It is not news that Grand Prix Las Vegas featuring Modern Masters 2015 will go down as the largest single magic event in history. This is an event that deserves to be talked about after the fact because of how impressive it truly was. For those that didn't manage to make it to Vegas or did make it and wouldn't mind hearing another person's experiences, I would like to relive some of my first trip to Vegas. I actually wasn't at the last Grand Prix in Vegas so this was a completely new experience. Initially I was kind of expecting the tournament to be just another Grand Prix, but boy was I wrong.
I won't go on forever about what a spectacle the Grand Prix was, but I could. The amount of vendors and players in one place was truly absurd. For me the tournament itself didn't go as well as I had hoped. My pool was very unexciting and the deck I came up with was Blue/Green Graft which I think is a very poor archetype in sealed, especially as I didn't have any rares. Preparing for the tournament I had done a bunch of drafts but unfortunately I didn't get the chance to use my drafting skills as I was one of the many people who missed Day 2.
Going into a two day event my best advice is that you prepare to not make it to Day 2. Even the best players miss Day 2 about half of the time so it is unreasonable to think you will get there even with good preparation, missing Day 2 is just part of the grind. Did I fly across the country just to play six rounds of magic and sulk for the rest of the trip after not making Day 2? Of course not. Vegas is the perfect destination for a magic tournament as if you are eliminated there is still plenty going on.
For me I jumped into the biggest ever poker tournament right after getting eliminated from the Grand Prix, which is called The Colossus. There were around 26,000 players in that tournament. Going to the casinos made me realize just how many gamers live in Vegas. Many are familiar with Magic but still don't know all that much about it, and it certainly could be promoted a bit more, as the gamers here certainly have the mindset to play strategy games. Just because I was eliminated from the Grand Prix didn't stop me from checking out the action on Day 2. I watched as the Top 8 was set and then saw the draft pick that was seen around the world.
For those who don't already know the magic community has been in an uproar because of a draft pick which was made in the Top 8 draft. Going into pack two professional magic player Pascal Maynard was clearly building an aggressive red/white deck. He immediately saw a foil Tarmogoyf staring at him in his second pack. The first thing I thought was that usually Grand Prix Day 2 drafts use stamped product and there are no foils, but then I realized that Grand Prix Vegas was an exception to the no foil rule, and there was a foil in each pack. Pascal took all the time he had which was less than a minute to think about whether he should take the Tarmogoyf or not, and his reaction is perhaps what makes the story so great.
I recommend re-watching the moment for anyone that missed it, but here is what happened, once again. Pascal sees the foil Tarmogoyf and immediately inspects the card to see if it is in good condition, as some foils can come out a little bit warped, which was not the case here. He then looks through the rest of the pack, and finds a Burst Lightning for his deck. Here is what was going through Pascal's mind in the few seconds he had:
- How much better will the Burst Lightning make my deck?
- How much will my chances of winning increase with the Burst Lightning in my deck?
- Then, of course, what is the value of this Tarmogoyf?
- Is there something inherently wrong with taking a card that you know is the incorrect pick?
Pascal has been given a fair amount of grief for not prioritizing winning over money, but I believe as a whole we as a community do support his decision, and that is a relief.
With all of these thoughts going through Pascal's mind, he went ahead and grabbed the Burst Lightning, held it up as if he was going to take it, but then went back and took the Foil Tarmogoyf. I believe in terms of a value standpoint he made the correct pick. If Wizards didn't want this to happen they shouldn't have had foils in the packs, or they could have raised the prize pool, since there were so many players. As it was, a foil Goyf was thought to be a few hundred dollars, and that was enough for Pascal to take it. What makes the situation so interesting is that the Backlash he has gotten has put extra attention on this one specific card, and how it is different from any other card. While this was not his intention, the whole situation actually drove the price of the Foil Tarmogoyf itself to an extreme amount on eBay, and he ended up selling the Foil Tarmogoyf for more than $14,000: more than three times the amount of the first place prize of the Grand Prix.
One thought of many is whether Wizards planted the foil Tarmogoyf to draw more attention to the pick. This to me is unclear. Either way as of now I do believe Pascal taking the Foil Tarmogoyf will go down as the most memorable draft pick ever. This story has gotten a lot of attention and many pros have weighed in, but in my opinion Pascal didn't do anything wrong.
Moving on, there was another Magic tournament in Las Vegas the weekend after the Grand Prix. Being an invitation-only event, the TCGplayer Invitational didn't have nearly as many competitors as the Grand Prix, yet the prize pool was very generous. This was the first large MaxPoint event I have played in, and it exceeded my expectations. The level of competition at the TCGplayer Invitational was extremely high, and it felt like there were a lot of the best players in the world at the event. I knew that with the SCG Invitational being the same weekend there would be other players prepping for that Invitational that could give me some advice. As it turned out everyone playing this past weekend on Team TCGplayer ran Green/Red Devotion, including my good friend Chris Fennell, who won the tournament. Green/Red Devotion is a deck that I wrote about last week as well, but here is the current list I recommend, and the deck that got me into the Top 16 of the event:
The credit for the list goes primarily to Brad Nelson, as he is the Standard guru of our team, and he won week six of the Standard Super Series with a very similar list. Green/Red Devotion has gone from being completely off the radar, to now being the most popular deck in Standard at the moment. So what metagame shifts have caused this? All flavors of Abzan, and specifically the Abzan Megamorph decks, remain extremely popular and are mainstays of this Standard format. Green/Red feasts on all the midrange decks, and also has a good matchup against Monored Aggro. In fact, there aren't many decks that Green/Red Devotion has trouble with. The worst matchup is likely heroic, which isn't seeing much play right now. Control isn't great for you, but as evidenced by Chris Fennell's victory in five games over perhaps the greatest Esper Dragons pilot on the planet, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, the matchup is pretty close.
This list focuses on having a high density of threats, and keeping the devotion count up as much as possible. There are literally no spells that aren't permanents in the maindeck. Cards like Crater's Claws are sweet but ultimately not necessary. Not all Green Devotion lists have Deathmist Raptor, but they are great against control; having another blocker for Siege Rhino is important, as well as another three-drop. The deck does play four Rattlecaw Mystic and Whisperwood Elemental, so returning Deathmist Raptor isn't too difficult. Perhaps the card that stands out the most though are the Hornet Queens. Just because there are Dragonlord Atarka's doesn't mean there can't also be Hornet Queens. There are some decks that basically just can't ever beat a Hornet Queen, and with Genesis Hydra, finding one is usually possible. My sideboard has a bit more hate for Blue/Black Control with an extra copy of Nissa, Worldwaker and a Reclamation Sage, as I was metagaming against cards like Perilous Vault, which I knew could be an issue in such a small tournament if people showed up with them.
The tournament was swingy. Sometimes it is easy to think, "Oh, you know what? I'm 1-2. I should probably just drop from the event, and find something else to do." This was the exact situation I was in, at 1-2 though I realized that I still had a very real chance to make Day 2, which would lock me for cash. Round four I was paired against William Jensen who is a player who I have a lot of respect for. Even at my level it is easy to get nervous, and that is what happened. These nerves compounded and I ended up feeling like I was making every play incorrectly, yet I still won. This match taught me a lot, and I hope to use what I learned moving forward. The first thing that every player should already know is that anyone can beat anyone else in a given match of magic, so it is important not to get flustered or think about the caliber of player you are up against too much, just play your own game in other words. As it turned out I won round four and after that I started to regain my confidence; things broke my way so that I won all the rest of my rounds on Day 1 of the event.
I ended up having a solid Day 2, and made Top 16 at the TCGplayer Invitational, which was good for a good chunk of cash. This was exactly the ending to the Vegas trip I was looking for. Of course I went out and celebrated with Chris Fennell as we blew money on three card poker, roulette, and craps. What do you expect, it's Vegas! This was truly an experience unlike any other and it has helped reinvigorate my love for the game after seeing how many Magic players attended the Grand Prix.
Thanks for reading,