Many #MTG players, at some point in their career, have the vision and the drive to be seated up with the professional players of the game. It is seen as a way for them to make their stamp on the game, to prove their worth. I, like many others, was not immune to this drive, and it still fuels my competitiveness in this hobby. It was from this yearning that JB and I, along with our buddy Ian, decided to go to our first Grand Prix. We inevitably settled upon GP Atlanta, it was close enough to have reasonable airfare, the hotel wasn't too unreasonable, and I had been to Atlanta previously, so I knew my way around a bit more.
So as we prepared, we were deciding which decks we were going to take with us. For those who don't remember, this was the time of the Energy Crisis in Ixalan Standard. So Temur Energy was at its height, 4 Color Energy was rampant, and Ramunap Red was almost unbeatable. So, I did what any reasonable person would do:
I took Abzan Tokens.
When we were settling our decks, we each wanted to take something different to the GP. Ian had very early on settled on UW Approach (although I think he would have seen better success with his close second choice of Ramunup Red), and Jeremy and I were lagging behind as we were play testing multiple brews and top 8 decks. Eventually, I remember sitting down and piloting the deck JB was taking, as I was contemplating taking an energy variant myself. I shuffled up, drew my grip, and proceeded to ask about each play every single turn. Quite literally, ever since energy had come out, I stayed away from it. I understood its bombs, I understood generally how to play against it, but I had never piloted an energy list to date. After about 6 turns, I politely conceded the game (I wasn't even losing), and just said, "Its a problem if I have to ask how to play this deck; it just isn't for me." And it wasn't.
I ultimately settled on Abzan Tokens, really it was the perfect fit for me. I had played several token variants in that Standard meta, all with varying success. The best performance for me had actually been a UW Anointed Procession/God Pharoh's Gift deck, but I knew that would fail in a competitive meta. Gift had been on the way out for some time. But I distinctly remember thinking as I was testing that Temur Energy list, "man, if this were tokens I'd know what to do." So, Tokens it was.
I was able to make some spicy changes to the list than how most people new the list, namely a shakeup with the planeswalkers and removal package. I ultimately ran 2 Vraska, Relic Seeker (instead of the 3-4 that other lists were running), and decided to put in a single Ajani Unyielding. It was this change that allowed me to plow through a lot of my opponents; they weren't sure how to handle him. The Ajani change up won me games. He drew me nearly 2 cards (or more) a turn, and was instrumental in picking apart my opponent's best threats. I was able to find him fairly simply with an Anointed Procession / Hidden Stockpile combo, sacrificing away creatures to scry cards away. I also opted to run Ixalan's Binding instead of Cast Out, a change that really surprised many of my opponents. Ixalan's Binding was hyped but hardly played and I saw great success with it. A 2/2 split of Servo Exhibition and Start // Finish found its way into the deck as well. I opted for Servo Exhibition as a way to make a Turn 3 Anointed Procession possible by flipping an early Legion's Landing, a play that won many several games. I also ran 4 Anointer Priest, a card that at that time wasn't seeing play with tokens list, a choice I didn't agree with. I gained so much life with that card. So. Much. Life.
I also had a much different sideboard plan than many other Token's lists. I was running Crook of Condemnation, a card that seemed absent in many Top 8 lists. As was Lost Legacy, many times being considered too slow to really do anything. I was also running a couple of Sorcerous Spyglass, this was actually part of my Temur game plan. I was able to shut down many of their problematic creatures with this card, and none of them saw it coming. Against control, I ran Duress and a Arguel's Bloodfast, a card at the time wasn't seeing any play at all.
My best match up was actually against Temur Energy, as soon as I saw that Aetherhub or Rootbound Crag turn 1, I felt a little giddy because I knew it was a win for me. 4 Color Energy was a little bit more of a challenge. The Scarab God was wreaking havoc at this time and without an immediate Ixalan's Binding, would absolutely take over the game.
By mid day I was 3-3, and still holding out hope that I would make it to Day 2. I began to win game after game after game and by the last match of the day was 6-3, needing one more win to move on. I then played against Token's absolute worst match up in the meta, and a list I hadn't seen all day: Mardu Vehicles. Yes, Mardu Vehicles was still a thing, and despite my best sideboarding efforts, I still lost in 3 games. Game 1, I was positively steam-rolled. Game 2, I mopped the floor with my opponent as he struggled to find lands, and answering every threat he played. Game 3 came down to the wire; both my opponent and I were able to take the win. I needed 1 piece of removal; he needed 1 flyer. Turn after turn, he and I were at a standstill, drawing lands, drawing ground forces, him picking apart my combo pieces, me stalling his land attacks. And then he drew the best card he could at that time: Glorybringer. He swung for 4 uncontested and was able to win the game...And the kicker, the card I needed was a single draw step away.
So, my day ended going 6/4 and was a nail biter final match. It was amazingly good fun. My matches generally took a long time, and as many players' games were ending, the began to crowded around to watch. The oooos and ooooohs of the sideliners was just as entertaining as the game itself. And it helped solidify for me that these high level competitions are not only fun, but necessary for the quality of game that #MagictheGathering provides.
I did get to finally play in some side events. Ian and I enjoyed a relaxing Day 2 playing Commander and buying some dual lands at the shops. JB was still in the tournament grinding away with his energy deck. Some funny stuff happened to him that day 2, but that's a story for him to tell. I had a lot of fun hanging out with my friends doing something we all love, and I think they can agree to that too.
I absolutely played the best Magic I ever had that day. I was thinking 10 steps ahead. I was prepared. I knew my sideboard strategy for the meta. I play tested repeatedly. I came to play. Ultimately, I lost. But that's okay, it happens. I'll get it next time.
That's Magic for you.