Modern Masters 2015 is officially spoiled and has a lot going on. All around the web you will find articles about the financial value of the set, its impact on Modern, and Limited strategy advice for anyone who might be drafting or playing Sealed with the set. Today, I wanted to look at a little of that strategy, but more so in line with how it pertains to Grand Prix Las Vegas.

You see, Grand Prix Vegas is set to be the biggest Magic tournament of all time. This was also true of the last Grand Prix Vegas. I know that back then, I figured that the accomplishment was nice for the record books, but probably would not impact me all too much. I had been to big Magic events before; after all. I once competed in Pro Tour and then a Grand Prix in the same venue on back to back days when some 3,000 players gathered in Paris for the Magic Weekend. Even with that experience though, I was most certainly not prepared for Grand Prix Vegas.

Because of the sheer size of the tournament, one should approach Grand Prix Vegas a little differently than other tournaments. Showing up and treating it like any other tournament might get you through to the other side, but you might come out of it more drained and exhausted than you would like.

On the other hand, with a little bit of planning on your part, some knowledge, and a little touch of lady luck, Grand Prix Vegas can be the highlight tournament of your year! (And it's not all about where you place)


Not Your Average Tournament

At most tournaments that I attend, I tend to find some friend or group of friends and then we often meet up whenever we finish our rounds within a reasonable time. Sometimes we have a central meeting spot that players wander over to when they finish their round, but even when that isn't the case, we still tend to find each other and share our bad beat or luck sack stories with one another. This familiar space helps to keep you calm and Grounded during a tournament. It is a constant in a sea of inconsistencies.

Massive tournaments like Vegas just cannot capture this same effect. First of all, having a "meeting spot" might mean one player needs to walk some half mile or so to get from their tournament location to that area. And if you were hoping to designate a table, expect that to be Overrun by other players each and every time you return to it. During the last Vegas, I recall bumping into a few friends between rounds, but I never ran into those same friends again until we met up outside of the tournament hall.

As an additional factor, it is possible that you and your friends are in different quadrants of the tournament and therefore are not on the same round timer and whatnot.

Because of these things, the tournament can feel much more stressful. You rush from round to round and through crowds of people fighting to see pairings rather than walking over to friends and having a chat.

It is probably a good idea to form some kind of plan before the tournament starts because of this.

- Establish your meeting place with friends ahead of time and try to make it a unique one that others aren't going to be swarming over.

- Have food and water ready to go. You might end up finishing a round quickly and can wander off for some food, but in the likely event that you never have time to make it off tournament grounds, you don't want to be without fuel for your mind. Reliable snacks, or a friend who is not entering the tournament but is willing to go on food runs are both sound options here. Just don't wait till the last second to figure this out!


Build From Your Pool

All week long you are going to hear about pick orders and color evaluations from Modern Masters. Those articles are totally reasonable to read and will give you some general sense of where to go in the format. Maybe they point out some synergies that you didn't otherwise recognize or whatever.

Following that advice completely blindly is probably doing yourself a disservice though. The conclusions you come to about certain colors or cards only matters within the context of your pool. For example, saying something like five-color is bad ahead of time going into the tournament is fine. You are trying to narrow down the field a bit to focus on things you can do better with.

But, if you then show up to the Grand Prix, open a pool that very well supports five-color and has incentives for the archetype, but ignore all that because of your already-established rules, that isn't good. Vegas is an individual event and I really think the best course of action when it comes to building your deck is to be as open as possible to any and everything you can do with that pool.

Sometimes you are going to need something gimmicky to sneak past more powerful decks. Or maybe you absolutely need to splash an off-color bomb for your deck to function.

Modern Masters is a set where many of the commons and uncommons lend synergy toward a strategy or are straight up build-around cards. This means that small deviations in a pool from the norm can make an otherwise bad strategy into a good one.

Take red for example. Red has a lot of elemental synergies within the color. People might rate the color as bad because it relies too heavily upon these synergies and often comes up short. That information is nice to have, but it is important to recognize when you are the exception. Getting three or four Smokebraiders in your pool might turn a weak color into the best of your pool.

Guidelines and information are always nice to have but I sort of view Modern Masters as a Cube format where anything can happen so you should be open to the possibility yourself.


Sanity Check

At the last Grand Prix Las Vegas, I opened a pretty bad pool. A Cloudgoat Ranger was my shining star and that includes all of the rares and mythics I opened. After seeing other people's pools, I was not all that happy but figured I could still try to leverage my skill. I quickly found myself down 0-2 in matches played though.

The cards in my deck were not necessarily tricky or powerful when drawn in combination with one another. I was just casting some bad removal and mediocre creatures. Each of my opponents has been dropping bombs, Paths to Exile, and crazy artifact synergies that I could not even dream of keeping up with.

After that second loss, I decided to drop.

I can't remember many, if any tournaments I have ever dropped from before while still technically in contention for Top 8, but there I was. Basically, I was honest with myself about my chances and did a simple weighing of pros and cons.

While it is true that I could win all of my rounds from then out and place in the Top 8 or Top 16, my deck did not realistically have the chances of winning that many rounds. Every single opponent of mine would need to be mana screwed or to mulligan a bunch and while possible, the chances were astronomically small.

In addition to that, continuing to play in the tournament came with costs. It wasn't like I was weighing playing versus doing nothing. This was Vegas and I could be out doing some amazing things with friends who I had not seen in quite some time. The rounds were long and tiring and while I can totally see that all being fine while you're 5-0 and on top of the world, playing every round for your tournament life sounded just like more stress on top of everything and I just figured it best to sidestep that.

If my deck had been stronger, I could have seen slugging it out, but not with Cloudgoat and the Gang.

This is not a move I would make at any normal sized tournament, even if I had a bad deck though. I have been in 1500 person Grand Prix playing with two losses and Jarad, Golgari Lich in my deck, so I know an uphill battle. Generally I welcome them as I find I play a little bit better. You need to know context though and in this environment, with so many other opportunities available, I think preserving your sanity and enjoying Vegas is too attractive an option to pass up.


More Than Magic

Grand Prix Las Vegas will be offering all sorts of Magic for people to play. The main event might be the big draw, but side events, special events, and a plenty of spontaneous play are also going to be happening. It is easy to spend your entire weekend playing Magic if you want to.

I feel that is largely a trap though. While everyone should absolutely get their Magic on, I think it is important to remember that there are other outlets for your enjoyment. This is Vegas, after all.

As I mentioned previously, the main event can and likely will be quite draining. While the rest of your Magic playing will probably not be as stressful as the main event, the little things are going to add up and it's entirely possible that before the weekend is over, your favorite pastime might be something you actively want to avoid. In other words, a mini Burnout can easily occur.

All I would do here is caution you on focusing so much on Magic that you don't have time for other things. If you are just coming out for a weekend, perhaps you just want to sling some cards, but I know many people who have extended their trips to be able to enjoy other Vegas activities. I know I will be out there for about 6 days in total and plan on going to some shows, clubs, and buffets before the Grand Prix begins so that I can focus on the tournament should I be doing well. Having a house with a bunch of people cracking jokes and hanging out all week also should help keep stress levels down. And there's also the huge TCGplayer MaxPoint $50,000 Invitational taking place the weekend after, on June 6th and 7th.

At most Grand Prix I attend, I make sure my Saturday night is clear because the tournament tends to go long and more often than not, myself and most of my friends are still in contention. In Vegas though, I don't think that is nearly as reliable. I think making plans for Saturday night, especially later on, is a great idea. Not only are things in Vegas open late so you can do your normal 8pm routine at 11pm, but it's much more likely that some number of your friends have dropped from the tournament early.

Remember, this is likely to be something around 8000 players when all's said and done. You might have a hundred friends in the tournament and the odds are still against most of those making Day 2.


Wrap Up

All of these things contribute to your success in the tournament as well as your overall happiness. I don't mean to scare you into thinking this tournament is going to suck, because more than likely it won't, but taking what steps you can to ensure that is always a good idea.

I have been going to Grand Prix for eight years and none of them prepared me for the last GP Vegas. If nothing else, just recognize that it will be different and adapt in whatever way you feel most comfortable doing so. Maybe it means your hotel is within walking distance instead of a cab ride away or maybe it means you want to bring your significant other with you for a fun time away from the card tables (or maybe at the other card tables).

GP Vegas is just around the corner and I am looking forward to seeing many of you there! I will be playing in all of the bounty events on Thursday and Friday, so feel free to stop by and say hi or play some Sealed before things get out of hand on Saturday! Also, if you have any interest in dancing or electronic music, I will be enjoying some of what Vegas has to offer in the days leading up to the weekend and then throughout it. I would love to see some fellow mages out there with me!

Before Vegas though, Standard is really intriguing to me right now and I have a few brews I have been working on that I am excited to show off next week, so until then, thanks for reading!

--Conley Woods--