Tournament Report: Grand Prix Utrecht, Part 1

Christian shares the story of how he bounced back from a bad place, how he got back into the game, how he prepared for the first Grand Prix featuring Throne of Eldraine Limited, and how all of the hard work paid off, namely with another Top 8 finish!

It's been almost a year since I got disqualified out of the Top 8 at Grand Prix Warsaw. Today I do not want to write about that, but if you're interested in what happened you can google for and find my statement on Reddit. After the incident I obviously was very angry and wanted to quit Magic. I stopped playing tournaments, writing articles, watching Magic-related videos, and even stopped looking at spoilers from new sets. Of course, after a while the anger subsided, but my disinterest in Magic remained. I guess I still felt betrayed and lost trust in the game. Everyone was telling me that at some point I would start playing again anyway, but I doubted it, since it was just too painful.


Melancholy

The thing with pain, though, is that it is temporary. It may last for a minute, an hour, a day, or even a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If you quit, however, it will last forever. Eventually, I felt it was time to get back into the game and play a GP again. While I did not miss playing the game itself, I did miss the competition. I had always been participating in tournaments. When I was a little boy, I fought in many Judo tournaments and I was pretty good at least in Germany. I loved the adrenaline and the opportunity to measure myself against others. For almost ten years there was a tournament every other weekend until too many members of my club quit and I more or less quit myself, too.

Luckily Magic gave me a new challenge to get better at something, and I really enjoyed its competitive environment. Playing just for fun was never fulfilling for me. After many years without much success, Pro Tour Born of the Gods was my breakthrough, and from there on I reached Gold, made the Top 8 at six GPs, and had some more money finishes at the PT. I was totally satisfied with how my Magic career was going. Even though I do not have the same desire to play as before, I always enjoyed attending three to four GPs a year. Another thing I missed a lot during my absence was spending time with my friends. 90% of my best friends are or were playing Magic: The Gathering. Of course we see each other outside of Magic, too, but spending a weekend together to participate in a Grand Prix has always been the most fun and after playing around 50 GPs, we share so many memories. Enough sentimentalism, let's get to the tournament!

Tournament Preparation: Sealed Deck

As soon as I decide to play in a GP, I want to make sure that I am prepared. I already explained my view of the game when it comes to competition. I know not everyone thinks that way, which is totally fine. I remember a discussion with Tobias Gräfensteiner, where we talked about our expectation for a GP. Overall the best mindset would be simply to enjoy playing the tournament no matter where you end up, since the chances to win anything are pretty low anyway. As much as I do enjoy the trip and spending time with my friends, when it comes to the main event I really want to make sure I give it my best. That's just how I'm wired and sometimes I envy people who can get over losses so easily. It's not like I cannot accept losing, but when I am losing, I don't want a lack of preparation to be responsible for that.


Into the Story

I always prepare the same way for a Limited Grand Prix. In general, I would advise playing Magic Online instead of Arena, since drafting with bots simply isn't as effective as drafting with real people. I also would advise to start testing Sealed first, since this way you get to know more different cards faster than you do in Draft. As soon as the first Prerelease for Throne of Eldraine started, I joined the Sealed League and was ready to start testing.

Out of my first four Sealed Deck events I managed to go 5-0 in three, but I knew that I just opened strong pools, got rather lucky, and still had a lot to learn. Nevertheless the format seemed like a lot of fun. I like slow formats that are super grindy, because then playing well matters more.

With your first Sealeds you should make sure that you try different things out. Let's say, you open a pool where you could build another solid midrange deck, like the ones you have been playing a lot in different forms already; or you could build an aggro deck, or a weird build-around deck, which may work or may not. In this case you should always build the unknown deck just to see how good it is. Espcially in a best-of-three setting with five rounds, there is no reason to stick with one lineup all the time. When you're testing and have the opportunity to change your deck in a way that would get you extra experience, you should go for it. The main goal is to gain knowledge, not booser packs.

After playing around 15 Sealeds, I felt it was time to get ready for drafting. I believe when you are an experienced Limited player 10–15 pools definitely are enough for Sealed preparation. At least I feel like you always build the decks in a similar way after this amount, and the additional lessons no longer justify spending the additional time.

Tournament Preparation: Booster Draft

While the Booster Draft format isn't super difficult, it is not too easy either. For the first few Drafts I tried out different archetypes to see which ones performed the best. I basically followed the same principle as with Sealed, but it's even more important to do so here. Let's say, you have a pack that contains Improbable Alliance and Epic Downfall. I would first pick the the blue-red build-around enchantment instead of the clearly strong mono-colored removal spell, just to see how good the archetype is. I feel like the first ten drafts should be going like this. Afterward you should have a solid foundation of experience. You should know which archetypes perform well not only by looking at your own decks, but also by looking at your opponents'. Playing against 30 other decks in ten Drafts is valuable information too.

After trying out the different color combinations and archetypes, I realized that I really liked blue-red and blue-black, while black-green and mono-colored decks in red, green, and blue performed better than I thought. Blue in general just fits perfectly into this format, because it delivers good removal, card draw, and evasion. Pairing blue with some black or red removal always worked out for me. Most of the time, my blue-red and blue-black decks were two thirds blue cards.

While I didn't draft black-green a lot myself, my opponents gave me enough evidence that this deck can work out well. Great commons like Bake into a Pie or Fierce Witchstalker paired with Food payoff cards like Deathless Knight or Trail of Crumbs are quite hard to beat.


Bake into a Pie

Mono-colored decks have to be justified. The payoff isn't always that big, but if you start a Draft with Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig or Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and get enough good green or red cards, you could end up with a really strong deck. One of my best decks began with a first pick Sundering Stroke and continued with enough solid red cards. I ended up with three hybrid-mana cards and three copies of Clockwork Servant and just won everytime I cast Sundering Stroke.

Somehow my white decks were losing most of the time. I think the best white deck is green-white with a lot of Adventure payoff cards. The the other color combinations with white have not been working out for me.

In my final ten Drafts I tried to draft as I would at the GP. The result was that I found myself trying to stay a lot more open during the first few picks and not cling too much to my first pick, unless it was an extremely good one. Overall, I really enjoyed the two weeks of preparation. My favorite Limited GPs have always been those that take place right after the release of the set, because as an experienced player you can figure out new formats faster, which gives you a big edge.

Day 1: Sealed Deck

I was excited to build my deck from the moment I saw my cards. If you want to do well in Sealed you often have to have good rares and I opened Embercleave, Clackbridge Troll, and Wildborn Preserver.


Clackbridge Troll & Embercleave

Unfortunately, when I started sorting my colors by playables, I realized quickly that while I had three good rares the rest of my pool was looking very poor. Not a single color stood out for me. White and green were basically unplayable. Blue looked solid, but did not offer any powerful cards either. In the end, I just stuck with the rares—which could win games on their own—and had to build a rather mediocre black-red deck.

I do not have the leftover cards anymore, otherwise I would show you the whole pool. Though it wasn't very interesting, as it basically left no other options.



The deck had way too many fillers, not the removal you would want in a black-red deck, and aggressive decks tend to be bad in Sealed anyway. Going 6-2 with this was going to be tough, especially with zero byes. But if I were to draw the rares often enough, I could get there. Embercleave in particular is just ridiculously powerful.

I started winning my first few rounds. Usually, I had close games, where I won 2-1. Often enough my opponents were not that experienced, which helped to win these close games. My first loss was against a decent player who had a better deck than me and could easily grind out a win. Removal paired with spoilers and card advantage is pretty unbeatable for my deck, unless I have a really strong draw. I didn't.

At 5-1, I played my first win-and-in match. I was paired against a black-green deck and we split the first two. In the third game, I was on the play and had to mulligan to five. I kept two lands, two cheap creatures, and Embercleave. If I had a chance to win on a mulligan five, this was the draw. I drew two lands and I thought next turn I could get him with casting my equipment. But he discarded my last card on turn three with Memory Theft and the game was over.


Memory Theft

After this rough loss I again faced black-green. In the first game, my opponent stumbled and my small creatures snuck in often enough to get the job done without any rare assistance. In the second game, my opponent cast Garruk, Cursed Huntsman on turn five on the play and I conceded right away. Some cards you just cannot beat in this format. In the deciding game, I was pretty lucky: my opponent got stuck on two lands, and I drew Embercleave and Clackbridge Troll.

In the last round, I won an incredible close game, where I somehow managed a comeback against a green-white aggressive deck. For my deck it is very hard to win once behind. But at some point my opponent's pressure petered out because he started flooding, and I came back and finished the game fast with Embercleave.

I was super happy going 7-2 with my deck. Going into Day 2 still having a shot at Top 8 is a much better feeling than sitting at 6-3. Even though I'd never gone 6-0 in Drafts on Day 2 before, I was still glad to take my chances. What made me even happier was that my best friend Tobias Gräfensteiner sported a 9-0 record after the first day, which was a really good starting point for him finally to reach another Top 8. After a long day my friends and I had a really good Pizza Funghi and we relaxed the last few hours in our apartment before sleeping. We would be ready to smash in the morning!


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