gppit11

Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 - Day 2 Coverage

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  • by Steve Sadin
    Round 16: Feature Match
    Yuuya Watanabe vs. Shaheen Soorani

  • by Steve Sadin
    Sunday, 5:15 p.m: The Legend of Team CMU

  • by Nate Price
    Sunday, 4:30 p.m.: Deck Tech
    UB Control with Shaheen Soorani

  • by Nate Price
    Nate Price: Deck Tech
    Mono-Red with Florian Pils

  • by Nate Price
    Round 14: Feature Match

  • by Nate Price
    Sunday, 3:15 p.m: Running a Grand Prix

  • by Steve Sadin
    Sunday, 2:30 p.m.: The Rise of Splinter Twin

  • by Steve Sadin
    Round 12: Feature Match
    Yuuya Watanabe vs. Matt Nass

  • by Nate Price
    Round 11: Feature Match
    Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Shaheen Soorani

  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Sunday, 12:00 p.m.:
    Day 1 Undefeated Decks

  • by Steve Sadin
    Sunday, 11:00 a.m.: Deck Tech
    Splicing Images with Yuuya Watanabe

  • by Steve Sadin
    Round 10: Feature Match
    Yuuya Watanabe vs. Brad Nelson

 
  • Round 10: Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Brad Nelson

    by Steve Sadin
  • This match pits the reigning Player of the Year Brad Nelson against the 2009 Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe. These players each earned their Player of the Year titles by dominating the Grand Prix circuit for months in a row.

    Despite a rough start to the season that saw him earn only 8 Pro Points by the middle of June – Watanabe seems to have gone back to dominating GPs like it's his job.

    Watanabe's finishes in the last two GPs? A second place finish at Grand Prix Kansas City, and a win at Grand Prix Shanghai last weekend. Not only that, but Watanabe came into this match with a flawless 9-0 record – well on his way to a third consecutive Grand Prix Top 8.

    Game One

    Nelson's third turn Mirran Crusader got Mana Leaked, giving Watanabe an opportunity to resolve an early Sword of Feast and Famine.

    Nelson immediately Oblivion Ringed the Sword, but missed his fourth land drop. Fortunately for the land-light American, Watanabe had some mana problems of his own as he was unable to find a white source even after casting a Preordain.

    Nelson again missed his land drop, and tried for a Sword of War and Peace – but it couldn't get past a Spell Pierce.

    "Are you a land?"

    Watanabe found a white source before Nelson was able to start casting relevant spells, and played out a couple of Blade Splicers to put on some serious pressure.

    Nelson used a Phantasmal Image to copy a Blade Splicer (netting himself a 3/3 token in the process), but Watanabe's Dismember allowed him to continue to attack in unimpeded.

    When Nelson went to Into the Roil a token on his next turn, Watanabe was ready with a Spell Pierce to keep his 3/3 around, and a Squadron Hawk to push himself even further ahead.

    For a moment it looked like Nelson might be able to get back into the game with another Into the Roil, and a Squadron Hawk of his own, but Watanabe used a well-timed Into the Roil of his own to seal the game.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Brad Nelson 0

    Game Two

    A couple of early Preordains allowed Nelson to filter through his draws – but despite seeing nearly a quarter of his deck in the first couple of turns, he was still unable to find a creature to cast on turn three.

    Watanabe is well on his way to a third consecutive Grand Prix Top 8.

    Nelson Mana Leaked Watanabe's Blade Splicer, and then stuck a Sword of Feast and Famine. Watanabe passed his fourth turn, and Nelson resolved a second Sword of Feast and Famine.

    Watanabe cast a Squadron Hawk and passed the turn leaving Mana Leak mana available. Unfazed by the fact that his opponent might have a counterspell, Nelson cast a Sun Titan.

    Watanabe did in fact have the Mana Leak, and then looked to take over the game immediately with a Gideon Jura. Nelson's Oblivion Ring took out the white planeswalker, but he would still need to find a way to deal with Watanabe's army of birds, or a threat of his own (which would be particularly effective alongside his two swords), in order to get back into the game.

    Watanabe looked to apply some more pressure with Blade Splicer, but Nelson's Into the Roil with kicker on the golem token made sure that it wouldn't be that big of an issue.

    A Gideon Jura seemed to be a pretty good threat for Nelson – but the reigning Player of the Year still needed to find a way to deal with his opponent's Squadron Hawks or else he would be forced to sit and watch as his planeswalker's loyalty got chipped away at.

    Dismember took out Blade Splicer in response to Watanabe's Phantasmal Image, but a couple of Tectonic Edge activations cleared the way for Celestial Colonnade and some hawks to take out Nelson's Gideon Jura.

    A Dismember on Nelson's Celestial Colonnade a turn later was enough for Watanabe to lock up the match win and advance to 10-0!

    Yuuya Watanabe 2 – Brad Nelson 0

     
  • Sunday, 11:00 a.m.: Deck Tech - Splicing Images with Yuuya Watanabe

    by Steve Sadin
  • Watanabe decided to play an aggressive CawBlade this weekend and so far it's been serving him wonderfully as he's started off the tournament with an unblemished 10-0 record:


    Yuuya Watanabe - CawBlade
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)



    At first glance, Watanabe's deck might not look that different from other CawBlade decks that have been menacing tournaments recently, but his deck does have a couple of very cool things going for it. Namely, his 3 Blade Splicers and his 2 Phantasmal Images.

    'Friends!'

    When asked, Watanabe had a lot of good things to say about Blade Splicer and Phantasmal Image.

    "The Americans are playing Mirran Crusader, but I'm playing Blade Splicer. Blade Splicer is better in the mirror, against Splinter Twin decks, and against Mono-Red. I played a game against Mono Red yesterday, where he had a Hero of Oxid Ridge, and a Staggershock. All that I had was a Blade Splicer, and he still couldn't attack me."

    "Phantasmal Image has been very strong too. I can use it to copy my opponent's Squadron Hawk if I don't have one, or if they play something really big – but I usually use it on my own creatures like Blade Splicer, Emeria Angel, or Sun Titan."

    It doesn't happen that often, but if you're ever able to get back a Phantasmal Image with a Sun Titan, things can get out of control pretty fast.

    The other distinction that Watanabe wanted to make between his deck, and other CawBlade decks was that he played 26 Lands instead of 27. Watanabe explained that he thinks that the majority of CawBlade decks play too many lands, and too many expensive spells.

    By keeping his curve low, Watanabe is able to regularly cast his spells. And by trimming his lands a bit, Watanabe is less likely to get mana flooded.

    While he might be giving up a little bit of raw power in the late game, the deck's added consistency gained by running a bunch of extra cheap creatures, and the possibility for aggressive draws more than makes up for it.

     
  • Sunday, 12:00 p.m. - Day 1 Undefeated Decks

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Zack Hall - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)



    Matt Nass - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)





    Helmut Summersberger - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)



    Eric English - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)



    Max Tietze - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)



    Yuuya Watanabe - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)


     
  • Round 11: Feature Match - Luis Scott-Vargas vs. Shaheen Soorani

    by Nate Price
  • Both Soorani and Scott-Vargas are in town to get a "quick" Grand Prix in before they head east to Philadelphia next week for the Pro Tour. As such, they actually spent the better part of their preparation before the match discussing the Modern format and their plans for the upcoming tournament.

    "Got a deck yet," Soorani asked as they shuffled?

    "Not really. I mean, we've been testing a bunch of stuff, but it's not like we have anything solid yet."

    They talked about various decks in the format, like Twelvepost and Tron, and cards that are good against the various decks in the field. My personal favorite moment was when they were discussing Bribery as a card that's good against the Post decks. How awesome is just stealing your opponent's Emrakul, the Aeons torn, on like turn three and just ending the game right there? Priceless.

    I digress.

    Confident that neither one of them had any idea what they were doing next week, they finished shuffling and drew their opening hands.

    "I am fine," Soorani announced after seeing his first seven cards.

    "I am not. The perfect hand...with two Tectonic Edges," LSV sighed with a smile as he sent his first hand back. His second set was at least keepable, so he started on the draw with six in hand.

    LSV was the first on the board, using a Squadron Hawk to fill his hand up with two more copies. Soorani followed that with a Solemn Simulacrum, setting himself up to have six mana on the following turn. LSV used a Squadron Hawk to fetch the final copy from his deck on the following turn and then chose to pass the turn leaving two mana available to represent Mana Leak. Soorani decided to check things out with an Inquisition of Kozilek, which saw a massive grip from LSV.

    How do you pick the best card when they're all so good?

    "Wow, all the good cards," Soorani remarked upon seeing LSV's goods. Two Mana Leaks, a Spell Pierce, Sun Titan, Mirran Crusader, and the pair of Squadron Hawks from earlier made quite an impressive grip. Soorani reached for his pen. With all that written down, Soorani passed the turn.

    LSV started by playing a land and trying to play his Mirran Crusader, but Soorani stopped it with Mana Leak. LSV could have Leaked back, but chose to sit on it to stop Soorani's spells. Soorani was not having any of that, though, and used an Inquisition of Kozilek to strip him of the final Leak. LSV simply played all of his Hawks, content to beat while he was waiting for his chance to pay his Titan. With the path clear, Soorani untapped and went for a Consecrated Sphinx on the following turn.

    Four! Four Squadron Hawks, ah...ha...ha...

    "Now let's hope you don't go and draw your sixth land," Soorani joked as LSV reached for his top card. Unfortunately for him, it was the sixth land needed, and the Sun Titan came down to return the once dead Mirran Crusader to play. Soorani didn't actually appear too fazed, though, as he just aimed a Go for the Throat at the Titan and then used a Black sun's Zenith to clear LSV's board. With LSV's board clear and Soorani effectively drawing three cards a turn, the next few turns were elementary as Soorani just turned his Sphinx sideways a few more times for the win.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 0 – Shaheen Soorani 1

    Soorani showed his sideboard plan against the Caw decks early with a pair of Bloodghasts.

    "Don't have a Crusader," he laughed as he played the first one.

    "Yeah, I've got it," LSV shrugged with a smile as he calmly tapped three and put the protected double-striker into play.

    "Nooo," Soorani yelled with feigned anguish.

    For a few turns, the creatures raced, taking four-point chunks out of each other's life totals. Eventually, things reached a head. LSV could no longer afford to race since he was behind, and his lone Mirran Crusader couldn't stop both of the rampaging Bloodghasts. LSV couldn't find anything to add to his board to help his plight, and even if he did, Soorani had Mana Leak to stop it from getting into play and Doom Blade to kill it if it somehow managed to. LSV was stuck. It just took two more turns before they shook hands and wished each other luck for the rest of the day.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 0 – Shaheen Soorani 2

     
  • Round 12: Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Matt Nass

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • The 2009 Player of the Year, and former Rookie of the Year Yuuya Watanabe hasn't been pulling any punches this weekend, and neither has Grand Prix Oakland Champion Matt Nass. Going into this round, Watanabe and Nass are the only two remaining undefeated players in the tournament at 11-0.

    Watanabe has been slicing through the field with an aggressive version of CawBlade -- while Nass, a player who is most comfortable with a combo deck in his hands, has remained undefeated through 11 rounds with a sleek, tuned, version of Blue-Red Splinter Twin.

    Game One

    Nass kicked things off with a Halimar Depths, followed by a Grim Lavamancer – while Watanabe's first play was a third turn Blade Splicer.

    Nass unsuccessfully tried to dig for a third land with Preordain, plus Gitaxian Probe, which revealed a hand of Mana Leak, Blade Splicer, and lands.

    Watanabe's golem tokens have been putting some serious hurt on his opponents all weekend long.

    Grim Lavamancer took out Blade Splicer, but Nass still fell to 14 from the incoming 3/3. A second Blade Splicer looked to put Nass under even more pressure, but a Preordain netted Nass a Misty Rainforest which fetched the second Island that he needed to continue casting spells -- and an Into the Roil let him take out Watanabe's golem token.

    Nass had been very happy with maindeck Grim Lavamancers in his Splinter Twin deck.

    Watanabe's attacked again, knocking Nass down to 9 and passed the turn. Nass was still stuck on lands and cast a Gitaxian Probe, paying two life and falling down to 7, to see a hand of Mana Leak, Dismember, and two lands.

    Ponder found Nass a fourth land – an Arid Mesa, but that wouldn't be enough to help his mana woes as Watanabe used a Tectonic Edge the Grand Prix Oakland Champion's Halimar Depths.

    Grim Lavamancer took out another Blade Splicer, but an Arid Mesa activation and the three damage from Watanabe's golem token left Nass on a mere three life.

    When Nass's draw step failed to yield him a second blue source, he was forced to sit and watch as Watanabe Dismembered his Grim Lavamancer with Mana Leak backup – clearing the way for a lethal attack from his golem token.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Matt Nass 0

    Game Two

    Mat Nass got off to a (rarely seen) aggressive start with his Splinter Twin deck, playing out three Grim Lavamancers. Watanabe attempted to counter the third Grim Lavamancer with Mana Leak, but Nass had a Spell Pierce to force it through.

    While Watanabe was able to buy himself some time by Oblivion Ringing one of the Grim Lavamancers, he never managed to cast any threats of his own... or any removal spells to deal with the other two Grim Lavamancers – allowing Nass to take game two without breaking a sweat.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1 – Matt Nass 1


    Game Three

    Watanabe took the initiative in game three by casting a turn two Squadron Hawk, and using an Oblivion Ring on Nass's Grim Lavamancer (which, if left unmolested, would have been able to take out every one of Watanabe's birds with ease).

    Nass began ripping through his deck with Preordains, Ponders, and Shrine of Piercing Visions – while Watanabe looked to close out the game with Sword of Feast and Famine before Nass could assemble the perfect hand thanks to all of his digging.

    A Deceiver Exarch tapped down a Squadron Hawk carrying a sword

    With a Dispel, and a Mental Misstep in his hand Nass decided to go for it, and cast a Splinter Twin targeting his Deceiver Exarch.

    Watanabe tried to Flashfreeze the enchantment, but when Nass showed the Dispel, the Japanese superstar could do nothing but extend his hand.

    Yuuya Watanabe 1 - Matt Nass 2

    With this victory, Matt Nass becomes the only remaining undefeated player in the tournament at 12-0!

     
  • Sunday, 2:30 p.m. - The Rise of Splinter Twin

    by Steve Sadin


  • Of the seven decks to go undefeated on Day One, five featured the combo of Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin. The other two undefeated decks? None other than the format defining menace CawBlade.

    As successful as CawBlade decks have been, even in the wake of the bannings of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic, they seem to have a lot of trouble dealing with the tuned Twin decks that people have been piloting.


    Between Ponder, Preordain, and Shrine of Piercing Vision (or Birthing Pod, for those such as Jonas Köstler who have found a home for the combo in a very different version of the deck)– Twin players are able to quickly dig into whatever combo piece, or cheap counterspells (such as the incredibly effective Dispel) they may be looking for.

    The recent addition of Grim Lavamancer to their decks gives Twin players yet another angle from which to attack their opponents – keeping Squadron Hawks off the board, and making sure that Swords of Feast and Famine won't be able to come online easily.

    After 12 Rounds Matt Nass, piloting a version of Blue-Red Splinter Twin that featured 3 maindeck copies of Grim Lavamancer, was the only undefeated player in the tournament.

    Matt Nass - Day 1 Undefeated
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)


    Has Splinter Twin supplanted CawBlade as the deck to beat? Well, it's certainly looking that way so far this weekend as Twin players have comboed their way past seas of opponents piloting CawBlade, Blue-Black Control, Valakut, and (relatively) disruption light aggressive decks that just aren't as fast as Splinter Twin combo decks.

    Stay tuned as we move towards the Top 8 at Grand Prix Pittsburgh to find out if Splinter Twin decks will continue going off, or if Dismembers, Natures Claims, and Mana Leaks will be enough to stop the increasingly popular combo deck from taking the title.



     
  • Sunday, 3:15 p.m. - Running a Grand Prix

    by Nate Price
  • Up through noon on Sunday, there were 3,235 players who had signed up for an event here at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. By the event's close, that number will be even higher. That's an enormous number of people to accommodate, shuffle around, corral, organize, and generally direct over the course of a day and a half. Yet, there is a team assembled at every Grand Prix made up of judges and event staff that do just that. They are generally unappreciated, and most people don't understand both how important what they do is or how difficult their jobs are over the course of the weekend.

    First, let me explain that there are only 53 judges and 20 or so members of the event staff running everything that goes on at this Grand Prix.

    Let that sink in for a minute.

    That means that, at the beginning of the Grand Prix, when there were 47 judges assigned to the main event involving 1345 players, there were roughly 29 players to every judge for the event. As the day went on, and players started dropping from the main event, the side events started kicking into high gear. Players no longer in the Grand Prix filled up the queues and judges from the main event filtered into the side events to accommodate them. At any given point, the ration of players to judges stayed more or less the same. The next layer comes at the computers. Behind all of this, there is one person, one single individual, who is responsible for inputting all of the results into the computer, documenting all warnings, dropping all players, and getting the next round ready to go. That is an insane amount of work for one person to do!

    The Head Judge and Scorekeeper. Everything at the Grand Prix ultimately runs through them.

    And yet, for the most part, things run fluidly, even at events as large as this. The downtime between rounds remains minimal. There are an infinitesimally small number of errors to fix, from byes to players that weren't dropped, to proper entry of match results. Considering that there are in the neighborhood of 5,000 matches that will have been played in this Grand Prix, only having a handful of mistakes is inhuman.

    I can't even count the number of people that go through this line.

    Here are some numbers for you as of noon on Sunday:

    There have been 63 different Booster Drafts run over the weekend.

    Drafts!

    There were 7 Legacy events run.
    8 Commander events.
    19 Standard events.
    7 Two-Headed Giant Limited Events.

    2HG!

    And a PTQ with over 300 players.

    PTQ

    All of this with about 75 people. 75 people who don't get to play much Magic over the course of the weekend! Considering how difficult their job is, and how much actually goes on behind the scenes here at a Grand Prix, I figured it was important to spotlight the amount of hard work and sacrifice that the members of the crew behind the event have to go through in order to bring us this spectacular event. So the next time you see the judge or event crew member busting their butts to run your event, just remember that they're doing it all for you. Kinda nice of them really...

    After all, what is a Grand Prix if not a Gathering Place?
     
  • Round 14: Feature Match - Florian Pils vs. Jesse Harkins

    by Nate Price
  • As the players approached the feature match area, Pils directed Harkins over to his table.

    "Thanks. This is the first time I've done this well, so this is the first time I've been called for one of these. Have you done this before?"

    "Yeah, once or twice," Pils smiled at him.

    Almost immediately upon sitting down at the table, the players were visited by the deck-check fairy, who whisked their decks away to be examined. With nothing to do in the meantime, both players asked the judge before jumping up to head off to the bathroom...at the same time.

    "What are they doing!? They just met," laughed Pils's countryman Simon Görtzen.

    "Good luck," Harkins wished Pils.

    "Yeah, and have fun," Pils responded with a smile. "It's the most important part!"

    Game One

    As Pils mulliganned, Harkins looked to his left at the mass of people surrounding table one and compared it to the relative lack of spectators that the feature match table had.

    Harkins made a Grim Lavamancer to start the match, which Pils matched with a Goblin Guide.

    "You've chosen an interesting matchup," Pils laughed as he looked to me.

    Harkins added a Goblin Wardriver to his team and attacked with his Lavamancer, dropping Pils to 19. Pils's second attack with his Guide revealed yet another land, effectively letting Harkins draw a second card, a great advantage in this matchup. For his second turn, Pils didn't have a second land, simply using Burst Lightning to kill Harkins's Lavamancer. Harkins replaced it

    Harkins made an Ember Hauler on his turn, attacking with the Wardriver before passing the turn. When Pils used a Teetering Peaks to pump his Guide and attack, Harkins let the trigger resolve and draw him yet another land before frying it with a Lightning Bolt. Pils replaced it with a second copy and passed the turn.

    He has drawn so...many...lands...

    At this point, Harkins was way ahead on cards and lands in play, allowing him to play pretty much whatever he wanted. Pils had resorted to holding his Guide back to block, and Harkins let him trade the Guide with his Hauler, dropping Pils fairly low in the process. Harkins just rebuilt with the slew of cards he still had in his hand thanks to the Goblin Guide and proceeded to beat Pils down. The German player was stuck on two lands while his own Goblin Guide had supplied Harkins with an ample supply, clearing the top of his library to draw more spells. He used that advantage, and Pils's own poor draw, to finish things off a few turns later.

    Florian Pils 0 – Jesse Harkins 1

    Game Two

    The second game saw Pils on the receiving end of some Goblin Guide beats, but the little Goblin didn't get to do anything other than reveal the top card of Pils's library before he dealt with it with a Dismember. The card he revealed, an Ember Hauler, made it to the board for a turn before Harkins killed it and pinged Pils with an Arc Trail. Into the void, Pils launched a Chandra's Phoenix, which immediately swung to hit Harkins for two. Harkins made a hasty man of his own, a Goblin Chieftain, and attacked before passing the turn.

    At this point, Pils had slowed down. He made no play, not even a fourth land drop, simply attacking for two before passing his turn. Harkins, on the other hand, went highly aggressive, adding a Goblin Wardriver and an unkicked Goblin Bushwhacker to his team before declaring his attack. Not letting Harkins do anything too ridiculous, Pils used Staggershock to kill the Chieftain before Harkins could declare his attackers, forcing him to keep his now un-hasty men home. When the spell rebounded on the next turn, he used it to kill the Wardriver as well, leaving Harkins on a one Bushwhacker. Pils then built up his side with a Shrine of Burning Rage and a Grim Lavamancer.

    Pils looked to have things in control. Harkins tried to steal that control back by playing and attacking with a Hero of Oxid Ridge, but Pils had a Searing Blaze to kill the attacking Bushwhacker. He took four and dropped to six. On the next turn, he used the Lavamancer to kill the Hero, clearing Harkin's board. Just one turn later, Pils ended it with one more swing from his Phoenix alongside activations from the Shrine and Lavamancer.

    Florian Pils 1 – Jesse Harkins 1

    Game Three

    With dueling banjos blaring in the background, the third game started off with a showdown, Goblin Guide against Goblin Guide. Harkins ended the mirror with a Lightning Bolt to hit Pils's Guide, leaving him with the lone land-revealer. Well, usually he's a land revealer, but for Pils, he was nothing but a spell-revealer, much to his dismay. He finally got a land on the third attack before killing the Guide with a Lightning Bolt of his own. Showdown over.

    Jesse Harkins guides his Guide towards Pils.

    Both players stuck creatures to replace their lost guides, with Harkins sticking a Goblin Wardriver and an Ember Hauler, while Pils landed a very powerful Vulshok Refugee. Pils used a Staggershock to rid himself of Harkins's Ember Hauler, getting a chance to block Harkins's Goblin Guide on the next attack. When the Staggershock rebounded and took out the Bushwhacker, Pils was left with the only creatures on the board. He added a Grim Lavamancer and an Ember Hauler to his side to reinforce his troops and passed the turn.

    Harkins was able to do some cleaning up of his own, using an Arc Trail to kill Pils's newest recruits, but the Refugee proved untouchable to this point. He needed a Shrine of Burning Rage or a Dismember to rid himself of the pesky pro-red Refugee.

    Pils would never give him the chance. The immediate next turn, he went for it, aiming a Staggershock at Harkins to knock him to 6. After untapping, it rebounded at him to knock him to four. The Refugee hit him down to two and a landfall-powered Searing Blaze did the rest. After assuming the control role in the last two games of the match, Florian Pils defeated Jesse Harkins on his way to vie for a spot in Top 8!

    Florian Pils 2 – Jesse Harkins 1

     
  • Sunday, 4:00 p.m.: Deck Tech - Mono-Red with Florian Pils

    by Nate Price
  • This round's Feature Match was an interesting examination of the two different styles of mono-red deck. The first, the version played by Jesse Harkins, was a hyper-aggressive Goblins deck. Its sole purpose is to deal 20damage to an opponent as fast as it can. It's a strategy that has been around Magic since the earliest days of the game.

    The converse of this is Florian Pils's red deck. An updated variation on the mono-red decks from German Nationals this past month, it appears at first glance to be fairly similar to the Goblins deck. It has the aggressive Goblin Guide and the persistent Grim Lavamancer. It has a similar suite of burn to the deck as well. A closer inspection reveals an inherent difference in strategy. While many of the cards are the same, Pils's deck is a bit more versatile in its approach to the game. Sure, sometimes you will get the incredibly aggressive Goblin Guide and Chandra's Phoenix draw that just runs over an opponent.

    Sometimes, however, you will be forced into a defensive role. Unlike the Goblins deck, this deck exces at that role. It can poke through for the occasional point or two of damage with an early Phoenix or Guide, but then be content to sit and assume control of the game through the card advantage and attrition gained by its many burn spells, like Staggershock, Arc Trail, and Forked Bolt. Add to that the grinding of Grim Lavamancer, and the deck is capable of just grinding out a win from a defensive standpoint while staying alive by removing all of the opponent's threats.

    Against the field he saw here, he was quite happy with the deck.

    "Against decks that have Timely Reinforcements or Obstinate Baloth, this deck has a distinct advantage over the other red decks available. They rely on ground creatures to reduce opponent's life totals. Because of that, they have to run through the tokens or the Baloth in order to get at the life their opponent just gained. For me, I can just fly over them with Phoenix and use Lavamancer and my burn to ignore their new creatures."

    He also made sure to mention the strength and resilience of his creatures.

    "Phoenix is very good. Even if they find a way to deal with it once, it will almost always be able to find a way back. This deck often ends up dealing most of its damage with burn anyway, so the Phoenix reliably comes back. It also deals a good amount of damage since most of the fliers are only 1/1 Hawks. I son't mind trading it for a pair of Hawks."

    When I asked him about the matchup against Splinter Twin, which has really started to take over this tournament, comprising five of the seven decks that went undefeated on the first day, he laughed.

    "You know, I'm not really sure. I haven't really played against it this tournament, and I didn't get a chance to prepare as much as I would have liked beforehand. I guess I'll find out as the tournament goes on."

    Considering how many Twin decks are running around the top tables of the tournament, I am sure it's only a matter of time before Pils learns a thing or two about the matchup. For his sake, I hope he learns fast.


    Florian Pils - Mono-Red
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)


     
  • Sunday, 4:30 p.m.: Deck Tech - UB Control with Shaheen Soorani

    by Nate Price
  • When asking around for some initial information about Shaheen Soorani, I got a few useful pieces of information. First, he's a Virginia native with a hiddenly impressive resume. He's made Day 2 of multiple Pro Tours, including a 9th place finish at Worlds. He also made the Top 4 of the recent Starcitygames.com Open Series event in Richmond with a very similar deck to what he played this weekend. Despite getting all of this info about who Soorani is, no piece of information was anywhere near as helpful as "Soorani is control."

    "You mean he prefers control?" I asked.

    "No. He is control."

    Pictured: Control.

    Well that said enough.

    As I sat down to talk with him, he explained that he and Ali Aintrazi, who recently won US Nationals with a UB control deck, have agreed to play the same deck at all tournaments, this one being no different.

    "I've made some changes to the deck recently, though. At the Starcitygames.com Open Series event in Richmond, I added Bloodghasts to the sideboard to deal with the control decks, and they worked amazingly. Now, everyone's caught on to that, so I added a little piece of tech in to deal with the tech I created!"

    He has some interesting cards in his new build of the deck, and he took me through some of them.

    Jwar Isle Refuge – "The old decks have Mystifying Maze, but colorless mana is actually horrendous for this deck, especially with needing Bloodghast on turn two and then Jace Beleren or maybe a Black Sun's Zenith on turn three. You just have to have the colored mana sources so this deck wants as many dual lands as it can get. I remember when all of the control decks were running four of these lands. Oh, and I can't forget that it gains life!"

    Black Sun's Zenith – "I went up to playing two of these instead of one because of CawBlade. If this card resolves, it can just beat CawBlade single-handedly."


    Batterskull – "Didn't I already talk about life-gain? Seriously, against the aggro decks in the field, which are getting more support, it just gives you more game. The life-gain and having a big blocker just make this card too much for them to handle most times."

    "Life gain is the theme," he told me, "and it's going to continue in the sideboard."

    Bloodghast – "This is tech I put in for a Richmond SCG Open, but now everyone has caught on. Against every deck that doesn't attack, it's great. It's effectively uncounterable. It effectively lets you turn into an aggro deck that has all the good control cards. And it's aggro that doesnt' just run out, like most decks. They keep coming back. Against Caw, it negates two of their Hawks. Against Twin, they have to either run their Deceiver Exarch much earlier than they like, making them vulnerable to my removal, or just die.


    Sword of Feast and Famine – "Haha, this is my little anti-tech tech. Against the UB mirror, where most people have caught on to Bloodghast, I bring in the full Bloodghast package...as well as this little number. If I can put this on a Bloodghast of my own, they just can't ever stop it.

    Sorin's Thirst, Consuming Vapors, Wurmcoil Engine – "You remember that life-gain I said we'd be talking about? Well here it is! I'd have a third Sorin's Thirst in my board right now if I could. I lost back-to-back matches against Tempered Steel today, and it's the only matchup I can't really beat. I just need more ways to kill artifact creatures because my main deck Go for the Throats just don't cut it against them. These Consuming Vapors are amazing, too. They hit your opponent, but sometimes, especially against the red decks, you might want to aim it at yourself and kill one of your six-drops. Sometimes you just need that extra life to ensure you win."

    One card he mentioned that he wished he had in his sideboard was Consume the Meek.


    "We ended up having to cut the Consume the Meek from the sideboard because Black Sun's Zenith was just better at what it did, but after running into those Tempered Steel decks, I kind of want it back. It's never bad having that extra bit of security against CawBlade, and it just demolishesTempered Steel. Other than that and the extra Sorin's Thirst, I'm not sure what else I'd change."

    With his results from this week just lending even more credence to his expertise with this deck, it seemed as good a time as any to have a sit down with him and discuss the deck that has really started to make waves as a successor to the CawBlade decks as the best control deck in Standard right now. So for those of you who, like Soorani, are control, this may be a deck you'll want to check out.

    Just watch out for Tempered Steel.


    Shaheen Soorani - UB Control
    Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2011 (Standard Constructed)


     
  • Sunday, 5:15 p.m. - The Legend of Team CMU

    by Steve Sadin
  • I got a chance to sit down with Pittsburgh native, and Senior Director of Magic R & D Aaron Forsythe (who was been kept busy all weekend signing cards, Spellslinging, and showing off some soon to be released Innistrad cards) to talk to him for a bit about the history of Team CMU.

    Aaron Forsythe signing cards

    For years Team CMU, a Pittsburgh based team that congregated at Carnegie Mellon University, was one of the most dominant forces in Magic. They would frequently break constructed, and limited formats alike. But who actually made up this legendary team?

    "Randy Buehler, Mike Turian, Erik Lauer, and Dan Silberman (the forgotten fourth member) were the core of the original Team CMU," explained Forsythe.

    Mike Turian, Erik Lauer, and Randy Buehler -- Team CMU's forefathers.

    "Myself, Nate Heiss, Andrew Johnson, Andrew Cuneo, and Elliott Fung made up the second generation. Oh, and John Rizzo (a once well known Magic personality who wrote a column for StarCityGames) was on the team for a while – he added a, umm, whole different angle to the group."

    "While they weren't based in Pittsburgh -- Brian Schneider, and Patrick Chapin would float in and out all the time during this era. And a few years later a new crop of players including Eugene Harvey (who would go on to Top 8 four Pro Tours), Paul Sottosanti, and US Nationals 2005 Top 8 competitor Mike Patnik to continue Team CMU's tradition of Pro Tour success."

    While Aaron Forsythe had a good amount of individual success, including a spot on the World Championship winning 2000 US National Team, by far and away his most notable success came as a part of the Team Limited squad Car Acrobatic Team.

    Car Acrobatic Team – a team comprised of Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Cuneo, and Andrew Johnson was the first team to make it to the Top 4 of two Team Pro Tours.

    "We really were a team. We did better together than any of us could have done individually."

    As close as the members of Car Acrobatic Team were, it took a bit of convincing to get all of the members of the squad to put in the work necessary to succeed at the Pro Tour. But once they did, things went exceptionally well.

    "Cuneo had been playing at CMU since the beginning of time – him and Erik Lauer were actually there before anybody. Before Buehler, before Turian, before anyone. They were kind of the sages for the world. They helped to create an environment in which we could all thrive in."

    But while Lauer got interested in competitive Magic as soon as Buehler was on the scene – it wasn't until Andrew Johnson, and Aaron Forsythe were able to convince Cuneo to try to qualify for the Team Pro Tour with them that Cuneo really started to take things seriously.

    When asked what elements led to Team CMU's success, Forsythe gave a lot of credit to the team's environment.

    "We weren't based around a card shop, we were based around a very prestigious university full of brilliant people. That environment drew together some of the most intelligent, and motivated people in the country.

    Put perhaps even more important that their meeting grounds, was the fact that they had a captain who brought the best out of all of them.

    "Randy (Buehler) was a great motivator, he really got the best out of Mike (Turian), and Erik (Lauer). With Randy at the helm, we were all able to do some pretty fantastic things."

    After they completed their Pro Tour careers, many members of Team CMU, including Randy Buehler, Aaron Forsythe, Erik Lauer, Mike Turian, and Paul Sottosanti went on to take positions working on Magic at WotC.

    "Randy was also the first of our group to take a job at WotC, he really paved the way for the rest of us.

    "Lauer is arguably one of the top deckbuilders of all time – and we've been putting his expertise to work behind the scenes where he is now the technical lead of all Magic development. He's keeping the world safe from degenerate cards.

    "Turian's moved out of R&D, and into a position in Organized Play – where he's been working on something big that's going to be announced the week after Pro Tour Philadelphia."

    Even all these years later, Aaron remains incredibly close with many of the original members of Team CMU.

    "I was a member of Turian's wedding party – which is about as close as you can get to a person.

    "I still work with Mike (Turian), and Erik (Lauer) at WotC. Plus Randy (Buehler) lives in Seattle so I still see him a lot. I got to see Rizzo, Patnik this weekend -- which was pretty cool, and I'm in touch with a lot of the rest of the guys through Facebook."

    Before our interview ended, Forsythe made it a point to tip his hat one more time to Randy Buehler.

    "When Randy was there, Pittsburgh really was a destination. Jon Finkel, Gary Wise, the Canadians would all come to Pittsburgh before major events to prepare. It was really an amazing environment to learn about competitive Magic. I really appreciate the work that he did to bring us all together, and to share his expertise."

     
  • Round 16: Feature Match - Yuuya Watanabe vs. Shaheen Soorani

    by Steve Sadin
  • After an 11-0 start, Watanabe has stumbled a bit and now finds himself with a 12-2-1 record, and needs a win here to advance to the Top 8.

    Former US Nationals Top 8 Competitor Shaheen Soorani comes into this match with a 12-3 record, and needs a win, and a number of other matches to go his way in order to advance to the elimination rounds.

    Game One

    A turn two Squadron Hawk, followed by a turn three Blade Splicer gave Watanabe an early board presence, but a Into the Roil on the golem token followed by a Solemn Simulacrum gave Soorani a large mana advantage, putting him very much in the drivers seat.

    Shaheen Soorani

    Watanabe took advantage of the fact that his opponent had tapped out to stick an Emeria Angel.

    Soorani had no answer to the flier on hand, nor a sixth land, so he spent his turn digging through his deck with a Preordain, and a Jace Beleren before passing the turn with two mana open.

    Watanabe protected a Sword of Feast and Famine from Mana Leak with Spell Pierce, but with only a single mana left over -- Soorani was free to resolve a Consecrated Sphinx.

    Emeria Angel picked up the Sword, and a second Squadron Hawk joined the fray.

    Not wanting to take 5 damage and allow his opponent to untap all of his lands, Soorani blocked the Emeria Angel with Consecrated Sphinx and mused "Dismember?"

    But Watanabe didn't have the removal spell to deal with his opponent's game breaking flier.

    Soorani added another Solemn Simulacrum to his side of the board, and used a Mana Leak to attempt to stop Watanabe from resolving a second Emeria Angel. Watanabe had a Mana Leak of his own to force the flier through.

     

    If it looked like Watanabe had developed an advantage, that appearance turned out to be very short lived as a Black Sun's Zenith for five wiped Watanabe's board and left Soorani with a Consecrated Sphinx that had 5 -1/-1 counters on it.


    Even at a diminished size, Consecrated Sphinx will draw you a ton of extra cards.

    Watanabe equipped his Inkmoth Nexus with Sword of Feast and Famine, and attacked for 3 points of poison damage before he began to re-assmble an offense with a Squadron Hawk.

    Soorani cast a Batterskull, immediately equipped it to his Consecrated Sphinx, and attacked in with his 3/5 flier.

    Soorani added another Consecrated Sphinx to his side a turn later, and Watanabe promptly conceded.

    Shaheen Soorani 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 0

    Game Two

    Watanabe started game two with a Squadron Hawk, while Soorani got things going with a turn two Bloodghast. A play which elicited a strange look from the normally stoic Watanabe.

    "No Blade Splicer, please!" Pleaded Soorani.

    Watanabe didn't have a Blade Splicer, but he did have a Sword of Feast and Famine "That's bad too. I don't think I can race that," said Soorani.

     

    Soorani passed his turn with no play, and when Watanabe equipped the Sword of Feast and Famine to his Squadron Hawk, Soorani tried to bounce the sword with Into the Roil—but Watanabe had a Mana Leak to keep his sword on the board.

    A Tectonic Edge took out Watanabe's only white source, and gave Soorani a chance to get back into the game – but he never drew anything to deal with his opponent's sword carrying bird.

    Shaheen Soorani 1 – Yuuya Watanabe 1

    "Without sword, Bloodghast wins. With sword, Bloodghast doesn't win." Explained Soorani while shuffling for game three.

    Game Three

    Soorani opened with a turn two Bloodghast that Watanabe answered with a Condemn.

    Yuuya Watanabe

    Watanabe's Jace Beleren got Mana Leaked, and gave Soorani an opportunity to resolve a Jace Beleren of his own. Soorani then drew into an Inquisition of Kozilek that took Into the Roil out of a hand that also contained Sun Titan and a few lands.

    Soorani spent his next couple of turns drawing cards with Jace Beleren, and attacking Watanabe's lands with Tetonic Edges while Watanabe spent his turns casting creatures.

    Watanabe's attempt at Emeria Angel got countered by Mana Leak – but Watanabe managed to resolve a couple of Squadron Hawks, giving himself some much needed pressure, and a way to deal with Soorani's Jace Beleren.

    Solemn Simulacrum fetched Soorani a fifth land, but it also opened up a window for Watanabe to draw the sixth land that he needed to stick a Sun Titan which immediately got back Jace Beleren.

    Liliana Vess came down for Soorani and searched for something, but Watanabe was able to decimate Soorani's land base by returning Tectonic Edge with his Sun Titan.

    Inquisition of Kozilek into Doom Blade gave Soorani a bit of respite – but not much as Watanabe had a second Sun Titan, locking up a third consecutive Grand Prix Top 8 for the former Player of the Year.

    Final Result

    Yuuya Watanabe 2 - Shaheen Soorani 1

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