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A Time Spiral / Time Spiral / Planar Chaos draft walkthrough.

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The letter P!ro Tour – Geneva is this weekend. Yay! Limited Pro Tours are the plutonium of draft theory. People discuss the ramifications of the winners’ choices for months and months after. To me, one of the most fascinating parts of the Pro Tour experience is watching how technology changes through the event. We players and pundits will spend the weeks after deciphering coverage notes and match results into cohesive draft blueprints. Given enough time, I’m sure anyone will figure something out. What’s more interesting is watching commonly accepted beliefs morph through the tournament itself. Perhaps the majority of the PT players entered thinking R/U suspend-storm was the golden ticket, but by the end it turned out G/U turbo-Acid was the sleeper hit. In draft one, the players with the secret tech dominate the tables, but word spreads. By draft four, the Dream Stalkers are being hated out and everyone looks like an imitator. Ah, but for the first couple of drafts, the originators are going to run the table. How does one get the opportunity to warp the Pro Tour metagame, alter the value of a single “mediocre” card? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall.

For a long time I resisted the idea that a Magic player needed a playgroup to shine. In theory, Magic is utterly self-reliant. There’s no teamwork, no handicapping, no weight class, no divisions. It’s just you versus the other guy. In my wayward youth, that romantic highlander concept had a lot of appeal. If I came up with some crazy, tournament-viable deck idea, I wanted the reward of being the only one who got to win with it. This, I came to realize, is a very flawed paradigm.

First of all, in the realm of competitive Magic, doing it by yourself will only take you so far. No matter how much natural talent you have (or think you have), eventually you will hit a sacred foundry plateau. To reach the true pinnacles of Magic skill and success, you can’t do it alone. You need other people, for playtesting, for bouncing ideas back and forth, and for generally maintaining interest. Cliché or not, in the sphere of Magic a group of players is stronger than its individual parts. I’ll be talking more about that idea in a couple weeks.

The relevance for this is that large tournament this weekend. My city of residence, Seattle, Washington, has a very solid representation of quality players. Seattle’s sending a number of these competitors to the big show. And wouldn’t you know it, they want to practice. They’ve all pored over the spoiler lists and read the articles, but when it comes down to execution-time, there’s no substitute for mixing it up with your testing buddies.

Amazingly, testing for Limited Pro Tours is a lot of fun. It’s a credit to the game, or perhaps one’s friends, that training for the ultimate high-level event is such an entertaining experience. Of course I’ll come over and draft and discuss theory and archetypes. Of course our discussions of card strengths will be supplemented by bizarre, off-topic conversations. In the interest of full-disclosure for would-be PT competitors and drafting aficionados, this week I bring the results of both.

Pack 1

Pack 1, Pick 1

Terramorphic Expanse, Snapback, Rift Bolt, Pentarch Ward, Bonesplitter Sliver, Cyclopean Giant, Brass Gnat, Savage Thallid, Screeching Sliver, Momentary Blink, Chronatog Totem, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, Dreadship Reef, Magus of the Mirror, Coalition Victory

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Pack 1, Pick 2

Venser’s Sliver, Clockspinning, Dream Stalker, Gaze of Justice, Scarwood Treefolk, Flamecore Elemental, Wormwood Dryad, Fathom Seer, Slipstream Serpent, Might of Old Krosa, Brine Elemental, Nightshade Assassin, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Feldon’s Cane

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Pack 1, Pick 3

Viscid Lemures, Ground Rift, Empty the Warrens, Molder, Children of Korlis, Terramorphic Expanse, Drudge Reavers, Crookclaw Transmuter, Mogg War Marshal, Premature Burial, Harmonic Sliver, Fury Sliver, Gauntlet of Power

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Pack 1, Pick 4

Mogg War Marshal, Ghitu Firebreathing, Bewilder, Temporal Eddy, Flickering Spirit, Lightning Axe, Chameleon Blur, Tendrils of Corruption, Havenwood Wurm, Thunder Totem, Haunting Hymn, Ith, High Arcanist

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Pack 1, Pick 5

Sidewinder Sliver, Viashino Bladescout, Ophidian Eye, Temporal Eddy, Aether Web, Amrou Seekers, Assassinate, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Yavimaya Dryad, Plated Pegasus, Coalition Victory

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Pack 1, Pick 6

Pentarch Ward, Viscid Lemures, Assassinate, Sidewinder Sliver, Clockspinning, Thallid Germinator, Cancel, Haunting Hymn, Assembly-Worker, Uncle Istvan

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Pack 1, Pick 7

Detainment Spell, Foriysian Interceptor, Aetherflame Wall, Icatian Crier, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Sprout, Thunder Totem, Tectonic Fiend, Hypergenesis

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Pack 1, Pick 8

Gustcloak Cavalier, Brass Gnat, Dream Stalker, Deathspore Thallid, Gorgon Recluse, Skulking Knight, Living End, Consecrate Land

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Pack 1, Pick 9

Pentarch Ward, Brass Gnat, Savage Thallid, Screeching Sliver, Chronatog Totem, Dreadship Reef, Coalition Victory

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Pack 1, Pick 10

Clockspinning, Dream Stalker, Gaze of Justice, Scarwood Treefolk, Wormwood Dryad, Feldon's Cane

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Pack 1, Pick 11

Ground Rift, Molder, Children of Korlis, Drudge Reavers, Harmonic Sliver

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Pack 1, Pick 12

Bewilder, Ghitu Firebreathing, Chameleon Blur, Haunting Hymn

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Pack 1, Pick 13

Ophidian Eye, Plated Pegasus, Coalition Victory

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Pack 1, Pick 14

Clockspinning, Sidewinder Sliver

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Pack 1, Pick 15

What do you get when you cross Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, and Awesome?

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Pack 2

Pack 2, Pick 1

Zealot il-Vec, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Snapback,aether Web, Lightning Axe, Cloudchaser Kestrel, Ancient Grudge, Flickering Spirit, Call to the Netherworld, Drifter il-Dal, Durkwood Tracker, Tromp the Domains, Vampiric Sliver, Magus of the Candelabra, Zhalfirin Commander

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Pack 2, Pick 2

Flowstone Channeler, Spinneret Sliver, Trespasser il-Vec, Fortify, Ghitu Firebreathing, Bewilder, Tolarian Sentinel, Detainment Spell, Penumbra Spider, Psychotic Episode, Return to Dust, Paradise Plume, Paradox Haze, Chronosavant

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Pack 2, Pick 3

Feebleness, Flamecore Elemental, Flickering Spirit, Chromatic Star, Gemhide Sliver, Chameleon Blur, Havenwood Wurm, Basal Sliver, Calciform Pools, Fallen Ideal, Ignite Memory, Ith, High Arcanist, Void

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Pack 2, Pick 4

Children of Korlis, Herd Gnarr, Gorgon Recluse, Mystical Teachings, Swamp, Thrill of the Hunt, Viashino Bladscout, Sangrophage, Fortify, Celestial Crusader, Paradox Haze, Mystic Snake

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Pack 2, Pick 5

Mindstab, Savage Thallid, Ancient Grudge, Flickering Spirit, Gaze of Justice, Call to the Netherworld, Drifter il-Dal, Fool’s Demise, Smallpox, Unyaro Bees, Shadow Guildmage

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Pack 2, Pick 6

Terramorphic Expanse, Wormwood Dryad, Two-Headed Sliver, Thallid Germinator, D’avenant Healer, Mystical Teachings, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Krosan Grip, Fungal Reaches, Liege of the Pit

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Pack 2, Pick 7

Coal Stoker, D’Avenant Healer, Shadow Sliver, Traitor’s Clutch, Glass Asp, Deathspore Thallid, Bogardan Rager, Telekinetic Sliver, Firewake Sliver

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Pack 2, Pick 8

Basal Sliver, Ghitu Firebreathing, Sage of Epityr, Gorgon Recluse, Spell Burst, Return to Dust, Voidmage Husher, Saffi Eriksdotter

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Pack 2, Pick 9

Zealot ilVec, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Ancient Grudge, Call to the Netherworld, Drifter il-Dal, Durkwood Tracker, Magus of the Candelabra

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Pack 2, Pick 10

Trespasser il-Vec, Ghitu Firebreathing, Psychotic Episode, Detainment Spell, Paradox Haze, Paradise Plume

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Pack 2, Pick 11

Havenwood Wurm, Flickering Spirit, Chameleon Blur, Fallen Ideal, Ignite Memories

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Pack 2, Pick 12

Swamp, Sangrophage, Children of Korlis, Paradox Haze

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Pack 2, Pick 13

Call to the Netherworld, Ancient Grudge, Smallpox

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Pack 2, Pick 14

Mystical Teachings, Krosan Grip

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Pack 2, Pick 15

Glass Asp

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Pack 3

Pack 3, Pick 1

Spitting Sliver, Aven Riftwatcher, Stingscourger, Saltfield Recluse, Firefright Mage, Pallid Mycoderm, Uktabi Drake, Deadly Grub, Healing Leaves, Sinew Sliver, Rathi Trapper, Frenetic Sliver, Circle of Affliction, Frozen Aether, Braids, Conjurer Adept

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Pack 3, Pick 2

Uktabi Drake, Sinew Sliver, Dust Corona, Keldon Marauders, Poultice Sliver, Melancholy, Reflex Sliver, Gossamer Phantasm, Cradle to Grave, Big Game Hunter, Aven Riftwatcher, Malach of the Dawn, Aether Membrane, Body Double

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Pack 3, Pick 3

Erratic Mutation, Ghost Tactician , Simian Spirit Guide, Shade of Trokair, Gossamer Phantasm, Midnight Charm, Bog Serpent, Aquamorph Entity, Uktabi Drake, Stingscourger, Frenetic Sliver, Stormfront Riders, Dunerider Outlaw

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Pack 3, Pick 4

Midnight Charm, Battering Sliver, Uktabi Drake, Ghost Tactician, Firefright Mage, Healing Leaves, Shaper Parasite, Primal Plasma, Wistful Thinking, Seal of Primordium, Ana Battlemage, Fungal Behemoth

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Pack 3, Pick 5

Uktabi Drake, Cradle to Grave, Pallid Mycoderm, Reflex Sliver, Revered Dead, Dreamscape Artist, Firefright Mage, Healing Leaves, Hammerheim Deadeye, Psychothrope Thallid, Braids, Conjurer Adept

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Pack 3, Pick 6

Uktabi Drake, Synchronous Sliver, Vampiric Link, Dreamscape Artist, Piracy Charm, Aquamorph Entity, Needlepeak Spider, Saltfield Recluse, Psychothrope Thallid, Gaeas Anthem

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Pack 3, Pick 7

Revered Dead, Erratic Mutation, Fa'adiyah Seer, Evolution Charm, Reality Acid, Needlepeak Spider, Deadly Grub, Mantle of Leadership, Mycologist

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Pack 3, Pick 8

Saltfield Recluse, Primal Plasma, Wistful Thinking, Dash Hopes, Keldon Marauders, Firefright Mage, Needlepeak Spider, Circle of Affliction

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Pack 3, Pick 9

Firefright Mage, Pallid Mycoderm, Uktabi Drake, Healing Leaves, Frenetic Sliver, Circle of Affliction, Frozen Aether, Braids Conjurer Adept

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Pack 3, Pick 10

Gossamer Phantasm, Aven Riftwatcher, Reflex Sliver, Poultice Sliver, Keldon Marauders, Dust Corona

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Pack 3, Pick 11

Gossamer Phantasm, Simian Spirit Guide, Shade of Trokair, Ghost Tactician, Frenetic Sliver

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Pack 3, Pick 12

Wistful Thinking, Ghost Tactician, Uktabi Drake, Fungal Behemoth

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Pack 3, Pick 13

Firefright Mage, Reflex Sliver, Braids, Conjurer Adept

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Pack 3, Pick 14

Vampiric Link, Uktabi Drake

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Pack 3, Pick 15

Mantle of Leadership

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I like this deck. It has a healthy mix of removal, card advantage, and a few late game bombs. It’s slightly short on creatures with power, having a higher percentage of one and two-power creatures than I was comfortable with. Still, it’s a strong deck with plenty of synergistic pieces. As expected, the Empty the Warrens ended up being one of the weaker components to the final build. I’d have much preferred Crookclaw Transmuter here, but hindsight etc. How about those games?

Round 1 vs. Brian Wong

Game 1
This game demonstrated the sheer power of tempo-based R/U decks. A Frenetic Sliver into Coal Stoker into a face-down Shaper Parasite is a sick opening. Brian had a fairly effective G/U deck, an archetype that got a serious boost via Planar Chaos. Brian was holding on well despite the killer opening and, in a surprising turn, was actually throwing some damage back at me. Things turned south for him when I threw all my long game resources to Teachings for a Lightning Axe, tossing Void. That was worth some good damage, with one card remaining. Brian tried to stabilize with Ana Battlemage, but the second Axe nullified the whole affair. A raw Empty the Warrens was enough to seal the game.

Out went one of the Dreamscape Artists for Temporal Eddy.

Game 2
Brian started off excellently with Scryb Ranger and Penumbra Spider. That’s a pair of creatures that this deck has a tough time dealing with, and Brian used that time to set up a great position. Durkwood Baloth didn’t hit until Brian had the mana left over to cast Might of Old Krosa, nullifying Lightning Axe. The real nail in the coffin was that vicious Ana Battlemage, forcing me to pitch Void, followed by the sick Gaea’s Anthem. There was no way to overcome that much resilience.

Game 3
This game revolved around one card, that remaining Dreamscape Artist. Brian’s draw was slightly slow, giving me time to activate the Artist a total of four times, alongside putting counters on the Dreadship Reef. I took a little damage, but the flipped Shaper Parasite helped settle things down. I eventually got the lands and counters where I wanted them. Tapping everything for maximum mana, I went Dream Stalker picking up Dream Stalker, Dream Stalker picking up Shaper Parasite, replayed a facedown Shaper Parasite, and ended with an Empty the Warrens for eight tokens. This sounds good, and it was good, but Brian wasn’t ready to concede yet. The cost of all this storm trickery was an undeveloped board, which meant Brian’s Baloth, Giant Dustwasp, and Penumbra Spider were the biggest guys around. I was dealing damage, of course, but was lower in life than was truly comfortable. A Void did good work, allowing me to Body Double a Dustwasp to stand against an Uktabi Drake. Things settled down after that, with both of us at low life and not quite willing to commit to a final assault. I just bided my time until I found what I was looking for, which in this case was Stingscourger plus Temporal Eddy. The two bounce spells did the job, and Brian had to pack it in.

Round 2 vs. Mike Gurney

Game 1
Mike is one of the competitors heading to Geneva, a very strong player always at the top of the tournament standings. He was piloting a fairly vicious U/W deck, an archetype made even more deadly by the bizarrely abundant amount of blue and white removal in the final booster. The first game I got my life total handed to me when Gurney curved Looter il-Kor into Cloudchaser Kestrel, Malach of the Dawn, and Castle Raptors. I made the attempt to race with Frenetics and Lightning Axe, but I was short black mana the whole game. Having my Guildmage and Void as dead cards was just too much of a deficit to overcome.

Game 2

Shaper Parasite
Dreamscape Artist once again perfectly set up my mana and primed the rest of the draw steps. Similar to the previous round, I just loaded up on mana and made a huge turn with Coal Stoker, Shadow Guildmage, Lightning Axe and a Warrens for eight. Hmm, maybe the Transmuter wouldn’t have been as strong in the deck. Unfortunately, Mike had the absolutely incredible Jodah’s Avenger at his beck and call, and due to a previous Void, I knew he was also packing Fortify. I was pushing in token damage, and it was plentiful, but Jodah’s Avenger was still dealing a lot. I had a trump prepared for Mike’s next play though, that beautiful face-down Shaper Parasite. But no, Mike played Malach of the Dawn! At seven life, if he attacked the next turn with a shadowed Avenger and Malach, even the negative power usage of Parasite wouldn’t be enough to save me. But Mike misplayed, perhaps unaware of the Parasite’s existence, in general or as my morph. Shadow plus double strike plus Fortify would have been lethal, but for the +2/-2. Mike berated himself for the math error after losing this game. That’s okay, Mike, just don’t do it in Switzerland!

Game 3
This game was a bit anticlimactic. Mike kept a reasonable starter but drew into a ton of lands. I made a big misplay and gambled with Erratic Mutation. This was over the safer Shaper Parasite combined with a blocking-pinging Shadow Guildmage to kill Jodah’s Avenger. Luckily, Erratic Mutation didn’t hit Joker Doom. Stingscourger pushed enough damage so that Rift Bolt could finish the match.

Round 3 vs. Eric Reasoner

Game 1
I won this game, and it was on the back of one thing only: a lucky coin. Eric’s Sulfurous Blast went a mere two for two, as Frenetic Sliver survived to roll again. That was deadly good against Eric’s red/black deck, and I spent the rest of the game essentially keeping the path clear for the Frenetic. Eric was in a ridiculous situation, where his removal was only half as effective as his creatures, but those creatures kept dying or getting bounced back. Eric did his best, but my tempo draw was just too strong (Stingscourgerrrrr) and Eric died to that same Rift Bolt.

Game 2

pyrohemia
PYROHEMIA! Whose bright idea was it bring that back? Visions of 1998 few by as I had to fight through Pestilence and end step tricks. Eric made it even worse with Molten Firebird, a fairly sick combination. To staunch the fiery flow somewhat, I dealt enough early damage to put me ahead in the life race. Dream Stalker started off as an annoying unkillable in that I couldn’t finish off the Pyrohemia, but turned into a benefit as it slowly whittled Eric down. Dream Stalker slipped in a point when possible and held off the Firebird at other times. Our removal spells traded away everything else, most critically killing Eric’s Urborg Syphon-Mage. Things ground to a halt, which forced me to start throwing away whole cards for single points. Empty the Warrens for 42 tokens is good for a tap of red, Dreamscape Artist is good for a tap of red, etc. Eventually Vesuvan Shapeshifter hit as a facedown. Becoming a Firebird or Dream Stalker as needed, it stymied Eric. The two creatures work in tandem to slowing ping through for the final points.

So what was learned through this practice? Both a little and a lot. No one breached new archetypes or strategies, at least nothing blindingly off the wall. On the other hand, everyone confirmed that Planar Chaos mucks with the format quite a bit. Ignoring the new effects of the set was detrimental, as well as forgetting about key morphs or instants. As usual, everyone sat down afterwards to discuss the ramifications and lessons of the draft. Those conclusions are detailed above, as well as “Pestilence is #$%#$@ Insane” and “NWeil is a filthy lucksack.” It was a good session, and I’m pretty sure the competitors felt stronger for the practice. Wanting to squeeze in as much experience before the trip as possible, everyone agreed to one final draft. Here’s that list, one that emphasizes a final point for Time Spiral limited:

Astute readers may note the presence of two key sorceries. One is Disintegrate, which is famous for being really, really good. The other is Wheel of Fate, and that one deserves a little more explanation.

Wheel of Fate
See, Wheel of Fate sucks in Limited… a lot. And by a lot, I mean 99.9% of the time. But that 0.01% of the time, it’s a worthy addition. This deck was that 0.01% of the time, for a few reasons. One, Disintegrate is really, really good. It’s worth digging deep. For another, Wheel of Fate combines particularly well with Conflagrate, which by extension, combines well with Disintegrate. There are more combinations as well, like Greater Gargadon and Evolution Charm, or Timbermare and Might of Old Krosa. In fact, one game was won via Timbermare plus main phase Might of Old Krosa plus Brute Force for 12 points, all off drawing eight cards in one turn. This deck didn’t win the whole thing unfortunately, where a Gargadon and Timbermare combo was short two points, which gave my opponent the time to cast Akroma, Angel of Wrath for the win. These things happen when you spin the Wheel. But I’m glad it was there.

Constructed has this trait where someone can create a new deck and win a tournament with it. That’s cool and all, but it’s rarely so in Limited. In draft, the wins don’t go to people who find new decks, but to people who can take old cards and use them in new ways. Just like there are rare times to pass Disintegrate, there are rare decks that use Wheel of Fate, or some other “trash” card. The only way to find them is practice, preferably amongst friends and people you respect. Watch the coverage of Pro Tour – Geneva this weekend, I’ll bet you see some borderline card used in a unique way, to strong effect. And with a little luck, you’ll see some Washington players in the top 8. I’m looking forward to it. Good luck to all the players this weekend, and thanks for reading.

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