Of Cats And Hearts – An MTG GP Barcelona Story, by Sean Knowelden

Of Cats And Hearts - A GP Barcelona Story, by Sean Knowelden

An MTG GP Barcelona tournament report… Kinda

Friday 10th March, 11:33am (An adorable little train station)

I’m sat waiting at the train station enjoying a nice drink of water in the midst of the cold and the grey, wondering if shorts were really such a good idea. It’s going to take me about three times longer to get to the airport than the actual flight to another country, so I’ve got my trusty sandwich and the British public to keep me company until then. I’m playing four colour Saheeli at this event (at least at the moment, I still have another day for someone to convince me that Deploy the Gatewatch Super-friends is the way to break open this metagame) because I couldn’t seem to win a game with Mardu vehicles. This is in no way a slight on that deck, I just seem to have the mana explode in my face every time I go near the darned thing. In any case, winning with Saheeli making infinite cats just feels like pure good honest magic, exactly what Richard Garfield intended.  And in a moment that I hope isn’t indicative of the weekend as a whole, as the train departs I get to watch my bottle (which I managed to leave behind) sat on the bench, slowly slipping out of my sight.


Friday 10th March, 2:34pm (Gatwick Airport)

In what is undoubtedly an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, Gatwick feels the need to hide the charging points from the general public as best they can, and then leave them on these odd circular tables with barely enough space to put down my laptop. Truly, I suffer for these things. In future, I’m definitely going to try harder to get the same flights as people I know – a few drinks of free whiskey that I am required to make appreciative noises at and dire free Wi-Fi doesn’t really stop me from getting bored whilst I wait around for two hours.

Friday 10th March 4:41pm (Somewhere above the clouds?)

I’ve never understood why people take pictures of the clouds through their little windows on the aircraft. Do they ever show those pictures to their friends? Do they frame them and use it as a talking point on dreary Monday afternoons? It’s just a load of clouds, they can only be so interesting. But then most people on the airplane apparently enjoy having the sunlight blind them rather than closing their window shutter, so maybe I’m the weird one.

Friday 10th March 9:03pm (In a lovely little flat near a beautiful beach)

I meet my lovely hosts Tom and Kerry, old friends who moved here a few months back and graciously let me crash on their sofa like the reprobate I am. I usually tend towards Airbnb options for GPs, but having locals to guide me and friends to hang out with whom I haven’t seen in a long time is also a great experience which I would highly recommend. We get some great burgers, watch Paul Cheon draft an exceedingly medium Cube deck, and after I remember that I should register my deck list online, fall asleep.

In a lovely little flatnear a beautiful beach
In a lovely little flatnear a beautiful beach

Saturday 11th March 8:30am (Still in the lovely little flat, but with an added dreamlike state)

Waking up groggily, I panic that I’m going to miss the start of the GP. After being gently reminded that I have two byes and the ever-great freesleep in special, I relax and make myself feel a bit more human with a shower. I walk to the venue with my friends, beautiful sunlight, the sights of the beach and a bunch of tourist-baiting stalls to accompany us. Being one of the idiot tourists, I excitedly buy a pair of garish (but undeniably great) aviators at the first opportunity, just in case my shorts in March weren’t enough of an indicator that I am from a country that doesn’t really believe in sunlight.

Saturday 11th March, 10:02am (At the convention centre)

As we arrive, I sort out that I have all the cards I needed, and after an hour or so of practice games it’s time for my first match of the day.  I’ve decided not to bore you too much with the explicit details of the games for the most part, as it often came down to me casting Saheeli Rai with a cat in play and my opponent did not have an answer, or I died very quickly to aggressive things being pointed at my face (If you want the deck list/sideboard plans, skip to the end of the article!) I lost the first round to the mirror when he cast Authority of the Consuls and I did not, which tends to put you behind. Next round, I beat a UR Zombies player who does not draw many lands either game but was seeming to have a nice enough enough time anyway.

Next up was Mardu where his mana meant he couldn’t cast Unlicensed Disintegration both games, and then I see that I’m against Petr Sochůrek in the 4-1 bracket. We play three of the most interesting games that I’ve played all tournament, where I miss one Scry with Saheeli that likely cost me a game, and I lose the third one with a Chandra emblem in play that doesn’t quite get me there. When neither of us has the win on turn 4, the mirrors get a lot more interesting.

As an aside, Petr was an absolutely lovely opponent to play against, and was obviously pretty good (I mean, he went on to win the GP!). However, the travesty that some pro players don’t bring any dice or tokens is a cardinal sin and should be punished as such – doubly so when they are playing a deck with about 5 different types of token and that needs dice for planeswalkers! There’s something that upsets me on a fundamental level when my opponent has face down sleeves representing clues on one half of the field and thopter tokens on the other. Hopefully with his GP winnings he’ll be able to grab some nice ones for the next tourney.

At 4-2, the pressure was on – although a potential 6-3 is good enough for a day two record, at that point I’d prefer to drop and play the PTQ the next day for one more shot at that golden ticket. I rattled off the combo win against a polite opponent bravely playing WB control – which actually seemed fairly powerful and well suited against the metagame, but suffered from the need to tap out to resolve a large threat. After the match we discussed how much you could hear 4c Saheeli players apologising when they won from a top decked combo piece or when behind in every metric but their combo. Never see the Mardu players apologising though, so I assume they’re just a lot ruder. My next match was against someone playing tower fog, which apparently had been featured at GP Utrecht, but I hadn’t happened to have caught it. Hence when I made infinite cats and my opponent only had a Forest and Island untapped, I assumed I had won the game. What actually happened was festivities were commenced, Dynavolt Towers blew up my board, and a consulate surveillance sealed the deal, as it obviously does. Fortunately for me, my opponent stumbled the next couple games and I showed once again how very unreasonable my combo was.

Tomasz Jedruszek draw a sketch on my deckbox
Tomasz Jedruszek draw a sketch on my deckbox

With the turnover between rounds, I took the chance to have the talented Tomasz Jedruszek draw a sketch on my deckbox, which I awkwardly didn’t really have anything in mind for. Even with my unhelpful commissioning he did a great job, and even added me the little man on Inquisition of Kozilek who is not having a good day. I generally like buying prints or tokens from artist booths as it’s both a way to support artists whose work I enjoy and who make the effort/cost to come to a GP, and more importantly a way to get beautiful artwork in my living room.

For the final round, it’s my old nemesis Mardu. The games are mostly fairly standard (does that count as a pun?), with one specific point where I play like an idiot – I attack into a very obvious Avacyn that I am certain he has when we both have 5 untapped mana in play. However, I have the Harnessed Lightning as an answer, so it’s not too bad for me. I turn my creatures sideways, and he casts Avacyn and triumphantly announces the trigger. I respond with my Lightning, and then my opponent asks me how much energy I have. I look to my right. I have none. I look at the Whirler Virtuoso in my hand that I had the option of casting pre-combat whilst still holding up my Lightning, and calmly cast a second Lightning as though that had been my plan all along. It had not been. Fortunately I had the game covered with a timely Negate for his Fumigate on the next turn, and my opponent extends the hand. 7-2 isn’t anything to write home about (irony is not lost on me), but certainly a good start that keeps me in contention for the top 8.

Saturday 11th March 8:00pm (Dinner at a lovely restaurant where we obviously stood out as tourists)

I went for dinner with a large group of Axion players, and we go to the exact same place as last time there had been a GP in Barcelona, thus demonstrating the talent English people have for detesting change wherever possible. After a lovely meal and some great sangria, we head our separate ways, almost all of us at 7-2 or better. On the way back to the flat on the metro I noticed a young couple snogging for about three stops, which just felt like a very Spanish thing – in England the only way to travel on the underground is to sit completely still staring directly ahead completely silent and as far away from every other human being as possible.

Sunday 12th March 9:00am (Back at the convention centre)

Alright, after a disappointing day two at Utrecht with 4c where I lost to Mardu a bunch, I was a lot more prepared for the menace today – I had the main deck Release the Gremlins to go with two more in my sideboard, and more understanding of the matchup as a whole and how to combat it. This was definitely going to go better!

Sunday 12th March 15:00pm (At the bottom tables)

Four matches, four opponents playing Mardu. I won one, but the other ones didn’t quite go my way sadly and I was suckered into a cube draft rather than suffer the indignity of continuing to play a Standard GP. I was mostly happy with my play, and think the sideboarding plans were good, but sometimes their good draws will get you, and mine just didn’t line up well. I felt like my list was well adapted to the matchup, but with so many variations and tweaks in the Mardu decks of present it feels like it’s hard to really get an edge over all of them. So many of the matchups comes down to trying really really hard to win that die roll, which is just so vital, and then hoping they don’t have the Unlicensed Disintegration when you need them not to.

A note on the format as a whole – I have a theory that the fact that a lot of people I know had good day one performances and then weaker day two is indicative of the 50/50 nature of Standard between the two decks that rule the roost. If you are a strong player with a strong deck, you’ll naturally do well in the first stage of the tournament against theoretically weaker opponents and decks that may not be as finely tuned. However in the day two of a GP when you’re playing against more equally matched opponents with very similarly correct decks there will come a point where the natural 50/50 nature of a matchup will just go against you, commonly in Standard at the moment in the form of the die roll. Being on the draw with Mardu can just very easily lead to you falling far behind as you play creatures who find it hard to block and Exemplars that look embarrassing when not turned sideways. Whilst when playing against a Saheeli player in the mirror due to only 4 cards in the main deck that can interact with the combo (Harnessed Lightnings) sometimes they play a Saheeli on turn 3 on the play and a certain cat in their hand and there is literally nothing you can do about it.

Sunday 13th March 19:00 (At an apartment way closer to the venue than the house I was staying in)

I head back with a group of friends to their apartment for an evening of alcohol and team drafts, which I want on record that I carried my team to victory, mostly on the back of Solemn Recruit or Sram’s Expertise. As a note, 4v4 team drafts might sound like a good idea when you have eight people who want to draft, but it turned out that they were quite fun but take… a while. Which is fine, but not so much when the half of the house you’re in who aren’t drafting want to go eat food. Whoops.

After the mandatory ten or fifteen minutes of Magic players wandering around looking for a place to eat we ended up going to a Tacos place (fittingly called Tacos) where I tried Tequila for the first time properly. No idea how that drink gets such a bad rap, I can confirm that it was in fact delicious. Slightly worse for the wear, we headed back to the apartment for one last normal team draft, and I made the questionable life choice to make the “quick” trip home at 2am on foot through Barcelona after choosing to believe Google that this was the was the quickest way home. As it turned out, the metro runs 24/7. However, I did get this great selfie with these weird statues at some point, so there are some bonuses there.

As it turned out, the metro runs 24/7
As it turned out, the metro runs 24/7

Monday 14th March (Way too early o’clock)

Olympic Park, Barcelona
Olympic Park, Barcelona

After definitely not enough sleep, the adults where I’m staying leave for work whilst I slob around in the morning, and ‘forced’ myself to enjoy a slightly grey beach that reminded me of home. We head to the Olympic Park and enjoy some stunning views of the skyline, and then all too soon it was time to head to the airport. We’re asked to board an hour before the plane leaves for some god-forsaken reason, and I’m greeted with the pleasant surprise of extra leg-room in front of my seat which I utilise for a pleasant and comfortable flight home.

Of course, because it was too good to be true, I end up leaving my passport on the plane and being stuck in the airport for a while, and then a border guard losing my driver’s licence… but that’s a story for another article, I’ve prattled on for too long already. Barcelona was an absolutely lovely place and a reasonably well run GP that I’d recommend to anyone thinking of going to the next one, with great food and atmosphere and some gorgeous places to visit. Standard itself I think is in an interesting place conceptually if not game to game, and there still yet might be avenues to attack the format now that it’s practically a solved metagame. Personally, I’ll just be sticking with this for the local PPTQs, but with few big standard events on the horizon I’m mostly just waiting for when the format hopefully gets shaken up with the release of Nicol Bolas’ giant horns all over the place.

The Deck & Sideboarding Tips

And as promised, here is my decklist and sideboarding notes that I used over the weekend. In future, I would likely keep the maindeck Release the Gremlins, and look to add more Natural States in the sideboard to keep up with more decks packing Authority of the Consuls and Fevered Visions post board. I’d also probably look to testing the Elder Deep Fiend/Marvel version to try and get ahead against Mardu.

4c Saheeli Rai

Saheeli Rai
Oath of Chandra
Aether Hub
Cinder Glade
Felidar Guardian
Release the Gremlins
Botanical Sanctum
Servant of the Conduit
Oath of Nissa
Spirebluff Canal
Harnessed Lightning
Attune with Aether
Rogue Refiner
Whirler Virtuoso
Chandra, Torch of Kaladesh
Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Inspiring Vantage

Side Board

Release the gremlins
Natural State
Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Tireless Tracker
Authority of the Consuls
Woodland Wanderer
Baral’s Expertise

Vs Mardu

On the draw : + 1 Baral’s Expertise, + 1 Tamiyo, + 1 Natural State, + 2 Release the Gremlins, + 1 Negate

+ 2 Negate instead, no Baral’s expertise

-1 Attune the Aether, -1 Oath of nissa, – 2 Chandra, – 1 Rogue Refiner, – 1 Saheeli

Vs Mirror

+ 3 Negate, + 2 Tireless Tracker, + 2 Authority of the consuls (Sometimes +1 Woodland Wanderer)

-2 Oath of Nissa, – 1 Attune with Aether, – 1 Oath of Chandra, – 1 Rogue Refiner, – 1 Release the Gremlins, – 1 Whirler Virtuoso


+ 2 Baral’s Expertise, + 1 Tamiyo, + 1 Tireless Tracker

-1 Whirler Virtuoso, – 1 Rogue Refiner, -1 Attune with Aether, – 1 Release the Gremlins (can keep in release)

Vs Temur Tower

+ 1 Natural State, + 3 Negate, + 1 Dispel, + 1 Woodland Wanderer, + 2 Tireless Tracker + 1 Release the gremlins

-2 Oath of Chandra, – 3 Harnessed Lightning, – 1 Whirler Virtuoso, – 1 Rogue Refiner, – 1 Oath of Nissa, – 1 Attune with Aether

Thanks for reading,

Sean Knowelden

Of Cats And Hearts - An MTG GP Barcelona Story, by Sean Knowelden
A GP Barcelona (Standard) tournament report… Kinda, by Sean Knowelden

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