Lessons in M13 – GP: Boston, Day 1

Last week, I discussed the importance of sample size in preparing for events. When I played in Grand Prix: Boston, I felt the effect of not having a big enough sample size in my preparations for the event. As a result, the event involved quite a bit of learning on the fly. While I don’t think I’ll ever be proud to finish one-hundred-nineteenth in a tournament, I do actually consider myself lucky to have done so.

The first reason I feel lucky is that the event had a jaw-dropping one thousand eight hundred forty-seven players. In terms of percentage at least, my finish was the equivalent of finishing twenty-fourth at Pro Tour: Barcelona, which had three hundred seventy-nine players. I’ve never been someone to turn my nose up at a Top 32 finish at a Pro Tour. This obviously wasn’t a Pro Tour, but this helps put these gigantic numbers of entrants in perspective. Among other things, I don’t have three byes at a Pro Tour. Playing in Grands Prix has become more of a giant Magic: The Gathering social event than something with any real kind of expected value for even top Magic pros. I spoke with one pro who had calculated that in the last year, he was one of the five most successful GP players, but he was still losing money from expenses related to GPs. Given the thousands of players who attend GPs, it’d be nice if the prizes were bigger, but given the thousands of players who attend GPs, I guess they don’t have much incentive to do that.

The second reason I feel lucky is the degree to which I was underprepared (not to be confused with unprepared). Any event you play in can benefit from large amounts of preparation and testing, and in general, the more the better. I thought I had an okay knowledge of the formats at GP: Boston, but over the course of the sixteen-round event, I felt my lack of a strong foundation in the formats was really exposed. This was especially clear in Draft initially, and now that I’ve had more time to examine my card pool, I believe it’s true of Sealed Deck as well.

The good news is not only did I avoid totally embarrassing myself with my result, but I learned quite a bit about the formats over the course of the weekend to the point that I was able to 3–0 my last Draft in part due to the adjustments I was able to make on the fly. Let’s start with Day 1, though.

This was my Sealed card pool:

The thing that immediately stands out is that there are two Staff of Nin. Given their power level, the fact that they’re colorless, and the fact that there are two of them, it seems pretty reasonable to just build the best possible deck around them. Most people would get this part. The next part I think I could have done better. This is the deck I built and played for all of Day 1:

Here’s my build:

This build was pretty good. I wasn’t sure at first since I lost the first two matches I played with it and fell to a record of 3–2, while a record of 7–2 was needed to stay in the event after nine rounds. This left me with the daunting task of having to win four matches in a row against opponents with progressively better winning records. One of the keys to me being able to accomplish this was that I became better at playing my deck. In each of my first two matches, I had a game in which I put two Staff of Nin in play and lost. In both cases, I had just fallen too far behind to recover in time. This was actually exacerbated by drawing both of my 6-mana spells and not enough to do earlier in my curve. In the following rounds, I played a careful, defensive game, hoarding my life total and assuming that the late game would favor me. This wasn’t the only factor in my change of fortune, of course. It’s not as though I was especially reckless in the two rounds I lost. I believe my first two opponents had two of the best decks I played against on the day, and in general, my draws were better in the later rounds, but learning the ins and outs of my deck definitely helped. It’s much like playing a Constructed deck. Having a deck handed to you at the start of the event just isn’t the same as having time to test and familiarize yourself with the deck.

All that being said, I think I could have built my deck better. The blue was a good choice—it gave me strong, defensive creatures both in the air and on the ground. The Entrancers were a viable victory condition that won me a game through decking, won me a game through pumping up my Phantasm, and helped me win others by putting pressure on my opponent either to deal with them or to be overly aggressive against me. The Switcheroo was fantastic for dealing with my opponents’ bombs. Also, the blue was deep without ever requiring me to have {U}{U} mana . . . unless you count the Watercoursers. This allowed me to only play with six white cards. Given my complete lack of double-mana spells and my Evolving Wilds, my mana was excellent. White offered me precious creature control in the form of Pacifism and Oblivion Ring and good creatures for buying me time, such as Attended Knight and Healer of the Pride. However, in retrospect, I think this would have been a superior build:

There are several advantages to this build. For one, the black is deeper than my white, so I’m able to cut some of my lesser blue cards. With Murder and Cower in Fear, the quality and quantity of the removal is comparable to the white. The two Sign in Bloods can help ensure I make it to 6 mana on schedule. This build has more stuff to do on turn two. The two Bats and the Nighthawk give me life-gain, and the Nighthawk is actually a bit of a bomb. While this version isn’t way better than my version, it easily could be a difference of a match win or two, which is huge with eighteen hundred people.

At least I made Day 2, but given that I lost the extra round with this deck after the cut on Day 1, I staggered into the Draft portion knowing that it was somewhere between mathematically unlikely and impossible for me to make the Top 8, no matter my results in Draft. This is reinforced by the fact that I went 4–2 in draft and didn’t even crack the top hundred finishers. Seems to me they should have just had ten rounds on Day 1 and then made a cut, but then I probably wouldn’t have made Day 2 and had the opportunity to learn so much about Magic 2013 Draft.