Saturday, March 18: 12:22 p.m. - Welcome to Manila
Hello, this is Craig Jones here. Yep, they've finally let me out of Europe. I knew they'd have to once I kidnapped Teddy Cardgame and BDM and chained them up in my basement. Don't worry guys, I'll let you out when I get back. Maybe.
This is pretty busy for a Friday
So, this weekend the Grand Prix train pulls up in Manila, capital of the Philippines. It's actually been a long time since the train stopped here. The last one held here was in 1999. The winner then - Christopher Parreñas.
This is actually my first time in Asia to cover one of the Grand Prix and it makes a refreshing change to be at a tournament of less than a thousand players. The sheer size of the European Grand Prix tends to mean that by and large they're held in out of the way venues big enough to hold that many players. The Grand Prix in Manila today is being held in a shopping mall. When I walked through the entrance it was like going back in time to Manchester 2000, when Darwin Kastle was recurring Pyre Zombies in the final against John Ormerod.
A smaller tournament does however bring its own benefits. For one I've never seen a venue so busy on a Friday. From when I got here at around two up until nine, when they finally shut the hall, it's been non-stop trials.
Saturday, March 18: 1:47 p.m. - Predatory Strike Force
Japanese Strike Force
One of the rumors flying around at Honolulu was that the Japanese wouldn't be going to Grand Prix Manila because of the recent unrest in the Philippines. I remember Sam Gomersall telling me he was trying to persuade Rich Hoaen to go at the promise of some easy Pro Points. He must have failed as neither player is present today.
As it turns out the Japanese haven't been scared off and amongst a predatory strike force of talent are current World Champion Katsuhiro Mori, Masashi Oiso, Shuuhei Nakamura, Tomoharu Saito and Tomohiro Kaji. Surprisingly absent is current Pro Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura. Allegedly he's at home playing Magic Online, or at least so I've been told
Saturday, March 18: 3:03 p.m. - Local Players to Watch
Joselito Alberto Jamir
This was a tough one as the Philippines, sad to say isn't really in the same class as some of the other Asian countries. To be fair though, this is the first Grand Prix for them on home turf since 1999 and there will be plenty of opportunities for a local player to make a name for themselves here.
Anyway I went for a scan through the archives to see who's who in the Filipino world of Magic.
The 2005 National Team consisted of Mark Herrin (Champion), Joselito Alberto Jamir, Rico Vincent Perez and Omeed Mohammad Jafari. Neither Herrin or Jafari is present, which is a shame as Herrin is also second on the lifetime Pro Points list for the Philippines.
Top of that list of lifetime Pro Points within the Philippines is Francis Robert Profeta with just 13. He's present today as is Frederick Salazar, the 4th name on that list and tied with places two and three on 12 points.
From then we move onto Limited Rankings. Currently topping the list of limited rankings with 1933 points is Manchester Sy. Unfortunately he's not here either, but here are the names from the top ten of the limited rankings in the Philippines: Joseph Paul S. Basilio, Michael Jeffrey T. Uy, Caesar W. Famorcan, Mario A. Padua, Mark M. Baeyens, Ogie Jaro.
Six of the players I've mentioned (Jamir, Profeta, Basilio, Uy, Padua, Jaro) also have three byes and are probably strong tips to be playing tomorrow. Whether they can fight off the Japanese Pro's is a much harder proposition.
Saturday, March 18: 4:20 p.m. - Ruud for Road Warrior!
Biggie Ups to My Main Man Ruud!
After his recent quarter-final appearance in Honolulu Ruud Warmenhoven's been begging me to "big him up". I can sort of see his problem. When your fellow Dutch countrymen number such names as former World Champions Julien Nuijten, Tom van der Logt and other stars such as Frank Karsten, Jeroen Remie, Jelger Wiegersma … man, how come the Dutch are so good … Kamiel Cornelissen, Noah Boeken, Bram Snepvengers then you have to do something special to stand out. Well Ruud's going for it. In true "Play the Game, See the World" sense Warmenhoven is here and playing today. Watch out Olivier, Ruud's gunning for the Road Warrior slot with a vengeance.
This blog would have been far more impressive were it not for the fact Ruud is currently bumming round Thailand, making this Grand Prix almost local.
Saturday, March 18: 4:45 p.m. - Sealed Deck Construction with Katsuhiro Mori
I caught up with the current World Champion, Katsuhiro Mori, during deck construction to see if I can get some tips on deck construction. First off Ravnica sealed was fairly awkward before Guildpact. The guild cards ended up tearing mana bases in different directions. Guildpact, with the introduction of three new guilds, seems to turn sealed deck construction into a giant multi-dimensional chess puzzle. I don't think there has ever been a more complex sealed format, ever. I'm sure I could hear the brains pop as I walked across the room during deck construction.
Katsuhiro Mori deckbuilds
Mori's card pool is indicative of the hard choices a player faces with Ravnica and Guildpact. His card pool is included below:
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Gruul Turf
1 Skarrg, the Rage Pits
1 Glass Golem
2 Gruul Signet
1 Boros Fury Shield
1 Chant of Vitu-Ghazi
1 Conclave's Blessing
1 Courier Hawk
1 Devouring Light
1 Absolver Thrull
1 Belfry Spirit
1 Graven Dominator
1 Guardian's Magemark
1 Drift of Phantasms
1 Peel from Reality
1 Surveiling Sprite
1 Tidewater Minion
1 Infiltrator's Magemark
1 Dimir House Guard
1 Last Gasp
1 Sadistic Augermage
1 Strands of Undeath
1 Necromancer's Magemark
1 Poisonbelly Ogre
1 Restless Bones
1 Coalhauler Swine
1 Fiery Conclusion
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Seismic Spike
1 War-Torch Goblin
1 Living Inferno
1 Ogre Savant
1 Scorched Rusalka
1 Tin Street Hooligan
1 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Golgari Brownscale
1 Root-Kin Ally
1 Scatter the Seeds
1 Stone-Seeker Hierophant
1 Crash Landing
1 Ghor-Clan Savage
1 Silhana Ledgewalker
1 Silhana Starfletcher
1 Boros Recruit
1 Master Warcraft
1 Wild Cantor
1 Boros Swiftblade
1 Congregation at Dawn
1 Pollenbright Wings
1 Selesnya Evangel
1 Dimir Infiltrator
1 Shambling Shell
1 Woodwraith Strangler
2 Scab-clan Mauler
2 Wreak Havoc
1 Wee Dragonauts
There's good cards spread across all of the colors and especially in the guild colors. Putrefy, Selesnya Guildmage and Moroii are all solid cards for their guilds. Mori also has some powerful rares in Sunforger, Graven Dominator and Master Warcraft. So how does a player get to grips with their card pool.
Frank Karsten is always famous for having some sort of system. The Dutchman either has his pick lists for draft or a floor plan to lay out a sealed deck. In contrast Mori and Nakamura, who was sitting opposite and across one, seemed to eschew color completely and instead laid out their creatures in piles according to the mana costs regardless of color.
Below them Mori would have 8-10 spells. Cards would go in and out in a flash from the pile of unassigned. Master Warcraft was in and then it was on top of the pile.
Originally it seemed like Mori was trying for an ultra beatdown Gruul variant. He had Elves of Deep Shadow, Scorched Rusalka, Wild Cantor and War-Torch Goblin sitting in the one mana slot ramping up to double Signet, double Scab-Clan Mauler, Evangel and others in the two mana slot.
He said afterwards the deck had been very difficult to build. He'd had a choice between going for beatdown or control. In the end he opted for a base green-white control deck with both red and black splashes for removal. He felt the deck was so-so overall.
This is his eventual build:
Sealed Deck Day One GP Manila 2006
Saturday, March 18: 5:07 p.m. - Round 4: Ruud Warmenhoven vs. Eugene Levin
Well its round 4 and we have the first feature match. Well sort of. Space is limited in the trade hall today so my plan for feature matches is to abduct the players and teleport them to table 190.
What are the odds? We're in the middle of the Philippines and a Dutchman gets to play an American for their first round. Well sort of. Ruud Warmenhoven is bumming around Thailand at the moment and Eugene Levin is currently teaching English in China. Still, it's one of those odd pairings stories you get from time to time on the Grand Prix circuit.
Levin isn't too happy with his deck as it's a little underpowered. On the other hand Warmenhoven's card pool was so chock full of power (double Electrolyze, Angel of Despair) he had no idea how to build it. In the end he'd just thrown everything in. During the bye rounds he'd asked Masashi Oiso for advice and even the Japanese pro had been stumped by this one.
There was a brief moment of confusion before the first game as both players lost track of which deck was which as they were both wearing the same sleeves. I was called in to examine Warmenhoven's deck. Nope, no Electrolyze, no Angel, oh boy is Eugene going to have to fight today. After the decks went back to their correct owners we were ready to kick off.
Levin led off with a Mounring Thrull while Warmenhoven immediately acted to counteract the life swing with a hasty Gruul Scrapper. Warmenhoven then followed with Bioplasm, a.k.a. the putrid bunny of doom (Well it sort of looks like a rabbit). The rotting bunny was destined to stay at home as Levin cracked out a bloodthirsty Ghor-Clan Savage. Warmenhoven added another fat green monster, a Bramble Elemental, to the table.
The next turn was very interesting as Levin sent in the Savage. Warmenhoven contemplated the big triple block but then thought better of it.
"I'm trying to remember if you had Gaze"
Gaze of the Gorgon of course would be an absolute wrecking ball if Warmenhoven did the triple block. He decided not to.
At this point Warmenhoven seemed firmly rooted on the back front. His creatures were stranded in nowhere land, neither attacking or able to block for fear of the Gaze. Warmenhoven was only drawing land and so had no gas with which to force the issue. He could only sit back and watch as Levin added another flier, Tattered Drake, and then Golgari Rot Wurm for the finish.
Levin rather sportingly showed the Gaze at the end of the game.
Levin 1-0 Warmenhoven
Ruud then …
"I'm going against the advice of Masashi."
… boarded out the Angel of Despair to drop his deck to a more manageable four colors.
Warmenhoven found fixers in Game 2, a Bird of Paradise and Terraformer. He used the Bird to bust out a Bramble Elemental.
Levin wasn't entirely happy with his deck but it did seem to possess a nice number of evasion creatures. Dryad Sophisticate was followed by Snapping Drake and then a Torch Drake.
Warmenhoven put brakes on the air assault with a nice and busty Stratozeppelid. Levin cleared that out of the way with Repeal and alpha-struck for 7 to drop Warmenhoven to 10. Levin was at 12. It seemed safe.
Unfortunately for him Warmenhoven summoned a hasty Gruul Scrapper, attacked for 9 with the Scrapper, Terraformer and Bramble Elemental and then finished Levin with the Lightning Helix which of course he'd just drawn that turn.
Levin 1-1 Warmenhoven.
Warmenhoven mulliganed on the play, never good, but somehow managed to have forest, swamp, island and mountain in play on turn four. This was much to Levin's irritation as the American's Dryad Sophisticate was again just a vanilla 2-1. It traded with Warmenhoven's Civic Wayfinder.
Warmenhoven ripped in with a Gruul Scrapper. Levin replied with a Snapping Drake, but tempo was starting to count now as the putrid bunny of doom (Bioplasm) appeared on Warmenhoven's side. Levin had his own fatty, a Golgari Rotwurm, but making Warmenhoven go first had on this occasion proved costly as Warmenhoven had one of those perfect attacking hands. The Rotwurm was bashed out of the way with Disembowel, letting in the lethal bunny (insert obligatory Monty Python joke here) in for 6 after revealing a terraformer on the top of Ruud's library.
Levin tried to reverse the flow of the game with an Ogre Savant, but then Warmenhoven showed him yet another trick, a Flash Conscription, to take the game.
Ruud Warmenhoven beats Eugene Levin 2-1.
Saturday, March 18: 6:27 p.m. - Round 6: Mark Bayaens vs. Ogie Jaro
Okay so maybe this might not be the all-Japanese slugfest you might have been expected. The Japanese are a little spread out across the field at the moment and are avoiding each other. Instead we have one for the local guys. It's their Grand Prix, there hasn't been one here in about seven years so let them have their time in the spotlight.
Mark Bayaens and Ogie Jaro are currently in the top 10 of Limited rankings for the Philippines and are both currently 5-0. Jaro is off three byes, while Bayaens had to scrap through an extra round.
Jaro won the die roll and as is customary in this format chose to draw.
Bayaens led off with a turn one Elvish Skysweeper, but had little action until turn four, when he brought out a Greater Mossdog. Meanwhile Jaro followed an Orzhov Signet with Civic Wayfinder. A team-block with Wayfinder and Dimir House Guard took down man's best fungus. Bayaens followed it with one of the best uncommons in Ravnica, Selesnya Guildmage.
Not to be outdone Jaro surpassed it with a Primoridial Sage, and a shiny one to boot. An equally pretty foil Culling Sun swung a one-sided wrecking ball across Bayaen's board and scoop mode followed a turn later.
If you're going to die to busted rares I suppose they may as well be pretty ones.
Jaro 1 - 0 Bayaens.
Game 2 and it seemed like they might have swapped decks. This time it was Jaro who led with the Skysweeper and followed it with Selesnya Guildmage. Bayaens used Clinging Darkness to drop the Skysweeper and followed with an Evangel. It looked like he was on the receiving end of a fast draw though, even after Jaro had mulliganed. Currently Jaro had a Starfletcher and Ghost Warden to go with the Guildmage.
When Bayaens passed the next turn without playing a guy it seemed like he was in a lot of trouble. It turned out he had action, albeit a very risky block on the Guildmage with Gaze of the Gorgon backup. If Jaro had instant speed removal Bayaens was going home in an ambulance, but fortune smiled on him, or he had a very good read on his opponent, and the play worked.
The next turn it looked like Bayaens was going to come back into the game. Nightguard Patrol and Selesnya Evangel entered play. The next turn Jaro swung with everyone. Bayaens read it for a throwaway attack before Culling Sun and got it wrong. He blocked and a Gather Courage and Orzhov Euthanist wrecked his board and put him back to just the Evangel in play.
Bayaens was forced to make a very unexciting un-bloodthirsted Ghor-Clan Savage just to get the Evangel rolling. However, once it did start to get going, the saproling engine looked like it was going to spell a lot of trouble for Jaro. A Moldervine Cloak put Bayaens further in control. Jaro had a Sinkweed Imp, only for Bayaens to find a Skysweeper to neutralize it. Down to just a Ghost Warden now Jaro was tapping on his deck, desperate to find that Culling Sun.
One turn, no. Two turn, no. A Pillory of the Sleepless meant he wouldn't get to look at another card.
Jaro 1-1 Bayaens
Jaro chose to draw and immediately lost the extra card advantage when his first hand was 5 land, a signet and a presumably sideboarded Poisonbelly Ogre. The next hand wasn't much better, being five land and a Siege Wurm, but obviously Jaro didn't want to risk dropping further. A couple of turns later and his hand had improved considerably. Civic Wayfinder put in an appearance and Jaro had found Primordial Sage. Unfortunately Bayaens had found Moldervine Cloak to put on a Transluminant and Jaro was facing a fast clock.
On his fourth turn Jaro summoned both a Mourning Thrull and Ghost Warden. Personally I'd written the Thrull off as a fairly unexciting card, but in this game, combined with the Ghost Warden it might give Jaro a way to claw his life total back to healthy levels.
Or would of if Bayaens hadn't nailed it with Last Gasp. A Selesnya Guildmage added to Jaro's woes.
Another attack with the cloaked Transluminant and Jaro was down to 7. Jaro summoned a Poisonbelly Ogre to go with his Blind Hunter, trying to stem the tide. Bayaens didn't immediately respond to the Ogre coming into play. A sign he had better plans than making a saproling. Well we've already seen a shiny Primordial Sage and shiny Culling Sun. Bayaens wasn't going to be outdone in the foil stakes as Putrefy sent the Ogre to the graveyard.
Jaro tried once again to stem the bleeding, this time with his Primordial Sage. For Jaro's every move Bayaens just seemed to have the answer. This one was an absolute pick you up, smash you down onto the knee and shatter the spine into a million pieces of a backbreaker. At this point a few of the Filipino judges had come over to watch (see I said this was a good one to feature. Go with the local interest) and all of them painfully winced as Angel of Despair came into play and chopped the Sage down.
It wasn't quite over yet. Jaro still had a draw step, although I'm not sure there was anything in the entire Ravnica universe that would pull him out of this one.
"Obliterate", I suggested, trying to be helpful and all that.
Nope, no Obliterate, Wrath, Rout or anything else not in Ravnica.
Jaro could probably console himself with the thought that his 2 wins and 3 byes are probably already good enough to bring him back tomorrow.
Afterwards Mark Bayaens asked me to send a hi out to his daughter Trixie on his behalf. Well if you're reading Trixie, you'll be watching your dad draft tomorrow.
Mark Bayaens beats Ogie Jaro 2-1.
Saturday, March 18: 8:35 p.m. - Last Round Crunch
How many of these players are on the bubble?
This is kind of weird for to say as I'm used to another two rounds to follow this, but here we go, this is round seven, the last of the day. There were comments that this might be one of the easiest Grand Prix of recent memory, but even three byes and a good Pro Pedigree aren't always proof against the embarrassment of a day one exit. Eugene Levin and Tomohiro Kaji both fell to the curse of mediocre sealed decks and both Ruud Warmenhoven and Takuya Osawa are fighting for their continued survival in the last round.
At the other extreme there are six players currently on 6-0 records hoping to start day two with a perfect record.
Dominic Ortega of the Philippines was first to take one of those slots. His opponent, Milton Jian Xi Lin, was a little flooded and Dimir Guildmage and Auratouched Mage were all he needed.
On table three Felix Gonzales' deck of much fatness (Loxodon Hierarch, Rumbling Slum, Tolsimir Wolfsblood - nice rares!) bludgeoned Bayani Manansala into the ground.
These guys are sitting pretty at the top of the tables
I only saw the second game of Mark Baeyen's match against Vincent Gan, but it seemed fairly brutal as he steamrolled over Gan with a 5/6 Ghor-Clan Savage and the ever useful Selesnya Guildmage. Putrefy on a final blocker was enough to send them to the third game. In fact I was surprised they even went to that as the scoresheet from Game 1 read 19-8 in Baeyans' favor. I can only assume a game loss was involved. Whatever, Gan failed to hold off Baeyens' monstrous deck in the decider (just read the feature match above against Ogie Jaro to see what I mean).
Back to the bubble matches and I'm sad to report Ruud Warmenhoven is also joining the casualty list. A little flooded in Game 1, he took the second against Jiro Francisco with the help of an out of control Golgari Guildmage. They didn't really have enough time for a third though and as Jiro Francisco had no intention of conceding, Warmenhoven took the bullet.
In the other bubble I saw Watchwolf, Evangel and many Saprolings on Takuya Osawa's board and the two-time GP top 8'er successfully navigated himself into day two.