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Grand Prix New Jersey Report *2nd*
Zvi Mowshowitz

Itís Friday afternoon. Since the Grand Prix is only four miles from midtown, I decided to stay at home Friday night and take the bus to the tournament. Iíve called teammate Alex Shvartsmanís cell phone twice trying to figure out when I have to get there, and eventually he finds out that registration ends at ten. That means I have to get there at 9:30 or so in order to sit there and complain about the delay. This is not what I thought when I got there, itís what I thought when I was sitting there at home. Hurry up and wait.

So the next step is to get directions. I call the hotel and tell them I need directions, and I am immediately transferred to a recording that tells me how to drive to the hotel. Thanks. I call back, and this time they transfer me to a real person because obviously the first person I talk to has no idea what bus youíre supposed to take to get to the hotel. Itís very arcane knowledge. So they tell me to take bus number 129, and Iím ready to go the next day.

I wake up earlier than I should, have breakfast and head down to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There I stand in line to buy the ticket, realize Iím in the slowest line ever, switch, switch again and eventually get my ticket. Then I realize that bus 129 does not stop at the place marked 129, because there is no place marked 129. There are only numbers under 100 and over 200. Luckily thereís an information booth nearby, but thatís the kind of information that theyíre not cleared for. Instead I have to stand in line again, bravely defending my position from a man behind me who tried every trick in the book to get ahead of me, and got back to the ticket window. Now I knew where to go, although it didnít occur to me to ask what stop to get off.

Youíd think Iíd be good at this by now.

Alas, it seems that I am not. I canít do the simplest things. I canít keep my internet connection up, although I blame that on the people at Time Warner. Now I find that the disk I had saved the original report on fails to contain the data, although it looked like it loaded it just fine on the other computer that still has some sort of connection to the internet. Then the e-mail containing the information turned out to be gibberish. Meanwhile, all attempts to convince this computer that I did just in fact insert a CD into the drive a minute ago are coming up short. The drive is empty. So remember, the theme is people being unable to get things done right or done on time. If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself, and even then it doesnít look good.

That should give you an idea of how long I had to wait for the bus. You see, what I took was something called the "First Bus". This is a unique and strange concept to me, a resident of New York City, especially while still within that cityís limits. What is a first bus? There is no first. There is only next, and in some situations the one you just missed or the other four that are driving right along side the previous two. You show up, you wait, soon the bus comes. Why would anyone stop service entirely? People have to get from Point A to Point B, and sometimes they even want to go the other way. But apparently this part of the city does in fact sleep, so I canít leave until 8:20. To give you a preview, when all is said and done all things being equal I will be fine with the results of the cityís transportation services, but I donít want to give too much away.

Accidentally meeting me on the bus were Matt Wang, Joe Vas and a few other present and former Neutral Grounders. We spoke of Magic Online, of new markets and clans and tournament structures. We exchanged nicknames and ideas. I donít think we once discussed the tournament format at hand, because everyone knows how to play Team Sealed and almost no one has any idea how to draft. Thatís ok, because almost no one will even get the chance. We also had Brook North scoop to the bus, with his teammates getting there on time but him coming up short. Buses do not wait for anyone, not even for five seconds. They just donít care.

We get to the stop where weíre supposed to get off, and after trying more ways than we should have to we find a way to the tournament hall. The tournament hall is just barely big enough for a tournament of this size, and even though my nose has been clogged since about 1983 I still noticed the problem. The logistics did not go well. Several times during the weekend my teammate Alex was approached to see if he could provide more product, because the tournament was in danger of running out. They never expected there would be over two hundred teams. Other people did expect even more than that and thought two hundred was in fact a little low, but they didnít book the site. It was a distinct letdown. I guess the lesson in this is to stop giving everything New York to New Jersey. Itís not a good thing. We want our stuff back.

I locate Alex Shvartsman after a few minutes, and a little later Justin Gary is awake and I find him. Weíre all set to go.

Several hours laterÖ

We get to register someone elseís deck. Then (gasp) we get to build! No way.

Thereís too many teams, weíll never finish this way. What time is it?

ItísÖ way too early for that, sir!

Queue the decks.

At any rate, our card pool turns out to be rather impressive. I grab White first, and it is solid but defensive and needs threshold badly. That means it needs to go with blue. Red is rich enough to split, and the card pool is deep enough to have the White/Blue deck not use a large number of playable cards and still have three good decks. The other two are a Red/Green and a Red/Black. The Red/Black has an amazing curve starting with five two drops including a Nantuko Shade. While weíre doing this and frantically rotating trying to figure out how to tune the three decks the team next to us is in open mock mode, since theyíd kill for most of the cards we have on the chopping block. My deck comes this close to cutting the second Compulsion.

The Red/Green was slower and controlish, but very solid. Justin loves two drops more than anyone else I know, so we gave him that deck. Justin is also the best player I know other than Kai Budde at winning games when the cards seem to have given him nothing to work with. Somehow he makes things happen. He crushes my deck without much trouble in practice, since Alex was busy minding his dealer station.

Several hours laterÖ

The judges have ordered and eaten pizza. From Dominos. Itís only round two, and without the tournament organizer the judges themselves decided they werenít just desperate enough to get pizza ordered, they were desperate enough to get it from Dominos. Things are not looking good, although itís coming up on 4:00 so itís almost time for us to play with the magical cards. Perish the thought.

Round 3
Yes, thatís right folks, we get to play some Magic. Our opponents are the Human Tequila Shots. Whenever your opponents have a name that involves imbibing large quantities of alcoholic beverages, it tends to be a good thing. I offer to pay for some shots if theyíre interested, but I donít get any takers. It turns out to have been unnecessary, as I get Compulsion down and my deck comes out and dominates. My opponent is playing White/Red, but itís not the hyper offensive White/Red that can be big trouble. Itís more like the annoyance-filled White/Red, but I have the tools to get through everything he puts down. The matchup doesnít seem to be at all problematic. Alex also wins. Justinís match looks like itís running low on time as they shuffle up for game three, so they just agree to draw since the tiebreaks are unlikely to be important.

Round 4
This time our opponents are named Mudhole for the Win. Weíre at tables one through three, which leads of course to complaining about how me and Alex never get to play at table one. Again Iím facing White/Red, and again itís not particularly offensive. I start to wonder if weíve missed something, since our opponents have been a combined 5-0 before facing us. Whatís up with these weaker White/Red decks? I guess other opponents didnít have the tools I did. Game one was a big disaster, because I got Compulsion down on turn two, didnít get into serious trouble and still didnít win. Somehow he managed to deal with the Vigilant Sentry, the Mystic Zealot, play more utility creatures and flyers than I had removal and suddenly I couldnít figure out how to kill him. The Shelter and Unquestioned Authority were both so far near the bottom of the deck that I couldnít afford to cast them, and I ended up getting decked. The bottom card of course was the Aven Windreader.

The second game doesnít have such problems, as the Cephalid Looter comes out on turn three and survives. At that point, I get threshold without trouble and get to cycle away extra lands while he does nothing of importance. I run him over as soon as I hit threshold. Still, the first game took a while to play and the other two matches are done as weíre shuffling up for game three. I get permission to offer the draw, and we get to move on to the next set of sealed decks.

Second Deckbuild

This was covered by old friend Ben Bleiweiss. He sits down to cover us, and the ever-helpful Glen tells us he canít sit in the aisle. Perhaps heís a fire hazard. Since he needs to do his coverage, we get moved to the royal purple feature match table. That means we have actual breathing room, which is excellent. Thanks, Glen! I grab the white cards again, and this time they have four two drops and plenty of offensive cards. Now this white had options. Quickly I suggest we look at playing White/Red, and the deck looks great. It doesnít look great to Alex, who canít even understand wanting to run Suntail Hawk. It looks good to Justin on principle, but heís new to the idea. To me, though, it looks great. Patchwork Gnomes gets put into the deck because it needs more creatures of distinct annoyance and more ways to discard. The first thing we had to realize was the White/Red, and the second was to switch off the colors of the other two decks and split the white. There was still some defensive white, and we almost didnít realize to trade the Vigilant Sentry to the defensive white in exchange for the Militant Monk. That helped both decks a lot. At that point, we were just about ready.

In the meantime, it turns out thereís already been some important attrition that didnít involve teams being mathematically eliminated. Baby Hueyís team got a loss and a draw and decided theyíd had enough. The tournament was unpleasant, an evening of poker was probably more profitable, and they packed it in and left. Then there was Turianís team. Our national champion and hopeful future world championship hero Eugene Harvey had to go. Yes, he just flat out had to go. He had a concert to perform, and that was more important than Magic. They thought thereíd be more than four rounds done before that happened. Itís good to know he has his priorities straight. Just donít let it happen at worlds.

Round 5
Our backs are literally to the wall as we go back to tables one through three. The other two matches go well for us and we win the round, but Iím in trouble. Game one I have mana issues. After a while the Dwarven Driller can come down, and just when Iím starting to get established he drops Aboshan. He doesnít utilize the Aboshan to maximum effect for whatever reason, and I still manage to get some damage in with my creatures in addition to the pressure from Dwarven Driller. He plays an army of flyers and Iím very rapidly approaching death. I discard to threshold and cast Shower of Coals to get him down to four and kill the Aboshan, but he Shelters to save it, untap and kill me.

Game two my deck comes out quickly and he canít raise his defenses fast enough to stop it. Game three doesnít look good. I have a decent hand, but it doesnít have any two drops and I donít draw one in the first two turns either. I canít get much pressure up and he starts dropping flyers. The Driller does a bunch of damage, but only the Ember Beast can safely attack and that meant I could never attack without losing at least a creature. I ask Seth Burn why this matchup is supposed to be so good, and he tells me that he never misses his two drops. I must be a bad player.

It comes down to this: He has many tapped flyers well up to the task of finishing me off, and an untapped Possessed Nomad left to block. He also has a card in hand, a Hypochondria and two untapped Plains. Those are issues, because heís at four and all I have are a Scorching Missile and a land in my hand. I have seven lands in play. I untap and drawÖ Swelter. That does nothing. He doesnít even have anything it kills. I sit there and think about if thereís any way to convince him to let me kill him. It doesnít seem possible. But thereís no harm in attacking, so I send my creatures in. He blocks the Ember Beast and takes two. I still have no idea how Iím going to win, but casting Scorching Missile wonít work. I cast Swelter on the Treetop Sentinel and the Nomad. He reaches for his mana, reaches back. He asks if Iíve played a land. I say no. He fingers his lands again. A friend tells him not to do it, that Iíll play a land and kill him with Scorching Missile. He taps his land and casts Shelter! I play the land, toss out the Scorching Missile and inform him heís been swept.

Round 6:
We get a feature match, which is played on an imperial purple table. Once again my deck of speed decides that turn two isnít all that interesting to it in game one, and once again the game slowly goes from bad to worse. Weíre shuffling up for game two, and both Alex and Justin have also lost their first games. I look at my hand for a bit with two Mountains as the lands and no two drops, and decide that I must mulligan. Justin is shuffling as well, and he also draws a hand and thinks a lot before shuffling. His is a lot closer than mine. I get my hand back, and it only has a Plains for land but is otherwise as good as I could ask. I keep it and prey. Turn one I drop a 1/1. Turn two I drop a Nomad. Turn three I drop Patchwork Gnomes. Turn four I play a Crackling Club, trade off his creature and drop another 2/2. Turn five I drop the Dwarven Driller. He dies.

ďWell,Ē said Justin, ďthat certainly gave me a confidence boost.Ē

Game three is more normal, but even going second without a stellar draw this deck is super fast. Heís playing Black/Blue, and from what Iíve seen those decks are virtually helpless against this type of strategy if they donít get one of a few specific cards like Aquamoeba down, and even then itís tough for them. We pull out another match, and weíre still undefeated.

At this point, day one is over. Thatís not because weíve made the cut to day two, because we havenít. What we have done is make it past midnight. Let day two begin!

Round 7:
This round weíre up against Cardsharks, who are in fourth place with a draw and no losses. I remember one of them, I think from Nice, where we had a good match and an interesting discussion, but Iím not playing against him. My first game draw doesnít have speed, and suddenly his cards get to come out and play. I still manage to kill a Windreader and a large supporting cast, and things are looking reasonable. He drops Caustic Tar and I donít see how I get the clock working in time. Then he taps the Tar for mana.

That canít be good. It turns out to be very, very bad, because he plays a 12/12 Stitched Ghoul. For some reason I canít quite deal with a 12/12 trampler at this time. Game two my land doesnít behave, and I pull out of it too late to finish him off. We drop another match, and we are no longer undefeated.

Round 8:
Itís the last round before what sleep weíre allowed to get. Thereís a little talk of drawing, but we decide not to because it would be horrible for our chances to make top four. Then we notice weíd be in if we lost and the whole point is moot. Weíre again playing against a team we donít recognize, and this time things go smoothly. The deck does the job it is supposed to, and it keeps the pressure on the whole time. We carry a second match and get the hell out of there as soon as possible on a quest for sleep. We also need to start worrying about what our draft strategy will be, since we hadnít even talked about it yet. But that all happens in part two...

- Zvi Mowshowitz


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