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Grand Prix Kansas City Day 1 Coverage

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  • Saturday, 1:30 p.m. – Local Flavor: Where can I get the best BBQ in Town?

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • In the days leading up to the Grand Prix I put out the question about where I should be going for BBQ while in town and got back a variety of answers. Most players who had been here before, at one of the various Grand Prix or National Championships in the city’s past, were quick to recommend Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue but I was curious what the locals preferred. Jack Stack is quite good it is a fine dining establishment that did not have the down and dirty quality that I associate with great BBQ -- and they do no not sell their BBQ by the pound. I was looking for the kind of place that made their smoker from a toilet tank, rubbed dirt on their ribs, and used an actual mop from the janitorial staff to sauce the meat.

    Four places kept coming up in response to my query including the ubiquitous Jack Stack which was the only one the lot to be within walking distance from the site and what I assumed was a major factor in the love fest for it. Author Bryant’s and Gates also has their vocal advocates but only Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ made the list of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die -- a list that includes such hallowed eateries as French Laundry, elBulli, and Le Bernardin. I had barely checked into the hotel before I was in cab with Steve Sadin, David Ochoa, and Erik Landriz en route to a what promised to be a bucket list culinary experience.

    We ordered an assortment of meats and a minimum of sides and after plowing through turkey, brisket, and pulled pork we ended on the slab of ribs. I cannot rave enough about them or begin to do them justice with words but I am Mr. Bordain’s debt for having tried them. The smoke penetrated the meat right down to the bone to create a truly transcendent experience and yet the locals at nearby tables bemoaned our missed chance to try the burnt ends -- a Kansas City BBQ delicacy and a specialty of Joe’s that was only available a handful of days during the week.

    There is a general acknowledgement that the award winning ribs at Oklahoma Joe’s are world class but locals still insist that depending on what you want to get whether it is wings, brisket, burnt ends, or ribs you need to diversify and hit different spots for different specialties. Here are three local players takes on what you should be eating if you find yourself in town.

    Steve Ferrell, local Tournament Organizer

    I like Jack’s Stack and the Fire Kissed Wings. The wings have an amazing flavor. Every artist we have ever brought in, every gunslinger I have taken them over there and they agree it is best wing they have ever had.

    Scott Lipp, local player

    I think the best BBQ in town is Jack’s Stack as well. I went to eat there last night with my buddies and my kid -- he ate more than I did. Everything was good from their turkey sandwiches to their ribs.

    Jason O’Roarke, local player

    The BBQ here is amazing. You have Oklahoma Joe’s, obviously you have Jack’s Stack, Smokehouse... Best ribs are Smokehouse. I love their spicy barbecue better than regular barbecue.

    As for the burnt ends, I was fortunate enough to catch a handful of bye-deep players heading over to Oklahoma Joe’s to brunch it up and they agreed to bring some back. I will report back later...

    Brian David-Marshall
     

  • Saturday, 1:43 p.m. – Premier Events in Kansas City

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • One of the reasons that out of town have become so familiar with the BBQ from Jack's Stack is due to how many events have been held here over the years going back into the previous century. Let's take a look back at some of the people who have found success in Kansas City while all the other players were left licking their wounds -- and fingers, no doubt covered in BBQ sauce.

    Grand Prix Kansas City 1999

    Mark Gordon

    The format for the first big event here was Extended. With the banning of Memory Jar and other pesky combo pieces looming it was seen as the last chance for players to get their combos but a wary room of 458 players packing Null Rods and Force of Will kept the Memory Jars and Fluctuators in check. In a star-studded Top 8 that included future Hall Famers Randy Buehler playing Forbidian, Bob Maher playing Oath of Druids, and Jon Finkel sporting High Tide it was unknown newcomer Mark Gordon who torched through the Top 8 bracket with a Sligh deck. Coming into the tournament Gordon had single digit matches of Sanctioned Magic under his belt with MTGO was still lurking in the wings.



    Grand Prix Kansas City 2003

    Antonio De Rosa

    Limted was on the menu for the second GP in the city's history and Day Two utilized the now defunct Rochester Draft format which had the players making their picks from a pack of cards displayed face up on the table for everyone to see. The format had a lot of political subtlety and could be punishing to players who didn't understand that -- and sometimes catastrophic for the players around them counting on that cooperation. There were exactly 500 players for that tournament and the Top 8 that emerged was again impressive with notable players including Gerry Thompson, Ben Stark, Brian Kibler, and eventual champion Antonino deRosa.



    US National Championships 2004

    Brian Kibler

    Brian Kibler must have fared well on Kansas City BBQ because he made his second trip to the Top 8 in a year when US Nationals rolled into town. Mirrodin ruled the Standard format at that event and Kibler was playing a metagamed Green-White list that punished Affinity decks but he was turned aside from the team by Billy Postlethewait's army of robots. Elf and Nail was the breakout deck of that event and it carried Craig Krempels to the National title. He was joined on the team by Bill Stead playing the Green-White deck and Ben Zoz playing March of the Machines.



    Grand Prix Kansas City 2008

    Tim Landale

    Tim Landale emerged on top of the 800 person field at the previous Grand Prix held in KC over former World Champion Carlos Romao. Shards of Alara block was the format for this one and the Top 8 was played out with the traditional booster draft format we all know and love. Landale had to defeat running end bosses to win the tournament as he was up against the always formidable Jon Sonne in the semifinals. Landale's Top 8 deck was a 4-color monstrosity that took advantage of the abundant mana-fixing in Alara Block limited and was headlined by the duo of Broodmate Dragon and broodmate Dragon token.



    US National Championships 2009

    Charles Gindy, 3-2

    The last event held in KC featured the ill-fated US National team led by Charles Gindy which also included Adam Yurchick and Todd Anderson who beat emerging star Brad Nelson in the 3rd/4th playoff for the last spot on the team. Cruel Control was all over the Top 8 and all three members of the team were firmly planted in the lands of Grixis. The finals match between Gindy and Yurchick was a titanic battle of haymaker blows that went the full five games with a pair of Runed Halos sealing the win for Gindy.

    Who will write the next chapter of Kansas City Magic history? The byes have all been expended and we are about to find out!

     

  • Saturday, 2:00 p.m. – Infecting the Grinders

    by Steve Sadin
  • When someone is playing in an 878 player event, having three byes can give that player a big leg up on the competition. Fortunately there are a number of ways to get them. Players can earn byes thanks to their Pro Level, DCI Rating, or by winning a Grand Prix Trial at their local WPN location. Even if you don't have any byes when you start to drive, fly, train, or bus your way to a Grand Prix, you still have one last chance to earn those coveted byes by competing in traditional single elimination Friday night Grand Prix Trials.

    There were twelve such opportunities last night, so we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the winning decklists from Friday's trials and see if we could learn anything about the sealed format that makes up the first day of play here in Kansas City.

    Ray Schneider won the first grinder with a removal heavy blue-red deck.

    Chris Fennell won the second grinder with a blue-white control deck.

    Justin Hicks won the third grinder with a removal heavy black-red-blue control deck.

    Alex Fann won the fourth grinder with an extremely powerful black-red deck.

    Matthew Higgs won the fifth grinder with a midrange red-green deck.

    John Stolzmann won the sixth grinder with a midrange white-red-green deck.

    Joshua McKnight won the seventh grinder with a green-white-black infect deck.

    Eric Landriz won the eighth trial with a green-black infect deck.

    Grant Little won the ninth grinder with a green-black infect deck.

    Tyler Mantey won the tenth grinder with a green-black-white infect deck.

    Eric Franklin won the eleventh grinder with a midrange green-blue-white deck.

    Douglas Payne won the twelfth grinder with a white-red equipment deck.

    That's right. Of the twelve (sealed deck) grinders that fired on Friday, four of them were won by base green infect decks. This might seem surprising given that the prevailing wisdom is that infect is rarely playable in New Phyrexia/Mirrodin Besieged/Scars of Mirrodin sealed, but a growing number of players have found ways to win with the archetype.

    For reference, here were the winning infect decklists:

    Total number of creatures with infect: eight (including one Carrion Call).

    Notable bombs: Karn Liberated, Myr Battlesphere, Strata Scythe, Skinwing.

    Thanks to the fact that he has a Karn Liberated and a Myr Battlesphere – McKnight doesn't need to kill his opponents with infect. Instead, he can draw the game out and allow his bombs to take over.

    Total number of creatures with infect: seven.

    Notable bombs: Wurmcoil Engine, Sword of Feast and Famine, Chancellor of the Dross

    Other notable cards: Corpse Cur, Phyrexian Rager, Rot Wolf, Viridian Corrupter, 2 Pith Driller, Entomber Exarch, 2 Leeching Bite.

    Landriz's deck is exceptionally good at generating card advantage. So while Landriz might only have seven infect creatures, his deck should have no problem winning drawn out games even if his early infect creatures get dealt with.

    Grant Little
    Grand Prix Kansas 2011 - Grinder

    Total number of creatures with infect: seven

    Notable bomb: Contagion Engine.

    Other notable cards: Skinrender, 2 Corpse Curs, Mortapod, Mimic Vat.

    While Little's deck was relatively light on infect creatures, his two Corpse Curs and his Mimic Vat insured that he would be able to keep the infect creatures coming even as his games went long.

    Total number of creatures with infect: nine (including Carrion Call).

    Notable bombs: Glissa, the Traitor, Hand of the Praetors

    Other notable cards: Contagion Clasp, Volt Charge, Spread the Sickness, Tezzeret's Gambit.

    I was able to borrow Mantey, a two time Grand Prix Top 8er, while he was relaxing and enjoying his byes, long enough to ask him a few questions about the poisonous sealed deck.

    Tyler Mantey

    Tyler Mantey: "When I saw the Hand of the Praetors, I decided to see if I could put together an infect deck. I had nine infect creatures, which I think is about the minimum that you can run and still expect to reliably kill your opponents with poison.

    "With so much removal, I figured that it would be easy for me to get in for a few hits with my infectors and then use my proliferate spells to finish off my opponents.

    "I left Mutagenic Growth, and Leeching Bite in my sideboard. Normally I'm a big fan of both of these cards in infect decks, but I didn't want to waste space on pump spells when I already had a bunch of targeted removal spells.

    "Once I saw how good my infect shell was, the toughest decision that I had to make was whether or not to splash red. I went back and forth for a while, but I eventually decided that my Viridian Emissary, and my Mycosynth Wellspring would make it painless enough.

    "The red wound up being very good for me as Volt Charge won me more than one game, and Artillerize was absolutely crucial as it (combined with a Perilous Myr) allowed me to kill my finals opponent's Sheoldred, Whispering One. If I had tried to play this deck was less removal, I doubt I would have been able to win with it."

    It's important to note that the four winning infect decks were all controlling green decks that had an abundance of removal and/or bombs which allowed them to win long games. So while these decks all had the ability to kill their opponents quickly, these were not aggressive decks that needed to rush their opponents with Plague Stingers, Ichorclaw Myrs and giant growths in order to get their wins.

    It's true that most sealed pools won't give you the cards necessary to build a competitive infect deck, if you find yourself with seven plus infectors and a bunch of removal spells, then you would do well to at least look at what type of an infect deck you can build. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find.

     

  • Saturday, 3:32 p.m. – Grand Prix Tech

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • It is always exciting to uncover hot new tech at a Grand Prix but rarely has "the tech" been as literal as it is this weekend where the event staff is quickly, quietly, and efficiently seating an 878 person field each round without printing a single sheet of paper and with less than 10 minutes from the moment the pairings are posted and everyone is seated and waiting to play. I first encountered Grand Prix Kansas City Tournament Organizer Steve Port's paperless pairings system back in at US Nationals 2006 when he started using a projector to scroll them on the wall during that event.

    I spoke with Port about it at the time and he explained that the system started in his store where he grew weary of murdering trees with the printing and posting pairings each round. He had some staff members whip a program that would let him export the pairings and either display the pairings on monitors or project them on screen.

    "The first time we used it was at the store and we had four 27-inch monitors there," explained Port in the coverage from that event. "We put the first pairings up and were worried about whether or not it would work. There were people crowded around the monitors and I thought to myself, 'this is no better than printing them on pieces of paper.' I turned around to tell someone it was not going to work and then when I turned back they were all gone. People just dissipate. You don't have the problem of people crowding into the pairings sheet and then crowding back."

    Things have come a long way since those 27" monitors and Port was showing off a quartet of 46" LCD TVs that are allowing him to get 878 players seated each round without the need for a single sheet of paper and none of the start of the round jostling that is characteristic of most large events -- and even some smaller ones. What makes it so efficient -- and where the hi-tech part comes in -- is that in the past they have had to scroll the complete pairings on each monitor when going paperless. For this event the pairings are broken up within letter ranges and players know exaclty which monitor to look at when it comes time for the next round.

    Legion Events scorekeeper and judge Jordan Baker is the man who is responsible for the technological innovations known as RTools, a set of utilities that augment the capabilities of tournament management software.

    "We have been doing pairings on televisions and projectors for quite a few years now. What is different about what we are doing here is that we are running it as a network system," explained Baker. "We have four monitors here and they are all running the name-range pairings like you would normally see at a GP. The only difference is that we are doing it digitally so you can just click one button to send it to all the televisions at once."

    To make things go even more quickly it also sends the pairings to the web where players can find their standing and pairings via their smartphone or other Web-enabled devices.

    "The program puts the pairings up and then you put your DCI number in and it matches it up with your standings, your pairings and results from the previous round so you can make sure everything went in correctly, and your pairing for the current round. It can even tell you how much time is left in the current round," beamed Baker who was juxtaposed against the crude cardboard box for players to drop off result slips -- printed result slips?!?

    "At some point there are diminishing returns, said Baker when asked if there was a possibility of truly paperless events where players could digitally fill out their match results. "I think that is the point."

     

  • Feature Match: Round 4 – John Stolzmann versus David Sharfman

    by Steve Sadin
  • Fresh off his victory at Pro Tour: Nagoya, and only a few months removed from his win at Grand Prix: Paris, David Sharfman finds himself right in the mix of the Player of the Year Race with 38 Pro Points. The only players who he is currently trailing behind are Ben Stark (41 Pro Points) and Owen Turtenwald (40 Pro Points). A good finish this weekend could put Sharfman into the lead, or at the very least lock him into Level Seven in the Pro Players Club.

    While he hasn't had much success at Magic yet, John Stolzmann is known amongst his peers for being a very talented gamer. Given his success at other games, and his ability to qualify for the Pro Tour seemingly at will, Stolzmann is not one to be taken lightly.

    Stolzmann versus Sharfman

    Game One

    Sharfman won the roll and chose to draw first, while Stolzmann had to mulligan to six.

    Stolzmann opened on Gremlin Mine, Perilous Myr, and Leaden Myr while Sharfman's first play of the game was a turn four Skinwing. Massacre Wurm came down for Stolzmann, taking out Sharfman's germ token, but Sharfman had an Arrest to make sure that his opponent's mythic rare wouldn't get in for too much damage.

    Flameborn Viron fell at the hands of Spread the Sickness, and Stolzmann continued his 1/1 beatdown to knock Sharfman down to 10.

    Kuldotha Flamefiend knocked out Stolzmann's two creatures and it suddenly looked like Sharfman might be able to take over the game.

    But when Skinrender shrank Sharfman's Kuldotha Flamefiend down to a 1/1, and a Loxodon Partisan got eaten by Stolzmann's Phyrexian Ingester, things seemed very grim for the reigning Pro Tour Champion.

    When Stolzmann Shattered Sharfman's Precursor Golem, they were off to game two.

    John Stolzmann 1 – David Sharfman 0

    Game Two

    Between games Stolzmann left his deck largely unchanged, but Sharfman swapped out his red (and his light green splash) for a bevy of blue cards.

    Sharfman again chose to draw, and Stolzmann again began the game with a mulligan.

    Stolzmann opened on a Fume Spitter and a Blind Zealot while Sharfman got things going with a Loxodon Skyhunter and a Darksteel Axe. Stolzmann unsurprisingly sacrificed his Blind Zealot to take out his opponent's 4/2 flier and then restocked his board with a Trespassing Souleater.

    David Sharfman

    Sharfman's Precursor Golem fell at the hand of Stolzmann's Victorious Destruction, while a Gremlin Mine took out Stolzmann's Trespassing Souleater.

    On his sixth turn Sharfman cast a Glimmerpoint Stag, flickering out one of his lands and then passed the turn with Island, Island, Plains open – this allowed him to counter Stolzmann's Skinrender with a Stoic Rebuttal.

    Chancellor of the Spires fell at the hands of Spread the Sickness, but not before Sharfman used his opponent's Victorious Destruction to take out Stolzmann's only Mountain.

    But through all this, Glimmerpoint Stag just kept coming.

    A Tumble Magnet for Stolzmann looked like it would buy him some time – but when Sharfman cast a Loxodon Skyhunter and equipped it with a Darksteel Axe it was clear that he needed to do something fast.

    The best that Stolzmann could do was cast a Thundering Tanadon, which put him down to a mere three life. When Sharfman had the Arrest to neutralize Stolzmann's only blocker, he was able to swing in for lethal and force a deciding third game.

    John Stolzmann 1 – David Sharfman 1

    Game Three

    Stolzmann chose to draw, while Sharfman got off to an aggressive start with two Origin Spellbombs and a Loxodon Skyhunter. Porcelain Legionnaire gave Stolzmann an immediate board presence, but it could do nothing to stop the flying Loxodon Skyhunter, nor could it interact profitably with Sharfman's turn four Ghalma's Warden.

    John Stolzman

    Ghalma's Warden got a Parasitic Implant, but Sharfman was still able to get in a big attack after a Skinwing gave the reigning Pro Tour Champion metalcraft. Sharfman's attack with his 4/6 Ghalma's Warden and his Loxodon Skyhunter knocked Stolzmann all the way down to 7.

    Fully aware of how low his life total had gotten, Stolzmann used a Shatter to take out Skinwing, and Burn the Impure to off a Loxodon Skyhunter. This flurry of removal spells left Sharfman with only a myr token and an Origin Spellbomb, but it also left Stolzmann without an answer to the Precursor Golem that Sharfman cast on his very next turn.

    Strandwalker came down for Stolzmann, but when his Porcelain Legionnaire got Arrested, Sharfman was able to attack Stolzmann down to 3.

    Stolzmann then knocked the top of his deck, and drew the land that he needed to cast a Kuldotha Flamefiend which he used to take out a golem token and a myr token.

    Could Stolzmann finally have Stabilized?

    When Sharfman passed his turn without a spell or an attack it looked like he very well might have.

    Stolzmann further developed his board with a Flameborn Viron, but his advantage was short lived as Vivisection yielded Sharfman a Revoke Existence and a Corrupted Conscience allowing the Pro Tour Champion to seal the match.

    Final Result

    David Sharfman defeats John Stolzmann two games to one and advances to 4-0.

    After the match, Sharfman explained that he wished he had main decked his blue instead of his red and his green. He got drawn in by Kuldotha Flamefiend and Burn the Impure –but Chancellor of the Spires, and Corrupted Conscience would have given him a lot of reach. As it is, Loxodon Skyhunter and Darksteel Axe are his primary routes to victory in game one.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 6 – Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Michael Jacob

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • When these two players were both members of the 2007 US National team -- which was captained by Luis "LSV" Scott-Vargas -- neither had yet made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour event. Since then they have both built upon the success of that event with Michael Jacob not only captaining the US team a year later but leading it to victory in the World Team Championships in Memphis. He also earned the first Pro Tour Top 8 of his career last season in Amsterdam.

    LSV has gone on to become one of the most famous Magic players in the game with the most recent of his four Pro Tour Top 8 appearances coming last weekend in Nagoya. Traveling back to the States and playing in a Grand Prix is tough even when you get to lay around all week overcoming jetlag. When you consider that LSV traveled to Seattle and saved the community from earning the booby prize Darksteel Relics in the Community Cup you can understand why he has taken on rock star status in the game.

    Game One

    Luis Scott-Vargas won the die roll and informed Jacob that he would be playing last.

    "All my opponent's have said that," frowned Jacob, who seemed perturbed that the cat was out of the bag that the Pros like to draw first in Sealed Deck matches -- not that he would have expected anything else from his opponent this round.

    "Beatdown," deadpanned Jacob as he led off the action, such that it was, with Mortarpod. He jokingly attacked with the 0/1 germ a turn later declaring "Here it comes." He played Viridian Emissary but no third land. "We did not just draw this."

    Scott-Vargas played Blinding Souleater on his third turn and chose not to block the unequipped Emissary when Jacob attacked a turn later.

    "Good choice," said Jacob who had still not drawn his third land. He equipped the Emissary with Mortarpod and passed the turn to LSV who paid four life and played Moltensteel Dragon.

    Jacob sacrificed the Emissary to do one damage to LSV and find an elusive Swamp. He was holding Go for the Throat and Parasitic Implant but had no throats or fourth land to make those possible. When Luis played Porcelain Legionnaire and Perilous Myr on the next turn it was enough to send Jacob to his sideboard.

    Game Two

    "Siding in artifact kill?" chuckled LSV as Jacob sifted through cards in his deck.

    "No, I wouldn't do that," said Jacob who was however siding in Beast Within, Tel Jilad Defiance and Viridian Revels.

    "The Most Perilous of Myrs," announced Jacob as LSV played the...well, you can figure out what he played. Jacob played Plague Stinger followed by Sylvok Replica came for LSV and an Ichorclaw Myr when the turn came back to Jacob.

    LSV was looking like a mono-artifact deck when he played Blinding Souleater -- he had not played a non-artifact creature yet in the match. Jacob attacked with both his infect creatures and LSV ultimately traded his Perilous Myr with Plague Stinger after a futile tussle with the Ichorclaw Myr. Luis untapped to play Viridian Corrupter in the hopes of killing the Ichorclaw.

    "Hold," announced Jacob while the creature was still a spell on the stack. He played Instill infection on his own Myr forcing LSV to eat his own Replica with the Corrupter. He untapped to play Contagion Clasp and whittling away at the Souleater.

    LSV began getting his poison on and attacked for two with Corrupter '' Jacob "cycled" Tel-Jilad Defiance at end of turn and played Phyrexian Hydra -- LSV used Gliss's Scorn to kill the Clasp at the end of the turn.

    He attacked for two more poison and played Peace Strider. He paid two life on his opponent's turn to use the tapper and hold the Hydra at bay. Jacob played Enslave on the tapper after combat. A turn later Jacob paid two life with the Souleater to tap the Peace Strider to bring LSV to 9 poison counters from the 7/7 Hydra. He showed LSV the Spread the Sickness which would proliferate the final counter onto the Berlin Champion and they moved on to the rubber game of the match.

    Game Three

    "You can play first," grinned LSV.

    "Thank you," said Jacob who went on to play Forests for the first three turns of the game. He played a fourth land -- a splashed Mountain -- and played Horizon Spellbomb but could only frown as LSV played Moltensteel Dragon. Jacob fetched up a Swamp at the end of the turn and played it and Asceticism.

    "Ooh you have one too?" said Jacob as Scott-Vargas played his own Phyrexian Hydra.

    "Probably not as good as yours," said LSV who had suddenly exposed some Throat for the first time in the match.

    Knowing the Asceticism meant it was safe from almost all removal , Jacob played Plague Stinger and Contagion Clasp on the dragon leaving mana up to regenerate the Stinger when it blocked the dragon. LSV had other plans however and played his third rare in three turns with Contagion Engine to swat the Stinger.

    "You have some cards," said the master of understatement but Jacob was only mostly dead. He was holding answers to the Engine and the Hydra with Go for the Throat and Beast Within. He played Emissary and passed the turn.

    Emissary blocked the Hydra and LSV pumped the dragon thee times. Jacob proliferated at the end of the turn to make the dragon a 2/2 and the Hydra 4/4. He then played Mortarpod and passed the turn back to LSV who took that opportunity to proliferate and then proliferate again. Jacob gave his opponent a 3/3 beast token and dismantled the Engine.

    Done with playing rares, LSV finished his opponent with a couple of uncommons. Bellowing Tanglewurm meant the beast token would be unblockable and a Piston Sledge ensured that it would be lethal.

    "Three rares, man!" declared Jacob who was now fully dead.

    Final result: Luis Scott-Vargas won two games to 1 over Michael Jacob to advance to 6-0 with three rounds to play.

     

  • Quick Question – New Phyrexia Draft Dilemma

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • There is something a philosophical debate about drafting that has been taking place among some of the biggest names in the game -- and squarely dividing two players who have dominated Limited events over the past couple of seasons. Ben Stark and Martin Juza were discussing which card you would first pick overall out of a pack which was headlined by Volt Charge and Pith Driller.

    At first glance it might seem clear that taking the instant speed red removal spell that has multiple synergies in this format would be a clear choice -- which is the side that Martin Juza falls on -- but Ben Stark strongly disagreed valuing the flexibility of the Pith Driller and the permanence of the -1/-1 counter. Juza did not challenge the flexibility of the Driller but did not feel that the pick was an open and shut case as Stark insisted it was.

    We decided to quickly grab a handful of opinions on the subject -- including the tempestuous duo at the heart of the debate. Which card would you pick first? See if these pros agree with your choice:

    Ben Stark

    Pith Driller; it is colorless and almost as good. It is not a close pick at all. You should just take Pith Driller. If you were to give them expected value ratings Volt Charge would be an 80 and Pith Driller would be a 70 but you can play Pith Driller 100% of the time. You should be able to play Volt Charge about 60% of the time. That makes it clearly better to take the Pith Driller.

    Brian Kibler

    Generally speaking I like the Volt Charge there. I think Pith Driller is good and the fact that the Pith Driller allows you to be any color is very good but the power level of Volt Charge is much higher. Pith Driller is very similar to a Blisterstick Shaman -- obviously better -- but power-level wise Volt Charge is just a better card.

    Michael Jacob

    I probably choose Pith Driller because I try to be only one color by the end of the pack. I don't want to commit to red on the first pick. I like to see if i get a fourth of fifth pick Suture Priest or Grim Affliction or some other signal.

    Luis Scott-Vargas

    I would take Pith Driller. I was even saying this back in Paris during Besieged. I will go a pretty long way -- especially in this format -- to stay open. The bombs in this format are just ridiculous and if you open Volition Reins, Carnifax Demon, Sunblast Angel, Corrupted Conscience, Massacre Wurm, or Black Sun's Zenith -- what have you -- I want to be able to pick that card and play it. So I want to stick as close as possible to one color with a light splash as possible. In Paris I 3-0'd a draft by staying mono-red in pack one while taking slightly less powerful cards and was rewarded by opening Sunblast Angel in pack two. That's why Pith Driller -- it doesn't lock you into any color.

    Yuuya Watanabe

    Easy, very easy. Pith Driller.

    Martin Juza

    Volt Charge is a very hard card to pass. It is just about how I feel. I could see myself taking either card -- at one of the GPs I Top 8'd I first picked a Memnite over Sky-Eel School. You can always have a reason for picking a card but sometimes you want to play the control cards over the aggressive cards. Today I would take the Volt Charge, tomorrow I might take Pith Driller. If I was drafting tomorrow I would actually be trying to draft the aggressive mono-white deck with 15 lands and Vault Skirges and Spined Thopter.

     

  • Feature Match: Round 7 – Edgar Flores versus Matt Nass

    by Steve Sadin
  • While he is yet to play at a Pro Tour, Edgar Flores has been making a name for himself on the Star City Games Open Series where he has been amongst the most dominant players on the circuit.

    Matt Nass kicked off his rookie year with a win at Grand Prix Oakland in February of 2010, and has been a fixture on the Pro Tour ever since.

    Game One

    Edgar Flores chose to draw first, but got off to a (relatively) fast start with a Vault Skirge, and a Spin Engine. Matt Nass's first play was a fourth turn Trigon of Infestation, and Nass further showed just how slow his draw was when he passed his fifth turn with no play – merely making a token when Flores attacked with his Spin Engine and his Vault Skirge. Flores spent a red to make the Insect token unable to block Spin Engine, and then Pith Drillered his opponent's token post-combat.

    A Turn to Slag took out Nass's Fangren Maurader and allowed Flores to attack his opponent down to 4. At this point, Nass needed to do something big if he was going to have any chance of staying in the game.

    An Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite seemed like it might do the trick as it left Flores with only an 0/2 Pith Driller… But a mere untap step after getting his board wiped Flores's Hoard-Smelter Dragon threatened to end things in a hurry.

    Nass paid two life, falling down to 2, so he could cast a Pith Driller of his own, and then followed it up with a Throne of Geth. Flores simply untapped and cast a Galvanic Blast to deal his opponent the final two points of damage.

    Edgar Flores 1 – Matt Nass 0

    Game Two

    After a bit of deliberation, Nass chose to play first in game two – a rarely seen decision in this Sealed format. Nass's turn two Copper Myr got Galvanic Blasted, but his Alloy Myr and his Tine Shrike were safe for a while.

    Edgar Flores

    Flores had a Sword of Feast and Famine, and a Parasitic Implant to (slowly) take out the Tine Shrike.

    Phyrexian Juggernaut came down for Nass, while Flores spent his turn equipping his Sword of Feast and Famine to his freshly generated myr token.

    Nass played an "off-color" Neurok Replica and attacked with his Phyrexian Juggernaut.

    Flores went to block his opponent's Phyrexian Juggernaut with his myr token (that was boosted by Sword of Feast and Famine), but before damage he cast a Grasp of Darkness to shrink the Phyrexian Juggernaut down to a 1/1. This would allow Flores's myr token to take out the Phyrexian Juggernaut and only have a single -1/-1 counter to show for it… Only Alloy Myr allowed Nass to activate his Neurok Replica, keeping his Phyrexian Juggernaut alive and leaving Flores with a creatureless board and a bunch of regrets.

    Spikeshot Elder picked up the Sword of Feast and Famine and traded with Phyrexian Juggernaut.

    Flores passed his next turn with no play, at which point Nass drew a Putrefax that was more than enough to poison Flores to death.

    Edgar Flores 1 – Matt Nass 1

    Game Three

    Flores chose to draw first, and both players began with a mulligan to six.

    Nass cast a turn three Priests of Norn and followed it up with a turn four Copper Myr (but no land) that fell at the hands of Volt Charge. Flores then went on the offensive with a Slash Panther.

    Matt Nass

    Nass was still stuck on three lands when he cast an Alloy Myr, that promptly got Spread the Sicknessed, allowing Flores to attack in for 4 more points of uncontested damage.

    Nass thumbed at an Arrest for a while, but ultimately passed his next turn with no play – falling to 8 from another Slash Panther attack. Post-combat, Flores cast a Sangromancer and Spikeshot Elder, prompting Nass to let out an audible sigh.

    Arrest locked down Sangromancer, but that was nowhere near enough to stem the bleeding as Flores's Grasp of Darkness took out Priests of Norn. An attack with Slash Panther and Spikeshot Elder left Nass on three.

    A blank draw later and Flores had advanced to a perfect 7-0 record, locking up his day two berth and putting him well on his way to earning his first Pro Tour invite.

    Final result: Edgar Flores 2 – Matt Nass 1

     

  • Feature Match: Round 9 – Owen Turtenwald vs. Josh Utter-Leyton

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • This was what we call in the coverage business as a "bubble match". The victor of the final round of Day One would advance for Day Two while the loser will have to root for celestial alignment to squeeze into Day Two if there are fewer than 128 players with 7-2 records. Neither player was very happy with their deck but they were hoping to limp into the draft rounds where they could exert a little bit more control over their destiny.

    Josh Utter-Leyton is the reigning US National Champion and was coming off a Top 32 finish at Pro Tour Paris. He has become much more familiar with the cushy top tables of late than the much less cramped quarters by the membrane between draft one tomorrow and playing in side events on Sunday.

    If it is an unusual predicament for Utter-Leyton than it would must have been like waking up on an alien landscape for Owen who has picked up the nickname X-n-Owen for his string of perfect Day One finishes -- not to mention going 5 for 5 thus far this season in reaching the Top 8 of Grand Prix he has played in this year.

    Game One

    Leaden Myr kicked things off for Turtenwald while Utter-Leyton had Vulshok Replica for turn three on the play. Need I add that he lost the die roll? Players choosing to kick things off has certainly been the exception to the rule this weekend.

    Turtenwald played turn three Necrotic Ooze while Utter-Leyton played Trigon of Corruption. Turtenwalk dug into his deck with Phyrexian Rager and came up with Leeching Bite to kill the Replica and get in for five with his Ooze.

    Utter-Leyton played Sylvok Replica and killed the Leaden Myr with the Trigon. When Owen played a mountain Utter-Leyton looked at the Vulshok Replica in his bin and the Ooze on Turtenwald's side of the board and asked hopefully: "Three to me?"

    "Thanks for the reminder," laughed Turtenwald who played Parasitic Implant on Sylvok Replica. Utter-Leyton attacked for one and then used Artillerize to kill the Ooze. With the Sylvok Replica in the bin as part of the cost to play the Artillerize, Turtenwald was able the ooze to kill the Trigon, which in turn put a -1/-1 counter on the Rager. Whew!

    Owen Turtenwald

    Turtenwald regrouped with Sickleslicer while Utter-Leyton played Corrupted Harvester. The two players traded marginal creatures for a couple of turns until Owen had the last guy standing -- a Pith Driller -- and was able to attack for the last two points of damage. Utter-Leyton joked that he was hoping Turtenwald would not see the kill.

    "No free wins at the Grand Prix," laughed Turtenwald. "I see all the plays. That's how you get to be X-2!"

    Game Two

    Both players went deep into their sideboards for game two with obvious major overhauls after each game one while someone waiting for a friend to be done played what had to be Angry Birds while camped out at the Spell Slingers station.

    "Beat him at Angry Birds and get a Squadron Hawk," joked Turtenwald.

    The two players traded creatures and removals with Utter-Leyton killing Sabreclaw Golem with Oxidda Scrapmelter, then Turn to Slag on Fangren Marauder, and Sylvok Replica taking down Turtenwald's Pith Driller. Things took a turn for the awkward when Turtenwald played Thopter Assembly with a cackle: "So... A Replica, a Scrapmelter and a Turn to Slag later..."

    Utter-Leyton attacked Turtenwald down to 7 and then drew two cards with his Moriok Replica.

    "Can I get an Artillerize?" asked Owen as Utter-Leyton drew his cards, which included an Artillerize that killed the Assembly before it came online and left him standing but without any board presence.

    Turtenwald got back in the game with Rot Wolf regrowing from a Corpse Cur. Utter-Leyton looked to be safely ensconced behind a Maul Splicer but Turtenwald made it a lonely 1/1 with Scrapmelter and Corrupter picking off its buddies. He attacked for four poison. Utter-Leyton took out the Wolf with Pith Driller and Blisterstick Shaman and let them tussle with the two infect creatures. Just the 0/2 Pith Driller and Maul Splicer were left standing for Utter-Leyton but he played Blind Zealot.

    Turtenwald attacked with the Scrapmelter and Rotted Hystrix he had cast the turn previous and Utter-Leyton chumped them both. Josh attacked Owen down to five with his Zealot and Morbid Plundered back Koth's Courier and Maul Spicer. Geth's Verdict took down the Scrapmelter and Owen fell to two from the Zealot. He conceded in the face of Splicer and the inevitable two damage from the Zealot.

    Game Three

    It was back to drawing board for Owen possibly wanting creatures that can block a Zealot as he brought his black back in. For the third time in the match the player with choice chose to draw and Utter-Leyton led off the action on turn three with Vulshok Replica. His Kiln Walker got Dismembered and the Replica was Pith Drilled.

    Josh Utter-Leyton

    Utter-Leyton played Trigon of Corruption and Turtenwald chuckled as he untapped to play Melira's Keepers which could not be corrupted by the Trigon. Utter-Leyton played Moriok Relica and used it to draw two cards after blocking the Keepers. Turtenwald added Necrotic Ooze to the board.

    Utter-Leyton played Scrapmelter on the Pith Driller but he was getting beaten up by the Keeper. Owen played Despise: "Let's see that Maul Splicer."

    He did see it along with Sylvok Replica and Blind Zealot but with Morbid plunder for good measure. He took the Splicer anyway and Utter Leyton played the remaining creatures from his hand on his next turn. Owen played Spread the Sickness on the Melter and with Josh having no good way to block a four toughness creature, attacked with Keepers and left his Ooze back.

    Utter-Leyton was finally able to sneak a Blind Zealot through -- with a Spellbomb and a couple of Trigon activations -- and the Zealot took down the Keepers. He played Morbid Plunder to get back Maul Splicer and Scrapmelter. Owen finally drew a Mountain and was able to play his own Scrapmelter to take out the Sylvok Replica and get in for enough damage that he was able to finish Utter-Leyton off with the long-ago prophesied play of sacrificing his Necrotic Ooze with the ability from Vulshok Replica for the last points of damage.

    Final result: Owen Turtenwalk limped into Day Two in three games while Josh Utter-Leyton was left to salve his wounds on Sunday with BBQ sauce.

     

  • Saturday, 9:59 p.m. – Sealed Deck Deconstruction

    by Steve Sadin
  • When we do a Sealed Deck walkthrough at a Grand Prix, we'll usually find a player during the deck-building period and go through each of his or her decisions as he or she makes them. When we do this we have to hide the player's identity, or else reveal his or her exact decklist to a room full of smart phone wielding opponents. Even if we are able to successfully hide the player's identity until after the day's Sealed play is done, we're still left hoping that the player will have some interesting decisions and that he or she will manage to perform well enough in the event for it to be worth reading about.

    This time, we decided to do something different. Instead of doing a Sealed Deck walkthrough with a player during the deck-building period, we decided to sit down with a 9-0 player and deconstruct the choices that he made when building his Sealed Deck. With the power of hindsight, that player would be better able to identify mistakes that he made, as well as some of the choices that he felt were key to his victory.

    Edgar Flores, one of the top players to come out of the Star City Open Series, is playing in only his second limited event since Grand Prix Nashville this weekend. Flores's relative lack of experience in limited didn't seem to hinder him, as he was able to finish Day One of Grand Prix Kansas City with a flawless 9-0 record.

    When Flores sat down this morning he opened up the following Sealed Pool.

    Sealed Pool

    1 Soul Parry
    1 Whitesun's Passage
    1 Bonds of Quicksilver
    1 Halt Order
    1 Lumengrid Drake
    1 Turn Aside
    1 Vault Skyward
    1 Vedalken Certarch
    1 Flesh Allergy
    1 Grasp of Darkness
    1 Embersmith
    1 Ferrovore
    1 Galvanic Blast
    1 Hoard-Smelter Dragon
    1 Spikeshot Elder
    1 Turn to Slag
    1 Ezuri's Archers
    1 Lifesmith
    1 Tel-Jilad Defiance
    1 Chrome Steed
    1 Clone Shell
    1 Glint Hawk Idol
    2 Neurok Replica
    1 Panic Spellbomb
    1 Trigon of Rage
    1 Vector Asp
    1 Vulshok Replica
    1 Ardent Recruit
    1 Divine Offering
    1 Kemba's Legion
    1 Tine Shrike
    1 Corrupted Conscience
    1 Quicksilver Geyser
    1 Caustic Hound
    1 Flensermite
    1 Horrifying Revelations
    1 Morbid Plunder
    1 Sangromancer
    1 Spread the Sickness
    1 Metallic Mastery
    1 Rally the Forces
    1 Fangren Marauder
    1 Tangle Mantis
    1 Unnatural Predation
    1 Viridian Emissary
    1 Phyrexian Digester
    1 Plague Myr
    1 Rusted Slasher
    2 Shriekhorn
    1 Signal Pest
    1 Spin Engine
    1 Sword of Feast and Famine
    1 Training Drone
    1 Viridian Claw
    1 Master Splicer
    1 Remember the Fallen
    1 Shriek Raptor
    1 Arm with Aether
    1 Defensive Stance
    1 Gitaxian Probe
    1 Impaler Shrike
    1 Mental Misstep
    1 Numbing Dose
    1 Evil Presence
    1 Parasitic Implant
    1 Pith Driller
    1 Praetor's Grasp
    1 Vault Skirge
    1 Fallen Ferromancer
    1 Moltensteel Dragon
    1 Ruthless Invasion
    1 Slash Panther
    1 Victorious Destruction
    1 Volt Charge
    1 Glissa's Scorn
    1 Viridian Betrayers
    1 Hovermyr
    1 Mycosynth Wellspring
    1 Pestilent Souleater
    1 Phyrexian Hulk
    1 Shrine of Limitless Power
    1 Sickleslicer

    Ready to see what Edgar Flores built?

    After only a cursory glance at his pool, Edgar Flores knew what colors he would be playing.

    "When I sat down and looked at my pool I knew that I just had to play Red-Black because, well, it was insane. I stayed Red-Black the whole day, even though I had some good white and blue cards – I never felt like there was any reason for me to splash."

    Edgar Flores

    Despite opening such a powerful pool, Flores felt that he had made some mistakes when building his deck.

    "My deck was really strong, but I think that I misbuilt it a little bit. I had the option between going aggro, or building a dedicated control deck and I decided to go aggro because that's my style. After I would beat my opponents with my aggro deck game one, I would board into a control deck.

    "If I could start over, I would have cut Vault Skirge, Plague Myr, Viridian Claw and Chrome Seed for Morbid Plunder, Parasitic Implant, Victorious Destruction, and Phyrexian Hulk. I made those swaps pretty much every game, and I would also bring in cards like Flesh Allergy if my opponent was playing a lot of big green creatures."

    When asked about what his keys to success were, Flores was quick to thank his bombs and his removal spells.

    "This deck was insane. It was easily the best pool that I've ever opened. I had nine removal spells, so I could deal with any bombs my opponents played and I had a bunch of bombs of my own. It's hard for players to beat one rare, let alone six of them.

    "My rares were all great for me. My dragons were obviously amazing, and Sangromancer was even better than I thought he would be. I won a bunch of games with Spikeshot Elder – anytime I equipped it and my opponent didn't have a removal spell I would just win.

    "Praetor's Grasp was absurd too. I took Carnifex Demon, Mimic Vat, Oxidda Scrapmelter, Steel Hellkite, and one time I took a Dismember. My opponent was so surprised when I Dismembered his guy, he definitely thought I was going to take one of his bombs."

    Before ending the interview, Flores made sure to point out just how crucial Slash Panther was for him.

    "I know that a lot of people don't like it, but Slash Panther was really good for me – especially when people are choosing to draw first. A four power haste creature can do a lot of damage really fast, especially with all of my removal spells."

    "Hopefully I'll be able to keep winning tomorrow. I think I'm pretty good at this Draft format, but I haven't gotten to do as many practice Drafts as I would have liked to. I've been really busy playing Standard and Legacy at Star City Open tournaments, and since those are almost every weekend I usually only spend about three days at home each week."

    Edgar Flores has proven week in and week out at the Star City Open series that he is a force to be reckoned with, racking up countless Top 8s and multiple trophies. Will this be the weekend where Flores earns his first Grand Prix Top 8, or will he run into trouble during the drafts tomorrow – forcing him to wait a little bit longer before he qualifies for his first Pro Tour?

    You'll have to follow along with the coverage tomorrow to find out!

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