Sunday, August 28: 11:22 am - Round 8 - Kenji Tsumura vs. Frank Karsten
One of the top Japanese players facing off against one of the best Dutch players. On American soil. You expect this sort of thing at the Pro Tour, but at a 250 person Grand Prix? In Salt Lake City? Not bloody likely. What's more is that there's a hot Dutch on Dutch mirror match down at table 3, where Rogier Maaten is battling Jelger Wiegersma, but I chose to focus on the action at table 1 for the match where two of the unbeatens (and best players in the world) are battling to keeping their undefeated records alive.
Tsumura won the die roll and after a mulligan ramped into Top, Kodama's Reach, and Kagemaro, First to Suffer, drawing first blood from Karsten by beating for four. Karsten's response to this threat was to cast Gifts Ungiven for Kagemaro, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and second Gifts Ungiven. Tsumura gave him the spirit and the snake. Frank traded Kagemaro's on his turn, and then got smashed by Ink-Eyes hiding behind a snake on Tsumura's next attack, giving Tsumura both Inky and Kagemaro. Another attack dropped Karsten to seven with Kagemaro, Inky, and two mana snakes on the board for Kenji against Frank's nothing, though he did have a loaded hand.
Karsten then spent about 3 minutes figuring out the permutations of his next play. He lead off with Wear Away on Tsumura's Top. Tsumura sacrificed both of his snakes, Topped, and then tried to draw a card. Before he could do that, Karsten hit Kagemaro with Sickening Shoal for two. Frank's next play was to revive his Kagemaro with Goryo's Vengeance, attacking with Kagemaro and then sacrificing it before the end of turn to kill Ink-Eyes, leaving Tsumura's board empty. Sadly for Frank, all that work was for naught, as Tsumura cast Death Denied for four and then employed Goryo for his own use on the next turn, locking up game 1.
Tsumura 1 - Karsten 0
Tsumura again had to mulligan in game 2 and this time it was Karsten's turn to quickly ramp up his mana, but unlike Tsumura, Frank just kept playing snakes. Kenji seized the opening at that point to cast Cranial Extraction naming Kokusho, and while there were none in his hand, Frank lost four of the busty dragons from his deck. Karsten struck back by casting Kagemaro while Tsumura played Meloku, knowing that Karsten was likely to cast his Myojin on the next turn because he saw it when Karsten had to reveal his hand during the Extraction. That's exactly what Frank did, evaporating Tsumura's hand on his next draw step but not before Kenji cast Gifts Ungiven to thin his deck of land and a Top. Frank cast Time of Need for Ink-Eyes before his attack and Kenji scooped, realizing he would be unable to overcome Karsten's large board advantage with no hand and only Meloku in play.
Tsumura 1 - Karsten 1
Both players kept their opening hands for game 3, each leading off with a Sensei's Divining Top and then an Elder… it's a Gifts mirror, you've seen it all before. Play stalled a bit until Karsten again cast Gifts, getting Ink-Eyes, Kagemaro, Sickening Shoal, and another Gifts Ungiven. Tsumura spent considerable time deliberating on that one, eventually putting the two legends in Karsten's hand. Tsumura cast a Gifts of his own on Karsten's end step after Frank had cast Kokusho, and this time Tsumura fetched fatties, wining up with Ink-Eyes and Koko in hand. It was at this point that Legends started to hit the yard with some force, with Ink-Eyes, Kokusho, and Meloku all dying with a quickness. Karsten eventually gained a solid advantage by using Goryo's Vengeance and Shizo on Ink-Eyes to swipe Tsumura's Meloku. Time was called and even after extra turns, Karsten was one turn short of killing Tsumura, earning a draw.
Tsumura 1 - Karsten 1
Sunday, August 28: 12:02 pm - Stalking Artists and Hana Kamis
Popular artist rk post and his young fan.
I think rk post is stalking me. First he shows up on practically no notice to a Japanese Grand Prix I was attending in July. Then he was at U.S. Nationals as well, though I generally managed to avoid the goofy looking painter and graphic artist (don't take my word for it - look at the picture) because he was absolutely crushed with fans crowded around the artists booth all weekend. Finally, just when I had thought I escaped him, here he is in Salt Lake City of all places, kicking back, signing cards, selling prints, doing artisty things. It's a good thing the man is so cool, otherwise I'd be a bit creeped out at this point. All bets are off though if he shows up in Mexico next week.
Gadiel's Hani Kami signed by Rebecca Guay.
Speaking of artists, Gadiel Szleifer was playing a feature match earlier this weekend when I noticed that his Hana Kami had writing on it. I asked him for the story, and he told me that he went to get one signed last weekend at Gen Con (where he finished Top 4 in the Two-Headed Giant event with teammate Chris Mc Daniel) by Rebecca Guay and she actually knew who he was. Her signature includes a small congratulations on winning the Pro Tour, an unexpected and welcome gift for his Gifts Ungiven deck.
This may or may not be Gabe Wall's hat.
Last but not least you get Gabe Walls in a goofy hat. Why a goofy hat? Apparently one of the judges found it and asked whose it was, and when no one piped up Gabe claimed it as his own and decided to wear it for the rest of the day. Speaking of Gabe, he and the other names are gradually starting to push the locals and amateurs out of the Top 16, making this GP look strangely like a Pro Tour at the moment. If this keeps up, there's a chance that we'll have the undisputed best Top 8 of the year, even eclipsing BDM's tremendous one from Taipei.
Sunday, August 28: 12:30 pm - The International Flavor
Gabe Walls - big everywhere
One of my favorite things about the Pro Tour these days is how cosmopolitan many of the players have become. Dinner last night was at a crappy sports bar named Iggy's (though they did have an excellent beer called Polygamist Porter on draft), but it was the company that made the meal. Included at the table were the entire Dutch contingent at the event, most of TBS, Oiso and Tsumura, the mercurial Gabe Walls and myself. Apparently the Japanese left their choice of meal in the hands of Gabe, who proceeded to order them pot roast and a gigantic root beer float. Verdict on the pot roast was that it was pretty bad, while Tsumura seemed pretty amused at the float. He kept poking the lumps of ice cream with a straw, fascinated by the gooey mass. The rest of dinner was normal - Magic players talking about the game, goofing around, telling jokes at each other's expense, etc. The Japanese got screwed by their travel agents and had to cab back into the city to their hotel, but it's really cool how this entire weekend they have simply been treated as one of the gang.
Sunday, August 28: 1:07 pm - Round 11 - Gabe Walls vs. Osyp Lebedowicz
Even when he loses, Osyp Lebedowicz keeps his cool.
Both players seemed ecstatic about this matchup, mostly because they were looking for an excuse to goof off and make fun of someone for a round. Then they immediately shifted into loud, obnoxious banter that only these two masters can create. Most of it was even publishable here, but it went so quickly that it was difficult at best to transcribe. It's probably safer that way.
Walls resolved an early Tribe Elder and then Gifts Ungiven, getting a Hana Kami and Death Denied in hand, put immediately finding it useless when Osyp played a Pithing Needle on the little recursive spirit. A second Gifts gave Gabe Goryo's Vengeance and Kokusho in hand. The two played draw, go for a few turns continuing to jaw before Gabe played a third Gifts Ungiven, begging Osyp to counter it because "I have no idea what to get anymore." In the end he grabbed Hideous Laughter and Sickening Shoal, further filling his graveyard with fatties. Ink-Eyes from Gabe met Minamo's Meddling, revealing two Sickening Shoals and a Myojin of Night's Reach in addition to the Death Denied.
Osyp cast a Keiga on his turn, opening the way for Gabe to cast the Myojin, emptying Osyp's hand. A huge Death Denied from Gabe plus Shoal on Keiga left Osyp with only a tapped Myojin - something walls was happy to exploit via Goryo's Vengeance on Meloku before ninjaing in Ink-Eyes. Osyp just shook his head and scooped to move on to game 2.
Walls 1 - Lebedowicz 0
Walls had a very slow start in game 1, keeping a one-lander and a Top and then failing to draw a land for two turns. Osyp Hindered a Sakura-Tribe Elder, also countering two Kodama's Reaches while taking some beats from Isao, Enlightened Bushi. Osyp's first Meloku died to Hero's Demise but the second one stuck and he rode it all the way home.
Walls 1 - Lebedowicz 1
Gabe Walls says, 'HEE HAW!'
Game 3 was a quick and brutal case of mana screw for Osyp, and Gabe ran him over with Ink-Eyes.
Walls 2 - Lebedowicz 1
Walls started chatting amiably with judge Arthur Pruyn about the match. "That one was nice. Not quite as sweet as that time on Friday with the credit card game… Osyp lost that one for about $250 dollars - that was a hot one."
Not to be outdone, Osyp asked, "Did you know Gabe was hit with a cream pie in the face in the middle of a crowded diner. That was a nice one." Walls needs one more win to hop into the Top 8, while Lebedowicz probably needs to win out in order to make it in.
Sunday, August 28: 3:09 pm - Round 13 - Rogier Maaten vs. Rich Hoaen
The permutations for this round are pretty crazy, but these two players have to battle to have a shot at the Top 8. Maaten is a former Dutch National Champ, and is still a member of the Dutch National team for at least two more weeks. Hoaen used to be the best kept Limited secret in the game, but has recently achieved notoriety to go along with his skills. Both of these players are sitting on 27 match points with solid tiebreakers meaning the winner of this is likely to slide into the Top 8 around 8th place.
Maaten won the die roll and began rapidly building his mana while Hoaen cast Umezawa's Jitte and Konda's Banner giving any creatures he would cast the threat of going large. Hokori from Hoaen met an immediate Hideous laughter from Maaten and a second one merely turned into a chump blocked for Ink-Eyes. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails died to a Hideous Laughter buyback and Hoaen headed for his sideboard, hoping for a better draw in game 2.
Maaten 1 - Hoaen 0
"This deck doesn't mulligan well," explained Hoaen, meaning he was basically stuck with a crappy draw because it contained lands.
Maaten mulliganned his first hand in game 2, keeping the six cards. Hoaen led of with 8.5 Tails and Honor-Worn Shaku, as Maaten blocked once with a Tribe Elder and then cast Kodama's Reach. Hoaen used the paddle to cast Meloku, but Maaten dispatched that threat quickly, casting and sacrificing Kagemaro to clear the board. It too Maaten two turns to repeat this performance, but he used Soulless Revival spliced onto another Reach to bring back Kagemaro for a repeat performance. Hoaen made sure it wouldn't happen a third time, casting Pithing Needle naming Kagemaro. Another Reach from Maaten, another splice brought Kagemaro back in hand. Hoaen beat down with his air force, adding Umezawa's Jitte as heavy weaponry, but the next turn was a blow out for him. Maaten attacked with Kagemaro, ninjaing in Ink-Eyes to steal Meloku. Shizo from Maaten just made things worse, and two turns later Hoaen was dead and frowning fiercely at a deck that didn't even give him a chance.
Maaten 2 - Hoaen 0
Sunday, August 28: 3:34 pm - News, Notes, and Top 8 Previews
In the last two Grand Prix Kenji Tsumura has lost exactly one match in the swiss, that to amateur Karl Briem here in round 12.
The judges represent their hoods.
An unnamed member of the 7 Kings may or may not have accidentally confused Meloku and Azami in his hand while he already had Meloku in play. He may have thought he was casting Azami, but allegedly put Meloku into play instead, slapping himself on the forehead and completely throwing the game and the match. Maybe.
With a loss in round 13, Eugene Levin appears to have become the first person to go undefeated in back-to-back Grand Prix Day 1's and then fail to make the Top 8 at either event.
Judges are swell.
Top 8 Player Profiles
Karl is a 35-year-old retiree who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He describes himself as a bad Vintage player who won a Grand Prix Trial and decided to fly out to SLC for the weekend. Considering that he's an amateur and gets Top 8 money as well, it appears to be a good decision.
The Dutch Dynamo is the de facto slave driver of the Dutch Magicians, organizing testing colonies and making sure people actually, you know, test. This is Frank's fourth Grand Prix Top 8
Antonino De Rosa
The current U.S. National Champion is now in his 7th Grand Prix Top 8 and is clearly on a roll.
The Pro Tour winner in this same block format, Gadiel is looking to add his first individual Grand Prix title to his resume.
This 19-year-old Japanese player is considered one of the very best players in the world. He finished second at the Kamigawa Block Constructed Pro Tour, losing to Gadiel in the finals.
The master of lies and former U.S. National team member notches his fourth Grand Prix Top 8 this weekend.
A 17-year-old from New York, he stopped here with his family as part of a vacation and will be going away with a huge payout as one of the Top 2 amateurs plus Top 8 money.
A former Dutch National Champion and current Dutch National team member has also been on a roll lately
You can judge for yourself, but this will likely go down in history as one of the if not the best Grand Prix Top 8 seen. And it came from a 250-man field in… Salt Lake City.