The last time the Grand Prix circuit visited KC was 2013, so when Channel Fireball announced they were coming back this year, JB, DBoe and I were understandably excited. For those of you unfamiliar with the Grand Prix, it's a big event that not only hosts a huge "main event" of either Standard or Modern play with a pool of around 1000 players or more, but there are shops that set up booths, card collectors, a ton of people looking to trade cards, rare cards on display, a plethora of side events, and artists will show up to sell memorabilia with their official Magic art splayed front and center. Nowadays, the event as a whole is called Magicfest (yes, really) and the main event is specifically called the Grand Prix.
Also, with the event being local, everyone we knew who had a passing interest in Magic at least showed up, so we got to see a lot of friendly faces along the way. Not something you get when you're driving 8+ hours away. Yes, you've got your travel buddies, but my GP Denver experience a few years ago was much more solitary.
Regardless, there was a lot to look forward to.
If you were listening in on the podcast, you know the LandSayGo team was taking this tournament fairly seriously. We all took a step away from the crazy brews and jank piles and focused on something a little more practical. Dboe and Jeremy went for a Grixis list, leaning heavily on piles of removal and hand disruption to keep the game steady until they could land either one of the Nicol Bolases and win. With those lists, they went on to earn two byes in the main event on Friday while I scrubbed out twice and decided to go home.
I was on Simic Thief/UG Manipulation for the weekend. I came into Saturday ready to prove something after the 2 consecutive losses Friday and after plowing over several opponents online the same night. Friday made me cautious, but I knew the deck could do well. So, when I saw my first round opponent say "Mountain, Fanatical Firebrand, hit you for 1, go" on the play, the pressure was on. Mono-red is one of my rougher matchups, as my signature spell, Mass Manipulation, requires 6 mana at the minimum and I have nothing but mana dorks to play early. Game one went as I expected and I had to scoop. When I was fortunate enough to pull out a win for games 2 and 3, I started to get in the zone.
I stayed in it all the way up to the cut. Round 8, I was 8-0. The last remaining hope of the LandSayGo team, if you want to be dramatic. I wish I could give you a long, drawn-out story where the hero claims victory at the end, but alas, I couldn't maintain that level of play against the skill I found at the top tables. I ended the tournament at 10-4-1, placing me somewhere in the top 64.
My deck? Well, I'd say it did a pretty good job. Getting to 8-0 by itself is quite an accomplishment. Not only that, some parts of the deck worked much better than I expected. I made two last-minute changes on Friday: 2 Chemister's Insights in the main instead of Growth Spiral, and 2 Carnage Tyrant in the sideboard over Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. The idea was that the Insights took on much the same role as Tamiyo and could be played at instant speed, allowing me to do something with my mana if I held up a Frilled Mystic but my opponent didn't play anything, and the Tyrants were much better both in the mirror and against decks without hard board wipes. The Tyrants were great, as were the Insights, and I'm much happier with them over Tamiyos. The one card that didn't do much was Thrashing Brontodon, as I didn't see many enchantments. It's useful vs mono-red, but I'd rather have Thorn Lieutenant if mono-red was what I was worried about.
I didn't just play a lot of Magic at Grand Prix Kansas City. I learned a lot as well, and not even all of it was about Magic. So, I think a good way to wrap up a retrospective is to lay out all the lessons I learned.
First: you've got to play to win. I know it sounds a bit odd because well, isn't that what you're always doing? But specifically, playing to win means understanding what you can and cannot play around, laying out a plan to victory, and playing along that plan with confidence, even if parts of it aren't intuitive. If you're opponent has lethal, you can't spend time drawing cards or wondering about how to deal with their planeswalker or untapped mana, you have to take lethal off board and don't put it in their hand. Conversely, understand when and where you can find lethal. I had at least 2 games where my opponent got so caught up in playing the midrange value game that he didn't play around an army of 3/3s and a Krasis taking his life to 0. In my 9th round, I played a Frilled Mystic for no value on my opponent's end step because I had mulled to 5 against a powerful planeswalker deck and knew that my only way to win was to get his life total low and not allow him to play walkers on an empty board.
Second: mulligans are so important. Don't just look for a hand you can play, look for a hand that does what your deck is supposed to do. The mentality I'd always had before this GP was that I'd keep any hand with lands and a wincon. But that's not how you win against an opponent that's smart and has a focused deck that's executing like they want it to. Your deck needs to show up and fast. I mulliganed plenty, even went to 5 a few times, and they were all close games of Magic. I even won one. So, if you want to play to win, get a starting hand that doesn't just play eventually, get one that executes the way you built your deck to.
Three: if I'm allowed to get a little sentimental here... it's great to have friends to play Magic with, and it's always worth it to be a courteous, kind, and friendly magic player. Some of my opponents offered a "good game," packed up and left without another word. Some of them were eager to discuss the decks and the matchup afterwards. As a loser, don't rain on their parade with excuses and snide comments. As a winner, don't rub it in their face. I say this because, after this weekend, I think I have good evidence to show it makes everyone happy. There are a lot of people I play Magic with locally. Many of them are now my friends. But to see everyone—everyone that I'd played a few games with over time, even some whom I couldn't remember names for, just so incredibly excited to see me do as well as I did day 1 regardless of their own performance... I won't lie, I'm tearing up a bit just thinking about it. I'm extremely lucky and thankful to play with so many great people and it reminds me of why I love paper magic so much. So, please, if you do find yourself sitting across the table from another human being playing a game of Magic, I urge you to stay positive, win or lose, because the rewards are so worth it.
Fourth and finally: Unmoored Ego is a horrible magic card.
That's how Grand Prix Kansas City went for me. It was a lot of fun between the games, the chatter, and the vendor booths and I hope it doesn't take another 6 years for it to come back to KC again.