Saturday, Feb 24: 10:34 a.m. - 750 in Big D!
I must admit that I thought I was being modestly optimistic when I claimed we would get 450 players in BDM's article on Friday. Attendance at last year's Extended Grand Prix was nothing to write home about, and previous attendances at Texas GPs had failed to eclipse 400. True, the new prize structure has added incentives for Pro Tour players to attend, but 450 seemed about right to me, even if Ravnica and Time Spiral Blocks have sold rather well.
Imagine my surprise then when I fought my way through the crowds this morning and discovered that over 700 people were already registered for the event. 700? Seriously? That's almost double recent Texas GP attendance. This is fantastic, but where in the world did all the people come from? The final tally of 748 makes the event the fourth largest Grand Prix in North American history and left judges scrambling for table space to fit all the bodies. It also means there will be 9 rounds of swiss action, making this writer's plans of an early dinner exit rather grim. Oh well, there will be plenty of Magic to fill up on in the meantime.
Public Service Announcement
Please bear with us today. The convention center attached to the Hilton has been having internet connectivity issues, and updates will likely require running back and forth to the hotel to complete, so they may be rather sporadic. For that you have our sincere apologies.
Saturday, Feb 24: 12:02 p.m. - That's right, you're not from Texas…
Ah Texas. For those Americans living on either coast, it's practically a different country (lord knows it's the size of one). The people are generally nice, very conservative, and pickup trucks are actually everywhere. It also stays brown for a startling percentage of the year, which is… well, it's just odd.
I went to school about 3 hours north of here in Norman, Oklahoma, and have been to Dallas numerous times on both business and pleasure. The first thing I always notice when I come here is how incredibly flat it is. The sky goes allllll the way down to the horizon, without hill or tree to obstruct your view. It's also extremely windy here compared to almost anywhere else in the world, and I grew up around the Windy City. Temperatures in late February are rather warm (today looks like it will have a high of 65), but with winds out of everywhere at about 25 mph and gusts up to a billion, you never know what you'll end up with by the end of the day.
Cities in Texas are sprawling, taking up gaudy amounts of space out to the suburbs that would be considered decadent almost anywhere else. Cars are absolutely required to get around. My favorite place in Texas is Austin, but Big D isn't half bad, especially if you are just coming down for the shopping and perhaps some food. Gnoshing Tex-Mex is an absolute requirement in the area (I could probably eat it every night at the expense of my waistline), but if you should ever tire of that, there are an alarming number of fine establishments around that would be happy to serve you any form of cooked cow that suits your fancy.
In many ways, it's the exact opposite of next week's destination (Grand Prix-Singapore), where I'm guessing we will have some number of players smaller than 750.
Saturday, Feb 24: 2:29 p.m. - Yeah, about that…
Sadly, Feldman dropped shortly after this photo was taken.
I was chatting with StarCityGames.com's resident redhead, Richard Feldman this morning because I anticipated him having great knowledge of this format. "Nah man," Rich told me. Didn't you design one of the major decks in this format right now?" I queried. "Yeah, I guess that's true… school's been killing me, though. I haven't been able to play."
"Well, do you have any new tweaks to your Tron deck this weekend?" "Yeah, about that… I just don't think it' a good choice in the updated environment right now. All of the Loam decks have started running Ghost Quarters main, and now that everyone knows about the deck, there's more hate for it than I was comfortable with. Things have changed a lot since two weeks ago."
Rich's opinion is not necessarily shared by all of pros, many of whom were excited to run the deck in Dallas. Tog also has a decent following, but the weapon of choice for the majority of the world's top players in attendance - based on my informal survey, of course - was Aggro Loam. I can't tell you who is running what until tomorrow morning, but expect a more thorough investigation of the top tables later today and a complete metagame breakdown of the Top 64 tomorrow.
Saturday, Feb 24: 3:55 p.m. - Round 5: Chris McDaniel vs. Rich Hoaen
Chris looks around for some help against Hoaen.
As Chris sat down, he claimed that Rich was probably the person he least wants to sit down against at a Grand Prix, and yet he seems to sit down against him more than almost anyone else. Hoaen pointed out that the Star Wars Kid was actually 3-0 against him lifetime, so there didn't seem to be much reason for Chris to fear his grumpy. "Oh yeah," said Chris, "Richie was actually my first Pro Tour win back in Columbus." Both players have come a long way since that Extended event, and are looking for a win here just to further their chances of making it to Day 2. With 750 players and only a Top 64 cut, more than one loss would likely knock them out of the running.
As for the deck matchups here, StarWarsKid is running his customary Heartbeat Desire deck (much like Zvi and Turbo-Land, Chris may play Desire until they make him stop), while Hoaen is playing a version of Aggro Loam that he's been testing with Kenji Tsumura for the last week or two.
First turn Search for Tomorrow from Star Wars Kid was a solid start, but Hoaen had a Cabal Therapy on his turn naming Sakura-Tribe Elder. "He's the only person in the room who would name that card…" lamented McDaniel, revealing an Elder plus two Mind's Desires, Nostalgic Dreams, and some land. "That's the only reason I kept that hand - I was going to run the Elder out there and let him chill. Hoaen's second turn Dark Confidant showed that would have been a useful strategy, as McDaniel quickly fell in a hole. Flashback on the Therapy hit the Desires, Burning Wish brought it back and got a pair of Dreams and Heartbeat of Spring to boot, and McDaniel's hand was now barren, while Hoaen was digging through his deck with cycling lands and looking for Life from the Loam.
Hoaen's hair returns to a blueberry hue.
Another Dark Confidant and a Terravore followed, as Hoaen slowly plinked away at McDaniel's life, earning a concession with Devastating Dreams for 4.
Hoaen 1, McDaniel 0
McDaniel was forced to mulligan his first hand for game 2, suspending Search on turn 1, while Hoaen played out a Birds of Paradise on his first turn and Duress nailed Cunning Wish, plus Dark Confidant on turn 2, getting out to a blazing start. Terravore two turns later plus Devastating Dreams for four again ran right over Wall of Roots and gave Hoaen the match with very little resistance.
Hoaen 2, McDaniel 0
Saturday, Feb 24: 5:38 p.m. - Round 6: Paul Cheon vs. Patrick Sullivan
The steely Patrick Sullivan.
Back at Pro Tour-Geneva, one of the quick questions we asked the pros was "Who is your Magic arch nemesis?" Most players had one and had interesting stories about one or two guys that they just could not beat. The reigning U.S. National Champ was not one of the players who answered that question, but if he had, the answer likely would have been Patrick Sullivan. The pair have faced each other in three previous, high pressure matches, once at the end of an LCQ for a Pro Tour, once in the Top 4 of a PTQ, and once for Day 2 at Grand Prix-New Jersey. Sullivan has come out on top all three times, which is probably why Luis-Scott Vargas actually consoled Paul when he heard about the feature match. Then again, if you never face your nemesis, you never get a chance to get over the hump and beat them, right?
If you have ever heard of Sullivan before, you could likely guess that he was running a deck with red in it, choosing the obvious Boros deck as his weapon of choice. Cheon played Gifts Rock to a sound record at Worlds, but like most of his California testing friends is running Aggro Loam here in Dallas.
Sullivan had to mulligan his opener on the play, and gagged himself for the crowd when he saw his second hand. It did have a turn 1 play though, as Pat went to 17 via land shenanigans and casting an Isamaru, Hound of Konda. "Nice deck, stupid!" quipped Neal Reeves, sitting along side Sullivan in the feature match. "Just wait until I start casting Hearth Kamis."
Sullivan continued his development on the next two turns, killing a pair of Birds of Paradise from Cheon, while adding Grim Lavamancer and Hearth Kami to his army. Cheon used Smother on the Lavamancer to keep the burn to a minimum, and then Seismic Assault a turn later, while Wall of Roots ably kept off the beats. Life from the Loam for no land put it into the graveyard for dredgeable goodness, and the engine was now online, but Cheon's life total was nearing the danger zone at 4 when he wiped Sullivan's board. Lava Dart from Sullivan dropped Cheon to 3, but Patrick desperately needed a third land so that he could cast a Goblin Legionnaire, sacrifice it, and then flash back a Dart for the win. Two turns later he found it, leaving Cheon one turn away from a comeback and a game 1 victory.
Neon was looking could until he ran into his nemesis.
Sullivan 1 - Cheon 0
Both players kept seven for game 2, with Sullivan casting a Savannah Lion on turn 1 and then killing Cheon's second turn Wall of Roots with Lightning Helix post-blockers. Duress from Cheon put Temporal Isolation in the bin while revealing 2 Fledgling Dragons, Pithing Needle, and Lava Dart. "One step closer to threshold…" came the wry repost from Sullivan. Pithing Needle from Sullivan named Ravenous Baloth, while Cheon began to beat down with an undersized Terravore, and Patrick came back over the top with an undersized Dragon. A turn later, Cheon's Baloth landed with a thump, giving the champ a hefty blocker, even if it could not gain him any life. Cheon attacked for seven, making the life race 10-9 in his favor, but his face fell when Sullivan flamed him with Char and Lava Dart at the end of turn, giving him threshold, and then letting Patrick attack with his no-longer-so-little Dragon for the win.
Sullivan 2 - Cheon 0
Saturday, Feb 24: 8:36 p.m. - Round 8: Gabe Walls vs. Gerard Fabiano
In a grievous error by your friendly international coverage reporter, you will not get coverage of the lightning fast feature match between Raphael Levy and Luis Scott-Vargas (a Loam vs. Domain Zoo matchup). Instead you will get the incredibly slow Tog and Tog mirror match between fan favorites Gabe Walls and Gerard Fabiano. Fabiano is actually running a PT-LA 2005 retread from Jeroen Remie and Neil Reeves, a deck that features Pernicious Deed, Psychatog, and Life from the Loam that was perhaps before its time while Walls is running the en vogue TrinkeTog version.
The only non-land permanent to hit the board during the early and mid-game was a Pernicious Deed from Fabiano that just sat there and glared at the two players. A brief permission battle was fought over Gabe's Thirst for Knowledge, and then action finally kicked in around turn 8, with Walls getting a Counterbalance countered, but resolving Dark Confidant behind it. Bobby died a turned later to Smother. The action again got quiet until Fabiano resolved Cunning Wish for Extirpate, causing Walls to pause and note that Extirpate was now the sixth card he had seen from Planar Chaos. No, not in people's decks - period. Businessman Walls is now a busy man, and has not kept fully up-to-date on the new cards in the format.
The game continued for another ten minutes until Fabiano Smothered another Dark Confidant, and Walls packed it in, admitting he likely could not win.
Fabiano 1 - Walls 0
Walls opened game 2 much better than game 1, casting Chrome Mox and then Dark Confidant on turn 1, earning a grimace from Fabiano. "Nice poker face, Gerard." Fabiano just laughed at himself as usual, then Smothered the Confidant a turn later in response to Walls attempting to use his fresh Divining Top. Gabe just shrugged and made another. Fabiano also had a gassy start for his part, resolving a Psychatog and Fact or Fiction on back to back turns. Despite Walls early advances, a Duress on Fabiano's hand showed Gerard was holding a monster, including Fact or Fiction, Upheaval, Duress, Counterspell, and Cunning Wish. Walls took the Duress and then cast another Confidant, making the life totals 16-12 in favor of Fabiano on Gabe's attack.
One of the Confidants stepped in front of Dr. Teeth on Fabiano's counterattack, and a second Duress from Walls nailed Cunning Wish this time as the big man scrapped and clawed to stay in the game. A Psychatog of Gabe's very own seemed to answer the call. A stalemate achieved, Fabiano fired Fact or Fiction into the mix, and Walls removed Fabiano's graveyard after it resolved. A look at the clock from Walls had him scooping up his cards, keeping his promise that the two would not draw. Walls likely would have won game 2, but that just would have left both of them with a draw, so the big man conceded and left Gerard with a win.
Fabiano 2 - Walls
Saturday, Feb 24: 10:11 p.m. - It's Rough Out There
The new Grand Prix structure in terms of points and payouts has made running the Grand Prix circuit more valuable than ever. In addition to getting paid for just showing up, the best players now get larger paydays for Top 8 appearances and even a lowly Top 64 will earn them one point for their troubles - points that can play a pivotal role in leveling up and the Player of the Year race. Unfortunately, the field has certainly battered the hopes of many foreign travelers here this weekend, and there were a number of very notable players fighting for their tournament lives going into round 9. Here's a look at the countries that sent more than one player here and how they have fared thus far this weekend.
Raphael Levy is the last French hope here in Dallas.
The French contingent of the Ruel brothers, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and Raphael Levy fared considerably worse than they had hoped, with all but Levy knocked from contention early in the tournament. Levy, however, remained undefeated through 8 rounds, though he did lose to John Pelcak in round 9.
Even the great Kenji Tsumura looked to lock up his spot in Day 2 with a draw in the final round, though as things worked out, he would have been in with a loss as well. Meanwhile countrymen Tomoharu Saito and Shuuhei Nakamura were both in tough elimination matches against Patrick Sullivan and Jelger Wiegersma respectively. They both managed to pull them out. Much like in Geneva, Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka was knocked out early.
Willy Edel dropped early in the day, while both Carlos Ramao and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa played for Day 2 in the final round. Ramao didn't get there, but PV earned the needed points and will continue to battle in tomorrow's field.
Three Dutchies showed up here in Dallas, but only Magicthegathering.com columnist Frank Karsten will play on Day 2, while friends Jelger Wiegersma and Julien Nuijten will likely be drafting on the sidelines. A deeply disappointing trip for our friends from the Netherlands.
Saturday, Feb 24: 10:54 p.m. - News and Notes
Neil Reeves astounded his opponent with his luck earlier today when Reeves kept flipping up Damnation for every four-drop his opponent tried to cast. The visibly frustrated opponent simply could not believe that Neil drew that many Damnations in a row in his silly Tog deck. The punchline? Reeves had Sensei's Divining Top in play. How, er… lucky?
Raphael Levy was practically glowing after pulling off a turn 3 kill to win his round 7 match using Boros Swiftblade, Gaea's Might, and Brute Force to smash for 18.
This next one was heard from the mouth of Gabe Walls, so there's at least a 40% chance that it's an outright lie - Andre Coimbra's drummer clearly has a different beat he plays when compared to most Magic players. His record speaks for itself that Coimbra certainly has a great deal of skill, but some of his plays are… well, they are sometimes hard to explain. Take for example the fact that he knew one opponent was playing Loam before he even sat down, and then named Life from the Loam on his turn 1 Cabal Therapy against his opponent (which just got dredged back a turn later). Coimbra then cast a second Cabal Therapy on turn 2, this time on himself naming… Life from the Loam.
Apologies once again to Tom Lapille's mother and everyone else out there for the pace of the updates today - this was entirely due to problems with the internet provided by the site forcing me to make trips back to my room to send updates.
If Analynn Bustamante's name sounds familiar, that's because she's the girl who saw Eugene Harvey's Pro Player card and thought he was so cute that she tracked him down to meet him. Despite living in different states, they hit it off and have been dating for a while now, but that didn't prepare anyone for her 28th place finish at the end of Day 1, especially since she had no byes.
It's now approaching 12:30AM central time, so I guess I'll just wrap this up and catch you all tomorrow.
Saturday, Feb 24: 11:33 p.m. - The Metagame At the Top
Here's a peak at the archetypes and matchups in the Top 32 as of round 7.
1 Goblins vs. Tog
2 Tormos vs. Tron
3 White Rock vs. TrinkeTog
4 Affinity vs. B/W Aggro
5 Loam vs. Loam
6 Boros vs. Loam
7 Tron vs. TrinkeTog
8 Loam vs. Domain Zoo
9 Tron vs. G/W Aggro
10 Tog vs. Balancing 'Tings
11 Affinity vs. Tron
12 Tog vs. Lurch (4-Color Aggro)
13 No Stick vs. Loam
14 Friggorid vs. Death Cloud Rock
15 Aggro Flow vs. Gifts Rock
16 Aggro Flow vs. Tog
3 Rock Variants
2 Aggro Flow
10 other distinct archetypes
That makes 16 different archetypes in 16 tables, and even some of the similar decks show significant variation. What does that mean for players at the PTQ level? Well, if your metagame is anything like the one here in Dallas, you never know what decks you will face from round to round, and almost everything seems viable.