I was all ready to write about a UB Control list for Modern that used cards like Dig Through Time and a bunch of removal and counters to win, but then I went and Top 8ed a Grand Prix and qualified for the Pro Tour and decided that might be a better story to talk about.
So here we are.
Before we even went to Grand Prix Orlando, Melissa and I knew we were leaving for Honolulu on Monday morning. The Pro Tour was the following weekend and we were going to spend the week in Hawaii testing for the event. Our flight was at 6:30 in the morning on Monday, so with the way things ended up we basically had to get everything done that we needed to before Saturday morning since we would have no time after that. Were you here you could tell by the plastic bag full of dirty clothes that this did not happen; we are thankful that our hotel has laundry facilities.
I knew I wanted to play in the Grand Prix. It was a huge event merely an hour and a half away and I really liked Khans of Tarkir Limited. Aside from that, one of my best friends, Stewart Ulm, was coming down from Boston to play in the event and hang out before coming out to Hawaii with us. The event was sure to be awesome no matter how things went. Additionally, there were tons of people who I have known for years, being the Florida native that I am, some of which I see on a weekly basis as we play at the same store.
Unfortunately I had no intention of making day two.
Let me clarify that.
You see, I got into several discussions this past weekend about the distinction of "not wanting to make day two" and "having little faith in making day two." How these discussions came about is where the humor lies. You see, before the event, Melissa and I were figuring out where we would stay on Saturday night, and I came to the conclusion that we didn't really need to get a hotel unless we made day two. She agreed and it was settled: if we made day two, we would book a hotel, and if we didn't we would drive the hour and a half home on Saturday night.
Much to the dismay of the friends I went to the event with, I didn't actually bring a fresh pair of clothes or any toiletries to use were we to stay at a hotel. Judging by this, you might say that I didn't have any expectations of us making day two and needing a hotel room. You might even say that I just expected us to go play with some new cards, take our losses, and make our way home to finish preparing for our trip.
Things did not go according to that plan.
After finding out that I didn't bring a change of clothes, Melissa began accusing me of not wanting to make day two. This could not have been further from the truth. I always want to do well at any event I play in, but as you may remember from my Tilt is Toxic article, I have tried to Temper my expectations. I approached this Grand Prix with a kind of "hope for the best, expect the worst" mentality.
This mentality ended up causing us to make the hour and a half drive home after day one, take care of pets, get some food, get some sleep, then wake up and drive back to the site the next day. Considering what we were in for, it was a minor inconvenience in hindsight. Nevertheless, to say I didn't want to make day two…well, nothing could be farther from the truth. "I'm simply not a closer," remember?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.Day 1
I remember showing Bill Stead my deck before the rounds started and the first two cards he saw were Sandsteppe Citadel and Winterflame. He looked at me and laughed saying, "Look at the first two cards I see!" This was my deck in a nutshell.
When I sat down to build my pool on day one, it was all over the place. I had good cards in every color. Bear's Companion, Warden of the Eye, Dead Drop, Ivorytusk Fortress, Flying Crane Technique, Winterflame, Rattleclaw Mystic, Treasure Cruise, Sultai Charm, Abomination of Gudul, Abzan Guide…the list went on and on. In fact when Melissa looked at the rest of my pool, the cards I didn't play, she said, "Well, you don't have any other playables, so it's nice to know you're playing every good card you opened."
I couldn't actually build a three color deck of any sort without giving up 60% of my best cards. With eight nonbasic lands in my pool, we were going deep. Five color deep…and Trail of Mystery was the glue holding it all together. Seriously, that card was my MVP all day. It did everything you wanted to do in this format: fix your land so that you can cast your spells, draw cards (albeit lands), and give your morphs additional value. I only played seven morphs in the deck, but that was plenty enough to get the Trail of Mystery rolling every time I had it. I lost one match on day one to Ari Lax in my only on-camera feature match. The luck, amirite?
I kept rattling off win after win, often on the back of huge creatures or Flying Crane Techniques. I remember the very last round of day one, my opponent cast Icy Blast during my upkeep tapping down all my creatures. It was at that moment I knew the match was mine. Before even looking at the card I drew, I tapped all my land and cast Flying Crane Technique, untapping all of my guys, and giving them flying and double strike. This was how a lot of my matches went, but often not so elegantly.
With the deck requiring so many different colors of mana, the one thing I didn't want to lose to was Mana Screw. This coupled with the fact that at the Community Cup we discussed that this felt like an 18 land format, I ended up playing 18 lands throughout the day. The caveat? I also played 41 cards. The reason for this was that I like playing an extra land for consistency, but I also don't want to shave a card off when I had 23 very playable cards. By playing 41 cards we increase our odds of drawing enough lands, but we also manage to keep all the cards we wanted to play intact. I'm not a math guy so I can't tell you exact numbers, but 18/41 and 23/41 is slightly better in my opinion than 18/40 and 22/40.
Either way, the strategy seemed to work out for me throughout the day as I only lost one match in the entire tournament. By the end of the ninth round I was ready to draft.Day 2
I came into day two knowing I was in a great position with only one loss, but I was really just happy to have made it this far. Appreciate what you've got, ya know? I sat down in my first draft pod with eight unknown players (in so much as I did not know who they were) including eventual winner Eugene Hwang.
My first deck was kind of all over, but I'm pretty sure it was a signal issue. I first picked a Master of Pearls because the card is extremely powerful. I also think white is the strongest color in the set for Limited. I was then passed…a Sagu Mauler. For those that don't know, this card is bonkers. I'm still not sure how I got it as a second pick. I ended up being Abzan and opening a High Sentinels of Arashin as well, so my deck had plenty of power along with cards like Kill Shot, Abzan Charm, Sultai Flayer, Feat of Resistance, and two Ruthless Ripper. I also ended up splashing blue as I was conveniently able to pick up one allied-with-blue dual land in each of my colors (one Dismal Backwater, one Thornwood Falls, and one Tranquil Cove). This made my blue splash pretty easy and the only cards I included were Sagu Mauler, Set Adrift, and an Abomination of Gudul (two of which, the morph creatures, were barely blue cards).
I played against Eugene in my first round of day two (round ten) and I ended up beating him in two games. Round eleven I was paired down against someone who took a draw in the last round. I won that match and played against the other undefeated player in our pod for round twelve. Needless to say I ended up 3-0 with the deck and was feeling pretty good about how I could end up here. While I was under no allusions that I was going to make the Top 8, I was confident that I could definitely make some money.
When the seatings for the second draft went up, I realized I was in Pod 1. This pod had Melissa DeTora, Harry Corvese, Sol Malka, Michael Dalton, Tom Ross, Gabriel Rogasner, and Daniel Reyes. Basically all of the players who were sitting at the top of the standings, including myself.
I ended up first picking Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and never really looking back. I put together a pretty solid Sultai deck but there was a part of me that wanted to splash the pack three Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker I opened off of my two Bloodfell Caves. Despite doing well with four and even five color decks earlier in the event, the deck with only three colors felt strong enough and I managed to keep my greed in check.
With Melissa in the same pod as me, a couple things had to go right. First we had to win our matches. Then we had to dodge one another until the third round. Magically (zing!) things worked out perfectly. After round two we were both 2-0: the only undefeated players left in our pod. I doubt this scenario could ever be recreated, what with us having only one loss through fifteen rounds and not having to play one another until the very last round.
We checked the pairings just to make sure, and sure enough we were paired against one another. We were in first and second place going into the last round.
This conveniently allowed us to draw with one another into the Top 8! We had both just gone undefeated in the draft portion of Grand Prix Orlando and it felt pretty sweet.Top 8
Waiting for the last round to complete was somewhat grueling. Despite being an absolute lock for the Top 8, you still worry. Once the Top 8 announcement was made over the loud speaker it was this weight lifted off my shoulders…
"In first place with 40 points…Frank Lepore! In second place, also with 40 points…Melissa DeTora!"
Even after drawing in the last round we were still in first and second place. It was a great feeling, let me tell you. Everyone got organized, we filled out our player profiles which you can find here, then we sat down to draft for the final time of the weekend.
I opened a Abzan Ascendancy and while I don't like committing to a multi-color card like this in pack one, the Ascendancy is one of the strongest cards you can open. I then kept snatching up all of the cheap Abzan and Mardu creatures I could get my hands on, especially if they had deathtouch. In the end I felt like my deck was actually pretty solid; I even had another High Sentinels of Arashin, which is clearly my spirit animal.
Alas, my victory was simply not meant to be. I sat down opposite of Artur Villela and we played two uneventful games. The first game I mulled to six and drew nine lands to two spells. The second game I fought back a little harder but ultimately lost to his seven mana flier, a Venerable Lammasu. Dig as I might, I simply couldn't find an answer to the flier despite having about five in my deck.
I didn't even mind. I played great Magic all weekend, I made it farther than I expected I would, I won $1,000, I qualified for the Pro Tour, and I earned my first four pro points ever. This weekend brought me more than I could have ever expected. Oh, and Melissa made it all the way to the finals, earning herself a Finalist trophy.
Which I promptly stole…
I've been playing this game for almost 20 years now. Week after week I bring you guys videos and try to show off unique decks, innovative decks, and I try to entertain you while I do it. I have become something of a "personality" in the game, yet I have wrestled with actually being good at it, being a "pro," for a long time. Heck, You can see from the story I just illustrated that I wrestled with up until Saturday morning, where I didn't pack any clothes because I just assumed we would be coming back home.
And yet here I am. I get to play on the Pro Tour. I have pro points. I played in a 2,300 player event and I planted myself at the top of the standings. I accomplished something that I not only never thought I could do, but something that I've tried to do for years; something that I wrote about not even six months ago in an article that addressed the fact that I didn't really consider myself a "pro."
And yet here I am.
I want to thank everyone who had a hand in helping me get here: the best friends, the significant others, the readers and followers that support me week after week. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Without you, it doesn't even matter how well I do, and I mean that.
This has been the best year of my Magic career by a large margin. I won a TCGplayer Diamond Open, I was selected for the 2014 Magic Online Community Cup, and I just Top 8ed a Grand Prix.
I don't actually know…but I can't say I'm not eager to find out.
Thank you so much for reading and for being there these past four years. Hopefully I can keep surprising you as much as I'm able to surprise myself.
Frank Lepore@FrankLepore on TwitterFrankLepore on TwitchTV