Hometown Heroics

Posted in The Week That Was on July 4, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Wizards of the Coast is out of the office today for Independence Day. While we’re off celebrating our freedom from extraneous use of the letter U, check out the article that ran in this slot last week (in case you didn’t catch it), and don’t miss today’s all-new wallpaper and Devin Low’s exclusive Eventide preview (holiday or no, we couldn’t short you a preview). We’ll be back with our usual articles—and all-new Eventide previews—on Monday. See you then!

Kelly Digges, editor, magicthegathering.com

Imagine sitting down to build your Shadowmoor sealed deck at Grand Prix–Indianapolis as one of just over 1,100 competitors. With just a shade over 10 percent of the field advancing to Day 2, every decision is critical. Players with only two losses will almost certainly advance but it is highly unlikely that anything worse than 7-2 will be playing in anything other than public events on Sunday. Imagine the pressure as you agonize over card choices, color pairings, and even your mana base.

Now imagine that you have no byes.

That’s right. Nine rounds of Swiss the hard way—playing every round against an increasingly difficult gauntlet of the best card pools Shadowmoor can muster. That is exactly the situation Eric Franklin found himself this past Saturday morning when the Grand Prix Summer Series kicked off in the 27-year-old medical technician’s hometown of Indianapolis.

Eric has been playing the game for almost as long as Magic has been around: “I got started playing Magic when I was 12 or 13 years old. I saw my buddies Jacob and Mike playing in choir class one day—I think we had a substitute that day—and asked what they were doing. I think it was the Unlimited set. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Eric credits his family—who fostered game play throughout his childhood with a variety of games—with his competitive nature. He estimates that it was less than a year after his exposure to the game that he crossed the threshold of his first tournament venue.

Despite no sleep the night before, Eric Franklin raced out to a 9-0 start.

“I don’t remember much about my first tournament, but it was at a hotel somewhere,” recalled Eric. “I went with some of my buddies from school and thought I had a cool deck. I remember it had Birds of Paradise in it. My first-round opponent just kept blowing up my lands with Stone Rain and killing my birds with Lightning Bolt. He utterly whooped me but I still enjoyed it and kept at it.”

Eric continued to play over the years without any notable tournament finishes, but the member of Team Smashface sensed that would all change when the 2008 Grand Prix schedule was posted.

“When I first heard about the Grand Prix in Indy, I jumped for joy,” said the Indianapolis native. “Then when I saw that it was Sealed, I jumped even higher. I felt it was destiny calling me since it was in my hometown and also in my favorite format. I kept telling all my friends/teammates that we had to go and how cool this would be to have our very own Grand Prix. Still, I didn’t expect a whole lot as far as performance. I just prayed and hoped that I could make Day 2. That was the first hurdle in my mind towards becoming a better Magic player.”

Indianapolis has always been a great town for gaming with a history of solid attendance and great gaming conventions, but Eric was still surprised when he found out how many players he would be going up against—even with an extra $10,000 and additional Pro Points on the table.

“I had no idea it would be record setting. I read that it would be the first of the Summer Series and knew the larger prize pool might bring out a few more players, but I was very surprised to hear 1,121 players,” he said before adding: “I never really thought of Indy as a great gaming town. It’s always just been home to me.”

Eric and his buddies hit the local Prerelease tournament and followed up with more Shadowmoor Sealed at the Launch Parties two weeks later. He credits his play group’s post-tournament regimen with his success more than anything that happened in the actual events.

“A common practice of ours now is to go over our Sealed pools after the tournament and try to determine the best build,” explained Eric when asked about his preparation for the Grand Prix. “It has helped me become better at judging individual card strength and building more focused, stronger decks. However, I wouldn’t say I did anything specifically to prepare for the event.”

Incremental Blight

Based on that experience there were a handful of cards that Eric was hoping to see in his card pool at varying levels of commonality: “Incremental Blight and Ghastlord of Fugue were absolute backbreakers whenever I saw them played, so those were at the top of my list. At the common level, I really wanted to see Silkbind Faerie and Scuttlemutt because they’re both easy to fit in decks and very powerful and versatile for their mana costs.”

Despite the lack of Ghastlords in his card pool, Eric had to be thrilled to trade that rare slot for a Furystoke Giant to go alongside his two Silkbind Faeries, Scuttlemutt, and Incremental Blight. No matter how good a card pool looks when you lay it all out, you still need to tune it into a working deck. Eric was unsure many wins he could squeeze from the pool while building it.

“I had no idea the deck would take me to 9-0,” he admitted while walking me through he deck building decisions. “I instantly cut white due to the lack of bodies and knew I would be in black and red because of Furystoke Giant and Incremental Blight, but the blue and green cards had me flip-flopping back and forth. At first I was worried I had mis-built it because there were a lot of good green cards that I wanted to play and I wasn’t convinced my build was the best when I chose the blue route. I just trusted my gut and the strength of two Silkbind Faeries backed up by Steel of the Godhead. I felt confident I could make Day 2 with tight play, but didn’t think I’d go undefeated. After I rattled off the fourth-straight win with Furystoke Giant making an appearance almost every round and breaking games wide open, my mindset started to change though.”

Eric Franklin, 9-0 Day 1

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With deckbuilding out of the way, many of the pros in the field had time on their hands thanks to byes but Eric was afforded no such luxury. He had to get right down to playing but at least he was doing so after a good night’s sleep. Right?

“The ‘no byes’ part really had me feeling at a disadvantage at the start of the tourney. I tried to grab some on Friday in a grinder but got beat out fair and square. After that, I went to work at my overnight job and just prayed a little and tried to psyche myself up for the next day,” said Eric. “So I had no byes AND no sleep coming into the tourney on Saturday, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The excitement of it all and my own nervousness kept me awake and alert.”

The tournament was originally announced as being ten rounds. It was eventually adjusted down to the correct total of nine but that did nothing to mitigate Eric’s initial reaction to hearing he would be fighting through double-digit rounds.

Franklin looked forward to the challenge of facing players such as Jelger Wiegersma and his 315 lifetime Pro Points.“I was in shock and really dreaded having to slog through ten rounds with no byes,” recalled Eric when asked how he kept himself mentally and physically prepared for his long day. “I just kept telling myself ‘This is Grand Prix INDY. This is your hometown. You gotta defend your turf. Let’s do it!’ Also, my friends kept me well fed throughout the tournament to keep my energy up. I approached it with excitement, nervousness, shock, dread, a little courage, a good group of friends for support, and a whole lot of food.”

As you track Eric’s progress throughout the tournament, he played against increasingly recognizable talent each round—including getting paired twice against the recently resurgent Jamie Parke and eventual winner Jelger Wiegersma. While many players will hope to dodge being paired with the game’s big-name players, Eric was looking forward to the challenge.

“Ever since playing in Grand Prix–Minneapolis with my younger brother, I’ve wanted to go toe-to-toe with the big-name pros,” beamed Eric. “It was awesome to finally get my wish and play against Jelger and Jamie. Playing against those guys made me realize that I really am good at the game and also that they deserve the names they have carved out for themselves.”

While Eric now finds himself qualified for Berlin, he was not sure if he would be making the trip due to the cost of flying him and his fiancé to Europe. That was a question for another day. For now Eric was enjoying his accomplishment.

“Kyle Sanchez came over while I was building for the quarterfinals and said something like ‘You went X-0 on Day 1 with no byes and made Top 8? That’s pretty baller dude. That’s like hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer.’ I think that sums it up pretty well,” said Eric.

Drafting the Hard Way

Prismatic Omen

I wanted to share a couple of interesting Shadowmoor drafts that revolve around rare Enchantments. The first comes courtesy of Matt Ferrando, an up-and-coming New York-area player who finished 38th at Indianapolis just weeks after earning a Nationals berth at New Jersey Regionals.

Matt came into Day 2 in 95th place and needed a strong draft if he was going to have any shot at earning some money. After starting out strong with green cards, Matt felt like his picks were drying up. After picking up Runes of the Deus and Scuzzback Marauders, the plan was to go green with a red-green emphasis. A fifth-pick Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers shunted Matt into the green-white part of the forest but the rest of the first pack was barren for him.

“I thought the draft was a train wreck,” admitted Matt, who picked up a couple of Prismatic Omens in the second pack, no doubt just thinking about rare drafting. When he was passed Incremental Blight in pack three and found a Flow of Ideas in his pile, he began to reevaluate the green enchantments—which he ended up with three copies of in the end.

Matt Ferrando – Draft 1

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By thinking on his feet—and outside of the box—he managed to pull things together and climbed up into the upper third of the field to post the first money finish of his young career.

Enchanted Evening

It reminded me of a recent team draft that took place in my office where I was solidly green-white and passing to Gerard Fabiano. Due to the depth of the green-white hybrid cards I was pretty sure that Gerard was also going to be green-white. Specifically troubling for me was the complete lack of removal in my deck and an Oracle of Nectars that I shipped to Gerard in favor of a Shield of the Oversoul.

There were a couple of early Last Breaths in the draft but I did not end up with them. It was pretty clear in the middle of pack two that the only way I could kill a creature was to catch in the headlights of an oncoming creature that had been powered up with Tower Above.

As I looked through my picks I saw that I had an Enchanted Evening that had wound its way to me as one of the last picks in pack one. There was another in pack two that was destined to be my 15th pick in that pack. I started to pay extra attention to the Gleeful Sabotages in the deck and ended up with the following deck and relevant sideboard cards.

Brian David-Marshall

Download Arena Decklist

I actually ended up siding in the Enchanted Evening package in every match in search of removal for everything from the Oracle of Nectars to dragons—and having the best time I have ever had while 3-0ing the draft.

From the Antiquities Fat Pack, No Doubt!

In the coverage from Grand Prix–Indianapolis, Rich Hagon discussed the “pimping” of Magic players with respect to their playmats—and the John Avon playmats from Indy were truly things of beauty. I would argue that if you really want to trick out your Magic play experience, you should roll for choice with this little piece of randomizing “bling“.

Firestarter: Summer Series Goes South

The next stop on the Grand Prix Summer Series will be this weekend in Argentina. The format will be Standard. In the light of the results from Regionals tournaments around North America, what decks do you think will emerge on top of the field? Head to the forums and discuss the fortunes of Faeries, Merfolk, Rock, Quick ‘N Toast, and any other deck you think might do well, and then tune in all weekend for Grand Prix–Buenos Aires coverage from Bill Stark and Nate Price.

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