Saturday, March 31: 12:15 p.m. - Winner's Circle
The field of Grand Prix Massachusetts is stacked with big name talent including the likes of Kenji Tsumura and his teammate Rich Hoaen, Frank Karsten, Willy Edel, and Olivier Ruel. All the players listed above are some of the game's biggest stars with careers that are the envy of anyone who has ever crossed the threshold of their local store for a little FNM. They also all share one glaring absence on their resumes - none of them have won a Pro Tour title yet.
Yet when I looked around the room it seemed like you could not swing a dead Jedit without hitting someone who had been featured in the final photo of a Pro Tour coverage page. I quick scan of the player list turned up 15 PT winners:
Teammate for this event
The tally runs to sixteen if you count in Tournament Organizer and ring-bearing Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty.
Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz is likely the only Pro Tour winner at the event who had to play round one. Steve, who recently returned to New York City, was teaming with my Top8Magic partner Matt Wang who had his best Pro Tour finish at PT Dallas when he ended up 41st. Matt is going to be chronicling their adventures via the Top8Magic podcast which can be accessed through this page and will be updated throughout the weekend. Steve and Matt were victorious in round one and their decks looked hearty enough to carry them pretty far into the competition.
Saturday, March 31: 2:38 p.m. - Round 2: Sigrist/Glavin vs. Hron/Kowal
Lucas Glavin & Mike Sigrist
The second round of action at GP Mass brought a second PT winner under the spotlight. Mike Hron is a longtime Wisconsin player who you may have seen recently gracing the Pro Tour Geneva coverage. Mike came to Geneva with the foreknowledge that black was under drafted and exploited that inefficiency to his advantage - going so far as to first pick Tendrils of Corruption over Teferi in one draft pod.
His teammate, Brian Kowal, was one of the Wisconsinites who helped him prepare for the event and is a former member of the deck building think tank Cabal Rogue. Recently Brian inspired Mike Flores' This Girl deck that Flores used to win New York State Standard Champs.
There was some banter in Geneva about Hron - a veteran going back many years on the tour -- skipping out on some of the Constructed events this season and he grumbled about the format a little. He should be in good hands though between Kowal and the possible alliance between the Wisconsin players and the suddenly surging Iowa Magic scene.
While he was not familiar with his opponents, Hron should have tried to curry some favor with Lucas Glavin. Lucas is a popular local player - as his teammate Mike Sigrist - who has been known to build a solid constructed deck in his day. Previously known for being the last Grudge Match Champion, Lucus' most recent accomplishment was making the finals of the last Grand Prix in Massachusetts with his deck that hybridized an infinite life engine with a Sutured Ghoul combo.
Lucas is currently a High School teacher and while he does not play Magic as much as he used to he did bring several of his students to their first tournament this weekend. Ever the teacher he leaned across Sigrist - who has a car packed and waiting in the parking lot for an impending mover to Las Vegas right after this event - and took over the task of writing their names on the feature match board because Sigrist's handwriting was so bad he could not bear to look at it.
Kowal probably wished he had someone looking over his shoulder during deck construction as his team was assigned one of the match point penalties for a decklist error. Because 2HG uses single game rounds there is no way to make a game loss without it effectively becoming a match loss. A match point penalty means that one point is deducted from their tally throughout the event. The team had one bye coming in which had been worth three points. With the penalty they now had two points which is better than a draw and worse than a win.
With penalties, mulliganing, and introductions out of the way it was finally time to play some Magic. Hron led off by suspending Search for Tomorrow and Kowal played the Wisconsin mascot - Blightspeaker on turn two.
"I will kill it," announced Glavin while aiming a Midnight Charm at the little bugger.
"I will save it," said the Fury Charm wielding Hron. The local team did not have anything for the first couple of turns while Hron jumped up to four mana on the third turn. Having double red was more important that the quantity though and he played a Blood Knight. Poultice Sliver came down for Kowal who then announced he would be using his Blightspeaker.
"You lose a life…no Sudden Shock, here."
Sigrist actually was holding a Sudden Shock but was happy to direct it at the freshly minted sliver. The Boston area team added a Flowstone Channeler and Calciderm over the next two turn - the latter indicating they had something in store for the pro-white Knight. Sigrist played a card that has not gotten a lot of buzz in the 2HG bomb discussion but Frozen Aether made the situation sticky for Hron's squad as he could not access his sixth mana for a dragon on the turn he played it and when he played the Intet he had to wait a whole other turn for it to come online.
Kowal seemed a little stalled out as he could only search out another Blightspeaker while the other team was playing Castle Raptors and Erratic Mutationing the Blood Knight. Kowal activated both Blightspeakers - one to search and one to ping. Sigrist had his Flowstone Chaneller ready: "we can still kill that after he searches right?'
"If you have your settings right," grinned Hron.
A third Blightspeaker appeared on the Wisconsin side - I told you they loved this guy. Lucas made an executive decision and directed Sigrist: "Kill the foil one."
The game looked like it was solidly in the pocket of the locals even as Hron's squad developed their board. With the Calciderm winding down Kowal played Voidmage Gargoyle naming Whitemane Lion alongside the aforementioned Intet, the Dreamer - a turn late and turned the wrong way due to the Frozen Aether. "They probably have Assassinate."
Glavin's team attacked for eight with his white creatures after Melancholy tapped the dragon once again and Channeler killed a Blightspeaker.
Hron and Kowal seemed calm though and the PT Winner grinned at his teammate's hand. "Can you help me out with that super secret tech there?"
"What the hell is this?" exclaimed Sigrist who could not imagine what card they were discussing. To be frank I had no idea myself and I can usually tell what the tricks are going be…
Suddenly the Wisconsinites were in the game when Return to Dust obliterated both the Frozen Aether and the Melancholy. Uktabi Drake was able to fly in for two alongside the Gargoyle. But the score was still 17 to 20 in the local team's favor. Firemaw Kavu from Sigrist hit the Blightspeaker and the team got in for ten. Glavin added Jedit's Dragoons and Pit Keeper to their board. The best Hron's squad could muster was a pair of slivers. Everyone had to stay back and man the ramparts.
Mike Hron & Brian Kowal
Sigrist decided to let Firemaw go and kill the Gargoyle. They killed the Uktabi with Channeler and then Glavin played Null Profusion which promoted some sideways glances from the Wisconsin half of the table. It was unclear if Sigrist realized he was done drawing cards for the game.
The Wisconsin players tip-tied through their turn -- Fury Sliver from Hron - hasty thanks to last turn's Firewake - and he sent it and Kowal's Spitting Sliver to the curiously green red zone. Tendrils of Corruption killed the Channeler and they passed it back to the locals to see what was up.
Nope. Sigrist had no idea. Fortunately there was a table judge there to stop him and explain the card. They were entirely dependant on Lucas' deck to deliver the goods. Necrotic Sliver cleared the sky for the Castle Raptors but Kowal was holding Strangling Soot to choke the flier. Dragoons got in and the Wisconsin team fell to eight. Lucas added a Blightspeaker of his own but he would not have enough time to even untap with it in play. .
Timbermare from Hron followed by Vampiric Sliver and Sinew Sliver from Kowal was enough to take the match.
I asked Hron about how good Return to Dust had been for the team in testing. He grinned and admitted: "We haven't really played this format at all but so far it has been great!"
Saturday, March 31: 2:38 p.m. - Round 3: Ruel/Ruel vs. Edel/Melamed
Olivier & Antoine Ruel
Players huddled in close to catch a glimpse of the Ruel brothers playing against rising superstar Willy Edel and his teammate Jonathan Melamed. Olivier and, our third straight Pro Tour Champion to be singled out this far in the coverage, his brother Antoine were not terribly happy with their decks when I watched them during deck building. There were a few bombs to be found - Avatar of Woe, Pyrohemia, double Urborg Syphon Mage, and double Stormfront Riders - but they felt like they did not come together as optimal decks.
As they were building Oliver picked up the insert from the Tournament Pack and frowned. The insert urged players to try their hand at an FNM tournament with the line: "You're the best Magic player in your house! What's next?'
"I am not the best player in my house," he groaned. Even though Antoine has the Pro Tour title that Olivier covets he can take solace in being a few thousand dollars ahead of Antoine in the lifetime earnings department. While Antoine is in a good position to close that gap over the following year they are at least going to earn the same dollar amount for this side event - if you ignore Antoine's $250 appearance fee, courtesy of level 5 membership in the Player's Club.
Willy Edel & Jonathan Melamed
Speaking of the Player's Club… Willy Edel has no plans to relinquish his Level 5 membership any time soon. He quit his job a couple of weeks back and plans to play Magic and see the World. There are at least 10 Grand Prix events on his travel itinerary this season including virtually every North American stop on the circuit.
"I would have played with Paulo," he explained of his absent Charleston teammate, "But I decided too late to come." He pointed at Jonathan who was standing alongside former World Champion Carlos Romao and continued, "I had some friends who wanted to come so…"
I knew we were headed for a rough match when the French players wrote their name on the dry erase section of the Feature Match tables with the wrong marker.
"This marker is … what is the word…?" grasped Olivier.
"Permanent?" I suggested.
Things took a downward turn from there with a first turn Essence Warden that was watched over by Saffi. The Ruel brothers did more than enough damage to kill the Brazilian team one and a half times over but all they got for their efforts was a slightly below par result with Willy's team at close to 40 - an Empty the Warrens practically reset the whole game at one point and the French players were not without blame themselves. Olivier was keeping himself busy with Jedit's Dragoons and Stormfront Riders, extending things on both sides of the table.
It took a Clockwork Hydra and a Piracy Charm to finally kill the Essence Warden. By that time a Syphon Mage had reared its head for the Ruels and they were finally able to make some progress. Time was running out though and with only one turn remaining in the game the Ruel's were able to punch through for just enough damage with an alpha strike into Strength in Numbers.
Saturday, March 31: 5:58 p.m. - Round 4: The Rift Marked Frank
Frank Karsten & Roel van Heeswijk
If you read my Friday column here on magicthegathering.com you already know that Gerard Fabiano was playing GP Massachusetts with his good friend Eric Ziegler. The two players are old hands at the 2HG format having won back-to-back NJ State Champs in the team format. Gerard was hoping to recapture some of the excitement from earlier team experiences in Massachusetts. Back in 2002 he replaced Eric Ziegler on a team that included Jon Sonne and Scott McCord and earned the only PT Top 8 appearance of his career.
Readers of magicthegathering.com are extremely familiar with Frank Karsten who was teaming with fellow Dutchie Roel van Heeswijk for this event.
Frank and Roel were having a rough go in the early game as Gerard was hitting their best guys each turn with Reality Acid and Tolarian Sentinel. Frank also had to get attacked by himself. Ziegler's Riftmarked Knight resolved and the token was represented with Frank's player card from the second set.
Eric Ziegler & Gerard Fabiano
Many pundits have sneered at the Reality Acid combo because the eponymous enchantment doesn't really offer much value on its own. It looked pretty saucy as it took down a dragon and a fattie. Once Roel ripped Desolation Giant and killed the Sentinel it was virtually a dead card in Gerard's hand. Frank had a hand full of gas by the time the Giant arrived via Fathom Seer and Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Roel was ripping two cards a turn with Candles of Leng. The Dutch players had turned the tide when they were at a a narrow three life but with their overwhelming card advantage in the end game it might as well have been thirty.
Saturday, March 31: 7:33 p.m. - Round 6: Return of the Dead
"Who are these guys?" muttered one gallery observer to another as they came over to watch Quentin Martin and Ruud Warmenhoven take on Mark LePine and Mitch Tamblyn. While the observers did not recognize the American players the Dutch half of the European squad recalled LePine quite clearly.
Quentin Martin & Ruud Warmenhoven
"You were the first person I ever played on the Pro Tour"
"When was that?"
"The last Queen Mary I think - it was a long time ago."
"I haven't played on a Pro Tour in like eight years - it would have to be."
The last time anyone would have seen LePine's name on a Sunday was Pro Tour Rome 98-99 when he finished third. Back then he was one of those meddling kids that every tournament organizer dreads walking through the door. LePine has grown up, bought a house, gotten a real job, and lives with his girlfriend not far off in New Hampshire.
They say old gamers never die and LePine has kept up with the game making periodic tournament appearances -- mostly Grand Prix like this weekend, New Jersey, and Richmond. He met his partner for this event - Mitch Tamblyn - yesterday when they were introduced by Ben Farkas who is of a similar vintage to LePine. Tamblyn and Farkas won a PTQ in this format last weekend.
Tamblyn has finished as high as 13th at Pro Tour San Diego after experiencing some success on the JSS. He also reached 5th at Grand Prix Oakland and seemed poised to continue to rise in the ranks of young American players. Tamblyn admits that he felt that he was entitled to success and it led him to get away from what attracted to him Magic in the first place - a love of the game. Instead he became obsessed with winning and found himself spiraling out of control. He quit the game after a series of poor finishes.
Having rediscovered his gaming for the love of gaming he has found himself rediscovering his winning ways as well. Both his team and the Martin Warmenhoven squad were undefeated to this point.
The Euros came out fast with a couple of suspends, Blood Knight, and Goblin Skycutter with a Saltfield Recluse and morph for Americans. Ruud added Spiketail Drakeling. Tamblyn shrugged and played Hammerhelm Giant. Ruud sacrificed his Drakeling and LePine grunted, "Countered."
Savage Thallid prompted an uneasy smile from Martin and his teammate who were not happy with their cards despite the sterling record: "We spent five or six minutes debating about whether or not that should be in the deck. It was the hardest decision we had to make with this pool."
I really enjoy watching how people communicate. LePine and Tamblyn opt for the baseball infielder method of shielding their mouth with the cards in their hand - another reason you should be playing Haunting Hymn and Mindstab in this format.
All Quentin had was Treacherous Urge. He saw a hand with Uthden Troll Needlespeak Spider, Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens, and Grapeshot. Needless to say they stared at that hand for a long time before finally writing down what they saw and putting the Troll into play. Basically it was an expensive Ostracize.
Ruud on the other hand had Ana Battlemage leaving Mitch with just a Pyrohemia.
Just a Pyrohemia …
Mitch unmorphed Shaper Parasite and killed the much debated Savage Thallid. The enchantment came down and started to cull the herd. Quentin tried to shoot down the Aven Riftwatcher but LePine snapped it back to his hand with Whitemane Lion.
Mark LePine & Mitch Tamblyn
There was a Skittering Monstrosity for Quentin and Whitemane Lion from Ruud returned the Battlemage who also played Griffin Guide on the Monstrosity. Next turn he used the Battlemage on LePine who discarded Castle Raptors, Amrou Seekers, and Psychotic Episode. LePine - who had been scuffling on four lands for some time -- could have held back his Riftwatcher for a turn and had mana to madness the Episode. Monstrosity got in for five after applying the Recluse ability.
Tamblyn cleared the board of two toughness creatures and sent in two 2/3s. When he pumped the Deepwalker it was met with Dark Withering. Riftwatcher laid back to absorb the impact from the Winged Monstrosity.
"Upkeep…" some more muttering behind fanned cards and then LePine rethought his plan. "Never mind…false alarm."
He had finally drawn a second Swamp for his Sudden Spoiling and Pyrohemia was suddenly able to take care of the Monstrosity during combat. The game dragged on for a few more turns but no one has ever beaten a Pyrohemia. Kudos to Quentin and Ruud for even trying.
"Yeah…when I cast Treacherous Urge and saw his hand…we were sure the game was over," admitted Quentin.
Saturday, March 31: 10:01 p.m. - Round 7 Wrap-up
In case you were wondering what you want to open in your card pool during the current 2HG PTQ season. I have a simple answer - Pyrohemia. In case you were looking for a reason to start that Krosan Grip at the PTQ I have compelling reason - Pyrohemia. Two of the top three teams at the end of seven rounds were undefeated thanks in no small part to the Planeshifted Pestilence, which was often a ticket to the Top 8 back in the Saga seasons itself - and at common no less.
Brian Siu and Jim Dyke took down reigning Player of the Year Shota Yasooka and PT Prague winner Takuya Oosawa at the top table.
Mark LePine & Mitch Tamblyn
You only need to look at Mark LePine and Mitch Tamblyn's round six feature match against Quentin Martin and Ruud Warmenhoven to see the power of the red enchantment. Mark's 7-0 record this weekend puts him in a good position to make his first Top 8 since it was legal to play Time Spiral in Standard - I am referring the card not the block!
Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz & Matt Wang
I would certainly be talking about the comeback of Mark LePine more if not for the sweeping performance of Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz and Top8Magic's own Matt Wang. There was no Pyrohemia for this duo. In their final round match-up against Tim Aten and Ben Lundquist it looked like a 62 to 15 life advantage was going to dribble away when the crucial Squall Line they were counting on for victory was sent to the bottom of Matt's deck in a Psychotic Episode.
Magus of the Jar showed up just in time and allowed the team to finish of the job for exactly the right amount of damage with a flashed back Conflagrate, a couple of dorks, and a timely Grapeshot. You can hear much more about their adventures this weekend in the Top 8 Magic podcast linked off of this very page.