Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix Bologna Winner’s Tournament Report – UW Eldrazi, by Kayure Patel
In the wake of a poor showing by the English World Magic Cup 2015 team, Tom Law, Raoul Zimmermann and myself had a lot of time to work out what went wrong.
While our initial discussions were short-sighted and results orientated, further examination showed us that English Magic, at its roots, was too fragmented. There’s “teams” all over the country of local players, but the teams compete with each other instead of working together. Furthermore, the team members all have their own different goals. Surely, we thought, it would be more beneficial for the players in each team who wanted to achieve more to work together and feed information to each other.
“For England, James.”
In January, the three of us, along with Joao Choca, David Calf, James Allingham, Craig McGregor, Matt Gregory, George and Henry Channing, Andrew Humphrey, and Leo Kaye began doing exactly this. By the first weekend in March, three of us had qualified for the Pro Tour, and we won the first European Grand Prix of the year. We also shared our UW Eldrazi list with Eduardo Sajgalik on his way to the Top 8 of GP Detroit. It’s fair to say we couldn’t have dreamed of a better start.
After watching the Pro Tour, I knew I wanted to play an Eldrazi deck and quickly scrambled to borrow the cards for myself and Craig. As the weeks went on, the team tested all manner of variants before ultimately the discussion came down to either UW, UWG, or GR Eldrazi. I was against UWG because I have a deep respect for the maths of Frank Karsten and the colour requirements in UWG are so bad. After much discussion and testing, we decided UW was best because it was faster and we felt it was the best against other Eldrazi decks, which we expected a lot of.
On the Friday before Bologna I sleeved it up for the first time and started jamming games. I couldn’t win. Non-stop mulligans in search of sol-lands, mediocre draws, and getting pummelled by Affinity and Chord decks.
Nonetheless, I could still see the deck was powerful (especially because Craig was sitting next to me laughing as he pumped out endless Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seers and Turn 3 Reality Smashers.) I stuck with it, because it was obviously the best deck, but it didn’t stop me complaining constantly about how unlucky I was with it.
“This deck hates me.” – Kayure Patel, Sunday 28th February 2016.
On Wednesday, I was contacted by Eduardo and informed about the tragic passing away of Edward Hughes. I was completely devastated. Ed was a great friend and one of the first I made playing Magic: The Gathering – he destroyed so many of my lands on his way to win his first PTQ that the story is infamous in Kent Magic, as he told it often.
I spoke at length with David Calf, who was also close with Ed, and we vowed we’d make him proud this GP. He always had confidence in us and gave us encouragement when times were hard.
We had a team call the same evening to discuss the 75. It was a sombre affair, but we ultimately agreed on 57 maindeck slots (3 lands remained) and 10 of 15 sideboard slots. Joao was unable to convince us on Sunlance. We flew into the venue on Friday, with the intention of having a team dinner.
While the team discussed things, I stood in the queue for artist Raymond Swanland to get some cards signed. 2 hours later (!) I added a signed Wastes to my deck. I was unperturbed by the time it took. I spent the time considering my decklist and wondering if I should make any last minute changes. I chose not to and submitted this:
2 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Stony Silence
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Gut Shot
1 All is Dust
2 Stubborn Denial
1 Pithing Needle
I was convinced that 74 of these cards were great. Cyclonic Rift and Phyrexian Metamorph give some edge in the mirror. Rift also deals with troublesome permanents such as Bridge or Worship Game 1, whilst being a 7 mana win-the-game in the mirror. Metamorph is extra Seers, Smashers and Drowners whilst having great synergy with Displacer. The maindeck Vesuva was in anticipation of many mirrors but not wanting to put a land in my sideboard. When asked about it, I explained, “It’s like the Gemstone Cavern slot – it’s great on the draw in your opening hand because 40% of your opponents will have a Sol land, it’s extra Temples later on, and in a pinch it can fix coloured sources.”
It could be anything. Even a boat.
We found in testing that Worship was terrible – it stops you losing the game but doesn’t help you win it. If the game goes long with Displacers, Seers and Drowners, you end up a card down. We also noted that the presence of Worship made the player make looser attacks, because they felt safe from dying. While we disliked the card, we were certainly aware of its power and was the reason for our use of Cyclonic Rift – as an instant it can’t be taken with the Thought-Knot/Displacer Lock and in the mirror, it wins the game for 7 mana.
During my byes I played some test games with Craig and kept drawing the nuts. Maybe the deck liked my signed Wastes addition. During Day 1, prior to Round 9, I played against Infect 3 times, RG Eldrazi once and the UW Eldrazi mirror twice. My loss came to RG Eldrazi, and after the match I discussed sideboarding with my opponent. He mentioned how he liked my bringing in Rest in Peace, despite it enabling his Sowers, because the “flashback” on Kozilek’s Return was more backbreaking. I thought this would serve me well were I to face the matchup again.
By Round 9 my excitement was obvious. I couldn’t stop bouncing and I was like a kid that had been given too much sugar. I’d blown someone out earlier in the day with Gut Shot (one of the best feelings in Magic) and had just won a close Round 8 by overloading Cyclonic Rift against an opponent with Worship.
My friends told me to stop bouncing, but I couldn’t. David Calf being the most excitable person on earth shouting “Smash ‘Em!” probably also didn’t help. I kept refreshing the online pairings eagerly awaiting Round 9. Then they refreshed. Table 35. Fabrizio Anteri. “Nooooo! … Wait. Gonna smash him too!” I exclaimed before darting off to the table.
At least my tie-breakers would be great.
“You spent a week with me for Worlds. No matter what happens, we go 6-0 tomorrow,” said my WMC captain as I sat down to face him. Game 1 I had an aggressive draw that got him to 12 before I cast a Drowner and passed the turn. Given another turn, he would have undoubtedly stabilised and gone onto win, but he hit nothing and I took Game 1.
I brought in the Rest in Peaces as I discussed with my earlier opponent, taking out my Mimics in the belief they were weak against Kozilek’s Return. Ultimately the reduced aggression in my post-board configuration cost me the match despite Fabrizio’s Game 3 mulligan to 5. After the game we discussed my sideboarding and he advised that ultimately the maindeck configuration was the most aggressive and best way to win the game, so sideboard changes should be minimal.
I thanked him and told him I’d see him in the top 8. He chuckled, “I hope so.” He may not have believed it, but I certainly did.
“I’m going to go 9-0 tomorrow,” I said adamantly, on the way to a glorious steak dinner. While I may not have convinced my friends, I’d convinced myself. I’d seen the deck’s power and absurdity on Day 1. I knew it was possible and I was going to do it. For Ed.
The first round the next day gave me the opportunity to take Fabrizio’s advice in another RG Eldrazi matchup. I won a quick Game 1, and during sideboarding brought in All is Dust and 2 Hurkyl’s Recall, before taking them out after some shuffling. I’d not used them yet, and wanted to at least make it look like I was doing something. After I won Game 2 (Fabrizio’s advice was good, who knew?), my opponent asked how I sideboarded. “Nothing at all,” I said. He didn’t seem impressed.
After winning another UW Eldrazi mirror in Round 11, I had a gruelling match against UW control in Round 12. I thought I had the match locked up in Game 2. My opponent had a card in hand and 5 life against my board of dual Thought-Knot Seers.
Batterskull (which I got to Metamorph!) followed by Gideon and Elspeth were enough to see me scoop ‘em up. In Game 3, I planned to use Pithing Needle on Flooded Strand, as I knew it was in my opponent’s hand and I had a Stubborn Denial I wanted to try to get Force Spike value from.
Whilst this line of play was good, I neglected to play and crack the Flooded Strand in my own hand first. In any event, my opponent chose to Spreading Seas his own Strand instead of my Cavern of Souls, allowing me to resolve a lethal Reality Smasher with Stubborn Denial up for his Path. I never played the shame Strand.
I never played the shame land.
After back to back victories in extremely tight games against Abzan Chord players in Rounds 13 and 14, the reality that I could actually Top 8 and qualify for the PT began to set in. If I won my next match, I would achieve the goal I had been striving for since I started playing competitively 3 years ago.
Standings were announced. “Why bother looking? You win, you qualify. If not, you don’t. Not like you can draw,” someone told me. So I didn’t look. The pairings refreshed. Table 4, Mattia Oneto. We sat at the table and exchanged pleasantries as Frank Karsten came over and told us we’d be in the feature match area. As often happens in the UW Eldrazi mirror, I overran him Game 1, before being similarly smashed in Game 2.
Normally my recollection of games is good, but even now as I look at the life pad, I cannot remember what happened in Game 3. It was all a blur that snaps back into focus with Raoul and Scott hugging and congratulating me outside the feature match area. A member of the team, who was less short-sighted than I, informed me that my tie-breakers were excellent.
We excitedly awaited the Top 8 announcement and bets were placed on how my name would be mispronounced.
“In 6th place, with 39 points, Kajooray Patel.” “That’s probably you! Yaaaay!”
As I entered the Top 8 area for the signing of forms, I passed Fabrizio (who also made the Top 8, obviously). “Told you,” I said with a gleeful smile. I caught a glimpse of the Top 8 bracket on my way to my chair. He and I were on opposite sides. I knew who I wanted to beat in the final.
The Top 8 questionnaire included a question about what change I’d make to my deck. I chose instead to make a dedication to Ed, wishing he could have been there to see it. The coverage team posted this in my profile verbatim, for which I’m incredibly grateful.
The Top 8 was utterly bizarre. After losing a very close Game 1 in the mirror to Jaroslav Boucek, I said, “Ok, let’s go to Game 2.” “Actually, it is Game 3, I have a game loss,” was his reply.
After confirming this with a judge, I examined his decklist. From the cards in his sideboard and the amount he was bringing in, he seemed to be on the 2 Worship, 2 Oblivion Sower plan. I kept a hand with Seer and Displacer and was able to overpower him. “How do you beat Worship?” Jaroslav asked me.
My semi-final opponent, Giuseppe Reale, was on Living End and demolished me in Game 1. During Game 2, as I was about to cast a Rest in Peace, he picked up and looked at my decklist, which was face down to the right of us. I called a judge, as we’d been told you can only do this during sideboarding.
The judges disappeared to confer for a long time. I remarked, “This seems an unnecessarily long time for a warning?” assuming it was a minor error. It turns out this constitutes outside assistance and he was given a match loss. I was shocked by this and all my excitement disappeared – he seemed like a very nice chap and I wouldn’t want to win a match this way, let alone in the semis of a GP.
Still in some shock, I went to splash water on my face before the final, to try to get back in the zone. I recall passing Raoul and asking, “Have you seen David Calf? I think I need some hyping.” Dave had left the venue, but my local friends were by the feature match area ready to hype me up again.
Within a few minutes I was bouncing on my feet again, like a boxer waiting to begin the next round. Unfortunately Fabrizio lost his quarterfinal, so the Final I had hoped for was not to be. Nonetheless, I was still extremely hyped and ready for the final round.
Seconds out, final round. Fight!
The finals saw me win Game 1 thanks to multiple Reality Smashers. In Game 2, Alberto tanked on his 7 while I snap mulliganed a hand of Skyspawner, Path, Cyclonic Rift, Temple, Flooded Strand, Island, Adarkar Wastes. The hand had a Sol land and spells, but there’s no real pressure and fortunately, the deck mulligans well.
I led with Temple, so I could cast Seer the turn after. Flooded Strand go, said Alberto. When I cast the Seer, it was Dismembered with the trigger on the stack. After his draw I saw Oblivion Sower, 2 Reality Smasher, Path, Seer and Displacer. There is a photo on the Wizards website that captures the confusion on my face as I saw the hand.
I was in disbelief that he’d kept a non-sol land hand in the GP final. I took the Seer, since if he drew a Sol land, I’d be caught in a loop of Path’ing his guys leading to him having mana to cast Smashers, but I was confident I could beat a Displacer.
Two turns later, he asked to move to discard. I’ve never untapped faster in my life.
He resolved no spells over the next few turns (I redirected his Path to my Spellskite and displaced it in response) and moments later I was the GP Champion. I looked skyward and told Ed we’d done it.
The work the team put in for the GP was excellent and it paid off in spades. I hope we can continue this success in future and continue to raise the profile of English Magic.
Going forward I recommend playing the Eldrazi deck at any event you have the chance to do so. It is busted beyond belief and will rightly be banned come the next announcement. You can get cards for your Eldrazi deck and any other Magic: The Gathering decks for yourself and your loved ones from Manaleak.com
Before I go, a page has been set up to remember Ed, donate to a charity in his memory, share stories, memories and pictures. If you have the time, please consider visiting http://edward.hughes.muchloved.com.
Thanks for reading,