Grand Prix–Oakland: Day 1 Blog

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Day one of the 2010 season is over, and 96 players will be back tomorrow for six more rounds before the cut to Top 8. Three players have a perfect record. Level 4 Pro Adam Yurchick took full advantage of his three byes to head the field. Joby Parrish derived his 9-0 record off two byes, while Matt Nass, qualified for San Diego and part of the Channel Fireball squad, made it to the top of the heap off just a single bye. Alone in fourth place, John-Paul Kelly also goes into day two undefeated, on 25 points.

Plenty of big names loom large in their rearview mirrors, including Level 8s Martin Juza, Kazuya Mitamura, and Tomoharu Saitou. Also on a solitary defeat are Matej Zatlkaj, Gerry Thompson, Cedric Phillips, and a man with an extremely tasty deck, Petr Brozek of the Czech Republic. With another twenty or so Pros still live, day two is shaping up to be a high quality affair, packed with mouth-watering matchups. Join us again for all the day two action!



Follow live streaming video coverage of Grand Prix–Oakland at ggslive.com with Rashad Miller, Ray Punzalan, and Ben Swartz.
EVENT COVERAGE

 

  • Saturday, 12:54 p.m. – The Pros Come to Town
    by Rich Hagon
  • Robert van Medevoort
    Grand Prix Oakland marks the opening salvo in the 2010 Player of the Year Race. Many Pros look to the first few events to define their season. A strong start, and they push the button on a full global schedule of Grand Prix and Pro Tours. A couple of failures, and they start looking more critically at their future starts.

    That’s just one reason why many Pros have travelled here. Another, and equally compelling, is the new scheduling which sees a Grand Prix immediately preceding each Pro Tour. In May, players can experience the delights of Washington DC before heading to San Juan. In September, Grand Prix Goteborg is the precursor to Pro Tour Amsterdam.

    Here, Grand Prix Oakland is the appetizer before the Pro Tour San Diego main event next week. With Grand Prix Madrid hot on their heels, this opening leg of the 2010 season covers four major Formats in a little over two weeks – a true examination for the aspiring Player of the Year.

    Even my limited geography tells me that Oakland and San Diego are kind of close together in global terms, and this has contributed to a huge swathe of Pros making this their stopping-off point en route for the PT.

    Heading the list of global superstars are the Level 8s, at the pinnacle of the game. With only Gabriel Nassif missing from last year’s pacesetters, we can expect to see plenty of the usual suspects riding high. With the exception of the extremely local Luis Scott-Vargas, the others have travelled plenty of miles to be here. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa came here early to test with Luis and crew, while the Japanese squad includes the Level 8 quartet of Kazuya Mitamura, Tomoharu Saitou, Shuhei Nakamura, and Yuuya Watanabe. And yes, that’s the last three Player of the Year winners right there.

    Yuuya Watanabe
    Martin Juza heads a strong European contingent that seems to have vindicated the scheduling decision to run Oakland and San Diego on consecutive weekends. Rookie of the Year Lino Burgold is joined by countrymen Sabastian Thaler, and Jan Ruess. For the Netherlands, the whole Worlds Top 4 team is reuninted – Niels Noorlander, Tom van Lamoen, and National Champion Kevin Grove. Longtime stalwarts Bram Snepvangers and Robert van Medevoort have also made this the first of a double header.

    The French have sent a strong presence here, with Level 6 Olivier Ruel looking at the possibility of overtaking Kai Budde as the all-time leader for lifetime Pro Points. Raphael Levy remains one of the most consistent players on the Tour, and has a world-leading 66 Pro Tours to his name, while Yann Massicard has already won a North American Grand Prix victory, emerging triumphant at Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma last year.

    Alongside Martin Juza, Lucas Blohon (Lvl 5), Michal Hebky (Lvl 6), and Adam Koska (Lvl 3) will look to build on the burgeoning reputation of the Czech Republic, while Matej Zatlkaj (Lvl 5) represents near neighbor the Slovak Republic.

    Yann Massicard
    Of course, even the strongest foreign contingent is dwarfed by the home team, and there are plenty of compelling storylines ahead among the US Pros. After a stellar 2009 that included a famous victory at Pro Tour Austin last October, Brian Kibler begins 2010 with a handy Level 7 next to his name, an ideal position to launch an assault on Player of the Year. Kibler won his first Grand Prix all the way back in 1997, but there’s plenty to be excited about among the current crop of emerging talent.

    Two names in particular catch the eye. Brad Nelson has built a huge reputation through his Magic Online exploits, and missed out on the Top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu last year by the narrowest of margins. He begins his first full season on Tour this year, and hopes and expectations are high. The same is true for Level 6 Conley Woods, the daring and innovative deck designer who also has ambitions of toppling the Japanese from their grip on the Player of the Year Trophy, a title they last failed to claim in the 2003-4 season, defeated by future Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif.

    So, it’s Standard and Draft to come next week, but right now it’s all about Extended. With a field packed with this many of the best in the game, making a mark is going to be tough. And that’s one of the many reasons we play this very special game. Let the 2010 Season commence!

     

  • Saturday, 2:06 p.m. – Dealing the Cards in Oakland
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • You can usually tell a lot about a metagame by the cards that are selling at the dealer’s tables. While the judges were collecting decklists at the start of round one -- and everyone’s starting 75 cards were locked into place -- I took advantage of the lull in traffic to catch up with the guys manning the bazaar of Magic singles to see if any unexpected cards were being sought out by players. The first two cards that every dealer mentioned epitomized the struggle between what are sure to be two of the most popular decks the weekend.

    With many Magic strategy writers advocating Damping Matrix as an answer to Dark Depths and Thopter Foundy the dealers had all stocked up on the Mirrodon artifact. It was the most named card when the dealers were polled about what cards were hot this weekend. Three mana may seem like a lot for an answer in a format known for its turn two combos but decks like Zoo, Bant and even All-In Red are capable of power it out on turn two. How effective this card is over the weekend will certainly have a major impact on the remaining PTQs this season.

    One card that almost none of the dealers were prepared for was Exile into Darkness, an uncommon from Saviors of Kamigawa that is showing up in many of the Pros sideboards of Dark Depths as a way to combat the Zoo decks that have seemingly gained the upper hand on them over the past few weeks. After sideboarding you can expect many of the Thopter/Depths combo decks to go to a more control oriented plan that includes Gifts Ungiven into an Abyss-like midgame with Exile into Darkness. Many decks are running only one copy of the spell that they can get online with Gifts Ungiven. It will come back to hand from the graveyard each turn if that player has more cards in hand but let’s face it -- a player casting Gifts is always going to have more cards in hand than a Zoo player. Another addition to many of the Thopter Depths deck is Phyrexian Arena, which players were scrambling for this morning.

    One of the big stories in the Magic community has been the constant demand for Tarmogoyf and all the dealers here were prominently featuring the card on their buy lists. At least one player made an audible when he saw a sign at the dealer’s table. "Wow. I was going to play this deck but..." said the player as he desleeved four Tarmogoyf from his Zoo deck. "...here buy these. I will play something else."

    Another card that was doing very well for the dealers was Lava Spike -- a perennial best seller as far as commons go. With dealers buying the promo version of Umezawa’s Jitte that was given away with tournament entry, burn players had a very low barrier to entry in terms of the cost to play in the event or to buy the last burn spell or Spark Elemental they needed to round out their list.

    Worldwake cards that were selling well included Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Loam Lion -- already a staple in many of the aggro Zoo lists -- but the common spell lands Bojuka Bog and Sejiri Steppe. Zoo players liked having the option of being able to "tutor" up those spells with Knight of the Reliquary. Stoneforge Mystic was a card that a handful of people were looking for at the last minute. Perhaps they saw Jonathan Loucks playing in the Grand Prix Trial last night with his Project X build. When you tutor up Sword of Fire and Ice at the end of your opponent’s turn with Chord of Calling you tend to draw a little attention.

    Dealers mentioned selling small handfuls of Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Aven Mindcensor, Ghostly Prison, and Shadow of Doubt but all said there was no runaway last minute card aside from Exile into Darkness. Not that they were complaining mind you, I saw plenty of Legacy and Vintage cards changing hands at the dealer tables. Dealers were happy to fill out players unfinished decks with that last one-of Ravnica land for Zoo or that last fetchland from Zendikar all morning long but they all noted that the MTGO PTQs have changed the level of preparedness -- and metagame awareness -- that players have coming into an event like this.

     

  • Feature Match Round 3 – Jonathon Loucks vs. Cameron Contreras
    by Rich Hagon
  • Heeeeeelllllpppppp!

    Cameron Contreras
    So, here’s the thing – Extended can be a very simple affair. I know what Affinity does. I know what All-In Red does. I even know, kinda, what Elves does. Do. Whatever.

    What I don’t know is what Jonathon Loucks’ deck does, so this won’t exactly be a conventional Feature Match report. Instead, we’ll see what we can learn as we see the deck in action.

    Loucks opened with a Snow-Covered Forest into Birds of Paradise. Contreras replied with Thoughtseize and found Reveillark, Chord of Calling, Eternal Witness, Sunpetal Grove and Gifts Ungiven. The Eternal Witness hit the bin, and it was back to the Seattle man Loucks, who dropped Overgrown Tomb without taking damage.

    Cameron brought out the first Hall of Famer of 2010, laying Bob Maher’s Invitational Card, the standout Dark Confidant, following that up with Knight of the Reliquary, leaving Jonathan to cast Gifts Ungiven at end of turn. What would he choose?

    Mirror Entity
    Body Double
    Venser, Shaper Savant
    Makeshift Mannequin

    Mirror Entity and Venser went to hand, a choice Cameron didn’t like. Using the Birds of Paradise, Jonathan ran out Reveillark, and passed the turn. After laying a Qasali Pridemage, Cameron ran his Dark Confidant into Reveillark, and with the trigger on the stack Cameron activated his Knight of the Reliquary, finding Worldwake land Bojuka Bog, emptying Jonathan’s graveyard. He completed what seemed like an excellent turn with Tarmagoyf.

    Kitchen Finks and Mirror Entity joined the board for Loucks, and Tidehollow Sculler from Cameron removed Chord of Calling, leaving just Venser in hand. Smother, another card getting an airing in Worldwake, offed the Mirror Entity, and Cameron brought down Doran, the Siege Tower. Suddenly a ton of damage was coming at Jonathan, with Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, Qasali Pridemage and Treetop Village. Venser Flashed its way onto the battlefield, bouncing the Tidehollow Sculler and sending Chord of Calling back to Jonathan’s hand.

    First seen back in Mirage, but now here thanks to the Time Spiral / Time Shifted set, Wall of Roots arrived for Jonathan, and thanks to Cameron’s Doran, that would deal five damage. Tidehollow Sculler was the cue for Loucks to cast Chord of Calling for two, and a second Wall of Roots hit the board.

    The life totals stood at thirteen to nine in Cameron’s favor, thanks in part to a freshly-laid Kitchen Finks. Smash came the team, and the Walls of Roots went into blocking mode. Doran dropped Jonathan to four, and it was hard to see how he could survive another attack. So hard to see, that he couldn’t see one either, because there wasn’t one. Contreras 1 Loucks 0.

    Hmm.

    I could be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure that went according to plan for Jonathan. We’ll ask him afterwards.

    Sunpetal Grove led for Loucks in Game 2, and Cameron wasted no time in checking out his hand via Duress. Two Bant Charms, Wall of Roots, Loxodon Hierarch, Path to Exile, and a land sat there, and one of the Bant Charms went away.

    Contreras watches Loucks in action
    Jonathan ran out Wall of Roots turn two, but Cameron wasn’t done messing with his hand, using Tidehollow Sculler to take the second Bant Charm away. A counter landed on the Wall of Roots, enabling Loucks to bring out Loxodon Hierarch, sending him to twenty-three life. Contreras imprinted an Eternal Witness on his Chrome Mox, and sent Knight of the Reliquary to join the fray.

    Loucks’ next attack dropped Contreras to eleven, who was unwilling to tangle with the 4/4 Elephant at this stage. Another Wall of Roots arrived for Loucks, and Path to Exile sent the Knight packing. Cameron had a second Knight ready for action, but Loucks was again able to send the doughty Hierarch, putting his opponent to just seven life. He added Reveillark to increase the pressure, but Path to Exile from Cameron saw it quickly and summarily vanquished. Tarmagoyf came next for Cameron, who seemed relaxed in front of a decent crowd of interested spectators.

    A fully paid-up Mulldrifter joined the party for Loucks, while Cameron continued the process of packing his graveyard with lands to power the Knight of the Reliquary. In came the Knight as a 5/5, and Loucks, at a healthy twenty-three, took five willingly. His Mulldrifter found no opposition, and Contreras fell to a less healthy five. Qasali Pridemage seemed to make little difference, although Exalted meant Tarmagoyf attacked as a 4/5. Picking up his pencil, Jonathan again made no blocks, and fell to thirteen.

    Once again, Gifts Ungiven arrived at end of turn. Would the cards be the same? They would not:

    Reveillark
    Path to Exile
    Chord of Calling
    Gifts Ungiven

    Reveillark and Gifts Ungiven went into Jonathan’s hand, and he got to cast a second Gifts straight away, still at the end of Cameron’s turn. Here we go again:

    Sword of Fire and Ice
    Chord of Calling
    Path to Exile
    Bant Charm

    This time, Cameron let Jonathan have Chord of Calling, along with Bant Charm. Now, with nine mana available, we might see some serious chicanery. But no. Mulldrifter attacked for two, dropping Cameron to three, and that was the turn done. Bojuka Bog eliminated Loucks’ graveyard from the equation, but when Cameron attacked with Tarmogoyf, Jonathan used Bant Charm to send it to the bottom. Now looking in complete control, he cast Chord of Calling, searching up a Mulldrifter, and closed the game out with both flyers going to the dome.

    1-1.

    That was all she wrote, because those two games had taken a while. They’d fought each other to a standstill, but there was still time to find out, to use a technical term, what the hell Jonathan’s deck actually does. Ever the helpful mage, he explained:

    "There are two different combos in the deck. There’s Mirror Entity, Reveillark, and Body Double, so you can gain infinite life with Essence Warden or Kitchen Finks, or you can bounce all their permanents with Venser. The other combo is Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt Champion, which is another infinite lifegain combo. Otherwise, I just use Gifts Ungivenand Reveillark to get the advantage."

    Gifts always strikes me as a particularly hard deck to play, but one with huge rewards if you can pilot it properly.

    "I’ve been playing Gifts for a long time, and on the planeride over, Gavin Verhey pointed me towards this list. The main addition for me is that I realized how important it could be that Birds of Paradise can block Marit Lage. I was able to beat turn one Duress, turn two Marit Lage. That’s not easy, but with Saffi I could get the Birds back, and I was able to just keep making blockers and work my way out of it. And then I gained infinite life."

    With twenty one points needed to advance, this draw does little to help either player, but if Loucks can get through day one, at least we’ll know a bit more for next time.

    My head hurts.

    Cameron Contreras 1 Jonathan Loucks 1.

     

  • Saturday, 4:18 p.m. - Kasey Koerber’s Super Scary Bus Ride

    by Rich Hagon
  • Kasey Koncentrates

    Meeting new friends is one of the best experiences you can have at a Magic event. A couple of weeks ago, I got to spend the day gunslinging at the Seattle Pre-Release, and met a ton of great guys, including one Kasey Koerber, about whom you may correctly surmise this article relates. After a fun game of Worldwake-inspired Sealed deckery, I asked whether KK would be making it down to Oakland for the GP, and received a sad, but definite, no.

    Cut to late last night, when a certain Mr. Koerber comes up and re-introduces himself. "But you said you weren’t coming" I utter, originally. "Ah, but that was before last weekend.." The plot thickens. Take it away, Kasey:

    "I started playing casually with a group of friends around Ravnica, but I’ve only been playing competitively for about a year. My first ever Grand Prix was in Seattle-Tacoma last year, and I got destroyed. I went 0-2 drop, then lost in a bunch of side events, and ended up losing over 100 ranking points. But it was still a great weekend. So last weekend, I was staying over with my friend Josh Marks, and he pointed out that there was a Grand Prix Trial the next day. I have a Mystical Teachings deck that I really like, and I went 5-1-2 with it at a recent PTQ, so it seemed like a fun day out."

    Kasey wound up with the three byes, but that’s where the problems started.

    Josh Monks. Notice the bags under the eyes.

    "I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen, or find the money. So I talked to my Dad, and explained that it would be a real waste of the opportunity if I didn’t go. I could only take one day off school (Kasey’s a Junior at High School right now), and the flight to do that was going to be $400. There had to be another way."

    And there was. A bus ride. A TWENTY-TWO HOUR bus ride.

    "I don’t really get to sleep on these things, but I wasn’t travelling alone. My buddy Josh came along for the ride, and we spent most of it watching movies on my ipod."

    At the time of writing, Kasey lost his opening match, but however long his ride in the event lasts, it’s a good bet that it won’t be as long as the ride home. His plans for those oh-so-exciting twenty-two hours in reverse?

    "More movies."

     

  • Feature Match Round 4 - Martin Juza vs. Tomoharu Saito
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • For most of the players in this event the 2010 season started with Round One today but for the players with high ratings, Grand Prix Trial victories, and Pro Points the season started in Round Four. With both players in this match having attained the elite Level 8 status last year you could almost expect them to have had four byes instead of three. Martin Juza is the Czech player who has rocketed onto the Pro Tour scene over the past two seasons with a pair of Pro Tour Top 8s, countless money finishes, and was a dominating fixture on the Grand Prix circuit last season. He finished third in the Player of the Year race last season after racing with Yuuya Watanabe down the stretch. He was passed at the last minute by his first opponent of the 2010 season to "only" finish third in the race and reap all the benefits the Level 8 affords.

    Tomoharu Saito is two seasons removed from winning the Player of the Year title and should be a lock for Hall of Fame induction this year. Saito’s push in last year’s race was fueled largely by back to back Grand Prix wins, playing Zoo decks that he would finely tune from event to event. As soon as the Feature Match was announced spectators began gathering around the table to get a glimpse at what adjustments Saito had made to the deck in light of the recent results in Extended and with the addition of Worldwake.

    Game 1

    When I asked Juza yesterday if he had anything spicy for the format he just sighed. He knew he was going to be playing the Dark Depths/Thopter Foundry deck that Gerry Thompson had popularized and had become the favorite among the Pro set. While he was looking forward to San Diego -- and has repeatedly predicted victory for himself in that event -- he was not looking excited about his deck for this event and the inevitable mirrors and Zoo match-ups.

    When Saito led off with Gemstone Mine it was quite a shock for Juza who clearly expected the Japanese player to be sporting Zoo.

    "What?" asked the wide-eyed Juza as he found himself not looking across the table at a one-drop creature. "Whaaaat?"

    "I don’t have Nacatl," grinned an impish Saito. "Go."

    While Saito did have a Zoo deck in his bag, sleeved up and ready to go, he chose to play Hypergenesis this weekend instead. He liked the deck -- he liked both decks -- but was hoping he could gain a small edge over players expecting him to be playing Zoo and keeping hands that would be good for that matchup. I don’t know if he gained any edge over Martin Juza but he certainly caught him by surprise.

    On turn three Saito reached for his deck and slowly asked, "Draw?" fully expecting -- or perhaps just hoping -- to be on the receiving end of a Vendilion Clique -- Juza had imprinted a Chrome Mox on his own turn. Saito played Ardent Plea into Hypergenesis only to have the suspend spell countered by Muddle the Mixture. Juza attacked with a token he had been given from Saito’s Forbidden Orchard and dug into his deck with Thirst for Knowledge, dumping two lands.

    Shuhei copies his Progenitus with Sakashima the Imposter

    "Card in hand?" asked Saito as he played out his turn in pantomime before playing another Ardent Plea into Hypergenesis. Juza had been holding four cards. As Saito flipped through his deck he revealed Terastodon to be in the mix of his version of the deck.

    "Can I see that card?" asked Juza.

    "It's very good," assured the impatient Saito who wanted to get down to the business of putting permanents into play. "I am first -- Progenitus."

    "Sweet," sighed Juza who only put an Urborg into play.

    Sakashima the Impostor was up next for Saito prompting Juza to read the card.

    "Wha-aaaat?"

    "I have a 10/10 protection from everything Sakashima," Saito said by way of explanation.

    Juza put Dark Depths and Thopter Foundry into play around a pass from Saito. Saito finally put Bogarden Hellkite into play before both players passed. Saito thought about his enters the battlefield effects and finally decided to just do five points to Juza and was not worried about killing the token, which could neither attack nor block anything on his side of the table.

    Juza went into the tank at the end of Saito’s turn trying to figure out if he had any outs. There was one card left in his hand -- Muddle the Mixture. In the end he decided to jokingly remove one counter from his Dark Depths. He drew a card, smirked, and conceded the game.

    Game 2

    Juza played a turn two Hexmage and beat down with it a turn later while Saito, who had mulliganed, played Tendo Ice Bridge and a storage land. Saito had the Plea all lined up for the next turn but was looking at untapped Muddle mana on Juza’s side of the table. He played his land and passed the turn. Now it was Juza’s turn to debate the merits of doing something or standing pat with untapped lands. He attacked with his Hexmage and stared at his hand of cards with a deep sigh. Saito -- a brisk and impatient player -- began to get nervous about time. When Juza passed the turn Saito played Thirst for Knowledge. Saito ditched Oblivion Ring and Simian Spirit Guide. he untapped and passed the turn with no play.

    Neither player wanted to be the first person to blink and they stared at each other while Juza beatdown with his Hexmage and a denizen of the Forbidden Orchard. It was not a terribly fast beatdown but Saito was down to 13 and passed the turn prepared to drop to 10. Thoughtsieze from Juza revealed a hand with Ardent Plea, Progenitus, Angel of Despair, Bogarden Hellkite, Ingot Chewer and Simian Spirit Guide -- he took the Plea. With the coast presumably clear, he played Beseech the Queen for Dark Depths, played it, and promptly used hisHexmageto summon Marit Lage.

    Juza could only roll his eyes as Saito ripped Violent Outburst and flipped past 27 cards until he hit the Hypergenisis. Saito deployed his entire squad while Juza put aHexmageon the board. Saito killed a Sunken Ruin, pinged the Hexmage and did four to Juza. Juza attacked with the token and the Hellkite took one -- or twenty -- for the team. On Saito’s draw step Juza used Extirpate for Oblivion Ring and saw Terastodon in hand. He then showed Saito the Echoing Truth he was holding. He explained that he would block the Chewer on the ground with his token, bounce the Angel, and win the next turn. Saito nodded, "My mistake." Had he pinged the token it would have allowed the three extra damage from the Chewer to get through and he could have gotten in for exactly 15.

    Game 3

    Martin Juza
    Juza led off with a turn one Thoughtsieze that revealed a hand with Ardent Plea, Violent Outburst, Thirst for Knowledge, Hypergeneis, and Bogarden Hellkite with one land. After some thought, Juza decided to take the Hellkite and leave Saito with no exciting permanents to put in play. Juza Beseeched the Queen on turn two -- after imprinting another on his Chrome Mox. He found and played Chalice of the Void set to zero. Thirst for Knowledge from Saito resulted in him ditching Hypergenesis and Ardent Plea.

    Another Beseech the Queen from Juza got aHexmageto go with his Dark Depths that was already in play. Having tapped out to Beseech he could not play it yet. Saito went back to the well for another Thirst for Knowledge at the end of Juza’s turn. He needed to find Ingot Chewer to deal with the Chalice and that’s exactly what he did. He evoked the Chewer and cascaded into Hypergenesis. Saito put Hellkite into play and then put another when Juza passed. Juza put down the Hexmage. Saito passed and Juza dropped Vendilion Clique.

    Saito did one to each of the creatures and 8 to Juza. Juza sacrificed hisHexmageand let Saito keep the Ricochet Trap he was holding as his last card when he targeted his opponent with the Clique. As they were resolving the Hypergenesis time was called and Juza took the first of five extra turns to run his Marit Lage into a Dragon. Saito best hope at this point was a draw and he chumped again on turn three. Saito had one turn to find Oblivion Ring to force the draw as Juza would get the last attack. Saito charged up his lands and hoped for the best but extended the hand when he found nothing to save the game.

    He shook his head and chastised himself for the misplay in Game 2.

    Martin Juza - 2 Tomoharu Saito - 1

     

  • Feature Match Round 5 - Brian Kowal versus Brad Nelson
    by Rich Hagon
  • Brad Nelson. With a beard.

    While Brad opened his account last round, Brian has already defeated two opponents, thanks to just two byes coming into the event.

    "I’ve never beaten you in my life" said Brian. "You run so hot against me."
    "You’re just loading up on Karma right now, that’s what you’re doing" replied Brad.

    After Brad opened on River of Tears, Brian started with Wild Nacatl, instantly telegraphing his gameplan – to smash face repeatedly and hard. Brad quickly Smothered the Nacatl, keeping himself at twenty.

    Brian offered Knight of the Reliquary, and Brad discarded Sword of the Meek off his end of turn Thirst for Knowledge. A second Knight arrived, and a second Thirst for Knowledge followed. "I really hope you’re not getting there" teased Brian. "You and me both...wait...what?!? Magic hurts my brain" lamented Brad, who looked rather different in his woolly hat and beard than during his last appearance at Worlds 2009 in Rome.

    With Dark Depths in play, adding Vampire Hexmage was a danger signal for Kowal, causing him to deal with the threat via Ghost Quarter. The bantering continued, as he attempted to activate one of his Knights.

    "That one has summoning sickness" said Brad.
    "Oh, you were watching? OK, I’ll tap the other one then."
    "I’m always watching. I see everything. Are you actually running Baneslayers? Why would you do that to yourself?"

    Brian Kowal. With a beard.

    Brian was indeed running Baneslayer Angel. Thoughtseize took away Wild Nacatl, leaving Brian a Woolly Thoctar in hand. Thopter Foundry hit the board, followed up with a second Dark Depths, and a Vampire Hexmage, quickly creating the 20/20 Marit Lage token. Brian replied with Woolly Thoctar, but Brad had just had a spectacular turn, and no ‘vanilla’ 5/4 for three mana was going to change the shape of the game.

    Brad piled in with the 20/20, and Baneslayer Angel chumped and gained Brian five life. With multiple Thopters in play, though, that wasn’t going to save him.

    "It hurts" said Brian.
    "Everything hurts for you" replied Brad.
    "My life is pain."

    Brad 1 Brian 0.

    "You actually just don’t like me, do you?"
    "I love you, man."
    "You only pretend to like me."
    "The world can know my love for Brad Nelson. I’m not afraid."
    s "We’re beard buddies."

    (Pause for global shuddering.)

    Game 2

    Brian had no turn one play, and began the game with Qasali Pridemage a turn later. Deathmark soon dealt with that, before Brian sent Damping Matrix into play, a card that has seen much popularity this weekend. This time, his Woolly Thoctar might not be irrelevant. Brad’s Thirst for Knowledge saw him discard Tolaria West and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

    Thopter Foundry Post-Extirpate. No beard.

    Thoughtseize found Path to Exile, Extirpate, Umezawa’s Jitte and Knight of the Reliquary in Brian’s hand, and Path to Exile was itself sent away. Brad used Transmute on Muddle the Mixture to search out Smother, and Brian couldn’t decide whether he was miles in front, or miles behind. Sower of Temptation from Brad stole Knight of the Reliquary, which promptly died to Brian’s Woolly Thoctar, now 6/5 thanks to a newly-cast Noble Hierarch.

    Dark Depths landed for Brad, but with no sign of a helpful Vampire Hexmage. Smother dealt with the Woolly Thoctar, and Brad sent Sower into the air, nibbling away two at a time. Tarmogoyf changed the dynamics of the race, and when Brad Duressed, Brian responded with the Extirpate that would get rid of all Thopter Foundry from Brad’s gameplan. Threads of Disloyalty saw the Tarmogoyf change hands, and Brad seemed to be assuming control of the match.

    You may be wondering where all the comedy dialogue has gone between these two. Well, it turns out that this was time for them to get serious, and everything was about the game. Damping Matrix apparently works on conversation too!

    Another Threads of Disloyalty stole a second Tarmogoyf, and Brian just couldn’t keep his monsters on his own side of the table. With the inevitable looming, he scooped up his cards, bringing a thoroughly entertaining match to an end.

    Brad Nelson 2 Brian Kowal 0.

     

  • Saturday, 5:18 p.m. - Nerdcore

    by Rich Hagon
  • Not really the table you want.

    At Super Friday Night Magic yesterday, I found myself next to one Brandon Patton. As you do, his opponent asked him where he was from, and the answer "New York" intrigued me. That’s quite a distance to come for some FNM and a casual attempt at the main event. As reporting ears continued to flap, Brandon explained that he had flown out here to play a gig on Monday. Ah, a fellow musician. What kind of stuff does he play?

    "So, in 2000, a friend of mine, Damian Hess, started going on a website called songfight. The idea was that they would post the title for a song, and you’d have three days to post a completed recording. He did this every week for almost two years. Basically, he never lost on songfight, writing under the name MC Frontalot."

    "I play bass as Bl4k Lotus, and the keyboard player, who also went to Wesleyan University, is called G minor 7. Frontalot wrote a viral hit called "Yellow Lasers", which was a rap about a Star Wars convention. Things really took off when Penny Arcade posted it, and suddenly we were touring all over the country."

    Now the band have completed four national tours, and Brandon, an avid MTGer, takes his decks to gigs.

    "We do material about Magic in our shows, and our fans know that I play, so they’ll come to gigs early, and we’ll get some games in. Then, if we’re leaving at nine the next morning, I’ll just go play Magic all night, and sleep in the van. Wherever we go, there are always people to play Magic."

    So what genre is this music in precisely?

    "Well, MC Frontalot coined the term ‘nerdcore hiphop’, so I guess that about covers it".

    And how about the tournament?

    "I’m a casual player, and I’m playing Elves. I’ve played the deck a lot, but only goldfishing. It’s a bit different when people are trying to stop you with Chalice of the Void!"

     

  • Saturday, 6:35 p.m. - Extended Judging

    by Rich Hagon
  • Head Judge John Carter.

    For Level 4 Head Judge John Carter, this is another in a long series of major events. "My first Grand Prix as a Head Judge was in Washington DC, which was a team event, probably in...maybe 2003?"

    His memory is correct, and a certain Charles Gindy was part of the winning team. So how has the Grand Prix experience changed over the years?

    "The most obvious thing is the size of the crowds are so huge now. In the early days of the game, the main focus of Grand Prix were about high-integrity, high-stakes play. Now we’re very much focused on making sure that every player has a good time, whether that’s in the main event, public events, having their cards signed..."

    How does the Judge community view Extended as a format?

    "Judges love Extended. It’s the format that has the most interesting interactions without descending into the really wacky unknown interactions you sometimes find in the Eternal formats. Sometimes Magic can just get so complicated that it hurts your brain. I guess I’d describe Extended as complex, but clean. It’s important for you to know the ins and outs, but if the players have done their homework, they’ll be just fine."

    Did anything unexpected crop up during the day?

    "The one thing I’d say is that there are a lot of players who love to play the Elf combo, and they don’t necessarily know all the minutiae of playing it technically corrrectly. We had a player today who demonstrated an infinite loop using Cloudstone Curio, Nettle Sentinel, and Elvish Visionary. Then he said he was going to gain 100,000 life, and of course he died to decking, because he’d demonstrated the loop with Elvish Visionary."

    Oops.

    "I guess the advice we’d give is to play tight, play technical, and if you’re playtesting with someone learning Elves, don’t let them get away with anything. If there’s one thing we could get players to do that would make everything better, it would be to say what they’re doing, and use details."

     

  • Feature Match Round 7 - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Petr Brozek

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Luis Scott-Vargas on the cover of Channel Fireball

    Luis Scott-Vargas requires little in the way of introduction but let’s have a go at it anyway. Luis is a two-time US National team member, the winner of Pro Tour Berlin, the finalist of Pro Tour Kyoto, a Level 8 member of the Pro Player’s Club, and apparently the unofficial mayor of the Bay Area. He is the editor of ChannelFireball.com which is the content arm of the Superstars Game Center in nearby San Jose. In addition to writing about Magic and talking about in on their videos, LSV is the coverboy of the first edition of the ChannelFireball magazine which was being given away here this weekend. Luis and most of the ChannelFireball guys have been strong advocates for the Dark Depths /Thopter Foundry combo hybrid.

    Petr Brozek is part of a rising tide of Czech Magic players -- there are apparently close to 20 Czech players heading to Pro Tour San Diego -- who have been doing very well of late. You may recall his name from last year’s World Championships where he played red burn decks throughout every format. His Barely Boros deck with Zektar Shrine went 5-1 in Standard and he also tore through Limited with mono-red decks using that enchantment. He only went 3-3 in Extended and had to console himself with an 11th place finish in that event. Clearly the problem with his Extended deck was a lack of Zektar Shrine -- something he had remedied for this event. More than halfway through Day One his deck was quickly becoming the talk of the tournament with cards like Flagstones of Trokair, Searing Blaze and Zektar Shrine causing more than one double take en route to his round seven feature match of perfect records.

    Game 1

    Brozek was shuffling LSV’s deck and accidentally flipped over a shiny Thopter Foundry -- LSV’s deck was blinged out in all-foil -- but he was deliberately looking away in case that happened. LSV stopped him mid-shuffle, picked up the card, and put it back in his deck. LSV was not too worried that Brozek may have gleaned any secret information.

    "I think you probably know what I am playing already," laughed LSV.

    Brozek came out of the gate with Steppe Lynx and drew a raised eyebrow with a Flagstones of Trokair on turn two for a Plated Geopede. More than one spectator leaned over to read the card which has not appeared in many Boros style decks. Luis played Dark Depths and passed the turn. Brozek played Ghost Quarter and Goblin Guide and attacked for 7 -- he could have made it 11 but he wanted to hold back the Ghost Quarter as a countermeasure to the Depths. On his own turn LSV used the Repeal that had been revealed off the Guide to bounce the Steppe Lynx.

    Brozek untapped and aimed a Helix at LSV and then followed it up with Lightning Bolt and had more than enough to finish off the PT Berlin winner with his creatures.

    Game 2

    Petr Brozek

    Brozek had a first turn Steppe Lynx but it was promptly Deathmarked. He played Zektar Shrine on turn two and got an actual harumph from the peanut gallery. Apparently someone did not think that card was suited to see Extended play. LSV transmuted Tolaria West for Engineered Explosives and passed the turn. Brozek played Ghost Quarter, tapped two mana to play Lightning Helix and then Ghost Quartered his own Flagstones to turn on the Shrine and take LSV down to 10.

    LSV played Thopter Foundry and passed the turn back. Brozek had another Ghost Quarter to battle the threat of Dark Depths. LSV did not seem to have much gas in his tank and played Chrome Mox with no imprint. When Brozek passed the turn back LSV ate the Mox to make a flier and gain one life. He attacked for one. Brozek hurled a Lightning Helix at LSV and then played a Flagstones and played Searing Blaze to do three to LSV and three to the token. LSV played Death Pact to kill his own token in response.

    "OK," Brozek nodded slowly. "Take three."

    Searing Blaze targets a player and a creature that player controls. Since it has two targets they don’t both need to be there on resolution for the spell to resolve.

    Brozek played another Zektar Shrine. LSV made an Engineered Explosives for 2.

    Brozek played Scalding Tarn and sacrificed the Tarn to put two counters on the Shrine. Then with his Ghost Quarter threatening Brozek played Smash to Smithereens on the Explosives. LSV sacrificed it to the Foundry. Brozek Ghost Quartered the Flagstones and attacked for seven. LSV pushed both tokens in the path of the attacker and he fell to one. Brozek showed him the Lightning Bolt in his hand.

    Petr Brozek - 2 Luis Scott-Vargas - 0

    Luis Scott-Vargas

    "I played pretty bad," said Luis with a shake of his head as a swarm of ChannelFireball shirts descended to see how the match turned out. "I didn’t know how any of his cards worked."

    I asked Brozek about the deck after match and he explained that it was thematically very similar to his Standard Barely Boros deck that was very popular in the wake of Worlds.

    "I wanted to play a burn deck but it was too slow. This deck can kill on turn 3," explained Brozek when asked why he chose this deck. "Goblin Guide can deal 6 which is much better than Lava Spike. Plus I play cards nobody expects like Searing Blaze. Everyone has creatures that you can target -- even Scapeshift. It has been one of the best cards for me."

    "This deck does not have any really bad matchups since you can kill on turn 3 which is as fast as any of the other decks," he continued. "You don’t start out at like 12 or 13 like the Zoo decks and you have 4 Ghost Quarter which are good against Depths and there are some synergies between Flagstones and Ghost Quarter."

    With Petr locked into Day Two we will try and follow up with complete card list tomorrow.

     

  • Feature Match Round 8 - Per Nystrom versus Shuhei Nakamura

    by Rich Hagon
  • Per Nystrom

    While both these players have a loss to give as day one winds towards a close, neither will want to risk a tense final round. Per Nystrom is a Level 4 Pro from Sweden with six previous Pro Tours to his name. Across the table he faces the mighty Shuhei Nakamura, a man of vast experience, and vast success, including the 2008 title of Player of the Year.

    Nystrom began with Misty Rainforest, and wasted no time cracking it for Steam Vents, which he laid untapped. The reason? Ponder, followed up with double Lotus Bloom! Quite the start for the Swede. Shuhei offered up a perfectly reasonable, but considerably less explosive, Wild Nacatl.

    Tick – Suspend counters to two, and Per was happy to lay land and pass. A second Nacatl and Noble Hierarch joined Shuhei’s board, but it was all about the clock.

    Tick – Suspend down to one, and Nystrom simply passed. In came Shuheii with a pair of Nacatl. Relevance?

    Tick – Suspend to zero, and now Per had all the mana in the world. The first Lotus Bloom allowed him to Transmute Ethereal Usher, fetching him Hive Mind. Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, tap two mana, and out came Hive Mind. Slaughter Pact on the Noble Hierarch, and just like that, we were done, with Shuhei having no opportunity to pay for the Pact he was forced to copy, thanks to Hive Mind.

    Nystrom 1, Nakamura 0.

    Shuhei Nakamura

    After an apprently-borderline keep by Nystrom, Game 2 opened, with no Nacatl for Shuhei on turn one. Nor were there multiple Lotus Blooms for Per, which was probably more important for the Japanese Level 8. Lightning Bolt at end of turn was quickly followed by Tarmogoyf, while Per Pondered, again a full turn behind his blistering Game 1 start.

    Tarmogoyf attacked for three, dropping Nystrom to fourteen, and Knight of the Reliquary joined the fray. Per Pondered once more, and at this stage his lengthy decision to not mulligan didn’t seem to be working out. A third land was all he could muster, and Shuhei’s monsters crashed in, leaving the Swede at just five. Something urgent would be required.

    A Chrome Mox resolved, and he transmuted Ethereal Usher. Rite of Flame gave him enough mana for Hive Mind, but Shuhei had his answer ready – Negate said no most readily, and we were heading to a decider. Perhaps crucially, though, Nystrom would be back on the play, and looking for another explosive start.

    Nystrom 1, Nakamura 1.

    Nakamura began with a mulligan, but it was how Nystrom would begin that surely counted. Land, Chrome Mox, imprint, Chrome Mox, imprint, Blood Moon, Lotus Bloom. Empty hand. Boom!

    Turn two, he found Ethereal Usher on top, and was able to instantly Transmute it for Hive Mind. As Shuhei faced a pile of very expensive-looking Mountains, he could only look on as Per cast Peer Through Depths, ran out the Hive Mind, and showed Shuhei Pact of the Titan, ending things in spectacularly brutal fashion.

    Per Nystrom 2, Shuhei Nakamura 1.

     

  • Feature Match Round 9: You Can't Touch This - Martin Juza vs. Peter Knudson

    by Rich Hagon
  • A Thoughtful Peter Knudson

    Both these players may already be set for a day two appearance, but there’s no doubt that there’s a huge difference between 7-2 and 8-1. With six more rounds before the Top 8 tomorrow, a win here can allow the little bit of breathing room down the stretch that could make all the difference.

    Juza started the opener with a land and imprinted Chrome Mox, using the powerful artifact to get a jump start with Vampire Hexmage. Knudson replied with a Swamp of his own in this, his first ever Feature Match. Juza added Dark Depths to the board, but Knudson quickly had an answer with Ghost Quarter.

    Juza’s next move was to run out Dark Confidant, which Knudson’s new Bloodghast wouldn’t be tangling with any time soon. The pair of 2/1s for Juza smashed across, leaving Knudson at twelve. Juza cast the Thoughtseize revealed by Dark Confidant, and saw a hand of Umezawa’s Jitte, two Bloodghast, and two Mutavault. Juza was quick to take away the artifact.

    Knudson now laid a Dark Confidant of his own, leaving Juza to cast Thirst for Knowledge at the end of turn. Beseech the Queen was his next play, finding him Vampire Hexmage. The game continued, but truthfully at a somewhat glacial pace, both players fencing warily around potential surprises on the other side.

    Juza eventually found a second Dark Depths, Knudson having used Ghost Quarter to deal with the first. Beseech the Queen into Thoughtseize continued to improve Juza’s position, and that was strengthened still further with Thopter Foundry. With Knudson out of defensive options, it was on to Game 2, with the Czech Level 8 one to the good.

    Martin Juza 1, Peter Knudson 0.

    Martin Juza (Black Border Edition)

    Both players took a mulligan to six, but Juza recovered quickest, running out a turn one Dark Confidant thanks to Chrome Mox. Darkblast from Knudson quickly snuffed out the card advantage engine, while Duress revealed Beseech the Queen, Thopter Foundry, and Urborg, Tombo of Yawgmoth. The royal Tutor hit the sidelines.

    Back came Juza with a Thoughtsezie of his own, leaving Smother and Chrome Mox in Knudson’s hand, taking away Extirpate. Juza landed Thopter Foundry, but neither deck was doing much. The Legendary Lands traded off, but Knudson found Bitterblossom, and shortly thereafter Vanilla Ice hit play, in all likelihood the only time Vanilla Ice has been mistaken for a faerie. Knudson completed the turn with Umezawa’s Jitte.

    Juza Transmuted Tolaria West into Academy Ruins, and Knudson’s upkeep saw Young Black Teenagers join the faeries hit parade. Now Jitte had counters on it, but Juza had game, coming back with Beseech the Queen into Sword of the Meek. Duress revealed Knudson to have Smother, Chrome Mox, and a backup Jitte, with Juza sending the Smother packing. The trouble for Knudson was that Juza was now heading into foolishness territory, with both parts of his Thopter-Sword online.

    Knudson killed a bunch of tokens, but a bunch of tokens came right back down. Public Enemy and Doctor Dre and Ed Lover joined the popular rhythm beat combo tokens for Knudson, and he ran out Leyline of the Void. Run DMC was up next, a group so famous that even your reporter has heard of them. Flavor Flav would have been the next faerie token into play, but apparently that was more than Juza could bear, as he swept up his permanents.

    Martin Juza 1, Peter Knudson 1.

    MCs Hammered

    Juza started with just six on the play, and Thoughtseize from Knudson showed Dark Confidant, Muddle the Mixture, Bessech the Queen, and two land. Away went Dark Confidant, and Knudson went to work with Bitterblossom. Juza tutored up a Thopter Foundry, with Knudson content to make a faerie and pass. Muddle the Mixture Transmuted for Sword of the Meek, and now Juza had both parts of his combo in hand.

    MC Hammer and LL Cool J were coming to the party as flying 1/1s, but Knudson let out a hefty sigh as Juza cast both parts of his naughtiness. De La Soul probably wasn’t going to make a huge difference. Thoughtseize from Juza caused Knudson to Extirpate in response, taking away Beseech the Queen, and finding one in Juza’s hand. When the Thoughtseize resolved, only two Chrome Mox and a land were left in hand.

    Now Dark Confidant sat on both sides of the table. Unfortunately for Knudson, the token race wasn’t so evenly-matched. His single faerie was heading towards being swamped by the fabled Thopter-Sword combo, and Knudson, and his team of flying songsters, were done. At least until day two.

    Martin Juza 2, Peter Knudson 1.

     

  • Photo Essay - Bubble Bubble

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Brian Kibler

    With the last round of the tournament looming, some big names found themselves with their backs up against the wall that separates players advancing to Day Two from players looking at the public events schedule for tomorrow. One of the most high profile matchups was between Brian Kibler and Brian Kowal in a Zoo mirror. Brian Kowal ended up taking the match in three games prompting Michael Jacob to cheer, “Hooray for BK!”
    Kibler went to high five him and then frowned, “Oh wait...”

    Tony Loman

    Nearby Hall of Famer Raphael Levy was piloting Bant against Tony Loman playing Zoo with blue. Loman had been reading about Raphael’s deck in Manuel Bucher’s weekly column and knew that Raph would be bringing in Threads of Disloyalty. Loman sided out his Tarmogoyfs and played his own Threads. They got into a Threads war in the final game with Loman stealing his own Kird Ape back from Levy. Loman advanced to Day Two for the first time in his Magic career. He recently made the Top 8 of the TCGPlayer.com Philadelphia $5K playing a Felidar Sovereign mono-white control deck.

    Luis Scott-Vargas

    Luis Scott-Vargas started out the tournament going 6-0 and then lost his next two matches and found himself down a game to Greg Hastain. His sideboard plan of turning his combo deck into a blue black control deck bore fruit and he was able to win behind his Sphinx of Jwar Isle. “Exile into Darkness was really good,” said LSV, who was relieved to have recovered from his late round stumble.

    Joel Calafel

    Reigning Rookie of the Year Lino Burgold found himself matched against Jacerator creator Joel Calafel. Burgold was playing a Mystical Teachings deck and Joel was playing Dark Depths. In the final game Joel had a clumsy board featuring three River of Tears and a Dark Depths. He was holding two more Dark Depths. Desparate for black mana he had to play a second Dark Depths -- destroying them both -- to make his Rivers flow black. Lino managed to win that game and advance to Day Two.

    Yuuya Watanabe

    Other notable players winning bubble matches included reigning Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, former PoY Shuhei Nakamura, and Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel. All totaled, 96 players had records that allowed them to advance to Day Two. Check in tomorrow to see how your favorite players fare!

    Shuhei Nakamura
    Oliver Ruel
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