gphou13

Coverage of Grand Prix Houston Day 2

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  • Sunday, 10:10 a.m. – Day 1 Undefeated Return to Ravnica Block Sealed Deck Lists

    by Adam Styborski

  • Josh Utter-Leyton – Four-Color
    Grand Prix Houston 2013

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Azorius Guildgate
    Boros Guildgate
    Forest
    Island
    Mountain
    Plains

    17 lands

    Armored Wolf-Rider
    Assault Griffin
    Centaur Healer
    Daring Skyjek
    Experiment One
    Gatecreeper Vine
    Haazda Snare Squad
    Kraul Warrior
    Loxodon Smiter
    Progenitor Mimic
    Scab-Clan Charger
    Scab-Clan Giant
    Skylasher
    Sunhome Guildmage
    Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage

    15 creatures

    Angelic Edict
    Armed // Dangerous
    Assemble the Legion
    Call of the Conclave
    Cyclonic Rift
    Gruul Cluestone
    Prophetic Prism
    Warleader's Helix

    8 other spells

    Sideboard
    Adaptive Snapjaw
    Armory Guard
    Bane Alley Blackguard
    Bellows Lizard
    Bomber Corps
    Cancel
    Civic Saber
    Cremate
    Crypt Incursion
    Deputy of Acquittals
    Desecration Demon
    Downsize
    Drainpipe Vermin
    Essence Backlash
    Explosive Impact
    Fluxcharger
    Frenzied Tilling
    Gleam of Battle
    Grisly Spectacle
    Horncaller's Chant
    Jelenn Sphinx
    Mark for Death
    Midnight Recovery
    Murder Investigation
    New Prahv Guildmage
    Opal Lake Gatekeepers
    Orzhov Cluestone
    Orzhov Guildgate
    Phytoburst
    Punish the Enemy
    Purge the Profane
    Rakdos Charm
    Rakdos Drake
    Ruination Wurm
    Runewing
    Scatter Arc
    Selesnya Sentry
    Sinister Possession
    Skyblinder Staff
    Skygames
    Slate Street Ruffian
    Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
    Spawn of Rix Maadi
    Sphere of Safety
    Steeple Roc
    Stolen Identity
    Structural Collapse
    Sunspire Griffin
    Swift Justice
    Tithe Drinker
    Totally Lost
    Urbis Protector
    Vassal Soul
    Viashino Racketeer
    Wake the Reflections
    Wind Drake
    Zhur-Taa Druid

    60 sideboard cards



    Marc Lalague – Blue-Black-Red
    Grand Prix Houston 2013

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Dimir Guildgate
    Island
    Izzet Guildgate
    Mountain
    Steam Vents
    Swamp

    17 lands

    Dark Revenant
    Dead Reveler
    Deathcult Rogue
    Gutter Skulk
    Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
    Nivix Guildmage
    Rakdos Drake
    Rakdos Shred-Freak
    Ripscale Predator
    Skinbrand Goblin
    Spike Jester
    Splatter Thug
    Wight of Precinct Six
    Wind Drake

    15 creatures

    Assassin's Strike
    Auger Spree
    Death's Approach
    Deviant Glee
    Punish the Enemy
    Stab Wound
    Turn // Burn
    Warped Physique

    8 other spells

    Sideboard
    Alive // Well
    Alpha Authority
    Archon of the Triumvirate
    Axebane Stag
    Azorius Keyrune
    Boros Cluestone
    Boros Keyrune
    Boros Mastiff
    Bred for the Hunt
    Cancel
    Common Bond
    Court Street Denizen
    Crocanura
    Deputy of Acquittals
    Dimir Cluestone
    Drown in Filth
    Druid's Deliverance
    Electrickery
    Eyes in the Skies
    Gruul Guildgate
    Ivy Lane Denizen
    Knightly Valor
    Kraul Warrior
    Last Thoughts
    Lyev Decree
    Mindstatic
    Morgue Burst
    Opal Lake Gatekeepers
    Pilfered Plans
    Psychic Spiral
    Restore the Peace
    Riot Control
    Runner's Bane
    Sage's Row Denizen
    Scatter Arc
    Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
    Search Warrant
    Selesnya Guildgate
    Sinister Possession
    Skyblinder Staff
    Slaughterhorn
    Smite
    Stealer of Secrets
    Structural Collapse
    Survey the Wreckage
    Swift Justice
    Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
    Uncovered Clues
    Vandalblast
    Viashino Firstblade

    53 sideboard cards



    Chris Carolan – Black-White-Blue
    Grand Prix Houston 2013

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Island
    Plains
    Swamp

    17 lands

    Basilica Guards
    Basilica Screecher
    Blood Scrivener
    Boros Mastiff
    Dead Reveler
    Deathpact Angel
    Dinrova Horror
    Haunter of Nightveil
    Luminate Primordial
    Maze Abomination
    Sin Collector
    Slate Street Ruffian
    Slum Reaper
    Syndicate Enforcer
    Terrus Wurm

    15 creatures

    Angelic Edict
    Arrest
    Avenging Arrow
    Azorius Cluestone
    Grisly Spectacle
    Knightly Valor
    Stab Wound
    Trostani's Judgment

    8 other spells

    Sideboard
    Aerial Predation
    Armored Wolf-Rider
    Bioshift
    Blast of Genius
    Carnage Gladiator
    Centaur's Herald
    Chorus of Might
    Clinging Anemones
    Deviant Glee
    Dreadbore
    Ember Beast
    Faerie Impostor
    Feral Animist
    Furious Resistance
    Grisly Salvage
    Gruul Charm
    Hidden Strings
    Holy Mantle
    Hussar Patrol
    Incursion Specialist
    Inspiration
    Ivy Lane Denizen
    Izzet Cluestone
    Korozda Gorgon
    Korozda Guildmage
    Kraul Warrior
    Lyev Decree
    Lyev Skyknight
    Maze Glider
    Mental Vapors
    Metropolis Sprite
    Murmuring Phantasm
    Nimbus Swimmer
    Nivix Cyclops
    Phytoburst
    Pilfered Plans
    Possibility Storm
    Riot Gear
    Selesnya Guildgate
    Simic Guildgate
    Simic Guildgate
    Sinister Possession
    Skull Rend
    Skygames
    Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers
    Spire Tracer
    Stealer of Secrets
    Survey the Wreckage
    Tower Drake
    Towering Indrik
    Towering Thunderfist
    Trained Caracal
    Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
    Wake the Reflections
    Way of the Thief
    Wild Beastmaster
    Zhur-Taa Druid
    Zhur-Taa Swine

    63 sideboard cards



    Mani Davoudi – Black-Red-Green
    Grand Prix Houston 2013

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Forest
    Golgari Guildgate
    Mountain
    Rakdos Guildgate
    Swamp

    17 lands

    Balustrade Spy
    Bomber Corps
    Burning-Tree Emissary
    Daggerdrome Imp
    Kraul Warrior
    Renegade Krasis
    Ruination Wurm
    Scorchwalker
    Spike Jester
    Stonefare Crocodile
    Wrecking Ogre
    Zanikev Locust

    13 creatures

    Assassin's Strike
    Explosive Impact
    Give // Take
    Golgari Cluestone
    Grisly Salvage
    Gruul Keyrune
    Mizzium Mortars
    Putrefy
    Stab Wound

    9 other spells

    Vraska the Unseen

    1 planeswalker

    Sideboard
    Angelic Edict
    Armory Guard
    Awe for the Guilds
    Azorius Cluestone
    Bane Alley Blackguard
    Blistercoil Weird
    Cancel
    Contaminated Ground
    Coursers' Accord
    Court Street Denizen
    Cremate
    Crypt Incursion
    Daring Skyjek
    Dimir Cluestone
    Downsize
    Druid's Deliverance
    Essence Backlash
    Frostburn Weird
    Furious Resistance
    Gobbling Ooze
    Guildscorn Ward
    Haazda Snare Squad
    Haunter of Nightveil
    Hired Torturer
    Hussar Patrol
    Hydroform
    Kingpin's Pet
    Knightly Valor
    Lyev Decree
    Maze Behemoth
    Mending Touch
    Mental Vapors
    Mindeye Drake
    Mindstatic
    Oak Street Innkeeper
    Pilfered Plans
    Predator's Rapport
    Racecourse Fury
    Riot Gear
    Saruli Gatekeepers
    Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
    Selesnya Sentry
    Shadow Alley Denizen
    Shattering Blow
    Simic Guildgate
    Sinister Possession
    Skull Rend
    Steeple Roc
    Structural Collapse
    Swift Justice
    Tithe Drinker
    Truefire Paladin
    Uncovered Clues
    Voidwalk
    Watery Grave
    Wear // Tear
    Wildwood Rebirth
    Zarichi Tiger
    Zhur-Taa Ancient

    59 sideboard cards






     

  • Round 11 Feature Match – Jon Stern vs. Tom Ross

    by Nate Price

  • The letter F!inding an undervalued strategy can often yield gains. Tom Ross understood this perfectly, taking an Izzet deck filled with cards he believes to be undervalued, and exploiting the intricate synergies within to pull ahead of Jon Stern in Round 11 of Grand Prix Houston.

    Ross's deck is an interesting take on Izzet, relying on the very obvious synergies between the Izzet cards and casting spells, but using some fairly unorthodox cards to achieve his record. His 2-1 win over Canadian Pro Jon Stern put "The Boss" up to 10-1, keeping him strongly in the running for Top 8. Their pod was very difficult, featuring other strong players like Matt Costa and Shuhei Nakamura.


    Tom Ross

    "So... Hidden Strings," Stern said as the match drew to a close.

    "Yeah, I know," Ross said sheepishly, "It's bad. I figured this was either an 0-3 deck or a 3-0 deck."

    "No, your deck is really good," Stern admitted, not wanting to seem like he was mocking Ross.

    The Hidden Strings played an important part of Ross's earlier match against Matt Costa, where he used it to trigger a pair of Blistercoil Weirds twice to get through for enough damage and untap enough lands to cast Punish the Enemy for the win. You read that right. In this match, it would also prove decisive, allowing for a similar cascade of effects to end the game.

    The first game certainly didn't go as Ross planned. A mulligan to five left him sitting on a very weak early board. A lone Blistercoil Weird found no early support, and Ross found himself overrun by an early set of creatures. He was able to temporarily stabilize with a Punish the Enemy, but a Hussar Patrol and One Thousand Lashes finished things off.

    Game 2 was far more interesting. Both players curved out fairly well, both with reasonably aggressive draws. Ross found a Blistercoil Weird, Nivix Cyclops, and Tower Drake, while Stern went with Mastiff into Court Street Denizen into Fencing Ace. Things soon exploded when a Mizzium Mortars killed off the Boros Mastiff, powering up the Weird and Cyclops for an attack. Stern tried to block the Weird with the Ace and trade, but Ross bloodrushed a Skinbrand Goblin after first strike damage, keeping it alive and hitting Stern down to 11.

    The next turns were another bout of stabilization for Stern, using a Sunspire Gatekeepers and Knightly Valor to both create an imposing attacker and fill his board with tokens. With the Gatekeeper now enormous and vigilant, Stern began to attack, slowly knocking Ross down to 2 while the Tower Drake knocked him down to 7. At this point, Ross had to begin trading off his creatures, keeping himself alive, but losing ground every turn. Punish the Enemy killed a token and dropped Stern to 4.

    While Ross was drawing creatures to sit in the Gatekeepers' way, Stern drew nothing to bolster his army. A single creature would have done, but he found nothing but lands. In the end, a turn before Stern's attacks would have been lethal, a Madcap Skills on a Runewing sealed the deal, giving Ross a close Game 2.

    As drawn out and interesting as the second game was, the third was faster, but no less interesting. Things began incredibly slowly. The first creature to hit the table was Ross's Viashino Racketeer. Stern followed up immediately with a Sunspire Gatekeepers that once again gained Knightly Valor. Stern continued to build with Nivix Cyclops and Guttersnipe. With then engine set up, Ross's spells went to work. Hidden Strings tapped the Knight token and the Gatekeepers, this pumped the Cyclops and shocked Stern down to 12. The second Hidden Strings shocked him yet again and allowed Ross to untap two lands for a Runner's bane on the Knight token. Stern followed that up with a 1/1 Consuming Aberration. Ross untapped and began counting.


    Jon Stern

    "If you're counting , I must be dead," Stern said.

    "Um, yeah. I think you're dead," Ross confirmed.

    A Punish the Enemy killed the Aberration and sent five damage at Stern thanks to the Guttersnipe. That left Stern a 5. Ross sent his team, and Stern observed his potential blocks. With only one creature to block, he couldn't let the Nivix Cyclops through or he was dead. He also couldn't let the Racketeer with Hidden Strings ciphered onto it though, or the Guttersnipe would kill him. It was a catch-22, with Stern unable to block and live. He simply extended the hand and sighed.

    "Hidden Strings..."

    Ross was apparently very pleased with his strategy, even if he wasn't so with his deck.

    "Izzet is easily my favorite deck to draft," he told me. "Nivix Cyclops is incredibly undervalued, and many of the cards from Return to Ravnica aren't wanted by other players. It's hard, though. Your deck is usually terrible until Return to Ravnica, but it almost always pays off."





     

  • Round 11 Feature Match – Marc Lalague (Orzhov) vs. Mani Davoudi (Rakdos)

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter M!arc Lalague collected a lethal tithing to remain the sole undefeated player over Mani Davoudi in a split match.

    While Davoudi's Sire of Insanity closed the door for a comeback by Lalague in the second game, Lalague's potent Orzhov pinging through One Thousand Lashes and a pair of Tithe Drinkers put Lalague in control of the other two games.

    "Double Tithe Drinker is just not fair. I just took like 20 life over the course of the game." Lalague summed at the end of the match.

    "You put up a real fight though." Davoudi shared. "Nice Swampwalker too." Sewer Shambler allowed Lalague to put an unblockable attack in on Davoudi throughout the decisive third game, and with plenty of removal in the color it isn't uncommon to see Swamps sitting across the way.

    Lalague agreed that the value in Sewer Shambler had risen. "That card is like the most improved from freshman year." Lalague said, comparing it to its first appearance in Return to Ravnica Limited. "It's so good now."


    Marc Lalague

    Marc Lalague's no slouch when it comes to Magic. With a well-crafted Innistrad Block Constructed deck, Lalague won last year's Grand Prix Anaheim by putting a stop to Paul Reiztl's nearly undefeated run. He was turning the tables and creating his own impressive streak here in Houston.


    Mani Davoudi

    Mani Davoudi was working hard to remain near the top of standings. Without a notable win to his name, he cheerfully offered he was the soon-to-be-champion of Grand Prix Houston. With his loss here his work would remain cut out for him.

    The first game was filled with trading tricks. Lalague's fliers from Seller of Songbirds and Basilica Screecher managed to hold off Davoudi's Spike Jester through Weapon Surge and Fatal Fumes until Lalague's Gutter Skulk finally connected for a trade.

    After Davoudi used the Toil side of Toil & Trouble on himself, falling to 11 life, he cast Viashino Racketeer and declined to use its draw trigger. "What does that tell you?" Davoudi asked.

    "No much." Lalague shrugged, and put One Thousand Lashes on the Necropolis Regent Davoudi had on the following turn. With the clock ticking down on Davoudi's life, thanks to Lalague's constant aerial assault, Davoudi's Rakdos deck continued to play fast with an unleashed Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch enchanted by Deviant Glee. A quick block-and-Smite from Lalague took out Davoudi's guild champion, and the Dark Revenant Lalague followed up was enough for Davoudi.

    "I don't have any bad cards." Lalague said as he fanned through this deck during sideboarding. The two players were talking as good friends, discussing the draft and sharing cards that had cut from each other: Lalague flashed Spike Jester, but Davoudi trumped it with Angel of Serenity.

    "What's your biggest threat? You're not actually that fast are you?" Lalague asked.

    "Not really." Davoudi admitted. Lalague shrugged.

    "It's boring to kill a Necropolis Regent anyway."

    Davoudi played first for the second game and capitalized on it quickly. With Foundry Street Denizen to start and a Deathcult Rogue under Deviant Glee soon following, Lalague's life total plummeted to 5 before One Thousand Lashes stopped the sneaky Rogue.

    That's when Davoudi finally revealed another bomb in Sire of Insanity. Lalague, behind on creatures, could only throw three in a row off the top of his deck before falling.

    "I have Palisade Giant." Lalague said, both players still bantering.

    "Palisade Giant? I can beat that one, but it's a good card." Davoudi taunted back.

    The third game was just a lopsided as the second, but it was Lalague in command. With a turn two into turn three double Tithe Drinker start, Lalague began to drain 2 life from Davoudi nearly every turn. But Davoudi didn't simply give up. While he played Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch without a +1/+1 counter to stem Lalague's attacks, Davoudi was still willing to play to his deck's strength by unleashing Spawn of Rix Maadi into an immediate attack.

    "Oh. Right." a surprised Lalague said, having forgotten about Exava's haste-granting ability. "She does that."

    Lalague kept a steady stream of creatures coming, each one extorting Davoudi lower. When Lalague found his Sewer Shambler, Davoudi admitted he was in touble.


    "This is the best draw in the match." Lalague said.

    "There's just no way you lose here." Davoudi said, shaking his head and desperately attacking. Even though 7 and 11 points of damage would connect, Lalague's well-padded life total, unblockable attacker, and continuous extort triggers were just too much for Davoudi to outrace.





     

  • Sunday, 1:10 p.m. – A Few Picks Deep

    by Nate Price

  • The letter Y!ou open the following pack:



    What's the pick?

    Shuhei Nakamura: It's the best card in the pack. Give & Take is a close second, though.

    Chris Fennell: I don't know how anyone doesn't take this card. Evolve is too good.


    Now you are passed the following pack:


    Given your first pick, what's your second?

    Shuhei Nakamura: It is the best card in my colors.





    Chris Fennell: Alive & Well is one of the ten best cards in the format. It gives you tokens to populate with all of the populate cards that no one else is going to be able to use, and you can't race that lifegain. It's like a Saruli Gatekeepers with more lifegain, a better body, and more utility with the rest of your deck.


    Then comes the following:


    What comes third?

    Shuhei Nakamura: There isn't even a close pick here.

    Chris Fennell: Two of these, eh?


    Finally, we have a pack of the following:


    Shuhei Nakamura: "No, Shuhei," Martin Jůza yells from across the table, "Guildgates are bad!" Nakamura just smiles and points at his Gatekeepers and the second Guildgate in his pile. He seemed pretty happy to me. "It's close between this and Tithe Drinker here."

    Chris Fennell: I'm pretty sure everyone would be better off if they just followed ATM while drafting. 'Always take Mossdog.' It's hard to kill, does a ton of damage, stops fliers, scavenges... it just gives you so many options.




     

  • Sunday, 2:25 p.m. – New Perspectives – Drafting Return to Ravnica with Chris Fennell

    by Nate Price

  • "I just don't understand how people keep drafting this way."

    Often associated with Florida's other premier-level Limited player, Ben Stark, Fennell is quick to make the distinction.

    "It got said at the Pro Tour that I taught Ben how to draft," he began. "But the two of us literally can't be any different. I totally disagree with how he drafts. Most of the time, our drafts find me sitting at 2 life, trying to cast my seven-drop before he can kill me."

    I found it very interesting that Fennell disagreed so strongly with Stark on his draft philosophy. Currently, Stark's plan of cutting off a Gatecrash guild and staking your claim is one of the most widely accepted approaches to this Limited format. It makes sense on a basic level. You try and control the person on your left so that they ship you the cards you want when Gatecrash comes around.

    But Fennell disagrees.


    Chris Fennell

    "Simic is probably the best Limited mechanic they've printed in a very long time, maybe ever," he explained. "But I don't want to set myself up to take over the Gatecrash pack. I want to try and take advantage of Return to Ravnica."

    This is a bold departure from what has become the generally accepted logic of the past weeks of drafting. Return to Ravnica was the gamble, and Gatecrash was the safe thing. You only set yourself up for Return to Ravnica if you open a bomb that forces you into it, or you manage to find out that one of the guilds is open. Even then, so much can change over the course of Gatecrash, and people often begin to use Return to Ravnica to shore up holes they may have, resulting in a weaker selection of cards for any players relying on Return to Ravnica for the meat of their decks.

    But Fennell doesn't rely solely on Return to Ravnica to make his deck.

    "I think that Bant is one of the best decks you can draft right now," he explained, "and it gains a lot from Return to Ravnica. First off, Azorius is probably the most underdrafted guild in the format right now. No one seems to want it. I have already said that I love evolve, so I generally try to snag as many Simic cards as I can pick up early. Limited is all about playing creatures and tricks, and if you can get an edge in either, you tend to win. With evolve, your creatures get to move up the chain. If your two drop gets to fight their five drop and trade with it, you are winning.

    When you get to the last pack, you get all of the Selesnya and Azorius cards that no one else wants, and they come packing good creatures and good tricks. Plus, since there are two guilds you're looking for, you are going to get more options during the course of the pack, letting you fill out much better. Plus the cards in Return to Ravnica are the better cards in the full-block format. People think it's Gatecrash, but the format is much slower thanks to all of the Gatekeepers and mana issues. Return to Ravnica is slower, and the cards play better in a slower format like this."

    I asked him if his "last pack" principle applied to other guild combinations as well, take drafting UBR for Rakdos and Izzet in the same pack.

    "Not all of the guild choices are going to work well together," he corrected me. "Taking Grixis like that, you tend to want to be control because most of your cards are control cards. The problem is that Rakdos and Izzet both want you to be aggressive, and they are definitely both mana hungry. Trying to run an aggressive deck with mana like that is going to be a problem. There are some that work, though. I really like BWG, for example."

    Things like the mana issues with Grixis can be pretty big traps in this format, where you are certainly rewarded for investments in other colors, but terribly punished for failing to have proper mana. Fennell believes that there are far less obvious traps in the format, Trojan horses of Return to Ravnica draft.

    "I think Tithe Drinker is a trap," he admitted bluntly. Considering that many players consider it a top pick in the format, it's a bold claim. But there is sense behind his argument.

    "There are so many creatures in this format that simply prevent it from being able to attack or block well," he elaborated. "What use is a 2/1 when your opponent is playing 3/3s and 2/4s? And players are way too attached to it. Once it hits play, people are afraid to trade it off. If your opponent drops a two-drop into play, you stop attacking with Tithe Drinker. If they start attacking, you never block. Tithe Drinker is like an enchantment."

    Another good point he made was in how people play with their evolve creatures.

    "There are two kinds of evolve creatures, those with big powers and those with big toughnesses," he explained. "Most of them are the ones with bigger powers, cards like Shambleshark and Battering Krasis. If you're going to be evolving these, you need to be playing creatures with larger toughnesses than powers. The same goes the other way. That's why some of them are better in decks like Gruul than others. Take the Battering Krasis, for example. Most of the cards in Gruul have bigger powers than toughnesses. At some point, it's hard to evolve your Krasis. In Bant, though, you get the good defensive Gatekeepers and cards like Jelenn Sphinx, which have large toughnesses. This keeps him going."

    Fennell also had some strong opinions about what people should be looking for in their creatures.

    "Limited is about creatures, and the last thing you want is for your creatures to be useless," he told me. "I love a good two-drop, but you virtually never see me playing two-drops that don't have some other type of ability. I'm talking cards like Kraul Warrior, Frilled Occulus, Guildmages... you don't want them to just be completely useless when your opponent starts playing 2/4s. Utility is the name of the game. Plus it makes them useful when you draw them late."

    While his opinions run contrary to the general consensus, Fennell makes some incredibly good points about the format that should be considered. The format is slower. Return to Ravnica is incredibly maligned right now, and thus undervalued and underdrafted. Setting yourself up to take advantage of multiple guilds from the pack seems like a viable strategy for the format. And his results are proof enough.

    "I've managed to either 5-1 or 6-0 virtually every Grand Prix and Pro Tour draft since Return to Ravnica came out," he said. Looks like at least a few of those seven-drops resolved before he died.




     

  • Sunday, 2:55 p.m. – Drafting Izzet with Tom Ross

    by Adam Styborski

  • "Everybody underrates Nivix Cyclops." claims Tom Ross.

    There are plenty of theories and approaches to drafting full Return to Ravnica Block. What sets many of them apart is whether players should stay open and see what comes to them, or be proactive and take on a strategy upfront.


    Tom Ross

    Tom Ross is among the latter group. "A lot of players are passive and try to stay as open as possible." Ross explained. "They try for a Gatecrash guild then, if it doesn't work, they'll go Return to Ravnica. It usually doesn't work out for them."

    Ross's go-to deck for Return to Ravnica Block Draft is centered around the Izzet and, specifically, Nivix Cyclops. Why? "Nivix Cyclops makes unplayable cards good. With a Nivix Cyclops deck, even Riot Piker is really good with the high number of instant tricks." Ross explained, showing Hidden Strings, Dynacharge, and more.

    Drafting the deck is straightforward. "Take Nivix Cyclops over just about anything else, even Ral Zarek. Flux Charger works the same too; The deck just doesn't work without cards like that. You'll look for Punish the Enemy next, followed close by Riot Piker, and tricks like Weapon Surge." Ross continued. "You'll take what you can get in pack two. If I get a ton of Boros cards and things don't go our way I'll add a third color like white but I'd rather avoid it. If you're Izzet, usually when you get to pack three you're set."

    Pack three is Izzet's home, Return to Ravnica.

    What goes into the Izzet deck? "I usually play eight to twelve creatures. Nivix Cyclops, of course" Ross said. "If I have to splash I'll add black for Maze Abomination. It's why I took one late in the first pack. Giving deathtouch to Nivix Cyclops, or if we're lucky Izzet Staticaster, is usually enough. Cards like Dynacharge back up Riot Piker, which just never dies in combat. Tricks that turn on Cyclops put Piker over to top."


    Ross's second draft at Grand Prix Houston was Izzet of course, and some of his choices were strained by being in a seven person pod. "I just had to go for Uncovered Clues." Ross said. "It's never been cast in Day 2 of a Grand Prix, I'm sure. I also hate drafted a Clear a Path since it just kills my Cyclops."

    With Mindstatic at the ready Ross pointed out there were other cards he was looking for. "I'd ideally have Spell Rupture here. I'll often cast it for two off Riot Piker," Ross said, referring to how much mana an opponent would have to pay to resolve his or her spell, "but it's really good with the Cyclops. Rupture triggers it, and your opponent will have to pay four. If often works just like a hard counter. Bloodrush, like Rubblebelt Maaka, is really good too. It doesn't turn Nivix Cyclops on, but it keeps Riot Piker applying pressure."

    It isn't all sun and daisies with the Izzet deck, and Ross shared a few things that give it problems. "I hate 1/3's. There aren't that many but they block Riot Piker very well. The Gate deck," Ross explained, referring to decks that highly pick the Guildgates and play spells of nearly every color, "will have Axebane Guardian and Ogre Gatecrasher. They're really good against the deck."




     

  • Round 13 Feature Match – Matt Costa vs. Josh Utter-Leyton

    by Nate Price

  • The letter J!osh Utter-Leyton's precipitous fall from the ranks of the undefeated continued in Round 13, falling to Matt Costa in a three-game match and out of Top 8 contention.

    Josh Utter-Leyton began Day 2 as one of four undefeated players to emerge from the Sealed Deck rounds. Usually fairly reserved and cool, it was clear that Utter-Leyton was frustrated after a disastrous 0-3 performance in his first pod of Day 2.


    Josh Utter-Leyton

    "So was your deck bad," Costa asked him between games of their match?

    "I mean, it was bad," Utter-Leyton admitted, "but it also drew bad, you know? I drew a bunch of two land, Drudge Beetle, Drudge Beetle hands and then never drew another land. Then I mulliganned a bunch in the last match. It was a really good way to send the draft off."

    Game 1 appeared to mark a turnaround, as Utter-Leyton managed to stick an Unflinching Courage on an Ascended Lawmage and erase any offense Costa had. This combination of cards, in addition to Lavinia of the Tenth, prompted Utter-Leyton to comment after the match that he felt that this matchup was in his favor. Costa agreed, but the final two games told a different story.

    Costa got on the board early in Game 2 with a Riot Piker and Gore-House Chainwalker. Azorius Arrester pushed a Syndic of Tithes out of the way and let Costa's team hit Utter-Leyton down to 13. A Holy Mantle gave Costa little pause, as he simply sent his team into the newly protected Syndic. After taking the Chainwalker out, the Syndic died to an Avenging Arrow, clearing the way for Costa's troops. An Azorius Arrester from Utter-Leyton gave him time to get a Leyline Phantom into play, but Haazda Snare Squad took care of the large blocker, enabling a lethal bloodrushed Scorchwalker to send the match to Game 3.


    Matt Costa

    The final game was even more depressing for Utter-Leyton. Costa had a phenomenal start. Riot Piker into Frostburn Weird into Tajic, Blade of the Legion, was a draw that most players would have a difficult time with, but Utter-Leyton managed things well. Behind a wall of creatures, he at Tajic's damage while trading his smaller creatures away for Costa's, trying to break up the battalion. Soon, though, Utter-Leyton found himself drawing little of value while Costa continued his advances with a pair of Haazda Snare Squads. This gave Costa the push he needed and kept him safely in battalion. Things began to look a little better for Utter-Leyton when he dropped his own maze runner Lavinia of the Tenth into play, but it only delayed things for a turn. Once his creatures were undetained, Costa sent his team, tapped the two biggest of Utter-Leyton's creatures with his Snare Squads, and took the match.

    Though obviously frustrated, Utter-Leyton congratulated Costa on his win and wished him good luck in the rest of the tournament. With his tenth win, Costa keeps an outside chance alive at sneaking into the Top 8 with three losses.




     

  • Sunday, 4:45 p.m. – Going Undefeated in Return to Ravnica Block Sealed Deck with Marc Lalague

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter I!t's a common misconception that Sealed Deck is all about luck. While players are at the mercy of what random booster packs provide, Sealed Deck allows those with the know-how to make the most of whatever comes his or her way.

    Marc Lalague demonstrated the skill to deliver. Throughout Day 1 Return to Ravnica Block Sealed Deck, and several rounds into the Day 2 draft, Lalague remained undefeated. This is what he was working with on Day 1:

    Marc Lalague – Blue-Black-Red
    Grand Prix Houston 2013

    Main Deck

    40 cards

    Dimir Guildgate
    Island
    Izzet Guildgate
    Mountain
    Steam Vents
    Swamp

    17 lands

    Dark Revenant
    Dead Reveler
    Deathcult Rogue
    Gutter Skulk
    Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
    Nivix Guildmage
    Rakdos Drake
    Rakdos Shred-Freak
    Ripscale Predator
    Skinbrand Goblin
    Spike Jester
    Splatter Thug
    Wight of Precinct Six
    Wind Drake

    15 creatures

    Assassin's Strike
    Auger Spree
    Death's Approach
    Deviant Glee
    Punish the Enemy
    Stab Wound
    Turn // Burn
    Warped Physique

    8 other spells

    Sideboard
    Alive // Well
    Alpha Authority
    Archon of the Triumvirate
    Axebane Stag
    Azorius Keyrune
    Boros Cluestone
    Boros Keyrune
    Boros Mastiff
    Bred for the Hunt
    Cancel
    Common Bond
    Court Street Denizen
    Crocanura
    Deputy of Acquittals
    Dimir Cluestone
    Drown in Filth
    Druid's Deliverance
    Electrickery
    Eyes in the Skies
    Gruul Guildgate
    Ivy Lane Denizen
    Knightly Valor
    Kraul Warrior
    Last Thoughts
    Lyev Decree
    Mindstatic
    Morgue Burst
    Opal Lake Gatekeepers
    Pilfered Plans
    Psychic Spiral
    Restore the Peace
    Riot Control
    Runner's Bane
    Sage's Row Denizen
    Scatter Arc
    Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
    Search Warrant
    Selesnya Guildgate
    Sinister Possession
    Skyblinder Staff
    Slaughterhorn
    Smite
    Stealer of Secrets
    Structural Collapse
    Survey the Wreckage
    Swift Justice
    Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
    Uncovered Clues
    Vandalblast
    Viashino Firstblade

    53 sideboard cards



    To understand how Lalague achieved here we asked him a few questions before he went on to make the Top 8.

    What did you think of your Sealed pool? Why?

    "The first thing I saw was a removal heavy Grixis (black-blue-red) deck. Then I noticed I had Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, Master Biomancer, and Archon of the Triumvirates as bombs. I had to figure out which of the two builds to go with."


    "The base Rakdos deck had no bombs, but plenty of removal and creatures. It definitely fit my style of play better."

    What led you to the deck you built?

    "Simple: Fast creatures and lots of removal. I had like six two-drops and eight three-drops. It was a very fast deck."

    What set your deck or pool apart from others? Wa yours unique or atypical?

    "This Sealed Deck pool was above average. It felt like both the two decks were good enough to go undefeated, and it was difficult to choose which to go with. But I do much better when I play aggressive decks so I decided to just go with it. In terms of power, the pool was absolutely amazing."

    What are the key cards that made your deck perform? Why?

    "None of the individual cards stod out, but the combination of flying creatures, Splatter Thugs and Dead Reveler, Spike Jester, and Rakdos Shred-Freak consistently set up fast draws with stacks of removal."


    If I had to pick a single card that over performed, I'd say Spike Jester. Attacking early was really good."

    Would you change anything about your deck? Why?

    "No. Every card was perfect. I really liked my deck."

    In general, what are you looking for in Return to Ravnica Block Sealed? Why?

    "I'm looking for mana fixing. In this format, if you have good mana fixing, you'll find the spells in your deck to get there. Mana fixing Also dictates how you can get there."


    "For example, in my deck I had three sources of blue, mostly Guildgates. Without them my mana would have been atrocious because a basic Island is close to unplayable. I had multiple two-drops and three-drops that needed red and black mana, like Rakdos Shred-freak, Spike Jester. If I had an Island in my hand instead of a Mountain or Swamp, it would have made the diffence between winning and losing the game."




     

  • Sunday, 4:45 p.m. – A Few Picks Deeper

    by Nate Price

  • The letter T!aking those same packs around to a new set of players, I was given some similar picks, but a different look at the reasoning behind them.



    What do you take?

    Ben Stark: The Haunter of Nightveil is probably the strongest card power-wise, but it's Dimir, which is easily the weakest of the Gatecrash guilds. I'd rather stay able to go a better guild like Simic or Gruul.

    Sam Black : People tend to want to combine Orzhov and Dimir to draft Esper, so I'm content passing the two good Esper cards, Tithe Drinker and Haunter of Nightveil, here. I really like drafting Gruul, too, so I'd take the Druid and try to set myself up.


    Ok, with that card taken, what do you take from the next pack?


    Ben Stark: This card's really good and there's nothing else in the pack.

    Sam Black : You don't even need to lay the rest of the pack out. This card is just too good.


    The third pack comes around and you see the following cards still in the pack:


    What is your pick?

    Ben Stark: Well that was easy.

    Sam Black : What he said.


    And the final pack contains the following:


    Ben Stark: Beetleform Mage. Wait, there's a Krasis in this pack, too? Ugh. You have to weight which of the two Simic cards is best and then compare it to Thrashing Mossdog. I guess Krasis Incubation is best. And I guess I'd have to take the Mossdog here. I'm sad that there are two Simic cards in this pack. Since we passed Give & Take earlier, I'm pretty sure I have to pass the two Simic cards and just take the Mossdog. If this Beetleform Mage was something else, I'm pretty sure I'd take the Krasis.

    Sam Black : There aren't any other Gruul cards in this pack, so it's an easy one for me.













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