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Oliver is the Modern Master in Las Vegas

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The letter N!eal Oliver's weekend started much like the other 4,499 players who signed up to be a part of Grand Prix Las Vegas.

It ended , however, with Oliver hosting the historic trophy as the last man standing in the largest Magic tournament ever held.

After starting 0-1 and nearly dropping, Oliver went the next 17 rounds without dropping another match on the way to his crown. Along the way he bested a field full of Melokus, Kamigawa Dragons, Kiki-Jikis, Tarmogoyfs and more of Modern Master's biggest and baddest. And when the dust settled, he grabbed the championship with nothing more than a few 1/1s, a Bonesplitter, and a plan.

Beyond Oliver's win, no Magic player, judge, tournament organizer, or spectator is likely to forget this weekend. It was a weekend when the Magic community set the record for the larges trading card game tournament ever, a weekend when scores of players turned a tournament into a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and a weekend when the community came together to do something never been done before. It was, as one player put it, the Magic event of the year.

It was also the one and only showcase for Modern Masters, a set that showcased the best Magic has offered for the past 10 years. The rich, complex, rewarding format served as both the backdrop and the highlight of an event people will still be talking about for years to come.

But while the weekend belonged to the entire community, the trophy sits firmly in Neal Oliver's steady hands.

Congratulations to Neal Oliver, Champion of Grand Prix Las Vegas, the largest Magic tournament ever held!


Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Dustin Ochoa   Dustin Ochoa, 2-1        
8 Jeff Psyhos   Neal Oliver, 2-1
       
4 Steve Cahill   Neal Oliver, 2-1   Neal Oliver, 2-0
5 Neal Oliver    
       
2 Sean Collins   Madison Jonas, 2-0
7 Madison Jonas   Madison Jonas, 2-1
       
3 Lance Hartbarger   Lance Hartbarger, 2-1
6 Justin Nguyen    




  Streaming video coverage of Grand Prix Las Vegas provided by ggslive.com with Rashad Miller, Marshall Sutcliffe, Sheldon Menery, Gavin Verhey, and Ben Swartz. See full video archives at ggslive's YouTube channel.










EVENT COVERAGE INFORMATION
 1.  Neal Oliver $3,500
 2.  Madison Jonas $2,300
 3.  Lance Hartbarger $1,500
 4.  Dustin Ochoa $1,500
 5.  Sean Collins $1,000
 6.  Jeff Psyhos $1,000
 7.  Steve Cahill $1,000
 8.  Justin Nguyen $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
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  • Top 8 Profiles

    by Event Coverage Staff


  • Neal Oliver

    Age: 24
    Hometown: Berkeley, CA
    Occupation: SAT Tutor

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    0-1 Start to this event and Top 8ing; Beating Orie Guo in a fair game of Magic

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Adarkar Valkyrie, Maelstrom Pulse

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    Faeries

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    Kevan Emmarni played Tidehollow Sculler then cast Otherworldly Journey.

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    Amazing. I'm happy to be part of history.




    Jeff Psyhos

    Age: 33
    Hometown: San Clemente, CA
    Occupation: Student

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    None to speak of

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Sword of Fire and Ice, Kodama's Reach

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    Blue/Black Control

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    One of my opponents cast two Rude Awakenings in a single game, and I still won.

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    Crazy... unexpected




    Sean Collins

    Age: 22
    Hometown: Salem, OR
    Occupation: Medical transport

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    nada

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Sword of Fire and Ice

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    5 Color Control

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    Gleam of Resistance stopping Eyewitness Cryptic Lock

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    Finally qualifying for the Pro Tour!




    Steve Cahill

    Age: 30
    Hometown: Denver, CO
    Occupation: Owner of www.angrypenguingames.com

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Lots of PTQ Top 8s!
    GPs: I played in some! Not Top 8s though.

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Errant Ephemeron, Giant Dustwasp

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    AFFINITY ALL DAY EVERY DAY

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    Double Double Animal Style with fries—In & Out Burger

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    I came to Vegas with my best friends and I owe it all to their awesomeness. Oh, and it is awesome.




    Dustin Ochoa

    Age: 28
    Hometown: Tucson, AZ
    Occupation: Owner of Amazingmtg.com

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    2nd at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze. My biggest accomplishment is opening my gaming store, Amazing Discoveries.
    GPs: Las Vegas
    PTs: PT Dragon's Maze

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Vedalken Shackles

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    Draft Meloku. If not, have cards to kill it.

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    Not anything ridiculous, but I did enjoy stealing Dragons with Vedalken Shackles Day 1.

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    It means a lot for me and my store.




    Madison Jonas

    Age: 20
    Hometown: Denver, CO
    Occupation: Looking

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    None to speak of

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Feudkiller's Verdict. Never cast that and lost.

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    G/W. The Thallids are excellent, but they also just have big, bomby creatures.

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    Stinkdrinker Daredevil into two Cloudgoat Rangers. Suddenly, the board was overflowing... on turn five.

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    It's something else. It makes me realize that I have what it takes.




    Lance Hartbarger

    Age: 30
    Hometown: Fairfax, VA
    Occupation: Finance Manager

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    GPs: 3 Day 2s, 2 money finishes – all in Legacy

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Kokusho, the Evening Star, Skeletal Vampire, Tromp the Domains, Rude Awakening

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    UG Tempo

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    I played Tooth and Nail for Æthersnipe and Eternal Witness... returning Tooth and Nail. I won that game.

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    My wife and I had to put off our honeymoon for financial reasons... and it was going to be in Dublin. Now that's a reality.




    Justin Nguyen

    Age: 22
    Hometown: Yorba Linda, CA
    Occupation: Student

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Top 8s: PTQs, SCG
    GPs: 1st!!!

    What cards were your MVPs on Day 1?
    Æthersnipe x 3

    What's your favorite archetype in Modern Masters Draft?
    UG Tempo

    What was the coolest play/interaction you saw all weekend?
    PTL!

    What does it mean to you to be in the Top 8 of the biggest Grand Prix of all time?
    A lot, since I came into the last round in 19th place. Praise the Lord!!!






     

  • Top 8 – Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff











  •  

  • Quarterfinals – Neal Oliver vs. Steve Cahill

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter O!liver Neal figured out just how to do what only one other person all weekend could do.

    Beat Steve Cahill's Affinity deck.

    Neal's Blue-White midrange deck looked like a bit of a dog to Cahill's fast artifact-fueled beatdown coming into the match. It looked even worse after losing a fast game one. But by slowing the game down and giving himself enough time to combine Auriok Salvagers and Pyrite Spellbomb in games two and three, Oliver moved on to the semifinals in exciting fashion.


    Steve Cahill

    "My late game is just better," Neal said, reflecting on his mind state after losing the first game rather quickly. "The problem with Game 1 was that I thought I was an aggro deck. I didn't think the Affinity deck was out there. I didn't pass much for it, so I didn't think it was there."

    But it was. I always has been when Cahill has been in the pod. He forced the archetype at every turn throughout the day, going 4-1-1 with the deck on his way to the Top 8. He was even very happy with his deck.

    But, ultimately, he couldn't beat Auriok Salvagers and Pyrite Spellbomb.

    "That's a fairly good combination of cards there," Cahill said as he stared down the rare 2/4. With his board packed with two- and one-toughness creatures, he knew there was only so much he could do to fight back against that combination.

    Neal knew it too, going so far as to simply not attack in the third game despite a significant advantage in the air. He figured as long as he didn't lose to something like Blinding Beam tempoing him out, he simply couldn't lose.

    "I tried to slow him down a ton. In game three I just wanted to play ridiculously conservatively," Neal explained. "Eventually he can't kill me."

    He clearly learned his lesson from the first game, where Cahill came out of the gates quickly with small beaters. All Oliver managed to do was draw a few cards with Mulldrifter (Evoked) and Careful Consideration before he was too far behind to beat an Æther Spellbomb.

    In the second, Cahill mulled into a slow six-card hand and never really stood a chance. He didn't land a real creature until turn four, and by then Oliver was already set up with Auriok Salvagers and Pyrite Spellbomb.


    Oliver Neal

    The third game was far grindier, but eventually ended much the same way: with Auriok Salvagers putting the final Spellbomb-laden nails in Cahill's coffin. And Cahill knew it.

    "That can't be good," the effusive Cahill said as Auriok Salvagers came down in the final game.

    It certainly wasn't. And it meant Oliver was on his way to the Top 4 of Grand Prix Las Vegas.




     

  • Quarterfinals – Sean Collins vs. Madison Jonas

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter C!oming into his first Grand Prix Top 8 appearance , Madison Jones was unsure how to feel about his deck or playing on such a big stage.

    "I'm more nervous than excited," the first-time Grand Prix Top 8er said while taking his seat.

    But after trouncing Sean Collins' busty Blue White deck on the sturdy backs of both Vedalken Shackles and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, in two straight games nonetheless, it was hard to be down on his deck.

    So how did he feel now that his deck had proven itself to be incredibly powerful?

    "Better," he said, relaxing after making 50 million Pestermites thanks to Kiki-Jiki. "There are a million things you can do with Kiki Jiki, and you don't even see them till they're there."


    Madison Jones quickly found out just how powerful his deck was.

    The Pestermite combo, while how he technically won the second game, was certainly not one of the "hidden" combos Jonas was referring to. Instead, he made good use of Mogg War Marshall to grow a token army and Æthersnipe to make it impossible for Collins to gain any kind of footing.


    Against almost any other board state, Collins deck would have been on solid ground. His game two Cloudgoat Ranger took an Otherworldly Journey and would have been backed by an Oona, Queen of the Fae had Jonas not had removal and Æthersnipe to completely dominate the board. In a clash of some of the format's powerful cards, it was the little Legendary Goblin that truly ruled the board.

    The first game, on the other hand, was somewhat comical for the first few turns, as mulligans for both players resulted in both players missing land drops and staring at each other for the first few turns, even forced to discard to excessively large hand sizes.

    But when Jonas made a move, he made a big one: Vedalken Shackles.

    The players jockeyed back and forth from that point. A Plumeveil was countered, a Pardic Dragon attacked, and Saltfield Recluse muddled up combat, but at every point, Vedalken Shackles was there to keep things firmly under Jonas' control. Eventually, a stolen Errant Ephemeron combined with Tribal Flames to end the Shackles-dominated game.

    The match was an excellent example of the power Modern Masters can bring to bear even in just limited. Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite is a top tier constructed strategy, and Vedalken Shackles is one of the primary draws to playing Island-heavy decks in Modern. In fact, several people we've talked with this weekend said that Vedalken Shackles was the card they'd most like to see staring back at them from the booster pack.


    Sean Collins had plenty of power in his Blue White. But even his bombs weren't enough to beat the Mythics staring at him from across the board.

    And even in a losing effort, Collins deck certainly lacking in power. His pair of powerful Cloudgoat Rangers were reminiscent of their reign over Lorwyn-era Standard, and the Reveillark and Oona, Queen of the Fae were both worthy of headlining constructed decks in their time. Reveillark still sees play in Modern to this day.

    And that was the deck that got trounced.

    Though he certainly felt good after picking up his first Top 8 match win, Jonas was down on his deck during building. He wasn't sure he had enough creatures—which led him to splash Cenn's Enlistment alongside Grand Arbiter Augustin IV and Bound in Silence—and he wasn't convinced his deck actually did much outside of a few powerful cards. He had never, as it turned out, drafted a Red Blue deck in this format before.

    It turns out, fortunately for him, it does quite a lot.




     

  • Quarterfinals – Dusty Ochoa vs. Jeff Psyhos

    by Nate Price

  • The letter A!s good as it feels when that perfect card hits at the perfect time, Dusty Ochoa must be feeling really good right now.

    Ochoa was able to overcome an incredibly well-timed Death Cloud for 5 in the final game of a very close match to defeat Jeff Psyhos 2-1. Thanks to the sheer size of this tournament, Psyhos still ends up with a qualification for Pro Tour Theros, even though this loss sends him home in the Quarterfinals.

    "I'm nervous," Psyhos said as he sat down to the table. "This is my first Grand Prix Day 2 ever. This is only my third Grand Prix ever, now I'm qualified for the Pro Tour!"


    Jeff Psyhos

    Ochoa, meanwhile, is no stranger to the rigors of Sunday play, having graced the final table of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze roughly a month ago. The same kind of poise that he had to show in that Top 8 had to resurface in the final game, when he found his back against the wall. Normally, opening with a pair of Durkwood Baloth suspensions would be a reason to celebrate, but Ochoa's were more of a countdown to some serious pain, as Psyhos followed them up with an immediate suspension of Phthisis. Resolving a Phthisis against a Baloth would half Ochoa's life total. Considering Psyhos's follow-up Stinkweed Imp, it looked like neither Baloth would be anything but trouble for Ochoa.

    Still, he pressed on. Using Kodoma's Reach, Ochoa was able to run out a pair of kicked Citanul Woodreaders, blowing through his deck. As the Baloths came off of suspend, they joined the fray. The first ran headlong into the Stinkweed Imp. The other, hitting play a turn before the Phthisis, ran right into an Epochrasite.


    This was a blessing in disguise for Ochoa. The damage from the Epochrasite allowed him to tap out for a Molten Disaster for four, wiping everything but a Faerie Macabre on Psyhos's side. This meant that when the Phthisis unsuspended on the following turn, Psyhos had to not only kill his only creature, but the hit dropped him to 8 life. It was a masterful reversal by Ochoa.

    Yet one more masterful reversal remained. Ochoa filled the void with creatures of his own, taking the lead on the board. Now in significant peril, Psyhos tapped out for a Death Cloud for 5, killing all creatures, crushing life totals, emptying hands, and going to three lands apiece. It was a demolishing turn of events. The cherry on top was that this came with one turn left on his Epochrasite's suspension. Next turn, he'd have a hasty 4/4 attacker joining his side. Even worse, a dredged Stinkweed Imp would give Psyhos another evasive attacker.


    Dusty Ochoa

    Now Ochoa was the one against the wall. Facing down lethal in two turns, Ochoa had to rely on the heart of the cards. Citanul Woodreaders. It gave him a blocker. His next draw was a dredged Moldervine Cloak, making his Woodreaders big enough to block the Epochrasite, and threatening lethal himself. This perfect series of draws put the game back to one big Mexican standoff. It just needed one more grain of sand to drop to tip the scales. Torrent of Stone was the first grain. Glacial Ray was the second. Over one end step and then the following turn, the spells combined to remove Psyhos's blockers, giving Ochoa one of the tightest matches I've seen in a while.

    The other two games had their own perfect moments, as well, though less pronounced than those of the final game. The first game revolved around Kira, Great Glass Spinner, which Psyhos used to prevent Ochoa from interacting with any of his fliers or the Rathi Trapper that was keeping his large monsters tapped down. It hit during the only window it could to prevent Ochoa from using Glacial Ray to kill the Trapper, likely sealing the game. The second game saw Ochoa bounce back, outlasting a suspended Phthisis before dropping Meloku the Clouded Mirror into play. Psyhos tried to kill it, but fell just short in the worst possible way: revealing a Horobi's Whisper to an Erratic Mutation.




     

  • Quarterfinals – Lance Hartbarger vs. Justin Nguyen

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I! can't help but feel sympathy when I see a person mulligan in every game of a Grand Prix elimination match. Lance Hartbarger may change how I feel about that.

    Hartbarger's three-color Thallid deck was forced to mulligan in each of the three games he played in his Quarterfinals match, but it didn't stop him from putting together the cards he needed to win the match. In the end, it was Justin Nguyen and his BW Rebels deck that I felt sorry for, as he ended Game 3 with a pair of Amrou Scouts in play, but only three Plains behind them.


    Justin Nguyen

    "I didn't think I made it," Nguyen admitted with a smile after arriving at the Feature Match area. "They announced the Top 8 and I heard that I hadn't made it. Then all of a sudden they came on and said that I actually had, and I just lost it."

    Hartbarger began every one of his games in this Quarterfinals with a mulligan, and it was Search for Tomorrow that bailed him out every time. In all three games, he suspended the land-searcher, each time putting himself back into the game and recovering from his mulligan.

    In the first game, it helped his two-land opening hand power into Kitchen Finks, Penumbra Spider, and eventually Ryusei, the Falling Star. Watching him peel out of his terrible open was very impressive, and he got back on track quickly.


    Nguyen didn't sit idle, though. His draw had a few cards that were perfect foils in this matchup. Hillcomber Giant and Faerie Macabre provided evasive threats that simply became a clock that Hartbarger couldn't match. His Ryusei didn't get to even attack before a Bound in Silence locked it down, and he couldn't find a way to kill Nguyen's mountainwalker, let alone his own Ryusei. After peeling well, his draw fell off, as Nguyen continued to build. Rathi Trapper allowed his Faeries to begin attacking, and it was only a few turns before he took home the first game.

    "One of these board is not like the other," Hartbarger said, looking at his decimated board before picking up his cards.

    While this was surely depressing enough, Hartbarger looked even more upset when he was forced to mulligan yet again. This second mulligan resulted in a one-land hand with Search for Tomorrow and Giant Dustwasp. His deck once again provided the tools he needed to peel out of it, but this time it provided him an offense that was even more difficult to stymie. A pair of Thallid Shell-Dwellers and a Sporesower Thallid made an unreasonably large number of spore counters incredibly quickly. Nguyen had a pair of Rathi Trappers, but Hartbarger's threats were more diffuse, and the swarm began to build.


    Lance Hartbarger

    Upon hitting five mana, Hartbarger dropped a Sporoloth Ancient and went to town. Seven Saprolings hit play. Next turn, six more joined them. One turn later, after drawing his third land type, Tromp the Domains made his army utterly lethal. From a one-land hand to Tromp the Domains for three, and all of it initiated by a suspended Search for Tomorrow.

    After an exciting couple of games to begin, the last game was fairly anticlimactic. Hartbarger again mulliganned into a two-land hand, and a ripped Search for Tomorrow paved the way for him to ramp all the way through Penubra Spider and Giant Duskwasp into Ryusei, the Falling Star. While this was happening, Nguyen, who had kept an entirely reasonable hand with a pair of Amrou Scouts and three lands, had failed to draw a fourth land. Worse still, he was stuck on all Plains, trapping the Rathi Trapper in his hand. Three mulligans after the match began, Hartbarger was advancing to the Semifinals.




     

  • Semifinals – Neal Oliver vs. Dusty Ochoa

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I!f you ever questioned why cards like Mothdust Changeling are in Modern Masters, question no more.

    On the strength of Bonesplitter, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Mothdust Changeling, Neal Oliver managed to win an incredibly thrilling race in to close out his three-game Semifinals match against Dusty Ochoa's three-color green deck.


    Dusty Ochoa

    The first game was all Ochoa, as Penumbra Spider shut down Oliver's offense. While Oliver tried to set up a recursion cycle with Auriok Salvagers and Pyrite Spellbomb to take things to a late game victory, Ochoa stuck to his game plan of making dinosaurs and then making opponents extinct. After dealing a good chunk of damage to Oliver with an Imperiosaur that outclassed all of Oliver's team, Ochoa aimed a Molten Disaster straight at the remainder of Oliver's life total.

    Down a game, Oliver was able to really showcase the power of his deck in the second game. Opening with a fast Bonesplitter/Mothdust Changeling/Spellstutter Sprite draw, Oliver's draw was all about dealing damage now and worrying about the rest later. Ochoa, meanwhile, was building for the future, suspending a pair of Durkwood Baloths and setting up for later control. But Oliver's draw was just too fast. Taking surprisingly large chunks of Ochoa's life total away every turn, Oliver had managed to reduce Ochoa to a mere 6 before his first Baloth even sniffed the board. With things so close to finishing, Oliver added a Flickerwisp to his team, handing it a Bonesplitter for the final attack. Between it, his other flier, and a Pyrite Spellbomb, Oliver managed a quick turn-seven kill.


    The final game, though, was on a whole new level. After displaying the sheer speed his deck is capable of, Oliver found himself in the rare position of being forced to play the control deck. Spending his early turns using Mulldrifter and Careful Consideration to sculpt his hand, he denied Ochoa the same luxury with a Traumatic Visions, countering a kicked Citanul Woodreaders. Ochoa was slowly beating down with a pair of tokens from Mogg War Marshall when he upped the ante with a Sporoloth Ancient.

    Now that the big guns were out, Oliver started to have to use his creatures for defense. Fortunately, Bonesplitter made even the most modest of creatures a fearsome defender. Avian Changeling traded with the Ancient. Flickerwisp would have eaten a Durkwood Baloth if Torrent of Stone hadn't intervened. Little by little, Oliver found ways to keep himself alive in the face of large attackers.


    Neal Oliver

    All this time, Oliver was basically Lightning Bolting Ochoa every turn. Mothdust Changeling and Bonesplitter teamed up to attack for 3. Ochoa never blocked since a Pyrite Spellbomb in play would force the trade. When he decided to keep tokens back to block, Blinkmoth Nexus lifted the Changeling over them.

    With Ochoa at 10, Oliver put his racing boots on overdrive. The Pyrite Spellbomb that had acted as a deterrent went straight at Ochoa's face. The Mothdust Changeling sent for another three. A Lightning Helix did three and allowed Oliver to survive a lethal next attack. Then, from the top of his deck, another Pyrite Spellbomb sealed the deal. It was an incredible turn of events, and it was all thanks to the utter power of Bonesplitter. Without the efficient Equipment, Oliver wouldn't have been able to block and trade effectively, and he wouldn't have been able to attack either. Bonesplitter effectively did ten damage to Ochoa over the course of the game, and much more to creatures. It nearly single-handedly lifted Oliver up and into the finals.





     

  • Semifinals – Madison Jonas vs. Lance Hartbarger

    by Nate Price

  • The letter E!ven though the heat was much stronger here in Las Vegas while the sun was still up, the biggest sweat of the weekend came during this match.

    Always tantalizingly close to putting together his Pestermite/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, combo, Madison Jones managed to cobble together the cards he needed to win despite never making "infinity Pestermites."

    Game 1 was a ticking time bomb from about turn four. While Hartbarger was on the offensive, it was Jonas's deck that contained the bomb. Sitting in his hand was a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Sitting on his board was a Pestermite.

    Let the great sweat begin.


    Lance Hartbarger

    Hartbarger had used Kodoma's Reach to set up a board with a Thallid Shell-Dweller, Sporoloth Ancient, and a Penumbra Spider. The hits came ponderously, with the Ancient and a Saproling token doing the heavy lifting. Jonas eventually spent two spells to remove the Ancient, but it was immediately replaced by the even more dangerous Ryusei, the Falling Star. For the second match in a row, Hartbarger saw his massive Dragon Bound in Silence before it could even attack once.

    "You're the second straight opponent who's done that. He gets no love," Hartbarger sighed.

    Hartbarger's Kitchen Finks and Saproling Tokens continued their assault, however, and Jonas found his life total dipping into the red. While at 2 life, he had a chance to Erratic Mutation and Rift Bolt Ryusei if needed, which would have cleared the board, but he didn't make the play. Instead, he let the final attack finish him off. Kiki-Jiki ended the game in his hand, staring at the two useless Mountains in front of Jonas.


    This game, it was a different race against the clock. Hartbarger had the same style of offense he found in the first game, using a couple of Thallids and a Saproling to whittle away at Jonas's life. This time, he was able to get a small army of Saprolings into play, but a Thundercloud Shaman cleared them all away. He continued with the stall tactics, using removal spells and any other means he could to keep alive while he tried to piece together his combo. Jonas held the Pestermite and had the Mountains, he just needed to Kiki-jiki. He used Cenn's Enlistment to generate enough blockers to begin to keep alive.

    "That's a nice reactive deck you've got there," Hartbarger said after failing to get through for damage for a fourth consecutive turn.

    That was all about to end. Hartbarger ripped for his turn, tapped all of his lands, and entwined a Rude Awakening. The resulting attack made Jonas double count the amount of damage coming through, and he almost scooped to it. After a second look, he realized that he was alive and at 2 life. This sliver was all he needed. Vedalken Shackles took the Penumbra Spider on Hartbarger's side, and Kiki-Jiki made sure there was more where that came from. Each turn, his shadow Spider army grew until he finally had enough attackers to finish Hartbarger off, capping off a dramatic comeback from the brink of death.

    So far, the bomb had passed hands multiple times. This time, it would explode for the final time.


    Madison Jonas

    Hartbarger had the perfect two creatures to begin for Jonas's early Vedalken Shackles. Thallid Shell-Dweller provided a capable blocker for Hartbarger's other creature, a Kitchen Finks, while constantly growing the potential for more Saprolings. When Hartbarger added a Moldervine Cloak to his Finks, Jonas decided he'd had enough fun, blocking with the Thallid he'd just stolen. Pestermite delayed another turn. When Hartbarger played Ryusei, the Falling Star, Jonas had a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Well, one Torrent of Stone and a Tribal Flames...close enough. Ryusei died, killing the Finks for the first time. Moldervine Cloak came right back, however, and the Finks once again picked up some man pants.

    Down to a low 6, Jonas was up against it.

    In a flurry, he removed the Finks with Erratic Mutation, stole a Penumbra Spider cast on the following turn, and that was it. Hartbarger had nothing to stop him with as the Spider went the distance, sending Jonas into the finals to face Neal Oliver!




     

  • Finals – Madison Jonas vs. Neal Oliver

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter A!fter a weekend dominated by big spells, powerful creatures, and the best cards the last 10 years have to offer, it was a flurry of flying Bonesplitter-wielding Faeries that ultimately pushed Neal Oliver over the top against Madison Jonas, leaving Oliver as the champion of the largest Grand Prix ever held.

    Oliver, who nearly dropped after starting the tournament 0-1 with zero byes, rattled off 17 rounds without losing again

    "Never won a PTQ, always lose the first round of the Top 8," Oliver said. "This is ridiculous."


    Madison Jonas

    Oliver's Blue White deck didn't look like the most powerful deck in the final draft at first blush. Sure, he had Auriok Salvager returning Spellbombs and ways to reuse his Mulldrifter, but he was facing decks that could bring Oona, Queen of the Fae, Rude Awakening, Vedalken Shackles, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to battle.

    It was that very Kiki-Jiki that Oliver had to worry about in the finals, as Jonas packed both the powerful mythic and Pestermite, meaning he could combine the two to win out of nowhere. He also had Vedalken Shackles and a ton of removal.

    But what he didn't have, apparently, was the ability to stop the rampaging Mothdust Changeling and Spellstutter Sprite that took Bonesplitter-sized chunks out of his lifetotal.

    The first game of the finals was Oliver's to lose right from the start, as Jonas was forced to mull to five cards after seeing successive one-land hands. Nonetheless, Jonas started picking apart Oliver's tiny flying force bit by bit, only to be stymied by a Spellstutter Sprite that had enough friends to counter a Torrent of Stone.


    In what would prove to be the final game of the tournament, Jonas' previously reliable deck once again had mana issues that Oliver capitalized on by beating down early and often with a Mothdust Changeling holding very tightly onto that Bonesplitter. When the Mothdust Changeling fell to a Sudden Shock, Spellstutter Sprite was there to pick up the equipment and finish the job.

    Ultimately it might have been Jonas' White splash that kept him from coming back. In the finals, he repeatedly found himself short on red mana, but always had one of the few Plains in his deck. There's no telling what that land might have been otherwise, but it caused noticeable hiccups in his development.

    Oliver, on the other hand, was able to cleanly support his Red splash thanks to several land cyclers and the fact that the Red was only supporting Pyrite Spellbomb. And while the Bonesplitter-wielding 1/1s will get most of the press, it was two damage from one copy of the artifact Shock that set up the final lethal swing.

    And to think, it all might not have been.

    After dropping his first match of the day, Oliver gave serious consideration to dropping and emphasizing the vacation part of the weekend over the Magic portion. He told himself he'd drop if he lost just one more time.


    Neal Oliver

    Except, he just never lost, right up until his monumental, and certainly memorable, victory.

    Even before the win, Oliver was awed to be in the Top 8 of a tournament we won't soon forget.

    "Amazing. I'm happy to be a part of history," he wrote on his player profile before the Top 8 draft.

    He's not just a part of it any more. Neal Oliver has made history as the Champion of Grand Prix Las Vegas.





     

  • Top Five Cards of Grand Prix Houson

    by Blake Rasmussen



  • 5. Bonesplitter

    It didn't take Neal Oliver's Bonesplitter-fueled finals win to convince us to place Bonesplitter atop this list, but it certainly didn't hurt. This common piece of Equipment was everywhere this weekend and, moreover, was very, very good. It paced Affinity decks, added punch to flying Faeries, and let smaller creatures trade with bombs. Cheap, colorless and highly impactful, nearly every player was happy to have Bonesplitter on their side, and equally unhappy to see it equipped to an opponent's critter.

    Setting the standard for powerful limited Equipment from the very invention of Equipment way back in Mirrodin block, Bonesplitter may not be as powerful as Sword of Light and Shadow or as flashy as Sword of Fire and Ice, but it shows up far more often and does nearly as much work winning games quickly and efficiently.





    4. Meloku the Clouded Mirror

    Easily splashable, virtually unbeatable, and flexibly defensive and aggressive, Meloku the Clouded Mirror dominated more games this weekend than probably any other rare. Players went out of their way to make room for the five-mana Legend. Dustin Ochoa said he owed much of his success this weekend to the Clouded one, sporting copies during both the sealed and the draft portions of the event. In fact, when asked what Ochoa's favorite draft archetype was, he simply answered "Draft Meloku. If not, have cards to kill it."







    3. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

    If Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker weren't Mythic, it very well could have been more dominant than Meloku this weekend. As it was, it had to settle for merely being backbreaking a smaller percentage of the time. Players combined the combo-machine with Pestermite all weekend to build a constructed-worthy combo that ended the game immediately. And even if that machine gun wasn't available, a plethora of value creatures—from Æthersnipe to Warren Pilferers to Mulldrifter—let Kiki-Jiki dominate whenever it hit the battlefield.

    Madison Jonas' copy of the five-mana 2/2 was instrumental in his trip to the finals. In the first round, he made 50 million Pestermites to take a game that had already been dominated by Æthersnipe copies. And in the semifinals, he crawled back from two life to win the match when he started making copies of a stolen Penumbra Spider followed by copies of a stolen Kitchen Finks.





    2. Tromp the Domains

    Please let Tromp the Domains table. I'm tired of killing people with 3/3 Thallids."

    That was the plea of one player on Twitter, but judging from the number of people killed by Tromp this weekend, that wasn't much of a problem at the Grand Prix.

    Time and time again players would survey the board, do some math, and watch their opponents sink after tapping six mana. Typically not even as big as Overrun and costing one more mana, Tromp is nonetheless a key component of the Thallids deck. And five-color decks. And decks that have Green mana. And decks that have creatures.

    In other words, pretty much everyone wants one.





    1. Errant Ephemeron

    Cited by many as the best common in the set, no one wanted to see the Time Spiral Illusion suspended on the other side of the table on turn two. Several Day 1 undefeated decks were heavy on the suspend theme, and Errant Ephemeron was always front and center of that plan. Sam Black, for one, rode his pair of Ephemerons, and their uncommon buddy Riftwing Cloudskate, to a pristine record in the sealed portion of the event. It's power is high enough that it gets picked and played highly, despite lacking any of the set's inherent synergy with any of the main archetypes. Sometimes, a 4/4 flier is more than enough, as Ephemeron showed us time and time again.






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