Vegas, Baby, Vegas… My GP Experience

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy with work since I got back from the trip and only now had time to write about my experience. And GP Vegas was certainly an experience. WARNING: This is long. Skip to the pictures if you’re not interested in the details.

The Backstory

I’ve only ever been to a handful of GPs before, never traveled more than a few-hour drive, and never stayed more than a night. But this was Modern Masters and, more importantly, an excuse to go to Vegas. I happen to love Vegas, so the MM GP served as a perfect excuse. My best GP was the previous weekend here in Houston, and I mean “best” in the sense that I had the best overall weekend, not that I did well. Why was it the best? Because my 12-year-old son Simon made Day 2 of the GP.

I had done one Modern Masters draft at my LGS two weeks before (went 3-1 with Faeries and earned two prize packs), but that was all the MM I had actually played. I had opened a few virtual sealed pools on line, and it was clear from doing that that Sealed is a very different beast than Draft with Modern Masters. With draft, it’s all about synergy and archetypes. In Sealed, not a lot of the sealed pools had enough of any one archetype to go with it, or at least not with it alone. Also, because of access to six rares or mythics, I guessed it would a little bit more of a bomb-centric format. So, I went in hoping to open good bombs with decent mana fixing, because a lot of decks seemed three-colored.

Now, one of the things I love to do in Vegas is head over to Exotics Racing and drive supercars. Because of EDC-related events, they were closed the Monday after the GP, so I had to book for Tuesday. That meant I couldn’t head out to Vegas until Friday.

I also stayed on the Strip. I went to Vegas for a conference about a year and a half ago, and it was off the strip. Still had a good time, and got to the strip a couple times, but seriously, I never plan to go to Vegas again and stay off-strip. That meant some transportation hassle in terms of cost for getting to the site, but I decided I would just have to suck that up.

Friday’s GP Preview

So, I didn’t get in to Vegas after 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday. That meant I missed the horrific lines early on Friday, and that I had no shot at a playmat, but that was OK. By the time I had checked into my hotel and gotten a cab (through ugly traffic) it was around 4:00 in the afternoon when I got to the site.

The site itself was slightly surreal. If you haven’t seen pictures of the Vegas site, I highly recommend you look at the WotC GP coverage or Rich Hagon’s great column about the event. The place was enormous, basically split into four sections, each one of them a “normal” GP of its own. Absolutely wild.

So, because of huge turnout, there were actually lotteries for many of the side events. I was really hoping to play in the “GP Preview” Sealed event to get in one shot of really playing sealed beforehand. I went up to registration to check, and I had not been lucky and gotten on the list. So I left the site for a while to get something to eat, then came back and figured I would play in the usual GP “foiled again” event. I was loitering near the signup stage when they announced that they had gone through the lottery list and the entire alternate list for the GP Preview, so they were taking open signups. I was standing immediately next to the judge who was to organize the line for it, so I was first in line. Yes! First win of GP Vegas!

Little did I know what was coming next.

So this event was supposed to fire at 4:00 and didn’t end up starting until around 6:00. There was a fair amount of grousing about that, but I was just thrilled to be there in the first place, so no complaints at all from me. They handed out packs, and then did an odd thing: they told us it would be Regular REL so we’d be keeping the pool we opened. Having that happen isn’t odd, but it seems to make more sense to tell the players that after opening the pools. Whatever.

The first rare I opened was Vedalken Shackles—an excellent start. Then it was Death Cloud, also not bad. Then Cryptic Command, then Kira, Great-Glass-Spinner, then Auriok Salvagers, then finally Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Holy crazy pool!

Here was the complete pool—try not to drool on your keyboard or tablet, it’s that ridiculous.

I debated for a while trying to go mono-blue, but I wanted to play Cloudgoat Ranger and Flickerwisp, and Bound in Silence, Meadowboon, and Otherworldly Journey all seemed just a little too good to cut. The black was also very good, but I thought three colors would be pushing it if I actually wanted to be casting Cryptic Command even a little on time, which I really did. Here’s what I finally built with it:

Note that almost everything in the deck flies—pretty good for Limited, I’ve heard.

In retrospect I’d probably take out the Cenn’s Enlistment and instead play the Saltfield Recluse. In this deck, though, it probably doesn’t matter that much.

I don’t remember all the details of all the rounds, but I can fill in highlights:

Round 1 my opponent had a Sword of Light and Shadow, which he got on turn 3 of game 1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give protection from Blue, or from Shackles. 2-0 to me.

Round 2 my opponent played a cool Black/Red goblins deck. He did win game 2 with a Mad Auntie followed by a Facevaulter followed by multiple Empty the Warrens. 2-1 to me.

Round 3 had a very close game 3. We wiped each other out in the first two games—bad draw for each of us, I think I blew him out with Cryptic one game, the other game the only action I had was a Shackles but he had a Maelstrom Pulse for it. Game 3 was a drawn-out affair that was very close. Late in the game I had a small army of fliers and it looked like I had it in the bag, but he did have a Doubling Season out. Turns out Doubling Season is pretty interesting when you get Skeletal Vampire. Yikes! I had Meloku on the board, so it was a bit dicey. However, the big vampire’s regeneration doesn’t save him from an Erratic Mutation (revealed a Faerie Mechanist), and I was able to make enough Illusions with Meloku to carry it. 2-1 to me.

Round 4 we had a very back and forth match. He won game 1 in about a half an hour because I had Shackles, and then thanks to a Take Possession he had Shackles for a long time until I got it back with Flickerwisp, but by then it was too late and he had me. I took a slightly less close, but still grindy, game 2 and we were almost at time while we were shuffling up for game 3. We went to time and he was on turn 5 of turns and we had a little conversation about how awful draws are in an event that pays out strictly on wins, so a draw was as good as a loss for both of us, which seemed dumb. So he scooped. 2-1 to me, kind of.

Round 5 was another close match—you’d think I wouldn’t have had so many of these with this deck, but in game 1 I drew a bunch of small fliers and not much else, and his giants ran me over. Game 2 went better. I played a Mothdust on turn 1, passed turn 2, played land and passed my turn 3 but with Pestermite in hand. So on his turn 3 upkeep, I cast Petermite, tapping one of his land. He had no 2-drop, so it was a time walk, sweet. Turn 4 for me was Machinist, which netted me another Machinist, which I cast on my turn 5, and that netted me a Shackles. Now, he had something big, 4 or 5 power by this point, and he did get a lick in, and I only had a couple Islands, so I wasn’t quite a lock to win this race, especially since on his turn 6 he cast Feudkiller’s Verdict, which put him like 1 or 2 life ahead of me so he got the Warrior token. Grr. The good news for me is that I drew my third Island so I could bounce the token (and draw) with Cryptic, and that got me there. Game 3 we both got out pretty good sets of creatures but I had Kira, which made his tricks and removal all terrible and his ground fat couldn’t quite keep up with my air force, and I sealed it with a Cryptic on his upkeep to tap all his creatures and swung in for the win my next turn. 2-1 to me.

So, how about that for a start to the weekend? Half a box of Modern Masters for that, which was great. Now, I did find my Round 4 opponent after the prizes were handed out, and I was his only “loss,” so I gave him 3 packs. That way we both ended up with 9, which seemed equitable, and was still more than the 6 would have gotten if I had ended up at 4-1.

They were closing the hall at this point and I was completely exhausted, so I walked up to Fremont Street (about a mile from the site) and took a cab back to my hotel on the Strip, grabbed a sandwich, and crashed for the early morning the next morning.

Saturday’s Main Event

Until you’ve seen the TOs try to seat 4500 players and get all the product out, you haven’t seen anything. One of the best parts was the judge staff maneuvering the zillions of cards. I took this photo, which I titled “Guardians of the Product” and tweeted it:

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Yep, those are all cases of Modern Masters, and that was just a small portion of what was handed out. Wow.

So, around 10:00 we all got seated and eventually all got our product. I opened what I thought was a really strong White/Green pool but I certainly don’t have complaints about the pool I received:

It was clear to me immediately that I had to play Black, and the Green was just too synergistic not to play it. Here’s what I ended up building:

So, that build was my first mistake of the day. What I should have done, and what I sided in most of the day, was cut the Deepcavern Imps and the Incremental Growth for the Giant Dustwasp, the Phthisis, and the Tromp the Domains. Even still, that’s a good enough deck that I think I had a reasonable shot at Day 2.

Round 1 was against Will, a very nice Canadian who was one of the buddies of my Round 4 opponent from Friday. I lost one of the games to a Rift Elemental that sucked multiple counters off a Pardic Dragon. We got to game 3 and we didn’t have a lot of time. In Game 3 I got a bit behind and had to reset the world with a medium-sized Death Cloud, leaving us both in topdeck mode but with him ahead on life and me ahead on land. My first draw step was Masked Admirers, which was amazing, and off that I drew… Tombstalker. OK, so I won this one with a bit of luck on my side. Will was cool about it, though, and we wished each other luck the rest of the day.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2 was against Kevin from Silicon Valley. Kevin was an amazingly nice guy, and we had some professional overlap, so we had a good chat while we were shuffling. He had also read my previous blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, which was cool. I have to admit my memory of the first two games was a little sketchy, other than that we split them, with him having a lot of fliers. We had a lot of complex board states at various points and Kevin tanked a bit at various points, and they called time only a turn or so into game 3. He was stuck on two land and I had cast Kodama’s Reach on my turn 3, so on my turn 4, which was also turn 4 of extra turns, I cast Death Cloud for 2, leaving him landless. He could not kill me next turn, and again, a draw this early did nobody any good, so given that if we had had time to finish the game, I probably would have won with him on zero land and all (his draw for the last turn of extra turns was not land), so he conceded on the last turn of extra turns. Incredibly gracious.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3 was against a young man from Mexico whose full name I couldn’t pronounce. He was playing mostly Black/White rebels but with a few other tricks in there. Game 1 he took with a pair of Rathi Trappers locking me down. Game 2 he kept a slow hand and I curved out on Thallids, and when I Clouded for three and only had to give up Saprolings, he scooped. Game 3 was one of those long, drawn-out board stalls that was greatly aided by his early Stinkweed Imp and then made awful by his late Yosei, the Morning Star. He again had two Rathi Trappers to my one, and while I was making all kinds of Saprolings, they weren’t big enough to get me into a productive attack. He finally got there, and i have to say that I felt like this was my worst-played game of the day. I’m sure that a better player would have figured out a way to win that game, but I just couldn’t find it.
2-1 matches, 5-4 games

Round 4 was against Peter from eastern Pennsylvania. Allentown, maybe? Sorry I forgot. Game 1 he kept a slow hand and I ran him over, including the amazing Death Cloud for three, killing 10 points of flying power on his side of the board and 3 Saprolings on mine. Game 2 was a grinder that he won on the back of those fliers. Game 3 we both got seriously flooded, but I drew action first in the form of Verdeloth, which is pretty good when you have 11 land on the table.
3-1 matches, 7-5 games

Round 5 was against Simon, who is a Vegas local. He was playing Black/White rebels with a strong artifact theme. Game 1 I had three creatures on the board on my turn 5, including a Stinkweed Imp, when I cast Incremental Growth. He never handled the huge deathtouch flier. Game 2 he won pretty easily with Divinity of Pride. Game 3 I managed to draw tons of removal to kill off his Arcbound Ravager multiple times and locked up the win with Tombstalker.
4-1 matches, 9-6 games

OK, at X-1 with four rounds to go, and starting to get hungry and a little tired, all I wanted from here was to either go 3-0 to make day 2 or to just go 0-2 and be done. The worst would be going 2-1 and then losing to just miss day 2—anything but that. Well, I didn’t get that.

Round 6 was against Kaase from L.A. who was also on Black/White rebels. I kept a sketchy hand of three lands and three big (5cc or higher) spells, with a three-drop in there. I did not draw cheap or even medium-sized spells and paid the price. I believe I cast only two spells this game. Game 2 was just the worst game ever. I mulled to six and kept a 3-land, 3-spell hand including two spells I could actually cast, a Rathi Trapper and a Stinkweed Imp. And I drew land. And more land. In total, I drew 11 land and 6 spells in the game, and the sixth spell was a Kodama’s Reach, so I died with 13 lands in play and 6 spells either on the board or in the graveyard. So, chalk up one bad mulligan decision, and one bad moment of variance.
4-2 matches, 9-7 games

Round 7 was against Jon from Iowa on RWU artifacts. If there’s ever been a match of Magic that I feel like I should have won but yet still didn’t, this was it. Game 1 I got a little behind and he had me down to 10 and I had just given up my last creature on board, leaving him with two creatures, two cards in hand, and four land, and me with five land and a Bonesplitter on the board, and four cards in hand, one of which was Tombstalker. I cast Death Cloud for two, wiping his board and his hand. Next turn I cast Tombstalker and equipped it. Later he told me he had exactly two cards in his deck that could deal with that: a Bound in Silence and a Shrapnel Blast, and of course for the blast he had to have an artifact. You know what he topdecked, of course? That’s right, a land and then a Bound in Silence. Grr. Game 2 I won pretty easily since his deck was soft to fat creatures, and I got Imperiousaur and Verdeloth, plus a Phthisis that went off killing his guy and doing 5 to him, and just ran him over. Game 3 I kept a hand with 2 Swamps, 1 Forest, 2 Sporesower Thallids and two other cards I don’t remember. And, as you might expect, I never saw a second Forest until it was way, way too late. I think I had six swamps and the forest on the table before I drew another forest. I showed him what was in my hand and he remarked, “yep, if could have cast those two big Thallds on turn 4 or 5 you would have had me—I can’t deal with those, especially not with what I had.”
4-3 matches, 10-9 games

I was mentally exhausted and getting hungry by this point, so I walked up to Fremont St. (about a mile from the site) and caught the bus back to my hotel, had some dinner, and crashed. Not making day 2 at least meant I didn’t have to get up early on Sunday.

That’s a pretty inauspicious record given the card pool. The important things to take away:

• It’s a game of inches, as the football commentators like to say. What I mean by this is that the margins at an even like a GP are very small. Small mistakes here or there cost games, and those games add up to matches, and that means no day 2 if you don’t have any byes. It’s not as if I didn’t know that going in to the event, but it’s tough when you’ve never played with most of the cards before. (I wasn’t playing for the entire run of Modern Masters.) More practice beforehand would have helped, and I almost certainly should have mulliganed game 1 of round 6.

• Build the deck correctly from the start. Still not sure what I was thinking when I made some of those choices. Pretty much only time I ever play Sealed is for pre-releases and I think that might have been a factor. Not sure there.

• It was great to be part of a record-breaking 4500-person event, but I never need to do that again. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t run badly—quite the contrary, I thought the TOs and the judges did a very good job. But the whole thing was just too big and unweildy. I never got near any of the artists, as they were mobbed all the times that I had any time (Friday evening and on Sunday).

Despite all that, it was great and I’m really glad I did it. My seven opponents in the main event (and, frankly, my five opponents from the preview event) were all terrific guys and really fun to play with, even when the matches themselves weren’t all that great (though most of them were pretty competitive and fun). MM Sealed is a really fun format where almost every card can be good with the right other cards in the deck. The atmosphere was crazy and too crowded but there was also a great energy and it was a good time.

Sunday Side Events

When I conked out on Saturday night, I didn’t set an alarm, and it felt really good to sleep in a bit. I seriously considered not even going up to the site, but Arthur Halavais tweeted that he might be running a draft using “Tales of Home,” a set he had designed, so I thought I’d head on up. I rode the Vegas monorail for the first time, all the way from the MGM to the now-defunct Sahara, walked to the Stratosphere and took a cab ride from there—much cheaper.

Arthur wasn’t sure the draft would actually fire, though, so to kill time I signed up for the Sunday Super Series Standard event. That was kind of a mistake, since 175 other people did the same. It was all Swiss with only the top 4 advancing to the Super Series, so basically it was a 175-person single-elimination event. I played a White-Black-Red midrange deck that I’ve played a bit recently, including a 4-2 finish at one of the GP Houston side events. Here’s the list:

It’s called “Sin City” for the color mix (that’s what I call that wedge), which seemed appropriate for the location. It’s actually a really fun deck to play, is surprisingly well-positioned for the metagame, and my son Simon piloted it to a win at our most recent FNM.

I didn’t do quite as well. I won round 1 2-1 against an Immortal Servitude deck that is almost the same list as Junk Aristocrats. I lost round 2 to Junk Tokens because he had the god draw in game 3 with Intangible Virtue on turns 2 and 3 and he followed my Mortars with a Lingering Souls plus the flashback. I was out, but I decided to stay in to see if Arthur’s draft would fire. Now, the worst matchup for this deck is probably Jund unless they’ve gone to Sire of Insanity, as most lists have. Unfortunately, my third-round opponent hadn’t, and won on the back of Rakdos’s Return for 4 in the first game and for 3 in the second. (He had also read my blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, though, so that was cool.)

This was the point at which I decided that I was Magic’d out for the weekend, and Arthur didn’t think his draft would end up firing anyway, so I took off. Here was the rest of my Sunday:

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That’s pizza from DOCG at the Cosmopolitan. Delicious. That was followed by:

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Yep, the fountains at the Bellagio. (If you haven’t seen the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, go see it.) Inside the Bellagio, there was this:

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That would be the theater for Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show, as seen from the front row (where I was sitting) which was excellent. (Yes, you do get a little bit wet if you sit in the front row.)

Other Side Events

Monday is the “day off” in Vegas, no shows. However, the town was still hopping even at 10:00 at night:

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That was after a lovely steak at Biscayne. I spend the next several hours playing blackjack at the Cosmopolitan, where i went through a half-dozen martinis, tipped my dealers and cocktail waitresses well, and walked out with exactly the same amount of money in my pocket that I walked in with. Can’t complain about that.

Tuesday was supercars:

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That’s the Aston Martin Vanquish S, and it was absolutely a dream to drive. It’s actually on the slow side for a real supercar, but the car just feels terrific to drive and is plenty fast. It also has the sweetest sounding engine ever. The other ride:

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That’s the Nissan GT-R, aka “Godzilla.” It was also fantastic but to be honest, even though the GT-R is faster, I actually like the Aston better. The GT-R really wanted to be in charge of where it was going, and I’m sure it was right, but I ended up fighting the computer a little and of course, the computer always won. The Aston just did what I wanted, even if what I wanted was to make a “mistake” and not take the corner perfectly. Still, a great way to spend the day.

Remember, kids, going to a GP doesn’t just have to be about Magic.