This past weekend, I attended Grand Prix Richmond, which was my first limited Grand Prix. Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and my sealed testing on Magic Online the past week had really payed off.

Apart from starting off the weekend by almost missing the bus because I had bought a ticket for the wrong day, the journey went pretty well, and we arrived at the hotel around midnight, which allowed us to get a decent amount of sleep before showing up to the convention center at 9:30. Thanks sleep-in special!

When I opened my pool and started registering, I was very dismayed to find that I had a rare in each color, and a very similar amount of cards in each color as well. While my red was pretty good, I did not want to play an aggressive deck, because in my testing I had found the format to be extremely grindy. This turned me away from playing my red, as the deck couldn’t beat anything the opponent played past turn 5. My final build was a Bant deck, with green being the splash.

Strangely, my Green had mana fixers in 2 Naga Vitalist and an Oashra Cultivator, but I put them in the deck as accelerators for my 5, 6, and 7 drops. The main reason I played green was for Colossapede and Greater Sandwurm. Not great, I know, but I had virtually no top end in my pool except for the Lay Claim already in my deck, Shimmerscale Drake, and a Floodwaters, so I felt as though my deck needed the extra push to beat other people’s great rares, which I would need to go over the top of. The rares in my deck were Vizier of Many Faces and Dusk//Dawn. I had never played with the Vizier before, but because of the format’s nature, I was certain it would have all sorts of juicy targets in my opponent’s deck (more on that later), and Dusk//Dawn had been fantastic in all of my testing.

The day started off great, with me going 3-0, bringing my record up to 4-0. After round three, I showed my deck and pool to friends, who thought a R/G Aggro deck would have been the better choice. I tried sideboarding into it in the next round, and won, but after siding into it games 2 and 3 in the next two rounds, I promptly lost, I shelved that plan and went back to Bant-ing. For the record, I think the R/G deck was fine, and I have no doubts my friends would have done well with it, but for my playstyle and understanding of the format, the Bant deck was definitely better.

Sticking to my roots, I won the next round, and had a win-and-in to day 2 the next round. I ended up drawing with a Japanese player when I was ahead on board, but I didn’t push when asking for a concession because it was clear that the language barrier was an issue, and was definitely not far enough ahead to be sure he had no outs. Then came the last round, my win-and-in. My opponent and I exchanged games 1 and 2, and my fate came down to game 3. After my opponent resolved an Angel of Sanctions, things were looking grim, but I topdecked a lucky Vizier of Many Faces, and managed to take the game by attacking 5 times with it in the air. I was in day 2! Although at a measly 6-2-1 I was towards the bottom of the pack, I had high hopes for day 2.

However, while the format was just as I predicted for Sealed, my limited Draft testing really showed, as I 1-2’d both of my Sunday draft pods, with the second win being a bye. In the first draft, I pushed R/W Aggro very hard, and instead of getting rewarded, I got passed about 5 copies of Cartouche of Zeal in pack 2, and no creatures. The final deck was a mess, and I am surprised it even won a round. The draft format, at least in my two pods, was not as polarized as I thought it would be. In my testing, I had come to the conclusion that basically everyone but one drafter would be playing hyper-aggressive decks, but this was not the case. In round 12, I got smashed by Andreas Ganz, who was playing a sweet B/W Zombies deck with two copies of Lord of the Accursed that promptly crushed me after resolving a Stir the Sands.

My second draft went much better, and I ended up with a sick G/W Midrange deck that had a great curve and premium creatures. In the first round, I fell to 9 life, and was facing down a Winged Shepherd. With the walls closing in, I attacked with everything. There were two possible scenarios here. Either he blocked with everyone, and let my two 3/3s connect, putting him dead to the Shed Weakness in my hand, or he blocked everything and let 4 through, allowing me to eat his Shepherd, and putting me far ahead with lethal next turn. He chose the latter, but had a Djeru’s Resolve to mess up my plans.

The next turn, I was dead on board, but attacked in a way where it was clear I was representing a pump spell. My opponent threw his Shepherd in front of something, and was super dead next turn. He untapped his 6 lands, Binding Mummy, and 3 power creature, having essentially played himself out of the game, and said “well that was a pretty good draw.” He then embalmed an Unwavering Initiate, tapped down my second creature with Binding Mummy, played a Cartouche of Solidarity on the Mummy, and attacked for exact-sies, which was pretty crushing. My last loss was to a U/B deck which was playing Compelling Argument and Trespasser’s Curse, leaving me very confused to what my opponent was doing, a question that was answered when he just killed me with Angler Drake.

Overall, the Grand Prix was a great experience. The most important thing I learned this weekend is that drafting what comes to you is much more important that forcing what you interpreted to be good in the format, as a deck that is an 8/10 but maybe not as good in your mental format will still always be better than a deck that is a 5/10 but conforms to what you thought the format would be like. This will hopefully help me, and you in this or upcoming limited formats. My next step is to watch the Pro Tour and test for Grand Prix Montreal (Hopefully this new Standard format is sweet!). As always, I hope you enjoyed, and good luck in your upcoming tournaments!

Thanks for reading,

Riccardo Monico