This was originally written on February 11, 2019.

hm okay

it's been a couple weeks since GP jers but i suppose i should still talk about it because it went pretty well for me, all things considered. ok here goes

i told myself (as i always seem to tell myself) that i was gonna practice for this one. i was gonna do a lot of sealeds on arena

turns out my PC is a toaster and my work laptop, a mac, doesn't have nearly enough free space to partition the HD

cool, cool

so instead i did one (1) prerelease flight, bought a box at MSRP, and prayed that aaron would be available to practice the week before we left

he came over tuesday before the GP

after some confusion about what we were doing ("i thought we were just cracking packs") we played some games of sealed against each other

i beat up on him a bunch and he whines about mana or whatever i dont really remember

thurs rolls around

were leaving thurs bc theres PTQs on fri now at GPs and its the same format as the GP so its a no-brainer for me

earlier in the week a coworker id never really met asked if i was going to the GP via slack

i figured he got the info from some other coworker who told him i was going


i was like "yup" so he goes "can i ride and room w you"

i was like "sure floor space in the hotel is $20 to the 3 of us and we'll figure out gas on the way down" kid says "sure" and so he was locked in

kids name is caleb, he just moved to cuse to work for TCG. 24 years old

he was late getting back to the office where aaron was picking us up so that was a nice treat from the dude neither of us barely knew

all things considered he was not an idiot tho

kinda reckless w his life at 24 but not more than i was at that age, which is to say he is 1% more reckless w his life than i am with mine now

on the way down he asks me who i think the best player in the office is and i snap off sped immediately and he snickers and start to give me a little pushback

"ive seen him play and nothing he did ever jumped out at me"

"if sped was stupid enough to practice magic and actually go to tournaments he would be back on the PT in 6mos"

i've heard the phrase "when dealing with someone younger than you, be who you needed when you were younger" more than once, and as it turns out, i benefitted greatly from people telling me that i was stupid and wrong

so as far as im concerned im just paying it fwd

we asked caleb if he was pre-reg'd and he said "nah ill take care of it tomorrow at the site"

aaron in particular was concerned about this

"dude i will pull up the site for you so you can pre-reg"

caleb eventually agreed to pre-reg for the next day's PTQ as a placating measure

eventually we got the the hotel, where jon gardner from THE Team Top Deck is waiting for us

we do some practice sealeds in the lobby, where i dunk caleb into the toilet in a handful of non-competitive yet satisfying games

after the thousandth premature GG handshake offer from me he tilts off and goes back to the room

aaron, jon, and i stay and open another sealed pool, talk through choices etc and then go back up to the room and sleep

friday we get to the site and at the prize wall there are a couple 8 1/2x11 sheets of paper hung, all printed w the same messaging:


at this point i am loling while caleb is going full platoon NOOOOOO in the lobby in front of god and the prize wall staff

turns out caleb can still LCQ his way into the GP (lmao imagine qualifying... for a GP) so he signs up for that but assures us he'll just win the PTQ bc hes one of those ppl



aaron, jon, and i sit down in the event hall to do a practice build before the PTQ

in a fortuitous twist of fate david pargh is around and hijacks the entire process

we chat about a bunch of cards and the sealed build ends up being really, really helpful for my understanding of the cards

i get a pretty awful PTQ pool w/ two rare lands and a foil kaya

my deck contains one rare but its domri, chaos bringer

i get paired r1 against adam yurchick, who i met at gencon last year

for magics 25th anniversary gencon did a bunch of tournaments that Q'd for a beta rochester draft and they all gave out cupcakes at the player meeting so he brought the entire TCGplayer booth cupcakes all weekend because he is just an awesome dude

his sweet dovin's acuity sealed deck stomped me flat and then he was like "hey you probably didnt see my email from yesterday given that you're here but do you have TCGplayer sleeves"


also we're probably not making sleeves because why would we

seth/bbd/corey all have to use the KMC pro team sleeves and GPs dont have video coverage anyway and we cant sell sleeves because were a marketplace not a store so we cant compete with our own sellers so yeah no reason for us to re-up on sleeves, sorry man

"no big deal. man, things are really changing in magic, huh?"

you said it buddy

r2 i get beat by a nervous guy i perceived to be bad

by this point im kinda curious just how badly i screwed up my deck

luckily david was in the vicinity and he pointed out to me that i messed up by about 6 spells and elucidated what makes balancing colors so important in this sealed and why building two base colors and splashing a third is pretty much always the play even if you get more power by splitting 3 colors more evenly

from there i 3-0d to finish 3-2 and win 10 packs

found out along the way that caleb washed out of the PTQ and an LCQ and that his gf was coming to pick him up

let him know that he didn't need to worry about paying for the room or the gas and wished him a safe trip

had a couple (read: 2) drinks and dinner (BBQ) and got to bed kinda late

woke up the next day feeling fine, went down to the site and ran into brendan mckay and chris pikula and they were like "wanna go get coffee" and i said sure even though i dont drink coffee because i havent seen brendan in a while

after registering their shock that theres no sbux nearby we settle on going to the hotel next to the convention center and get coffees at their continental bfast

you can probably guess what happened next

chris: "how the hell do we pay for this"

great question!

brendan asked the help but the woman he asked didn't speak any english

after convincing chris not to just leave two bucks on the counter just for some rando to take, we left, 20c worth of coffee in tow (between the 3 of us)

i break off w them to find aaron and jon and settle for standing in the sleep-in special line to build my deck. it was set up weirdly. the judges probably did a fine job w the hand they were dealt but it was a bizarre waiting process. you're not here to hear about lines though

i open my pool and build jund first and its pretty medium

then a pile of stuff david pointed out yesterday bubbles to the surface of my mind and i build bant

its a lot better but has one pretty glaring weakness: no removal

i register bant but also sleeve up the jund cards to board into


r2 i am playing against a kid w soda stains on his face

at the GP NJs there's an artisanal soda booth that lets you pay $20 for unlimited soda

total rube stuff

he is pretty young, unwashed hair, asks how many GPs i've played in, tells me this is his first, very timid, very quiet, very nervous

g1 i win very easily but loooooordy hes playing slowly

g2 he goes mesmerizing benthid into justiciar's portal into angelic exaltation

at some point he's got a tapper and i declare combat, and he says okay, and i shove and he goes wait i wanted to tap that and i tell him i already gave him a chance to tap it and he disagrees

so we call a judge and our stories are different

judge eventually determines that we're allowed to back up to my beginning of combat step, kid uses the tapper, and we proceed

i lose g2 with a minute left in the round

even with our time extension theres no chance we'll finish our match so we fill out the slip 1-1-1

i almost certainly couldve told him to play faster at any point but i didnt want to be a prick to a rube child so my tournament got off to an auspicious 1-0-1 start

jon and aaron are 2-0

aaron starts talking about how he's "gonna play against jon finkel, i just know it"



i proceed to farm the draw bracket for the next 4 rounds

just a pile of disinterested people at x-0-1 and i beat them all convincingly. sometimes i board into the jund deck, sometimes i dont

i beg jon to practice against me between rounds

(aaron isn't literally dead yet, but he's a dead man walking—only thing he's willing to talk to anyone about is the double hydroid krasis deck he played against)

jon says no because he's "superstitious about that stuff. my mana's always clumped after the games between rounds"


at 5-0-1 i'm paired against logan nettles

g1 he casts ethereal absolution and i mess up by attacking into 3 spirits with an azorius skyguard. he makes the obvious triple block and i'm like "okay, pick off a spirit and these bounce off each other"

"no, your guy dies"

"your spirits are both one power"

"yeah, and your guy's a 2/2"

forgot about that part


i have a code of constraint in my hand so i could have gone for that on the idea that we were after first strike damage but before regular damage but i quickly determine logan nettles' respect is more valuable to me than that game of magic that i'm almost certainly losing regardless of whether or not i play the code of constraint correctly

shortly after that blunder i concede and board in a true garbage pile: rampage of the clans

g2 he has the absolution again and i mess up a bit, letting him block with a sphinx of the guildpact before firing off the mid-combat rampage of the clans—shoulda just mainphased the rampage and gotten in more damage w/ fliers. almost cost me the game but i drew a bounce spell to bail me out

g3 he hits absolution again, i have no rampage of the clans, and logan ends up winning in turn 5 of turns

the match was epic but i made a ton of mistakes throughout

playing for day 2 at 5-1-1

game one i attack into an on-board dunking with his resolute watchdog and senate griffin

david said the next day that if i had just not attacked w my flier there was no way i lose that game. probably right

board into jund, win the next game with no clear mistakes on either side

g3, here's the scene

i'm at 9, oppo has chillbringer, senate griffin, vizkopa vampire, and 7 lands

i have 2 tapped trollbred guardian (both adapted) a scuttlegator (unadapated) 6 lands (2 of which are gates) and a rakdos locket. he's at 14

oppo tanks, and says aloud "i don't even know what i can draw in my deck" before attacking w/ his two fliers and leaving the 3/1 home to put me to 3

all i need is an untapped land to adapt the scuttlegator and kill my opponent

i draw... rakdos guildgate

immediately start racking my brain for what's in my deck

"okay, i have an out. need to hit exactly mountain and gates ablaze off this locket"

i crack the locket, tapping all my lands but two forests

first card off the top is a basic mountain, kinda doing it

second draw is... thrash // threat

forgot about that one, but it'll do

opponent casts the prying eyes in his hand and

"yup, i just lost myself this game"

he resolves his prying eyes and shows me his hand: island, faerie duelist

if he'd just mainphased the prying eyes he couldve played the land, had the faerie duelist up, and made day two

i won the game instead

talk about the luckiest break ever

we played one more round of sealed

my r9 oppo congratulated me on making day 2

i took the draw (as i had been all day) and cast my first spell, steeple creeper, into open azorius mana

opponent casts lawmage's binding—his first spell of the game—on eot and untaps, plays a skitter eel, and passes

my hand is now all lands and combat tricks, none of which return the steeple creeper to my hand

on his next turn he adapts skitter eel and fives me

and does it again on his next turn

and again

and then one last time

he can't believe his luck and neither can i

i truly wasn't even mad, it was hilarious

opponent had no clue what was happening but was like "well... okay i guess! looks like i'll just swing with this 5/5 again!"

my deck showed up the next 2 games and i moved on to day 2 w/ a 7-1-1 record

jon gardner was 8-1

our individual records are proof that the world is unjust and there's no such thing as god, we're all just hurtling thru space on a random blue ball and everything is arbitrary and none of this means anything

etc etc etc

i'm at pod 8 to start day 2

i was SURE i'd be at logan nettles's pod, since he also finished day 1 7-1-1, but he found himself in pod 7

names i recognized in my pod were sam black, andrew cuneo, and kellen pastore

p1p1 i take theater of horrors over gates ablaze

to my right is a random dude; to his right is sam black

i know sam black is gonna go into gates, i just KNOW it

pack 1 i get some decent black cards (ill-gotten inheritance, orzhov enforcer) and two copies of savage smash, so still no clear direction to take my theater of horrors into

p2p1 the only playable cards are bladebrand, godless shrine, and a foil blood crypt

i'm thinking blood crypt is the pick and force myself to justify it to myself because i want to win this draft and not just take the foil stamped shockland

i start thinking and come out of the tank w the determination that i am probably going to end up gruul, so r/b duals are a thing i am going to want

so i take the foil blood crypt

its supposed to have a key on it but they smudged the stamp

so now i have a foil blood crypt with a weiner on it

the draft finishes and i'm totally despondent


my deck is trash, i totally messed the draft up

shouldve moved colors, shouldve done anything else than what i did

end up playing rakdos splashing for 2 copies of savage smash (left 3rd copy in the board) off 3 gruul guildgate

r1 we get deckchecked and my opponent discussed how star-struck he was at our draft pod but also that he didn't care

i beat his gruul deck very easily

r2 i'm paired against cuneo

he wishes me good luck and i reply "thanks man, i hope i get lucky too" and he's immediately taken aback

he was not expecting me to say that

he smiles at my dumb joke and we both mulligan, then i mull to five

we both flood pretty good but he's got an ill-gotten inheritance

eventually i find my own and determine my lifesheet is going to be insufficient and start over on the back of my sheet where theres more room

eventually i have a carrion imp and andrew casts rakdos, the showstopper

i grab a die to roll for its life and andrew goes "oh wait, that's an imp"


i undercity's embrace the showstopper and andrew casts skarrgan hellkite the next turn, which i consign to the pit

the pivotal draw is when i hit burning-tree vandal and start rummaging away lands to hit spells

(andrew continues to draw lands)

here's the scenario: i have 9 lands, a 2/1 burning-tree vandal, an orzhov enforcer, and an ill-gotten inheritance versus andrew's ill-gotten inheritance and bajillion lands

my hand is lands and a blade juggler. problem is i'm at 6 life

if i play the blade juggler i go to 5, then 4 on andrews upkeep, meaning i have to hold 6 mana open (for my ill-gotten inheritance) for the rest of the game, or else andrew can just kill me with HIS ill-gotten inheritance whenever he feels like it

i also feel like if i just cast this blade juggler and draw another card i can't possibly lose the game, so i sac my ill-gotten inheritance, going to 10, then cast blade juggler

andrew draws his second goblin gathering of the game and uses it to double-block my blade juggler and block my burning-tree vandal, but by that point the damage is done and i have way too many cards up on him for him to reasonably win the game

end up finishing the game w a skewer the critics

me: "that game was weird"

andrew: "yeah, there was a lot of bookkeeping. i'm not going to wish you luck this time. although karma did technically get you; you *did* mull to five"

the second game was way less close than the first—i cast theater of horrors turn 3, andrew stumbled on mana, and that was all she wrote

sam and i got called to the makeshift feature match section (no coverage team, unbranded, plain black backdrop) to play for 3-0 of the pod but our match lasted maybe 10 minutes

game one i had t3 theater of horrors and so did he

he had indeed drafted the gates deck—he had a gatebreaker ram, 2 gates ablaze, and 3 gate colossus

i never, ever stood a chance

g2 was kinda close, maybe

i boarded out savage smash for act of treason and got to act of treason sam's gate colossus

he proceeded to play a gateway angel and a second gateway colossus on the game turn, and followed that turn up with a gates ablaze to kill my entire board, and that was that

i boarded out 2 savage smash for 2 act of treason every match because all of my opponents creatures were way too big for my little rinky-dink creatures to ever kill, even with +2/+2

so between d1 and d2 we went to dinner at a portugese steakhouse

it was just a pile of people i like a lot; i ended up between brad and adam ragsdale

at some point during dinner brad tells me "we punted again"


"we played magic instead of just hanging out"

but... i'm doing good in the tournament!

it felt SO dumb to say but at the same time i was happy that i was doing kind of well, even in spite of all the misplays i'd made on the day

im still a little torn on it tbh

ive used this space before to talk about the version of toxic masculinity that kinda pervades magicians where you use magic as an excuse to hang out w your friends when youd both be better served just visiting them without (competitive) magic being part of the equation

in one sense brad is totally right but on the other hand i was also really really excited to draft the next day

in related news, buying the lottery ticket was obviously the correct play bc i won the jackpot etc

i know its stupid but since i was winning i was happy

i suppose the regret only comes when you're doing bad

i don't know, man

i typically agree w brads sentiment but in that moment i was also glad i had made day 2 of the GP

i barely ever day 2 these things so that felt nice, which is complicated because i know how insane it is to tie feelings to magic results

but that still doesn't change the fact that it feels nice to perform above your own expectations and i would rather embrace that than try to deny myself the feelings of the weekend

of everything that went down at the GP that's the thing im still wrestling with

doing better than usual in day 1 of a GP clouded my judgment

still trying to figure out why

magic's a helluva drug

okay so real quick

after the first draft i'm 9-2-1

p sure im dead for t8 but gonna try and win out and see what happens

after getting smushed by sam i try to talk about the draft but he's kinda short w/ me, trying to get away from the table

which i'm okay with

i think he probably has ppl coming up to him all the time and i dont begrudge him saving his emotional bandwidth for actual fans

for the 2nd draft im drafting at pod 6

we're all 9-2-1 according to the pod seating slip

names i recognize: jonathan sukenik, cynic kim, gab tsang, quinn kiefer. cynic kim to my right, gab to my left, sukenik to gabs left, quinn across the table from me

i open a kaya's wrath and thank the heavens above for the gift and slam it

im passed a ton of orzhov cards and happily scoop them up. a ministrant of obligation, 2 imperious oligarch, a consecrate // consume, a grasping thrull, a grotesque demise...


pack 2 i see another grotesque demise like 6th pick and a carrion imp and then pretty much nothing except for some filler—maybe an undercity scavenger or two

meanwhile i am passing cynic kim the nuts simic deck—11th pick applied biomancy, 12th pick steeple creeper fall into his lap

i am annoyed—im getting pretty clearly cut—but my deck is solid and has a wrath and some removal—much better than the last one

also the fact that i got grotesque demise so late means that either we're the two black decks at the table or that gab sucks at card evaluation

latter seems v unlikely but hey

ill take either one at this point

i open pack 3 and go thru it normally and then BAM

the rare is ethereal absolution

it takes a sec for it to register

i take some time (~10 seconds) to make sure this is real and is in fact a thing that is happening to me

then i gently put it in my pile of cards and ship the rest of the pack to gab

as expected i got passed better cards for my deck but nothing outstanding and am forced to round out my deck with some clunkers


decks still a 10/10 and i expect to 3-0

r1 before the match starts my opponent talks to a judge about his points and they are "fixed," when the match slip comes my opponents points have been changed to show that he is 10-2 and thus is the only person in the pod live for top 8

g1 is t5 kaya's wrath

he is visibly upset when i cast the wrath

i tell him "you're not going to like the next turn either"

i cast absolution on t6 and his eyes bug out of his skull

a turn later he scoops

ethereal absolution shows up on t6 for g2 again and his gruul deck doesn't stand a chance. the match is over in roughly 15 minutes

gruul sucks in draft

its just big dudes

even the rares are just big dudes but at slightly better rates

i don't think there can be a successful gruul deck w/o rhythm of the wild, and even then its tricky

i have a lot of time between this round and the next

i run into another cuse local, matt, who i generally like, and we chat about our tournaments

i ask him about his day 1 sealed (he went 8-1) and he said the deck was amazing. i told him i was surprised to hear him say it was so good because i saw the pic on facebook and it looked really bad to me

he was like "yeah some of the cards are pretty bad but double rakdos firewheeler is amazing"

lol yeah i guess i can buy that

i asked him how captive audience, a card i keep hearing is a bomb, performed

"never drew it. well wait—i drew it once, but i was already winning. it seems awesome tho"

nah man it seems garbo

like you tap out for it on t7 and then say go and it like makes them discard a card and then they play a creature or a spell and attack with their team and then you go and you draw like a land or whatever and pass back and then they go to 4 from like 8 life or whatever (whoop dee doo!) and they attack you again and you're dead

like youd better hope your five zombies are good because if they've got fliers, which this set is FULL OF, then the stuff you've been doing is irrel

"yeah i guess so"

a lot of ppl i talked to on the weekend thought captive audience was a bomb, including a dude that top 8d the tournament

i think it sucks, especially in draft

simic is just so good

not only is its curve low, but the cheap stuff is relevant (thanks to adapt) AND adapt gives you something to do with your mana at all times

the reason the gruul deck sucks is because it doesnt really commit anything relevant to the board till t4

the reason rakdos sucks is because, while all its cards ARE cheap, they don't scale well

the reason orzhov sucks is because all the white commons are terrible

obviously, all of these colors *work* (i didn't draft blue at all at the GP), they just need the rares to do so

just like ravnica and guildpact, blue is the best color

limited formats where blue is the best color rule

im still torn on whether i want to play the main event in cuse

im really close to two byes and legacy could potentially be sweet, but RNA draft is the best AND tournaments are the worst

prolly wont play legacy

but i think i want to play the main event in buffalo (not even sure about THAT, ugh) and this open would be good practice for that, maybe??

blah idk

back to GP NJ

aaron opted out of the PTQ and instead played in a standard tournament where he is in his comfort zone—beating up on LGS-caliber players

jon 1-2d his first draft after taking a pair of windstorm drakes for his flier-less simic deck

(he thought they were chillbringer)

(shoulda practiced more bro)

r14 i am paired against gab tsang in the orzhov mirror

thank god i have a ton of experience playing against sped

what i'm getting at here is that playing against ppl who have been playing (esp limited) at a high level for literally 20 years is that they've seen it all 1000x and are insanely good

he knew i took a rare p1p1 and p3p1 and we were in the same colors, so he put me on kayas wrath and played accordingly

eventually i started killing stuff and attritioning him out, which my deck does well anyways, but this game wouldve been much easier w/o him playing around wrath

eventually i get him to commit more to the board than his 6/7 lumbering battlement (with a priest of forgotten gods underneath it) and i snap off the kaya's wrath the turn i draw the follow-up ethereal absolution

absolution is the best card in RNA limited and there's nowhere its better than in the orzhov mirror

gabs deck was built around maximizing priest of forgotten gods but it was really, really slow, so i had plenty of time to draw my rares

after g1 he remarked about how good my deck was

ME: "if it makes you feel better, i do deserve it"

GAB: "what??"

ME: [mumbling sheepishly, attempting to explain my joke]

g2 goes a lot better for gab—i'm able to grotesque demise a teysa karlov (!) but he's working me with a pile of clunky duders

he's assembled an effective, if crude, rube goldberg machine based around debtors' transport and priest of forgotten gods, designed to slowly, steadily bleed me to death

on the last possible turn i had before gab wouldve assumed complete control, i rip ethereal absolution

from there, the game is a joke

after the draft he asks me what i took over priest of forgotten gods, which i shipped him pick 4

i didn't remember

maybe it was grotesque demise

"oh, so you had 2 demises? because i passed you one"

yeah, i had 2

maybe i took an imperious oligarch over it

yeah, that sounds right

"you totally changed the complexion of the draft with that pick. (brandishing priest of forgotten gods at me) this card is insane!"

is it?

"well, it's obviously not very good here, in the orzhov mirror, but it's awesome"

i feel like you need a LOT of afterlife dudes to make that guy work

"yeah but you just get those for free"

i... don't agree with that!

the mono-color afterlife dudes are GOOD—they're heavily sought after. they're the best white creatures in azorius and the best black creatures in rakdos. they don't just fall to orzhov players


(we weren't going to come to a consensus on this one. no hard feelings though)

it is worth noting that my opponents were super pleasant all weekend

even the kid w/ the soda stains i called a judge on r2—there were no hard feelings about the discrepancy in communication, someone just misheard the other and that was it

it had been a very good tournament in that regard

last round i'm paired against quinn kiefer for lord of the pod

he presented his deck and announced that he was calling a judge so he could go to the bathroom

when the judge came over he took his phone out of his pocket, put it on his playmat, and went to the bathroom, which was courteous

i would hazard a guess that the judge and i wouldnt have noticed if he didnt plop his phone on the table, so that was cool of him

he has an insanely bad rakdos deck

the paper to my scissors

he aggressively trades damage during g1, allowing me to make the blocks that make sense for me, effectively stunting his own board while allowing me to progress my own plan

at some point during g1 i go for a consume on quinns end step and he goes "that's a sorcery"



i look up to the judge that's been standing behind quinn the entire time, watching the match

he's still watching the match that is currently on pause because i am just looking at him

he does nothing

so i put the card back in my hand and take my turn

im in the tank for my 1st main phase and the judge finally snaps into action

"i'm gonna have to stop you guys for a sec"

okay man, i only didn't call for a judge because you've been standing there the whole time

"have you gotten any warnings so far this tournament?"



"i'm going to issue you a warning for blah blah blah gsdkjgdfgkljkldfjsflnsg"

cool man thanks

then he wandered off somewhere else

eventually i cast my ethereal absolution and he sighed and shrugged and played on for like 3 more turns before conceding

he got stuck on mana g2, i cast ethereal absolution, and that was it

deck refused to let me lose

i was pretty happy all the way through the tournament until the last round, when i realized i was going to come in 9th place

getting so close to the thing i've always wanted to do sucks pretty badly

turns out i came in 10th

if the X-1-1 player had won their match i would've come in 9th, but after losing to sam, 9th was my ceiling

for besting 1390 other competitors, i got $600


+$100 on the weekend, maybe? and that's only in terms of cash?

it will certainly end up costing me; i have the fire now, hard

before GPNJ the idea of playing in the main event in buffalo was a joke

now it's the plan

wish me luck