What would you take if it was Day 2 of a Grand Prix?
It was a question hundreds of players were finding out the answer to as the draft portion of Grand Prix Las Vegas kicked off. Do you take the foil mythic rare? Do you take the card that helps your theme? Or do you purely take the card that gives you the best chance to win.
It all depends on your goal for the day, of course. Are you still just here to have fun, for the spectacle? Have your priorities shifted? Did you come in needing a certain result? Are you chasing something, whether it’s history, a certain card, or the highest rungs of the game?
Every player had to answer that question for themselves, but these three players all had their own goals coming in, and they ran the gamut from happy to be here all the way up to World Championship aspirations.
Graham Stark, he of LoadingReadyRun and the Friday Nights video series, just made his first ever Grand Prix Day two. And he’s happy. At least he was after a good night’s sleep.
“I was too tired to be excited yesterday. I’ve never played all nine rounds before! Usually I’d drop after my third loss or maybe play another round,” the Canadian funnyman said. “But now that I’ve slept and I’ve drafted a deck I like, I’m very much excited.”
Graham Stark of LoadingReadyRun gets ready to battle on his first Grand Prix Day 2.
That deck is a blue-white deck that just so happens to bear a passing resemblance to the Sealed deck Stark used yesterday to great effect, down to the Battlegrace Angel that pushed his deck over the top.
“I didn’t mean to draft so many of the same cards, but I’m glad it worked out that way,” Stark said. “I’ve only drafted this set twice before the tournament, and both were on Friday. But I won one, so there’s that.”
Graham even stuck to his guns and drafted the way every hypothetical draft goes down when a sweet rare is opened up.
“You know how when you open a pack and say ‘Well, what would you take if it was Day 2 of a Grand Prix?’ I had one of those today. I picked an Oblivion Ring over an Emrakul,” Stark said. “I’m proud of myself.”
“I’m 7-1-1, so I basically have to win out to do ‘good,’” he said, emphasizing with air quotes. “But for me, Day 2 is the victory.”
Sometimes, being good can be a drawback, as is the case of Pascal Maynard, The Ringer among undefeated players. For him, nothing less than making the finals will do.
“I need to finish 1st or 2nd to get back in the race for the World Championships,” Maynard said. “And if I do that, then I can also get Platinum at the Pro Tour by going X-5 or X-4.”
The problem for Maynard is that he did well at a Grand Prix recently. If that seems odd, it’s only because Maynard has done so well lately that he’s virtually capped for Grand Prix points to add to his pro point total. Where the cap doesn’t matter, however, is the top Grand Prix point standings, an honor that comes with an invite to the World Championship. Maynard currently sits in third place behind Alexander Hayne and Teruya Kakumae. And with Kakumae not making Day 2 at Grand Prix Chiba, the door is open a crack for Maynard to make a run at a slot at the World Championship. A second place finish would likely push him into first.
The first barrier to doing so was navigating through the first three rounds of the day with a deck that’s just a hair off being very good.
“I’m still questioning that draft,” Maynard said. “I was debating between being in Elementals and being in Affinity, so I was trying to take cards that would go in both. I think both were open.”
Eventually, a mid-pack two Dispatch pushed him into the artifact deck and he was, fortunately for him, rewarded in the third pack. But, even then, you could see him excited over a 13th pick Gust-Skimmer, which he slammed into his pile more emphatically than any other pick. It was easily that happiest anyone has ever been to see a Gust-Skimmer.
And thanks to that Gust-Skimmer—a pick you can’t even really call “late”—Maynard got the 2-1 he predicted—and needed—out of the draft. After winning the first round, he fell to Aaron Lewis’ Precursor Golem. He almost pulled out the game with a Vapor Snag to bounce all three golems, but two Moonlit Striders kept the tokens in play and let Lewis replay just the actual Precursor Golem. Missing on just one damage to finish his opponent off, Maynard fell to 1-1.
Thankfully, he hit hard and fast in a video feature match, rallied for the 2-1 draft, and still found himself live for the Top 8 at 11-1—though with little room for error.
The Big Picture Guy
Why does Maynard really, really need to finish first? Because coming into the weekend he was chasing Alexander Hayne for the Grand Prix World Championship slot, and Alex is doing what Alex does: winning, and keeping an eye on the big picture.
“If I go 6-0, I lock up Platinum, but my priority is the Worlds slot, and I’m at the top of that race right now.”
In fact, Hayne said he’d rather make the World Championships than make Platinum, and after finishing 7-2 on Day 1, he gave himself a good shot to build on his point total lead.
“Playing in worlds is more important than anything else. I don’t want to miss it again,” Hayne said. “The mind games at the top level are what I play for, and I want to play against the best and challenge myself.”
“Plus,” he added, “I have to knock Shahar off.”
Shahar, of course, referring to Shahar Shenhar, the two-time World Champion.
And pushing him through these first three rounds of Day 2, Hayne also ended up with an Affinity deck, this one with a whopping 19 artifacts, including two Cranial Plating and four Myr Enforcer. In fact, his deck is so heavy on actual affinity cards, that he actually considered taking Darksteel Citadel over a second Cranial Plating.
Affinity also happens to be one of the decks Hayne likes most in this format, with the red-black bloodthirst deck and five-color goodstuff rounding out his favorites.
Unfortunately for Hayne’s Grand Prix point total lead and shot at securing Platinum, things didn’t quite pan out. After winning the first round, Hayne ran into one of the top level matches that he craved against Neal Oliver, the previous Grand Prix Las Vegas champion. Neal bested him in two with a powerful green, red, and blue deck (that just also happened to feature a foil Noble Hierarch that they both took a moment to admire) that topped off its curve with Ancient Hydra.
Then Hayne fell to Kevin Hulse’s black-green tokens deck that featured Bitterblossom and Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder. In the final game, a Pelakka Wurm halted Hayne long enough for multiple removal spells to come off the top for Kevin, followed by a Precursor Golem. Hayne had dropped Hulse to just two life, but he wasn’t quite able to finish him off before the Wurm trampled over.
That left Hayne at a disappointing 8-4 after 12 rounds, far off from where he wanted to be. And with Maynard escaping to the final draft at 11-1, Hayne had reason to be worried for his Worlds slot.