Saturday, August 27: 11:07 am - Catching Up With Kanoot
This summer has been an absolute beating. Starting the first week of May and then continuing through this weekend I have done coverage for one company or another 12 of 16 weekends. This includes two trips to Japan, one trip (plus vacation) in London, and extensive travel inside the United States. Yes, this is on top of my full time job as editor of StarCityGames.com. Thankfully it's all winding to a close this weekend here in Salt Lake City and next weekend in Mexico City, both of which will be firsts for me. Oddly enough, until I was recounting exactly how many events I'd worked this summer, I had no idea the uh… damage was quite so extensive. Let's just say that there's a reason why my wife has demanded I plant my butt on the couch for two months after Mexico City, and it's not because she wants to watch football with me on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
In other news, my book reading this month has been curtailed by a need to write and also just general busy-ness, but I did get consumed by the Miles Naismith chronicles written by Lois McMaster Bujold. I've really been wanting to just drop off the Earth and game for a while (disappearing into computer/console roleplaying for a week sounds rather nice about this point), but lacking time for that, I sought out some decent action Sci Fi and Bujold did not remotely disappoint. If you are interested, check out Young Miles or Cordelia's Honor and go from there. I also get the feeling that much of my fall reading will be consumed by revisiting George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series, because I literally have no recollection of the events that I read five years ago in book 3, and I'd like to have some clue before A Feast of Crows is released in November (just in time for my flight to Australia, perhaps?).
As for music recommendations, anyone have a clue as to when the Black Eyed Peas album or Hot Fuss by The Killers is going to get old? I've been playing a lot of The New Pornographers, Mike Doughty, and Sufjan Stevens to mix things up, but I should be tired of those other albums by now, right?
Saturday, August 27: 11:39 am - The Fourth Light
So I arrived at the hotel at 10PM last night after a $45 cab ride from the airport and grabbed food at T.G.I. Fridays where of course the group formerly known as TOGIT was hanging out and eating. When I came back to the hotel, I asked where the tournament site was and the lady behind the desk said, "Make a left at the light, a right at the second light, and it's the fourth light up." Sounds simple, right? I filed that away, deciding that I'd get some exercise and walk to the venue the next morning. I'm usually an exercise fiend and all of the traveling this summer has left me feeling a bit fat.
I walked out the front door this morning and was stopped by two gamers looking for a ride. I informer them I was lacking a car and would be walking to the venue. "Really? You sure about that?" Cue ominous music.
What the woman behind the desk failed to mention was exactly how far that fourth light is from the hotel. In gamer terms Gabe Walls wouldn't have even made it to light 1 before sitting down and pouting and demanding that Mike Krumb call a cab. Rich Hoaen would have dropped out of the walk at light 1, Jeroen Remie would have bounced at light 2, and Osyp might have made it to light 3 before calling me an idiot and throwing his hands in the air. That last light though… the only gamers I'm sure would have made it all the way to the site are edt (another exercise junkie) and Jelger Wiegersma, who could be seen watching the Tour de France on television and riding a stationary bike at the same time throughout the entire event. Total distance traveled: 2 miles. At least the weather was nice and I got my morning exercise, but I think I'll take the shuttle in the morning…
Saturday, August 27: 12:48 pm - Cube It
Things are running a little behind right now because DCI Reporter imploded, but Gabe Walls and company have an outstanding recent acquisition for wasting time. Since Gabe won $90,000 at the World Series of Poker, he decided to put together a full-fledged cube, with real versions all of the most powerful cards in the game. He's about 90% finished compiling it and pros this weekend have been overjoyed to get to play with the Power 9 in their specialized draft decks. During the last draft, they even got Kenji and Oiso in on the action.
For those who don't know what a "cube" is, it's simply a preconstructed collection of cards that you randomly divide into 15 card stacks and then draft, but you can only have one copy of a particular card in the stack. Some people have the means to do what Gabe has done and collect all of the most expensive pieces of cardboard to draft, while others just throw together a stack of their favorites and run it that way. If you want to be able to have 8-man drafts, you will need at least 360 cards in your stack.
The infamous PTR was involved in one of the drafts earlier this morning (he came to this event to hang out but is not playing), and while playing against Julien Nuijten he cast Chaos Orb, ripping it into pieces and then sprinkling the confetti across Julien's board. He won that game. It just goes to show that wherever PTR is at, life is just a little bit more… "interesting."
(And to be fair, he also gave Gabe the money to replace the Orb in the stack.)
Saturday, August 27: 2:18 pm - Metagame Breakdown
This is what the Day 1 field is playing. Special thanks to judge Mason Peatross for compiling this information.
Saturday, August 27: 4:02 pm - Round 4 - Jeroen Remie vs. Richard Hoaen
A Happy Rich Hoaen
"The same seventy-five…" noted Jeroen Remie as I sat down at the feature match table.
"God, the legend mirror match must be soooo stupid," admitted Hoaen, clearly trying to drive me away from the table. "It should get pretty interesting after boards though, because we both have no clue." The deck they are both playing is actually Deck X, Osamu Fujita's white-blue deck from Taipei.
They were right about the mirror match being stupid, as the first four plays from each player immediately hit the bin when the man across the table played a duplicate. Hoaen got the first creature to stick in Isamaru, but Remie trumped with Konda's Banner and Sensei Golden-Tail. The body count rose rapidly from there, with Hokori, Meloku, and Jittes all making brief appearances in play.
"I'm considering Pithing Needling Eiganjo Castle. I'll do the paddle (Honor-Worn Shaku) instead. We noticed earlier in testing that Needle on the Paddle was the key to the mirror, which is all about mana," noted Remie.
Hoaen eventually wore Remie down and dropped Hokori and Isamaru on the same turn with Remie tapped out, taking game 1.
Hoaen 1 - Remie 0
Jeroen Remie's hands are faster than light
Game 2 was lightning fast, with both players ramping directly into fatties - Remie's Yosei and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails squaring off against a lonely Patron of the Kitsune for Hoaen. Protection from White seems pretty good in a battle of white decks, and Remie evened the match at one game a piece when Hoaen drew basically nothing else.
Hoaen 1 - Remie 1
Game 3 occurred at the same pace, legends dying left and right until Hoaen took over with Opal-Eyes and Yosei. Remie stood a chance with Patron of the Kitsune, but flier advantage is very important in this matchup, and Opal-Eyes makes it pretty tough to race. Hoaen finally drew a Patron of his own to finish off Remie and earn his first real win of the day.
Hoaen 2 - Remie 1
Saturday, August 27: 4:09 pm - Round 4 Mini Feature - Kalani Atkinson vs. Charlie Hodges
Kalani Atkinson is a 29-year-old mother of two from Salt Lake City, who won her Regionals and traveled to U.S. Nationals two weeks ago which she describes as "I got my but kicked." Hodges is a 24-year-old electrical engineer from Boise, Idaho.
Kalani is playing Mono-Blue, while Hodges is running a funky W/G Shaku deck that runs a ton of equipment and splashes for Godo. Game 1 was a prolonged affair that Kalani eventually pulled out with Keiga thieving a Tatsumasa token and then beating Hodges over the head with it.
Game 2 looked problematic for Kalani when Hodges resolved a Godo, but Atkinson had two Umezawa's Jittes to keep Godo under control, and Hodges flooded out from there while Atkinson drew and cast Meloku under no real pressure to take the game and the match.
Saturday, August 27: 5:22 pm - The Pro Metagame
While you can see above that there is actually a pretty diverse representation of decks at the tournament this weekend, the metagame among the big names only runs three decks deep, and Gifts Ungiven control is overwhelmingly the weapon of choice. Those who chose not to play Gifts have generally opted for Mono-Blue Control, while Jeroen and Hoaen are both playing Deck X.
I asked around to see if people were just being lazy, whether the block was totally bereft of innovation, or whether Gifts really is the best choice for a tough, diverse metagame, and the players felt the answer was overwhelmingly the latter. At least at the Grand Prix level the view is that you either play Gifts or a deck that beats Gifts, and there are only two decks that do that. If the Mono-U and Deck X players make it to Day 2, things should get very interesting, but until that time they have to not die to the randomness in the field. When last I left him, Jeroen Remie was scrambling for his life against a Mono-Red deck that knocked him to six life by turn 4.
Mike Flores also checked in a short while ago telling me he win his PTQ this weekend playing his own green-blue homebrew deck that he tried to convince the pros to play to no avail. Expect to hear a bunch more about that later this week on one of the major Magic websites.
Saturday, August 27: 5:47 pm - Round 6 - John Fiorillo vs. Gadiel Szleifer
Gadiel Szleifer is a little bit familiar with this format. After all, he won a Pro Tour playing Gifts Ungiven back in May, and he's playing the same deck with only slight modifications today as well. Through five rounds, his only blemish is a draw. His opponent is John Fiorillo, editor of Brainburst.com and one of the members of The Seven Kings. John is here this weekend searching for admission into Pro Tour-Los Angeles. His weapon of choice this weekend is Mono-Blue Control, a deck that fares better against Gifts than almost any other in the field.
"I actually can't keep a hand against you," admitted Szleifer. "I always mulligan against John and I never beat him."
"It's true, you always draw the worst."
Szleifer obviously mulliganned his first hand in game 1, but kept his second six, casting a Top on turn 1 and then Sickening Shoal removing Hideous Laughter on turn 2 to kill Fiorillo's Jushi Apprentice. Two Pithing Needles from Fiorillo shut down the Top and a fresh Ghost-Lit Stalker, making sure Fiorillo could keep a full hand. Szleifer then began to inflict Chinese water torture on Fiorillo, plinking away at John's life two points at a time. Fiorillo's land drops stopped at four, making it very difficult for him to do anything, especially as he began discarding cards. Kokusho from Szleifer met Hisoka's Defiance, as Fiorillo's life dropped to nine and then seven. Fiorillo finally found a fifth land and cast Meloku, losing it immediately to a Sickening Shoal. A second Meloku stuck and Fiorillo stabilized as Gadiel built mana and began to search for an opening to finish the New Jersey native off.
The game then turned very slow. Fiorillo began to beat down with Meloku while Gadiel searched for options. A series of spells plus splices let Szleifer kill both of Fiorillo's Pithing Needles, animate Kagemaro via Goryo's Vengeance, and clear the board, though Fiorillo did use Consuming Vortex to return Meloku to his had. The precarious life total for John was too much though as his board position had been wrecked, and Gadiel finished him off the next turn with a pair of Vengeances ala Goryo, targeting Kokusho and Meloku and attacking for the win.
Szleifer 1 - Fiorillo 0
Game 2 was a race to see if Fiorillo could pull off the impossible: winning a game with Mono-Blue in fifteen minutes or less. The early game looked quite good for him, as he got down an early Jushi Apprentice and an Azami, Lady of Scrolls while Szleifer killed Meloku with a Shoal. Umezawa's Jitte kicked things up a notch and Gadiel's deck gave him absolutely nothing. Fiorillo earned the game win right at time, and then the players began discussing just how bad a second draw on the day would hurt them. Fiorillo explained that he was here because he needed to qualify for L.A. and that he just couldn't concede. Gadiel thought about it and earned The Good Man Award for the weekend, not only because he played quickly enough for Fiorillo to win game 2, but also for conceding to John, guaranteeing him a Day 2 appearance and keeping his hope of earning an invitation to L.A. alive.
Fiorillo 2 - Szleifer 1
Saturday, August 27: 7:11 pm - The Credit Card Game and More
The feature matches for this round were Kenji Tsumura trying to go undefeated on Day 1 battling Lance Loden from Alabama on one side of the divider and Frank Karsten battling Eric Dinosaur Taylor. Tsumura won an extremely protracted Gifts vs. Mono-Blue match 1-0, and Karsten smashed edt in a Gifts mirror in almost no time at all.
Kalani Atkinson ended up one win away from a Day 2 appearance, losing to two members of the Dutch National team including Jeroen Remie in round 7.
Rumor has it that last night at TGI Friday's about 12 pros got together for dinner plus bread and circuses at their favorite restaurant chain. At the end of the meal, the group decided to play the credit card game, but when Osyp Lebedowicz heard about it, he decided to order an extra dessert to up his expected value. Guess who got stuck with the $250+ bill?