Saturday, December 18: 1:32 pm - Sweet Home, Chicago
Though I live in Virginia these days, I spent the first seventeen years of my life in the Chicago area, and I can still say: I love this town. The days of my youth were spent looking up to sports heroes like Walter Payton, Ryne Sandberg, and Michael Jordan, and seemingly endless field trips in junior high and high school were spent in Chicago's outstanding zoos, aquarium, planetarium, and museums (The Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum of Natural History were particular favorites). Even though I haven't lived here in over ten years, I still root for the White Sox, Da' Bears, and Da' Bulls. Yeah, I'm a sad sports fan these days, but if you didn't have that whole "four-to-five months of winter" thing that you get in Chitown, I'd be more than happy to once again make it my home.
Osyp Lebedowicz is old!
One of the biggest things that I miss from those halcyon days of yore was something I never thought about before I moved away and went to college in Oklahoma: the food. Chicago cuisine has unique elements that don't seem to exist outside the Midwest - nobody does sausage and beef quite like the denizens of the Windy City. Last night I took a small group of people to Brazilian Steakhouse Fogo de Chao for a ridiculous evening of men in tuxedos serving savory cuts of meat on short swords. Lamb chops, filet mignon with bacon, parmesan encrusted beef, rump roast, top sirloin, the list goes on and on, and every single cut of meat was ridiculous. Fogo also exists in Atlanta (yes, I already have a trip planned there for the Team Pro Tour in March), Houston, and Dallas, Texas, so if you live in or around one of those fine cities and have a chance to make a reservation, I highly recommend it. We even sang happy birthday in front of the whole restaurant to clown prince of Magic, Osyp Lebedowicz, who turns 30 next week. Good food, good friends, good times - to me that's what playing Magic is all about.
Tonight's foraging will include a trip to find my favorite Chicago food: Italian Beef. I was shocked and appalled when went to college and found out that the rest of the world didn't feature this awesome staple of my teenage diet, but after searching for the next ten years, I eventually realized that it can be found almost exclusively in the Midwest. For those of you who have never heard of it, Italian Beef is thin-sliced roast beef slow-cooked in its juice with Italian spices, pepperocini, and sundry other goodies added in. When you order it, the give you a thick hoagie bun, slap the beef on there, and pour a ton of juice over the top, giving you a slightly mushy but delicious taste sensation. If anybody knows of any good beeferies in the Rosemont area, let me know on the message boards so I can finalize my dinner plans. In the meantime, all this talk about food has made me rather hungry, so I'm going to grab some lunch and then work on deck tech with :B.
Saturday, December 18: 3:15 pm - Deck Tech with :B
Tim Aten and "his children" as he calls them, teenager and Pro Tour Columbus Top 8 competitor Gadiel Szleifer plus college student John Pelcak, surprised the world when they finished 7th at Pro Tour: Seattle, making them the top American team in the event. Since then, Aten finished Worlds as one of the top Americans in the standings, and Gadiel placed 5th at Pro Tour: Columbus, giving this team a strong finish to the 2004 season and a good start to 2005. I sat down with them briefly to peek at the decks they would be running for rounds 3 and 4 of Day 1, after the bye rounds were over.
As good as it gets!
"Our decks are in-sane," were the first words out of John Pelcak's mouth when I sat down. "Not exactly," observed Aten. "John still has to run three Ashen-skin Zubera." "Yeah, but they are good. They combo with Devouring Greed pretty nicely." Also included in Pelcak's fast R/B deck were a solid assortment of creatures, two Hanabi Blasts, and Constructed rare Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Fortunately for :B, John's deck is the worst of the bunch by far.
Tim Aten's pile featured both Black and White cards in about as strong a configuration you could hope for, particularly out of the rare slot. When I was flipping through Tim's deck, I noticed both Horobi, Death's Wail and Kokusho, The Evening Star peeking back at me, with 2 Kabuto Moth and a Kitsune Healer ready to help Horobi with his board-clearing. The hits didn't stop there, however, as Aten's deck also included a Nezumi Cutthroat, 3 Nezumi Ronin, good tricks like Blessed Breath and Otherworldly Journey, and decent removal to boot.
Tim Aten is metal!
The crown jewel out of the pool, however, was clearly Szleifer's Blue/Green spiritcraft deck, which displays the true power of this fully-operational space station. A foil Keiga, the Tide Star was the best card in the stack, but the true strength of the deck lie in its synergy. 3 Kodama's Might and 3 Reach Through Mists mean he can pump his creatures practically at will while drawing some extra cards, the underrated Soilshaper let his lands get in on the action, and Hana Kami is there to bring the arcane spells back, while Burr Grafter brings back Hana. Add two Kami of the Hunt to further abuse the spirit and arcane elements of the deck, plus mana acceleration and good beats and you have a deck that could easily go 8-0 on the day without dropping a game. Sadly for :B, they only get to keep these decks for two actual rounds before they have to build a new set for the final four rounds of Day 1, but if power level equates to wins, they should put themselves in good position to advance to Day 2.
Saturday, December 18: 4:41 pm - :B vs. Re-Elect Mayor Daley
:B is a team of American players on the rise, featuring Limited specialist Tim Aten, Minnesotan John Pelcak, and PT Columbus Top 8 competitor Gadiel Szleifer. They finished 7th at Pro Tour--Seattle, bettering their 8th place finish at Washington D.C. and are looking to continue their hot streak in this weekend's Grand Prix. Their opponents are a group of amateur players from Indiana called Re-Elect Mayor Daley. Robert Hardy, Michael Sonksen, and Ben Huguenard are looking to break into the big time by beating Aten's crew and running their record to 3-0 on the day.
Seat B: Michael Sonksen of Re-Elect Mayor Daley vs. Gadiel Szleifer of :B
Pelcak pulls off the win!
I confess that I picked this feature match because we featured :B in our deck tech article and I was interested in seeing a good U/G deck in action. Internet pundit Nick Eisel swears that it's one of the best archetypes in draft, but with the increased power level of Team Sealed card pools, the potential for ridiculousness increases dramatically.
Sonksen won the die roll and had to mulligan before keeping his second six. Game 1 was like Chinese water torture, with beats coming one point at a time from Sonksen's side while Gadiel choked on the land-only diet his deck fed him. Twelve lands and excruciating one-power beatings from Sonksen eventually sealed game 1 for the Ft. Wayne native.
Sonksen 1 - Szleifer 0
While the players were shuffling for game 2, Pelcak won his first game, and Aten and opponent were already headed to game 3.
Game 2 was a game of splicey arcane goodness on both sides with dueling Tellers of Tales attempting to dominate the board from both sides. Sonksen hit every drop with strong Blue and White spells like Kami of Ancient Law, Kitsune Blademaster, Kabuto Moth, Teller, and a second Moth, while Gadiel got off to a decent early start, but sputtered a bit and then got wrecked in one turn where he cast Kodama's Might on his own Teller to block Sonksen's Teller, but Sonksen had two Moth activations plus a Blessed Breath to wreck Gadiel's team. The smashings left Szleifer in a poor board position and out of gas in his hand, and Sonksen ran him over again, proving that a deck that looks nearly unbeatable on paper can go down in flames with help from some poor draws.
Sonksen 2 - Szleifer 0
Thankfully for Szleifer, teammates Aten and Pelcak both pulled out their matches without too much difficulty, giving :B a 2-1 victory in the match.
Saturday, December 18: 6:20 pm - Unearthing the Old School
Teams is my favorite format, both for the fact that it may be the most skill-testing of formats and also because of the additional social element it introduces into the game. Another reason why this format is so enjoyable is because of all the old players it generally brings out of the woodwork. To the chagrin of my own teammates, I'm booked for coverage on both of our local PTQ weekends, but I get to enjoy teams vicariously both here and at Grand Prix: Osaka in January.
This weekend doesn't feature as many lost ones as most Team Grand Prix and Pro Tours seem to, possibly because Magic is undergoing a bit of a changing of the guard right now and possibly because this event is being held the weekend before Christmas and many players already have holiday plans, but they are still out there if you know where to dig.
Danny Mandel - YMG Inc.
Danny used to be a staple member of YMG before he gave up slinging spells to design games for a Wizards of the Coast competitor. While he's still heavily involved in that work, Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle managed to lure him back to the Magic tables again for this particular event. Ironically, this team of Magic old schoolers faced a team populated by men who are easily 20 years over the average age for Magic players who called themselves "Old School."
Chad Ellis - Succession
Chad Ellis took a break from the game for a couple of years to work in Germany, but was lured back to gaming by long-time friend Rob Dougherty, who convinced Chad to start developing the own games. Since then, Chad has qualified for Pro Tour--Nagoya and is hoping to do well enough with his teammates this weekend to maybe earn a slot to Pro Tour--Atlanta as well.
Adrian Sullivan - Team Caffeine
This MagictheGathering.com writer had phasing added to his Magic career years ago, and has been in and out of the game ever since. He's made the short trip down from Madison this weekend with teammates Sam Black and Azrael Spear, and is looking to at least make it to the draft portion of the event.
Chris Pikula, left, and Josh Ravitz
Chris Pikula and Igor Frayman - The Max Fischer Players
After qualifying for Pro Tour--Seattle, this team surpassed all expectations by coming within one round of making the Top 4 before Bram Snepvangers and Co. defeated them when Pikula missed casting an Inflame at the right time to earn a win and a spot in Day 3. Originally uncertain whether they would continue to play, Igor and Chris chose to bring the noise again this weekend with grumpy young man and Team Limited expert Josh Ravitz.
Saturday, December 18: 8:17 pm - Deck Tech with Eu-Gi-Noh!
Among the many nicknames that Eugene Harvey holds, "Eugene the Slot Machine" is a favorite among his teammates. It signifies how often working or playing with Eugene pays off, both literally and figuratively. In most cases, his teammates are surprised when he doesn't finish in at least the Top 32 of an event, and most of his finishes are actually much higher than that. Though his other commitments in life like graduate school and being a concert pianist often interfere with his game playing, this former National champion remains one of the strongest technical players around, and recently proved his card game skills translate beyond Magic as well by making yet another Top 8 appearance for a different card game.
The Slot Machine, left and teammates
In terms of Team Limited, Eugene is practically a cash cow, making money at nearly every event, in spite of changing teams every season. This time he has another experienced crew around him in the form of TOGIT members Patrick Sullivan and Adam Horvath. Sullivan is a long-time pro who recently became involved with game development himself, and Horvath is a former New Jersey State Champion who had two Grand Prix Top 8s this last season. After two byes, they swept their opponents in rounds 3 and 4, putting them at the head of the pack for the second round of deck construction.
Patrick Sullivan gave me a thumbs down when I came up to the table, indicating that the power level of this set of cards was well below what they had in the first four rounds. Sulli was saddled with a Green/White deck this time around featuring some excellent beaters in 2 Kashi-Tribe Reavers, 2 Feral Deceivers, mana acceleration from two Orochi Sustainers and 2 Sakura-Tribe Elders, and some tricks in 2 Masako the Humorless and 2 Kodama's Might. He also has Myojin of Cleansing Fire at the end of his chain, giving him a chance to reset the board if things should go badly for him.
Adam Horvath's deck looked to be composed almost exclusively of removal and two-drops - a combination that can be solid, but one that can also be shut down relatively easily by a defensive deck. Adam wasn't particularly confident that his deck would perform that well, but in the end seemed to indicate that playskill would mean as much or more than which cards he drew. His deck is fast enough that it should be able to exploit any slow starts by opponents and earn him a few free wins in the next four rounds.
Pretty boring stuff, really
Though he's often saddled with the weakest of the decks on the team, this time Eugene's deck actually appeared pretty strong, with Nagao, Bound by Honor ready to lead a host of other samurai across the field of battle. His deck also contains Hanabi Blast, Yamabushi's Flame, and both Honden of Infinite Rage and Honden of Cleansing Fire. It's the type of deck that should provide consistent performance, but doesn't have anything spectacular outside of the most hated uncommon in the format.
When asked for a prediction, the cagey TOGIT veterans politely declined, but you could read the desire to run the table in their body language, in spite of the mediocre card pool they had to deal this time around.
Saturday, December 18: 9:56 pm - Round 6: Eu-Gi-Noh! vs. U Got Skulled
A team of pros vs. a pickup team of good locals is what the headline for this one could say. Eu-Gi-Noh! is the team of TOGIT members headlined by former National Champion Eugene Harvey, who is flanked by Team Limited experts Patrick Sullivan and Adam Horvath. On the other side of the table are "Fast" Eddie Anderson, Erik Thoren, and Nick Little. Little and Anderson have both qualified for the Pro Tour numerous times but haven't managed to break through to the big time quite yet.
Horvath busts a move as Little enjoys the buffoonery.
Seat A: Horvath vs. Little
This match featured two of the lesser known characters of the game in TOGIT pro Adam Horvath vs. professional card player and best friend of Gabe Walls, Nick Little. Since this summer, I've seen Little at a ton of events, and he rarely fails to disappoint with his witty banter and clever play. Horvath is slowly building a name for himself as yet another dangerous TOGIT player to watch. He had two GP Top 8s last season in addition to ninth with his team in Seattle and a couple of Top 32s. He's also been known to toss around the quips from time to time, though he does it more around friends than against opponents.
So wouldn't you know it that the first game was all business, with neither player giving any small talk while Little used Kiki-Jiki, some fatties, and a Devouring Rage to run right over Horvath's skinny frame. Being stuck on four land certainly didn't help, but Little even kept a Jugan, the Rising Star in hand to further the embarrassment.
While shuffling up for Game 2, the players loosened up, but made sure that the subject matter was such that I can't actually print any of what they said here in the coverage. Ah, Magic players...
"Stop hurting my creatures," complained Little as Horvath rained removal spells down on their heads while beating away with a Villainous Ogre.
"Alright, good luck fellas. I'm off to do something else," Sullivan informed his teammates.
"Thanks for supporting the team, Pat," was the droll response from Horvath.
Sullivan won his match in the B seat and Eugene was up a game when Horvath pulled in a very quick Game 2 for his team, evening this matchup at one a piece.
Time of Need for Kiki-Jiki was the first play in Game 3, as Little dug for the little goblin that could. Horvath played a second Swamp and tapped them, earning this from Nick: "Distress my Kiki-Jiki? Oh no, he might actually have it! You son of a . . . Are you sure you don't want the Tribe Decoy instead? That's what he's there for."
Horvath chose the legend and then proceeded to blow Little out of the match with a Rend Flesh, a Befoul, Cursed Ronin, Nezumi Shortfang, and . . . well, the rest of it didn't really matter. Little flooded on land and Horvath kept playing Swamps, eventually turning the Ronin into a 9/9 whuppin' stick applying beatings directly to Little's dome.
Horvath 2 - Little 1
Harvey also won his match down in the C seat, giving Eu-Gi-Noh! a 3-0 sweep.
Saturday, December 18: 10:57 pm - News and Notes
Earlier in the day, Chad Ellis relayed to me a story of his defensive U/W deck featuring two Ghostly Prisons, two Kami of Old Stone, and a host of guys with butts bigger than their power. He eventually got his Hankyu up to ten counters and instead of killing a couple of his opponent's creatures, he thought for a second and used Hankyu as an Urza's Rage with kicker to his opponent's head, giving his team the game and match.
Josh Bennett's twin brother?
In a later match against Osyp Lebedowicz, Chad had to mulligan down to six with his B/G deck, putting him under the gun against the Pro Tour winner. Thankfully for the old-timer, his six cards were 2 Forest, a Swamp, 2 Matsu-Tribe Decoys and... Sosuke, Son of Seshiro. What a beating.
We would like to report that the ghost of Josh Bennett was seen briefly at the event by this young man, who may or may not be scarred for life by the experience. [Editor's Note: Let off some STEEEM, Bennett!]
Tournament Organizer Alan Hochman was kind enough to make my quest for Chicago food a success when he not only ordered Chicago Deep Dish pizza for the judging staff, but also have me the hookup on some excellent Italian Beef from Giordano's. If my wife were reading this, I'm sure that she would tell me this is exactly what I need to stay on my health food diet heading into the holidays.
It's mine! It's all mine!
After his team won again in round 7, Charlie Gindy clinched a spot in Day 2 for the third straight Team Grand Prix with his third set of different teammates. In the last two GPs he finished second and first, so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat that performance for an unprecedented third straight Team GP finals appearance.
Going into the final round of Day 1, there were still two undefeated teams on the day (RIW Redux and Girls, Girls, Girls) and an astounding 25 teams had fifteen points, stretching from Girl Scout Cookies in 17th place all the way down to Steve Perry Fan Club in 41st. Since only the Top 20 teams in the event advance to the Rochester Draft portion, there will be some very unhappy faces from all the teams with less-than-awesome tiebreakers.