Houston native Angel Solache got a bit of the short shrift after Day 1. With three players at 9-0, including a large name like David Ochoa, Solache, at 8-0-1, was a little left out. But all that changed in the first few rounds of Day 2. After Round 12, he was the only remaining player without a loss. Solache had slayed two of undefeateds himself, including Mr. Ocho.
I sat down with Angel, who is sitting pretty with a good chance for Top 8, to see how this youngster (from a tournament-Magic perspective) is feeling.
"I'm feeling really good," he said with a chuckle. "I feel really good about the deck; I can do it." His confidence is unsurprising when you look at his preparation method. Angel's playing the Abzan Midrange deck, and he's been "playing it for a long time." Or at least, as long as you can be for a deck that's only three months old.
This is Solache's third Grand Prix, which have all be in his home of Texas, and this is his first successful run. He attributes it to how he stuck with the deck through and through. "This is the first one I actually tested for," he said. "Usually, I'll build the deck like a week before the event." In most formats that's a recipe for disaster, and that goes double in this broad, sideboard-reliant format. Knowing what to do and when is the real key to wins and losses.
"I really feel like I've barely misplayed today. I feel like always know the right lines." You can tell from his enthusiasm that this kind of confidence with piloting a deck is a new feeling for him. It seems like this weekend has helped him reach the next level of Magic. Knowing the importance of preparation, and how to properly prepare gives you a leg up against a large portion of the field. Sure, Abzan Midrange isn't sexy, but Grand Prix don't judge on sexiness (God knows I wish they did; I'd win every time—or at least finish in the finals with Brian Kibler).
His version of the deck runs both Fleecemane Lion and Brimaz, King of Oreskos. "I've been running Fleecemane since the beginning and they've always been real good to me. Whenever I talk to someone about the deck, I rep the lion." He loves it because it's good whenever you draw it. "If you draw it turn two it's a 3/3; and on turn seven it's indestructible." He said about his build particularly, "Going Fleecemane Lion, into Brimaz, into Sorin, Solemn Visitor is real good."
As most of the players have discovered about Abzan Midrange, if you want a deck that you can stick with and won't go out of style, these junky colors are your bag. "The deck is just good overall; it can be aggressive and defensive. Whatever you need it to be." Additionally, it doesn't need to substantially change between events.
"I tweak the sideboard and maindeck sometimes. I'll switch some cards, but mostly it's the same." For this event Angel added a Liliana Vess to the maindeck and loves it. "Most people play one Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, but Liliana's seemed real good." He said that against all the midrange and control decks, it just gives you some more inevitability. "If you're behind, you can tutor to catch yourself back up; if you're ahead, it can close out the game."
For a little while now, Solache's been devoting more time to Magic and has been really wanted to play more and more. This performance (so far) this weekend has helped fuel him, and start considering traveling to events outside of the ridiculously immense state of Texas.
He's been putting in the time—the last couple weeks have been devoted to hammering out the Mardu matchup piece by piece ("on the draw, on the play, different builds"). And he's excited to get to see immediate results. It's amazing what a little preparation can do for you. Remember the Ochoa mantra: Know your deck; make sure it's good.
Speaking of Ochoa, who Solache beat today, it was pretty clear Solache was pumped about the win against the pro. "I watch his videos, I've watched him play; it feels great." And it's those moments that really stick with you in Magic—the first time you beat someone you know. "I can't wait to beat more people I recognize," Angel said.
Angel Solache, at a young 24, is at that moment where magicians find a system. Sometimes it has some kinks to work out at first, but for Solache, he's immediately reaping the rewards of sticking with a buddy like Fleecemane Lion. Only a couple more wins to go.
He still has a few rounds to go. He's not done yet. But when you're feeling this good, sometimes it's hard to do wrong.