Saturday, July 22: 12:02 p.m. - Shuehei Cubed
Once they decided that the power would hold out and that the ventilation system would function - thereby avoiding the kilning of a couple hundred Magic players in the Midwest summer heat - there was plenty of Magic to be had. The traditional pre-event Grand Trial had *120 players vying for three extra hours of sleep on Saturday. Some strategic ebaying on the part of tournament organizer had gathered up Ice Age starters and Alliances boosters for a full block Sealed Deck tournament. But no event drew a bigger crowd than when Gabe Walls busted out the Cube.
The Cube is a box of cards that Gabe has culled to create the ultimate draft format. There are no bad cards in the box and they range from power nine - yes there are Moxes, a Lotus, and all the tricky blue stuff - to the karoos from Ravnica. Many of the Pro Tour veterans have a Cube but Gabe's is a little different.
"Gabe's Cube does not have any broken combo cards - no Tolarian Academy, no Mind Over Matter - the brokenest thing he has is Survival/Squee," explained Cube connoisseur Paul Rietzl.
Gabe introduced the Japanese players to the Cube on Friday night pulling Shuhei Nakamura and Shota Yasooka into a draft with Billy Moreno, Paul Rietzl, and a handful of others. The players were confused as Gabe had everyone shuffle up the contents of the box and placed five nine-card virtual packs in front of each player. It was the same amount of cards you would normally get in a draft but Gabe chose to do it this way because: "You get more first picks!"
It is hard to imagine that any person - even the winner of the Grand Prix - will have as much fun this weekend as Shuhei had on Friday night. In light of the dominance that Japan has displayed over the past few years - Shuhei's multiple Top 8s being very much a part of that dominance - it is easy to forget that the Japanese have not been playing the game from the very start.
Shuhei fell to the floor, no doubt in search of the eyes that had bugged out of his head, hysterical laughing when he opened his first pack. Eventually he as able to compose himself and drag his body back into the chair. While Gabe had been organizing the event, Shuhei had no idea what was going on until he 'opened' his first pack which included Library of Alexandria, Ancestral Recall, and Mox Ruby.
"I have never played with these cards," Shuhei stammered through his laughter. He eventually took the Library.
If Shuhei was having the best time of anyone all weekend, the second best time was had by Gabe Walls. Gabe maintains the Cube because he loves playing Magic and to have a good time with his friends. To see someone so obviously overwhelmed by the experience of playing the game brought a huge smile to Gabe's face. "This is so much better than playing with Oiso. He just drafted like it was a normal pack."
Saturday, July 22: 12:31 p.m. - Alice Snapped
Originally my plan had been to get in Friday, poke around the site a little, then head back to my room, catch up on the Mets game, and get to work on next week's feature article for the site. Then I heard that there would be an Ice Age, Alliances, Coldsnap Sealed Deck tournament at 9pm.
Hmmmm… The Mets obviously don't need any help from me right now, sleep is for the weak, and if editors wanted us to work at a leisurely pace they would not have invented deadlines. Fifteen old souls and I signed up for the event including Michael Patnik, Nick Eisel, and a Neutral Ground regular from way back Kevin Sharratt.
Here is the deck I built and the cards I had to work with (including one Force of Will that more or less covered my cost of entry into the event!):
With 16 players the tournament was four rounds with the top four players after the Swiss receiving a flat payout of an Ice Age Starter, two Alliances boosters, and two Coldsnap boosters. I ended up going 3-0-1 after drawing intentionally with Nick. He and I plan to have a showdown later today using the packs we both won.
Saturday, July 22: 12:57 p.m. - Trial Winners
There will be plenty of decklists by the time the coverage comes to a close so I will not fill your monitor with additional lists from Friday's Trial. At the same time I feel that after eight rounds of play, which did not conclude until close to 5AM, three byes and a couple hours of catch-up sleep through the first three rounds is not enough reward for their efforts. The least I can do is to give them a little credit here in the blog.
The event was what TOs call "Swiss+1" which means that there is no Top 8 draft. The Swiss rounds simply continue one round longer than they would with a cut to Top 8 and, in this case, the Top 4 players in the standings won the byes. John Stolzman and Lancer Loden were on top of the standings after eight rounds with 6-0-2 records
You may remember Lance Loden from as the progenitor of the Kiki-Opposition deck from a few PTQ seasons back. He was also the only player in the Top 4 to not be packing Gleancrawler. Of course he did have a Flame Fusilade to make up for that shortfall.
The other two happy winners of the Gleancrawler sweepstakes were Jeff Blyden - who apparently had to be urged to play by his friends - and Christian Valenti. Jeff and Christian were also fortunate enough to nudge out Dayne Wilson, who had a similar 6-1-1 record, finishing fifth.
Saturday, July 22: 1:41 p.m. - Scott Marshall's Solo
Scott Marshall belts out some Journey
Head Judge Scott Marshall made his solo debut this weekend. This is the second Grand Prix he has donned the red shirt but as a Level 3 judge (with a bullet, mind you) his previous efforts were under the watchful eyes of a Level 4.
It became apparent that this was not your normal Grand Prix as Scott made his player announcements prior to deck registration. These included contingencies for a power failure and for an emergency evacuation in the event of a tornado. Scott was even prepared for roaming tigers and zombies in the street: "That's what the heavy doors are for. The smokers have to fend for themselves - that's what you get for smoking."
Despite the best efforts of nature and the worst efforts of hotel back-up generators - there were actually fewer available hotel rooms than there were tornados this week. There were zero available rooms within a 50 mile radius.
"I have lost a little sleep this week. When I found out that we might have to cancel or move this event I was a little stressed - but not as much as Barratt," laughed Scott. "But look at this crew. This is one of the finest crews that I have ever seen at a Grand Prix. My job is easy. My job as a Head Judge is to make sure my judges can do their job - mentoring basically. Mentoring is the theme for the year for the judge community."
Tomorrow will present some additional challenges as the players will be drafting Coldsnap - many of them for the first time outside of the Prerelease. The entire judge staff has been advised how to deal with Cumulative Upkeep and Recover - two things that players can easily forget to their benefit or detriment.
But that would be in Sunday. Saturday was about Ravnica block, mentoring, and honing this field of 402 players.
Saturday, July 22: 2:08 p.m. - Building with Shota
Shota Yasooka has surged into the lead of this year's Player of the Year race with a win in Charleston but his point total is augmented by three Top 8s on the Grand Prix level. I settled in behind the most influential control player in Japan to see how he approached his sealed deck pool.
Shota Yasooka leads the POTY race
Shota gave the card pool a resounding thumbs down despite being chock full of good solid cards including Last Gasp, Keening Banshee, Peel from Reality, Vedalken Dismisser, Rakdos Ickspitter, Daggerclaw Imp, Civic Wayfinder, Farseek, Galvanic Arc. Certainly more than enough cards to put a smile on the face of any PTQ player but it brought only a disappointed frown to Shota.
He quickly cut white since there was noting to recommend it outside of a Screeching and Divebomber Griffin and two Boros cards. He set aside his blue cards and focused on building a deck with red, green, and black. As he laid the deck out it looked like a reasonable red-green-black deck but he had the top two green mana fixers in Farseek and Wayfinder, was already touching on blue for Evolution Vat with a signet and karoo, and had some powerful cards in that fourth color. It seemed inevitable that some blue cards were going to squeeze their way into the deck. The most likely candidates were Peel, Dismisser, and Ocular Halo. He also wanted Priviliged Position to crack the starting line-up but it was not to be.
After looking at cutting Scab-Clan Mauler, Gruul Nudorog, and Centaur Safegaurd to shoehorn in the blue cards, Shota decided to keep the deck three color with his only hint of blue being associated with Evolution Vat. He reached for a handful of land and was finally done.
RGD Sealed Deck
Day One Grand Prix St Louis
Saturday, July 22: 4:15 p.m. - Round 4: Billy Moreno vs. Neil Reeves
Most Magic players had never heard of Billy Moreno before he burst onto the Pro Tour scene with his remarkable finals finish against Antoine Ruel in Los Angeles. It has been well established that Neil Reeves is not most Magic players. Neil required no special powers, insightful reads, or crushing table talk to know who Billy Moreno was - all he had to do was be from same state.
The two players knew each other from the Texas Magic scene and were both on the guest list at Mike Krumb's pre-GP slumber party which included "every player with more than 20 points in the room" according to Krumb. He was exaggerating but only by a tiny bit. While the players waited on a pre-match deckcheck they discussed the formats of Event Horizons Invitationals gone by.
A recent format included degenerate Ravnica block. Players were allowed to build decks without the usual four copy restrictions placed on deckbuilders. Neil played a deck that featured only Compulsive Research and Glimpse the Unthinkable as its spells.
"The only problem with the deck," explained Neil who has won the event in the past "is that the guy who traded for all the Glimpses for me forgot to trade for Watery Graves. The deck is not so good with Islands and Swamps when you need to cast a two Glimpse on turn two, turn three, and two on turn four."
The judges finally returned and informed Billy that he would be starting off his first round of actual play with a game loss. Apparently he had failed to mark down an Exhumer Thrull and only checked off thirty-nine cards. The judges adjusted his decklist to reflect a legal deck and the two players moved onto Game 2. There would be no sideboarding and Billy would have choice for the 'second' game.
"I'll draw," shrugged Billy. He hated his initial build and had major overhauls to make once he was allowed to sideboard. The game loss was virtually a match loss as far as Billy was concerned. "I have to get to Game 3."
Neil looked at Billy dubiously and announced: "Ninja cut" as he cut Billy's deck. Billy sighed as he looked at his opening seven and shuffled them back in.
"Ninja cut gets 'em again," Neil crowed. "My last twenty ninja cuts have yielded sixteen mulligans - pretty good ratio. I only use it when I have to - like when I am playing someone I know. I figure I had the single whammy with the game loss so I would really stick it to him."
Billy climbed out of his mulligan with Simic Growth Chamber and Farseek over the first three turns while Neil mounted an offense of Centaur Safeguard and Simic Ragwurm. Billy's first creature was Shambling Shell but it had to step aside to allow a Moldervine Cloaked Centaur charge by.
Dimir House Guard tried to live up to his name for Billy but on Neil's turn he winced as the U.S. National team member tried to figure out his eventual host for Galvanic Arc. It landed on the Ragwurm and aimed in the direction of the House Guard. Billy sacrificed his Shell to nudge it up to four toughness. He fell to two on the attack.
Exhumer Thrull regrew the Shell but it seemed like too little too late as Neil threatened to just push everyone zoneward. He was leery of what Billy could be holding: "How many cards?"
"Jeez…" it was too many for Neil's liking - he was practically on empty. Neil suited up his Ragwurm with Ocular Halo and drew into a second source of blue mana that he could redeem for additional cards. Centaur Safeguard went down in battle to the combined block of the House Guard and Thrull. Neil untapped his Ragwurm and sent the turn back to Billy. Faith's Fetters put and end to the card drawing - not to mention the blocking - and Billy got in for three. Shambling Shell reappeared.
Neil had played a Lurking Informant a couple of turns back and now began using it on himself - he was looking for additional red mana to play his Stormscale Anarch. Civic Wayfinder found him his land but the powerful Dissension card would have to wait a turn.
Billy went on the offensive - he had climbed from two to six life - and dropped Neil to fourteen. Brainspoil took out the Lurking Informant. Neil dredged back the Cloak and attacked for five. He played the Anarch and when Billy went to read it Neil cut him off with a quick shrug: "Stormbind."
Billy could not deal with two threats - to be fair it was unclear he could deal with one - and after a desperate Twisted Justice that took down the Ragwurm he laid down his cards.
Mike Aten was one of the many players who had crowded around the table to watch Neil and Billy's clash. "Does Neil ever lose? He doesn't even need bombs - just mana fixing."
Saturday, July 22: 5:59 p.m. - Loose Lips and all that…
Paul Rietzl was despondent after round four. He had an amazing deck and felt confident coming out of the bye rounds. With three rounds to talk among the Pros he had been convinced that he should be playing Bottled Cloister - a card he relegated to the sidelines when he built his deck. What Paul did not realize is that at the moment he finally capitulated to the groupthink and decided he would start siding it in was that someone was listening to this group of Pros talking about the game.
This someone turned out to be his round four opponent. When Paul sided in his Cloister for Game 2, his opponent - playing blue-white-black - sided in Tin Street Hooligan that he could only cast off of Terrarion.
Guess how that game played out.
"The thing is," groaned Rietzl, "I know not to play Bottled Cloister but I was peer pressured into it. My deck is too good. God, I don't even want to keep on playing."
Saturday, July 22: 6:13 p.m. - Good News/Bad News for Jim Davis
Tsumura has a hot hand with back-to-back Limited victories
The good news for Jim Davis is that the New York area player who has posted some promising finishes in recent events was getting his first ever feature match.
The bad news was that was squaring off with none other than reigning Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura.
The good news is that Kenji never even made Day Two of an individual Limited event when he went on his stupendous run last season.
The bad news is Kenji has turned his focus to Limited this year in order to become a more complete player and has won the last two Limited Grand Prix tournaments he has played in.
The good news for Jim is that his deck is pretty solid.
The bad news is that Kenji thinks his own deck is ridiculous.
Game 1 featured Jim coming out of the gates fast with Selesnya Evangel and Thundersong Trumpeter. He convoked out a Conclave Equenaut and seemed like he was in a good position to make a game of it. Kenji had a foily Putrefy at the ready and shot down the flier. Gruul Guildmage for the Japanese player made the red zone difficult to navigate for Jim - especially once Siege Wurm joined Kenji's team.
Fists of Ironwood meant that Kenji had two tramplers he could pump with his Guildmage. Jim offered to let Kenji use stickers for his band PLMB (apparently it stands for Pathological Lying Mutant Bird but if this section disappears from the coverage it probably meant something else) but Kenji had some customized Morita player cards he preferred to use. Everyone knows Morita never loses as GPs.
Jim opened with a slower draw in Game 2 with Vertigo Spawn and Minister of Impediments. He was building up to a hasty flier but Kenji stymied that plan with Trophy Hunter and green mana. Jim was forced to run two mana through Terrarion to Pyrotechnics the Hunter away.
Kenji's Enemy of the Guildpact could not be tapped by the Minister and it looked as if Jim could hold the board at bay while he dropped his Skyknight Legionnaire and Mourning Thrull. Kenji used Fiery Conclusion to smoke the tapper with a Fists token.
Rakdos Ickspitter was a problem for Jim and he attempted to Sparkmage Apprentice it but Kenji had the bad news Wildsize. Jim was able to Peel 'em both. Kenji was on the offensive though and had other things to worry about besides his pinger. He cracked back to take Jim to ten. The Rotwurm - which had been locked down by a Vertigo Spawn chump block -- would be fray-eligible next turn. Jim's cards just seemed outclassed at every turn by Kenji and when the PoY Farseeked for Overgrown Tomb Jim could only roll his eyes. "Obviously," he smirked.
Jim was not giving up without a fight though and scratched and clawed back into the game. Sparkmage Apprentice came down to smoke a token and step in the path of a fattie. Jim used Trial // Error to bring back the Sparkmage. His spirit was crushed when Kenji sent an unkicked Ribbons of Night in the direction of the Skyknight.
Ultimately the good news for Jim was that the match was over. It's unlikely he would encounter another opponent this good with the cards to match.
Saturday, July 22: 8:28 p.m. - Round Seven: Chris Fennell vs. Antonino DeRosa
Everyone knows Antonino DeRosa. As he and Chris Fennell sat down for their feature match, DeRosa found they were without a randomization implement. No problems. DeRosa just stood up and yelled across the aisle to a couple of players toiling away at the three loss tables.
Everyone knows Antonino DeRosa!
"Hey buddy! Hey! Buddy! Can we borrow one of your dice?"
Sure enough, the guy hand a die off to a courier who promptly dispatched it to the reigning U.S. National Champion.
Once the die was rolled twice it was again entrusted to the intermediary who ferried it back to the nameless player. "Thank you!" shouted DeRosa who was off to a 6-0 start in his quest to win back-to-back Limited GP's. In the coverage game we call it 'pulling a Kenji.'
Interesting fact about Antonino DeRosa: In my column on Friday, I mentioned that Masahiko Morita achieved Level 5 Player Club status without a single Pro Tour Top 8 last season. Not only did DeRosa also reach Level 5 without a Sunday finish, he did it without ever finishing in the Top 16. Grand Prix have been Antonino's bread and butter throughout his career and with another win this weekend could climb within the Top 5 in the Player of the Year race.
Chris Fennell has had experienced success on the Grand Prix level when he won Grand Prix: D.C. as a member of Thaaat's Me with Charles Gindy and Bill Stead. While Chris does not have an inordinate amount of experience drafting Coldsnap, he did have a plan. Early in the day he claimed that all he wanted was a chance to put that plan into action on Sunday. A win over DeRosa would all but lock up that chance. With only two byes coming into the tournament he was concerned about his tiebreakers.
"If your deck is full of six-mana 4/4's I am in trouble," laughed Chris.
"Did you see my decks in Prague?" grinned DeRosa, fondly recalling his Nodorogs.
Chris had won the dieroll and elected to play. "Everybody is drawing in this format. It bodes well for me." Fennell has perhaps two of the most disparate careers one can have. When he is not working as a bouncer at a Florida nightspot he teaches ballroom dancing.
Selesnya Guildmage started things off for Antonino. It was enchanted with Mark of Eviction and got in for two before being picked up and replayed. Chris had no action save for his karoos and the Mark. "This game is so exciting."
It got a little more interesting when Ant put Galvanic Arc on the Guildmage and domed Chris for three.
"I am not going to lie," said Chris as he adjusted his life total. "I would rather have you do that than play a creature right now. Sooner or later I will play a spell that matters."
"Lighten my load a bit," shrugged Chris as he played the Mark rather than having to discard when he played a karoo even though it meant taking three more from the Arc. Ant had enough mana to make a couple of tokens before he picked up the Guildmage.
"Here is my first spell," Chris announced as the dreaded Tidespout Tyrant - the same creature that Ant lost to in the Top 8 of Prague - hit the table.
"I don't like that guy very much," he frowned.
"My hand…wow," Ant was trying to figure out how he was going to even up his record against the bomb rare. "My hand is pretty good…but…" He replayed the Guildmage, tapped the Tyrant with a Minister of Impediment that had snuck into play a couple turns back, and attacked with two dorks and got in for four. Chris fell to six.
"I am going to go into the tank for a minute," announced the bouncer/dancer.
Viashino Fangtail bounced a token. Guardian of the Guildpact bounced another. Mark of Eviction bounced the Guildmage and enchanted the tapper. One more turn and Chris would have the game all sewn up. But Ant asked him the fateful words no Magic player likes to hear:
"You are tapped out?"
Galvanic Arc on the Tyrant did three to Chris and Flame Fusillade did the rest. Galvanic Arc actually did four there as it also tapped for what was becoming an increasingly elusive final point of damage.
The second game started slow and Chris drew first blood with Snapping Drake. Ant had spent his turns ramping up his mana and answered with Gruul Nodorog.
"That's your boy."
DeRosa beamed like a proud papa, "I had two in every deck at Prague!"
The two players traded blows and developed their boards. Chris dug for cards with Compulsive Research and summoned Fangtail. The future promised bigger threats, "He's coming…he's coming."
"I'm not scared of him anymore. I beat him now."
The Drake got Ant down to eight and Ogre Savant boinged the Nodorog. Chris cast Farseek for his eighth mana - an Island - and kept craning his neck waiting for the Tyrant that was running behind schedule. "You can never have too many Islands in play with a triple blue guy in your deck."
Flame Fusillade took out everything on Chris' side of the table except the Ogre Savant which dropped Ant to four after its next attack. Chris regrew his Compulsive Research with Izzet Chronarch and dug three cards deeper.
DeRosa also did some Research and mustered Cytospawn Shambler.
"I am going to have to think a little," muttered Chris as he searched for a way to get his Chronarch and Ogre Savant through the Guardian and Shambler.
"You are so close to dead in so many ways," he exclaimed.
"And yet so far," laughed DeRosa.
Chris ultimately sent his Chronarch in alone and DeRosa nudged his Guardian in its way. Fennell had Wildsize to kill the Guardian and even trample over for some collateral damage.
"That's what I get for playing around Fury Shield," clucked DeRosa. "I should have probably realized that Fury Shield is stains."
"I really wish I could have killed you that turn. It would have looked really good on the coverage."
"You'll get 'em next time."
Chris fortified with a Guardian of his own. DeRosa attacked with his Shambler and paid one to trample over the Guardian. Selesnya Guildmage joined the team and DeRosa went to graft but Chris responded with Fiery Conclusion to kill the Shambler (at the cost of his Chronarch). DeRosa had floated mana and used it to make a token and play a Watchwolf.
But do they know Chris Fennell?
DeRosa traded his Watchwolf for the Savant. Chris followed his attack step up with Verdant Eidolon and Bramble Elemental.
"I didn't think you would remember."
Chris had no play. The game had progressed far enough that DeRosa had more than ample mana to start spitting out a couple of guys a turn and he was content to sit back and develop his board. He added Cytoplast Root-Kin and bided his time. Fennell was two attacks away from killing DeRosa with the Guardian - DeRosa had nothing that could block it - but he could not afford to let down that crucial defense for one turn. He had only three total creatures.
Finally, DeRosa swung with everyone. There was no way for Chris to survive.
Saturday, July 22: 8:54 p.m. - A Friend in Need
A touching moment in Magic
Hysterical with laughter, Gerard Fabiano came over to his friend DeRosa and hugged him. "You helped me win my match and you weren't even there Ant!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I was playing my opponent this round and when he drew his card it was you. It was a sleeved player card of you."
Apparently the opponent had been using sleeved player cards as tokens and one of them had gotten shuffled into his deck, which he then proceeded to present and play with. Gerard ended up being the amused beneficiary of a most unusual free win.
"You even signed it," Gerard managed to squeeze out between spasms of laughter. "You wrote 'good luck' on it."