Day Two Blog - 2008 Grand Prix–Vancouver!

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  • Sunday, 8:12 a.m. - Archetype Breakdown for Day 1
    by Bill Stark
  • Nearly 400 competitors sat down Saturday morning to try their best at the Extended format. What decks did they play? Here's a breakdown of all the archetypes present on the first day:

    Red, Rg, Rb, and Rgb Deck Wins: 56
    Next Level Blue: 44
    Doran: 40
    Goblins: 30
    Death Cloud: 25
    Dredge: 25
    Affinity: 23
    Gaea's Might Get There: 17
    Enduring Ideal: 13
    BG Rock: 13
    Aggro Loam: 11
    UG Tron: 10
    TEPS: 8
    Ninjas: 7
    Spire Golem Blue: 5
    Destructive Flow: 4
    Scepter Chant: 4
    Gifts Rock: 4
    UW Tron: 4
    Bubble Hulk: 4
    GW Hate: 3
    Boros: 3
    Balancing Tings: 3
    Wizards: 2
    Elves!: 2
    PT Junk: 2
    Intruder Alarm: 2
    UB Tron: 1
    UG Madness: 1
    Monoblack Rogues: 1
    KCI: 1
    BGW Martyr: 1
    BUG: 1
    Tog: 1
    Cephalid Breakfast: 1
    White Weenie: 1
    Other: 21
    (Note: "Other" consists of difficult to describe decks with only one player using the list, like 40 Relentless Rats/20 Swamps)

    The most popular deck on the weekend was, without a doubt, variations of aggressive red decks. They ran the gamut from heavily burn-oriented mono-color lists to splashes for Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, or both. Second in popularity were versions of Patrick Chapin's "Next Level Blue," including a list popular amongst American pros that cut the Counterbalance engine for traditional hard counters. Luis Scott-Vargas termed the deck "Previous Level Blue" because of the missing enchantment, the technological advancement that had taken the deck to the "next level."

    Some surprise decks were also very popular, including an abundance of Goblin players. Competitors didn't appear to come prepared for that contingency as the dealers ran out of sideboard cards like Tsabo's Decree before the event even began. Death Cloud, a deck gaining some steam on the North American PTQ circuit, was well-represented for the first day of play though whether it's good enough to succeed at the stiffer level of competition on day 2 remains to be seen. And of course Dredge showed up en masse with 25 representatives. Before the event it seemed EVERYONE was trying to answer the same question: "How important is the Dredge matchup?" Answer? Very. Those who didn't come prepared have one thing to look forward to. Sleeping in while their compatriots who WERE ready play for over $25,000 in prize money.


  • Sunday, 9:34 a.m. - A Message from Ask the Pro
    by Raphael Levy
  • ''Ask the Pro'' and Hall of Famer Raphael Levy enjoying the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
    Hello everyone,

    I promised in my last Ask the Pro entry that you would hear about my adventures again; you knew I wouldn't let you down, right?

    It is now 9 a.m. and I am in Vancouver at the Grand Prix site, unfortunately not filling out the tax forms. I had booked my flight to the Canada the day before the announcement of the changes to the Pro Tour and even though I did not make day 2, I am happy I have made it here.

    Pro Tour-Kuala Lumpur went great for me. I finished 19th in the tournament and discovered a new country. Two weeks in Malaysia were just enough to prepare, sightsee and play the big game. I left the peninsula on Monday night to arrive home in Toulouse, France on Tuesday around 12 a.m. To make things a bit more exciting I left again on Wednesday for another 20 hours of traveling. I should be dead tired now but, surprisingly, I recovered very fast from jetlag. I traveled back in time twice in 48 hours, basically Time Walking for two extra turns. I'll eventually lose those turns on my way back, but I am not there yet and don't want to think about it!

    I spent two days in Seattle before the Grand Prix. Seattle is located 3 hours away from Vancouver, where a friend of mine offered me her hospitality. Good weather –or as good as it can be in this area- a visit to Jimmy Hendrix, some rest and I was ready to duel again.

    Classic American rock and roll icons; just one of the many perks to the Pro Tour

    Vancouver, Canada. Snowy mountains on your left, ocean on your right (depending on how you are standing, of course), the Extended format. I chose to show up with a deck my friend Leju had tested for me in various PTQs. I did not have much time to try it before the tournament, so I chose to blindly play it.

    The deck performs well and does not have REALLY bad matchups. Most of them are right above 50% and that is the kind of deck I wanted to play. Unfortunately I played some really tough matches during day one and missed the cut.

    So what am I up to today?

    I am up for some coverage on both the main event and the side event area. I intend to take part in the "Wii Tournament", a Lorwyn Block Sealed Deck tournament giving away a Nintendo Wii to the wiinner. I wiill give you updates as often as I can, so stay tuned!


  • Sunday, 10:01 a.m. - Round 9 Feature Match Ben Lundquist Versus Aaron Paquette
    by Tom LaPille
  • Lundquist and Paquette were the only players to escape day one with perfect 8-0 records. Lundquist's weapon of choice this weekend is blue-green Tron, which uses Gifts Ungiven and Life from the Loam to set up a lock with Academy Ruins and Mindslaver; Paquette's was TEPS, the Mind's Desire deck that uses cards like Rite of Flame and Seething Song to build storm. Before the player meeting this morning, Ben expressed some apprehension about the matchup; his deck only had eight counterspells between Remand and Condescend, and he also had plenty of dead cards in the form of Moment's Peace and giant artifact creatures that were likely to be too slow to matter. Lundquist's goal in the matchup is to complete the Urza land set and fire off a quick Mindslaver; Aaron must look for any window that Ben gives him to go off before that happens.

    Ben won the die roll and chose to play, but mulliganed without much deliberation and kept his six. Aaron kept his original seven.

    Lundquist led with a first turn Island and a second turn untapped Breeding Pool and Chrome Mox, while Aaron just played some two-mana Invasion sacrifice lands. On his fourth turn, Paquette played a Gemstone Mine and went in for the kill, sacrificing his three previous lands. His Rite of Flame resolved, but the follow-up Seething Song was Remanded. A second attempt at the Seething Song was Remanded again, leaving Paquette with only one blue mana, a Gemstone Mine, and no other permanents. He passed the turn. Ben followed with a Simic Signet, which he Repealed to draw a card and then replayed.

    Canadian Aaron Paquette tries to defend his country's turf against an invasion of foreigners
    Using a Tinder Farm Paquette made another attempt at going off. He sacrificed his land and started with a second Rite of Flame followed by the previously-Remanded Seething Song. This time Lundquist Condescended for three, which gave Paquette a window to tap his Gemstone Mine for a black and cast Cabal Ritual to pay for the Condescend. This was followed by yet another Seething Song from Paquette, giving him seven red mana total. He then attempted to play Infernal Tutor, thinking that the Condescend had been for two and not three and that he had a black mana left over from the Cabal Ritual. In truth, all Aaron had was that seven red mana, a tapped Gemstone Mine, and four cards in hand. He didn't have anything productive to do with only red mana so he played a Chromatic Star and used it to change a red mana into a black, but the card from the Star didn't help. He conceded rather than attempt to play on with no mana and a hand full of uncastable cards.

    Ben Lundquist: 1, Aaron Paquette: 0

    Aaron chose to play first for the second game and both players kept their hands. Paquette's draw was a little more explosive this time, with two Lotus Blooms on the first turn to go with his Tinder Farm and two Geothermal Crevices. Ben led with Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine with a Simic Signet, and Urza's Power Plant on turn three to complete his Urzatron.

    Lundquist attempts to make a challenging match-up look easy
    Paquette's fourth turn had the potential to be action packed with two Lotus Blooms coming in, but instead he just played another Tinder Farm and passed after the Blooms resolved. Ben played Gifts Ungiven on Aaron's end step, which found Academy Ruins, Engineered Explosives, Platinum Angel, and Mindslaver. Platinum Angel and Mindslaver were put in the graveyard, but that still meant that Ben could untap, use the Academy Ruins to put Mindslaver on top of his deck, and then activate the Mindslaver the turn afterwards. Ben used Engineered Explosives to destroy the two Lotus Blooms before offering his opponent one more turn under his own control. All Aaron could do during that turn was cycle two Chromatic Stars, failing to find any action. Lundquist activated the Academy Ruins targeting the Mindslaver, untapped, played another Urza's Power Plant to get to eleven mana, and played and activated Mindslaver. Paquette conceded, preferring not to watch helplessly as his permanents and hand disappeared into the void.

    Ben Lundquist 2-0 Aaron Paquette

    After the match, Ben was in awe about how fortunate he was that Aaron did not wait longer to attempt to go off in Game 1. If Aaron had built up his resources for just one big turn instead of splitting them between two smaller turns, it would have been impossible for Ben to stop him with just two Remands and a Condescend.

    Ben is now the only remaining player with a flawless record, but both Lundquist and Paquette are still in great position to make the Top 8.


  • Sunday, 10:20 a.m. - Round 10 Feature Match Jens Thoren Versus Matt Mar
    by Bill Stark
  • Jens Thoren, former Invitational winner and multiple Pro Tour Top-8er, sat down to the feature match area at a surprising 8-1. Not surprising that he had managed to do so much winning, but that he had showed up to the event in the first place. With his doctoral studies taking much of his time away from the game, Thoren hasn't been seen much on Tour over the past few years. Still, in town visiting friend Jeff Fung he couldn't pass on the opportunity to Grand Prix when given the chance. His opponent, Ashland, Oregon native Matt Mar, had managed a 7-1-1 record so far on the weekend and seemed excited to be playing against such a famous opponent.

    "Same style of sleeves!" The American exclaimed as the players shuffled each other's deck. "I really love these sleeves, don't you?"

    "Yeah. Sleeves are sleeves." Replied the quiet Swede, well-accustomed to the fans pressing in around them to watch their match.

    Jens won the die roll but kicked the match off with a mulligan. Not satisfied with six cards, he threw that hand back to get a look at five. His Sacred Foundry enabled a first turn Isamaru, Hound of Konda but Matt's Thoughtseize revealed no more lands in Jens' hand and took the only relevant card he could play in a Grim Lavamancer. The American set to work building up the manabase of his Death Cloud deck by playing, chumping, and saccing a Sakura-Tribe Elder.

    Jens Thoren tries to find a way to get some elbow room against his opponent
    Jens found a second land to enable his Dark Confidant, but Mar had the Smother to prevent his opponent from starting to climb back into the card advantage game. A second Sakura-Tribe Elder chumped Thoren's Hound again and the life totals stood tied at 14-14. Jens played a third land, but passed the turn with no action.

    Matt made things interesting by playing a Liliana Vess and forcing his opponent to discard one of the two cards in his hand. That left Jens painfully low on resources but the last card in hand was a Vindicate that dealt with the planeswalker. What he didn't have was an answer to Mar's Ravenous Baloth which he played the following turn, and the Death Cloud player looked to have stabilized the game at 12 life. When a Garruk hit play for the Oregonian, Thoren could do nothing but nod and scratch his forehead. After drawing his card for the turn Jens considered the state of the board, calculated his odds of winning, and conceded to move to the second game.

    Matt Mar: 1, Jens Thoren: 0

    "Did you go to Kuala Lumpur?" Asked Matt while the two players shuffled for their second game. "No," replied Jens before explaining he would probably go to Pro Tour-Hollywood if he managed to qualify.

    Thoren opted to play for the second game but had to ship his first hand back for the second time in as many games. "Oh no, not again!" Remarked his opponent supportively. Thoren, revealing nothing, simply shuffled up to look at six. "Keep," he said with some measure of reluctance in his voice.

    Jens opened on a Duress which revealed a Smother, Damnation, and Moment's Peace for legal targets. He opted to bin the Smother, but then missed two land drops in a row. His opponent wasted no time in developing his own manabase, adding a Sensei's Divining Top before hitting sufficient mana for a Ravenous Baloth. Jens could only pray for a second land which he found. Doing so enabled him to play Dark Confidant and hopefully start grinding his way back into the game, but an end-of-turn Smother from Mar ended those hopes, though the American's Ravenous Baloth was sent packing the following turn with a Terminate from the Swede.

    Matt Mar takes advantage of his mulligan-happy opponent
    Mar made a Tarmogoyf which, thanks to the painful manabase of Jens' deck, loomed large over Jens' life total. It only made a single attack, however, before Matt used a Damnation to wipe the board. Though he two-for-oned himself, Mar wanted to aggressively keep Dark Confidant off the table and when Jens managed a second copy of the 2/1, he felt putting his opponent to 7 life with the Tarmogoyf attack was enough before playing the wrath.

    Jens struggled to come back into the game with a Mogg Fanatic and Grim Lavamancer. His opponent reloaded with Ravenous Baloth and Sakura-Tribe Elder and with the totals at 24-6 in favor of Matt Mar, things were not looking good for the former Invitationalist. Mar made an interesting decision to keep his Baloth at home on defense, however. At 24 life that seemed like a risky move; he had a Divining Top active with an opponent at a precarious enough life total to need to block the 4/4. That would suck up creature resources that could potentially wreak havoc on Mar's life total if he gave his opponent enough time to draw a Tribal Flames, Vindicate, or Terminate for the Baloth.

    After a single turn the American decided safety wasn't the best course of action, trading his Baloth for a Mogg Fanatic block, sac, and an activation from Grim Lavamancer before cashing in his Top to play yet another Ravenous Baloth. When a Tarmogoyf joined the fight, Jens was down to 0 outs and extended his hand for a second time during the match.

    "I'd love to see you in LA." Mar offered before picking up his cards.

    Matt Mar defeats Jens Thoren 2-0.


  • Sunday, 11:25 a.m. - 5 Minutes with Shuhei Nakamura
    by Raphael Levy
  • The globetrotting Shuhei Nakamura
    I am here with Shuhei Nakamaura, one of the two players at the Grand Prix who came to compete all the way from Japan (reigning Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito is still sleeping at the time I am talking to Shuhei). With 7 wins and 2 losses, Nakamura is in ok shape after round one of the second day of competition. He is running his beloved Tings deck which is based on Balancing Act and which he has been championing since last season where he played it at Grand Prix-Dallas and Grand Prix-Singapore.

    Raph: So Shuhei, why did you decide to come to Canada to Vancouver?
    Shuhei: I had booked my flight before the announcement of the PT changes...

    R: Are you planning to travel around as much as last year?
    S: Not as much. Kenji (Tsumura) stopped traveling around because he started studying, Shouta (Yasooka) does not know how much he will be involved in Magic this year. That leaves only Tomoharu and me. For now, we do not know exactly how many GPs we are going to play. We are definitely playing in Shizuoka (next door) next weekend and Vienna in three weeks. Europe is interesting to visit and we have never been to Austria before.

    R: How do you feel about the tournament?
    S: I need to go 4-0-1 to Top 8. I was glad to advance to day 2 as I did not have much training for this tournament. A Top 8 would be awesome.

    R: Since we split* in Grand Prix-Stuttgart, that you won last December, do you feel I am your lucky charm and do you plan on winning every tournament in which you are splitting with me?
    S: YES! YES! YES! Split in Vienna??
    R: For sure! ^_^

    R: Good luck for next round, and arigato!
    S: Dou itasimasite!!

    *To split: Share the prize money between the two splitting players.


  • Sunday, 12:04 p.m. - Revisiting Blue-Green Tron in Extended
    by Tom LaPille
  • Zack Hall and Ben Lundquist (l-r) are not afraid to innovate and win with decks other players consider 'bad'
    One of the big stories for this tournament has been the re-emergence of blue-green Tron as a force in Extended. The deck had been completely dead on Magic Online in the past few weeks and most good players had written it off as being a relic of the past. Ben Lundquist knew better; he has taken his updated version to a 9-0 record, and partner in crime Zack Hall is 8-1 with Ben's exact list. I sat down with Ben for five minutes after the first round of day 2 to get his perspective on the format and his deck.

    Ben played the deck at Grand Prix Dallas in early 2007; though he was not personally successful with it another player with his list made Top 32 there and his deck also saw some success in Midwest PTQ's for the rest of the season. He revisited the deck for this tournament because it has very strong matchups against Next Level Blue and Doran, both of which he expected to be popular. He thinks that his only bad matchups are dedicated red decks and that those are only bad if he loses the die roll.

    Ben told me that he thought that much of his success this weekend was due to the finer details of his list. Most recent blue-green Tron lists have not played a Lonely Sandbar to go with Gifts Ungiven and Life From the Loam, but for Ben that card has been very important as a way to quickly dredge the Life From the Loam repeatedly to search for Urza lands. Not coincidentally, Ben also expressed much dissatisfaction with Tolaria West in the current format saying that in most matchups there either isn't enough time to transmute it or tapping two blue mana in his main phase is tantamount to suicide. He believes that the card is too synergistic with the rest of the deck to not play, but he plays it as a land as often as he transmutes it in Game 1 and far more often after sideboarding.

    Another distinguishing feature of Ben's list is his sideboard. Many similar decks sideboard a number of one-ofs to make for better Gifts Ungiven selection after boarding but Ben knows that most people will attack his graveyard in some way with their sideboard cards. Therefore he just sideboards in a bunch of creatures. Tarmogoyf may look out of place in the Tron deck, but when most people board in Tormod's Crypts and Ancient Grudges against him, having a non-artifact gigantic monster is very valuable. Combined with the extra Triskelion and the creatures that he already has in the maindeck, the Tarmogoyfs give Ben a serious chance of succeeding with a blunt offensive attack against another control or combination deck. In fact, neither Ben nor Zack have played a sideboarded game without Tarmogoyfs in the deck. Note that these Tarmogoyfs are naturally much more impressive than they would be in Game 1 because all of Ben and Zack's opponents have taken out their Smothers, Threads of Disloyalties, and so on, so the Goyfs are essentially invincible.

    Extended is such a large format that there are always strong decks out there that are out of favor at the moment. Ben and Zack have shown this weekend how great the rewards can be for finding and tuning one of them that is ripe for a return.


  • Sunday, 12:20 p.m. - Round 11 Feature Match Zack Hall Versus Ben Lundquist
    by Tom LaPille
  • This is an unfortunate pairing for these two friends from New England. The matchup was a seventy-five card mirror, and Ben had done almost all the work on the deck. Both players have nine wins and one loss, and each need two more wins to lock up the Top 8; this is quite a testament to the strength of Ben's deck, but only one of the two players could get one of the wins they needed this round.

    Zack Hall looks a bit too happy to be playing his friend
    When the judge brought the two players' name slips, Zack verbally noted how much longer Ben's name was on the paper. "Mine is bigger, are you intimidated?" Zack smiled, but shook his head demurely. Ben won the coin flip and chose to play, but mulliganed and kept his six with a shake of his head. Zack kept seven.

    Lundquist started with Tolaria West and an Urza land; Zack had a Simic Signet on turn two off of two Urza lands, but Ben Condescended it to keep his opponent off of blue mana. The following turn Hall completed his Urza set and played a Mindslaver, which Ben Remanded. Ben untapped and didn't have a fourth land, so he cast Thirst for Knowledge which found him an Academy Ruins. Zack's Mindslaver then made its triumphant return along with a Tolaria West to give him access to blue mana, and all Ben could do about it was play another Chrome Mox imprinting Repeal, a Simic Signet, and a land to prepare for the incoming Mindslaver activation.

    Zack now had to figure out how to best leverage the 'Slaver. He drew and played a basic Island and transmuted a Tolaria West for Academy Ruins, but then decided to fire the Mindslaver immediately even though he didn't have much follow-up and Ben didn't appear to have many interesting things to do. Zack was disappointed to find only Life From the Loam, Remand, and an Urza land in hand; he forced Ben to play the Life from the Loam and then Remand it, and the draw was a miracle Gifts Ungiven! Ben scooped rather than have Zack go through the motions of searching for Chrome Mox and imprinting the Loam, effectively locking Ben out of the long game. The next turn Zack would have played his own Academy Ruins to kill Ben's with the legend rule, then eventually found his copy of Life From the Loam and gone infinite with the Mindslaver.

    Zack Hall 1-0 Ben Lundquist

    During sideboarding Lundquist realized that he should have played the Life From the Loam before passing the turn with Zack's Mindslaver in play; that would have given Zack one less draw at a Gifts Ungiven or Chrome Mox to take away Ben's Life From the Loam. All he could do was opt to play in Game 2, again taking a mulligan. While he was shuffling he remarked "You have a good hand, I can feel it."

    "No, I was just smiling for the camera...but I do have a good hand." Hall replied. Ben made a wry smile and kept his six. Zack once again did not mulligan.

    Hall had a Simic Signet off of Urza lands again on turn two, but this time Ben had Remand. Zack then made a Tormod's Crypt and passed. Ben played an Urza's Tower and passed; Zack Ghost Quartered the Tower, to which Ben responded with a Thirst for Knowledge. It was Lundquist who made the first offensive move of the match by playing a Tarmogoyf. Zack had nothing to do except transmute his second Tolaria West for an Urza land.

    The Tarmogoyf started to take four-point chunks out of Zack, who needed to find an answer quickly. He took two hits from the Goyf before Repealing it and then casting Thirst for Knowledge, discarding two lands. That found him help in the form of Triskelion, which he cast off of two Urza's Towers. Ben's Tarmogoyf came back down, this time with a second Goyf and a Tormod's Crypt. However, Zack had Gifts Ungiven waiting for Ben's end step, which promised to be backbreaking thanks to the thirteen mana Zack had access to even though his opponent's Tormod's Crypt meant that he wouldn't be able to do anything with the Gifts that relied on the graveyard. Zack settled on Mindslaver, Gifts Ungiven, Triskelion, and Tolaria West, and Ben gave him the Triskelion and Tolaria West. Zack untapped, played the Triskelion, transmuted the Tolaria West for Academy Ruins, and passed.

    Ben Lundquist finds out designing the deck doesn't mean you get to beat all the people you give it to
    Ben had access to eight mana with his Tron still incomplete, and drew a Gifts. He hoped to end the standoff between his Tarmogoyfs and Zac's Triskelions by resolving it in his main phase, but Zack Remanded it and Ben chose to just pass the turn leaving up Condescend rather than replay it. When Ben replayed the Gifts on Zack's next end step, Zack had managed to find a Condescend to deal with it permanently. Ben untapped and drew a Thirst for Knowledge which found him an Indrik Stomphowler that threatened to end the standoff by killing a Triskelion. Zack responded with a Thirst of his own, which found him a second Condescend to maintain the status quo.

    Hall finally forced Ben to use his Tormod's Crypt by activating Academy Ruins targeting his graveyard Mindslaver. Ben foiled his plans of getting a Mindslaver lock by playing another Tormod's Crypt. He then attacked with one of his two Tarmogoyfs which traded for a Triskelion. Zack offered the same trade again by attacking with a Triskelion, but Ben declined. However, this time Zack followed it up with a frighteningly large Sundering Titan. Ben played out a Mindslaver with the six lands that the Titan left him with, but he had to chump-block the Titan with his remaining Tarmogoyf. Lundquist activated the Mindslaver, but his opponent didn't have anything cool for Ben to do other than play a Tormod's Crypt into multiple Condescends for zero that Ben used to dig for action. Not finding anything he scooped in the face of a lethal attack from the Titan.

    Zack Hall defeats Ben Lundquist 2-0.

    Zack needs one more win in the next two rounds to lock up a slot in the Top 8; Ben needs to win the next two rounds to do the same.


  • Sunday, 1:30 p.m. - Round 12 Feature Match Paul Cheon Versus Jason Fleurant
    by Bill Stark
  • "I actually live four blocks away from the site." Jason Fleurant said when asked where he was from. The Vancouver native had been having a very solid weekend entering round number 12 just shy of the Top 8. Of course, Paul Cheon is certainly no slouch. He was sitting in prime position to make the single-elimination rounds of the event needing to go 1-2 or worse to miss.

    Fleurant won the die roll and made a first turn Thoughtseize. When he saw Cheon's hand he realized what a huge play it was as the American had just two lands, keeping his hand under the assumption he could rely on his Sensei's Divining Top to help him find more. Jason quickly put a damper on those plans by forcing Cheon to bin the artifact.

    A Tarmogoyf from Cheon was met with a Pernicious Deed from his opponent, snuck in underneath Paul's wall of counters while he was tapped low from playing his 0/1. A Garruk Wildspeaker from Fleurant was kept out of play with a Cryptic Command that also netted Cheon a replacement card. Jason considered his options with two mana up against the tapped out Cheon. He could activate his Deed killing the Tarmogoyf and preven Paul from using Repeal to bounce his own creature, or he could play a Sakura-Tribe Elder to further build his manabase and hopefully allow him a large-sized Death Cloud. He opted to go for the Snake Shaman plan; Paul simply played a land and passed.

    Jason eventually opted to blow up the Tarmogoyf with Pernicious Deed before playing a Ravenous Baloth, which Cheon let resolve. The former U.S. national team member had amassed a significant amount of lands, useful if he managed to draw his Vedalken Shackles, but he needed to find some action in the meanwhile. That need was made more relevant when his opponent played Liliana Vess, forcing Paul to discard a Threads of Disloyalty.

    Fortunately for Cheon a Divining Top was waiting for him on the top of his deck, and he wasted no time in peeking at the top three cards of his library. With a sac-land in play he could peek at an additional three if he liked, but he opted to pass to his opponent instead. An attack from Fleurant's Ravenous Baloth put the life totals at 12-9 in favor of the Canadian, and a second Baloth promised to end the game quickly if Paul didn't intercede.

    When he decided not to utilize his sac-land during his opponent's end-of-turn step, it appeared he had SOME form of action waiting for him. He calmly tapped three mana and played Vedalken Shackles, immediately using it on one of his opponent's 4/4s. Fleurant wasted no time in saccing it to gain 4 life.

    Jason Fleurant's Death Clouds attempt to make short work of a level 8 mage
    The turns passed with Jason slowly clearing Paul's hand of cards with Liliana Vess while Paul tried to grind his way back into things using his Divining Top. At just 2 life he was forced to cash in his Top to Counterspell a Death Cloud, but with his opponent's planeswalker well within reach of using its ultimate ability, Paul needed to find some help quickly. A second Death Cloud was met with a second Divining Top going to the top of Cheon's deck for a Counterspell. Fleurant opted to put all creatures from all graveyards into play under his control, leaving just one counter on his Liliana Vess. Paul needed a string of Cryptic Commands to have a shot at staying in the game, but after Topping on his turn he failed to concede, indicating he did have SOMETHING to go with his Vedalken Shackles in play.

    Fleurant moved to his combat step and Cheon tried to Shackles a Ravenous Baloth. Jason opted to sacrifice it but Cheon cashed his Top in for the Cryptic Command, tapping his opponent's creatures and bouncing Fleurant's Mutavault. A post-combat Garruk, however, finally earned the concession from the Coloradan.

    Jason Fleurant: 1, Paul Cheon: 0

    "How many of you are there playing your deck?" Fleurant asked while sideboarding.

    "Like eight of us. Three of us made day 2." Cheon responded. His deck, affectionately titled "Previous Level Blue" by Luis Scott-Vargas, is similar to the Next Level Blue decks which have been popular this season but without Counterbalance in order to play more hard counters. Paul opted to play first, then asked his opponent to speed up his pace of play after a first game that burned up over half the time in the round.

    Paul got to start his match with a one-drop that draws cards for Game 2, though it wasn't Sensei's Divining Top. Instead he suspended an Ancestral Visions before following up with a Tarmogoyf. His opponent, meanwhile, could only Duress a Cryptic Command. The American immediately went on the offensive with his 'Goyf, a 3/4, before playing a Vedalken Shackles to disrupt Fleurant's ability to play defense.

    With the clock breathing down his neck, Paul Cheon picked up his play to a meteoric pace, burning through his turns drawing, playing a land, and attacking. His opponent, in contrast, continued with the pace of play he had kept up throughout the match playing a Sakura-Tribe Elder and saccing it before his opponent could use a Vedalken Shackles on it. A Boseiju, Who Shelters All from Fleurant promised to make things tricky for Paul who was at risk of not being able to counter his opponent's Death Clouds.

    Obviously concerned about his life total Jason played a Ravenous Baloth, then sacrificed both it and his Mutavault to gain 8 when Paul attempted to Shackles. A Smother, fueled by Boseiju, attempted to deal with Tarmogoyf but Paul had a defensive Repeal for the save. Yet another Ravenous Baloth pushed Fleurant's life totals higher, but Cheon had a second Tarmogoyf and threatened to take the game if his opponent had no answer. Fleurant gave it a shot with a Death Cloud for four fueled with mana from a Boseiju. Unable to counter, Paul simply played a Cryptic Command to bounce one of his Tarmogoyfs and draw a card, meaning he would be able to have enough mana to play the 'Goyf and enough cards in hand to keep it. He did exactly that, and two turns later swung for the win.

    Jason Fleurant: 1, Paul Cheon: 1

    Some blisteringly fast plays give Paul a shot at ending the round with a win
    Cheon opened on a mulligan before keeping six while his opponent was all too happy to open on a Sensei's Divining Top. Paul echoed his first play from the second game with a suspended Ancestral Visions. His follow-up play was a Sensei's Divining Top and with under ten minutes on the clock it didn't look like the match was going to finish. Fleurant opted to Thoughtseize his opponent to drag things out further, nabbing a Force Spike but leaving Cheon with Tarmogoyf and Cryptic Command. Of course, that meant Jason could resolve a Sakura-Tribe Elder that same turn, which he promptly did.

    The 'Goyf went on a rampage munching away at Fleurant's life totals. At 15-9 in Paul's favor the Canadian opted to chump with his Tribe Elder; that brought a second Tarmogoyf from Paul who was still looking to snatch a win from the claws of drawfeat in the round. Jason sought a way around impending doom by playing a Boseiju, but his Pernicious Deed earned a Cryptic Command from Paul bouncing the Canadian's Mutavault and leaving up no chump blockers. When Paul moved to attack, some quick arithmetic revealed the 'Goyfs were now 5/6s, more than lethal.

    Paul Cheon defeats Jason Fleurant 2-1.


  • Sunday, 2:21 p.m. - Here Wii Go!
    by Raphael Levy
  • So here we are!

    It has been a very long time since I last attended a tournament which is not a Pro Tour, a Grand Prix or a prerelease. Enter Grand Prix-Vancouver, where I am now involved in the Wii tournament. Eight rounds, no Top 8, the top player simply walks away with the Wii.

    Here's the deck:

    Better lucky than good!
    I had to make a decision: should I splash red or white for more removal spells? Crib Swap and Tarfire are both removals that I can fetch with Boggart Harbinger in addition to being Goblins for Squeaking Pie Grubfellows. However, I would need to replace an Island and a Swamp with Vivid Meadow –which is not exactly a big deal- but also a Plains or Mountain. With a Mutavault already in the land count, I did not want to make my manabase too unreliable. I decided to stick to the stability plan and sideboard in the white or red depending on which card is more useful in the matchup (for example in my first round where my opponent has Chameleon Colossus).

    Regardless of how things end, I can't complain too much as I managed to snag both a Mutavault and a Thoughtseize in my sealed pool. In any case, I'm 1-0. Just seven more rounds to go!

  • Sunday, 1:01 p.m.: Round 13 Feature Match Gadiel Szleifer versus Alex West
    by Tom LaPille
  • These players both have three losses, which is the maximum amount one can have to still have a shot at making the Top 8 of this tournament. Even that isn't even enough to guarantee a slot- only one or two players with that record will make the cut. Gadiel and Alex both need to win to maintain their chances of playing the single elimination rounds.

    Gadiel is an old-school pro originally from Chicago who won Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2005. He was playing the near-monoblue Tarmogoyf control deck that Gerry Thompson and Luis Scott-Vargas designed for this tournament. Alex hails from Seattle and was playing Domain Zoo; he placed in the Top 16 in Grand Prix-San Jose and played in Pro Tour-Valencia as well. Alex won the die roll, but promptly mulliganed to four. He had a reasonable four, however, with Windswept Heath, Bloodstained Mire, Firebolt, and Dark Confidant. Gadiel mulliganed to six while waxing poetic about how he's "washed up."

    Alex's four card hand depended entirely on his second turn Dark Confidant both resolving and surviving, but that was not to be thanks to a Spell Snare which Gadiel followed up with Sensei's Divining Top. West drew a Tarmogoyf but Gadiel had a second Snare. Isamaru the following turn resolved, but his three mulligans meant that he was very far behind. Helping his cause was the fact that Gadiel was stuck on three lands for a while, but he found a Smother for the Isamaru and a fourth land after the 2/2 had hit him twice and Alex had nothing else for many turns.

    Eventually West tried to exacerbate Gadiel's mana issues with a Vindicate on his only Swamp, but Cryptic Command stopped that. Alex snuck a Mogg Fanatic through while the Pro Tour champ was tapped out, but this was dwarfed by a Tarmogoyf when Gadiel finally found a sac-land for a Breeding Pool. The Seattle native went after the Goyf with a fully-powered Tribal Flames, but Szleifer had a Counterspell to protect it. Alex added a Grim Lavamancer to his side, but that was Smothered and a second Tarmogoyf joined Gadiel's army. West attempted to use a freshly cast Dark Confidant along with a Lightning Helix to take out one of the Tarmogoyfs, but Szleifer had a Force Spike and that allowed the two Tarmogoyfs to come through for the win.

    Pro Tour champion Szleifer attempts to return to the glory days
    In between games on one updated the game count numbers on the official Grand Prix feature match playmat. Gadiel reached for the numbers, found a "1" and slammed it triumphantly onto his slot indicating for all his victory. The crowd was pretty sparse at this point, and when needled about that fact Szleifer responded "They deserve to know, they paid good money to see this!"

    Gadiel Szleifer: 1, Alex West: 0

    West kicked off Game 2 with a fourth mulligan, but this time he kept his six. Gadiel pondered his seven for a moment, but kept. Alex's draw was much better this time, and by the end of his second turn he had two Kird Apes and a Grim Lavamancer to Gadiel's two lands. A Smother took out one of the Apes, but a Lightning Helix from West ensured that Gadiel was at only five life going into his fourth turn facing down an untapped Lavamancer and the remaining Kird Ape. Szleifer found no help and died the following turn.

    Gadiel Szleifer: 1, Alex West: 1

    The numbers were updated for the second game although Gadiel gave a glare when they were.

    On the play Szleifer kept his hand for Game 3 and when Alex also kept Gadiel immediately decreed to no one in particular "I have no chance. I am just dead." West started with another Stomping Ground into Kird Ape, only to find his 2/3 met with a Force Spike. Gadiel's second turn gave him a Sensei's Divining Top and a suspended Ancestral Vision. West followed up with a Grim Lavamancer and a second Kird Ape. Looking to stem the tides, Gadiel spent his fourth turn playing a Tarmogoyf and leaving up two blue mana, threatening a Counterspell. Szleifer was under the impression his Tarmogoyf was a 3/4 but when West used his Lavamancer to remove part of his own graveyard he managed to shrink it down to a 2/3, killing it after blocking the Kird Ape. Fortunately Gadiel had a second Tarmogoyf, and thanks to its dead brother it was going to stay a 3/4. West matched with a second Kird Ape before going after the new Tarmogoyf with a Tribal Flames that Gadiel Counterspelled.

    Szleifer's Ancestral Vision finally came out of suspend but because his opponent still had four cards in hand the old pro wasn't anywhere near out of the woods. One of those cards was a Dark Confidant that Alex played; Gadiel thought for a palpable minute, but then used a Spell Snare. West then appeared to be out of new gas as several turns passed before either player added anything to the board, but his Grim Lavamancer was slowly taking chunks of Szleifer's life total.

    After several turns of digging, Gadiel found an Engineered Plague which took away West's long game threat. Alex knew he had to make a move so he attacked with his two Apes and a Mogg Fanatic. The Tarmogoyf ate an Ape, and Gadiel fell to five. West attempted to finish off the Tarmogoyf with a Lightning Helix and the Mogg Fanatic, but Gadiel had a Cryptic Command to return the Tarmogoyf to his hand. His second Ancestral Visions finally hit the stack, finding him a Vedalken Shackles to go with the Tarmogoyf but Alex had a Vindicate for the green creatures just as time was called.

    Alex West tries to make good against a champion
    Clearly in a dominating position with several cards in hand and a Shackles to West's nothing in hand or in play Szleifer was in a commanding position but now had to win in only three turns. He searched furiously to find a Tarmogoyf with Top and a Flooded Strand on the first of five extra turns so that he could do seventeen damage in two attack steps, but failed to find one and the game ended in a Pyrrhic draw.

    Gadiel Szleifer draws with Alex West 1-1-1.

    Neither player can now make the Top 8 but both will likely place in the Top 16 if they win their next round. Neither Gadiel nor Alex are currently qualified for Pro Tour Hollywood, and a Top 16 finish here would solve that problem for both of them.


  • Sunday, 3:03 p.m. - Round 14 Feature Match Jens Thoren Versus Hunter Coale
    by Bill Stark
  • San Diego native Hunter Coale was quick to offer a draw to his opponent as he sat down, pointing out that a loss would knock either of them out of Top 16 contention and a slot for Pro Tour-Hollywood. Thoren, his old competitive roots showing, indicated he'd rather play for a shot at Top 8 as a win in this round means either player will likely be shuffling up for the single elimination bracket.

    After their initial discussion, both players fell silent and Jens kicked the game off with a Sacred Foundry into a Mogg Fanatic. His young opponent opted to play an Island and a Chrome Mox so he could play and activate a Sensei's Divining Top. It was Thoren's second play that was surprising: he simply dropped a land and passed the turn.

    Young Hunter Coale wasn't afraid in the face of strong competition
    Coale was happy to Top, filtering the contents of his deck, before Force Spiking a Tribal Flames from Thoren. A second Flames met its end from a Counterspell and Hunter built his manabase up so he could stabilize on the back of a Tarmogoyf and Vedalken Shackles. Jens quickly dealt with the green creature by hitting it with Vindicate and the life totals stood 19-9 in his favor. When he tried a second Vindicate on his opponent's Vedalken Shackles, however, Coale managed a Counterspell to keep his Fifth Dawn rare on the board.

    A second attempt to stabilize from Hunter came in the form of a Trinket Mage, which he used to search up a duplicate copy of Sensei's Divining Top. The Miren, the Moaning Well he already had in play was a bigger cause for concern for Thoren; the Kamigawa block rare would allow his opponent to potentially creep back up in the life race turning his 2/2 Mages into small investments of life. Coale pushed on the offensive, turning his first Mage, then a second sideways and dropping his opponent to 16. Finally a Counterbalance hit the board and former Invitational winner Jens Thoren looked to be far behind his opponent with the Vedalken Shackles still keeping his creatures at bay. After a flurry of spells from the Swedish player revealed a sequence of one- and two-drops on the top of his opponent's deck, he opted to concede.

    Hunter Coale: 1, Jens Thoren: 0

    Jens Thoren makes the most out of his vacation to Canada by vying for the Top 8
    The two players remained silent while sideboarding and one had to wonder if, now up a game, Hunter wasn't a bit happy his opponent had opted to play instead of draw. Things looked even better for him when Jens started on a mulligan, but when a first turn Cabal Therapy set to "Force Spike" from Thoren nailed two copies blind any sense of euphoria Coale was feeling vanished. Thoren's follow-up to the Therapy was a Dark Confidant, relatively safe against Hunter's single Island until Hunter revealed his draw from his first turn...the third Force Spike! Jens could only offer the tiniest of wry smiles as he placed his 2/1 in the graveyard and used a Duress to prevent his opponent's Counterbalance from hitting play.

    Hunter managed to find a Sensei's Divining Top and then a Tarmogoyf and Jens' board looked pretty weak sitting on four lands and a Mogg Fanatic. A Sunbeam Spellbomb helped Hunter tremendously, though he lost his Tarmogoyf to a Vindicate from Thoren. Still, with a Top active and a lead on the board the young Californian had to feel pretty good about his shots at the Top 8. When Academy Ruins appeared, allowing him to potentially lock out his Gaea's Might Get There opponent by gaining him 5 life each turn thanks to the Sunbeam Spellbomb, Coale could all but pump the fist. Instead, his demeanor remained calm and both players stayed composed.

    Hunter found a Tarmogoyf and a Counterspell to protect it from a second Vindicate. A third copy of the Apocalypse rare got the job done, however, and Jens tried to make a comeback by playing a Kird Ape and attacking with his Fanatic leaving the totals at 13-9 in Coale's favor. The American dealt with the 2/3 using a Threads of Disloyalty, forcing Thoren to Helix his traitorous Ape, then Coale blew up a Dark Confidant with an Engineered Explosives for two. Jens Thoren's back was as up against the wall as it could get and when his opponent played a Tarmogoyf he graciously extended his hand in defeat.

    Hunter Coale defeats Jens Thoren 2-0.

  • Sunday, 3:47 p.m.: Artist Feature
    by Tom LaPille
  • The artists here at Grand Prix Vancouver are all famous names from Magic art's past and present: Anson Maddocks, Mark Tedin, and Rob Alexander. All three worked for Wizards of the Coast before Magic existed and have illustration credits in sets all the way from Alpha to Lorwyn. Let's meet them!

    Anson Maddocks, the mind behind such iconic cards as Llanowar Elves
    Anson Maddocks is based in Seattle, Washington. He went to art school with Jesper Myrfors, Wizards' first art director, who recruited him to work on role playing games in the Renton office. He shifted his focus to Magic art when that became WotC' focus and has been illustrating cards ever since. When asked what his favorite card was he didn't want to answer saying "It's hard for me to look at my own work – it's more about learning than the end result," although he says that Breeding Pit and Cyclopean Tomb are early favorites.

    Mark Tedin takes a break from signing for fans to mug for the camera
    Like Maddocks, Mark Tedin is also based in Seattle, Washington and had met Anson Maddocks through various game industry conventions. It was through that connection that he was recruited to do Magic art. He said "My favorite of my cards used to be Mindstab Thrull because it came out exactly as it was in my mind, but I like Enormous Baloth now just as much for the same reason." His favorite Lorwyn card he illustrated is Tideshaper Mystic. When I remarked on how much detail there was on his original paintings that gets lost at card size, he told me that he puts lots of detail in his originals so that they can be blown up for Wizards' promotional materials though he added "I don't like to make art that doesn't stand up to close examination."

    Rob Alexander during a busy Grand Prix Sunday
    Rob Alexander is based outside of Eugene, Oregon. He also worked for Wizards before Magic existed, and was recruited to work on Magic when more artists were needed to get Alpha out the door. The artist is now well known for his art on lands having illustrated four of the five Onslaught fetch-lands and all ten Ravnica duals as well as many others. I asked him about this and he told me that "It was just a happy coincidence. Part of it was me asking for landscapes, and part of it was Wizards liking what I gave them." Regardless, Rob's signing line has been full of people holding piles of rare lands all weekend. When I asked what his favorite card was he replied that he didn't have just one but singled out Underground Sea and Spectral Cloak from early sets and Temple Garden and the promotional judge foil Exalted Angel as recent work that he liked, saying "I can still look back at all of those paintings and be pleased."

    Grand Prixs are the highest level open tournaments that Magic has, but there's so much more to do at one than play in the main event. There are also tons of side events to play and a new city to explore. Bringing in artists is just one facet of that and as many visitors to the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre can attest from this weekend, remains one of the favorite things for players to do in addition to playing Magic.

  • Sunday, 5:55 p.m.: The End to Raph's Day
    by Raphael Levy
  • So I lost the second round of the Wii tournament (yeah, I suck...). I was about to play the third round when Steve Sadin, David Irvine, Tomoharu Saito, Brandon Scheel and Dane Young asked me over to team draft. I had not dropped from the tournament yet...but did not really feel like playing six more rounds of sealed deck after dropping a round to a very mediocre pool. My blue-black build sure was fine, with a few rares to power it up, but its lack of removal would have been crucial in the last rounds had I been undefeated.

    "How much would you like a free win?" I asked my next round opponent.

    "I'd like it!" He happily answered so I scooped giving him three match points and a bunch of DCI points that I am sure my opponent will make much better use of than me. Off to draft, I teamed up with Tomoharu and David for one of the very last Lorwyn/Morningtide drafts I would ever play. Grand Prix-Vienna will be played using Extended again and Shadowmoor will be released not too long after that. I did enjoy the format but I'm excited it is soon switching.

    Of course my team managed to win the draft. I'm not saying that to brag, but as I so rarely 3-0 a draft, it is worth mentioning. If I wondered whether or not it would be my very last draft in the format, I know the answer now: finishing on a good note is positive and you do not want to end Lorwyn Block on a bad run. As an example, even though I had rocked Worlds 2000 in Brussels I ran the worst streak anyone ever had in team drafts. Back then it was Mercadian Masques Block and I lost 15 rounds... in a row. FIFTEEN. That's five drafts without winning a single match! I had done great in the main tournament, but felt miserable at the end of the day. Even now I can't look at a Mercadian card without having my heart die a little.

    I think that's the note I want to finish on for my journey to Canada. My main tournament went poorly, I spent countless hours in planes, but I got to visit Seattle again and a new amazing city, Vancouver. I had a great time with my fellow countryman Olivier. Everytime we travel together or that we meet up somewhere, we always end up having stories to tell: how we found our hotel, how the guy at the counter laughed when we asked if wireless was available, us realizing that the wake up call we asked for did not happen; we thought about how the guy laughed again when we called him for a wake up call: "What do these guys think? They are paying peanuts, first they want wireless and now wake up calls?!"

    I will be on my way back home tomorrow. I will not be attending Shizuoka next week but in any case I enjoyed this weekend, met people I had not seen in a while, and played some interesting games. Grand Prix-Vienna will be my next stop and hopefully I'll see you there!

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