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Day Two Blog - 2008 Grand Prix–Indianapolis!

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  • Round 10: Home-Grown
    by David Strutz
  • It’s pretty hard to X-0 Day One of a Grand Prix—especially if it’s the largest one ever in North America. Both these players did, so we should be in store for some thrilling Magic.

    Eric Franklin

    Eric Franklin, member of Team Smashface, is a native of Indianapolis. He’ll try to defend the home turf against Cody Damm of Louisville, Tennessee.

    Game 1

    Cody won the die roll and took the play. Both players kept, and Cody led with a pair of Islands and a Trip Noose. Meanwhile, Eric laid a Mountain and a Swamp and got in there with a turn two Sootstoke Kindler. First blood for the hometown guy!

    Cody’s turn three Safehold Sentry was joined by a Medicine Runner on turn four, and he got in there for two to take Eric to 18. However, Eric’s turn four play was Rosheen Meanderer (“That got all the way to you? I opened that,” Cody said in disbelief). The efficient 4/4 threatened to take control of the game.

    Players continued playing lands and small creatures. A Plains joined Cody’s five Islands, and he developed his board with Mistmeadow Witch. Eric added an Inkfathom Infiltrator.

    The players traded swings for a couple turns, as Cody decided to use his Noose to tap Rosheen to clear the way. The next turn Eric attacked with Rosheen to take Cody to 15, and Cody’s small guys took Eric to 10. Eric’s Infiltrator struck back to take Cody to 13, then Eric tapped his five Swamps and lone Mountain to play the board dominating Midnight Banshee.

    The Banshee took out the Mistmeadow Witch before it could do much, and Cody’s Trip Noose found a new target in the Banshee. Still confident he could race, Cody attacked with his Medicine Runner and Safehold Sentry. Eric’s Kindler traded with the 2/1, and he fell to 8.

    The next turn Eric played a Splitting Headache to make Cody discard both his remaining cards, and he swung with the team. Out of cards, there was nothing more Cody could do about the fat monsters on the other side of the table. He scooped them up.

    Eric Franklin 1 – 0 Cody Damm

    Cody Damm

    Game 2

    “Nope, no Swords to Plowshares in my sideboard,” Cody said between games with regret.

    The players drew their hands of seven and both kept. Cody was on the play and led with a Plains and passed the turn. Turn two Inkfathom Infiltrator from Eric met Cody’s turn three Safehold Sentry—but not in the red zone. Eric got in with the Infiltrator and added a Wasp Lancer to the board on turn three, which didn’t block the incoming Sentry. Both players were at 18, and Cody added a Kinscaer Harpoonist to the board.

    Turn four brought more nuts to the table for Eric, as he dropped Helm of the Ghastlord on his Infiltrator. He swung in with the card advantage machine and the Lancer to take Cody to 11. Luckily, Cody was able to play a Silkbind Faerie the next turn, but Eric amazingly had Gloomlance for it on turn five. Eric swung again, but the Infiltrator met with Inquisitor’s Snare—the last card in Cody’s hand, to Eric’s four. At least Cody’s creatures were racing to keep the life totals somewhat close, and it stood at 11-10.

    The Wasp Lancer just kept getting in there, and while Cody sat on five lands and an empty hand, Eric added Rosheen Meanderer and Sickle Ripper to the board. Cody swung in with his Harpoonist, taking Eric to 8. He must have had something in his hand to quell the beats...

    ...but Eric had Splitting Headache. In response, Cody cast Turn to Mist on the Rosheen, but it was not enough. The next turn Cody extended the hand.

    Eric Franklin wins 2 – 0!



     
  • 9:18 a.m. - Us versus The World
    by Rich Hagon
  • When I shotgunned taking the Rest of the World gang of ten against the fiercest North American dectet Tim Willoughby could come up with, I was moderately certain I had the best of the bargain. With Day One gone things are a little bit tighter than I would have liked. My terrifying ten has become my fragile four, although at least three of them stand near the head of affairs on 8-1. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Jelger Wiegersma were competing at a hot draft on table two, while Tomaharu Saitou also navigated day one with just one loss. In the final round, Remi Fortier lost to a man 4,000 years his senior in Ben Seck, so comes into Day Two needing a really good start if he is to make consecutive Grand Prix top 8s.

    So now I’m down to 4 versus 124, but I suspect my odds are considerably better than the theoretical 1 in 31 chance. A lot better. Like I said yesterday, the winner comes from these four:

    Remi Fortier
    Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
    Tomaharu Saitou
    Jelger Wiegersma

    As for Mr. Willoughby, his North American contingent also met with mixed fortune. Only one of his squad reached 8-1, Chris Lachmann. His fellow San Diego winner Jacob van Lunen failed to make Sunday play, but he had a great Saturday in other ways. Tim Aten, Mark Herberholz and Gabe Walls moved into Day Two with the minimum requirement of 7-2 (oh alright then, apart from the two lucky guys who sneaked through the back door on 20 points). By my reckoning - and I’m the one writing so that’s the reckoning that counts - that puts me just a squeak ahead.

    Chris Lachmann
    Mark Herberholz
    Tim Aten
    Gabe Walls

    Yeah, I still reckon I have the edge, but it’s going to be tight.


     
  • Round 11: Looking Good Round the Clock
    Mark Herberholz vs Mike Patnik
    Rich Hagon
  • I'm sure he won't mind me saying this, but 9am on a Grand Prix Sunday doesn't usually find Mark Herberholz at his best, largely thanks to activities from previous hours on a Grand Prix Sunday. Someone else who presumably doesn't care for early starts is standout rare Twilight Shepherd, and with both players needing a sustaining win at 8-2, we would see if Patnik's Angel or Herberholz's head would cope better with the perils of Sunday morning.

    On the play, Herberholz waited until turn three to make his first play, the accelerator artifact Scuttlemutt, by which time Patnik was underway and swinging with Puresight Merrow, adding the potentially ridonculous Mistmeadow Witch the following turn. Crabapple Cohort was a big man for Herberholz, and Patnik was content to simply add Watchwing Scarecrow to the board. The cohort got bigger when Mark cast another, allowing them to feed off each other as 5/5s. This was shaping up to be a match of raw power versus trickery and subtlety, with Patnik's UW looking to outmanoeuver the chunky greenness of Herberholz.

    With Safewright Quest, Herberholz finally showed us what his second color might be as he fetched a plains from his library before making the 5/2 trampler Scuzzback Marauders. Then it was time for some heavy-duty red zone action, and nothing could illustrate the contrasting styles than seeing two 5/5 Crabapple Cohorts pile in, only to find a hasty Zealous Guardian and a Mistmeadow Witch activation helping Patnik avoid the worst of the pounding. Nonetheless, two 5 point chunks had now been taken out of his total, leaving him at 14-10 down.

    What came next threatened to change all that as Patnik attempted to blow things open with the outstanding white rare Twilight Shepherd. Mark's response - a Pili-Pala - was perhaps not quite on the same power level as the foxy angel. With Patnik continuing to add land he was now up to seven mana. Conventional wisdom dictates that once he hit eight mana with the possibility of double activations of the Mistmeadow Witch, Patnik would probably struggle to lose, and he isn't known for glaring errors.

    Herberholz dropped his own seventh land, his first mountain of the match, but passed with no play. Scuttlemutt got sent packing by the Mistmeadow Witch and then Patnik cast Steel of the Godhead on his Puresight Merrow, which had been an irrelevant bit-part player to that point. Not any more, as it crashed in with the team, dropping Herberholz to 4, sending Patnik to 14, and leaving the Honolulu Pro Tour champion no answers.

    Herberholz 0 - 1 Patnik.

    Ever the eager study, Herberholz jokingly enquired of his opponent, 'Is Twilight Shepherd good Mike?'

    Yes Mark, it is. Just ask Gab Nassif.

    Unlike Game 1, Herberholz quickly found all three colors in the second, fuelling Scuzzback Marauders and Scuttlemutt. Patnik meanwhile clogged up the ground with Oona's Gatewarden, Prismwake Merrow and Watchwing Scarecrow.

    Gloomwidow's Feast dispensed with the Gatewarden, and Herberholz was able to go on offence, something he really needed to do with long-term threats like Mistmeadow Witch and Twilight Shepherd in Patnik's deck. Six mana later and the super-flyer was in play. Hungry Spriggan and Scuttlemutt weren't going to get the job done against the dusk-loving 5/5.

    One game down, two cards to three down, and 1 Twilight Shepherd down, Herberholz marshalled his thoughts. Hungry Spriggen plus post-combat Ember Gale dealt with the Angel, but she's a persistent girl, and back she came as a still-saucy 4/4. Now Herberholz was down to just a 1/1 token from the Gloomwidow's Feast, and Patnik continued to relentlessly apply the pressure.

    Smash - 12 life.

    Smash - 6 life.

    Crabapple Cohort was big, but it couldn't get off the ground. Turn to Mist sent the big guy packing, and Somnomancer swept aside the final blocker, leaving the star of the show to fly over unmolested. Yes, trickery and subtlety had contributed to the victory, but in the end it was the top-end majesty of the Twilight Shepherd that secured the final score.

    Mark Herberholz 0 - 2 Mike Patnik.


     
  • 10:37 a.m. - Over the Hill?
    by Rich Hagon
  • There are few people in the game that can talk more than me, but Zac Hill wins every time, so I knew I was in for some fun as Mr.Hill sat down on table two for the first draft of the day. With Gaudenis Vidugiris two to his right, Ben Rasmussen immediately to his right and Jeremy Shapiro to his left, this draft had a real Madison Wisconsin feel to it, with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Jelger Wiegersma the foreign contingent looking to get off to a good start.

    Silkbind Faerie is well acknowedged as a nice start, which Zac added to with Steel of the Godhead. Safehold Elite, Ballynock Cohort and Medicine Runner left him fairly content in the early going. Thistledown Duo would also likely make his deck at pick six, while Elsewhere Flask has again showed itself to be a mana fixer with some serious punch thanks to cards like Armored Ascension, Corrupt and Jaws of Stone. His only serious choice came as late as pick eleven, where the six casting cost Thoughtweft Gambit won out over Scrapbasket, the fairly unexciting 3/2 for four. As we surveyed the scene at the end of the first booster it was clear that plenty of people at the table had some serious thinking to do. Two to his left, Paulo was shaping into UB. Shapiro was very heavily blue. To Zac’s right, Rasmussen’s early commitment was to black, while Vidugiris was also looking to UB. Where would the draft fall out as we sorted through the second set of boosters?

    For Zac the first two picks solidified his strategy. With a useful Elsewhere Flask already in his pile Armored Ascension looked even better for his heavy-white possibilities. That left him passing both Burn Trail and Puncture Bolt, and any red mages lurking would have been even more surprised to find a Firespout coming their way, when Zac passed over the boardsweeper in favor of the mighty Oversoul of Dusk. With the uncommon Seedcradle Witch an obvious pick three it was suddenly clear that the path to WG was glaringly open. Rune-Cervin Rider, Zac’s fourth pick, is a great card to push through late-game damage, but after that promising start the second booster provided relatively meagre pickings. Of his next six picks only one, Scrapbasket, would make his final deck, whilst he expended two of those picks denying Runes of the Deus to any other interested parties. Still, he was delighted to pick up a second Rune-Cervin Rider as late as pick eleven.

    With one booster remaining at least some of his closest drafters were getting their ducks in a row. Paulo had continued to push through UB, and on Zac’s right Rasmussen had nicely moved into Red to pair up with his heavy Black. Vidugiris was continuing with UB, while Shapiro was starting to look like the squeezed victim, sitting between Zac and Paulo. Meanwhile across the table the Dutch master Jelger Wiegersma was staying out of trouble and seemed to be putting together a real table-sweeping GW monstrosity.

    What Zac lost in the mid-second pack he more than made up for in the final booster. He opened with a third Runed-Cervin Rider and then followed with his trickiest decision of the draft. As he explained afterward, while Shield of the Oversoul is clearly a strictly better card than Mistmeadow Skulk he really wanted a two-drop, and felt that the Shield is at its best on a green card, something that he wouldn’t necessarily have that many of, depending how the final booster played itself out. He took the Skulk, and then came Constructed stalwart Kitchen Finks, Hungry Spriggen and Crabapple Cohort. His playables pile continued to rise, and he couldn’t suppress a smile as he faced a tenth pick choice between Last Breath and Inquisitor’s Snare.

    Talking with me after deckbuilding it was clear Zac had a definite plan going into the crucial three rounds ahead. With a very high quality blend of creatures the plan involved getting in some early damage and then looking to his triple Runed-Cervin Rider to take him home. Overall he felt the quality of the draft was extremely high, and although he was concerned about the passing of Firespout he felt he had no choice when Oversoul of Dusk was calling to him. As for a prediction, Zac posited a likely 2-1, with 1-2 a disapointment and 3-0 not out of the question. With 5-1 across the two draft pods today being the probable requirements for final table action, that disappointment really needed to be avoided.


     
  • Drafting With Saito
    by Tim Willoughby
  • First thing this morning, I asked Saito-san how he feels about Shadowmoor draft. Somewhat surprisingly, he indicated that it isn’t a format that he’s drafted as much as many, what with all of the constructed events happening at the moment. His first inclination was towards the incredibly aggressive red decks in the format. However, apparently they are now getting over-drafted.

    His final word at the time was that he was looking strongly at black, the consensus worst colour in the set. Much like Mike Hron in Geneva, he was hoping to run the gambit and get value on the underdrafted cards in the drafts today.

    Saito

    With this in mind, Saito seemed like a natural choice for draft coverage (as if being Player of the Year wasn’t enough!). Saito’s plan was put to the test in the very first pack, where he opened Boar-Tusk Liege, alongside a Gloomlance, one of the spot removal spells in draft that sets itself apart by being able to kill even the fattest of fatties, and get much needed card advantage a fair amount of the time too.

    Saito went for the Liege, going with raw power early on. He picked up a Ballynock Cohort second, and followed up with a Barkshell Blessing. Clearly at this point Saito was maneuvering for position. He found one when he got a fourth pick Burn Trail. It was followed up with Intimidator Initiate, the poster boy of mono-red aggro. With a few of these guys, your hits get in, and those final Burn Trails get really straightforward to conspire.

    Once on his plan, Saito did not let up, and it would be wrong to say that they packs didn’t send him a few favours. Tomoharu picked up Rustrazor Butcher, Sootstoke Kindler, and a 14th pick Pyre Charger in pack one, cementing him in a plan that would mean his choices for much of the rest of the draft would be comparatively straightforward.

    Pack 2 started out well. Saito’s pack contained Flame Javelin (the clear pick for Saito) along with Tower Above, another Intimidator Initiate, and various goodies for everyone else (including Knacksaw Clique and Curse of Chains). Second pick he got another Burn Trail. Traitor’s Roar further supplemented his burn suite, and as the pack went on, he got back that Intimidator Initiate he had opened.

    Pack 3 saw Saito’s deck go from good to ridiculous. While his first pick was the only red card of the pack, Mudbrawler Raiders, things got quite a bit better. A third Burn Trail came fourth, along with a pair of Mudbrawler Cohorts soon after. Saito did have to pass on a Knollspine Dragon to take that Burn trail but definitely wasn’t sad to do so.

    When I asked Saito his final opinion of his deck, he was jubilant. To translate the Japanese, he referred to it as crazy, and was reveling in not having to worry about mana whatsoever, with a mono-coloured deck and a low curve.

    It turns out that not everyone knows about the burn plan just yet...


     
  • Shadowmoor Draft Impressions
    by David Strutz
  • Between rounds I had a chat with Zac Hill about drafting in the darkness of Shadowmoor. With all the hybrid madness, it can be difficult to know what to do. Zac’s answer: stay flexible.

    When it comes time to open pack one, Zac advises coming in with a clean slate. Although he has his color preferences, he’s not at all an advocate of forcing any particular archetype. Instead, he says, a player needs to take the best cards for a few picks, perhaps settling into one color but keeping an eye out for what gets passed. “If you see something come around later than it ought to be picked, take it,” Zac said. That’s your signal to start forming a plan for the rest of the draft, regardless of what you’ve taken so far.

    What with the massive amount of hybrid cards in the set, it might seem easy to draft a mono-colored deck. But is that a good idea? Zac told me he likes to lean toward playing one color with a splash. This fits in especially well with the strategy of staying flexible. If you’re drafting white with a little blue when suddenly good green cards start coming, you can easily move into green without having wasted any white/blue hybrid picks.

    Another interesting point Zac brought up was the importance of hate drafting at a Grand Prix. “This isn’t an eight-man on MODO. Here, you’re going to have a 50 percent chance of playing against any particular card.” But that isn’t to say you should hate-draft just any card. The things you need to take are the cards that your deck just can’t deal with. “I took three Runes of the Deus,” Zac said of his first draft of the day, “because I knew that I just couldn’t deal with that card.”

    The importance of only hate drafting selectively is emphasized, Zac told me, because final deck building can be difficult. He said that in triple-Shadowmoor draft, you have to be careful to draft a deck—not just a pile of spells. Even though the average power level of cards is high, your cards have to work well together for you to maximize your success. Between needing to stay flexible, trying to assemble a synergistic deck, and cherry-picking cards that you can’t deal with away from your opponents, it can be tough to assemble a 3-0 deck at the Grand Prix.

    So how about the games themselves? When I mentioned that I saw players around the room using Gnarled Effigy, Pale Wayfarer, and Din of the Fireherd, Zac looked surprised. He believes the format plays pretty fast, but with a hitch. “Four seems to be the fundamental toughness,” he said when I inquired about stoppers like Safehold Duo and Watchwing Scarecrow. This necessitates a plan for punching through. For example, Zac mentioned using Intimidator Initiate in super-aggressive decks to keep high-toughness creatures out of the way.

    At the same time, some decks can play a slower game. “I think I’ve sided in a Pale Wayfarer once,” Zac said, indicating that seven-mana creatures can have a home in Shadowmoor draft. “Now and then you’ll get a deck with multiple Burn Trails.” All that burn can keep the board relatively clear well into the late-game. Silkbind Faerie and Trip Noose similarly can bog games down.

    The next time you sit down for a Shadowmoor draft, don’t panic at all the options the Hybrid mechanic gives you. You should be fine if you follow Zac’s advice: “Just go with the flow.”


     
  • Sealed Revealed
    by Tim Willoughby
  • Remember that Sealed Deck pool we gave you to study yesterday? Time’s up, students. Here’s what that pool’s owner, Sam Black, did with it:

    Sealed Revealed Tim Willoughby Remember that Sealed Deck pool we gave you to study yesterday? Time’s up, students. Here’s what that pool’s owner, Sam Black, did with it:

    Bet you weren’t ready for that one eh? Turns out there is more than one way to build a deck, and Sam went with the option that allowed him to maximize his power level over the somewhat safer blue/white build. The number of combos with Mistmeadow Witch in this build is maximized to the point that Sam could feel that his deck power was good enough to compete against the decks that had won the first three rounds rather than slipped along with byes.


     
  • 3:51 pm - Podcast: Here and There
    by Rich Hagon
  • We're closing in on the last few contenders for a Top 8 berth here in Indianapolis, and in this short but sweet audio segment we meet with North American contenders Chris Lachmann and Jamie Parke, plus the foreign challenge of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Jelger Wiegersma. With multiple must-win matches ahead down the home stretch, it's time to raise their game. See who does, as we head for the final table.

  • Click here to download!

  •  
  • Round 13: Saito's Trip to the Doctor
    Tomoharu Saito vs. Chris Lachmann
    by Kyle Sanchez
  • Chris “Doc” Lachmann and Saito both had stellar seasons last year with Saito being crowned the Player of the Year and Chris being one head of the pivotal Pro Tour: San Diego pair.

    Curious about the origin of Chris’ nickname, I asked the obvious “are you a doctor?” question to which he laughed and replied “No, Gabe Walls made the nick and everyone started calling me Doc.”

    With his thin rimmed glasses effortlessly positioned in the center of his nose coupled with his firm chin, strong hands, and calm manly demeanor, its no wonder everyone jumped on the Doc bandwagon.

    Saito was piloting a Black/Red concoction with busted bombs in the form of Oona, Queen of the Fae and Demigod of Revenge.

    Chris on the other hand has a little less known draft archetype featuring multiple Blowfly Infestation and various creatures with wither to wipe the opponents creatures off the board. He chose to put several Blue cards to support the nearly mono-black deck and went as far as to splash Flourishing Defenses for further synergies.

    “Good luck!” Saito offered his opponent.

    Lachmann was mid sentence when he was interrupted by Saito slapping his cheeks.

    -SLAP SLAP-

    They jiggled slightly and turned a slight shade of red before he drew his opening seven. A ritual performed during important matches to get his head in the game.

    Game 1

    Chris won the roll and kicked the action off with a Chainbreaker followed by a Elsewhere Flask. Saito played a turn two Sickle Reaper and beats traded for awhile. Lachmann set a Trip Noose for Saito’s Reaper, which tilted the damage race slightly in his favor and focusing his mana on the removal of counters from his Chain Breaker.

    Saito and Chris were both lacking attackers, and a Flourishing Defenses played via Chris’ Elsewhere Flask sent Saito into the arms of a nearby judge to discuss various possibilities. After confirming his initial impression he took the opportunity of a creature-less board to land an Illuminated Folio.

    After another attack from Chainbreaker and lives were set at 16-15 in favor of Lachmann. He followed his attack up with a monstrous Grief Tyrant, putting four 1/1’s into play from Flourishing Defenses.

    Saito took several minutes to decide his next movements, calculating several turns in advance to find out exactly where he is in the race before slamming Oona down, drawing oh and ahs from the audience.

    Blowfly Infestation was Chris’ next play, again prompting Saito to confirm his understanding on the unique interaction between Grief Tyrant, Flourishing Defenses, and Blowfly Infestation.

    Lachmann didn’t seem worried in the slightest and used his Trip Noose to take care of Oona while attacking for seven to put totals at 16-8 in Chris’ favor.

    Lachmann’s next attack saw him send Tyrant, Chainbreaker, and three of his 1/1’s at Saito’s dome. Saito used all of his mana to start the milling process, naming Black and hitting three of the six cards removed.

    Doc had nothing to add to the board and passed to Saito, who passed back to Lachmann for another incoming assault. Saito didn’t bother activating Folio this turn and removed eight off the top of Chris’ deck, creating an another underwhelming three Faeries.

    It was enough to contain most of the damage, and after counting the math on Oona Chris realized he couldn’t win and scooped ‘em up.

    1-0 Saito

    Game 2

    Saito opted to draw, anticipating another slow drawn out game from before. Lachmann’s early game started to kick in with an Elsewhere Flask and Wasp Lancer while Saito had Scuttlemutt.

    Lachmann got in there and added a Scuttlemutt of his own to the board; while Saito could only muster a turn four Demigod of Revenge, bashing Lachmann with the hasty demon.

    Chris didn’t seem worried and added a frustrating Kulrath Knight to the table, which is a very effective answer to Demigod should they battle in the red zone.

    Splitting Headache from Saito revealed Trip Noose, Consign to Dream, Blowfly Infestation, and Fate Transfer. Quite a busty hand, but Saito was most worried about Trip Noose which would enable Chris to sneak in flying damage through Demigod, which was left back to hold the fort.

    Blowfly Infestation came down before Consign to Dream was cast on Demigod. Saito read the card and placed his Demigod on top of his deck before dashing it back into play and attempting to use Scuttlemutt to change Demigod’s colors to ensure a draw next turn.

    Saito looked at Lachmann with Japanese puppy dog eyes, but Chris was having none of it and replied, “Def on top.” Staring Saito down with his shimmering bifocals.

    Saito shook off the potential game breaking error and focused on the game at hand giving his cheeks another couple of slaps. Saito chose Folio instead of dropping Demigod again, and passed the turn with Scuttlemutt holding the fort. Chris bashed in and set the totals at 13-8 in his favor and Wasp Lancer #2 joined the flying force.

    Chris sent all his creatures in, and Scuttlemutt’s on both sides traded and flying damage put the totals at 13-8. Demigod came down again and Illuminated Folio drew another card.

    The fierce flying armada was pushed into the red zone, Demigod pounced on a Wasp Lancer, but Saito fell to two, and conceded after digging two cards on his next turn.

    Tied 1-1

    Game 3

    Tomoharu opted to play this time, leading off with a turn two Sickle Reaper. Chris wasn’t impressed, and made a Sickle Reaper of his own, but declined the trade and took two on Saito’s next turn. Emberstrike Duo joined Reaper on his second main phase.

    Chris ran out Blowfly Infestation, which was the prime reason for declining the trade during the previous combat. Spiteflame Witch enhanced the Duo, which rushed to the red zone to put Chris down by four.

    Lachmann, being the vindictive doctor he is, Torture’d the new arrival to Saito’s surplus and set off a chain reaction of -1/-1 counters that killed everything in play, netting Lachmann a card on the trade.

    Illuminated Folio arrived to a bare board giving Saito a slight long-game advantage if he could get rid of the Blowfly Infestation.

    Chris countered with an Elsewhere Flask into Wasp Lancer while Saito, clearly mana flooded, couldn’t even manage a Folio activation.

    Wasp struck several times while Saito was still stuck with real estate. Meanwhile Chris was busy beating and added Scuttlemutt to the table to back up the Lancer.

    By the time Saito could activate the Folio the life totals were at 16-5, but he found a Flame Javelin to torch the Wasp.

    Another attack from Scuttlemutt dropped Saito to three, but Lachmann was apparently also searching for real estate, failing to add any pressure to the board.

    Saito’s next play was crucial, which meant it was slappy slap time again. He used a Splitting Headache to reveal an almost unstoppable hand of a second copy of Blowfly Infestation, Gloomlance, and Torture, eventually settling for the five-mama removal spell after much deliberation and managed another Scuttlemutt.

    Declining another trade, Lachmann chose not to attack with his Scuttlemutt. Still no action for Saito and on Chris’ next turn he used a Puppeteer Clique to reanimate Spiteflame Witch, putting Saito at one. He drew for his turn, slammed Oona down, and conceded gracefully in the face of one too many attackers.

    Blowfly Infestation no good” Tomoharu joked after the match.

    “Against Oona it is” quipped Chris.

    Chris Lachmann wins 2-1 over reigning Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito.


     
  • Round 14: Who Needs Land When You Can Just Discard?
    Chris Lachmann vs. Ben Rasmussen
    by Marc Calderaro
  • This is it; it’s win-and-in for these two fierce competitors. Well, maybe not “fierce” – they’re both really nice guys. And it’s not actually “win-and-in” – the winner will have to ID the next round to get Top 8 but you get the idea. Lachmann took down Saito last round with his powerful, -1/-1 counter-themed deck. Let’s see how Ben Rasmussen’s aggressive red-white-based deck can stack up. Rasmussen jovially asked Lachmann about his build and Chris responded cryptically: “I’ve heard it’s slow.”

    Game 1

    Ben won the roll and decided to play, but sent his opening hand back.
    “Well, if you mulligan to five I might keep.” Not-so reassuring words from Lachmann about his own seven-card grip. Despite his remark, he kept his hand, though Ben was content with six.

    Lachmann matched Rasmussen’s Plains with a Swamp. Then, to match Rasmussen’s second Plains and a Safehold Sentry, Lachmann just decided to discard a Woeleecher, missing his second land-drop. It looked like his earlier comment wasn’t just posturing.
    A Kitchen Finks from Rasmussen set up a sticky situation for Lachmann as the Sentry got for two. Sadly, next turn was no relief and the next biggest guy, a Grief Tyrant, hit the bin. When the second Finks joined the fray on Rasmussen’s turn four, it took one more draw step before Lachmann had seen enough. He scooped them up and we’re on to Game 2.

    Ben Rasmussen 1 – 0 Chris Lachmann

    Though Chris now had some information about his opponent’s deck, Ben was in the dark. “It has Swamps,” he joked. “It was pretty close; I thought I had it there for a second,” was all Chris decided to muster.

    Ben felt bad for me, as the match reporter for such a disappointing game, so he regaled me with the last time he faced Chris, in Philadelphia for Extended. Without restating the whole story, and publishing some bad beats, let’s just say, “Mistakes were made.”

    After some genial conversation, they finished shuffling and presented their decks.

    Game 2

    Lachmann chose to play and decided to keep, hopefully, a better hand.
    Swamp from Chris met Mountain from Ben, and Chris thankfully made his second land right on time and brought out a Chainbreaker. Ben thought it better not to respond at all and instead discarded a Wicker Warwalker. Uh-oh.

    After a second Chainbreaker joined the first and again, all Ben could do was discard, he confessed, “I don’t really want you to know about these cards.”

    “Then just concede, Ben...These two Chainbreakers are ready to go,” Chris said.

    Though he didn’t concede, a turn-four Wasp Lancer from Chris spelled trouble for poor Ben. Who was suffering from Chris’ game-one ailments. A ‘Breaker beatdown took Ben to 17 and Chris shipped the turn.

    Ben finally found his second land and cast a Rustrazor Butcher.

    Chris took Ben to 14 with his Lancer and passed the turn with Chainbreakers untapped and five land to match. Though Ben was behind, on the bright side, he found land three. Chris had stopped asking for concessions; that had to count for something.

    With nothing in his main phases Ben shipped the turn. On Ben’s end step, Chris tapped three to remove a Chainbreaker counter. Ben responded with a Puncture Bolt and now only one ‘Breaker brother remained. On turn six one of Chris’ two Blowfly Infestations came down and the Wasp attack dropped Ben to 11.

    A third land in a row off the top is exactly what Ben could’ve hoped for, and Puncture-Bolted the Wasp and gained a -1/-1 counter on his Butcher thanks to the Blowfly.

    Keeping up the pressure, Lachmann made a new three-power flyer in the form of Kulrath Knight, attacked with a Chainbreaker and passed. No more land for Rasmussen, and he simply cast a Pila-Pala and passed.

    The game state was 19-9 in Chris’ favor. He was sporting Kulrath Knight, Blowfly Infestation, and a 2/2 Chainbreaker, to Ben’s Pilia-pala, 0/1 Butcher and lands. That all changed, when Chris played Torture on Pila-Pala and used Blowfly to wipe Ben’s board then get a counter for his Chainbreaker. A Flame Javelin from Ben took out the Knight his attack, and Chainbreaker used three mana to re-juice.

    Ben cast a Safehold Sentry and Mudbrawler Cohort to try and keep up, but Chris’ Gloomlance took out the Sentry and followed it up with a Chainbreaker attack.

    The Cohort and Chainbreaker continued trading attacks while both competitors drew blanks. But Ben continued to fall behind, and after a couple turns he scooped.

    Ben Rasmussen 1 – 1 Chris Lachman

    The two adjusted their sideboards and get ready to play what Chris called “real” game. The light-hearted demeanor has faded slightly as they both saw the gravity of this Game 3. And they’re both planning to keep better hands.

    Game 3

    They both kept their seven and went to the races.

    After a few land drops, Ben’s turn-two Pili-Pala was countered by Chris’ Trip Noose.
    Ballynock Cohort, then a Finks joined for Ben – and a Scuttlemutt, then Barrenton Medic for Chris. With some hope, Ben’s more aggressive start would be halted by the 5-cost prevention machine.

    Ben sent in the team. The Medic blocked the Finks and Chris sunk lower to 11. Post-combat, Ben Manamorphosed into a Puncture Bolt to finish off the Mentor, then shipped the turn.

    Chris, needing something badly to stabilize and staring at two Swamps, a Plains, Island, Scuttlemutt and Trip Noose, continued the colorless festival with a Lockjaw Snapper – a card particularly devastating in this -1/-1-themed deck.

    Though that appeared to help to stabilize, Ben cast Power of Fire on – surprise, surprise – Pila-Pala and shot the Snapper twice and untapped for later. No blocks for Ben’s attack put Chris’ life at 6, dangerously low against a Fire’d-up Pila-pala (and Ben with five land).

    For his turn, Chris thought long and hard, and tapped out (sans Scuttlemutt) for a Kulrath Knight. But the writing was on the wall. As soon as Ben started tapping his Pila-Pala, Chris extended his hand.

    Ben Rasmussen 2 – 1 Chris Lachmann

    Welcome to the Top 8, Ben Rasmussen!


     
  • Round 15: Consigned To Dream Crush
    Mitch Cowles vs Tim Aten
    by Tim Willoughby
  • “I don’t want to jinx myself, but this happened to me in New Jersey too.”

    “Man... and I wanted to be able to draw in!”

    “At least this way around if you win in you’ll have really earned it.”

    Tim Aten
    Tim entered this round knowing that winning would give him a shot at top eight, so the pressure was on. He sat down laid back and ready to play against Mitch Cowles, who he describes as ‘the young EDT’.

    Tim won the roll in this decisive match, chose to play and kept his opening seven. Mitch also kept, and found himself up against a quick Puresight Merrow. This would be pretty solid against his turn two Trip Noose.

    Tim kept up the pressure with Tatterkite, which was tapped down, but nothing was stopping Aten’s bear who rumbled in for a couple of turns unopposed. There wasn’t a four drop from Tim’s blue/white deck, but he seemed unconcerned, as the red/green deck of Cowles’ which brought forth Mudbrawler Raiders was hit by consign to Dream in a big tempo swing.

    On a mission to break into the top eight, Tim’s aggressive start continued with Briarberry Cohort. Each turn Puresight Merrow was smoothing out Aten’s draws, and the benefits were pretty clear. He had Cowles beaten down to 8 in short order, without having taken a point of damage.

    A Power of Fire on those Brawlers came from Mitch, fighting to get back in the game. Mitch used his Trip Noose to stop Briarberry Cohort from getting in, and the Power of Fire to deal with Tatterkite. Tim rebuilt with Kinscaer Harpoonist.

    Could Mitch get back in this game? He had a Medicine Runner, which still afforded him the mana to use Trip Noose once again, but now there were two troublesome flyers on Aten’s side of the board, and he knocked Cowles down to 6 on attacks, and followed up with Thistledown Duo.

    It was Cultbrand Cinder that allowed Cowles a means of potentially dealing with those flyers, shrinking one so that he would then be able to shoot them down in time with Power of Fire. Time was something he just didn’t have though, as Tim showed a pair of Curse of Chains, to take out some of Mitch’s blockers, and make his duo a lethal attacker in the air.

    Mitch Cowles 0 – 1 Tim Aten

    Mitch Cowles
    For game 2, Mitch had to take a mulligan, but was not facing down the same sort of quick start from Aten that had come in Game 1. Indeed, the first play of the game was not until a turn 3 Ballynock Cohort from Aten. This was faced by Boggart Arsonists from Mitch.

    The Cohort got large thanks to Thistledown Duo from Tim, and swung in, to which the Arsonists swung right back. This was a proper old fashioned footrace. Mitch had Mudbrawler Raiders to add to his team following attacks, while Tim’s plan was to go to the air, using Briarberry Cohort to jump with his Duo and attack Mitch down to 12.

    A swing back from Mitch brought Tim to 13, but he seemed a little behind in the race.

    This all changed with Raking Canopy and Tattermunge Witch. Suddenly Tim wasn’t inclined to race much in the air, and was facing down quite a scary force on the ground. Tim played a Faerie Swarm, but with only 3 blue permanents, it was initially staying back on defence.

    Tim played Consign to Dreams on the Raking Canopy, Curse of Chains on Mudbrawler Raiders, and swung in with his flyers for exactly his opponent’s life total. As the crowd applauded, Tim Aten took a bow.

    Tim Aten wins 2 – 0! Now he just has to cross his fingers and hope that he can squeak into the top 8.


     
  • 4:52 p.m.: Mat Finish
    by Rich Hagon
  • Whereas words like ‘nurgle’, ‘swampfest’ and ‘ferdukenwald’ are of course part of my regular vocabulary, I genuinely find myself surprised to be correctly utilising the word ‘pimp’ here on this august website. But there’s no escaping it - when it comes to Magic, players will find more and more abstract and original ways to, yes, pimp their deck. Just as the best decks rotate from time to time, so it is with the accessories du jour. Lifecounters, custom sleeves, signed cards, foil cards, APAC land, solid gold +1+1 counters....at some point in some place someone customised their Magic experience in the most extraordinary ways.

    Right now the hot ticket in the world of Magic fashion is the playmat. To be fair this is not a new phenomenon, as Building on a Budget columnist Ben Bleiweiss from starcitygames explained. Some years ago now the last playmat fad saw Spellground mats, which were essentially white. That meant they were ideally suited for customisation, preferably with as many as possible custom sketches by prominent Magic artists.

    The most recent resurfacing of this colorful addition to your Magic backpack comes courtesy of a host of Tournament Organisers, particularly here in North America, who have found playmat giveaways a neat bonus for loyal Magic fans who, like this weekend, may have driven hundreds of miles to take part. With perhaps the best loved Magic artist of all time in attendance, fellow little Englander John Avon, it was a natural fit to use some of his most iconic pieces on a selection of playmats commissioned specifically for the event. Personal highlight is the cityscape Ravnica plains, which was part of a stunning series. But Bleiweiss was happy to point out that those who like their playmats chock-ful of flying angel goodness were also catered for, as he proudly showed off the truly awesome exclusive artwork designed for scg by the artistic double act of Zoltan Boros and Gabor Sziksai.

    Just as Magic expansions cycle out of the game, tastes change, and two, three years from now we’ll be back talking about the craze sweeping the Magic world for customised Magic holographic scorepads. Or something. But for now, when it comes to playmats ,you’ve never had it so good. Rich Hagon, checking it out and keeping it real. Do I sound hip or what?


     
  • 5:15 p.m.: 1,000 Miles and 2 Hours Later: 10 minutes with John Avon
    by Marc Calderaro
  • It's hard not to be inspired by John Avon. The Britain-based artist has drawn more jaw-dropping Magic illustrations than you can view on the first page of a Gatherer search. Judging by the size of the lines at Grand Prix Indianapolis—about two hours long at all times—the crowd clearly agrees. They've all been waiting with bated breath since Avon last came ashore back in 2002 at Pro Tour–Boston. According to eager fans, that's a long time to bate one's breath. Let me tell you, people do some crazy things for those who can inspire them: one group drove up from Florida (about 1,000 miles from Indiana) for the sole purpose getting Avon's Hancock, and Avon said when he arrived at his signing station this morning, he found one man sleeping on the floor waiting. Now that everyone's awake, and the line is moving, the tension and excitement in this part of the hall just about rivals that of the main event.

    Avon always draws big crowds at signing events.
    So what does John think of all this hullabaloo? "It's a little imposing," he told me self-consciously. The man responsible for the large-scale landscape prints behind him—the Unhinged and Invasion lands, Adarkar Wastes, and the very sold-out Waterveil Cavern—may sound miffed, but it doesn't show. He appears casual, suave and amiably chatty with anyone and everyone who steps in front of him. And while I was able to grab his attention for brief minutes at a time, his focus was clearly to make sure everyone left as excited as they came in.

    Avon came across the pond thanks to the efforts of Pastimes Games' Alan Hochman, and Ron Reiman. They planned his appearance in conjunction with illustrated playmats given out in the main event (all Avon-drawn landscapes, of course). Though the playmat's rubbery material is a bit hard to draw on, he's been doodling dragons in the skies and frightened humans in the spires for two days now, and doesn't seem to be slowing.

    Ironically, when it came to the interview, John was more eager to talk about music than he was his more conventionally known art form. He plays guitar in multiple blues and rock outfits back home in Brighton and he just can't seem to get enough of the stuff. Though he obviously loves painting, music hits him in a way that drawing just isn't able to.

    "Sound is the first sense you have in the womb...I feel a deep connection with sound in general," he said. However, like all good blues guitarists, he names Stevie Ray Vaughn and Gary Moore as influences (the latter of which lives down the street from him), and he's not above talking about Fleetwood Mac's "early work" and the intricacies of how they changed as they grew older.

    When he was corralled back on track by another gleaming fanboy asking about inspiration, Avon talked about how he gets himself to work on those "lazy Monday mornings." He said he just Googles up a random image page, then collages a bunch of low-resolution snippets together in Photoshop, creating a big mis-mash of loosely related images. "Sometimes you'll have a tree in the middle of a rock, and that's great." And that's all the inspiration Avon needs to make his fantasy masterpieces.

    "In my opinion, fantasy art is the highest art form," John confidently asserted. According to him, the more "uncool" art is, the easier it is to be imaginative. You aren't so pre-occupied with what will be "in," because fantasy is never really "in" (Apparently, somebody forgot about a little David Bowie vehicle called Labyrinth).

    John Avon is clever and playful and a joy to chat with. He's the kind of guy who cuts his lunch break short if someone wants to hear his 10-minute story about Spectral Shift; and it's always wonderful to meet someone able to match their very impressive artistic persona. His next signing will be a Pro Tour–Berlin, so if you haven't won an invite yet, jet to your local PTQ now to have a chance to meet this American-reclusive artist while you can. Get something signed, or just say thanks; it's easily worth the wait.

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