There and Back Again: A Grinders Tale by Kevin Pass

Friends are a weird thing.  They generally appear in your life unannounced and find a place in it to settle down. It is likely some of them are not the kind of people you might have ever considered being friends with but that’s generally part of the charm that binds that friendship.

After they have established themselves in your social circles these friends generally get to work supplying you with happy memories and providing comfort when things get not-so-happy.  They also possess this surreal power to convince you to do things you would otherwise never consider; “Wanna drink every time they say Roxanne or Red Light?”, “Wanna get in this sled I tied to the back of my car and let me tow you down the main road?”, “Wanna go on a 4 hour drive to a PPTQ 220 miles away?”.  As this is a magic article I want to tell you about my experiences last weekend when I fell foul to peer pressure on the latter suggestion, and not bore you with the others.

This trip involved a 6:30am departure from Glasgow to ensure we reached York for 11am registration. I would be travelling with two friends I have been attending tournaments with fairly regularly and two others I did not know so well.  After getting lost twice, through denying the folk in the back multiple cigarette stops we arrived at 11:30 and I registered the following augmented version of GB (an archetype I had become comfortable with in the early part of this season)

GB “Vampires and Snakes” – Kevin Pass

Creatures

4 Gifted Aetherborn
4 Winding Constrictor
4 Walking Ballista
3 Tireless Tracker
3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
4 Verdurous Gearhulk

Spells

3 Oath of Nissa 
4 Fatal Push
2 Grasp of Darkness
1 Ruinous Path
2 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

Lands

4 Hissing Quagmire
4 Blooming Marsh
1 Evolving Wilds
9 Swamp
6 Forest

Sideboard

3 Transgress the Mind
1 Distended Mindbender
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Natural Obsolescence
2 Aethersphere Harvester
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Gonti, Lord of Luxury

I was very pleased with the alterations I have made to this deck. Gifted Aetherborn was the standout card of the weekend, freely attack through Sylvan Advocates and Felidar Guardians while keeping my life points topped up against aggressive strategies (especially with a Rishkar counter On it). On defense it performed similarly well making life difficult for opposing Blue and Green Gearhulks to get through.  Next week I intend to discuss card selection in these GB snake decks, as I am aware that many parts are interchangeable, but for the moment Gifted Aetherborn is my two-drop of choice.

The other vampire in the deck, Kalitas, has impressed me a lot over the last few months so I bumped him up to the mainboard and did not regret it for a second. Kalitas has the unique ability when unanswered to warp the game completely around himself; he makes trading in combat impossible for your opponent as he threatens to raise an army of zombies, he swings damage races significantly in your favour with a few counters, and is even incidental hate against Aetherworks Marvel’s energy generating clause. These factors have led me to find a use for Kalitas in pretty much every game 1 especially when your opponent isn’t expecting him.

This deck follows the same plan as your traditional GB snake decks except it is much more resilient and relies more on its creatures to gain tempo than its removal suite.  I really like that it is capable of presenting the turn 2 Winding Constrictor ‘nut draws’ while also providing a shell that is happy to play a more grindy game.  Gifted Aetherborn is a big part of this decks duality doubling as a well-sized on curve creature but also as a removal spell in the late game.  With six mainboard life linkers you are also less susceptible to opposing aggro ‘nut draws’.

After a disappointing loss in round one I was able to win my next four and ID into top 8.  I managed to make it to the finals, having to play against one of my travel buddies in the quarters before eventually succumbing to a Mardu Planeswalker deck in the last round.

Losing never feels good (especially after making it to the finals) but the interesting thing about this event, for me, was that losing had never felt better. I mention in my GP Utrecht video log that the one of the best parts about magic is the community and this tournament epitomized this perfectly.

We had assumed that we would be travelling to try and spike a 20ish man event. We were confronted with a 54 man PPTQ.  The event was populated with players from all over the UK, many like us travelling over 100 miles to get to the venue.  Each of my opponents were a delight to face,  all from different cities and each providing me with some insight into their own local magic scene.  The event itself was spectacularly run by ‘Travelling Man’ who attracted such a large retinue by offering their PPTQ for a £5 entry fee (around $6).

I discussed this surprising price of entry with the store owner prior to the Top 8 and he explained it so brilliantly that it has made me wonder why more stores haven’t adopted this pricing structure.  He felt that a high entry price was alienating his local players and only attracting hard-core grinders who were willing to pay anything for the chance to win an RPTQ invite.  The irony here is that this high entry price only leads to larger prizes, most of which are product, which the hard-core grinders don’t care about: They only want the invite. He reduced the price, more local players started playing and more people were willing to travel to his event.  Two prize boosters in the pool per player, everyone gets a participation pack with the others being distributed evenly amongst the top 8.  I am a huge fan of this pricing and prize structure and will be rolling it out in my own store at future PPTQs.

Even though it initially seemed like a crazy idea to me, I cannot recommend enough travelling to a not-so-close PPTQ if the opportunity presents itself.  The road trip aspect is always fantastic fun and has facilitated the foundation for friendship with the two did-not-know-so-well’s and has allowed me to become acquainted with a store I may have never visited and players I may have never had had the pleasure of sitting opposite.  While I have aspirations of doing well in Magic it is friendship that brought me into this game and it is definitely the people I have met that have kept me in it.

This article was about positive human experiences through magic and less about the deck but if you have any questions about my GB decklist don’t hesitate to get in contact.  I would also like to leave you with a second decklist which we brewed on the 220 mile drive.  It is a very unrefined list but was good enough to get my new buddy, Danny, to the top 8 of this event (before I mercilessly crushed him in the quarters). I encourage anyone who is keen to try it out, as i think this deck could have legs, and let me know how you get on and if you have any suggested changes.

Until Next time!!

GR Energy – Team West End Games Car Crew

Creatures

4 Greenbelt Rampager 
4 Voltaic Brawler
4 Sylvan Advocate
4 Servant of the Conduit
4 Tireless Tracker
3 Bristling Hydra

Spells

3 Shock 
3 Heart of Kiran
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Lands

4 Game Trail
4 Cinder Glade
4 Aether Hub
6 Mountain
6 Forest

Sideboard

(This one is pretty sketchy I will admit)

1 Shock
2 Radiant Flames
2 Incendiary Flow
1 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
1 Combustible Gearhulk
2 Natural State
1 Appetite for the Unnatural
1 Nissa, Vital Force
1 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
2 Arlinn Kord

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