Austin just returned home after a solid performance at Grand Prix Vancouver! How did he finish, and what did he learn about the new limited format?
Last weekend I attended GP Vancouver, the first limited Grand Prix since the release of Oath of the Gatewatch. Originally I planned to skip the event, but several friends convinced me to come along, so I bought a relatively cheap plane ticket from Los Angeles merely 4 days before the event. Part of the reason I decided to go was that I’d done a few practice drafts and sealed pools in the weeks between the prerelease and GP and really enjoyed the format. I ended up getting sick of triple-BFZ pretty fast last season, and in my opinion OGW improves on the set in several ways:
- The colors are much more balanced. Unlike in BFZ, where I wanted to avoid green and white whenever possible, I am happy drafting just about any color combination.
- The synergy decks got worse. In mono-BFZ it was often beneficial to force an archetype like UR Devoid or BW Lifegain, because while the individual card power level wasn’t as high, the sum of its parts was far greater than anything an “average” deck could accomplish. This was also part of why green was so bad in BFZ; all of its cards were just medium curve-fillers and it had almost no payoffs for the truly great archetypes.
- The overall power level of cards improved. This goes hand in hand with the synergy point, because the lack of busted combo engines means that a reasonable body like Broodhunter Wurm can actually pull its weight.
You might notice that I mention green specifically in all of these points. I played green in all three of my decks at GP Vancouver (sealed and both draft decks), and I think it is by far the most-improved color from BFZ to OGW. Not only did it get reasonable common/uncommons from the new set, but several cards from BFZ like Unnatural Aggression and Broodhunter Wurm got way better, by virtue of the format shifting and the cards around them getting better. I don’t think it is the best color in the format by any means (black probably holds that distinction), but I am perfectly happy drafting it if the cards are there. Plus, this early in the format, people might still be hesitant to draft it highly because it was held in such low regard in the last format…in both of my Day 2 drafts at the GP, the color was wide open and my decks ended up being very good.
Want to hear how the tournament itself went? Here is my mini-report!
Day 1: Sealed (7-2)
My sealed pool was pretty good, with green, blue and black giving me plenty of playables to work with. I almost registered G/B, which would have given me a good aggressive curve with several Slaughter Drones and double Essence Depleter, the latter of which is INSANE in sealed by the way. In the end I ended up U/G, giving me a few quality bounce spells and good fliers, including a Sphinx of the Final Word which is unbeatable in a long game. Combined with my World Breaker and Plated Crusher in the seven slot, I felt pretty good about my chances if the game went long enough. Here is that deck:
I went 7-2 on Day 1 (including my two byes). My first loss was to a friend from LA in round 4. I won Game 1 after landing my hexproof Sphinx against his grindy U/B deck. I lost Game 2 after stalling on 6 mana for several turns with two seven-drops in my hand, but I made a small mistake early in the game that ended up costing me the chance to make a comeback. Game 3 I mulliganed into a two-lander and failed to find my third land in time. In round 7 I got crushed by an excellent R/W Aggro deck that I don’t feel too bad about losing to. He had three Isolation Zones, three Goblin Freerunners and a hyper-fast curve with plenty of two-drops and combat tricks.
My most memorable victory on Day 1 was against a R/B Aggro player. I was at 10 life facing down a Cinder Hellion and a 2-power flier. I knew the only shot I had to win the game was to bounce the Hellion two turns in a row and try to race, hoping he had no other action. A couple turns later, I made a bluff attack with two 3/3’s into his board of Cinder Hellion and another sizeable blocker. He just chumped with his flier and took the rest falling to 3, and I played my topdecked flier to represent lethal the following turn, stealing the game with just two life to spare.
I knew going 6-0 on Day 2 would put me into Top 8, but I wasn’t focused on that difficult feat just yet – I just wanted to take it one match at a time and win as many matches as I could.
Day 2: Draft 1 (2-0-1)
My first draft pod on Day 2 contained two friends from LA, four people I didn’t recognize, and PT Champion Ivan Floch. I had a tough first pick between Sifter of Skulls and Grasp of Darkness, both quality black cards. I took the rare, but it ended up not mattering which one I took because black dried up quickly to my right. I took a couple decent green cards to follow it up, then saw a fifth pick Isolation Zone, which has to just be a mistake for at least two people to my right. That card should almost never go later than 3-4th pick. I then wheeled a Nissa’s Judgment out of my original pack, at which point I knew my deck was going to be insane. By the end of the draft I had several unbeatable bombs and didn’t even need to play any of the three Saddleback Legacs I drafted!
In the first round of the pod, I played a G/W mirror match. My opponent’s deck was solid but unspectacular, and while he did steal a win in Game 2 by ramping out a turn-4 Reality Smasher, my deck easily overpowered his in the end. In between rounds, I had the luxury of consulting with my two friends who were in the pod (and unfortunately lost Round 1) to see what our potential opponents would be playing. Therefore, I knew my round 2 opponent was playing an aggressive U/R deck with lots of tricks, so I used that information to my advantage by blocking carefully and playing around the cards I knew he could have. My deck managed to do its thing and came out on top in two games.
In the finals of the pod I played against Floch, who had a decent UW deck but my deck was certainly still better. In both Games 1 and 2 he played a turn 3 Thought-Knot Seer off a Hedron Crawler. I lost Game 1 because he stripped my Planar Outburst with it, but I won the second game after I topdecked the Outburst a few turns later. Floch is known for playing deliberately but a bit slowly, and I thought about calling a judge for slow play once or twice during the match but didn’t. Unfortunately, we went to time in Game 3 when I was clearly ahead on board. He had precious few turns to find an answer to my board but wasn’t quite close to dead by turn 5. He graciously considered conceding, but decided he still could have won the game (I was pretty low in life and had no flying defense) so we drew the match 1-1-1. A disappointing result that knocked us both out of Top 8 contention, but a 3-0 in Draft 2 would still get me Top 16 and $1,000 so I had to stay sharp for the second draft.
Day 2: Draft 2 (1-2)
My second pod had Floch again, along with a few mid-level GP/PT grinders I had heard of before. I first-picked a Mina and Denn Wildborn over Grasp of Darkness, which I now regret…not only is Grasp less committal in a single color, but black is the superior color anyway (and it’s arguably just a better card to boot). I followed up with a Devour in Flames, but red dried up fast so I started taking quality green cards like Seed Guardian and Scion Summoner. I got two late Kozilek’s Translators that indicated black might be open, but pack two was kinda rough as I started fighting for black from my left. I salvaged things a bit in pack 3 but still didn’t have quite enough playables to stick to straight B/G. Luckily my fixing was pretty good with an Evolving Wilds, Cinder Barrens and Loam Larva allowing me to include a light red splash, and ironically, Mina and Denn was the worst red card of the bunch.
I lost Round 1 of the draft to the same player who crushed me with R/W Aggro in sealed on Day 1. He had a very good BW Lifegain deck with too many fliers for me to answer, though I might have won a game if I didn’t flood out after stabilizing the board. I won Round 2 against a B/R Aggro deck by curving out in both games and removing his key threats in a timely manner. The funny part about that match was when I was thinking about the potential sequence of cards he could have to punish me for racing, and decided it would have to be something very obscure like a Sparkmage’s Gambit plus a Consuming Sinkhole for exactly lethal. He showed me his hand afterwards and it contained exactly that combination…but he was stuck on only five lands! Better lucky than good.
So it all came down to the final round, playing for Top 64 and a min cash of $250. Game 1 was close, with my U/B opponent stuck on one color for a while and me trying to beat him down before he could draw out of it. He finally found a black source and started to stabilize, but I found my Essence Depleter with two colorless sources in play to finish him off a couple turns later. Game 2 was heartbreaking; I had lethal on board with an Essence Depleter, 3 colorless sources and my opponent at 6 life, but he topdecked Roiling Waters to bounce two guys and present lethal before I could kill him. Game 3 was anticlimactic as I mulled to 6 on the play and he ripped my hand apart with Mindmelter and Thought-Knot Seer, preventing me from developing any sort of board state.
I finished 10-4-1 at the Grand Prix for a disappointing 103rd place. I also had to see my teammate Eugene Hwang lose his win-and-in for Top 8 immediately after my match ended, which put a serious damper on the weekend. Regardless, I think I played pretty well throughout the event and won some tight games, but I also see plenty of room for improvement. I feel I should have won my match against Floch if I was more vigilant in watching the clock. I could have won one of my Day 1 matches if I played a little tighter and played to my outs. I came one unfortunate topdeck away from Top 64 and a decent payday, but that’s just Magic for you. Overall I’m happy with the result, and have greatly enjoyed the draft format. The colorless requirements add an interesting dimension to the format, and you can draft “normally” unlike BFZ by reading the signals and simply playing good cards in the open colors, which always gives you a fighting chance. If you see green cards floating around in the middle stages of pack one, don’t be afraid to jump in and draft it yourself – it’s absolutely capable of winning the draft.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy Oath of the Gatewatch limited for yourself!