Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Of Limited Interest #11 - "The Icarus Principle" - Grand Prix Toronto Report Part 2

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you just joining us this article is a continuation of my Grand Prix Toronto report; you can find the first part here Nina's GP Toronto Report part 1.  When we last left our intrepid heroine she was preparing to face off with 1300+ other people in round 1 of Grand Prix Toronto:

Round 1: Andrew - R/W Aggro:

Despite being in no real rush to push my way through the crowds I still managed to arrive at the table for my round 1 match before my opponent.  This gave me a moment to unpack my supplies, settle into my chair and really take in the room around me.  I'd never seen 1350 Magic players all playing at the same time before and the effect was somewhat humbling; it instantly dawned on me just how unlikely winning an event of this size would be.  Unfortunately a few minutes later when time had actually started my opponent had still not arrived at the table and I was advised by people sitting around me to call a judge.  The judge was friendly enough; explaining to me that the size of the tournament might cause some delays and requesting I wait a few more minutes for my opponent to arrive at the table.  I explain that I really wasn't looking for a free game win so much as making sure I was complying with the general tournament rules.  At that exact moment as if out of a comedy script my opponent stumbles to the table calling "I'm here" out ahead of himself.  We introduce ourselves and my first impression is that Andrew is an extremely relaxed and friendly person.  I'm almost ashamed to admit that this initially made me a little wary; I've certainly played enough Magic to recognize a "playing persona" in action.  Many players will adopt relaxed and friendly attitude when playing against an unfamiliar opponent; even going so far as to appear disinterested in the final result or alternately appearing to play very loose/poorly in the early going.  This is designed to lull you into a false sense of security; encouraging you to play loosely as well and to focus on something other than the final result of the game.  Of course when push comes to shove this type of player will suddenly become incredibly focused/serious and use the "casual" nature of the game prior to club you to death at just the right moment.  Thankfully once we started playing it became apparent to me that Andrew was exactly who he appeared to be: a nice player with a decent sealed pool here to enjoy the GP just like me. 

Game 1: In what would become a day long pattern I lost the roll to determined who would go first in game 1 and found myself on the draw in the R/W aggro mirror against a deck faster than mine; not good.   Thankfully Andrew's draw was reasonably slow and we started trading cheap creatures and removal spells for the first few turns.  Eventually I started dropping "Hill Giants" and threatening to swing in for 6+ damage a turn which forced Andrew to play an Auriok Sunchaser and dump out enough "extra' artifacts to protect his Metalcraft status.  It was pretty obvious he intended to trade it for my Blade-Tribe Bersekers and to just keep chumping my Saberclaw Golem.  I'd been nursing a Turn to Slag the entire game and while I didn't really want to waste damage on a 3/3 Flyer, I also really didn't want to lose my Blade-Tribe Bersekers.  Sighing slightly I dropped the Turn to Slag on the Sunchaser and swung in with most of my team, sticking 7 or 8 damage.  Of course my opponent promptly untapped, dropped a Strata Scythe and exiled a Mountain to turn a random Iron Myr into a 7/7 monstrosity.  This wouldn't have been an issue if I had saved the Turn to Slag but of course I didn't and for a couple turns I was really worried I'd blown the game entirely.  Unfortunately he was simply way behind in creatures at this point and had to leave all of his monsters back to defend.  When he drew 4 more lands and I drew even more creatures the game ended pretty quickly.

Game 2: Sadly while I remember our first game in some detail the second game is a bit of a blur.  I recall that both Andrew and I started slower this time but I quickly played a couple flyers and he didn't.  Eventually I managed to get a Trigon of Corruption into play and Andrew responded by announcing an Eslpeth Tirel with 3 creatures in play, one of which is a 1/1 mana Myr.  Reflexively I said "wow Elspeth, really?  That's an amazing pull sir, what an awesome card" and then I killed his Mana Myr in response.  I'm not sure he understood me however because he seemed to think I meant after Elspeth was already in play.  I explained that I understood how priorities worked and clarified "when you announce Elspeth, I kill the mana Myr with the Trigon token."  He seemed satisfied that I was playing fairly but I decided to note the lesson I'd just learned; kill your opponent's creature *first* and *then* comment "wow what a bomb rare" after to avoid confusion.  Thankfully by that time I was drawing removal and it was pretty easy to clear out Andrew's blockers and murder Elspeth before she could wipe the board.  Denied his game-saving "Wrath" effect and still struggling to draw creatures from the top of his deck Andrew conceded a couple turns later and I was on to round 2.

1-0 (2-0)  MVP: A relaxed opponent who helped make my first match "just another friendly game of Magic".  I was very nervous at the start of the tournament and playing someone else who was just there to have a good time certainly helped take the edge off my entire day.

Unfortunately round 1 brought mixed news for our merry band of wayward mages; while both Beau and I won our first matches almost everyone else we played with struggled through unlikely losses.  I was particularly devastated to find that Leon had lost after winning game 1, losing a super tight game 2 and then mana flooding out of the match in game 3.  Even Stephen got robbed; finding out at the very last minute that he only had a 1 round bye instead of 2 because the T.O. from State Championships hadn't submitted the results on time.  With a heavy heart I wished my friends the very best of luck and quickly found my table for round 2.

Round 2 - Scott R/W Control:

Due to the tournament organizers using the oddest sequence of numbered tables I have ever seen it took me forever to find my table for round 2.  As a result once I finally did get to my seat my opponent was already waiting for me and looked a little bored.  I quickly introduced myself and apologized for taking so long.  We chatted briefly about our first round matches while shuffling each others decks and my read on Scott was that he was both genuinely friendly and very even-keeled.  I didn't expect him to give off a bunch of signals through emotional responses in our match and he obliged by maintaining the same cool and detached expression the whole time.  Despite this however he remained both friendly and engaging; he just wasn't going to give me any information for free while doing so.        

Game 1 - I managed to lose the roll yet again and we both ran out some fast flyers and mana Myr in the early game. Comically however we both also drew into multiple removal spells and the game quickly bogged down when neither of us could keep a creature in play.  Eventually Scott found a Koth the Hammer on top of his deck and started bashing me for 4.  At this point I was up 16 life to 10 but I'd been having mana troubles and desperately needed my 3rd Mountain to end the game.  When I found it the very next turn I started to think that just maybe this GP was going to be a special day; I immediately dropped the Phoenix and murdered Koth.  With Scott playing off the top of his deck for an answer and the Phoenix threatening lethal damage in 3 turns the game was pretty much over right there.

Game 2 - The simple truth is that my opening hand for game 2 was not very good; 2 double colored spells, a Blade-Tribe Berserkers, a Plains, a Mountain, an off-color mana Myr and Trigon of Corruption.  I probably should have mulliganed but being up a game and on the draw convinced me to ride it out despite a sneaking suspicion I was making the wrong play.  As a side note I should mention that this is the first time I sideboarded out the Heavy Arbalest for the Darksteel Sentinel; something I would end up doing every single game 2 from this point forward.  Scott's opening was more much aggressive this time as well; he forced out a Sunspear Shikari and then replaced it when I killed the first one with a Perilous Myr trick.  He also got a Glint Hawk Idol online and swinging by turn 4; significantly shortening my clock.  Making matters worse my opponent seemed to sense I was a little light on mana this time and chose to use *his* removal spell to execute my poor mana Myr; a move that would pay off handsomely when I missed land drops on 2 of my next 4 turns.  Eventually I did manage to stabilize with a Blade-Tribe Bersekers on the table and trading it on the defense bought me time to cast a Razor Hippogriff.  Scott had destroyed my Trigon of Corruption immediately after I'd cast it a couple turns prior and I figured the combination of 4 life and a card that could control flying weenies was better than simply returning the Perilous Myr.  Of course he then proceeded to cast Precursor Golem; instantly flooding the board with 3x 3/3 Golems while declaring "of course you're probably just going to shatter it."  Unfortunately I didn't have the Shatter, in fact I didn't have anything relevant in my hand whatsoever at that point.  When Scott started bashing with the entire team on his next turn I was forced into a complicated defensive pattern.  I traded as many of my smaller creatures for his 2/2 attackers as possible, dropped a -1-1 Corruption counter on one of the token Golems and blocked with my Hippogriff; killing one token and taking a whopping 8 damage.  On my turn I play a Kemba Skyguard to gain 2 life and give myself another blocker to run into his Glint Hawk Idol/Sunspeak Shikari type creatures.  His second mass attack drags me down to 3 life but costs him 3 creatures this time. Unluckily for me however Scott finally drew another creature and when he passed the turn I was staring down a 3/3 Golem and a 3/3 Blade-Tribe Bersekers with only my Hippogriff and a Trigon of Corruption in play.  While I wasn't actually "dead" next turn my only hope would be to trade one of his creatures for mine after dropping a -1-1 counter on the other one pre-combat to prevent lethal damage.  This would of course make my death on the next turn something of a formality unless I drew a removal spell, preferably an Instant one.  When my draw turned out to be a Shatter I had to try pretty hard not to tip my opponent off simply by grinning too much.  Of course it would have been nice to draw the Shatter several turns before when it would have killed all 3 Golems but at this point I was prepared to take whatever help the universe was willing to provide.  My opponent didn't sniff out the Shatter and I managed to wipe his board by casting it to destroy the Golem, blocking the BT Berserkers with my Hippogriff and dishing out my last -1-1 counter before combat. Astoundingly enough my opponent doesn't draw any creatures for 3 straight turns allowing me to claw him from 20 to 14 and finally to 10 life with my Hippogriff and a random artifact weenie.  It's at this point that I began to entertain thoughts of actually winning this game after having gone down 20-3 life and only escaping death through a lucky top-deck. As if to punish me for my arrogance fate placed a Razor Hippogriff on top of Scott's deck which he immediately used to return Precursor Golem to his hand and jump back to 15 life.  While I certainly felt I couldn't win the game at that point I thought I could trade Hippogriffs and potentially luck into my lone Revoke Existence before he could kill me with the Golem so I decided to play it out.  This decision was rendered moot when Scott topdecked a removal spell (Arrest?) and finished me off without ever re-casting the Golem. 

Game 3 - After such an epic game 2 it was only natural that Scott and I were in for a letdown in game 3.  In fact this game was pretty forgettable overall because all I remember is Scott drawing a bunch of removal and Koth.  Yet again however he seemed to struggle to find creatures in the mid-game while I didn't.  I managed to cast both a Kuldotha Phoenix and a Darksteel Juggernaut with 5 other artifacts in play; making it pretty much irrelevant when Scott did manage to execute the firebird.  Weirdly enough this would be the only time I returned the Phoenix from the graveyard all tournament; usually by the time I cast it my opponent no longer had any removal spells left in hand.     

2-0 (4-1) MVP:  Kuldotha Phoenix.  Not only did my shiny (yes it was foil) birdy win me both games in this match but it toasted Koth twice in the process.  Not bad for a card openly mocked on the most popular Magic Podcast in cyberspace: The Eh Team.

The jubilation I felt in response to winning my second round would be short lived however.  During games 2 and 3 of my match against Scott I had begun to feel a deep bone chill and my nose started running.  This was understandable as I'd come to the event still feeling rather sick; particularly after starting my morning with a freezing cold shower.  It probably also didn't help that I was pretty excited and burning off a lot of extra energy just trying to focus on my games.  Within 5 minutes of reporting my match I found myself in the ladies washroom throwing up a variety of liquids (as I still hadn't eaten that day).  Once I finally talked my stomach into calming down I went back outside to find out if my friends had won or lost.  For the most part the news was better but I was disappointed to find out that both Stephen and Leon had lost.  Pulling Leon aside I mentioned that I had just been sick and would be willing to drop and go home if he wasn't "feeling it" anymore after 2 unlucky losses.  Leon looked at me and laughed saying that he "must have lost for a reason" and that "now he'd have a much easier path to 7-2"; weirdly enough I could tell he meant it.    

Round 3 - Karen - R/W Aggro w/ Flying Bombs:
As previously mentioned I found it somewhat hard to navigate the byzantine table numbering system being used at this tournament as early as round 1.  Amazingly enough finding my table didn't get any easier once my fever kicked back into high gear heading into my 3rd match.  By the time I arrived at my seat I found Karen already set up and waiting for me.  I should mention that she was wearing the french version of the Face to Face Games T-shirt I'd seen throughout the room all day.  We introduced ourselves and while I was digging out my dice and supplies Karen inquired a little bit about my background and while I answered her questions I didn't reciprocate.  After the round was over I felt bad for not chatting with her a little more but I was kind of excited and trying very hard to focus on the games at hand.  If you're out there Karen I'm sorry I wasn't a little more friendly and thanks for at least trying to get me to chat a little before out match.  Next time I'll try to remember my manners I was just super geeked about being 2-0 at that point. 

Game 1 - I lost another die roll and for the 3rd time on the day find myself going 2nd in the R/W mirror.  She opened up with a turn 2 Iron Myr which I promptly murder on my 2nd turn with a Contagion Clasp.  We both played out a bunch of smaller creatures and start trading removal spells in the mid game.  Unfortunately I drew more creatures than she did and when she started topping multiple land in a row the game ended very quickly.  At this point I was feeling pretty confident about game 2 but little did I know that Game 1 had actually been a very poor draw for Karen and her deck would recover nicely in the next game.

Game 2 -   Karen opened up with another turn 2 Iron Myr which of course I killed with a turn 2 Contagion Clasp again.  Unfortunately turnabout is fair play and when she killed my Gold Myr I found myself starved for mana for several turns, particularly white mana.  Her early creatures weren't particularly threatening and eventually I managed to drop a Trigon of Corruption; which she immediately Shattered.  I managed to hold off her smaller creatures by playing several removal spells back to back but I was pretty much out of gas when she dropped the Horde-Smelter Dragon.  5/5 Flying is bad but the fact that it nukes your artifacts while getting bigger just pushes this creature over the top.  Karen already had board advantage but now she had quickly put me on a 2 or 3 turn clock.  When my next two draw phases failed to produce an Arrest I conceded and we went to game 3.

Game 3 - While our first two games had been a little more relaxed this 3rd game was understandably a little more intense.  I don't think it was lost on either of us that the winner of this game would move to 3-0 and thus be on even footing with everyone who had 3 byes; typically very good players.  I spent several minutes sideboarding before this game in almost complete silence; desperately trying to find something that would help me deal with a Horde-Smelter Dragon.  Eventually Karen broke the tension by commenting out loud to the table next to us that they were missing out on "hot round 3 girl on girl action" by not watching our game.  I giggled a little despite myself and we started the game.  This time I pushed out a turn 2 Myr and of course as per our tradition Karen immediately killed it.  I then returned the favor by dropping her Iron Myr with a Contagion Clasp for the 3rd consecutive game and we were off to the races.  Karen quickly seized board control with a fairly early Indomitable Archangel but she was nowhere near Metalcraft status and we traded damage with expendable flyers for a couple turns.  Eventually I was able to flood the board with indestructible creatures; dropping both a Darksteel Sentinel and a 5/5ish Darksteel Juggernaut.  At this point we're both holding back flying creatures; me so I can block and trade 1 for 2 with the Angel and her to contain my 3 2/2 flyers with a single 4/4 blocker. I manage to bash for some damage and force her to chump block with a Myr before she casts a Darksteel Sentinel of her own.  We both had fairly sprawling boards at this point with excess Myr and random 2/2 bodies but she was ahead on life and I was only getting through for 2-3 damage a turn while risking a massive crack-back from her growing pile of monsters.  On her next turn she proceeds to drop a Flameborn Hellion and quickly says "go" to which I flatly reply "okay"; mostly because I couldn't break through her defenses at this point unless she swung at me.  I had just started to reach for my land when Karen said "wait, I wanted to attack with the Hellion".  Now at this point I knew I could refuse but honestly the game has been pretty tense and absolutely nothing about the board-state had changed.  We both had the same number of creatures/cards, etc in play as we did before she said "go".  Additionally of course as I mentioned at some point I needed her to attack me with something or this game would stall out while we both tried to find removal spells.  Unfortunately my current hand and her Archangel meant that if she attacked with only the Hellion I would to have to block with a Silver Myr, essentially sacrificing a creature just to tap her Hellion.  Sighing slightly I said "okay" again and began mentally confirming that the Myr was the best chump block I had available.  Almost immediately after I said okay Karen added "and I think I wanted to attack with the Archangel too".  Now this time I really do have to work hard not to show my emotions while I let her decide if those are her finally attacks.  Once she said "yes that's my attack" I quickly smile and drop a Metalcraft enhanced Dispense Justice; forcing her to sacrifice both creatures and giving me board control.  A couple turns later I roll to victory behind Indestructible beaters while Karen comments that the game was likely hers without the timely removal spell.  I really can't disagree and I wish her luck for the rest of the day.  Her sealed pool was of course very strong but she was also a good player and I genuinely felt bad about the way our game ended.

3-0 (6-2) MVP: Dispense Justice and not being a jerk about letting your opponent take back simple errors.  The truth is that Karen's best play was probably to attack with just the Hellion, forcing me to leave both of my Indestructible creatures back to block next turn.  If I had refused to let her take that attack back I never would have given her the chance to assign her Archangel as well.  That was likely the final difference in a hotly contested match-up between 2 strong sealed pools.

Unfortunately by the time I was wrapping up game 3 with Karen my fever was raging out of control.  I felt cold, miserable and disorientated.  I couldn't stay hydrated no matter how much water/chicken soup I drank and even just sitting and playing cards was starting to make my joints ache.  Even worse my body was constantly wracked with chills and I felt like I was going to throw up at any given moment; causing me to spend another 10-15 minutes in the bathroom between rounds 3 and 4.  I found myself wondering if anyone had ever dropped from a GP at 3-0 before but ultimately decided to gut it out for another round.  Being honest this was mostly because all of my friends had finally started winning and I didn't want to take the bus home alone in my current condition. 

Round 4 - Matthew - B/G/R Control w/Infect:

Between throwing up in the bathroom and waiting for Leon to help me find my table number I arrived at my seat well after my round 4 opponent. I quickly sat down and began to unpack my supplies when I noticed that sitting across from me in the game next to ours was none other than Conley Woods; pro player and one of my favorite Magic writers.  More than a little star-struck I couldn't help but thank Conley for the articles he writes and Channel Fireball for making them available for free.  After I promised not to bug Conley during his match my opponent commented that he too had written a few Magic articles "back in the day".  At this point I snapped back to reality a little bit and did my best to size the player across from me up before our match began.  If first impressions mean anything I felt I was in for a long day; my opponent appeared very calm, composed and confident.  It seemed fairly obvious to me that he either *was* a professional Magic player or certainly could be one if he so desired.  My suspicion was validated when I asked him "so did you play your way to this point or are you coming off a bunch of byes"?  He confirmed that I was his first live opponent that day and suggested that my 3 rounds of warming up might give me an advantage; a suggestion that seemed almost laughable when contrasted with his level of confidence heading into game 1.  As if all that weren't unsettling enough somewhere in the back of my mind lived a creepy feeling that I recognized both my opponent's face and even his voice.       

Game 1 - Things do not start off well as Matthew and I had trouble agreeing on something as simple as the dice roll.  He had a pile of 6 or so rather dodgy looking D6 cubes with + and - numbers on them and noticeably rounded corners.  Fearing that they weren't properly weighted randomization cubes (trust me this matters) I suggested we use my D20 instead.  My opponent replied something to the effect of "I've been playing Magic with these dice for X number of years and nobody has accused me of using them to cheat yet".  It was around about this point that I started to smell a Jedi mind trick; sitting here across from me was a clearly accomplished and experienced Magic player who wanted to start an argument over who's dice we used?  Not only was I 100% sure a judge would agree that I had the right to refuse to roll silly "gaming" dice to determined who went first but I had a pretty strong suspicion my opponent was trying to get me to argue about and thus focus on something that had nothing to do with our match whatsoever; while simultaneously reminding me he'd be playing Magic since the Paleozoic era.  I chose to decline the argument and after confirming with Matthew that they were properly weighted randomization cubes I agreed to roll his "dice" and managed to lose yet again.  Thankfully Matthew put me on the play because choosing the draw is virtually automatic at the top levels of sealed deck play; something I normally agree with but question specifically here in the super fast Scars of Mirrodin format.  Unfortunately my opening draw was the rather familiar 2 land (both mountains), a Copper Myr, a 4CC creature and 2 double colored spells (Turn to Slag/Kemba Skyguard?).  I laughed a little inside as I realized Matthew's gambit had worked; I was going to keep a soft hand because he'd put me on the play when I would have mulliganed it away on the draw.  Sadly I remember almost nothing about the rest of this game except that Matthew killed my Myr with a Contagion Clasp almost immediately and I couldn't find enough mana in the right colors anywhere near fast enough.  I never knocked my opponent below 18 life and he finished the game at 22 with a Bleak Coven Vampires/Bladed Pinions combo applying the finishing touches.  When I finally hit zero life I had 3 removal spells I couldn't cast still trapped in my hand.

Game 2 -  At the start of our 2nd game I briefly caught myself getting annoyed at how long my opponent took to present his deck.  Matthew used a complicated but consistent shuffling pattern that while I'm sure is completely legit made me feel as though I should be watching for a pattern.  I was just about to mention something when I remembered the incident with the "dice" earlier and decided that this was probably just another trick to keep my attention away from the actual game.  Laughing to myself I nevertheless made sure to shuffle the heck out of Matthew's deck when he finally did present it "just in case".  While I was shuffling Beau wandered over after having already dispatched his opponent for this round.  We made brief small-talk until he noticed that we were playing next to Conley Woods and he took up a position behind Mathew and off to the side to watch the game beside us.  I was just about to draw my hand when Mathew turned to Beau and tersely said "could you please not stand there".  I realized immediately that he was worried about my friend giving me signals during the match but it was pretty obvious to me and anyone else observing Beau that he was only interested in watching Conley play.  I smiled politely and tried to smooth the situation over but Beau wandered off a few moments later; clearly offended at Matthew's implication.  I opened up a much stronger (albeit creature light) hand in game two and quickly went about establishing my mana-base.  Matthew's draw was again slow and control-ish and for a while we simply traded creatures and removal spells.  Eventually however Matthew drew into the Bleak Coven Vampires again and after soaring to 23 life started bashing my face in with multiple monsters.  Thankfully I kept drawing a steady supply of removal along with the periodic flying creature. At one point Mathew got me as low as 5 life before I stabilized by top-decking an Arrest and started to crash back with my Kuldotha Phoenix and a Glint Hawk Idol.  A couple turns later Matthew motioned towards his ever growing pile of land in disgust and we move on to game 3.  I wasn't exactly happy to win by mana flood but considering how poorly game 1 had gone I certainly couldn't turn it down.

Game 3 -  By the time game 3 rolled around I was openly shivering, I have no idea if my opponent thought I was scared or realized I had a massive fever burning inside of my noggin.  At that point frankly I just didn't care; one of us would win and the other would lose and I felt like my job in the meantime was to simply avoid disqualifying myself by throwing up at the table. Leon had come over after our 2nd game to cheer me on; thankfully he stood behind *me* which didn't seem to be a problem for Matthew.  Before the game started I slowly became aware of two things; first it was taking my opponent longer to sideboard than normal and second my opponent seemed a little rattled about going to game 3 at all.  During game 2 I noticed that whenever I played an unexpected or particularly effective card Matthew's eyebrows would arch slightly and his eyes would suddenly widen.  I had initially assumed this was simply more gamesmanship on my opponent's part since he made no effort to hide this obvious tell. When he made the exact same face while trying to decide if he wanted to play or draw in game 3 however I began to suspect that it might be an involuntary response.  Ultimately he decided to take the draw but I knew he'd struggled with the decision because I might come out of the gates too fast again and end the game before he could control my board.  As if on cue my deck proceeded to hand me a couple of cheap flyers, a Wall of Tanglecord and some removal.  Matthew's start was much slower although he did drop an early Contagion Clasp to take out one of my mana Myr.  Eventually I whittled him down to 10 life before he cast and attached a Bladed Pinions to his Contagious Nim; effectively shutting down my entire board.  First strike combines very well with Infect; putting the -1-1 tokens on the opposing creature *before* it can deal damage back.  Unfortunately while I did have the Turn to Slag in hand I didn't have a 2nd Mountain to cast it and I was forced to hold back for 2 turns while I waited to draw a means to play my removal spell.  I must have been giving off pretty obvious signals about needing the red mana too because Matthew openly commented that I was probably "waiting on a 2nd Mountain to play Turn to Slag".  Probably in part because I was sick, in part because I was frustrated about land and partially because my opponent's mental tactics started wearing me down but I began playing desperate and scared.  I started to fidget in my seat; shuffling my cards nervously within my hand as if hoping they would somehow change.  For the first time I seriously thought I was going to lose the match simply because I couldn't answer his Bladed Pinions.  Obviously this was ridiculous; I was at 22 life to his 10 and despite my opponent sideboarding in several Infect creatures (which is why SB in game 3 took so long) I was still completely free of poison counters.  Finally of course I outnumbered his creatures 3 to 1.  Unfortunately for whatever reason the rational part of my mind simply couldn't process these realities anymore and it simply "felt" like I was either losing or about to lose the game.  Matthew eventually cast a Nim Deathmantle and passed the turn back to me before I finally drew a second Mountain. I promptly dropped the Turn to Slag on Mathew's Contagious Nim and watched in fascinated horror as he casually brought the Infect creature back to life with 4 mana. Somehow I also forgot that it was the Bladed Pinions that gave his creature flying, not the Contagious Nim itself.  Mistakenly believing I had simply traded a 2/2 first striking Infect flyer for a 4/4 immortal one I passed the turn back; leaving at least 5 damage on the table.  Unfortunately I would waste another attack phase playing around a 4/4 flying Nim that couldn't actually fly, although after I passed the turn Matthew's startled expression finally made me realize something was wrong.  It took me all of 4 more seconds to realize that the Nim no longer had flying but I'd given Matthew another turn to draw and play a Trigon of Corruption; a perfect compliment to his Contagion Clasp.  I mentally accepted that I only had two options left: playing around my own mistakes to retake the win or panicking and letting Matthew beat me in a game I should have already won.  I chose the former and immediately crashed in with all of my flyers.  Of course Matthew started killing them off with spot removal and proliferating -1-1 counters but I managed to claw him down to 8 life; even after he gained 4 from a Bleak Coven Vampires.  Unfortunately Matthew eventually murdered all of my flyers and began to attack me with infect creatures.  I blocked; inherently wary of the Contagion Clasp he was activating every single turn at this point.  Realizing I didn't have much time left I counted the cards in my library and found I had 13 remaining; including a Shatter, a Revoke Existence and a Kuldotha Phoenix.  I'm not entirely sure why but I somehow knew that the answers to my problems were about to come to the top of my deck.  When I immediately drew the Revoke Existence to get rid of Matthew's pesky Trigon of Corruption a serene calm washed over me.  My opponent on the other hand seemed almost shocked; treating me to his now familiar "I did not expect that" eye bulge/brow twitch combo.  He activated the Clasp one last time before swinging in and forcing me to trade a Darksteel Sentinel and the Wall just to remain poison token free.  I promptly topdecked the Kuldotha Phoenix and cast it; dropping him to 4 life immediately and putting him on a 1 turn clock.  As soon as my opponent drew his next card his right eyebrow arched slightly and then both of his eyes went wide; unable to contain myself while he stared at his cards I finally blurted out "hoo-wahh, you're dead Sir".

4-0 (8-3) MVP: Me.  Between being sick, my opponent's "full court press" and my own silly mistakes I had a lot of built in excuses for losing this game; I chose not to take them and to keep fighting.  I did not play particularly well but I kept playing despite strong impulses telling me to quit and as a result I learned something good about myself as a Magic player.  Oh yeah, Kuldotha Phoenix is pretty broken too.

Unfortunately even as I was stepping away from the table flush with my unlikely victory in round 4 I could already tell something was wrong.  The room was spinning slightly and I felt very cold and ache-y; when I tried to walk back into the main isle I had to grab on to Leon's coat just to maintain my balance.  I was running entirely on fumes and adrenaline at that point; my body being slowly overwhelmed by both a high fever and outright mental exhaustion.  Of course all of my friends were now winning their matches quite comfortably and I felt it would be unfair to ask any of them to leave with me.  Besides if you don't drop from a GP at 3-0 how can you even consider doing so at 4-0 right?  I managed to stumble outside for some air and then spent another 10 minutes in the bathroom dry heaving before reporting for my round 5 match.

Round 5- Lukasz - U/W Metalcraft:

 My round 5 opponent turned out to be a friendly young man who like me had won every round with no byes to advance his cause.  Sadly by this time I was openly shivering and too exhausted for much small talk; once time started we quickly shuffled up and started playing.

Game 1 - I lost the roll yet again and kept a bad 2 land (Plains) hand because it had a Copper Myr in it.  Lukasz proceeds to play a turn 2 Silver Myr followed by a turn 3 Grand Architect.  I respond by missing a land drop only to watch my opponent ramp into a Golem Artisan and a Gold Myr.  Unfortunately I remember very little about the rest of this game.  I eventually managed to draw into land and removal; killing his Golem Artisan and then neutralizing his Grand Architect.  Unfortunately however I was at 8 life before I really got into the game and once I did establish board control all I drew was land.  I managed to claw him down to 4 life with some flyers but lost when he proceeded to topdeck a Sky-Eel School and then 2 Lumengrid Drakes while I drew my 9th and 10th lands.

Game 2 - After my opponent's amazing start in game 1 I made a point of shuffling his deck for a couple extra minutes.  It wasn't so much that I felt my opponent was stacking his deck or anything; just that cards tend to stick together over a long tournament despite shuffling and I REALLY didn't want to see that same combination of cards again.  Unfortunately as previously mentioned my fever and mental exhaustion were definitely beginning to factor in my decision making; I kept a terrible hand with a couple flyers and no removal simply because it had 4 land with 2 of each color.  Lukasz of course proceeds to cast a turn 2 mana Myr, a turn 2 Grand Architect and a turn 4 Golem Artisan + random artifact creature.  I didn't draw any removal and he killed me while declaring a total of 3 attacks all game.  I think it's really important to mention that I shuffled his deck for about 4 minutes in between games; fortune simply wanted him to draw those cards.  It's also important to note that I probably should have mulliganed both games; neither hand was very good even if ultimately the first one worked out.

4-1 (8-5) LVP - Lukasz's draws; while I certainly don't like to blame luck when I lose games of Magic the honest truth is I had almost no chance of matching his opening in either game.  I should probably also add "playing Magic with a fever" and "forgetting to mulligan because your brain is fried" to the list of LVPs as well.  Still, even at 100% capacity I'm not sure I would have won either of those games.

At this point in the day I was becoming painfully aware that I would be unable to finish the GP even if by some miracle I kept winning.  My round had ended so quickly that most of my friends were still playing game one of their matches when I retreated to the bathroom feeling nauseous.  I'm not sure how long I spent in there but by the time I came out our entire playgroup had finished the round.  While Beau, Leon and Stephen were still in contention Kelly had tired of swimming uphill with a bad pool and dropped from the event.  If I were smarter I would have taken that as a sign but unfortunately pride is a funny thing.  While I knew there was no way I could possibly gut out the rest of the tournament sheer stubborn arrogance made it impossible for me to concede at 4-1.  Frustrated to the point of tears I asked both Stephen and Leon to look at my deck and tell me that it wasn't good enough to win the whole tournament; when neither could say that it wouldn't I asked someone to grab me a "couple chicken soups or something" and got ready for round 6.

Round 6 - Matt - B/R Aggro w/ Removal: 

Sadly I don't remember very much about this match at all.  I recall thinking that Matt was very confident and focused; I could easily have mistaken him for a visiting Pro Tour ace.  I was openly shuddering from chills from the moment I sat down and at one point I mentioned to Matt that I was thinking of dropping before this round even started.  He joked that he would be okay with me dropping now but I didn't get the sense he was being malicious at all.  I kept two fairly average hands in this match and in both games Matt simply killed every single relevant creature I played.  I drew very little removal and both games were over in seconds; something that would normally bother me a great deal.  Unfortunately I was too sick to really care at this point and rather than playing to stay alive as long as possible I found myself hoping that game 2 would end quickly so I could go home.  Obviously you aren't going to win very many games of magic with that mindset.

4-2 (8-7) *Drop* LVP - Not dropping the round before.  I really had no business at that table in my physical or mental state and I knew it; losing round 6 so handily was just the universe making sure I accepted that.

After discussing the matter with Leon and my friends I eventually decided to take Kelly up on his offer to escort me home; riding an hour long bus in the freezing rain alone isn't something you really want to attempt while sick.  While I was disappointed that this would mean the end of my day I honestly had to accept that I had very little chance of winning any more rounds that day.  The level of competition was simply too high to allow "half" of me to compete successfully. The combination of starting sick, taking a freezing cold shower, the sheer mental stress of competing on that level and finally the temperature dropping like 10 degrees once the rain started falling was ultimately too much for my system to handle.

Later on that evening back at home I'd hear the news that most of my playgroup had finished just outside the cut at 6-3 which was pretty remarkable when you consider how poorly the day had started for most of them.  I was particularly proud of Leon who managed to claw his way back from 0-2 all the way to 6-2 before mana screwing his way out of the cut.  If there's a lesson to be learned from this it's never give up until you are mathematically eliminated.  I'm sure it wasn't easy for Leon to play every round knowing he had no remaining margin for error but by refusing to let the extra pressure get to him he was able to reach the "win and your in" match anyways.       

Well gang, that certainly ended up being about 10 times longer than I expected.  Unfortunately that's also pretty much all my fingers can take for the moment and I really don't want to delay posting the 2nd half of the GP report any longer.  Please join me here next time on the Cardboard Witch for what I hope will be a *brief* discussion of what I ultimately learned from my GP experience.  Until then thanks for reading and keep it weird.


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