Sunday, December 19: 10:02 am - The Cadillac of Formats
Normally this would be the space where I include stories of player antics and partying that goes on after the event is over on Saturday, but sadly the partying was kept to a minimum last night. Why you ask? Well, we didn't get done with Day 1 until almost 11pm central time and most of the players were completely exhausted, leaving them too pooped to party. In fact, the majority of players barely had enough energy to stumble through a practice Rochester before trudging off to their rooms for some much-needed rest.
Most people who have been around Magic and the Pro Tour for a while consider Team Limited to be the most skill-testing of the sanctioned formats. Team Sealed takes all the complexity of individual sealed deck, doubles the card pool, and then forces players to find the correct build to spread among three team members. Talking to Antonino De Rosa yesterday, he said he felt like he'd been beaten up after a day of play, because while the matches are hard, the two build periods are actually harder. There are so many permutations that teams go through trying to find optimal builds that nearly every player I talked to had some sort of headache when play wrapped up for Day 1.
The true jewel of Team Limited comes from the Rochester drafts, which forces players to draft decks and create matchups designed to smash their opponents. The draft is silent, so the only way team members can communicate is through sign language. Teamwork and clear communication is essential, or else you'll find incorrect picks making their way into piles, letting key cards slip through to your opponents' decks. It only takes a few key mistakes to turn a couple of matchups into uphill battles, and it's usually pretty obvious when one team has a clue and the other has no idea what they are doing.
Hate drafting is also key here, much more so than in any other format. Since you know how your opponent's deck is shaping up as he's drafting it, you'll frequently find cards that are generally relegated to the sideboard making it into maindecks. Say, for example, Team 1 has a deck full of Blue fliers in Seat C, facing an opponent with a Green deck. If a Gale Force is opened by Team 1, it's vital that the Gale Force not make it through to the other team, so one player on Team 1 will generally bite the bullet and use a draft pick that would normally go towards building their own deck to steal a card that might wreck one of their matchups.
The overall complexity of Team Rochester lends itself to rewarding the teams who do more work on the format. Team CMU-TOGIT always comes in with a plan for Rochester drafting and they always put up good results at team events. There's a reason why Kai, Dirk, and Marco have 3 PT wins and another PT Top 4, and its not because they are better Limited players than the rest of the world. This is the one remaining format that isn't replicable by Magic Online, and it remains the one format where, if you do the work, you can generally count on seeing the reward - even if you feel like the format ran you over at the end of the day.
Sunday, December 19: 3:05 pm - Draft 2 Recap - RIW Redux vs. :B
The men of RIW Redux
Seat A: Michael Jacob
Seat B: Aaron Breider
Seat C: Peter Jesuale
Seat A: Tim Aten
Seat B: Gadiel Szleifer
Seat C: John Pelcak
RIW Redux is undefeated so far in the tournament, slapping opponents down like they owed them money. This Michigan-based team can be seen traveling to Grand Prix and PTQs all across the Midwest, and from time to time you'll even see one of their members pop up on the Pro Tour. Jesuale is a former U.S. Nationals Top 8 competitor, Jacob has a GP Top 8 to his name, and Breider...
Across the draft table sits :B, a team that has already made a name for themselves at both the Grand Prix and Pro Tour level. They only have one blemish on their record thus far, and are looking to keep it that way with another win.
Gadiel kicked off with Nagao, Bound by Honor out of theBreiderseat, giving :B exactly the start they were looking for, Pelcak grabbed Befoul, Jacob took Feral Deceiver as the first pick for RIW, Breider snatched up an Innocence Kami, Jesuale took Cruel Deceiver, and Aten wheeled a Soilshaper and Matsu-Tribe Decoy.
:B made some dragon-flapping motions as Pelcak opened up Kokusho, the Evening Star, giving them two awesome legends in as many packs. Mike grabbed Kodama's Might, Breider grabbed a Honden of Cleansing Fire, Jesuale took Earthshaker, then Aten picked Kami of the Waning Moon, and Gadiel wheeled a Soratami Rainshaper and Floating-Dream Zubera. Michael's first pack for RIW was less impressive than the :B packs. He grabbed Order of the Sacred Bell, Breider got Sire of the Storm, Jesuale took Thief of Hope, Aten a Serpent Skin, Gadiel picked Consuming Vortex, and Pelcak grabbed Nezumi Ronin and Brutal Deceiver.
Breider's pack contained Honden of Seeing Winds, but he seemed to either have forgotten that he just drafted the White Honden or he really wanted a second Innocence Kami. In the end he bowed to his teammates and took the Honden giving him an outstanding start on a defensive wall. Jesuale grabbed Frostwielder, Aten another Serpent Skin, Gadiel got the Innocence Kami , Pelcak chose Villainous Ogre, and Jacob wheeled Candles' Glow and Kitsune Diviner.
Jesuales's pack had the first Glacial Ray, Kodama's Might and uh... well, it was the first Keiga the Tide Star of the draft too, and the third such legend that :B put in their pile (joining the Nagao already in Gadiel's pile). Jesuale plopped the Ray into his pile, Aten got the Might, Pelcak grabbed another Brutal D, Jacob got both Rootrunner and Indomitable Will for his wheel, while Breider grabbed the underrated Hankyu on the way back for the mirror.
Aten grabbed Gibbering Kami for his pack, Gadiel picked an important Kami of Ancient Law over a Honden of his own to help deal with Breider's shrines, and Pelcak got his first Frostwielder of the draft. Michael drafted the White Honden, Breider got Devoted Retainer for his pile, Jesuale took Kami of the Waning Moon, and Breider got a possible splash for the mirror in Yamabushi's Storm.
After pack 1 it was clear that the whole table was a mirror match, with Aten and Jacob holding G/x decks, U/W for the B players, and R/B for Pelcak and Jesuale. The only difference thus far was :B's "ability" to open killed packs and the fact that Jacob seems to be leaning toward white as his second color while Aten was going black.
This pack had few cards of note aside from Aten's opening pack, where he hated away an Oathkeeper, Takeno's Diasho that probably would have gone into Breider's deck. RIW finally got in on the legend game when Michael Jacob opened Sosuke, Son of Seshiro, but from there, the pack lost any semblance of "good stuff", leaving :B with Ashen-Skin Zubera, Soratami Cloudskater, and Kodama's Reach as their choices- not really what you are wishing for when you get picks 2-4 out of a pack. Pelcak opened another substandard pack, giving him a first-pick Scuttle, Gadiel a Rainshaper, and Aten a Kami of the Hunt, setting Michael up with a very solid wheel of Rootrunner and Kodama's Reach at the far end of the table.
It was also about this point in the draft where Pelcak and Jesuale started wondering "Where did all the red cards go?" as there hadn't been a good one in about four packs.
3 Dragons + 2 Nagao for your opponents = Despair
Jacob put his head in his hands when Gadiel opened a second Kokusho. Pelcak slammed it into his pile after Gadiel grabbed Strength of Cedars while on the other end of the table Jesuale got a Cutthroat and Distress to try and help out against all the dragons.
Pelcak opened Hikari but initially figured had to take Ember-Fist Zubera for his spirit deck. NONONO! signaled Aten and Szleifer and in the end Hikari was hated away from Breider's deck, keeping the near :B monopoly on legendary bombs in tact. Jacob added a second legend to his pile in Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fange while Breider took Kitsune Diviner over some stern Soratami Mirror-Mage pointing from Jesuale in Seat C.
Jesuale took his third Rend Spirit, explaining his rationale to his teammates with Dragon motions, and then the final pack told the story of this draft as well as the first when Aten opened Long-Forgotten Gohei for himself and Szleifer put a second Nagao in his pile, giving Pelcak the Hanabi Blast cleanup.
When the draft was over, Breider asked, "There is going to be a written record of how completely ridiculous this draft was, right?"
When talking to RIW after the match, they felt that in spite of being horrible out-opened, their decks were actually a lot better than the decks they won with last round. They definitely felt behind in their matches just because of the sheer card power present in :B's decks.
Sunday, December 19: 3:19 pm - Look Ma, It's the Judges
We told them to smile. Honest.
So our first two days in Chicago were surprisingly nice, with highs in the 30s and 40s and nothing but sunshine and holiday cheer in the air. Then December in Chicago arrived on Sunday and the high now looks like it will be a balmy 15 degrees, with a wind chill hovering around zero. Weather.com reports that there's an 80% chance of snow tomorrow morning, scheduled to arrive about an hour before my plane leaves O'Hare. As much as I love Chicago, there are some very good reasons why I don't really want to live here any more. I call them December, January, February, and March.
In other news, we've got some bling-bling to show you now, and Dave Williams and his 44 carat Rolex aren't even at this event. No, in place of that sort of flashy display of wealth, I present you with some of the new judge foils, featured for the first time ever in the new card face. Judges and fans alike can now rejoice at the prospect of earning or buying beautiful foil Phyrexian Negators, Time Warps, Hermit Druids, and Portal art Armageddon.
Sunday, December 19: 5:12 pm - Rochester Strategy Walkthrough
The Team Limited PTQ season is half over, but that doesn't mean that all the strategy for this format has been tapped yet. The TOGIT guys always have an interesting and generally excellent take on the format, and we're absolutely certain that there is more than one way to draft winning decks in Champions Team Rochester. Therefore we sat down with some of the best teams in the tournament to pick their brains for whatever information we could learn about the toughest of the sanctioned formats.
As we mentioned earlier in the coverage, :B has already posted two strong finishes in Team Limited, taking home 8th at Grand Prix: Washington D.C. last April and then bettering that with a 7th place finish at Pro Tour: Seattle. They won their round 11 match to give them a lock on a spot in the Top 4, marking the first GP Top 4/8 appearance for the players on the team, though Szleifer is fresh off a 5th place finish at Pro Tour--Columbus
Aten and Pelcak had this to say about their draft strategy: "We sort of had a strategy at the beginning of the day, though we had done no practice drafts. Starting out, we knew that we were going to give Pelcak the nuts in the C Seat. His favorite archetype is B/R and it has no really bad matchups, so that's what we let him play. It didn't hurt that we kept opening dragons to stick in his deck.
The Max Fischer Players, far
In the B seat, we originally had Gadiel playing U/G, but we found out yesterday that those colors don't work well together in this format. Thus he's now played U/W in every draft and it seems a lot stronger. Since neither of the wing seats are in either of those colors, he usually ends up with a really strong deck. Then we just give Tim a Green/Black or Green/Red deck and hope he mises.
There are three teams using the TOGIT strategy on Day 2: Eu-Gi-Noh, Doombot, and The Max Fischer Players. Going into the last round, only the Josh Ravitz-led Max Fischer Players had a chance to make the Top 4, but all three teams were guaranteed money. Their draft strategy differs significantly from anything else we've seen this weekend, making it more of a challenge for opposing teams to draft against them, though this is mitigated by the fact that they keep facing each other. Husband (Pat Sullivan) and wife (Kate Stavola) teams faced off in the first draft, with Stavola's Doombot team pulling in the win. Now for round 12, Doombot must face off against Max Fischer with a spot in the Top 4 on the line. Anyway, this is what the TOGIT strategy looks like:
Seat A: White/x
Seat B: Green/x
Seat C: Black/x
Then when you are actually drafting, you want to try and get your Blue matched up against their Green deck, and you'd like to set it up so that your Red is facing their Blue. This gives you the best chance at strong matchups, we haven't been able to accomplish that strategy as much as we'd like today.
Special thanks to Josh Ravitz, Tim Aten, and John Pelcak for their insight.
Sunday, December 19: 6:29 pm - A Side of Events
Where do you go to mope and complain after you scrub out of the GP? Why, you could walk outside, but then your nards would freeze off. Believe me, that's not fun for anybody. No, the smart player stays inside and plays in one of the many side events going on all weekend here at Grand Prix: Chicago.
A sea of young ones
Yesterday, 16 players competed in the $1000 5-proxy (Vintage) tournament held by Moy Events. The most common decks were an Oath of Druids/Forbidden Orchard concoction and Mindslaver Control. $500 winner Aaron Jarvis hopefully won't have to proxy anything at his next event.
For the young at heart (actually just the young of age, as required by law), the Junior Super Series is likewise some of the stuff you can do on Sunday. They can't vote, but these lil' rascals certainly know their Standard. Don't believe me? You should see how many of them are packing Arcbound Ravager. On the other side of the table, the artifact hate is running rampant. "Old" favorites Viridian Shaman, Electrostatic Bolt and Oxidize are a'plenty, while relative newcomers Hearth Kami and Imi Statue can also crush, kill, and destroy.
Aww. They're so cute when they destroy.
For those teams that failed to make Day 2, there's also a 37-team Pro Tour: Atlanta qualifier. The inside scoop? It's pretty much just like the GP, except the team names are slightly less provocative and the $cash money$ slightly less... there.
Thomas Gianni's spread of arty goodness
A terrible player? Check out some of our artists, why don't you. Yesterday, John Matson (Furnace of Rath, Shizo, Death's Storehouse) and Thomas Gianni (Abeyance, Sphere of Purity) were here signing cards and chatting with fans, and there's still time to see Jeff Laubenstein (Recurring Nightmare, Scragnoth) before he can't stand us any longer.
So, aside from the bitter, bitter cold and the fact that you live in the tiny Baltic republic of Estonia, why aren't you here?
Sunday, December 19: 6:33 pm - Round 12 Wrap-Up
There are certain players who have a knack for formats and types of events. Some players are Grand Prix masters, while others excel when the bright lights of the Pro Tour are shining down on them. Some are great at Extended, while certain other players are Limited experts. Charlie Gindy is a Grand Prix Team Limited master. Back at Pittsburgh in 2003 a team of Charlie, James Duguid and the soon-to-be banned Manny Aurelia made it to the finals before falling to the magic of Illuminati (Zvi Mowshowitz, Justin Gary, and Alex Shvartsman). Last year, Gindy did one better, winning Grand Prix: D.C. with Bill Stead and Chris Fennell, but they didn't make Day 2 in Pro Tour: Seattle. This year "The Kid" has a chance to make it three finals appearances in a row, but he and teammates Zack Parker and Adam Chambers have to get by Day 1 leaders RIW Redux to do reach the elimination rounds.
After starting the tournament 9-0, RIW Redux has dropped their last two matches, leaving them one win short of making the Top 4 for the last five hours. If they win this match, they will finally achieve what their 9-0 start portented, but if they lose, they might not even get a Pro Tour invite for Atlanta.
Chambers, Parker, and the Kid
The draft itself was a wipeout for RIW, as they got outopened and outdrafted. RIW didn't position themselves to pick up a red drafter, meaning Charlie Gindy's deck contained all the good red cards. Chambers deck also looks extremely solid and difficult for Michael Jacob's U/W deck to deal with. RIW do have one deck containing three Sosukes in the B seat, but the matchups in general look quite poor for them.
Seat C: Peter Jesuale vs. Charlie Gindy
Game 1 started out with early beats from Gindy in the form of Hearth Kami, Brothers Yamazaki, and Ronin Houndmaster. Jesuale began to stabilize with Cursed Ronin and Kiku, Night's Flower, but Zo-zu the Punisher made it dangerous for Jesuale to play further lands. Kiku started her dance of death with a Ronin Houndmaster and was saved from a Scuttling Death by Kodama's Might, leaving Jesuale at a precarious four life but with an active assassin each turn. Just when Jesuale looked like he might pull things out, Gindy topdecked Devouring Greed to finish the job.
Gindy 1 - Jesuale 0
Adam Chambers 1 - Michael Jacob 0
Zach Parker 1 - Aaron Breider 0
Game 2 was a Doritos commercial - "crunch all you want, we'll make more". Gindy was content to trade creatures for the first two turns as Jesuale tried to get in some early beats, but was stymied. Kami of Fire's Roar and Waking Nightmare further complicated things for the Michigander. The details for the rest of this game are basically irrelevant, as Gindy kept drawing and playing more spirits, making it impossible for Jesuale to get a good trade. Peter fought, valiantly but was eventually consumed by the Onslaught from Gindy's army of kami, giving Gindy's Sister's Fan Club the match and a birth in the Top 4.
Gindy 2 - Jesuale 0
Gindy's Sister's Fan Club 3 - RIW Redux 0
Sunday, December 19: 6:48 pm - Round 12 Draft Report - Charles Gindy
If you've never seen a Grand Prix-level draft before, and I haven't, you'd be surprised at how much can be communicated without speaking. Yet the draft is not silent. Players furiously pound on the table with their fist (always careful not to touch the cards) in efforts to convince their teammates of the right pick. They can't help but sigh at brutal packs opened by their opponents, and they'll often loudly scrape an awful card they're forced to pick across the table in disgust.
This draft was no quieter than usual, but there was a certain satisfaction in each of Charlie Gindy's picks this round. He's now somewhat of a hotshot at Team Limited, coming off of two GP finals, yet inexplicably on his third team in as many events. His current incarnation, Gindy's Sister's Fan Club, is well on their way to at least a Top 4 finish. "We're very reactive," he said, regarding their attitude toward Rochester. Being the receiving team put them at an apparent advantage.
The 19-year-old's first pick of Devouring Greed marked his claim to Black, followed shortly by an Ember-Fist Zubera, putting him in an aggressive Red/Black deck focused on Spirits. An incredibly strong archetype when drafted with panache, and does he have panache! I don't know, because I don't know what panache means.
Hearth Kami, Wicked Akuba, Scuttling Death and Kami of Fire's Roar, all top-notch picks, rounded out that first crucial set of packs. By this point, the only question was what colors (if any) his opponent Peter Jesuale was playing. Although he was taking mostly Green and Black, he hate drafted practically as many cards as he took for his deck.
As the packs progressed, Gindy remained firmly in R/B, counterdrafting relatively infrequently compared to his opponent. RIW Redux, conversely, practically reveled in it. At one point, all three players seemed to be in Green! (They opened a whopping four Sosuke, son of Seshiro, passing merely one.) The Fan Club felt they made some other questionable picks, remarking at Michael Jacob's first pick No-Dachi, "We thought he was joking!" Also amazingly, Gindy was practically the only player in Red - understandable given the scant Red removal opened, but come on, that's weird.
By the time the draft wound down, Gindy looked to be facing a solid Green/Black deck with at least two Moss Kami and a couple of solid Black removal spells (Rend Spirit seeming particularly painful in that regard). Gindy, with no true removal (Scuttling Death and Pain Kami were the closest substitutes) would have to rely on his Kami of Fire's Roar to walk right by Jesuale's fatties. No, not just the one. Not just two. His last picks actually saw him nab his third Kami to match three Wicked Akubas.
The Kid's attitude toward the draft was - well, I wouldn't go as far as overconfident, but what comes after confident? "How's he even going to block?" Instead, Gindy was more concerned about his teammate Zach, who was lucky enough to be going against the triple Sosuke and multiple Cage of Hands deck piloted by Aaron Breider. "Well, I think we'll get 2-1," he said. "Barely."
Really, that close? "Actually, they can't possibly win. You know, I wouldn't mind a threepeat," he grinned.