That is the only term to describe 256 people with a 1-in-64 chance of qualifying for US Nationals. The first grinder filled so quickly that the event staff had to shunt over 150 eager competitors into the Limited Grinder that was not scheduled to begin for several more hours.
Every round is grueling but never more so than in the round of eight. A long weekend would have only gotten longer had roommates-for-the-weekend Brian Stroh and Bryn Kenney ended up staring across the table from one another. Fortunately for them and the –no doubt—half dozen or so other players crammed in that room for the weekend, they ended up fighting side by side instead.
Bryn is a former JSS standout trying to make the difficult transition from the junior ranks to the big leagues. Rather than choose one of the myriad net decks available from various Nationals, Bryn chose to concoct a Blue-Black Zombie deck in his room last evening.
Across the table from him, his opponent Jon Barnes is playing perhaps the most familiar and format defining deck of the past couple of years—Blue-Green Madness. Both players have traveled a great distance for this opportunity—Bryn is from the New York/ New Jersey area while Jon is from Radar O'Reilly's hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa.
Both players were relatively quiet as they shuffled their decks and triple checked that they had de-sideboarded. They are both aware that the odds of coming this far in one of the remaining Grinders are against them. And that one of them will be fighting those odds soon enough.
"That sucks!" Jon could not keep his opening hand and his frustration was bubbling over. His next six cards mollified him while Bryn chose to stick with his initial seven.
Bryn made the first play—a Nantuko Shade off of a Swamp and Underground River. Jon had opened on two Islands and he ripped the turn three Forest for a Wild Mongrel. Bryn was stuck on two lands and attempted to Smother it on his turn. The dog was unsummoned home and played again on the next turn. Bryn drew a third land—another River—and swung into the Mongrel. Jon blocked the dog and they took turns pumping their creatures. Jon ended up discarding a pair of cards—nothing with madness or flashback while Bryn got the better end of the deal only taking two damage before the two-drops traded.
Jon played another Mongrel, which was promptly Smothered on Bryn's turn. Aquamoeba hit play next and Bryn used Aether Burst to bounce it—Jon wasn't hitting him but he had taken five from his painlands. Jon was confused as Bryn tapped all of his lands, "What costs four?" The answer was Graveborn Muse.
The 'Moeba made a reappearance but Bryn's extra card yielded a Smother. Bryn fell to 13 to play a Shadowmage Infiltrator. Jon played a Merfolk Looter but the Muse inspired the fourth Smother to the top of the deck. When Bryn played a second Infiltrator, Jon was provoked to a defensive Upheaval—he played his sixth land to cast the Upheaval so Bryn was going to make the first land drop. "Let's see if we can start again with less Smothers!"
Bryn was ahead on lands and was able to play a Nantuko Shade while Jon was on a single Island. A Withered Wretch and a Rotlung Reanimator later they were sideboarding for Game 2.
Bryn - 1 Jon - 0
Jon sided in Composts and Stupefying Touches. Bryn was excited that he would be sideboarding his Stronghold Assassins for the first time—he also brought in Mutilates and two Hibernations.
One of the unfortunate side effects of doing well in the grinders is that everyone will know what deck you are playing with. In the case of a novel design such as Bryn's, players scouting for decks to play tomorrow will sit up and take notice. "They're flocking from everywhere. This is THE deck..." Bryn suddenly remembered he still had another game to win and quickly added, "So far."
Neither player mulliganed and Jon opened with a turn two Compost. Bryn played a Stronghold Assassin and Jon came back with a Wild Mongrel. When Bryn attempted a Rotlung Reanimator, Jon discarded a pair of cards and a Circular Logic to counter the endless supply of bodies for the Assassin.
Jon flashed back a Deep Analysis. When Bryn sent the turn back to him he made his Wild Mongrel black and madenessed an Arrogant Wurm. Bryn cast Hibernation and sent the Wurm and the Compost back to his hand. With the Compost out of the way, Bryn was free to Smother the Wild Mongrel without giving his opponent a card.
Jon replayed the Compost and used Quiet Speculation to put a Roar of the Wurm and a Deep Analysis in his bin. He flashed the Deep back and went to 12. The Assassin got to attack for a turn and Jon fell to 10. Bryn played a Graveborn Muse and shipped the turn back to an obviously frustrated Jon.
Jon hard cast an Arrogant Wurm, which fell to Bryn's Assassin—he played a Withered Wretch to fuel it, taking out a Roar of the Wurm along the way. Jon fell to seven on Bryn's attack step and Bryn Duressed his opponent, "Let's see that Upheaval!" Jon unsummoned the Assassin in response and Bryn got to see a couple of lands and another Arrogant Wurm.
Bryn groaned when Jon tapped all seven of his mana into his pool for Upheaval—to be fair, Jon had drawn two cards—one for the Duress and another during his draw step. He had no post Upheaval pressure other than his replayed Compost. Bryn replayed a Swamp and discarded a pair of lands and a Muse—giving Jon another card.
Jon thumped his deck in frustration looking for a two-drop but had nothing. He could not play anything on the third turn either as he had to sit on his Circular Logic for his opponent's Stronghold Assassin.
Jon's next turn went pretty well. He played a Careful Study and discarded two Rootwallas into play. He also had the Wild Mongrel. "That'll teach me for overplaying," was all he could muster when Bryn had the Mutilate. He saved his Wild Mongrel by throwing three cards at it making it a 5/5.
When Jon fiddled with an Island
on his next turn, Bryn goaded him, "Someone has the Careful Study
...and an Arrogant Wurm
." Jon also had another Basking Rootwalla
and his board was looking pretty solid only one turn after the Mutilate
. "You are going to hate me..." teased Bryn as he showed the second Mutilate
Jon was drawing a card each time Bryn cast a spell and had ample creatures for reinforcements—Wild Mongrel and Nimble Mongoose came down this time and Jon braced for the third Mutilate. When Bryn tapped all six mana he shook his head, "That's not a Mutilate..." It was a Visara.
"Got that Unsummon?"
"Sure..." Jon cracked for six and Bryn fell to eight. Visara made a reappearance and there was nothing Jon could do about it with Island and Forest in hand. He passed the next turn with no attack. Bryn fortified with a Shambling Swarm and a Nantuko Shade. Jon drew the Stupefying Touch for the Visara but it merely ate the Wild Mongrel in response. Careful Study found a second Compost but that could not deal with Bryn's threats on the board.
Final Result: Bryn - 2 Jon - 0
Jon did not have time to talk about himself or his deck after the match as his friends hustled him off to see if they could get him signed up for the next Grinder.
As soon as he won, Bryn was besieged with requests for his decklist. A handful of players that had been taking notes needed Bryn to fill in some of the holes they were unclear on. Bryn was basking in the glow of qualifying with a deck of his own design—with a little help form some friends, "I made it last night. There were Oppositions in it yesterday but they were stains—Paul Jordan changed them to Aether Bursts!"
Bryn Kenney Grinder 1 Top 4
Jon Barnes Grinder 1 Top 8