Saturday, August 14: 8:47 pm - News and Notes from the Day
Josh Rider (he of the cartoonish good looks and round 8 feature match) finished Day 1 at 8-0-1, proving all the people that laughed at him while testing during his bye period were complete buffoons who grossly underestimated the power of his U/R control deck. The author of this blog may have been one of those people…
Mike Flores's bid to make Day 2 went down in flames during Round 8, as BP staggered to an X-3 record on the day. Osyp Lebedowicz's day didn't end until the final round, while fellow TOGITer Gerard Fabiano went down in flames early, and Antonino De Rosa needed a concession from friend Matt Boccio in the last round to squeak into Day 2 in 126th place, followed directly behind by Gerry Thompson.
Even superstars Gabriel Nassif and Brian Kibler faced elimination matches in the final round. Nassif beat out Aaron Vanderbeek, a local TOGITer who played in U.S. Nationals this year to reach 7-2 on the day, while Kibler ran away before he could tell me how he made it in, but he was pleased that, despite playing rather poorly, he was still able to make play on another Grand Prix Sunday.
Brian also noted that while barning a room from yours truly last night (because he didn't know where Huey Jensen and Matt Linde were staying and therefore had no idea where he was going to sleep), he managed to provide my roommate Chris McDaniel (called Star Wars Kid by pretty much everyone) with a G/R Tooth and Nail deck, which he piloted to a 7-2 record and his first day 2 appearance.
In round 9, Alex Shvartsman played twelve-year-old Michael Gauthier, a spry youngster from Maryland. Mike lost that round against the grizzled veteran, but his 7-2 record is guaranteed to give him a place in Day 2.
After receiving a compliment from Kai Budde earlier in the day for "doing Magic a great service by preventing Tom Guevin from winning a Pro Tour," Shawn "Hammer" Regnier relived the ooolden days of Pro Tour 2 in round 8, with an elimination match against Darwin Kastle. Unfortunately neither player managed to finish with a good enough record to make day 2.
Judge Paul Morris came up to me at the end of the day relaying some of the more entertaining questions he received after the final standings were posted. "A surprising number of players came up to me to ask, 'So, are we playing with the same decks tomorrow?' and a subset of those players still wanted to know, 'Well is the top 8 a Booster draft then?' I didn't know what to say, so I just blinked at them."
Saturday, August 14: 6:32 pm - Round 8: Alexandre Peset vs. Josh Rider
Alexandre Peset is a current member of the French National Team, who landed his first Pro Tour top 8 in Kobe this year. Josh Rider is a former Canadian National Champ who has been on a break from the game while he pursues a college degree, and branches out into other hobbies. Block Constructed, however, is his favorite format, and it showed when he garnered a top 8 finish at GP: London last year. He would also like to note under his professional accomplishments that he once beat Eugene Harvey in a freestyle rap battle.
Peset is piloting the French Tooth and Nail deck that splashes red for Electrostatic Bolts. Peset is 5-1-1 with it thus far on the day, while countryman Gabriel Nassif is 6-1. Rider is playing a U/R control deck that was deemed "awful" by more than a few pros before the tournament began, but it has serves him well thus far. A win here for either player means they are at least guaranteed a spot in the final 128.
Game 1 was a slow, plodding affair, as Rider was initially mana screwed, while Peset couldn't find any Cloudposts to accelerate into a Tooth and Nail, and every Jens he tried to cast met a Condescend. An Arc-Slogger from Rider found a twin a turn later. Peset cast an Eternal Witness and a Solemn Simulacrum. Rider cleared Peset's board at the end of his turn, when Peset mistakenly picked up Rider's sideboard (thinking it was Rider's pile of cards that were removed from the game via Arc-Slogger, prompting the judge to stop the match and fetch the head judge for a ruling.
Eventually it was determined that Peset made an honest mistake, so he was given a game loss and the players moved on to game 2. Since Rider had a Condescend in hand, it was unlikely that Peset was going to win that one anyway, but the mistake by Peset made it irrelevant.
Rider 1 - Peset 0
"How would you sideboard my deck?" asked Rider. "What would you do? I don't know what I'm doing."
Game 2 progressed similarly, with a slow buildup from each player. Peset was able to resolve Simulacrums this game, but was unable to find additional acceleration. Rider resolved an Arc-Slogger, but this left him unable to counter Peset's Mindlsaver. A counterspell proved unnecessary, however, since Peset could not cast and activate the slaver all on one turn, leaving it a sitting duck for Rider's Furnace Dragon. The next turn was elementary, as Rider attacked for nine and had just enough cards in his library in order to kill Peset with Slogger hits.
Rider 2 - Peset 0
Saturday, August 14: 6:00 pm - Round 7 Roundup
With nine rounds of swiss for day 1, round 7 is the moving round. This is the round where the best players cement their place in day 2 and start jockeying for position for the final six rounds of swiss on Sunday. On the other side of the coin are the players who are simply struggling to keep the dream alive, hoping that they can mise a few more rounds and make it to the final 128. Here's an overview of some of the more interesting matches happening in this round:
John Pelcak vs. Kai Budde
The Cack, as he is know to the rest of the Magic world, is coming off a 7th place finish with his team at Pro Tour: Seattle, which is considerably higher than his opponent, the mighty Kai Budde finished (yes, I'm only pointing that out because it's so rare). Both players came into the match undefeated, with Cack's G/R Freshmaker deck slamming headlong into the exact deck it was designed to hate out - Kai Budde's Affinity.
Pelcak threw away game 1 with a win on the board, but came back to bash Kai in games 2 and 3, delivering ze German his first loss on the day. When I asked Kai what happened, he said simply shrugged and said he got bashed.
Torben Tweifel vs. Gabriel Nassif
This match featured the German National champ against the French runner-up. Nassif has piloted a very techy G/r Tooth and Nail deck to 5-1 thus far on the day, while Torben has achieved an equally respectable mark with Affinity. Nassif wrecked Tweifel's board on his way to grinding out game 1, but Tweifel smashed back in game 2, in spite of additional removal boarded in on Nassif's part. Game 3 was a nail biter, with the final life totals reading 3-2 in favor of Nassif, with the German facing lethal damage on Nassif's next turn. Torben untapped and cast Thoughtcast looking for a Shrapnel Blast, but only found a Frogmite and Cranial Plating, sending the man most consider to be the World's Best Constructed player to 6-1.
Melissa De Tora vs. Olivier Ruel
De Tora is a long time New England player who has had some success over the years tournaments, but has never quite broken through to the big time. Olivier Ruel is one half of the Ruel brothers, a French tandem that has been very successful during their careers. Both brothers have had monster years this year, with Olivier currently ranking tenth in Pro Tour points, five slots below Antoine. These two played three see-saw games, with De Tora and her U/G control deck taking the first game, while Ruel and big Red burning away any resistance to take Game 2. The third game wasn't particularly close, with De Tora coming out on top, leaving her undefeated going into the final two rounds.
Alex Shvartsman vs. Mike Flores
These two old-timers are both sitting at X-1 right now, meaning they have some work left to do in order to still be able to play on Sunday. Shvartsman won the first game, burning, bolting, and blasting everything Flores could cast right off the board. Game 2 saw Flores come back from having zero land on the board to win a tight one when Alex ran out of gas, but Mike couldn't sustain the comeback in game 3, losing to Alex's overwhelming hate.
Saturday, August 14: 4:40 pm - Round 6: Shawn Regnier vs. Kai Budde
What strange creatures Grand Prix bring out of the woodwork. The man they call "Hammer" has been an arm wrestling champion and a Pro Tour Champion (way back at Pro Tour 2), but these days he says he mostly focuses on running his gaming store and babysitting. Sitting across the table from him is none other than the German Juggernaut himself, Kai Budde. The nicknames are big, the reputations are bigger, and the men aren't particularly small either. None of that matters now though, as it will be the spells that decide this match.
These men have both piloted their Affinity builds to a stellar 5-0 on the day (though to be fair, Kai started with three byes, while Hammer had two), and one more win would likely at least guarantee them a day 2 appearance. Kai's Affinity deck is nearly identical to Osyp Lebedowicz's winning Vial Affinity deck from Orlando, while Hammer is running the Mantle Affinity deck popularized by Marc Herberholz and Huey Jensen at the same tournament.
There isn't much to say about the opening salvo of this match, since Kai demolished Hammer in game 1. Regnier scooped after only drawing one land by his fourth turn, when facing down two Frogmites, an Arcbound Ravager, and an opposing Disciple from Kai.
"Yeah, they didn't manage to remove mana screw while you were taking time off from the game," quipped Kai.
"I did it to myself," was Regnier's lament. "I had a two Disciple, Vault of Whispers hand, and just needed to draw a second land."
"I don't know, I'd probably keep that hand as well."
Kai 1 - Hammer 0
Game 2 marked a solid start for both players, with opposing Ravagers locked in a stare down, while Hammer's Moriok Rigger snuck in for some early damage. Unfortunately for Hammer, Kai's board soon included two Disciples of the Vault and a Viridian Shaman that knocked out his Ravager, giving ze German both numbers and combo superiority. What started out as an even game degenerated immediately into savagery, as Kai swung with his team and Hammer had no recourse left but to scoop and extend the hand.
When I asked to see Hammer's deck, Kai said, "There's probably no need, since our decks are probably identical."
"Actually no," replied Hammer. "I'm running Mantle Affinity and not Vial so that I won't have as many color problems, not that you could tell that in this match."
Kai 2 - Hammer 0
Saturday, August 14: 4:08 pm - Keeping up With the Old Guys
BDM is done. My good friend and frequent Sideboard.com collaborator went 1-3, draft, his sole win coming from a bye. You can keep up with all of Brian's antics this weekend in his player diary.
Recent father Mike Flores won this round to improve to a healthy 4-1, saying that he lost his fourth round match to (what else?) play mistakes. Noted curmudgeon and also a new daddy Jonathon Becker is 3-2 playing a B/G rogue design. (All the old guys are having kids now, including Randy Buehler, who's wife is expecting "any day now.")
Updating the people who weren't born in the Mesozoic era, Gabriel Nassif, Rich Hoaen, Matt Linde, Jeroen Remie and Osyp Lebedowicz are all at 5-0, while Jelger Wiegersma, Frank Karsten, and Brian Kibler are at 4-1. While lamenting his loss, Brian estimated it has been about a year since he felt he was actually playing Magic well (and that includes hi top 8 at U.S. Nationals.
In other news, I'm still starving.
Saturday, August 14: 3:43 pm - A Glimpse of the Metagame
Coming into this event, I predicted heavy Affinity, with a strong showing of Big Red, and an upswing in G/R Freshmaker decks, with everything else being pretty open. Of course, with 950+ players, you never know exactly what you're going to get. Therefore when the fifth round started, I took a survey of the decks being played at the top 25 tables, just to see what's what.
Affinity - 17
Big Red - 11
G/R Freshmaker - 8
U/R Control - 5
Tooth and Nail - 3
Mono-Green - 2
U/G Control - 2
U/W Cog Control - 1
Rogue Red - 1
It's early here, so I'm not going to break my arm patting myself on the back from such a small (and biased) sample, but thus far things are going exactly as predicted. The U/R decks are generally Big Red variations with counterspells and/or bounce added, and the most notable player currently piloting one is none other than former Canadian National Champ, Josh Rider. Josh's deck includes the insane synergy of maindeck Furnace Dragonand Megatog, and was described by Brian Kibler as "possible the least synergistic Constructed deck you could build in this Block." Josh said he got the deck from ScrubbyZ (Marc Zadjner), and though his friends begged him not to run the deck the night before, he decided to play it anyway.
Saturday, August 14: 3:07 pm - Postcards from the Edge
Oh, the things we take for granted. At Pro Tour sites, there are kind people (named Whitney and Renee) who supply the Sideboard.com crew with plenty of sugar and caffeine in order to help them work long, grueling hours reporting all the news that's fit to print at the various events. Such is not the case at Grand Prix. Things are so hectic and busy at GPs that you hardly have time to collect your thoughts, let alone seek out sustenance. Eventually though, everyone wears down, and something has to be done.
In spite of the RexPlex being a very cool place, it only has one small fast food stand in the middle of the venue that has been packed with gamers all day long. The average wait since they opened has been about twenty minutes or so. Across the street from the Rex is an Ikea store. Yes, Ikea sells furniture, but also contained in their mammoth building is a restaurant/café area to satiate the hungry shoppers. Looking at the line downstairs (and considering I haven't had anything to eat since 8:30 this morning), I decided to make a run across the street and try my luck.
Unfortunately for me, I had no idea that Ikea is actually a better Swedish mousetrap designed to let shoppers in, but never let them out. Upon entering, it only took me two different tries to find the cheese (the café), but once there I realized that the line for the café was actually an hour long, so I was forced to make my way out of the building empty-handed. (Times I stopped and asked for directions inside Ikea: 2. Times I had to turn around and backtrack: 3. Time wasted searching for something - anything to eat: 20 minutes.)
If you're out there, send pizza and Coke. Soon.
Saturday, August 14: 1:08 pm - Mike Flores vs. Jersey Mike Stein
There are at least two Magic-playing Mike Steins in the Northeast, one of which lives in Philly, while the other is the New Jersey native (and Johnny Damon look-alike) we're featuring this round. His opponent is none other than the legendary Michael J Flores, a new daddy who received permission from his wife to make a rare tournament appearance. When I found out Flores was actually attending, I told BDM that I wanted to make sure I featured him before he lost. BDM replied, "Well, you better feature him in round 3 then (Fores had two byes), or else you probably won't have a chance to feature him at all."
The first two games of this feature match were hasty bloodbaths where Flores had Disciple superiority in game 1, while Stein rolled over Flores in game 2 when Flores was stuck with a hand full of Electrostatic Bolts but had no red mana to cast them.
Game 3 started out fast for Flores with Myr Retriever, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite, and two Disciples of the Vault, while Stein cast a pair of Ravagers, one of which premature end from a Floresian Electrostatic Bolt. Stein Oxidized the Frogmite, cast a Myr Enforcer to go along with his Ravager, and continued to play artifact lands. Flores cast a Cranial Plating, equipped it to his Myr Retriever and attacked. A second Oxidize crushed the Plating before damage, and Myr Enforcer smacked down the Enforcer.
"Oxidize number two there was poppycock!" cried Flores.
Matt Urban (observing): "Mike, I don't think you're in any condition to complain here."
He had even less reason to whine when he drew a third Disciple, effectively giving Flores a Lightning Bolt every time an artifact entered the graveyard. Stein responded by laying a Blinkmoth Nexus and casting two Platings of his own before passing the turn back to Flores.
"Whew, thank God for summoning sickness, right? Otherwise I'd be taking a lot of damage this turn."
Flores cast a Cranial Plating of his own, equipped it, and swung with an Arcbound Worker, which traded with an Arcbound Ravager, dropping Stein to three (two artifacts went to the grumper) before dropping his second Vault of Whispers into play. Stein was able to attack back for eighteen through the air with the Nexus, but was one artifact short of killing Flores, and died on the swingback.
Urban: "Mike, you realize you missed an on-the-board kill, right?"
Flores: "What, no I didn't. I just barely won that one, but I played so well."
Urban: "Mike, if you had laid your Vault first, you would have had two Black mana available and could have attacked with your whole team and equipped the Plating as an instant, thus giving you a win."
Flores: "Oh, you're right. Dammit, I got the win right? But now I lose because I look stainsy in the Feature Match coverage."
Flores defeats Stein 2-1
Saturday, August 14: 12:21 pm - The Headlines
These are the initial stories that we will be following this weekend:
Affinity Uber Alles
Approximately ninety percent of the pros I polled this morning had chosen Affinity as their weapon of choice. In fact, most players (with the exception of Gabriel Nassif, who is rumored to be playing Tooth and Nail) acted as if there wasn't even another deck in the format - in spite of all the hate, Affinity remains that ridiculous. Looking at the field playing in rounds 1 and 2, the non-pro players seem to feel a bit differently - Affinity is present, but so are a bunch of other decks including Big Red, the Freshmaker (a G/R hate deck developed in the Midwest), and various forms and flavors of Tooth and Nail. It will be interesting to see which decks and players are able to flourish in a field featuring a much heavier Affinity concentration than at Grand Prix: Orlando.
The Player of the Year Race
While the Asian contingent has Grand Prix: Nagoya the weekend before Worlds, this is the last U.S. or European Grand Prix before the World Championships, and many of the pros are scrambling to get any extra Pro Tour points they can in order to increase their end of the year payout. Gabriel Nassif, the Ruel Brothers, Jelger Wiegersma, Frank Karsten, and Jeroen Remie have all made the trip across the pond in order to give themselves as many extra points as possible going into San Francisco. We'll check in on the European contingent from time to time this weekend to see if their trip was worthwhile.
Who's Got the Byes?
It appears as if there was a minor mistake in calculating the byes for this tournament, and some players with ratings-based free wins appear to have picked up an extra one somewhere along the way. This means that even more players than normal have received two and three byes for this tournament, which equates to old-timers like Mike Flores starting out with six points, and even some Limited specialists like Tim Aten ended up with the full monty of nine. With a final cut to a super-sized 128 players for day 2, three rounds of byes mean most lucky pros will need merely a 3-2-1 record in order to make the cut and play on Sunday.
Saturday, August 14: 11:16 am - Lost in Translation
Ah, New Jersey. It's not exactly the most scenic of the Grand Prix I've attended, but they most certainly have the most Magic players I've ever seen in one place. 958 represents the largest North American Grand Prix ever, a nice boost over the attendance Columbus pulled in for Limited in March. I'll fill you in on those spicy details throughout the day, but for today's opening entry, I figure I should give out some words of warning.
Don't ever follow TOGIT member Jeremy Moore anywhere, and particularly not if Gerard Fabiano is giving him directions.
Nine of us, including Gerard, Jeremy, Morgan Douglass, Brian Kibler, Billy Postlethwait, Bill Stead, and Craig Krempels, piled into two cars last night in search of food (TGI Friday's and Ruby Tuesdays (or the Rubes)) are the usual eateries of choice), with Jeremy's Ford Explorer in the lead. Seventy-five minutes, numerous cuts across four lanes of traffic, a trip into Staten Island (incurring a six dollar toll for no reason), a trip back out of Staten Island, three wandering treks through scenic industrial parks, more tolls, and one very angry Knut later (I was driving the trailing vehicle), and we finally ended up at an Italian place named Pinocchio's.
Why Pinocchio's? Because it was there. Between the two of them (they blame each other), Gerard and Jeremy managed to get completely lost, and had almost no clue where we were when we finally stopped to eat. They proved this by taking another thirty minutes of seemingly random turns on the trip back to the site before I finally stopped following them in order to buy gas and a map. Krempels (a New Jersey native himself) finally managed to navigate the rest of us back to the site with little real trouble (maps are useful things I hear), and only approximately five minutes after Gerard and co.
The end result: Over two hours of driving time (3.5 hours total), one crappy pizza, and one very important lesson learned: Don't follow those two anywhere.