I was really excited to play in GP Orlando. I had not played a Grand Prix since Boston/Worcester back in July, and not only did I do terribly there but I also didn't enjoy playing the Modern format. Before that I attended GP Atlanta, a Theros Limited Grand Prix. I received a terrible sealed deck and couldn't win a match. I hadn't cashed a GP since March and I really wanted to do well this time. To top it all off, playing in GP Orlando would be great practice for the Limited portion of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Needless to say I was really looking forward to this GP.
My preparation consisted of doing as many drafts as possible and building a couple of sealed decks with the packs I won at the Prerelease. I was able to build one practice sealed and do about six drafts with local Tampa area players. The Friday before the tournament Frank and I binge played sealed events on Magic Online. I learned all of the morphs and combat tricks in the format and even figured out a draft strategy I liked. I was ready. Day 1
The pool I received on Saturday was pretty strong. I had powerful cards but the deck itself was very slow. My red and white were unplayable so my only choice was to play Sultai, but I had to decide between playing a three color build or a two color build with a light splash. I decided to go with the more consistent build of UB with a splash of green. I wanted to be able to cast my spells on time and I didn't want to have the 6/6/6 manabase of doom. Here's what my deck looked like:
1 Wetland Sambar 1 Jeskai Elder 2 Mystic of the Hidden Way 1 Kheru Spellsnatcher 1 Clever Impersonator 1 Necropolis Fiend 1 Pine Walker 2 Woolly Loxodon 1 Hooting Mandrills 1 Sultai Flayer 1 Abomination of Gudul 1 Sultai Scavenger 1 Shambling Attendants 1 Treasure Cruise 1 Bitter Revelation 1 Dead Drop 1 Murderous Cut 1 Rite of the Serpent 1 Disdainful Stroke 1 Throttle 1 Opulent Palace 1 Dismal Backwater 1 Jungle Hollow 3 Forest 5 Swamp 6 Island
This deck looked great and performed really well all day. The creatures were solid and I even had a bomb in Necropolis Fiend. I had some great removal spells and card draw. The green splash was really light. There were only two cards that actually required green mana and the other green cards were morphs that could be cast face down if I was missing the color. The weakness of the deck was there were too many expensive Delve cards. I figured I would naturally be able to fill up my graveyard by trading creatures and casting spells, but that wasn't always the case. Dead Drop was uncastable most of the time and the Delve creatures were super slow and clunky if you had to cast them for full mana.
I sided in Taigam's Scheming and Rakshasa's Secret in every one of my matches, and they actually worked out great. I normally would never play a card like Taigam's Scheming. It is card disadvantage and doesn't affect the board in any way. I want my cards to attack, draw cards, or kill creatures and this card did none of those things. However, Taigam's Scheming was great at filling up my graveyard which was really important in my delve deck and it also helped find my bombs in the late game. The card disadvantage never mattered if I drew my Treasure Cruise or Bitter Revelation. Rakshasa's Secret was incredible. Most of the time my opponents would be holding good spells in their hand that they couldn't cast due to their greedy manabases and Raksasha's Secret really punished them for that. Both of these cards made my deck play out much more smoothly and I was really happy that I had access to them after my game ones.
My MVP of the day (besides the obvious Necropolis Fiend) was actually Bitter Revelation. It's just a Divination, right? It actually did quite a lot in this deck. The card selection was great. I could find my missing green source or dig to my bombs or removal. More importantly it provided extra cards in my graveyard for delve. The card reminded me a lot of Foresee and that was always a high pick in limited formats.
I finished Day 1 at 8-1. My loss was to an Abzan deck with Ivorytusk Fortress, Necropolis Fiend, Herald of Anafenza, tons of removal, and very good creatures. I could have won the match but I did misplay in game one which cost me that game. I attacked with my two Sultai Flayers (one was a Clever Impersonator) into his 4/5 creature. I thought the creature was a 3/4 because I was focused on the three +1/+1 counters that it had. When I realized my mistake he had already blocked with it so I was forced to use my Murderous Cut on it so my Flayer wouldn't die. Had I cast Murderous Cut before blockers he would have taken an additional three damage. I got him to one life when he morphed an Abzan Guide and went back up to five. The game was over from there.
My wins in the sealed portion were nothing special really. I played good cards, killed things, and made some Necropolis Fiends (Clever Impersonator is good). I did win a quite a few games because of my opponents' greedy five color manabases. I won two matches due to opponents keeping hands that were missing colors and by the time they drew their lands they were too far behind. I was really happy with my decision to play two colors with a light splash and eighteen lands because I never had mana issues and was able to cast all of my spells when I wanted to. Day 2
The draft strategy I preferred was the BW Warrior Outlast deck. The deck allowed you to either be Abzan or Mardu depending on which clan was more open. I never had the chance to draft blue in the practice drafts I did so I wanted to avoid that if possible. I began the day in pod four in the feature match area, and the only name I recognized from the pod was Ben Stark.
I first picked an Abzan Charm in a mediocre pack. The only other option for me was Frontier Bivouac, but I preferred Abzan to Temur so I went with the charm. I ended up drafting a solid GW deck with a black splash.
1 Chief of the Edge 1 Smoke Teller 1 Seeker of the Way 1 Archer's Parapet 1 Jeskai Student 2 Watcher of the Roost 1 Ruthless Ripper 1 Tuskguard Captain 2 Sultai Flayer 2 Longshot Squad 1 Armament Corps 1 Hooded Hydra 1 Defiant Strike 1 Feat of Resistance 1 Kill Shot 2 Awaken the Bear 1 Abzan Charm 1 Rush of Battle 1 Throttle 2 Blossoming Sands 1 Jungle Hollow 3 Swamp 5 Forest 6 Plains
I didn't think this deck was bad, but I didn't think it was capable of a 3-0 either. I felt confident that I could 2-1 with this deck but to me it just looked like I had a bunch of dudes and combat tricks and the deck didn't do anything too powerful.
The deck actually exceeded my expectations. It had a great mana curve and was very consistent. I could get a super aggro draw with Awaken the Bear and Feat of Resistance to stop my opponent's answers, or I could stall the board against a more aggressive deck and win with huge outlast creatures. I was able to live the dream by getting five snakes off of Hooded Hydra and then cast Rush of Battle for the win. The best part about this deck was that I didn't need to draw black mana early because I only had three real black cards, with the fourth being a morph. I didn't need to have the splash color in my plan of curving out and attacking, which was awesome.
The MVPs of the deck were the two Watcher of the Roost. There aren't many early flyers in this format and the lifegain is absolutely huge in a format where everyone is casting morphs and attacking for two. There were plenty of games where I was racing and Watcher of the Roost was able to win races perfectly.
After Draft 1 I found myself in pod one along with Frank Lepore, Tom Ross, Sol Malka, and Harry Corvese. Also in the pod was my longtime friend Mike Dalton, a fellow Rhode Islander who I've been playing Magic with for 15 years. Going into this draft I wanted to force the BW deck if possible but I also wanted to leave myself open to other clans.
I first picked a Feat of Resistance. I think Feat is a great card that works really well in the BW aggro strategy. It's also fine in any white deck so I could be open to Jeskai, Abzan, or Mardu. I second picked Abzan Guide but after that the Abzan really dried up. I picked up some removal like Kill Shot and Rite of the Serpent, as well as some solid creatures like Unyielding Krumar and Mardu Hateblade, but overall the BW deck was not even close to being there in pack one.
I got rewarded in pack two by opening Siege Rhino and getting passed the solid two-drops I needed for the deck. I picked up a couple of Ainok Bond-Kin, one of my favorite white commons, as well as a Chief of the Edge and Watcher of the Roost. The deck completely came together in pack three and my forcing really paid off. I even got a thirteenth pick Rush of Battle! Here's the deck I drafted.
1 Mardu Hateblade 1 Chief of the Scale 1 Chief of the Edge 3 Ainok Bond-Kin 1 Watcher of the Roost 2 Abzan Guide 1 Woolly Loxodon 1 Mardu Hordechief 1 Alabaster Kirin 1 Siege Rhino 1 Unyielding Krumar 1 Sultai Scavenger 1 Krumar Bond-Kin 1 Shambling Attendants 1 Defiant Strike 1 Feat of Resistance 1 Kill Shot 1 Rush of Battle 1 Murderous Cut 1 Rite of the Serpent 2 Jungle Hollow 1 Blossoming Sands 1 Forest 6 Swamp 7 Plains
I should have played my second Alabaster Kirin over the Shambling Attendants. While I really like the Attendants, my deck didn't need it and it's pretty expensive. I would have rather had another evasion creature.
My plan was to not get paired against Frank in the draft. I know it's a random pairing but it would have been miserable if we had to play. Luckily I got paired against one of the other six non-Frank players, Daniel Reyes. We played a very close match. Well, the first two games were anything but close. I got a super aggro draw in game one and crushed him, and in game two my draw was slower and he played a turn four Sorin, Solemn Visitor that I couldn't deal with. Our game three was a huge nail biter. My draw was fast enough to apply a decent amount of pressure but he was able to stabilize pretty easily. I was flooded for a while and getting beaten down with a 3/3 flyer. The turn before I died I was forced to use my Rush of Battle to gain enough life to buy myself a few more turns. This put Daniel at seven, which was far from dead and he was still able to attack me for three a turn. The turn before I died I topdecked Siege Rhino which was enough to alpha strike my opponent down to two and Siege Rhino him for the win. What a close game.
I had to battle Tom Ross in my win-and-in round. Tom was playing a Temur deck with a ton of morphs and combat tricks. In each of our games we had a huge board stall which allowed me to use outlast every turn and make 7/6 first strike creatures which were eventually too much for Tom to deal with.
Frank had also won his two matches which meant that we were going to get paired up in the final round and WE COULD DRAW INTO THE TOP 8!!!! It was an incredible feeling to ID with Frank. We practiced so much together and our work actually paid off. It was Frank's first Grand Prix Day 2, first Top 8, and first Pro Tour invite, and I couldn't have been more proud of him. We were even first and second seed after the swiss rounds, how awesome is that? Top 8
I opened a Savage Knuckleblade in the first pack which was incredibly scary for me. I had never drafted blue before and didn't really know what cards I was looking for in a Temur deck. I really contemplated not picking it but in the end I just decided to go for it because it's an incredible card. I stuck to Temur throughout the entire draft despite black being incredibly open. I had to pass up a lot of powerful black cards because I was essentially forcing Temur. After the draft I had no idea if I was in the right color or if my deck was even good.
1 Embodiment of Spring 2 Smoke Teller 1 Icefeather Aven 1 Kheru Spellsnatcher 2 Snowhorn Rider 1 Savage Knuckleblade 1 Alpine Grizzly 1 Jeskai Windscout 1 Longshot Squad 1 Scaldkin 1 Bear's Companion 1 Tusked Colossodon 1 Force Away 1 Savage Punch 1 Disdainful Stroke 1 Temur Charm 2 Temur Banner 1 Temur Ascendancy 1 Incremental Growth 1 Treasure Cruise 1 Wooded Foothills 1 Rugged Highlands 2 Mountain 7 Island 6 Forest
The strategy behind the deck was to ramp into big dudes. My mana was terrible so I wanted to play the two Temur Banners for both fixing and mana acceleration. My deck had a high mana curve so I felt like I needed the Banners to bring it down a little. Embodiment of Spring was a ramp spell as well so I had a decent chance of casting my spells early.
In the quarterfinals I was paired against Ian playing Jeskai. Ian was stuck on mana in both of our games but he was still able to put up a decent fight. Unfortunately for Ian, Jeskai has few ways of dealing with Temur's giant creatures so I was able to take the match 2-0 pretty easily.
Frank lost his quarterfinal match so the dream of meeting in the finals was dead, but a Top 8 and a PT invite is nothing to be ashamed about. Frank did a great job this weekend.
I played against Sol Malka in the Semis and quickly got smashed game one to his turn three and turn four Rakshasa's Secrets, quickly putting me at zero cards to his four. I had to rely on topdecks for the rest of the game while Sol had a full grip including a Siege Rhino that I had no answer to. The next two games went a little better for me. He had no Secrets that game and my deck really came together. Snowhorn Riders were no match for Sol's tiny regenerators and the trample really got the job done in our match. On to the finals!
Every time I was shuffling up in between games I looked over at the match next to me and every time I saw Eugene Hwang's insane Mardu Aggro deck in action. I was really hoping to avoid playing against his deck in the tournament but that was not meant to be. Although I won the second game, our match wasn't really close. His deck was really good. Aggressive creatures combined with removal were just too much for me to deal with and I just couldn't keep up.
Despite the loss in the finals, I had a great weekend. I think the Khans of Tarkir Limited format is awesome. This format allows you to play anywhere from two to five colors depending on your style and I love the flexibility of it. I think I have the format down and I'm really looking forward to drafting it again at the Pro Tour next week.
I'd like to thank everyone for the support all weekend especially all of the Tampa area drafters: Ashley Sanders, John Bolt, Brennan DeCandio, Mike Bartholomew, Andrew Cramb, Shawn Mitchell, James Kerr, honorary Tampa friend Stewart Ulm, and of course Frank Lepore. It was a great weekend and my best Grand Prix finish. Now it's time for a week of testing in Honolulu for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir! Be sure to check out the coverage next week and thanks for reading!
Melissa DeTora @MelissaDeTora on twitter www.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook