I guess I can’t keep starting my articles off by saying how I never thought I’d be able to do X, but just did X. Grand Prix Atlantic City is now in the books and, for the second time in as many tournaments, I was able to cross something off my Magic bucket list.
I don’t want to say that winning the GP was easy. There are a lot of people who tried really hard and played really well only to come up short. But the truth is that this tournament did not feel like the usual grind you would expect from sixteen rounds of Swiss and three elimination matches against some of the best players in the world.
Jon Finkel said that in every situation, there is one correct play, and that everything else is a mistake. I love that sentiment and the philosophy behind it. It allows you to strive for perfection, focus on what you can actually control, and keep an even temperament when variance rears its ugly head. Try to make the best play, hold yourself to the highest standard, and let the chips fall where they may.
A corollary of that thought is the idea that if both players play perfect Magic, the outcome is completely scripted once you shuffle and present. Instead of looking at skill as the ability to outplay opponents, you can imagine measuring it by the amount your plays deviate from this ideal script. While it won’t guarantee victory, perfect play will maximize your long-term results.
What I’m getting at is that there are games of Magic that should be won, even against a perfect opponent. That’s how I felt in Atlantic City. I essentially won the tournament on Wednesday when I started testing Bant Hexproof. From that point on, all I had to do over the course of the weekend was hold serve.
A week before the tournament, I was planning to play either BR Aggro or Esper Control. I had played both in local Grand Prix Trials and felt that both were reasonable options. I considered the black-heavy version of BR to be the best aggressive deck in the format but didn’t really like the mana curve. Sometimes you draw all 4-drops and burn spells, and other times you flood on Diregraf Ghouls. I knew that I wanted to shave some burn for more creatures, but couldn’t find a 2-drop I was happy with. Zvi’s Crimson Muckwaders are a good option I didn’t consider since I was too focused on black cards, though I’m still a little skeptical of the mana.
I prefer Esper Control to the Bant versions for two reasons. It allows you to completely blank your opponent’s removal and theoretically wins all the durdle matchups you might play in the draw bracket. I found a UW list that just splashed black for Ultimate Price and Nephalia Drownyard that I was more or less happy with once I cut the singleton Entreat the Angels. Though I felt this deck was well-positioned, going to time was a real concern. My first game testing against Reid Duke’s Bant took 35 minutes as I had to deck my opponent three times before finally binning his Elixir of Immortality. Grinding out a Jund or Reanimator deck also proved to be a slow process, and not all opponents can be counted on to concede with the writing on the wall.
I was prepared to play either of these decks despite my reservations. Then I came across a replay of a Michael Jacob’s stream where he easily 4-0’d a daily with a silly little Bant deck. I started watching out of curiosity but soon began to think about how good hexproof creatures were in a metagame where everyone was forced to play situational instant-speed removal in order to deal with huge hasted fliers. An afternoon testing session confirmed that this deck was for real, and it become my de facto deck as we commenced the long drive from Montreal to Atlantic City.
“You should definitely play Bant Hexproof. It has the potential to take the GP by storm and win the entire tournament. But I need a consistent finish to earn a few extra pro points, so I have to play a real deck.” — Pro Tour Barcelona Winner Alexander Hayne.
Since I’m sure you are all more interested in the actual deck than the reasons to play it, here’s the list I registered:
Bant Auras – Jon Stern – GP Atlantic City – 1st
The main deck was ported directly from Michael Jacob’s list, but not without considering alternatives. My initial impression was that Selesnya Charm didn’t fit, that Increasing Savagery was too expensive or win-more, and that the deck needed more than eight legitimate threats.
I’m always loathe to make changes before actually trying a deck, so I sleeved it up and played a few games. While Increasing Savagery didn’t feel great, I was actually very impressed with the utility of Selesnya Charm. All three modes were relevant and there are very few matchups where you want to board it out. The +2/+2 ability is probably the one you use most often to allow your Geist to survive combat or to trample for lethal. While making a Knight on turn 2 is rarely a winning play, it does help you play around Liliana and other sacrifice effects, ambush Huntmasters, and immediately deploy a new threat when your opponent taps out for a Wrath effect. Although it didn’t come up in the finals, a large vigilant creature is actually really difficult to deal with in the mirror, applying significant pressure while holding off opposing Geists. The exiling effect comes up a little less often, but does help you win races against Thundermaw Hellkites and aggressive Thragtusk draws.
Resigned to an inconsistent creature suite, I still wasn’t sure about the Savageries and tried out Curiosity at a local tournament. The idea was that the extra cards would help you recover from a costly Verdict. While it wasn’t completely horrible, it seemed to be more cute than effective. Knowing that it wouldn’t be a factor in our match, I asked Josh Utter-Leyton about it while we were sideboarding and he admitted that they were terrible for him all weekend. Though I suppose it could have been gamesmanship, I don’t think that was the case. Besides, Increasing Savagery was good for me throughout the tournament.
I did make a few changes to the sideboard. I tried out Sigarda in place of Angelic Overseer in anticipation of people boarding in sacrifice effects like Tribute to Hunger. To be honest, neither 5-drop really tested well. I ended up shaving one copy, and, going forward, would probably cut the second as well.
The big change though, was the removal of Rhox Faithmenders for Nearheath Pilgrims. The BR Aggro matchup felt like a race. I would lose to an aggressive Zombie draw backed up by large, hasted fliers. While loading up a 1/5 lifelinker with any number of auras might seem like a good anti-aggro strategy, it didn’t really deal with Aristocrats or Thundermaws, and was vulnerable to Ultimate Price and Victim of Night. I saw some versions running Azorius Charm instead, but that also felt underwhelming. Although the Pilgrim is still vulnerable to removal, you can often get at least one significant attack in before it dies. And, since I did feel like the Hexproof deck could have a breakout tournament, I liked having a sideboard card that can singlehandedly win the mirror.
The only other thing I considered was cutting some number of Rest in Peace. The current Reanimator decks were such a good matchup that it almost seemed like a waste to bring in hate. Still, I didn’t want to water down the deck too much by overboarding for other matchups, and decided that the three slots were something I could afford.
In retrospect, the only significant change I would want to make would probably be to add some number of Strangleroot Geists to the sideboard to provide an additional threat against the control decks. I’d probably start by cutting the Angelic Overseer and at least one Rest in Peace. The decision on whether to board in a full playset would depend on the results of post-sideboard testing. Answering that question would be the first order of business if I was planning to play this deck in an upcoming tournament.
With Gatecrash now in stores, the obvious updates are to smooth out the mana by adding Breeding Pool and to try out Gift of Orzhova, which I imagine will be very good. I’d probably cut the Savageries and maybe one Selesnya Charm for three Gift of Orzhova as a starting point.
The Tournament Proper:
I’m not one to grind Planeswalker Points, but my recent results were good enough to get me over the three bye threshold. That proved fortuitous as I got almost no sleep Friday night. A roadside McRib apparently did not agree with an already sick Justin Richardson, and my dreams were plagued by the sound of him vomiting in the toilet.
Still feeling the effects of the long drive and lack of sleep, I arrived at the site in a haze at the appointed hour to discover that Round 2 had just gotten underway. I guess some measure of delay is inevitable in a 1600-player tournament. Coffee and some warm-up games against BR Aggro were my best attempt to recover and get into a gaming mindset. Round 4 pairings finally went up and I fought my way through the throng of R-S players to find out where it would all start.
Round 4: Won 2-1 vs Billy Savarin (Junk Reanimator)
I had not tested specifically against this deck, but knew it had to be a good matchup. With almost no way of interacting with my creatures, their Craterhoof Behemoth plan is almost certainly a turn or more too slow. But this match was not about Magic for me.
Despite my practice games, the fog had not yet cleared. I did not feel up to playing a single game of Magic, let alone seven grueling rounds. I won Game 1 easily and boarded in my Rest in Peaces. With such a good matchup, at least I would finish quickly and have some more time to wake up before the next round. I mulliganed into a hand of three lands, an Avacyn’s Pilgrim, a Geist of Saint Traft, and an Abundant Growth.
The catch was that I had no actual green mana. I had a Cavern of Souls which would let me cast the Pilgrim, and two Hallowed Fountains. Not really a problem since you’re always going to keep a hand with a turn 2 Geist. For some reason, though, I spent a lot of time considering my turn 1 play. Do I name “human” to cast the Pilgrim, or slow-roll the Cavern so that I can be sure to cast the Geist?
For some reason, I thought I needed green mana to cast Geist of Saint Traft. Despite the fog, I still somehow managed to come up with the obvious play of casting Pilgrim on turn 1. But instead of casting Geist on turn 2, I played a tapped Hallowed Fountain and passed the turn.
Although it’s no excuse, this misstep did not prove costly. My opponent played a Centaur Healer on his turn, and, with no castable auras in hand, I wouldn’t have been able to attack anyway. By turn 3, I had figured out how to cast my spells and played the Geist, but proceeded to lose the game as I drew a pair of uncastable Rancors in succession. Fortunately, I did manage to win the third game and keep my tournament on track.
The important thing to really take away from this match is that oversights happen. You need to be able to put mistakes behind you, keep a level head and continue to try to play your best. For a brief moment, my mind raced about how I was on the verge of throwing away the entire tournament on a bonehead play, but I feel like I recovered well and was able to refocus. The adrenaline actually helped clear the cobwebs and I finally felt ready to play some cards.
Match Record: 4-0
Standings: 109th place
Round 5: Won 2-0 vs Paul Rice (GW Humans)
I felt like I was the overwhelming favourite in this matchup. I curved out with a hexproof creature and a bunch of auras and won easily.
The above statement could accurately describe a large number of my games on the weekend. Aside from the mirror, my match against Esper Control was the only round where I didn’t feel like I had a significant advantage. Although the specific details of this round are a little fuzzy, I know that my boarded in Nearheath Pilgrims played a key role in the second game. Though I think this match was as simple as understanding that he could not deal with or race an augmented Invisible Stalker.
At this point, our entire hotel room was undefeated. Despite announcing in the morning that he was too sick to play, Justin managed to drag himself to the site and, complete with surgical mask, was 5-0 with UWR Flash. The inimitable Eugene Ho was perfect with Jund, and Pro Tour Champ Alex Hayne, who contemplated Hexproof but eventually settled on a more consistent Esper list, had also won his first two rounds.
Match Record: 5-0
Standings: 25th place
Round 6: Won 2-1 vs Andrew Schneider (Bant Hexproof)
Andrew and I recognized each other from tournaments of ages past, but couldn’t really pinpoint the exact memory.
I was a little surprised to play the mirror so early in the tournament but had come prepared. While being on the play is definitely an asset, the real stars of this match were my Nearheath Pilgrims which completely broke open the post-sideboard games and allowed me to win in three games.
Match Record: 6-0
Standings: 12th place
Round 7: Won 2-0 vs Ben Stark (Junk Reanimator)
Though we haven’t kept in contact, I’ve known Ben since back when we were kids trying to grind our way onto the Pro Tour. When I found myself on vacation visiting my grandparents in Florida right before a Grand Prix in New Orleans, I got in touch with Ben and we combined with Bill Stead and others to make our way to N’Awlins.
Details of the trip are fuzzy at best, but I’ll never forget the tournament since I’m probably the only one to ever go undefeated on Day 1 and still miss Day 2 with a record of 4-0-4. With UG Madness of all things. Let’s just say that Oath of Druids is my least favourite Magic card of all time.
Most of our match was spent chatting about a mutual acquaintance who has fallen on hard times while I unceremoniously dispatched his Reanimator deck in two quick games. By his own admission, he had not bothered to account for this matchup despite seeing it pop up online, and lamented the lack of Ray of Revelations in his sideboard.
Match Record: 7-0
Standings: 2nd place
Round 8: Won 2-1 vs Shaheen Soorani (Esper Control)
This was the only round in the tournament where I think I might have been a slight underdog. Both of the games I won were nail biters as Shaheen had multiple draw steps to find a specific card that would wreck me. He couldn’t find a Supreme Verdict in one game, or the right mana to cast it in another.
If you’ve read any of Shaheen’s articles, you know that he has a unique style and doesn’t mind playing cards that other pros dismiss. What you may not know is that he’s also a great guy who, despite playing at a high level, does not seem to take the game too seriously. He was equally friendly while digging fruitlessly for his second white mana as he was while locking me out of the game with Curse of Death’s Hold and Drogskol Reaver. Definitely one of the good guys.
Match Record: 8-0
Standings: 2nd place
Round 9: Won 2-0 vs David Cleveland (Angel Reanimator)
My opponent mulliganed twice and conceded on turn 3 with only three lands in play while facing an enchanted Geist of Saint Traft. Fortunately, his lands produced all five colours of mana and allowed me to put him on some sort of Reanimator deck. I boarded in Rest in Peace and was able to win Game 2 when his deck once again failed to deliver a reasonable draw.
Match Record: 9-0
Standings: 2nd place
Round 10: Won 2-0 vs Brian Kibler (BG Ooze)
After receiving a sponsor’s exemption earlier that week and facing Brian Kibler for the chance to end the day at the top of the standings, I was surprised not to get a feature match this round. While I chalked it up to him having already received his share of time under the camera, it turns out that it was most likely because the tournament organizers had misplaced my coverage waiver form.
For Brian, this was a match of firsts. He started off by winning his first die roll of the day and then proceeded to lose his first game. Not knowing what I was playing, he kept a slow hand with multiple Predator Ooze and was summarily punished by an invisible Invisible Stalker.
As we sideboarded, I flashed Brian a glimpse of an index card that was literally titled “Sideboarding vs Kibler’s BG Ooze.” He seemed to find it slightly amusing that I had notes specifically for him. Always come prepared! The second game was closer as he boarded out his slow cards for a bunch of discard spells. His creature light draw gave me ample time to draw into a threat, however, and I managed to finish the day off with a perfect record.
Match Record: 10-0
Standings: 1st place
Walking out of the tournament hall as one of only three undefeated players was kind of surreal. Our entire hotel room had made the cut to Day 2. Justin and Eugene were sitting at 8-2 while Alex had lost the post-cut tenth round to finish at 7-3. At 10-0, it’s hard not to feel destined for Top 8, but I knew there was still a lot of work to do. With good tiebreaks, a record of 3-2-1 would likely be sufficient, but that still requires an above .500 record against others who were also doing well.
I ducked out early from a post-tourney meal at P.F. Chang’s to try to get some sleep before Day 2. Not wanting to take any chances with Justin’s illness, I grabbed some extra pillows and decided to make a bed on the floor. Despite only getting to sleep after 2 am, I woke up refreshed and ready to make a run.
Round 11: Won 2-0 vs Zen Kikuchi-Wellman (UWR Flash)
Looks like they found my coverage waiver overnight and decided to feature me in a battle of undefeated players. Zen was running a slightly offbeat version of UWR with his own Geists, making my creature enchantments a risky proposition.
Video coverage of the match can be found here:
If it doesn’t load correctly, it is Video 8 out of 14 with Game 1 at 0:00 and Game 2 at 15:48
This match is indicative of how a lot of my games played out over the course of the tournament. My opponent was unable to find an answer to an early Geist in Game 1 or an enchanted Stalker in Game 2.
Match Record: 11-0
Standings: 1st place
Round 12: Won 2-1 vs Matt Boccio (Jund)
I lost Game 2 when a timely Bonfire of the Damned took out an early Invisible Stalker. That proved fatal as I drew a series of useless enchantments and eventually died to a flipped Huntmaster of the Fells. Things went more according to plan in Game 3, as he could not race a Spectral Flight on an early Geist.
Match Record: 12-0
Standings: 1st place
Round 13: Won 2-1 vs Joe Robillard (Dark Naya)
Details of this match are a little fuzzy, so I won’t pretend to rehash the intricacies of the game play. I’m not even sure if it was Naya or Jund. Either way, I managed to keep things going by winning another good matchup and found myself locked for the Top 8 after starting 13-0.
In discussing tournament strategy with Alex Hayne as we waited for the round to end, he suggested that I should consider scooping a good matchup into the Top 8. While that sounded reasonable, forcing a good matchup to play their way into Top 8 could also be profitable if they were paired against aggro decks that I might otherwise have trouble with. I also wanted to preserve the ability to draw into a high seeding which would put me on the play for the all-important quarterfinal match for the PT invite.
When I brought up that concern, Alex laughed at me and told me I was already qualified due to there being more than 1200 players at the GP.
Match Record: 13-0
Standings: 1st place
Round 14: Lost 2-1 vs Brad Nelson (Peddle to the Metal)
I was standing with Alex waiting for pairings to be posted when Brad Nelson began to discuss the archetypes of the players at the top of the standings. “I have great matchups against everyone except for Jon Stern. Anyone know what he’s playing?” Alex and I glanced at each other but didn’t say anything. Someone finally came through with the answer, which led to a series of profanities as he realized that at least one unfavourable matchup remained at the top tables.
As I sat down at Table 1 for the third time in a row, Brad asked if I was interested in a draw. Despite already being qualified, I had decided that being on the play in the elimination rounds was too important to risk for matchup considerations. So I refused.
Two interesting situations came up in this match, both involving judges. I won Game 1 and found myself falling behind with a land-heavy draw in Game 2. I managed to ambush a Huntmaster but was still in a tough race against Olivia Voldaren and a Thragtusk. With all land in my hand, I knew that I was almost certainly dead but could draw to a small number of outs if Brad played his next two turns too conservatively.
It was at this point that Brad called the judge over and explained that, with the board situation getting complicated, he was finding it difficult to concentrate since he had to go to the washroom pretty badly. I did not think to object when the judge smiled and gave his consent. While I do not suspect Brad of any ill intent, I do not think it’s really appropriate to grant someone leave at a critical juncture like the one in which we found ourselves. Between games, sure, but when all players are required to play at a reasonable pace, granting someone an extra five minutes to do combat math does not jive with my sense of fair play. The decision had already been made, however, so I used the time to work out how my plays would be affected by my next top deck. Brad managed to find the correct line while I blanked on my draw step and was forced to concede.
The second situation occurred in Game 3. I am normally very careful with my lands but slipped up and played an untapped Glacial Fortress with only a Forest and Cavern in play, which I then used to cast a Geist of Saint Traft. By this time, a crowd had gathered and, after Brad had untapped and announced a Thragtusk, a bystander asked us to pause the match while a judge was being called. I surveyed the board and realized what I had done. I could have easily played one of the two Sunpetal Groves in my hand or, failing that, tapped my Avacyn’s Pilgrim for white mana, but I didn’t.
We waited for the judge to issue me a warning which I assured Brad was my first of the tournament. The judge began to talk about the possibility of backing up the game state, to which Brad responded that he would actually prefer the game to continue from its current position since knowing that he was casting a second Thragtusk would allow me to reconsider my attack. While the judge was away looking into the matter, I assured Brad that, if it was backed up, I would make the same plays since it would not be appropriate for me to gain an advantage though sloppy play. The judge returned and decided to grant our wish to maintain the current game state. I proceeded to lose the game so no significant harm was done.
Match Record: 13-1
Standings: 1st place
Round 15: Lost 2-0 vs Matt Costa (UWR Flash)
After taking my first loss, I was looking forward to the opportunity to safely draw myself into the top half of the elimination bracket. Unfortunately, I was paired down against Matt Costa and proceeded to play an absolutely horrendous Game 1.
While he had three mana up, I decided to slow-roll my third land drop and cast Rancor on an Invisible Stalker with only one mana up. While the land drop did not really matter, I was hoping he would jump on the possibility that I was mana screwed to Dissipate the aura rather than hold it for the Geist I was planning to play next turn. Izzet Charm made me look like a fool when I played a second untapped land and passed the turn.
That was not the end of the debacle however. A few turns later, I cast a pre-combat Silverblade Paladin which I left unpaired in order to give an Angel token double strike. I swung in with a Geist along with my other Paladin which was paired with a 1/1 Invisible Stalker. With six mana up, I knew he would have something, but a Selesnya Charm in hand would save my Geist from a Restoration Angel.
Instead, he cast a Snapcaster Mage before blocks, targeting the same Izzet Charm I had walked into earlier. With only three mana left, I should have cast the Selesnya Charm immediately to ensure that my Geist would survive. Instead I let it resolve and allowed him to move to blocks. As expected, the Snapcaster jumped in front of the Geist and Matt immediately said he had an effect before damage. I thought he was going to use the Izzet Charm to kill a Paladin, but, instead, he cast an Azorius Charm from his hand to bounce my Angel. I hadn’t fully processed this new situation and, when he said he had another effect, I paused and moved to tap my mana. This proved disastrous as, instead of killing my Paladin, he saw that I had a play and asked if I was ready to pass priority. Having wasted my opportunity, I inexplicably decided to pump my Geist anyway, which was promptly countered by his flashbacked Izzet Charm. Without a Geist in play, he was able to race my undersized creatures with a couple of Restoration Angels.
There is nothing to be said when you play badly and lose. I’m not sure I could have done anything to win the second game, but the match result was definitely deserved.
Match Record: 13-2
Standings: 3rd place
Round 16: Intentional Draw with Ryan Leverone (Jund)
I briefly considered playing but realized that a clean cut was likely and that, depending on who decided to draw, a loss could drop me as low as 11th place. An intentional draw would most likely find me on the draw in a rematch against Matt Costa, but the alternative of missing Top 8 was not something I was willing to risk.
Match Record: 13-2-1
Standings: 5th place
Playing Mono Red, Ari Lax actually refused the safe draw into Top 8 in order to avoid a potential quarterfinal matchup where he’d be on the draw in an extremely difficult matchup against Brad. A result in this match actually allowed Table 4 to draw when they would otherwise have to play. I felt bad for Kevin Michael who was unexpectedly forced to play and lost, but nothing can really be done since Ari was completely within his rights to play it out, and probably made the correct decision.
Quarterfinals: Won 2-0 vs Matt Costa (UWR Flash)
Having access to my opponent’s decklist made me feel a lot more comfortable with this matchup. Seeing that he did not have any copies of Dissipate and only one Izzet Charm made it a lot easier to play my spells on time without fear of disruption, especially when he didn’t have the right mana to cast Counterflux on turn 3.
Text Coverage of the match can be found here:
Steve Sadin did an excellent job of describing how the games played out. I was able to bait out a Counterflux and play around a potential Mizzium Mortars that represented one of only two possible outs for my opponent in Game 1.
I was faced with an interesting decision in Game 2. I had an Ethereal Armor on a Geist of Saint Traft, making it a 3/3, and was considering attacking into four untapped mana. I was obviously worried about a Restoration Angel but knew I couldn’t sit back and give my opponent time to draw out of the situation. I was tempted to play a Silverblade Paladin and sit back for a turn. Based on how the previous turns had played out, I was pretty sure that Matt didn’t have Supreme Verdict in hand, and, as long as he didn’t draw it next turn, Nevermore would look him out of everything except the singleton Mizzium Mortars. In the end though, I decided that giving him that one draw step was more of a risk than the possibility of him drawing running lands and overloading Mortars. I cast Nevermore pre-combat, pumping my Geist and forcing Matt to play his Restoration Angel immediately. I named Supreme Verdict to negate his most potentially devastating topdecks, while hoping to draw into a toughness-pumping enchantment before he could cast his sweeper. Mission accomplished.
Match Record: 14-2-1
Semifinals: Won 2-1 vs Brad Nelson (Peddle to the Medal)
Brad once again took a long bathroom break while I prepared to avenge my other loss. Seeing his decklist only increased my level of confidence when I saw that he had literally no way to interact with a hexproof creature in either his main deck or sideboard.
Although we were meant to be featured on camera, Brad’s delay forced them to start on the other matchup. Text Coverage of the match can be found here:
The only inaccuracy in the coverage was in reporting the number of mulligans I took. After winning off a mull to 5 in Game 1, I promptly mulliganed to 4 in Game 2, which they reported as a mull to 5. I kept a hand with a single Island and a Geist of Saint Traft, knowing I’d probably have to hit running lands to win the game. That didn’t happen and we were quickly off to Game 3.
Video Coverage of the third game can be found here:
Video 14 out of 14, starting at the 29:26 mark
I took another mulligan while Brad once again sat with his elbows on the table and his fingers crossed that I would continue to mulligan into oblivion. Though this was a tad off-putting, it seemed like he was just playing to the crowd and not actually trying to get me off my game. In any case, I was pretty focused on my own play and wasn’t paying much attention to his antics. Brad was forced to follow my turn 3 Geist with a Farseek to find his fourth land while I cast a Spectral Flight and easily raced his Huntmaster of the Falls.
Possibly in reaction to some Canada-friendly cheers from the crowd, Brad shook my hand and then promptly declared that he hoped I lost the finals to a waiting Josh Utter-Leyton. It’s hard to be bitter after just locking up a spot in the finals, but I do think that his behaviour in this match was unsportsmanlike. He did congratulate me when we passed in the hall after my finals win, but it was hard to gauge his sincerity since I don’t know him that well.
Match Record: 15-2-1
Finals: Won 2-1 vs Josh Utter-Leyton (Bant Hexproof)
Video Coverage of the match can be found here:
Since he was forced to play his way into the Top 8 while I was able to ID, Josh ended up with the higher seed and was awarded the die roll for Game 1. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind this rule. I took a mulligan and quickly found myself on the defensive against a turn 2 Silverblade Paladin. I countered with a Geist which was promptly legend-ruled. Josh was careful never to expose his non-hexproof creatures to a Selesnya Charm and easily won a game that could have gone very differently if I was on the play.
Prior to the match, I had worked out my sideboard plan with Alex Hayne. We felt that the Nearheath Pilgrims gave me a significant advantage and that coming out aggressively would be paramount. Cards like Increasing Savagery and Josh’s Garruks could easily prove to be too slow to matter. I also didn’t want to dilute the deck and decided to leave reasonable options like Loxodon Smiter in the sideboard. Here is the minimalistic sideboard strategy we employed:
I had a very good draw in Game 2 with a Nearheath Pilgrim and three Geist of Saint Traft. I paired the Pilgrim with a Geist on turn 3 and offered to trade for his newly cast Invisible Stalker. While it may seem irresponsible to throw away my trump card, I felt like I would win any sort of Geist attrition war, and didn’t want to be held at bay by a first striking Stalker. Josh took the bait, and I managed to out-Geist him 3 to 2.
Game 3 showcased what the deck can do when unopposed. With Josh on six cards, my turns proceeded as follows:
Turn 1: Avacyn’s Pilgrim Turn 2: Geist of Saint Traft Turn 3: Rancor on the Geist and a Silverblade Paladin to pair with it. Attack for 12.
Turn 4: Spectral Flight on the Geist of Saint Traft. Attack for 10.
Josh killed the Paladin with Garruk and held his Rancor’d Fencing Ace back to block, but a pair of ghostly wings once again carried the day. As it turns out, a second Silverblade Paladin in hand was also representing lethal.
Winning the tournament has been a bit of a whirlwind. When I came back to the game in 2010, my goals were different. It used to be all about getting on the train, so consistency was more important than spiking a single tournament. I was generally happy enough with a Top 16 and a ratings boost that put me within striking distance of qualification. Now I think I care more about the highlights. Atlantic City is a memory I’ll never forget. I’m thankful to everyone who helped make it possible and who shared in the experience at the event, back home, and through various forms of social media. With trophies piling up at Face to Face Games, who knows what’s next for this Intrepid Hero? It’s hard to say. I guess I’ll just have to go ahead and win a Pro Tour 🙂