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By: CalmLittleBuddy, Christopher M. Dansereau
Jun 10 2015 11:00am
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Hello dear readers!

A moment to explain where I've been. I've been doing a lot of the paper magic prep necessary to be totally ready for Grand Prix Providence. We'll get into the specifics of that in a bit. I've also had probably the most distracting 15 days of my life between work, adoption classes, house selling snafus and new house projects. It's been hectic. But I am going to see the last 3 episodes of this series through. We all need closure!

If you're new to the column, the gist is I've been chronicling my adventures preparing for my very first Big Event. I wanted to give amateur players some hope, showing that with a little work and some guts, anyone can prepare for and participate in a Grand Prix or other larger Magic the Gathering event. In 14 days, at this time (around noon on a Saturday) I will be deep into the Swiss portion of the Standard Grand Prix in Providence. Here's the event info


June 19-21, 2015

Rhode Island Convention Center
1 Sabin Street
Providence, RI 02903

Here's the MtG page for it.

There's going to be quite a few big time professionals at it, so I'm super keen on facing one in the Swiss portion just to see how I match up. I'm in the final stages of preparation. Right now it's mostly about analyzing the metagame and playing as many games as possible. Here's what I'm seeing and what I'm believing will come over the next few weeks.

I shudder with anticipation

At any point you can go to this site and check out some strong data on the Standard Metagame for MtGO. The paper metagame will vary a bit due to the increased volume of players, all with various levels of interest and financial resources. If you've followed Standard, the metagame is about what you'd think.

The popularity of decks that are winning is as follows: Abzan Midrange/Megamorph/Control on top followed by Esper Dragons, RG Devotion, Red Aggro/Atarka and Abzan Aggro. I'd expect at a GP the cheaper Red Aggro lists to be more popular due to low cost of the decks. I expect the number of Abzan Aggro decks to leap frog a few of the other decks as well. Aggro decks are a good choice for events with more than a hundred players, as they usually can win most matches versus players with less experience and skill, and are not as nuanced as control style decks. You can pick one up and figure it out in a few days.

I also think Ramp strategies are going to be en vogue in about two weeks. I'd tell you why, but you wouldn't believe me. Okay, I'll tell.  I believe that Standard tends to be cyclical. Next week we'll see a lot of midrangey Dragon stuff and Atarka Red. Fast ramping decks eat both for lunch. The players following the metagame who can afford to deck hop will look to take advantage of the mismatches.

Me? I'm in that Abzan Control slot. I don't give a flip who's playing what, I'm playing Abzan Control because that's what Abzan Control does. It plays against whoever shows up. That being said, I am going to adapt my list to what I think will show.

I need a 75 card list that's good in the mirror for sure. There's always too many other Abzaniacs in the room to think you're getting past them. I think second priority is being sure I can beat Red. Red Green Devotion is a bad bad bad match for me as well, so I will either try for a sideboard that hates on RG Devo with as much card overlap for the mirror and Red Aggro as possible, or abandon a full hate plan for RG Devo and use the extra slots to make my Esper Dragons matches better. These are the cards I'm currently not playing, but may have to include to beat RG Devotion:

Da Ultimate!

Other alternatives are either already in the main, in the board or not being considered. These are the two I'm actively pursuing. Of the two cards, Ultimate Price has the most overlap with the Mono Red match up and Green ramp decks, but Self-Inflicted Wound does damage and has overlap with Esper, GW devotion, Abzan Aggro, and many Collected Company decks. I think both are fine cards, and not as narrow as they look. Ultimate Price is especially tempting, as it does work against decks w Goblin Rabblemaster and Stormbreath Dragon. Those cards seemed to have dipped in popularity as of late, but are too good to stay on the sidelines for long. Edict effects (ones that force opponent to sacrifice a creature) have obvious advantages and disadvantages. My main concern is handling hexproof flyers and cards like Thunderbreak Regent where I don't want to actually target cards to kill them.

Basically, my last 15 cards revolve around the Mono Red, Esper Dragons, Red Green Devotion matchup. All other matchups work well with simple substitution. I have quite a few cards that hit all 3 of these, but am still on the fence with adding a few cards like what we see above.

I'm not giving away my decklist until after the tournament, but safe to say if you pull up an Abzan Control list that has the Den Protector and Satyr Wayfinder set up, my list will look very similar in the main. I'm running Crux of Fate as my sweeper as I like the flexibility. Plus, I have an alternate sideboard I'm testing that brings in Dragons of my own, plus Foul-Tongue Invocation and a Haven of the Spirit Dragon. I love having a 25th land for boarding in especially when it doubles as a late game spell.

So, if we're looking to solve the meta for my Abzan Control list, this gets us as close as we can. The metagame won't change much between now and then barring any extreme innovation this coming weekend. The percentages may change, but the good decks are not going to magically get worse. Looking ahead of the curve I honestly see some token decks, whether Mardu or Jeskai, jumping in popularity, and Devotion strategies being a huge problem for me.

One HUGE missing deck that was tremendous before everyone jumped to Esper Dragons is UB Control. How can that deck be GONE? I'm not fooled. Perilous Vault is perfect to fight megamorph and delve strategies, and cleans up against those "throw all these effing creatures at you" decks that your weird Cousin Ricky plays (while drooling all over his fingers and mucking up your new sleeves). (Nissa Worldwaker) is in my sideboard as of now, and probably will stay there. The Edicts and Ultimate Price seem good against some of the classic UB finishers, so there's another reason to consider them. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, a staple in many UB Control lists, is problematic for most Abzan decks, but with a healthy dose of planeswalkers, the Control flavor of Abzan can minimize its impact.

When I look at shifting around cards in my 75, I don't have a lot of wiggle room. It's so late in this cycle of the format that what's good week to week for Abzan doesn't change that much. Maybe that's a blessing. I could go in blind with 75 cards I like and still have a decent deck.

Before drifting aimlessly away from talking about the current metagame, I want to throw one more popular deck idea out there. It's a Green/Black Dragons deck that plays Dragonlord Ojutai and Dragonlord Atarka. I'll show you the whole list at the end of the article (yes, you can skip down to the bottom and pretend you read all the rest of my squeaking). The gist is:

Toxic Twins

Play these two Dragons in a Green Black shell. How? How, you say, does a Green/Black deck play dragons with Blue/White/Red mana costs? Simple.

Sylvan Caryatid


Now there's 8 utility mana sources that  double as spells. The deck typically doesn't play a ton of removal, so the plan for most decks against this is to either load up some damage creatures and race, or play Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I've even toyed with the concept of Hornet Queen out of the sideboard to deal with this deck's array of Flying Weasels. My Abzan Dragons sideboard plan can fend this deck off with Dragonlord Dromoka which, surprisingly enough, has also won me a ton of games vs Esper and Mono Red when paired with Foul-Tongue Invocation.

I don't know. I just don't know. I'm practicing with both sideboard plans, mainly because Esper and GB Dragons is so hard to deal with that I need to know which sideboard gives me the best chance. It may be a coin flip on the morning of the Grand Prix. I don't have anything conclusive to recommend either option at this point.

Let's move on to boring stuff about me and my last minute efforts to stomp face in Providence.

What does training for a Grand Prix mean? For me, there's a ton of stuff I have to practice, a lot of which has zero to do with actually playing the game. Here's some of the weird crap I'm doing to prepare:

  • Practicing my shuffle and hand moves. I don't want to look like some po-dunk rube at his first Big City Dance. I have to at least be able to shuffle consistently, quickly and thoroughly. Without dropping cards. I really am terrible at this stuff, especially dealing cards in neat piles. It's not that I lack for practice. I come from a long line of card playing Canucks. I was taking a beating at 5 card draw while other kids were learning what sound the cow makes (It's MOOO. I know that one).
  • Practicing sideboarding. I mean really sideboarding with physical cards. That may sound dumb but I am terrified I will get careless and somehow get docked a game for having 59 cards, or not having my correct 60 at the start of the match. I also don't want to be 'Grampa Sideboards and His Slow Motion Card Swapping Show' while Ricky T Magicwinner is sitting there with his seven cards in hand, sighing and rolling his eyes. (He goes MOOO too. I know he does).
  • Not eating and drinking. Ever. All day long. Believe it or do, I hardly eat or drink at work, even come lunch time. I frequently go the whole day on one granola bar and maybe a few sips of water. So, this one isn't that bad. I know I won't be sitting across the table from Albert T. Topdeck with my stomach making noises because it's so used to being empty (the sound it makes? You guessed it! MOOOO!). Plus I'll have my 'second' there with me, watching my backpack full of between round goodies. I'll trade anyone there for some Hydrox, BTW.
  • Extended focus training. Keeping my brain used to long complex tasks with both positive and negative feedback response. 9 rounds is hella long, fool. That's like... 26 hours in one day or something.
  • Emotional centering. Unlike Center Soul which sucks, this is going to be very helpful. Everything in my life is over the top stressful right now, and so losing a card game due to a misplay when I should have won seems trivial, but in the heat of the moment I must have my mantra to bring me back to normal emotional operating parameters. "Pandas and Garlic, Dice for the Craven." It means nothing. Literally nothing. I like what it does when I repeat it though.
  • Visualization. I am spending many hours picturing what it will be like holding that big check and trophy, screaming "I BEAT YOU ALL!!!" into a toy microphone. Then I visualize what happens next. The GP starts and I lose 4 matches off the bat. Seriously though, you need to allow yourself the permission to win in your mind before you can win in real life. Or some such hokum.
  • Physical Exercise. Yup. Skipping that and just saying I did it.
  • Practicing my "Thoughtseize Face". But giving and receiving. One is (0)v(0) and the other is --v--. You pick what you think fits these situations. I'm not going with the classing 'guy with melting hands' look. Although...
  • Buying sunglasses and growing a shiny 70s mustache. Appearance is 99% of the game. I have a leather jacket. Do you?
  • Inventing new handshakes that say 'shame on you for tapping out', 'topdecking is a skill'. Can't underestimate good sportsmanship. Good sport when I win, man it's ship when I lose. Especially to girls.
  • Getting plenty of rest without becoming soft to handle lack of sleep. In other words, I sleep at work, then stay up all night playing MtGO 2 mans. Useful. Useful.

You get the idea. Transitioning back to paper - which I don't play as often anymore due to a general distrust of things outside of my own home - is a process.

A few more important things I'm doing to be sure I don't gimp myself at my first tournament ----- As I said, I'm bringing a 'second'. This is the guy I trust to have my back, watch my stuff, keep me emotionally level and make sure no one is signaling my opponent from behind me. My main man Pete. Pete's that guy who has $2,000,000 in comic books, a complete set of power 9 from beta, a huge mansion of a home, a beautiful wife, no kids, the body of an Adonis, and actually knows 10 forms of martial arts beyond the ken of normal men. That and he's hilarious and LOUD.

Pete is the kind of guy you tell "hey Pete, I'm entering my first GP in Magic tha Gathering. I need a dude to follow me around and be cool". And Pete says "Hell yeah! Give me the dates!" Pete's the kind of guy that gives people free collectibles and actually enjoys making folks happy about it. Pete's the guy you take first pick in the Zombie Apocalypse Draft. SNAP PICK! If you're going to compete in a big tournament, get yourself a Pete. If you can't find one, rent one. Don't settle for a Doug (fat dude in sweatpants with hot dog grease in his hair, bad breath and a fatalistic view on life and your chances at the tournament). No Dougs. It's a rule.

So, I'm all trained, lubed up, got my Samurai Second and a used car's worth of Magic Cards. I have my pre-register, my deck list, my attitude, sunglasses, stalks of wheat, cherry bombs, Chuch Knoll Teddy Bear, roasted lamb kabobs and my bald eagle cape. I'm ready. I can't help feeling there's something I'm forgetting...

Meh, must not be important.  Time for a little pre-tournament Q&A with CalmLittleBuddy!

How are you approaching this Grand Prix? Are you taking it as a learning experience?

No. I'm going there to play my best and win it all. I spent too much time, money and whatever else one spends on a Grand Prix to walk away with 'a good experience'. It's win or I will refuse to learn a damn thing from it.

Aren't you setting your expectations a bit high? Magic is a game of high variance.


Nope. It's a game where whoever is the best player always wins. I'm going to be the best player for those 2 days. I won't lose a single match.

Okay. Uhhhh. Are you nervous?


Hell yeah. If I don't win I'm removing an eyeball as punishment. You'd be nervous too!

What will you do or say if you face a Hall of Fame magic tha Gathering Player at the GP?

Noble Benefactor

I will keep my mouth shut. If I win I'll shake hands. If I lose I'll still shake hands, but I ain't going to lose, see? I don't care who's across the table. I'm going to fake it til I make it and pretend I've done this before.

What if you are in a Feature Match?

Pressure Point

Uhhh, this is Grand Prix Providence. I don't think there's going to be any real coverage except articles. If there is camera coverage, no worries. I'll have my shades and my mustache to help out. Same deal as above. It will get no reaction from me. I'm not going to be the wild eyed nobody when the spotlight hits.

Let's say you don't win, but place in the prize money, or even top 8. Good enough?

Villainous Wealth

How much prize money and does it get me on a professional team's radar? If it pays for the deck and gets me a look from a cool group of players, then I'm fine with that. Especially a top 8 would probably satisfy my competitive nature, unless it's top 8 with a blowout where I lose due to being a rock almond idiot. That I will not take well.

Seem like you're backing off the 'win or die' rhetoric. What is your real goal?

Desperate Charge

Honestly, I want to make as few mistakes as possible and only make those mistakes out of ignorance or pressure. I don't want to make my usual dumb 'wasn't thinking' mistakes. If I play the whole tournament mistake free and miss the second day, I can live with that. For real. I just want to play my best.

Do any of your friends/family members know you're playing a fantasy card game tournament for money?

Herald of Torment

Some. My family on my side knows. My real friends know. My wife knows. A few coworkers who think I'm cool beans no matter what I do know. I'm not advertising it on Facebook or some nonsense like that. I love the game. Don't feel like exposing myself to idiots whose only goal is to make the game look silly or immature.

Will you keep writing articles for when this is over?

Scroll of the Masters

Hell yes. Maybe a little shorter articles at a slower pace, with a more varied theme, but I love writing.  Especially when I think someone got a laugh out of it.

What do you plan to do next after this Grand Prix, as far as Magic the Gathering is concerned?

Future Sight

This next year will be entirely focused on the MOCS (Magic Online Championship Spaceship). I'm never going to be rich enough or free enough to grind paper tourneys for club points. Hey, if I win it all two weeks from now, maybe I make a go of it. If my other house sells (yes, I actually have two houses. It's waayyyyy less fun that it sound when you can only afford to live in one of them), and if the adoption goes through, maybe then if I'm still hitting on all cylinders I make a run for it while I'm in my 40s, but I honestly don't think that's happening. I'll tell you this, whatever comes next it ain't 'casual' or EDH Commander or crap like that. Doesn't do it for me. I need that action.

And of course the most important question: what would you do differently if you got to do it all again?

Past in Flames

Most importantly, I would not have purchased any paper cards until three weeks before the tournament. Too many sets came out in between, too many cook decks, too many great cards were added. I paid about $200 for cards I will not be playing come June 20th. I did it this way for a reason, I wanted to have all the Abzan options available right up until the day of the tournament. What is someone finds a new role for Wingmate Roc that requires me to play Sorin, Solemn Visitor? I have them. What if I realize Abzan Aggro is going to be better than Control? I can play that.

I would have set clearer expectations for folks who know me as far as the time I have to commit. I wanted more play time than I got, and even as such folks thought I was becoming too focused on a game. I would be very clear this this is temporary, but necessary and very important to me. It felt as if folks did not respect the time required to prepare, and that's my fault for not explaining it.

I would play a few smaller events during the winter (two and three months before the GP). I really should have gotten my feet wet with smaller tournaments first. BUT, as I've stated, that was not the point of this experiment. This was supposed to be a total immersion experience. No buffering. ALL at once. I want to prove it can be done and done well.

I would have held off my deck choice until the last set released as well. Although I am very happy with Abzan Control and probably would have gone with it anyways, I think it would have been better to wait. What if Abzan became like Jeskai? I've always said I love Jeskai and played that first in the new format, but I'm under no brainwash about it. It's slightly worse than the other top decks. At least with Abzan Control, I had a pretty good idea that it would be good 4 months after I chose it. Of course, once Theros rotates out, it may lose just enough pieces to fall off. But I was reasonably sure it would still be very powerful. Next time though I think I'd be a bit more cautious as Abzan Control definitely got close to being worse than the other top decks. Close, but it hung on. Thanks Den Protector!

A card I totally skipped over during my review of DTK. I smart!

I'm sure I'll have plenty more regrets and things I wish I did different after the GP, so this topic is far from exhausted.

Okay, you've been patient enough. I guess I'll reward y'all with a look at that GB Dragon's deck.




Wow. That's a spicy meatball! What's this do? There's no fancy combo here. The plan is to ramp into Dragons. Not all GBD decks play the Dragonlord Silumgar, but hey might as well right? There's also a bit more removal in this version than some I have seen. Again, if you're playing 5 colors, might as well get everything. This deck rips through midrange decks and can make some control decks fold too. It's a great foil to Esper Dragons, keeping ED from dominating. It rocks the full Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor package as well, so other megamorph decks don't gain a heavy advantage.

With 4 Den Protectors and 4 Haven of the Spirit Dragon, the game is never over, as you can just dig through the graveyard for what you need. I've toyed with throwing a Sidisi, Undead Vizier into the mix as a one of, making most of our crucial cards available out of one extra slot. There's a lot of creature that make fine exploit targets, so hey why not?

You can see the board has a lot of hate for aggro decks. There are going to be games where the mana refuses to cooperate early on, and that spells disaster versus Mono Red, Abzan Aggro. If UB Control ever comes back in fashion, that looks like a bad matchup for this deck as well. Every deck has weaknesses.

If you're interested in playing this deck, you are in luck. It's very popular. It's been in a ton of videos and deck techs, so happy searching.

Okay that's going to do it for me. Not sure if I will have time to write an article this coming week. If not, wish me luck and I will see you on the other side!

Until the next time.



I hope you do keep them by Paul Leicht at Wed, 06/10/2015 - 13:14
Paul Leicht's picture

I hope you do keep them coming CLB because your articles are among the funniest, most entertaining in the magic scene. Good luck in Providence.

Very much appreciated! I by CalmLittleBuddy at Wed, 06/10/2015 - 23:36
CalmLittleBuddy's picture

Very much appreciated! I don't get as many comments as most writers do so sometimes I'm tapping the mic and asking"Is this ting on?" As long as one or two people get a chuckle I'm always going to keep going.

I suspect your lack of by Paul Leicht at Thu, 06/11/2015 - 01:26
Paul Leicht's picture

I suspect your lack of commentary is a matter of not being as overtly controversial rather than not being interesting. In my own articles my experience has been that something I thought would be innocuous is what set off a chain of commentary where when I thought Id hit a nail on the head: Crickets. Yeah writing is like that. Keep going and don't stop dude.

Keep it up by Pujols_Teh_Destroyer at Thu, 06/11/2015 - 12:10
Pujols_Teh_Destroyer's picture

As an online Pauper advocate, but a paper Standard player, I love your articles.

They've provided entertainment while I'm at work (need distractions from the boss) as well as insights on how to play certain matchups/decks. Your videos are good and your content is great.

Keep it up and we'll keep enjoying it.

Thanks for writing and good luck in Providence.

Wow! Such an outpouring of by CalmLittleBuddy at Thu, 06/11/2015 - 14:49
CalmLittleBuddy's picture

Wow! Such an outpouring of support. Seriously, I didn't know if anyone read this or just skimmed it, or enjoyed. Glad to know folks really do get some fun and entertainment out of it.


I want you to crush this by Procrastination at Mon, 06/15/2015 - 19:48
Procrastination's picture

I want you to crush this event so I can say "The GP Champ? That bum owes me 10 tickets!" :)

Good luck this weekend! Here are a few other "tips" for you going to a first big paper event:

Only take what you need: You are going there to play, so only take what you need to play. Don't bother with a trade binder if you are there to play. Just take your deck, a pen & paper, a few dice for counters, and maybe a small amount of snacks. The less you have to worry about, the more you can concentrate on the game. (I picked up a smaller messenger bag just for events like this. Limited space to carry things and small enough to set comfortably on my lap while playing.)

If the TO has a seating app, download that ahead of time: Again, the less to worry about the day of, the better.

Count YOUR Deck Before You Present: If you know you presented 60 cards, it's harder for an opponent to try for a drop card cheat.

Count Your Opponents Deck Each Game: Keeps them honest too. Don't take forever, but make sure it's at least 60 cards each game.

Call Judges...A Lot: Don't be afraid to. You'd be surprised the odd rules disputes that might happen, so just raise the hand.

Stay Hydrated and eat if you can: I know you seem ok without it, but it's important for keeping your mind sharp. I like plain almonds as a snack since they don't leave a residue on the hands. A couple of those Quaker granola bars are nice as a sugary boost that can go down in a few bites.

Also, if you have the time and money, play in Friday grinders. I've found it helps take a little bit of the edge off and if you can win byes, that's great for your goal.

Don't forget to have fun too.

Go get'em.

- Gio

You need to give me times by CalmLittleBuddy at Mon, 06/22/2015 - 08:07
CalmLittleBuddy's picture

You need to give me times that you might be on then I can get ya them damn tickets! lol

All good advice. I have most of that listed but the presenting and counting etc I haven't strictly followed. It is good advice but I was so nervous I forgot to count between games.

Thanks as always. Next article is going up soon.