got land flooded, and scooped to a Griptide on my small useless creature compared to his board.  Loss.

Round 14, Terrence Du Four:  He's on a weird three color g/r/b build with Nylea's Presence for mana fixing.  We talk a bit, and he's done excellently for his first Grand Prix.  His deck is slower and has little to stop my heroic flyers with.  Both games I ended above 20 life.  Win.

Round 15, Brock Parker:  He immediately offers me a draw which I immediately decline.  So we play, and he has a white/green deck with efficent yet lower pick creatures like Travelling Philosopher, Satyr Hedonist, and Centaur Courier.  This generally confirms the signals I got in the draft that the table was a mess and people were scrambling for playable cards in multiple colors.  So while I'm mentally looking down on his deck, it goes ahead and beats me the first game, despite Brock taking a mulligan.  I did have no swamps and three black cards in hand, but still.  I shake myself mentally, sideboard and open the third game with an Ordeal of Heliod on a Hoplite.  It brings me to 30 and Brock to 5 before he kills it with a Time to Feed going back to 8.  Then I play another threat and finish him off in the air.  The third game brock has no early creatures (the one he does have I use removal on), and 'his hand must be a bunch of pump spells and lands', is all I can think.  On my playmat, I have an army of small creatures that kill him on the 6th or 7th turn.  Win.

I'm in the top 8.  Brock is the top 8.  Gerard Fabiano is in the top 8.  They take my picture, and I'm envious of Gerard's ability to strike a pose.  They took several of me, and settled for the one that made me look 'stoic'.  


 Has the official coverage of the event. (I waited this long to link it because it gives away my day one deck colors, and that may invalidate the above card pool exercise.)  Under my accomplishments, I listed 'head judging a PTQ.'   Is this not a recognized accomplishment in terms of competitive magic? I’m more proud of my higher level judging than I am winning money at my first Pro Tour. I know lots of dedicated magic judges, and I think they deserve a more recognition.  The GP Montreal staff did a great job.   I had both my table judge and my quarterfinals opponent sign a basic land together to commemorate my GP top eight.

I don't know about the other players, but I had a very deep draft in r/w, giving me 20 solid playables and 8 cards to choose for the last three.  Initially I put myself in r/b with Lightning Volley and Archetype of Finality, but then I opened Heliod, God of the Sun in pack two and made the color switch, in part because I took a 6th pick Fated Retribution which was a huge signal telling me 'white is open!'

They covered my game one well in the official coverage. I was sitting on the Fated Retribution for many turns, waiting to see if I’d have to use it once I started my aggressive attrition by trading my huge voltron with his death touch ground guy. Also the official coverage does not mention I mulliganed extensively. Went to six game one, game two and game three of the quarter finals. In game two I was six cards keeping one land and Springleaf Drum on the draw. No second land, and the game was done before the coverage guy even noticed. Third game I kept a six card hand of mountain, plains, Minotaur Skullcleaver, (Oreskos Sun Guide), Opaline Unicorn, Titan’s Strength, and a 2/2 bestow for 3 mana (don’t remember which Oreiad it was now). On turn three I used the Titan’s Strength to scry a non-land card to the bottom getting in for 5, though I’d have preferred to save it as a combat trick and go for six with Skullcleaver/guide. My deck did not produce another land in the next three turns, putting me completely out of the match. My opponent’s first play was a turn 5 creature, meaning land would have won … t2 guide, t3 cleaver, t4 unicorn, t5 land+oriead bestow with back-up combat trick. That was what I was hoping for, at least. My shuffler sucked in the finals, and unlike Magic:Online, I was the primary shuffler.

So I leave you my conclusions, regrets, and triumphs from GP Montreal.  I apologize if you found part of it incoherent or boring, but I wanted to submit this fast while the event was still fresh in my mind and the GP 'in the news'. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my journey.  


Quick Correction by Jyalt at Tue, 03/18/2014 - 14:59
Jyalt's picture

Under sealed pratice I wrote: "What I did for sealed practice was play in two Born of the Gods Game Day events in early March."

While I did win the events, they were standard. However the week (or so) before at the same stores I played in Born of the Gods release events with full sealed decks. While I didn't finish 1st I did win prizes in each of them, and it was enough to familiarize me with the difference between BNG and Theros-only sealed.

Congrats on the invite and by Paul Leicht at Tue, 03/18/2014 - 20:03
Paul Leicht's picture

Congrats on the invite and win. :)

Thanks :) by Jyalt at Wed, 03/19/2014 - 14:27
Jyalt's picture

Thanks :)

Congrats on the finish and by IYankemDDS at Wed, 03/19/2014 - 12:00
IYankemDDS's picture

Congrats on the finish and perspective! While I appreciate the ability of ordeals to steal a game, I never considered them to be the top uncommons in Theros (I much prefer the Emissaries), but I also never made Top 8 of a GP so maybe there is something going on there. :)