GP London 2011 Report – 34th
Fade in, interior, a bustling conference hall on the north bank of the Thames, London, England. It’s Sunday evening and I have just spent the best part of the last 36 hours playing Magic, more or less split evenly between Sealed and Draft. I’m pretty tired and chatting to man about town and rising star in the world of magic writing, Dan Barrett. In a self-deprecating attempt to deflect any intimation that I might actually be good at this game, I show Dan the powerful card pool that I had to work with at the beginning of Grand Prix London. He peruses it briefly and says something like ‘Cool you kept the cards together, you should do some sort of tournament report.’
Up to that point I hadn’t even considered the possibility of doing so, probably for a couple of reasons. One, it’s been a while since I had done a report of any description, other than crowing about the success of my UWr Allies deck at local events (yes, really), and two I honestly had never considered the possibility that I might do well at something as high profile as a GP. It’s not that I haven’t played in a GP before, just that when I have I invariably end up 2-3 or 3-3 drop on day one.
So, here we go then. Hopefully this will be an interesting and informative read, but being painfully honest it’s more likely to come across as the ramblings of a deluded magic player dosed up on strong cold medicine.
Where to begin? A bit of background I suppose. I have played magic on and off since Ice Age and since Lorwyn have been running weekly tournaments in Milton Keynes (www.mkmtg.co.uk), which is a bustling metropolis about 45 miles north of London. We have a wide range of player ability at the club, from mostly casual players up to players who regularly attend Nationals and have even played at Worlds. No Pro Tour attendees yet, but we’re working on it.
At this more tournaments orientated end of the spectrum a group has coalesced that travels to Nationals Qualifiers, Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prix in Britain and beyond. In the last year or two for example there were road trips to Madrid, Prague, Brussels and Amsterdam. Briefly, the core members of the group are:
Nicolo Graziano – short, hobbit like ‘Italian dude’. Loves trading and ‘pretty laydees’. Although he pretends that he can speak Italian, we have determined that this is in fact bollocks. Did maths at university and can’t do addition.
Russ Davies – rare (unique?) combination of magic player and sportsman. Loves cricket, food and laydees. Comes from oop north and thus would eat a plate of rabbit droppings if it was served with chips and gravy. Nicknamed the Blackpool Lothario.
Stuart Sellers – recently engaged. Did well enough at UK Nationals last year to earn a pro point. Likes beer, the more the better. Replaced Paul Richardson (who we believe died on the way to, or shortly after arriving in, Australia) as the player most likely to sleep in a shop doorway.
James Allingham – most ambitious of the group, determined to make it to the pro tour and very, very competitive. Likes being reminded that he is one of a decreasing number in the group not to have a pro point and loves having misplays pointed out to him when the game is over.
Cam Simmonds – the newest member of the group, a mere baby at 18 years old. He doesn’t suffer from the same level of jaded insincerity as the rest of us, having an optimistic ‘have a go’ attitude. He needs to lose more to knock that nonsense out of him.
Dominic Zeal – Londoner from sarf of the river. Innit. Sometime chef and ideological revolutionary. Comes from a long line of pearly kings and queens and belongs to no less than three separate Clapham street gangs. He likes Nandos (Potuguese chicken restaurant) and dressing up at weekends. Has a fantastic mum who also happens to not mind having a gang of 7 to 8 magic players crash at her flat for the weekend.
Matt Light – actually plays in Nottingham rather than MK, but tags along in an attempt to sleep with Nico. To this end pretends to go out with Nico’s girlfriend’s BFF, but we all know that this is just a smokescreen. Likes god and Nico and never, ever, has any money.
This, loosely, was the group that I would be cohabiting with in North Clapham having made the decision to play in GP London. I should stress at this point that I do not consider myself a tournament player, I’m not ambitious or talented enough. But I do like the camaraderie of being part of a group at large events like this – the bad beats stories, the drinking, the running jokes.
Partly due to this I expected to be heading home on Saturday night and as such I assured Dom that I would not be taking up space in what looked to be an increasing crowded living room floor at his mum’s flat. I also packed the bare minimum of extra clothing – fortunately I always take one more set of underwear than I probably will need just in case of emergencies.
The Events – In That There Is More Than One
With a bare minimum of sealed deck practice (i.e. none) I headed down to London early Friday afternoon after watching the Royal Wedding with my wife Anna. I know it’s not particularly cool to admit it, but I quite enjoyed it. No-one does pageantry like us Brits. My rating had just gone up to 1853, giving me a grand total of 1 bye at the GP, but last chance sealed GPTs were being run at the venue throughout Friday afternoon at the surprisingly reasonable price of £15 and I was keen to get in on at least one to try and get the 3 byes.
I arrived at the venue at about 3pm, managing to walk around the building twice before finding the entrance. The venue was ok I guess, big enough to hold the event and airy and light, but there was a depressing lack of anywhere to get a drink or food. This was remedied to a degree by one of the three traders on site getting hold of a load of bottles of water and selling them for £1 each.
I found some of the other guys who had arrived the day before and they were already grinding their way through the GPTs. I signed up for a 32 player flight with Stuart, who arrived shortly after me having spent the morning drinking a lot of Pimm’s (a bizarre English summer alcoholic drink that tastes like grass and thus has more fruit in it than Quentin Crisp) while also watching the Royal Wedding. Wouldn’t you know it we were paired up in the first round. My deck was pretty average, but it did pack a fair amount of red removal, the highlight of which was a Red Sun’s Zenith. As we had actually examined each other’s decks before the pairings were posted I joked to Stuart before we started playing that my creatures were so bad that my gameplan was to just keep drawing the Zenith. See the neon sign of foretelling flickering erratically in the background.
We split the first two games and in the third after Stu got some early two for ones I was on a healthy 20 life and he was on 11. I had a 1/1 myr in play and he had around 8 power of attackers. My only card in hand? Red Sun’s Zenith – problem was I only had 7 lands in play, enough to do 6 damage. I knew that the creature quality in my deck was so poor that there was nothing I could draw that would turn the game around so I did the only thing I could do – cast Red Sun’s Zenith at Stu and pray.
He knocked me to 13 and I drew nothing and then he dropped me to 4. My last draw step and I flipped over the top card. You already know what it was right? Yes, it was the Zenith. I love it when a well formulated plan that is not at all desperate comes together. Oh, did I mention that the event was also single elimination?
I somehow won the next 2 rounds, although not in such dramatic style. At the end of round 3 there was a loud banging noise from a few tables down as a French player smacked the table with his hand in frustration having just lost a close one. I sat down for round 4, the semi-finals, only to be informed that my opponent had dropped and I thus had a bye into the final. Fine by me. Apparently, he had another event lined up that he would rather play in. The opponent he beat in round 3 was one now doubly angry French dude.
In the finals, having agreed a prize split of 14 packs each, I was beaten quite comprehensively. So no 3 byes for me. Still, I was reasonably happy with 20 boosters and few rating points for 15 quid. The last GPT had just been announced as I started the final, so I would have to be happy with just the 1 bye. Admittedly this was 1 more bye than I had ever had before at a GP. I wondered over to pre-register for the following days frolics and picked up a nice foily Maelstrom Pulse.
Once the last of us had scrubbed out from the GPTs we headed home to play some cube at Dom‘s mother’s flat. I drafted my favourite archetype, 5 colour good stuff. Basically I take all the mana fixing I can get my hands on and then just play whatever busted spells take my fancy. It wins a surprising amount of games and is obviously a lot of fun. I did lose to Cam playing a Balance, Elspeth, Humility, Armageddon deck. That was not fun.
After the usual ‘too much beer too late to bed’ preparation that is mandatory before attending any premier event, we woke to a flat that looked, using typical English understatement, ‘a bit of a mess’. Dom asked if we could possibly tidy things up a bit before we left as his mum was due home in an hour or two, so we did what we could. Particular kudos to Russ who managed to stuff everything that was remotely edible down his gullet before we left, which saved some time. There was a worrying moment when he started eyeing up some of the cards left out from the cube session the night before and pondered whether the power 9 had any calorific value. Then we were off.
Sometimes You Just Open Good Cards
We arrived at the venue with plenty of time to spare. Everyone was entered in the GP except for Russ and Matt, who chose not to because ‘it was sealed’. Turnout was reasonable for a UK GP, 710 players. Due to the number the event was split into two halves, green and blue. I was in the blue area and once the seatings had gone up got stuck into registering the pool of cards that I opened. It was a shocker – whoever got that pool, I’m sorry man. Sometimes the devil just farts in your face.
I’ll be honest, my recollection of the games I played on day 1 are somewhat hazy. I didn’t take any notes because I didn’t think I would have anything to write home about. I knew my deck was good, but without an awful lot of experience of sealed pools I had no real way of knowing how good it was. This was reinforced by my loss in the first round to Jonny Chapman. As we were shuffling he was telling me that he used to play on the Pro Tour a lot, but now played mostly online. I was kind of sceptical, until that is Olivier Ruel and Raphael Levy appeared behind him and started reminiscing.
He beat me 2-0, and I kind of felt that the deck hadn’t performed at its best. I certainly flooded in the second game, but maybe it wasn’t as good as I thought it was. I decided to just take each match as it came and drop after my third loss. Then I won my next four and the deck seemed to be going well, but after each win I braced myself for the next round. Surely as I got further into the event the decks I faced would get tougher? But that didn’t seem to be happening.
Then in round 7 I got my second loss. It was close (ish) and I flooded a bit again in the third game, but I knew that I had hit the wall, that I was now facing decks that were on a par power wise with mine. Two rounds to go, I had to win them both and they were going to be every little bit as difficult as the match I had just played.
Except that they weren’t. I expected really tough battles, but in both matches the deck just cruised to victory. The card advantage it generated, the late game reach it had and the consistency proved to be just overwhelming.
I guess at this point I should show you what the deck was:
8 x Swamp
9 x Forest
1 x Sylvok Replica
1 x Flensermite
1 x Blightwidow
1 x Rot Wolf
2 x Contagious Nim
2 x Morbid Plunder
1 x Bladed Pinions
1 x Blight Mamba
1 x Fume Spitter
1 x Tel-Jilad Fallen
1 x Skinrender
1 x Septic Rats
1 x Plague Myr
1 x Darksteel Axe
1 x Genesis Wave
Sideboard cards of note: Pistus Strike and Green Sun’s Zenith. I was in two minds about playing the green Zenith main, but I don’t like having potentially dead cards in my hand and I was only running 4 green creatures. I always sided it in when faced with must kill artifacts to tutor up Viridian Corrupter.
In game two of round 9 it got to the point where it was fairly clear I was going to win and I had to make a decision. My opponent, Stephen Warne, had traveled up to London from Plymouth, a long trek (by English standards) and was obviously like me playing to get to day 2. I was still unsure at this point whether I would actually play in day 2 if I won. As I said earlier my plans were all based around going home on Saturday. I couldn’t in all good conscience beat this guy who had traveled so far to get here and then drop; that would just be pointlessly cruel. So, do I want to stay and play on day 2, or do I drop?
With hindsight the decision was easy. Of course I should play in day two. But at the time I was tired, and at 42 years old did I really want to sleep on someone’s floor for a second night, especially knowing that I would have to be back at the venue for 8am? Fortunately I made the right choice and decided to go for it, but I tell you there and then it was a close call.
After the win I felt a sort of weird combination of exhilaration and fatigue. I had been playing magic for nearly 12 hours on little sleep. I didn’t actually officially have a place to stay and all the other guys had left the venue, having all dropped a few rounds earlier. I managed to get hold of Russ who told me that they were all eating in a Nandos (of course) near the flat. I told him that I had made day two and I needed somewhere to sleep. He checked with Dom and, thankfully, it wasn’t a problem.
I jumped on the tube and 25 minutes later made it to the restaurant. As I approached the table they actually applauded me. Which was really, really nice of them, if a little awkward – especially as I felt a little fraudulent, how much skill does it actually take to open a ridiculous card pool?
After a memorable cold beer and after stealing what remained of Dom‘s chicken and chips we headed back to the flat. No cube tonight, most of us were just too tired, except for Nico and Matt whose better halves were also staying in London. Against Dom‘s advice they decided to head for Leicester Sq, with no clear idea of what they were going to do once there or how they would get back. Kids eh?
We nipped down the road for a quick pint or two before crashing. Our gracious host let me have his bed, a most noble gesture. Even so I just couldn’t sleep, I never really got beyond dozing. A problem not improved by the loud banging on the door at about 2.30 when Nico and Matt returned without a door key. It never ceases to amaze me how Matt manages to have such a good time without having any money. Getting back from Leicester Square to North Clapham at 2.30 on a Sunday morning was a work of genius (probably).
The Second of the Two Days
6.15 am came around all too quickly. After a shower and a gratefully received cup of tea with a chocolate muffin I was off again back to the venue. I got there at about 7.45 and stood around with a small group of English players who had also made day 2. We chatted about various things, what record would be needed to top 8, or top 16, or just finish in the money. We also noted that there seemed to be very few English players amongst the 90 who had made it. Then, eventually, the doors opened and we were conducted to the cordoned off tournament area.
If you have never made day 2 of a GP (or other premier event), then it’s quite a weird experience. From the signing of waiver forms to the timed drafts, it’s all very formal and silent. No talking during the draft, no talking during deck construction – it’s not until you walk outside of the area to update your mates on how it’s going that you get to blow off a little steam.
The first draft went ok. I first picked a Phyrexian Hydra and tried to force infect from there. The packs seemed generally low in power and it wasn’t until pack 3 that I picked up some cards to give my deck some much needed strength – double Cystbearer, double Untamed Might and Grasp of Darkness all came in the last 14. But no Plague Stingers, not much other removal and a lone Flight Spellbomb to give me evasion.
After deck construction the pairings went up and, being in a 7 man pod, I was on a bye, which was fantastic news. A chance to take a breather and show some of the guys the deck as well as a free win with excellent tie-breaks in a money event. Although they tried to hide it I could see some of the guys were underwhelmed with the power of my cards. I goldfished it a few times and before I knew it the second round of the day was underway.
I was paired against Julien Frezard of France in round 11. We split the first two games and I kept a fairly solid seven in the third. It was a painful loss – I got him to three poison but had lost board position and was soon going to have to start chump blocking. I had Hydra and flight Spellbomb in hand (and only one forest in play) and enough mana to win with a Untamed Might if I drew one. For five agonizing turns I hoped to draw one of the 8 Forests or 2 Untamed Mights that would give me the win, but it wasn’t to be and the assortment of 2/2s and 3/3s eventually beat me down.
Round 12 was against Francesco Hugony from the Czech Republic (I think). He was very unhappy with his deck, which seemed to do nothing. He won game 2 on the back of a really bad mana screw on my side of the table, but really it wasn’t much of a match. He seemed very disconsolate at the end – I can’t blame him having seen the pile he ended up with.
The intervening draft again was OK, not spectacular. I went with a U/W skies strategy. Priests of Norn and so on to clog up the ground and Serum Rakers and other equipment bearing flyers to go through the air. I had a couple of arrests and a Divine Offering as removal. It was interesting to see multiple corpse curs going as late as 10th pick in the second and third pack which made me think that someone was going to end up with a ridiculous infect deck.
Round 13 and my opponent was Julien, again. Sadly, he was the one with the ridiculous infect deck. Three Plague Stingers, two Corpse Curs, and a freaking Partridge in a Pear Tree. He had upwards of 16 playable infect dudes with virtually no fillers and a smattering of Grasps, Virulent Wounds and Spread the Sickness‘ to top it off. I was crushed quickly in two games. I didn’t actually do a single point of damage.
Rounds 14 and 15 my opponents flooded somewhat and didn’t have a way of dealing with flyers. Both of them were running Wurmcoil Engine and, fortunately for me, neither of them drew it.
Going in to the last game I was in 48th position, 16 places short of a top 32 finish and 16 places below 64th, the cut off for a money finish. I thought about whether I would accept an ID (if my opponent offered it) to secure a top 64, but the guys convinced me to just go for it to try and make top 32. So I did and won, finishing 34th on the narrowest of tie-breakers.
In a final irony I bumped into Julien at the Standings board as we waited for final positions to be posted. He had been in striking distance of the top 16 but had lost his last round and was worried that he might drop outside the top 32. He just squeaked in, finishing 31st. If he had won his last round my tie breakers would have improved significantly (having played him twice) and I would have finished in the top 32 as well. C’est la vie.
And that was it. After checking that WoTC had my bank details and after much back slapping from the other guys I decided to head home. Stu had also had enough and we set off. I suddenly felt unbelievably tired – I had been playing Magic for the best part of the last 36 hours with little or no sleep. How players do this on a regular basis I have no idea.
When we got to Euston we found that the trains were buggered and that much of our journey would be by coach. But I didn’t care. Against all my expectations I had made day 2 of a Grand Prix and not disgraced myself in a field that featured some of the best players in Europe. Life felt good, if a little hazy and unsteady. The best gifts do indeed seem to be the ones that are unlooked for.
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing,