Grand Prix Athens Pro Player's Blog featuring Craig Jones!

Posted in Event Coverage on October 14, 2006

By Wizards of the Coast

Sure, Craig Jones can play Magic, but can he play Magic and write about it at the same time? Will he top-deck another huge game-winner? Find out here!




Hello, this is Craig Jones here. Once again you have the pleasure of my company as I run a mini-blog from a player's perspective. The format is again Limited, so I might only be here for a day, but hopefully it will be fun while it lasts.

Time Spiral has blown in like a big whirly thing, bringing in a whole slew of cards only players as old and grey as me remember playing from the first time round. This is also the last European Grand Prix of the year, so I'll guess it will be popular for the pro's wanting to 'level up.' Personally I'm currently on 26 points, at that point where level 4 is a formality (unless some cosmic catastrophe befalls me) and level 5 is probably a little too far. My main reason for being here is it gives me a real opportunity to practise for PT Kobe. So I'll be hitting the draft tables pretty hard regardless of whether I scrub out of the main event or not.

Saturday, Oct 14: 9:58 a.m. - The Perils of 'That' Day

So I'm in Athens, just…

The orginal plan was to hitch a lift in with Mox Radio's Rich Hagon, catch a flight at 08:45 from Manchester and then have a fairly relaxing afternoon registering and then maybe getting in a practise draft in the evening.

The best laid plans and all that…

The flight from Manchester was delayed because of heavy fog. So I basically had an hour of sitting round on the plane. This then meant I missed my connecting flight in Zurich.

The next flight: not until 8 in the evening and not due to land until after midnight.

Ouch. After a couple of nights without much sleep I was hoping to get a good night's rest before the Grand Prix. That almost certainly looked like an impossibility now.

After 6 hours of twiddling our thumbs at Zurich airport we finally managed to get away with only a ten minute delay. When we arrived it was just a matter of picking up the bags and…

Except my bag wasn't there. I watched the carousel go round and round for a while and wondered if it was going to be one of those days. It was only a small rucksack, I wouldn't have even bothered checking it if it hadn't have been for harsher restrictions that now include a laptop bag as your one piece of hand luggage.

Unfortunately it now seemed that my laptop bag was my only piece of luggage.

Ho hum. Not the best start to the journey. Maybe I should have just stayed in bed. At this rate I was probably only going to open a bunch of Squires and Norin the Wary.

"Do you realise what the day is…" Sutty, AKA Magic Dave, asked me after I lodged the lost baggage report.

"The 13th," I replied.

"Yeah, but what day."

The penny dropped.


The curse of Friday the 13th strikes again.

Saturday, Oct 14: 11:01 a.m. - The Card Pool

After a horror story of a journey yesterday there is at least some good news for our intrepid player-cum-reporter. When I walked down to reception this morning my bag was waiting for me and I gratefully got do those little things that make life bearable, like change my underwear.

So onto the card pools. Nothing beats that feeling of ripping boosters, especially boosters of a brand new set.

Of course there's always the deck swap first. But in this case I was much relieved. Norin the Wary, that cruel joke of a Jackal Pup (I heard Dan Paskins had his entire covert corp of goblin operatives executed the instant he learned of the card's existence), had stolen one rare slot and the rest of the pool wasn't much of an improvement. There were about 6 playable cards in each color and they could be classed as mediocre at best. So yep, I was pretty glad to flush that one away. The poor guy next to me got lumbered with it and you should all wish him luck right now, believe me he's going to need it.

So this is what I actually ended up with:

1 Swamp (foil - go me!)
2 Dreadship Reef
1 Saltcrusted Steppe

1 Brass Gnat
1 Chromatic Star
1 Clockwork Hydra
1 Phyrexian Totem
1 The Rack
1 Tormod's Crypt
2 Venser's Sliver

1 Dementia Sliver
1 Ghostflame Sliver

1 Amrou Scout
1 Amrou Seekers
2 Children of Korlis
1 D'Avenant Healer
1 Errant Doomsayers
1 Flickering Spirit
1 Griffin Guide

1 Gustcloak Cavalier
1 Icatian Crier
1 Pentarch Paladin (yum!)
1 Return to Dust
1 Spirit Loop

1 Brine Elemental
1 Drifter il-Dal
1 Eternity Snare
1 Fathom Seer
1 Ixidron
1 Looter il-Kor
1 Sage of Epityr
1 Shadow sliver
1 Spiketail Drakeling
1 Sprite Noble
1 Temporal Eddy
1 Think Twice
1 Viscerid Deepwalker

1 Assassinate
1 Avatar of Woe (woot!)
1 Basal Sliver
1 Call to the Netherworld
1 Corpulant Corpse
1 Dark Withering
1 Demonic Collusion
2 Gorgon Recluse
1 Mana Skimmer
2 Sangrophage
1 Smallpox
1 Traitor's Clutch
1 Conspiracy

1 Basalt Gargoyle
1 Bogardan Rager
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Ironclaw Buzzardiers
1 Keldon Halberdier
1 Orcish Cannonade
1 Rift Bolt

1 AEther Web
2 Durkwood Baloth
1 Havenwood wurm
1 Herd Gnarr
2 Molder
1 Pendelhaven Elder
1 Penumbra Spider
1 Scarwood Treefolk
1 Scryb Ranger
1 Search for Tomorrows
1 Thornscape Battlemage.

I managed to play a couple of the pre-releases and get some sealed deck practise in and from that I managed to come up with some simple rules:

Play two colors or as close to two colors as possible. A lot of the cards have quite heavy color commitments.

Play bombs. Kind of obvious, but I think it's a slow format and you're going to have time to make these count.

Don't play 1 toughness guys unless they're really good. There are about a million pingers and even a common red guy with built in Tremor. 2/1 and 3/1 guys are just going to die.

Green isn't as good as it first looks. From the spoiler I thought Green might be one of the stronger colors, but after playing more it seems that while the cards aren't necessarily bad, they don't impact the game much.

Despite that green did tempt me with the double Durkwood Baloth. Suspending them on turn one is always good. There just isn't quite enough of green though and the same is true of red so I ended up with this:

9 Plains
9 Swamp
1 Chromatic Star
1 Clockwork Hydra
1 Phyrexian Totem
1 Venser's Sliver
1 Amrou Scout
1 Amrou Seekers
1 D'Avenant Healer
1 Errant Doomsayers
1 Flickering Spirit
1 Griffin Guide
1 Icatian Crier
1 Pentarch Paladin
1 Spirit Loop
1 Assassinate
1 Avatar of Woe
1 Basal Sliver
1 Corpulant Corpse
1 Dark Withering
1 Demonic Collusion
2 Gorgon Recluse
1 Mana Skimmer

I have a couple of very nice bombs in the form of Avatar of Woe and Pentarch Paladin. Either can win the game on their own and I also have the buyback tutor to fetch them. Point removal is a little light for black, but Gorgon Recluses will happily stop fat green things and white has a nice curve and some reasonable guys.

My one concern is that strictly keeping to two colors has forced me to play a few sub-par cards. I'm also a little heavy on the land at 18. Unfortunately the heavy color commitments in both black and white (WWW for the Paladin, BB for just about everything in black) combined with a lack of fixers (1 Chromatic Star) makes splashing for cards like Rift Bolt a little dangerous.

Overall I think the deck has a fairly good shot at giving me the 3-2 record I need, although I may struggle if I see too much of the chaff rather than the bombs.

Saturday, Oct 14: 2:09 p.m. - Round 4 vs. Carlos Albares

Hmm, ever get the feeling you might have been a little wrong in your deck evaluation. During the bye section I got slapped around silly by Anton Jonsson and Geoffrey Siron (Both have very good decks admittedly). I'm starting to think I might have been sweet-talked into black by a nice shiny Avatar, only to find out the rest of his (her?) friends are a bunch of deadbeats.

Alternative options are to ditch the black in favour of either blue or green (with the green allowing me to splash the Rift Bolt). Unfortunately I haven't had the chance to try either and the lack of removal in both unnerves me.

Fortunately, I didn't really need to experiment in round 4. Carlos Albares, from Spain, didn't have any byes. Normally this would be scary, as it indicates a fairly string deck (as it happened he had Akroma and Plague Sliver), but Albares deck decided to totally crap out on him and I didn't really need to do more than make monsters and turn them sideways in both games.

2-0, 4-0.

Saturday, Oct 14: 4:31 p.m. - Round 5 & Round 6 Blues

Giannis Mofridis is from Greece and has only being playing 6 months. Usually a good omen, but in this case his deck outbombed mine with Serrated Arrows, Arena, Deep Sea Kraken, Spike Tiller and Draining Whelk so I got comprehensibly scalped. In Game 1 he didn't do much and while I played round the first Cancel, I walked into the second by sacrificing a Basal Sliver to power out Avatar. A Draining Whelk on my tutor a few turns later did not equal good times.

On a happier note I've figured out what the deck should be and utilised a pair of Dreadship Reef to bring in both the blue cards and keep the Avatar around (if it ever gets off its lazy arse to do something useful). This is what we call the having our cake and eating it plan.

Worked Game 2, but in Game 3 I suffered a bit of a mana bottleneck and the stall was enough to stunt my fast start and give his Deep Sea Kraken time to come into play. Pentarch Paladin was a bit too slow in dealing with the situation and even Ixidron wasn't enough to rescue the situation as I died on the 4th turn of extra turns.

1-2, 4-1.

Rnd 6 vs Christian Huttenberger

He failed to make his third land until around turn 6 both games. Move along, nothing to see here.

I think I dodged a bullet here. Huttenberger was running black-red and had enough removal to kill my deck twice over.

In a bizarre twist, the guy who got the card pool I registered is also doing well on 5-1. Maybe I just don't know anything about this format.

Saturday, Oct 14: 8:22 p.m. - Round 7 vs. Nikolaus Eigner (Oops I did it again)

Round 7 is fairly important. Although everyone always thinks they can make it through on two losses, it inevitably becomes win into 67th. I would have liked to have got an inexperienced local, but instead I go t Nikolaus Eigner. He's already got a Grand Prix win and finished runner-up in another. In other words, no slouch at limited.

This was probably one of the most enjoyable and weirdest matches of magic I've played.

The B-string black-white deck looked in for a pasting as Nik got Undying Rage going on fast red-black men. When it finally found a home on Dauthi Slayer it looked like curtains for me. My only hope was to make a D'Avenant Healer and use it to stay alive at 1 life while the Pentarch Paladin did his stuff. Even then it wasn't good as Eigner had two men, Tectonic Fiend and Basalt Gargoyle, both of which weren't black.

Help came in the unlikely form of Spirit Loop, a card I'd screwed up on and shouldn't have put in my deck in the first place. That and the Griffin Guide I'd been holding for forever suddenly took me back from one life. It was still dicey as I needed to have both the Healer survive to chump the fiend and draw another creature to do the same on the next turn, and for Nik to not kill any of them.

Somehow I didn't die and managed to pull off one of those nailbiters where you have to come back from one life. Live the dream, oh yeah baby.

The blue came in for the second game, but I was rapidly under the cosh again. I tried to cling on again, but this time Eigner was having none of it and rapidly kicked me off the cliff with the help of Undying Rage.

Game 3 and I went for one of those tactical gambles that are either pure genius or (more usually) flat out insanity. I junked the blue and went for the green. It was… with apologies… green, but I felt the boy had potential and deserved a shot. Basically I felt fat was the way to go and was hoping the Durkwood Baloths could fill that spot.

I'm not sure Nik could quite believe it as I assembled a board of Pendelhaven Elder, Icatian Crier and Herd Gnarr (quite some synergy there when you think about it) and started beating. At this point I was understandably chuffed as I'd taken a gamble against a better deck and it had paid dividends. So chuffed I almost threw the game away when I was a bit overzealous in my attacking and tapped everything to drop him to 3 life. Nik made Subterranean Shambler.

Clang. That was the sound of my board all falling away. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Not everyone gets to play three different decks in the same match.

Nik swiped me for 7, to leave me at 7.

I drew my card…

Hmm… you're on three.

Yes. I did it again. After kicking me all over the shop yesterday Lady Fate had decided to give me a bit (well a lot actually) of fortune and the top card was a Rift Bolt.

Dirty, dirty, dirty. Sorry Nik.

2-1, 6-1.

The last round looked complicated and going on the principle that you can't make Pro Points or money if you aren't in day two I took the safe option of the ID in the last round.

ID, 6-1-1.

Well, it looks like I'll be here for a little while longer. Join me tomorrow as I attempt to learn Time Spiral draft and probably get it horribly wrong in the process.

For the curious, I think this is the deck I should have played from the start out of my pool:

Craig Jones

Download Arena Decklist

Day 2

Sunrday, Oct 15: 10:17 a.m. - The Draft & Round 9

Yipes, not much time today so the blog pieces will be a little on the fast side.

The draft went reasonably okay. I first picked Castle Raptors out a weak booster but then junked it as I got passed Plague Sliver and Verdant Embrace. This felt like a strong signal to go black-green, but the pickings got a little lean later as I realised I was scrapping for black on my right.

Craig Jones

Download Arena Decklist

Feels nice and solid with good mana-fixing. Plenty of scrappers, but probably needs better black removal to go all the way.

Rnd 9 vs Oyvind Harding

Game 1 was fairly tight. I missed early forests, but was able to bust out Juzam Sliver on turn 4. He bashed through for a couple of times to leave me ahead in the race against Harding's red-white deck. He could chip back through the air and a Flickering Spirit tied up my 5/5. The game felt a little tricky as I hadn't drawn a second Forest for my Verdant Embrace. I had a Gemhide Sliver in hand, but didn't think I could handle 2 damage a turn, especially as Harding had Thundering Totem as well as the Spirit. I was worried this might get to the stage where he could chump on the ground and beat me through the air. Thankfully the second forest turned up in time and the extra Saproling tokens plus Germinator allowed me force through enough damage before he killed me.

Game 2 was a little anti-climactic as Harding didn't find any white mana and I bashed him in with Corpulent Corpse and the Jolly Green Giant. Go fat men!

2-0, 7-1-1.

Sunrday, Oct 15: 11:30 a.m. - Rnd 10 vs. Lars Dam

Hmm, this match really exposed the deficiencies of my green-black deck as it ended up looking very clunky against Lars Dam's very good looking blue-red deck.

Game 1 and I never really got started as two Spiketail Drakes and Teferi ripped me to shreds in short order. An attempted Verdant Embrace on an Evil Eye proved overly optimistic and was promptly dispatched by Lighting Axe (the new Skred of the format?).

Game 2 I lived the dream with the turn 3 Plague Sliver. Unfortunately a Riftwing Cloudskate made the Sliver's stay temporary and Subterranean Shambler (this guy is way under-rated) wrecked the rest of my board. My guys like to brawl, but they need to stay on the table.

I heard that both Antoine Ruel and Kenji Tsumura went with red-blue for the first draft (Kenji is current 2-0 with it). It also won the Grand Prix in Sydney. After being on the receiving end of it I can say it looks like a good archetype.

0-2, 7-2-1.

Sunrday, Oct 15: 1:01 p.m. - Rnd 11 vs Aylon Manor

Clunk, clunk…. Thump! The sound of a black-green deck falling over.

Let's not try that again.

Admittedly it wasn't as bad as it sounds. Game 1 I did manage to stabilise with Verdant Embrace, but unfortunately I picked an Evil Eye of Urborg to counter-attack with. Manor found an Icatian Crier, I didn't find a removal spell and the rest of my monsters looked on in frustration as the Eye ground into Citizens for a while before Manor put me out of my misery with Fiery Temper.

Game 2 and a Verdant Embrace went nuts and it still took forever to kill him! My god, green-black decks do a whole lot of nothing sometimes.

Game 3 and I hit a glut of land and fell over with barely a whimper.

1-2, 7-3-1

I thought I'd managed a reasonable green-black deck with fixers to overcome the problems of so many cards being double mana. Unfortunately solid didn't quite cut it without the quality removal to back it up. I think the deck was probably on the 2-1, 1-2 boundary and an inopportune mana glut and poor tactical choice (not using the Eye to trade off with a Flamecore Elemental in Game 1) dropped me the wrong side of that boundary.

I never felt comfortable against the red-white decks and the blue-red deck completely destroyed me so I'm not sure this archetype is a good choice.

Sunrday, Oct 15: 2:40 p.m. - Draft 2 & Round 12

I knew I didn't want to go black-green again. I was thinking of maybe blue-red, but then got sidetracked by a first pick Stormbind. Antoine Ruel mentioned a red-green aggro deck was quite good and I went in that direction. Unfortunately I don't think it really panned out. The booster colors were a little skewed as no blue reached me at in the first booster. This drought meant players downstream of me were fighting for green and I could only look on in horror as a steady stream of extremely solid blue cards went in the other direction for booster two. I couldn't really switch to take advantage as I knew blue was being fought over upstream. Maybe I should have tried to go three color and risked it. In the end I went for a fast green-red beats deck:

Craig Jones

Download Arena Decklist

Not much to see here. Everyone was fighting for red so not much in the way of removal for me. The Spike Tiller came surprisingly late, but I think that's because green is heavily out of favor with the pro's at the moment.

If you see me bawling my eyes out in the corner, it's probably because someone's just played Subterranean Shambler against me.

Rnd 12 vs Gonçalo Pinto

Pinto had a black-red deck that didn't look all that exciting outside of Sengir Nosferatu. A surprise Sudden Seizing and Sengir Nosferatu gave him Game 1, Spike Tiller gave me an army of Hill Giants to equalize and then in Game 3 I got a nuts draw that saw me Grapshot his Flamecore Elemental out of the way through the help of a suspended Durkwood Baloth and Coal Stoker. That was a good turn.

2-1, 8-3-1.

Sunrday, Oct 15: 4:13 p.m. - Rnd 13 vs Ilian Iliev

Oh dear, Ilian Iliev was feeding me. He may have got the stupid blue deck.

In fact he had, but my plan of make crappy little guys and turn them sideways was surprisingly effective. Game 1 he was about to stabilize and so I used Sulferous Blast to wipe the board. I know some of you might have wondered why it was in the deck given that it kills just about all of my monsters, but sometimes you just gotta do it. This put us in a top deck race with him on 1 life. Well, you just know that's foolish with my reputation.

Grapeshot … ding!

Game 2 he made about a million goblins with Empty the Warrens and swamped me. Game 3 I curved out with Bear, and 3/1's. Iliev's suspended Kraken was never arriving in time.

2-1, 9-3-1.

Sunrday, Oct 15: 4:13 p.m. - Rnd 14 vs Bram Snepvangers and Recap

Neither me nor Bram could improve our position with a win, so we took the safe option of securing top 32 with an ID.

ID, 9-3-2.

After seeing Bram's deck I was more than happy with that. He had a very good green-white deck with double Griffin Guide, Call of the Herd and Pentarch Paladin. It would not have been pretty.

I was quite surprised at how well the deck did (and I never even cast Stormbind either). It was a certainly a bit of eye opener before going to PT Kobe. Rather than just taking powerful cards, speed really does appear to matter in this format, especially as blocking is so difficult. Green seems to be lacking the fatties, but it does have an impressive suite of pump spells.

And the final standings are up and the ID was indeed a sure thing for both of us as we took 31st and 32nd spots respectively.

This also marks another achievement for me as it's the first time I've ever finished in the money at a Limited Grand Prix (In my defence I could point out that most of the time I'm covering them.) Martin Dingler joked that I have a checklist.

Make day two of Limited Grand Prix… check.
Make money at Limited Grand Prix… check.
Make money at Limited Pro Tour… check.
Finish top 8 in a Pro Tour… check.
Implement plan for world domination…

Well that's me done as a player this weekend, time to don the reporter's cap and cover one of the quarter-finals.

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