Tilting and trying to get balanced
written by Alex Morrill

I cannot catch a break.

   That was my Facebook status on Thursday night before Grand Prix: Philadelphia. Here are the details: I’ve had a lot go wrong for me over the last couple years (really, it’s a been a rough stretch) and I’m very patiently waiting for a good stroke of luck. You can imagine my frustration when on Thursday night, after getting an alignment and new front tires on my car on Tuesday, I was on my way to meet a girl at a bar and hit half of a deer carcass on the highway. I know it was half because when I saw it there was very clearly only two legs and nary a head in sight. I couldn’t move around it because there was a car in the lane to my right. It must have been a large buck at one point because the half a carcass was still large enough to lift the front end of my car a few inches off the ground when I ran it over. My front license plate has a bloodstain on it now.


   Needless to say,  my night went rapidly downhill. Immediately my car displayed messages saying that I needed to check the coolant level, and a couple minutes later my car flashed the message that I needed to pull over immediately because my engine was overheating. When I stopped in the breakdown lane, there was nothing but smoke and steam pouring out of my hood. I had always seen this happen on television while watching NASCAR with my dad but it is something else once it happens to you. Once the car had been towed to a garage, I found out I needed a new radiator and air conditioner valve. While standing on the side of the highway, I wondered if I would have to call my friends and tell them we couldn’t go because my car was out of commission. Luckily we were able to take my mother’s minivan.


   Friday morning comes around and the crew is ready to roll. The car is Dustin Taylor, Devon O’Donnell, Joe Ewing (henceforth known as 2.0) and myself. The drive goes smoothly, outside of a little delay crossing the George Washington Bridge. Devon was able to get us an insanely cheap hotel room, about a ten-minute drive from the tournament site, so all of us were already excited about the weekend.


   Quick aside: The GP Philly that Gerard Fabiano won a few years back was my first GP and I’d been to Philly twice before on family vacations when I was younger. I love this city. It is easily one of my favorites in the country. I’m a history student and the museums and monuments in the city are absolutely breathtaking. Go see the Ben Franklin Institute. Just trust me.


   Once we got to the convention center, 2.0 and Devon did grinders while Dustin and I went around the site catching up with people we knew since we both already had byes. The most eventful part of Friday would have to be me getting hit with a pillow in the middle of the night. Apparently I snore.


   We get to the center Saturday morning for deck construction and I’m feeling pretty good about things. I’m in the right mindset, ready to play cards, and I’ve played this limited format quite a bit. I’d never Day 2’d a Limited GP and I’d really like to prove to myself that I’m capable of doing it. I get my pool and quickly look at my rares.                        

   Mercurial Chemister immediately jumps out at me and I look at my Izzet deck. It’s not very good. The deck only has 12 creatures, none of them outstanding besides the Chemister, and I would have had to play two copies of Paralyzing Grasp. This is not the deck we are looking for.


   Then I notice Collective Blessing and quickly realize that the creatures I had in Selesnya are actually worse than the Izzet creatures, so I write that guild off as well.


  The next place I’m drawn to is the Rakdos guild. This guild has been my favorite to draft and fits my play style very well. I’m a much better aggressive player than I am control player. My only other GP Day 2 came at GP Providence (aka GP Mental Misstep) last year playing Zoo.


   In the Rakdos guild, I find my place. Here is the deck I registered:

7 Swamp


7 Mountain

2 Island

1 Rakdos Guildgate


1 Splatter Thug

1 Chaos Imps

1 Tenement Crasher

1 Gore-House Chainwalker

1 Tavern Swindler

1 Perilous Shadow

1 Thrill-Kill Assassin

1 Daggerdrome Imp

1 Sewer Shambler

1 Rakdos Shred Freak

1 Rakdos Cackler

1 Golgari Longlegs

1 Carnival Hellsteed

1 Mercurial Chemister


2 Augur Spree

1 Annihilating Fire

1 Pursuit of Flight

1 Explosive Impact

1 Underworld Connections

1 Stab Wound

1 Deviant Glee

1 Civic Saber


   I didn’t think this deck was the best but I showed it to a few people for opinions and they all told me it was very good. Looking back, it’s pretty clear I got everything you want in a sealed pool. I had bombs, removal, and cheap creatures. I built my deck with the plan of being as absolutely aggressive as possible in the early game, forcing my opponents to deal with the early beats or die. Once they stabilized, if they were able to, my bombs would show up and finish them off. Plus, with Underworld Connections, it becomes much more likely I’ll find them.


   There are five specific cards that made the deck based on this decision. They are Rakdos Cackler, Rakdos Shred Freak, Daggerdrome Imp, Civic Saber, and Deviant Glee. (Pursuit of Flight should actually just be played in almost every red deck.) Cackler and Shred Freak are two small creatures that quickly get outclassed and the Freak gets blocked by literally everything. They just aren’t that great in limited. Cackler gets better in draft,  Freak stays roughly as bad, and the Imp is only good in Golgari decks. However, when they are combined with Deviant Glee and Civic Saber, the clock changes quite dramatically and they must be dealt with immediately. (For those of you not in the know, hybrid creatures are always two colors, regardless of mana spent to play them. This means that Civic Saber on either Cackler or Shred Freak turns them into 4 power monsters.)


   Pursuit of Flight adds another pump spell to the mix to increase my chance of going large early.  These pump spells make all of the creatures trade up, giving you a mana advantage over your opponent whenever they block. Well, what if they don’t block? That’s just fine, too. My first game in Round 4 actually started with turn three Pursuit of Flight on my turn two Daggerdrome Imp. I won that game. Later, playing to lock up my slot for Day 2 in game three of the Rakdos mirror I fanned an opening seven of: Swamp, Mountain, Mountain, Rakdos Cackler, Civic Saber, Auger Spree, and Annihilating Fire. I was on the play. I won that game as well. Correctly identifying what type of game the sealed pool you receive wants to play and building to abuse that are where little advantages that can turn into big wins are gained.


   I made it to Day 2 with only one loss and won Round 10 to finish at 9-1 going into the first draft pod on Sunday. This was my pod:


Finkel, Jon S * [USA]




Cifka, Stanislav * [CZE]




Juza, Martin * [CZE]




Fabiano, Gerard * [USA]




Shiels, David * [USA]




Morrill, Alex * [USA]




Visco, David * [USA]




Turtenwald, Owen * [USA]




   You might recognize some of those names. After they redid seating (one pod had 3 people not show up), Fabiano was passing to me while I was passing to David Visco.


   I drafted pretty well here. I opened up a pack containing Arrest, Stab Wound, and Azorius Charm as the standout cards. I take the Arrest, with my mindset being trying to avoid going Azorius since passing the Charm could be taken as a signal and then I’d be screwed for the second pack. I second-pick a Centaur Healer, and then proceed to draft mostly white cards and a Korozda Monitor, while passing almost every blue card I see except for a seventh-pick Runewing and an Azorius Keyrune I’ll probably play regardless of where I end up. I start with two white cards in pack two when I get passed a Lyev Skyknight pick three. I slam it, moving into Azorious. I am immediately rewarded when I get a fourth pick Voidwielder and then open Sphinx’s Revelation pack three. Here’s the deck I registered:


9 Island

8 Plains


1 Azorius Justiciar

1 Keening Apparition

1 Azorius Arrester

1 Sunspire Griffin

1 Tower Drake

1 Voidweilder

1 Skyline Predator

1 Runewing

1 Frostburn Weird

1 Lyev Skyknight

1 Hussar Patrol


1 Swift Justice

1 Arrest

1 Avenging Arrow

2 Trostani’s Judgment

1 Inaction Injunction

1 Blustersquall

1 Inspiration

1 Dramatic Rescue

1 Sphinx’s Revelation

1 Azorius Keyrune


   The creatures in the deck aren’t impressive. I needed one big way to win the game but I’ve got removal and I can tempo opponents out pretty well with all the detain cards.


   I won my first match of the pod against David Visco pretty easily. It was his first GP Day 2 and he had drafted a Rakdos deck splashing for Niv-Mizzet.


   The next round is when the wheels fell off. It can be found here:




   My feature match against Martin Juza contains more misplays on my part than I care to count or remember. It starts at the 1:10 mark. I have no intention of ever watching this so please no comments to me about it or anything said on it. I’m quite upset with myself that I played well enough to get to this point and then reverted to almost every single bad habit I had and have worked hard to extinguish. Clearly, I still have quite a bit of work to do.


   I’ll admit it: I cracked. I tilted. The pressure got to me. I sat down at the feature match table and had Juza across from me with Yuuya next to him. While I was mulliganing game one against Juza, he asked to see what was in Yuuya’s hand like a team draft. I thought I was fine when I was playing but looking back, I lost that match when I heard my name over the speakers. There are no excuses. I played well enough to be there and I should have been able to continue that level of play. This is a learning experience for me and I expect I will continue to learn lessons from this for a long time.


   I would like to take a quick sidestep to talk about tilting in general. Tilt eventually gets us all. The key is how you react to it and how you use it to better yourself, whether in Magic or in life. As soon as you start tilting it is very hard to straighten yourself out again. Once you realize how you start tilting, you can start to fight against it and fend it off. It isn’t easy, but it is doable.


   My next round came against Cifka and it wasn’t much of a match. I mulled a few times and he had removal whenever I tried to stabilize. His Rakdos deck would probably beat the deck that I had drafted most of the time.


   So I had 1-2’d my first pod, taking myself out of Top 8 contention. Now it was time to focus on cashing and getting some pro points. I sit down at the second pod to see three friends in Mike Sigrist, Carl Versteeg, and Dave Pargh in addition to the Stream Team of Cedric Phillips and Michael Jacob, whom I was seated between. I had no clue who the other two drafters were.


   The draft was a trainwreck as everyone but Cedric and one of the people I don’t know was fighting over green cards, white cards, or both. I opened a pack that contained Ultimate Price, Hellhole Flailer, Stab Wound, Launch Party, and Sphinx of the Chimes. Rakdos is my favorite deck to draft and there are a lot of Rakdos cards in this pack. Cedric was passing to me and he had told Dustin earlier in the weekend that he can only draft the Rakdos deck and he forces it every time. So between terrible signal sending and knowing I’d be getting cut packs 1 and 3, I take the Sphinx of the Chimes and put at least two guys behind me directly into black. I then open Righteous Authority pack two and take it to splash. I end up with a very bad Selesnya deck with mostly combat tricks, including 3 Swift Justice. Here’s the full list:


7 Forest

7 Plains

1 Island

1 Azorius Guildgate

1 Selesnya Guildgate


1 Palisade Giant

1 Phantom General

2 Azorius Arrester

2 Drudge Beetle

2 Korozda Monitor

1 Golgari Decoy

1 Towering Indrik

1 Golgari Longlegs

1 Risen Sanctuary

1 Centaur Healer


3 Swift Justice

1 Arrest

1 Chorus of Might

1 Druid’s Deliverance

1 Common Bond

1 Call of the Conclave

1 Righteous Authority

1 Selesnya Keyrune


   This deck was very bad and I was not very happy to be playing it. There was never a strong enough signal to me to jump out of my colors but clearly I should have tried harder to find one.


   I get paired against Michael Jacobs in the first round of the pod. He’s Golgari and apparently got a seventh pick Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord pack 2. When you’re in the right seat, you’re in the right seat. Our match is fairly uneventful as I play multiple combat tricks game one to keep him from making profitable blocks. Game two plays out in a similar fashion but adds in the twist of Jacobs never getting to land 5. He did have a turn 4 Jarad that was a 4/4 but without getting more creatures in play the Lord was reduced to chump blocking.


   My next round is against Cedric. I punt game one when I do combat math wrong and game 2 he swarms the board with his Rakdos creatures while I fail to find strong enough creatures to stand up to them. It didn’t help that he had Rix Maadi Guildmage early on to make combat absolutely miserable for me.


   I’m now in the position to win just to cash, where just a few hours earlier I was in contention for top 8. I get paired against my close friend Carl in the last round. Carl hadn’t wrecked as bad as I had but he wasn’t happy with his deck either. Luckily for him, my deck hated me and my draws were just god-awful. There was basically nothing I could do, especially since Carl drew his one Island and Skymark Roc to cast the bird on turn 4 both games. That card wrecks my terrible deck. Congratulations are in order for his cash finish.


   All in all, I had a great weekend. It was a good time with friends, most of my friends did well on the weekend, and several cashed. The biggest take-away from the weekend is validation. I can do this, and I will. I’ll learn from my mistakes against Juza and use those lessons to stop it from happening again. I’ll get there. I am extremely disappointed in myself for allowing the wheels to completely fall off. But that disappointment is the motivation I need. The fire is lit and it’s not going out anytime soon.


Thanks for reading,


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1 Comment
#1 Joshua McBride

Thanks for writing this Alex!
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