Tales from GP Birmingham, or “How I managed to make some old chaff go 2-2”


Last weekend saw the first of this year’s Magic Grands Prix in the UK. Located at the NEC in Birmingham, the venue was large enough to hold everything that it needed to, yet small enough that you could realistically hop around from vendor to vendor between matches and side events. I attended all three days, Friday to Sunday, to get the full experience of a jam-packed Magic weekend.

My intention was clear: I wanted to play in the Old School and Vintage side events on the Saturday and Sunday, but those events starting at lunchtime meant that there was little wiggle room for events before or after them. However, Friday was free for everything I could wish for.

I started off with a Chaos draft, which I ended up with a confused deck that I didn’t draft well and got poor draws in both games I played. A quick 0-1 elimination. Not a great start.

I spent most of the afternoon going around the traders, picking up a few bits for my Old School decks and chatting with the artists over in Artist’s Corner. I got a few cards signed, my playmat got a new Greg Staples sketch and I picked up a beautiful piece of Baneslayer Angel art for my daughter. I would always recommend going and having a chat with the artists at GPs, there’s normally a quiet spot when the lines are shorter and you can spend a little more time with them while they’re signing or altering your cards. Asking them to date it as well as sign can also make them into a more unique momento of the weekend than a plain signature.

After a little Commander action with some friends I signed up for the Foiled Again! Sealed event. I was quite excited for this as I’d heard a lot of cool stories about the sorts of promos that had been given out for it, so the fact that the ticket numbers were a little lower for it didn’t bother me too much. What did bother me was that the foils that were given out at this event were only FNM promos from the past few months, I received a Servo Exhibition, Unlicensed Disintegration, Reverse Engineer and Incendiary Flow. Hardly exciting old cards from seasons past.

Whilst I’m having a bit of a moan about prize support, I’ll take this chance to mention the prize wall. At all other GPs that I’ve been to with a prize wall, and even at Magic Madhouse’s open series, there were exciting and diverse items on offer, from old sealed products like Duel Decks and From the Vaults sets to uncut sheets, accessories of all flavours, clothing, card singles, custom tokens, and even more obscure one-off pieces, the prize wall at Birmingham was decidedly limited to CFB branded T-shirts (there were a few GP season shirts available but they all went early on Day 1 before I had even won any tickets), sleeves, deckboxes and lanyards, boosters (they had a range of older boosters available that weren’t in Standard but these were all foreign language boosters), single cards which felt overpriced compared to how many boosters you could get, and a few more novelty items, limited to Urza’s Legacy Starter Decks, 2 oversized cards, a statue and some complete sets. There was no real breadth of choice available, especially towards the back end of Day 3 when I went to cash in my tickets and there was basically a choice of Amonkhet or Hour of Devastation Boosters.

However, I’m getting away from the fun and Magic at this point, so I’ll pull it back towards the interesting bits by talking about my Sealed pool for the Foiled Again! event. I had a fairly aggressive pool that had no real bombs but double Resolute Survivors meant that I could do some damage fast, and some pump and burn spells gave me a way to keep the board clear and force through the damage I needed. I went 2-0 in the first two rounds, then came up against the deck with all the bombs. In Game 1 I managed to dodge past a Scarab God by going wide enough with enough pump to finish off my opponent with my sole unblocked creature.

In Game 2 I managed to get a good aggressive start but played a little clunkily to keep a Puncturing Blow in hand to deal with the Scarab God. I still had a hand full of cards to burn with when out of nowhere I get hit with a Torment of Hailfire for 6, knocking out all but my Puncturing Blow from my hand, putting me to three life and leaving me on one creature. His next turn saw him Unburden me of the Puncturing Blow, before dropping the Scarab God the turn after. Despite all of this, I still managed to build up enough of a board presence to push through the last points of damage I needed, winning the game at 1 life! Who said that the Gods are unbeatable?

Saturday saw me play some Vintage with my current deck of choice, with a little added spice: Shefnet Eldrazi. Whilst being a fairly stock White Eldrazi list, I am a Cavern of Souls or two short of what would be an optimal list. Normally I would run a painland in this slot, such as Caves of Koilos. However, the printing of Shefnet Dunes has meant that I have a strict upgrade to run in it’s place, which has a minor upside over the Caves in that it can actually have an additional spell-like effect on the game. For what it’s worth, I did manage to activate the ability once over the course of the tournament, which did allow me to do lethal damage that turn, though the win was likely as not coming next turn regardless. Overall I went 1-3 with the deck, struggling to beat people quickly enough before they could finish me off, and the explosive draws tending to be hamstrung by multiple copies of Ancient Tomb, which in a race situation made all the difference to my ever dwindling life total.

After the Vintage, I hopped straight into a Two-Headed-Giant event where my partner had already received our pool and started deckbuilding due to the overlap between the events. We had a strong pool with a Red-Black deck featuring The Scarab God backed up by a lot of removal and a Green-White deck that I immediately turned into Bant when I saw the presence of River Hoopoe.

HOOPOE!

Other highlights of the deck included a cycling desert in each of my three colours, an uncommon activation desert in each of the three colours, a Ramanup Excavator and an Evolving Wilds to go along with the Angel of Sanctions and Resilient Khenra to pad out the bomb count. The Sifter Wurm and multiple Hippos were just gravy.

Our most interesting game was in the third round when a Seer of the Last Tomorrow threatened to kill us from a stalled board state, when we had to worry about both that and our increasingly low life total. I was lucky enough to hit an Ipnu Rivulet in time to start milling back, and milling faster, knowing that at some point I would hit the Angel of Sanctions which would ensure victory for us. The need to play a spell one turn cost them dearly though, as a Winds of Rebuke meant that we would get an additional turn, putting the Rivulet back in the driving seat of the race and milling past their own Rivulet. Still we continued to mill each other with desperate attacks coming in too to try and force through some damage. I nearly made the mistake of cycling a desert to try and find the Angel before realising that that would have killed us there and then. But the Angel never showed up. I managed to mill my opponent enough to kill him and flipped over the last three cards in my deck to reveal the Earthshaker Khenra and… not the Angel?

In my rush at the start of the game to get set up I had left the Angel of Sanctions in my deck box, presenting a 39-card deck to our opponents. A mistake that could have turned out to be incredibly costly, but luckily went unpunished. Fortunately our opponents were good sports about it as I offered to call a judge to explain what had happened but they laughed it off and thanked us for the close game.

A 3-0-1 record in the Sealed mean that my unbeaten run was preserved in that at least (we ID’ed the last round, probably incorrectly), and it was probably the most fun I had playing Magic all weekend, as well as being the most stressful due to the added pressure of if I screw up its not just me getting the fallout for it. Nevertheless, a constant stream of puns and HOOPOE! impressions left us both giggling for most of the evening and our opponents looking rather bemused by it all.

Sunday was what I was really interested in though. I dipped into another Two-Headed-Giant Sealed in the evening (and went 2-1-1 with another River Hoopoe deck, RUG this time, with a Black-White Zombies partner) but the event I had been waiting for all weekend was Old School. We were playing using the Channel Fireball ruleset which meant that we could build our decks a little differently, the UK scene tends to use the Swedish Banned and Restricted list, where Mishra’s Workshop is restricted and Mana Burn no longer exists. Channel Fireball also allows us access to Fallen Empires, which was a good excuse for some of us to buy some new cards and try out new decks and strategies.

Speaking of new strategies, I’d probably better talk about my deck a little. Inspired by a Mono-Blue deck I’d seen on the Old School Twitch stream I wanted to put together something to mess with lands. With mana burn being a thing to be aware of again and knowing that people would try to do cute things with it, I decided to put pressure on my opponents’ mana and go all in on it.

To explain a few card choices, the Lord of Atlantis is in the main deck as that was a prize card at my first Old School tournament win, which was here at Atlantic Games, Mana Drain was an interesting card to play with as I had to think about what I was countering and how I could leverage that mana during my next turn to avoid taking damage from it and Phantasmal Terrain did a sterling job all tournament at shutting off Mishra’s Factorys and Library of Alexandrias. The deck aims to win through bleed damage, chipping away with damage from Psychic Venom and Erosion with Mishra’s Factory chipping in to help and Icy Manipulator providing me with both a form of creature removal and a way of making sure that those envenomated lands got tapped from time to time.

My first round was against Jim Corwood on a Red-Black deck that used The Rack to punish people for playing out their hand and Power Surge to encourage them to do so. Hymn to Tourach and Mind Twist, backed up by the format staple Hypnotic Specter, also helped ensure that The Rack did its thing and put me under enough pressure to finish me off. I don’t think I’ve ever had to use an Icy Manipulator on my own lands before though.

I then came across lift for the day, Patrick van Beek in round two. Fresh from having met my mother in law that morning, I knew that my deck would contain nothing nearly as horrific as that meeting, and he proved me correct, eking out a win despite my ability to shrink his Kird Apes back down to normal 1-drop size. I did manage to take a game though, with a turn one Black Vise into turn two Black vise plus Strip Mine, and I was then able to stymie his mana development for long enough from there on out to win the game.

My third opponent was a legend of the Eternal Magic scene in this part of the world (by legend, I mean that he’s been around for a reeeeealy long time), Jim Brophy. Jim was on Blue-Red Counter-Burn, and despite putting up a valiant fight couldn’t cope with the barrage of countermagic and chip damage that I was managing to get in, and got played out of the game in game three when a Mana Vortex left him without lands, taking out his Library of Alexandria in the process, before I Boomeranged it back to my hand so that I could keep my own Library in play and stay up on mana. He started to get back in the game with a City of Brass and a Volcanic Island (which duly met a Psychic Venom), before another three land drops meant that he could drop a Serendib Efreet, albeit at a perilously low seven life.

I was not exactly flush with life myself by this point, and a burn spell combined with the three damage from the Serendib Efreet could finish me off next turn. I tapped his Psychic Venomed land, untapped and drew a Mana Short. I did some quick maths, tapped his City of Brass and passed the turn. In Jim’s upkeep, with the Serendib trigger on the stack, I cast Mana Short to tap all of his lands, deal him three damage and let the Efreet do its fickle thing and finish him off. Never before have I seen an opponent laugh with such gusto at having just lost the game, but Jim did so with such grace that characterises the man that makes it such a pleasure to play against him.

Finally I came up against Tim Power, running a creatureless Arboria control deck that looks to win with Millstone. Fortunately, I don’t need attack steps to win, and after a flurry of counterspells resulted in a Mana Drain followed by an Icy Manipulator I took game one. Game two ended in a similar fashion, with my control deck having an inherently faster clock than the mill deck and just getting me over the line faster.

The tournament cut to a Top 4 after the four rounds of swiss, with Jason Savage taking the glory in first place with U/R Counter-Burn. I just missed out on Top 8 on tie breaks.

I had an amazingly fun time at the Grand Prix, it was great to catch up with friends and do things like Chaos Draft and Two-Headed-Giant that we don’t normally get a chance to do. I would thoroughly recommend giving Two-Headed-Giant Sealed a go, we had a whale of a time Hoopoeing at our opponents, and I would like to say a special thanks to Channel Fireball for running the events and Jim Brophy for all of his effort in pushing them to add the Old School and Vintage to the list of side events.

See you all at Liverpool!

 

Thanks to Freya Freestone for most of the photos and for being a great head on Saturday.

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About Christopher Cooper

Christopher has been playing Magic for over 15 years and has been writing about it for nearly 10. He has played nearly all formats available to him in this time, from Vintage to Draft to Commander-Planechase-Archenemy. He has a young daughter who also plays Magic, and a wife who doesn't. Christopher lives in Gloucester.

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