My own result in Madrid was quite below my expectations – I went 6-3, losing in the final round of day one to get knocked out of contention, but that doesn’t make it any less of an amazing experience. There are memories from there that will long burn brightly in my memory and I hope to share them with you, if you will but read on. There will be action, there will be drama and there will be bad beats. You’ve been warned.
All over Europe
Waking up early on Wednesday morning with a long road ahead, I packed up the last of my things, called up Mario – the first of my companions – to make sure he would be ready to leave. This turned out to be a good idea, since he told me to take my time as he still needed to have a shower. We still managed to leave Ljubljana at a reasonable time and proceeded on the 90-or-so minute drive to pick up Iztok. After we managed to find him (the GPS was trying to send me down dirt roads and treacherous rock-cliffs), we drove on towards the airport, which is another hour and a half away. I had mixed up times a bit so I thought we were running very late (we were only running a bit late) so, stepping on the gas a bit more than I should have, I obviously got pulled over for speeding. A nice way to start us of, especially since it made us even more late than we already were. The rest of the way to the airport was also very weird, since the GPS system didn’t find the address (Mario must have typed it in wrong) and we were left trying to locate somebody who could speak English (we failed) or to spot a sign showing us the way (we failed). We somehow managed to find it, despite the odds stacked against us, and started our long flight.
Curiously, the cheapest connection we could find was via London, which makes about as much sense as travelling from Europe to the States via South Africa. Anyway, after two long and uneventful flights, we finally set foot in Barajas airport in Madrid at around 11pm. Not long afterwards, we boarded the metro to the centre of the city, where our hostel was located. Cleverly, I hadn’t checked the exact address of the hostel, but the website said it was easy enough to find – on the corner of Gran Via and Montera Street, right next to the metro station. What we didn’t know was that we also had the wrong hostel name. Thus, when we stepped out of the metro station onto the dark streets above, we failed to notice the small and unlit sign on the building wall. So we wondered around a bit and some things became obvious – Madrid at night is unlike any city I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a few places with a bad reputation); we had no idea where we were going to sleep that night; and these two problems were very obvious to outside observers as well. You see, there were only three kinds of people outside at that hour, besides us crazy tourists: suspicious guys speaking in hushed voices and offering illegal stuff, prostitutes and those who would fall in the "other" category, walking swiftly and not looking around them.
First, we tried to ask one of the suspicious looking guys for directions. After he confidently led us into a dark street and tried to steal my wallet (it was sticking half way out of my back pocket before I noticed and turned around to find him already gone – I put it into my front pocket after that and didn’t take it out), we stopped talking to suspicious looking guys. After a few of the "other" people sped away from us when we tried to ask them for directions, we started to get really worried. We had enough sense not to ask the prostitutes for directions (they didn’t need any encouragement as it was, trust me), everything around us was closed and it was getting very late – 1am or so. As luck would have it, we found a police station just down the street (about 50 meters from the shopping mall of revealingly clothed ladies) but, obviously, none of them spoke English. Hungry, thirsty, tired and generally feeling like Madrid is the worst city ever, we finally found a random hostel, woke up the owner and spent the night there, ignoring the strange smell and sleeping with our money down out pants.
Having woken up starving, we quickly left and found the hostel we were supposed to sleep in. In the early afternoon, with the correct address at our side, we found it easily and settled in, then found a nice place to eat breakfast/lunch. We stumbled across a place that looked nice and it was perfect – steaks, French fries, and a chilled beer left us much satisfied and we felt a lot better about Madrid at that moment. We soon took our separate ways, since I wanted to see the galleries – Prado and Reina Sofia – and the others felt more like just wandering around a bit. I won’t bore you with details of my sightseeing, other than to say that Guernica was fantastic and worth the long trip by itself.
The rest of the Slovene team joined us over the next two days, so there was much rejoice, playtesting and alcohol. Especially alcohol. Unfortunately, one member from each of the two groups that joined us had been robbed on the metro, so it appears that Madrid is a dangerous place for wallets. On Friday afternoon, we took the metro towards the site and quickly managed to find it, having been swept there by dozens of backpack-wearing, spell-casting people. The real surprise, however, awaited at the site – a line of several hundred people was queued all the way outside the building where the preregistration was taking place. Some of our friends decided that it just wasn’t worth the wait and they would try their luck the next day (probably a bad choice, since the line was even longer then) and a few of us remained. As the line (it was so long that it formed almost a complete circle) slowly moved on, we could see hundreds of albums, people buying and selling cards, duals exchanging hands and Tarmogoyfs selling for 80€. Almost an hour after the preregistration was supposed to finish, we finally got inside, gave them our money and moved on. Inside, there was still more trading, dealers ripping people off and an interesting 600 or so tables prepared, when there was over 1500 people already registered. Unfazed, we left soon afterwards and returned to our hostel, where we playtested some more, borrowed the last missing cards and finalized our decklists. Here’s the one I registered:
The Smother was in place of Deathmark, a suggestion by GP Prague Top 4 competitor Bojan Zunko. It does the same thing against Zoo (only slightly less cheaply), but has loads of additional value against Merfolk and Goblins. Having written down our decklists, we had a few beers and around 1am I decided to get some rest. The combination of the busy traffic beneath our window and excitement for the following day made this difficult, but after a while I drifted off.
We got up early on Saturday, but it turned out to be quite unnecessary, since the player registration was still underway when we got there. Eventually, our seatings were posted, we got the foily Jittes (I still needed them for my deck so I chased down a few of my travelling companions and stole theirs) and the head judge told us not to worry about the distinct lack of chairs. They were working on it, he said. He then asked everybody with at least one bye to go outside, since the place was crowded as it was, without all of us watching the madness that is round one at a GP. We found a store where we bought some sandwiches and when we made our way back to the site, there was still 40 minutes left on the clock. It became clearer and clearer that this would be a long day indeed.
I wandered around the table a bit and saw many interesting things: a Dredge player casting a Careful Study and discarding the Narcomoeba he had drawn with it, then convincing his opponent that it had obviously "gone straight from his library to his graveyard". I called a judge. Another player forgot to reveal a card to Dark Confidant, then simply said "Oops" and showed it to his opponent. I called a judge. There were also epic missplays: seeing as you have this Hypnotic Specter, carrying a Jitte with two counters and a Confidant, I suppose the best plan of action for me is to find a Progenitus. Obviously, you will decline to win the game and let me win with the Reveillark combo several turns later, with those Jitte counters still lying around there.
With such interesting stories, round four finally came closer at around 3pm. I found the pairings board, sat down, listened to some music to calm myself down and prepared to battle.
Round 4 - Guillermo playing Merfolk
Guillermo was a nice Spanish kid at his first GP and he was sitting at 6-2 when I asked him later. I hope he made day two! Before the round started, I chatted a bit with him about out number of byes, how long he had been playing etc. I tried to learn more about him by saying stuff like "17 rounds, that's more than a PT!" and he became a bit nervous from that. That turned out to be quite advantageous for me.
He was on the play in round one and had a good start with a Aether Vial and buddies. He forgot to put the third counter on his Vial when he had a Mutavault and a Lord of Atlantis out and I told him it was alright, so of course he had another lord to throw me down to nine. I played a Tarmogoyf to go with the Jitte already on the board, but it was too little too late. If I hadn't allowed him to take back his mistake, his creatures would have remained 2/2, small enough to be killed off one by one. As it was, I got run over. I decided against playing a Gatekeeper of Malakir as it wouldn't be enough to save me and it was better to hold it back as a possible surprise. I didn't let it get to me, however, as this is a very good matchup and it gets even better after sideboarding.
In game two, I mulliganed and went for the first turn Hypnotic Specter after he just shrugged at my Dark Ritual, so it was over quickly. I Thoughtseized him and took away a Wakethrasher, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway, since he was dead in three swings by Hippy and a Goyf that soon joined in. He seemed to be really surprised at my fast start and sideboarded a few cards again.
I mulliganed again in game three, but then Thoughtseized him twice and deployed a few threats. His hand was full of bounce (even Echoing Truth), so he had obviously been scared by my fast start in the previous game. What little threats he had left soon died to Gatekeepers and Jitte counters.
We talked a bit more after the match and I suggested that he should try sideboarding the Vials out against me. I have enough discard that his only real concern should be having enough threats, not deploying them quickly.
Round 5 - Ronald playing Bant CounterTop
Ronald is from Germany and said he hadn't played much Legacy before. That, coupled with him having two byes off rating made me immediatelly put him on some sort of CounterTop deck. I offered him my water before we began and he seemed pleasantly suprised for such a small gesture.
I was on the play in game one but kept a loose hand with two Maelstrom Pulse, a Top and no action. I naturally proceeded to draw three lands from the top and got my *** handed to me via Tarmogoyf beatdown. I was mad at myself for keeping a bad hand but moved on to the second game quickly.
Starting off the second game with Dark Ritual, I decided to Duress him before casting Hymn to Tourach since he looked like his hand wasn't that great, but he might still have a Force of Will. I saw a Counterbalance, a Jitte, Swords to Plowshares and four lands. I took the Counterbalance and the Hymn took the Swords and a land. He was left with practically nothing while my hand was stacked with Nantuko Shades, a Krosan Grip and even a Gatekeeper, should the need arise. He played a Noble Hierarch on his first turn, which made my hand a lot worse, since it was a dude that could actually hold a Jitte. I still hadn't drawn my third land, but a Shade came down to start bashing down. He played a land (I don't think it was one from his starting hand, but it might have been), then the Jitte. I played my second Nantuko Shade, which was going to suck royally in the face of his stick, but still felt good, knowing his hand at this point was a couple of lands. He never bothered with attacking, instead choosing to cast a Natural Order for Progenitus. This was bad. I drew a Jitte that I couldn't even buy myself an extra turn with, so I really needed that third land to show up. He swung, I ate 10 and had a turn to live. I topdecked Wasteland.
Round 6 - sorryIforgotyourname playing Alluren
Fuming a bit about my previous match, I sat down to one of the numerous Italian players that had flown over to play.
I took game one with something like three Thoughtseize, coupled with a Hippy and a Goyf providing pressure. His hand was quite sick as well, with an Alluren and Eternal Witness as protection, but he was never really in it.
I mulliganed into what I thought was a pretty good hand, but his Brainstorm in response to my Duress left him with a perfect third turn kill. He actually cycled through all four Raven Familiar while he was going off, but it was mostly a formality.
Game three was the most interesting by far, as once again mulliganed, but with me being on the play, I could discard his relevant cards. I couldn't find a Bayou or a fetchland, however, so two Goyfs stared stupidly back at me while I was getting beaten down by an Eternal Witness. I was getting really low on life and that was when the (probably) most pivotal moment of the game took place:
I'm at five life and my board consists of a tapped Confidant, equipped with a Jitte (two counters), two Swamps and my hand is two Tarmogoyf and a Tombstalker. He has two lands, 2 Birds of Paradise, a tapped Eternal Witness and an Imperial Recruiter plus one mistery card in hand. I figured the only way he could win was by beating down, so I decided to kill his Witness when it attacked. It would leave me with a counter on Jitte for anything problematic he might want to search up with the Recruiter. Obviously, he proved me wrong by peeling an Alluren before attacking (surprise Tarmogoyf block!), but then laying down double Recruiter and going off, something I quickly learned you need four Jitte counters to stop. What I should have done is to kill on of his Birds before his turn and killing the Witness when it attacked. That makes it impossible for him to cast Alluren and the single Jitte counter probably wouldn't have helped. I simply didn't think he had the second Recruiter as well, but even if he had only one, it might have been enough to simply cycle them one into another, then finish me off with the Parasitic Strix. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 (and so is Marit Lage), but I was feeling quite bad after this game. I had just lost two straight matches and would need to win out just to make day two and even then my chances for making the money would be slim - day two was going to be a whooping, unprecedented eight rounds!
I needed a break, to calm down and get out of tilt. I sat down with Zunko and spent the next 20 minutes or so aching from laughter at his stories from GPs (Mogg Fanatic blocks a Shriekmaw, then throws itself at the opponent's face pre M10 rules), PTQs (losing in the finals to a guy that you've never met before who asks you to drive him home, then finding afterwards out he didn't go to the PT) and Nationals past. It was awesome in that it really helped me forget about the tournament for a while. As the pairings were announced, I was full of optimism and winning the next three rounds actually seemed like a piece of cake.
Round 7 – Jacob playing Hypergenesis
It turns out that Jacob also had three byes coming into this GP (won them at a GPT), so we congratulated each other on our excellent 1-2 performance so far. I was pretty sure he wasn’t playing control, but had no idea beyond that. I won the die roll and we were off.
The first game was rather strange, as we both mulliganed our opening hands, but he went right on down to four cards in hand. I was hoping he was playing an aggro deck at this point, since he can’t really win with four cards in hand, but it was much more likely that he was playing combo. That was bad news, since my hand was 2 Tarmogoyf, a Jitte and three lands (2 Wasteland and a Bayou). I could get lucky and randomly take away his crucial piece. On the other hand, most Legacy combo decks need a few cards to actually go off. When he finally kept his hand, his first play was one of those lands that come into play tapped and sacrifice for two mana. I wanted to keep him off his mana, especially since he had mulliganed so much, so I wasted it on my turn. He layed another and I wasted that one too. His third one stuck, however, so I simply played a Tarmogoyf. He played another land, cascaded into Hypergenesis and played an Iona, Shield of Emeria naming black. I put my second Tarmogoyf, the Jitte and a Hippy I had drawn into play. I equipped it on my turn and swung with the team, he ate the Hippy and died several turns later, after chumping with the Iona.
The second game was even less eventful, as a Hymn + Duress left him with no action in hand. Once he resorted to playing beasts such as the mighty Elvish Spirit Guide, the game was soon over.
Round 8 – Rafael with Canadian Threshold
Canadian Threshold is a great matchup for my deck and I was very happy to finally play against it. I’d have loved to play against it every round, but it wasn’t as popular as I thought it would be.
He mulliganed into a decent hand, but I took a lot of its punch away with a first turn Duress that took Force of Will. He was left with some burn and lands so it was up to a Tarmogoyf to clean up.
Game two was much of the same, except for the fact that it was a couple of Thoughtseize that cleared out his hand. Double Gatekeeper made sure his board presence was minimal and Tombstalker flew over, carrying a Jitte, to take the match home.
I was feeling very good at this point and was certain I could win the last match and make day two. Being on the bubble for multiple matches can be stressful, but every time you win gives you a special kind of power. I sat next to the same guy I had sat next to during round four and he recognized my name. He said he had read my article and we chatted a bit. It was the first time someone recognized me at a big tournament like that, so thanks! Props to you!
Round 9 – Sergio playing CounterTop Bant
Sergio had two byes off pro points coming into this event, but hadn’t really played Legacy before, so I once again put him on a CounterTop deck before we began. Turns out I was right twice in a row.
Game one was rather uneventful, with a first turn Hymn making his hand awkward, and then some beaters took up the challenge of killing him. He even cast Jace, the Mindsculptor to bounce one of my Tarmogoyfs (the other took it down in short order) but it was to no avail – death was imminent.
Game two was much of the same, but he had a faster start than the previous game. In one of the early turns, I combined Nantuko Shade with a Dark Ritual to take out an attacking Pancake Flipper, but it turned into a stalemate when he played another one and we followed it up with a Tarmogoyf each. We also both had tops out, but his Jace and Counterbalance gave him inevitability, so I had to start attacking. Once I had another Ritual on the top of my library, I attacked with the Shade, expecting him to block with both his creatures (three black mana open, Goyf is 4/5). That way, it trades with Tarmogoyf and he gains three life. For some reason, he only blocked with Tarmogoyf, my mind blanked (I actually remember some idiotic thought like "Yay! Card advantage!") and I pumped it three times to trade when I should have just drawn the Ritual and saved my Shade. It wouldn't be so bad if he didn't follow it up with another Tarmogoyf (Maelstrom Pulse in hand is sad), a Counterbalance and a Vedalken Shackles, revealing two three-casting-cost spells on the top of his library as I tried to resolve some Pulses.
The mistake I made had almost certainly cost me the game and I seriously tilted after this. The preparation, the GPT, the whole day, the last two games, everything else mattered little - it was all down to this game. I couldn't focus, I played badly (as in forgetting to cast Sensei's Divining Top badly) and lost the game quickly.
Well that was bad. No day two, no glorious 3-0 winning streak, no chance for making the money. I could feel the competitive fire that had be driving me prior to the tournament seep away from me and it still hasn't returned. I still want to make it in the big league, of course, but it's not the same. I hope I can find what it was that helped me grow so much in this last year and I can rekindle it.
I took the metro to the hostel afterwards and it took several beers to cheer me up. It turns out that only two of the Slovene team made day two, with three of us losing round nine to not make the cut. I went to bed late that night and, after waking up, I went back to the site to check out how my friends were doing. One was playing in a huge Vintage side event (I think there was something like 170 people playing) – I checked out some matches and there were lots of WG Beats and similar decks interspersed with the "regular" decks, making for an interesting metagame. An entire set of P9 was given out to the Top 8 (plus the highest ranking player with no power in his deck), which explains part of the draw to the tournament, but it's also obvious that Vintage, as well as Legacy, is quite popular lately.
I watched Zunko play against Sergio (of round 9 fame), who won the match when he did in fact have the fourth Force of Will after he had already cast the previous three - he afterwards placed 10th overall, so congratulations to him. This meant that both of my friends that were still playing in Day 2 got knocked out early (well, knocked out in the sense that they would have to go something like 4-0 to have a chance at making top 64), so it was once again time for bad beats stories, eating a hearthy lunch and some final sightseing. The flight home, apart from the usual airport antics, was nothing special, so I won't bore you with it any longer.
All in all, GP Madrid was an amazing experience, but my poor performance, in part due to my mistakes and in part due to losing to topdecks round after round, left me quite exhausted. I'm still looking at interesting deck choices, but from a slightly different perspective - perhaps counterspells really are the only way to go in a format where a single card, often from the top of your library, will be enough to win the game. This will also be my last article for a while, since I have a lot of exams coming up, so expect TStO to be back in a month or maybe more. Until then, I love getting PMs or comments, so don't spare me with those!