After months of waiting, and over a month of writing about the grind toward Grand Prix Washington DC, the time had come. Packing up for the tournament, thought after thought ran through my head. “Are your friends still going to have Jaces for you to borrow?” “Mythic Conscription is expected now – people are going to be ready to beat it.” “What if the PTQ was just a lucky streak?” “You should play Naya.”
I continued packing, trying to push the thought to the back of my head. My ride was on its way, and I needed to get everything situated. As I reached for my deckbox, something still kept nagging at me.
It’s true, I’ve had tons of practice with Naya over the last few months, using it as my default deck when I couldn’t borrow a Seventy-Five. But, the deck was obviously Tier 2, even though Vengevine brought up the power curve a lot. Sure, I had lost a good number of games locally, and in testing, but the list is more refined now. Also, I was going to be a better player than most of the people that showed up, anyway.
“Just play Naya.“
Mythic was going to be the deck to beat going into the Grand Prix. Everyone will be running it after seeing how well it performed at National Qualifiers, and as long is I was comfortable with going to Game Three, the matchup was pretty easy. But, is this really the choice I should be making? How well am I tuned to beat the rest of the field? What about my Planeswalkers matchup? As I looked back through my list, I decided to grab a couple of cards I may need, and threw my deckbox into my messenger bag,
“Yeah. I think I will play Naya.“
Stories of long road trips full of obscene screaming and general retardation aside, Day Zero (Friday) was pretty uninteresting. Upon checking my rating, I found out that I would not be guaranteed the two byes that I had qualified for two weeks prior – a quick tank at National Qualifiers made sure of that – so, I knew I’d be in for the long haul. Instead of participating in unnecessary grinders, I decided to work on my decklist so I could just win my first two rounds of the Main Event.
“What about your Planeswalkers matchup?” That voice still kept nagging me. I knew that the Planeswalkers matchup was really rough, even with Manabarbs. Gideon is just too much of a problem to deal with, especially if you can’t kill him the turn he resolves. Should I really be playing a deck that has such a hard time against one of the most popular decks in the format?
“What about Mage Slayer?“
Wait. Normally, I would dismiss any weird ideas like this from my friends, but this one was actually just crazy enough to work. With the Stoneforge Mystic package, I only had to have one in the board, and it allowed me to kill a Jace or Ajani while Gideon was forcing me to attack him – I could even attack through Wall of Omens or Wall of Denial in a pinch. Of course, there was also the “RTFC” factor of the card – I knew I could get at least one win from someone not really understanding how the card works. So, after much deliberation, I came up with the following final decklist.
Vengevine Naya by Jeph Foster
(To load a .txt deck into Magic: Online’s Deck Editor, click “Load”, select “Local Text Deck”, find the location of the downloaded deck file and double-click the deck.)
I knew with this list, I’d be able to take out pretty much anything that stood in my way. I knew the Mythic matchup would be a really rough Game 1, without maindeck Cunning Sparkmage, but the Bolts and Oblivion Rings would at least make the game winnable. Post-board, however, the matchup should completely swing in my favor, and be damn near unlosable. Mage Slayer should blow the Planeswalkers matchup wide open, as well as the standard Manabarbs, and I wasn’t expecting to see any Jund at the top tables, anyway. I was ready for Day One.
After a little bit of playtesting and drunken shenanigans, Day One of Grand Prix: Washington, D.C. was upon us. We drove to the Tournament Center, and prepared to sit down for the players meeting.
Round 1: Bye. I mostly just used this time to catch up on a little bit of extra rest, and to watch the rest of my team all win their Round 1.
Round 2: Mythic. This was the matchup I said I’d be fine with facing all day. This round played out just like I had predicted – My opponent combos out Game 1, then I board in Cunning Sparkmages, Qasali Pridemages, and Path to Exile, and just play the Control side of the matchup. Once that happens, there’s really no losing.
Round 3: Naya. While I don’t really get to see any Sparkmages Game 1, I’m pretty convinced my opponent is running the version completely built around Vengevine, because I don’t see any non-creature spells. I end up losing Game 1, and Games 2 and 3 end up with trading Sparkmages, building up Knights and Scute Mobs and landing a Behemoth Sledge for the win.
Round 4: Runeflare Trap. While talking with my opponent, I find out that he had won a local Grand Prix Trial, and that was his first round of play. (We should all be so lucky.) He ends up smashing my face Game 1, with a Twincasted Runeflare Trap for well over my life total. However, Game 2, I land a Manabarbs after establishing board position, which he pretty basically got the scoop. Game 3, I put enough aggression on him – with a Manabarbs for added measure – to bring him down to 6. During my Draw Step, he attempts to double Runeflare Trap me, and I ask him if he has a Flashfreeze. He shakes his head, and I show him the two Lightning Bolts in my hand. Good Game.
Round 5: Planeswalkers. At this point, I don’t even feel stressed about having to win Games 2 and 3 anymore, since I feel so favored in the sideboarded games. I’m fine being an underdog during Game 1. That said, I lose Game 1 for the fourth time in a row. I get a little giddy (no pun intended) during sideboarding, knowing that I’ll have a chance to blow my opponent out with Mage Slayer, if it comes into my hand. My opponent ends up landing a Jace, and Fateseals me, seeing the Mage Slayer, getting an awkward look on his face, and letting me keep it. During my Draw Step, I see what I was left, and immediately start to feel as if the game is winnable again. I end up drawing into a Noble Hierarch on a subsequent turn, and then a Bloodbraid Elf cascades into another Hierarch while Manabarbs is on the table against his Jace and Wall of Denial while he is at four life. I equip Mage Slayer, and simply ask if it’s okay to declare attacks. He lets me attack with Bloodbraid Elf, and asks me whether I’m attacking him or Jace. After I inform him that I’m attacking him, he goes to block with his wall, where I promptly inform him that he is dead – I knew I’d get at least one win off someone not knowing what the card does. Game 3 involves Mage Slayer killing a Jace, whilst attacking Gideon. An equipped Bloodbraid Elf deals the extra damage needed for exactsies on an all-in swing.
Round 6: Mythic. My first sweep of the day. He just floods out Game 1, and Game 2, I get the Turn 2 Cunning Sparkmage. There’s no coming back from that.
Round 7 Mythic. I lose Game 1 to a Conscripted creature, as is typical of the deck. Game 2, I find my opponent made an insanely clever board choice of bringing in Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Unfortunately for him I had the removal for Sovereigns, so he couldn’t win first. Game 3, my opponent lands Sovereigns of Lost Alara and swings with Sphinx of Jwar Isle while I have a tapped Cunning Sparkmage with Basilisk Collar attached. I trade my Qasali Pridemage for his enchantment, and untap. I kill his Sovereigns and inform him the only way he can possibly win the game is if he rips a Sovereigns off the top. Lo and Behold, he gets the Sovereigns, and can’t I peel another Pridemage off the top.
Round 8: Plansewalkers. Game 1, I get the early Stoneforge into Basilisk Collar, and drop a Vengevine into play. He can’t profitably block with his Wall of Omens or Sea-Gate Oracles. I stop playing threats, opting to keep Vengevine reloads in hand in case he plays Day of Judgment. He can’t find an answer and scoops. Game 2 – read: Game 1.
Round 9: Red Deck Wins. Even though I’m locked for Day 2 at this point, I still am feeling a bit tilted about my loss Round 7. I take a minute to clear my head, and introduce myself to my opponent. He seems to be a really nice guy, who happened to build his deck off the top of his head the night before. I get lucky and land a Basilisk Collar when he gets me to 3, and is out of gas. He doesn’t topdeck the Bolt, and I pull out of range before he can rip a spell. Game 2 includes a Turn 1 Goblin Guide that not only kept hitting land, but still had me drawing land during my Draw Step, as well. Game Three, I land the early Basilisk Collar, and his Goblin Guide keeps hitting lands and drawing me gas. Seems like a nice way to end the day.
At the start of the day, I went in feeling like I was virtually locked for Top 64. Even though 220 people made Day Two (A ridiculous number, in my opinion), I knew that X-5 would be good enough to make prizes. Some people just can’t hold their luck, it seems.
Round 11: Blue/White Control. Once again, Not a very memorable match. I get too aggressive for him with my Vengevines and win the match in relatively short order.
Round 12: Traditional Mythic. This was a matchup I wasn’t too happy with. I know it’s the same general gameplan as the Conscription build, but the biggest threats can’t be dealt with through creature removal. Game one, he gets Rafiq and Finest Hour, so I’m left holding nothing. During Sideboarding, I bring in the same cards as I do against traditional Mythic, except instead of taking out the Oblivion Rings I add a third to deal with non-creature permanents that become problems. For some reason, my opponent boards in Bant Charm, which seems like it makes his deck less consistent than it originally was, and I’m able to use Sejiri Steppe to grind out a Game 2 win. Game 3, he keeps a one lander with a bunch of Mana dorks. Unfortunately, this leaves him having to choose between chump blocking and Bant Charming, which he can’t do effectively against my Knight of the Reliquary, and I beat him down with all-in swings.
Round 13: Bant Control. This is the match I am most unhappy about all tournament. I end up getting a game loss because one of my cards got stuck in my deckbox, and I felt rushed to present by my opponent. Amateur mistake that should have never happened. Game 1, I smash my opponents face. Vengevines keep wrecking his Walls and Sea-Gate Oracles, and I get tons of gas. Game 2, I keep a three land opener with no White sources, and have Oblivion Ring, Knight of the Reliquary, Bloodbraid Elf, and Vengevine. Any White source or fourth land would have been enough to get me the game. I whiff on my fourth land drop three times in a row, and he lands Jace to fateseal me out of recovering. Horrible Beats.
Round 14: Jund. This matchup basically comes down to who gets more Bloodbraid Elves. He got a bunch Game 1, I got three Game 2, and Game 3 was a grind where I just couldn’t gain enough life. He had the removal for my creatures, and that was all she wrote.
Round 15: Mythic. At this point, I realize I’m on a bubble round. Even though X-5 would be Top 64, I knew I needed this round for the tiebreakers necessary to make the cut. Unfortunately, by this point in the day, my deck was tired of delivering me lands, and he combos out Game 1. Game 2 I land the Turn 2 Sparkmage. Game 3 he combos out again.
Round 16: Mythic. Even though I was pretty sure I was out of contention for prizes, I still felt the need to play it out just in case I still made it in. This round, I played against a friend of the player I beat in Round 8, and we start chatting for a while, playing a pretty casual game. By this point in the tournament, I could at least take solace in two things. First, that I was absolutely right about the Mythic presence at the tournament. Second, that I was sitting next to Tomoharu Saito and Luis Scott-Vargas, so at least I wasn’t the only one with a day’s worth of bad beats.
Game 1, as has become customary, my opponent combos out and wrecks my face with Build-Your-Own-Eldrazi. Game 2, he keeps a one-lander with mana dorks, and I keep a Turn 2 Sparkmage hand. He fails to draw a second land for two turns, and realizes the futility, scooping up his cards. Game 3 wasn’t quite so one-sided, but I did keep another Turn 2 Sparkmage hand. Turn 2 Sparkmage is almost impossible for Mythic to race.
Round 17: Planeswalkers. This match was actually just dumb and involved him being stuck on four lands for ten turns, and me pulling about 17 lands out of my deck in those same turns. He eventually got his land before I got my gas, and there was nothing I could do. Unfortunately, with our game one taking fourty minutes, there was no way I was able to beat my opponent twice in the remaining ten, and we go to time during Game 2.
Final Result – 104th/1932
FInal Rating – 1944
Peak Rating – 2007
I still take this as a fun learning experience, even though I didn’t walk away with any money. Grand Prix are always a good time, and I would encourage anyone who has not been to one before to head to Columbus in July for Legacy, or Nashville in November for Scars of Mirrodin Limited. Anyone who saw me at the Grand Prix, feel free to drop me a line in the comment box to tell me how much of a douche I was, or just spout random banter. I reply to all comments! Starting in two weeks, Rhythmik Study will actually have strategy guides, and will focus a little bit less on decks in the current metagame (but like any Magic column, will probably be more about what I feel like rambling about at the time).
Just play tight, and until next time…
…See you in Amsterdam!