Friday, March 11: 12:15 pm - Following Von Dutch
by Josh Bennett
Everyone's favourite Dutch-Superstars-turned-Copyright-Infringers-turned-Pro-Tour-Champions are gearing up to put a chokehold on Team Limited. They were already exuding confidence as the judges handed out the packs. Most of that was Jeroen Remie, who had managed to slouch himself under the table. It doesn't get much more laid-back that that. Across from him Kamiel Cornelissen waited patiently, and with excellent posture. Jelger Wiegersma found a happy medium between the two. You could almost think of him as the stabilizing force between Cornelissen's sober Yin and Remie's raging Yang. You could think of Jelger a lot of ways. I'm not about to stop you.
The Guns of Remie.
Together they're a sickening mix of talent. Not lightly does Remie throw out 'The Guns' -- he's got the chops to back them up. Wiegersma's been Top 8'ing since before it was cool to do so, and just because Cornelissen doesn't talk much doesn't mean you can forget about him.
Spreading out the cards in front of them, the shocking highlight was their pool's black. Double Eradicate, triple Horobi's Whisper, double Hideous Laughter, and all of that with more removal to spare and a solid line of dudes. The division of labor was easy to figure out. Big green men love their Infest. Red took up the rest with plenty of Arcane to reuse those whispers. Blue and White naturally fell to The Iceberg, who built quickly and silently.
"These are 2-0 decks. I'll be disappointed if we don't," said Remie.
They only needed to test one alternate build before being assured they'd found the mark. If they can escape Friday's minefield, they're confident they'll be playing on Sunday. They've put in the hours.
"Lots of team drafts. No sealed though. I mean, what's the point?" asked Wiegersma.
Remie immediately elaborated.
"Obviously you have to open good cards. If not, there's no way you're winning. After that, though, it comes down to deckbuilding and play skill."
Friday, March 11: 1:55 pm - Those Poor Saps
by Josh Bennett
Winning a Last Chance Qualifier requires not only a little luck and a lot of skill, but also some measure of grit. You really need to dig deep for that last match when you're running on empty and playing for all the marbles. Qualifying for the Pro Tour loses some of its luster when it's only two hours away and you've already been up for 20. Thirty teams signed up for either dream-crushing, last-minute practice, or an honest attempt to qualify. They were shorn to four, who are reaping the bleary-eyed rewards.
A long LCQ night Thursday led to some lounging on Friday.
First up are Adam Racht, Tim Bonneville and Zach "Baby-Faced Assassin" Parker ("Free Yayo"). The Assassin's lifestyle of fast cars and faster women is the only thing keeping him from winding up face-down on his mountains this morning. The tiredness showed during deck construction, when his teammates had to point out that he should cut Akki Raider before Orochi Ranger, particularly when his deck was already sporting Sosuke's Summons.
Next are the underdogs Jacob Hershberger, Justin Jackness and Eric Deluca ("Eight-and-a-Half Dales"), who were considering sabotaging their performance today and grabbing some much needed sleep.
Then we have Don Smith, Andrew Pacifico and Adam Chambers ("We Add"). It wasn't surprising to see them on top, considering their inconspicuous credentials. Pacifico is a former U.S. Nationals Top 8'er, and fondly remembered as the father of Turbo Abeyance. Chambers has been making the Team Limited rounds, most recently finishing second (to :B) at Grand Prix-Chicago with the boys of Gindy's Sister's Fan Club. And Don Smith? He's Ken Krouner's roommate!
Speaking of KK, he, Joseph Crosby and the unlikely third of Geddes Cooper ("Squads, Packs, Souls...") held on by their nails to claim the fourth slot. After a 1-1 start they were bolstered by the "Good Luck!"'s of countless departing drafters. Their opening pool is a spicy one, and they're already dreaming of Saturday's drafts.
Meanwhile, in Round 2 . . . A puzzler for the fans at home: How does Alex Shvartsman, with a Mistblade Shinobi in play, end up handing over control of his Shuriken to his opponent? Worse, his opponent had a Shinobi of his own.
Friday, March 11: 2:47 pm - How Good Are the Japanese, Seriously?
by Josh Bennett
Remember the olden days? Back when people would talk about the Japanese and when they were going to have a breakout performance? After Masashiro Kuroda's huge win in Kobe, the Japanese apparently decided they needed to make up for lost time. An Oiso Top 8 at San Diego, then the FireBallers' finals at Seattle, then FOUR in the Top 9 at Columbus, all of it ending in a second championship thanks to Shu Komuro (the Chingy to Terry Soh's Nelly).
Shonichide Pon are one of several powerhouse Japanese teams.
All that is pretty astounding, but add to that the fact that the Japanese pros decided to wreck a couple of American Grand Prix en route to this event, and you've got a big turn around from two years ago. They've fielded some sick teams this weekend, and they deserve a look.
After two rounds, the new Superteam of Katsuhiro Mori, Masahiko Morita and Masashi Oiso ("Shonichide Pon") were sitting pretty at 2-0. Let's face it, if you can't drag Masashiro "Family Man" Kuroda to the States, you'd be hard pressed to find a better replacement than the former Rookie of the Year Oiso. Also undefeated were Tomohiro Kaji, Tomohiro Saito and Kenji Tsumura ("One Spin"). You might recognize Tsumura as a member of last year's Japanese National Team. He's currently studying under Oiso as his protege. Oiso is confident that Tsumura will be the next big thing.
Facing an uphill battle at 1-1 were Itaru Ishida, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, and Jin Okamoto (abandoning web addresses for the succinct "FireBall.Pros"), and sitting in an 0-2 hole were the old boy's club of Masayuki Higashino, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Osamu Fujita ("Goodbye NAGAOKA"). All known faces, and feared. It will be exciting to see what stratagems they've cooked up for the draft tables.
Friday, March 11: 1:55 pm - Your Von Dutch Update
by Josh Bennett
Those Holl-ish goons are still going strong, escaping a tenuous Round 3 to remain undefeated. Playing against 152 Snow Ninjas, Kamiel Cornelissen made short work of Jeffrey Blyden, whose blue-black deck decided to mulligan and forget about removal while Cornelissen curved out with efficient white and blue monsters.
Kamiel and Von Dutch are undefeated through three rounds.
Things weren't so rosy on the Remie side of things, however. Tim Galbiati had developed an unnerving habit of playing Nagao, Bound by Honor the turn after Kitsune Blademaster. Remie stole the second game with Dance of Shadows, but his good start in the third game petered out when he drew SIX land in a row. The only thing that kept it close was a Sideswipe on Hundred-Talon Strike. Galbiati's Waxmane Baku and Frostwielder helped Blademaster get the job done in the end.
So it fell to Wiegersma, who split his first two games with Michael Donovan. His Patron of the Akki was being sidelined by a Moss Kami, and it Donovan's green-black soulshift army made attacking an unpleasant option. A few turns later, however, Wiegersma had turned up a First Volley to go with his Glacial Ray, clearing out a pair of blockers (including a meddling Scuttling Death) and the sudden hole in Donovan's defense was enough to give the match to the Dutchman.
Friday, March 11: 4:01 pm - Addendum: "Nice Spell."
by Josh Bennett
Chad Ellis was in his third game of the third round, and feeling good about his draw. He opened with Orochi Sustainer and Kashi-Tribe Reaver, while his opponent, Canada's own Mark "Volume Control" Zajdner, had only a pair of Ashen-Skin Zuberas. Holding a fatty, Unearthly Blizzard and Kodama's Might, Ellis dropped a Soilshaper, gearing up for a huge turn. Zajdner played land number four and passed the turn, announcing
"I have an effect during your upkeep."
"Actually, it's during your draw step, after you draw a card."
He casually put Hideous Laughter on the table, eliminating Ellis's board and hand in one fell swoop. Oh, he followed up with Ink-Eyes shortly thereafter. When asked to comment on the game, Zajdner said, "I back it."
Friday, March 11: 4:12 pm - Enforcing the +B
by Josh Bennett
Forsythe travels the world, stomping out Affinity everywhere.
Oh that wiley Aaron Forsythe. What won't he do?!
First he sends a coded message about incoming bans for Standard, then he goes ahead and carves up the most dominant deck like so much Christmas Ham, and now he's taking his ire to the streets.
In the picture to the right, you can see our beloved Coach standing outside a storefront in the mall that joins the convention center to the hotel.
Not pictured: An irate Forsythe heaving a molotov cocktail through said storefront, before being taken away by the authorities.
Friday, March 11: 4:35 pm - No Juking Jukai
by Josh Bennett
From Round 3 -- Adam Chambers becomes the first player to cast Body of Jukai at a Pro Level event. Not content to do things the conventional, manaflooded way, Chambers powered out that bad boy via Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro in conjunction with Patron of the Orochi. I guess sometimes a 7/7 isn't enough. You really need an 8/5.
Friday, March 11: 4:45 pm - Correcting Coverage Shortcomings
by Josh Bennett
The following needs have been filled:
More Hipsters in Fine Duds.
Friday, March 11: 6:48 pm - Backs Against the Wall
by Josh Bennett
The cut to Day 2 is downright cruel. The 4-2 mark is going to leave some good teams on the sidelines for Saturday's drafting. Heading into the final sealed build, some outstanding teams were facing elimination, needing to win out.
Dave Williams and Top Set sat at 2-2 after four rounds.
Everyone was pleased to see Top Set (Bob Maher, Dave Williams, Neil Reeves) in attendance this weekend. Rising poker star Williams hasn't lost his love of gaming just because he's hit the big time. Maher's been busy with work and home life (his lovely wife Courtney is currently pregnant with twins. Quips Williams, "Yeah, one's his and one's mine.") and Reeves, well, he gets by. They showed up looking for some good times, but now are in "danger" of having to play Day 2.
"They really got us this time," said Reeves.
To be fair, their first two pools were nothing special, and they were seeing Betrayers for the first time, so 2-2 is an acceptable result. Now they've got themselves two dragons, a Kumano, a Fumiko, and first picks as far as the eye can see.
"They're just trying to keep us from dropping," Maher said. "We're going to end up wasting our whole day tomorrow!"
Last year's Seattle quarterfinalists Pocket Rockets (Paul Russel, Joe Derro and Matt Wood) are in the soup as well. They have decided their situation demands an extreme solution. Rather than build three acceptable decks, they've tweaked up two of them to "slightly better," and then shambled together an unorthodox third. Let's just say, 15 land, four Mistblade Shinobis, two Ninja of the Deep Hours, three Ghostly Wings, and an Orb of Dreams.
"We're going for the full sack-out," Derro said.
Dave's the Boss (Gabe Walls, Dave Humpherys, Paul Rietzl) have managed to come back from an embarrassing 0-2 start to the day. They feel like they've been handed the tools to win two more and earn a spot on Saturday, despite the fact that Gabe Walls's deck appears unable of dealing any kind of damage, never mind lethal damage. It's a blue-white concoction, heavy on the 1/4's. He's disappointed about having to play it while the other two enjoy the fruits of beatdown, but pointed out that they can't allow Humpherys to pilot it, since a draw eliminates them.
"You guys won't know it until there are three minutes left in the round, but I absolutely can't lose," Walls said.
Japanese all-star squad FireBall.Pros (Itaru Ishida, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Jin Okamoto) have found themselves with a tough pool. On first glance Ishida's deck looks like a spicy samba. Two Budoka Pupils, tons of green and black spirits, and two Devouring Greeds to go with it. Unfortunately, his deck is short on spells. His only removal is a Pull Under, and he has no combat tricks. He's also running the Divining Top with no shuffle effects, and is not proud of it. Ikeda's deck is pretty middle-of-the-road blue-black. And then there's Okamoto. Despite having all the red and white cards, he's still scrambling for playables.
Okamoto described his team's chances in one word: "Tough."
Former Northeast superstars Illuminati are also in a tough way. Despite good decks and good play they've stumbled into elimination land. They don't feel like they could have done anything significantly different, they just got a loss at the wrong time. At least they have an Umezawa's Jitte. That's good for a match win.
The Max Fischer Players, right, faced elimination against GWalls Soaking Wet.
Things are dire for The Max Fischer Players (Igor Frayman, Chris Pikula, Josh Ravitz). After dropping a Round One feature match to Sol Malka's "Rock Paper Scissors" they suffered the ignominy of a third-round bye. To stay in contention they eliminated "GWalls Soaking Wet" (Eugene Harvey, Patrick Sullivan, Adam Horvath). Not even the chance at a return to Day 2 glory with a pair of wins can lift their spirits. Ravitz's glower has increased tenfold, and Pikula has started improvising showtunes rather than concentrate on his build. Hopefully they get it together by the time Round 5 starts.
GP champions :B (Tim Aten, Gadiel Szleifer, John Pelcak) remained optimistic despite an 0-2 on their last pod. Aten was forthcoming, saying "Our pool is bad. Probably a four out of ten," but nevertheless they are confident they can scrape together the needed wins.
Overheard during deck construction: "I'm siding in Sway the Stars if I get the chance." I leave it to you to deduce the source.
Friday, March 11: 7:14 pm - Odd Men Out
by Josh Bennett
You've got to feel bad for the guys that know they won't make Day 2 before the last sealed build. This is just a moment to recognize some of the standouts.
Jun Nobushita Fan Club (Olivier Ruel, Antoine Ruel, Florent Jeudon)
Sic transit glroria, Black Ops.
Marc H (Alexandre Peset, Raphael Levy, Mathieu Jean-Baptiste)
Clearly, today was not France's day.
Goodbye NAGAOKA (Tsuyoshi Fujita, Osamu Fujita, Masayuki Higashino)
Not even the gangster chic of the Man in Black combined with Japan's first Top 8'er could help these guys out of the Sealed Deck mire.
GWalls Soaking Wet (Eugene Harvey, Adam Horvath, Patrick Sullivan)
I guess of all the TOGIT teams playing this weekend, one of them had to get knuckled under. Couldn't have happened to a paler bunch of guys. This defeat stung all the more for Sullivan and Horvath, whose nemeses were still in contention.
Friday, March 11: 8:12 pm - The Gags of Pro Tours Past
by Josh Bennett
In case you need a chuckle, here are some of my favourite photos from this crazy, mixed-up world of gaming. Pro Tours, there's nothing like 'em.
A Lesson in Photograph Composition.
Ffej suffers the consequences of playing blue-green.
The Long-Forgotten Creecher.
Your Parents Weren't Kidding About Strangers
Friday, March 11: 9:23 pm - Day 1 Catching Up
by Josh Bennett
Three of the four Last Chance Qualifieds made the most of their opportunity Friday. Free Yayo snuck in at 4-2, while We Add and Squads, Packs, Souls... put up commanding 5-1s. Hopefully they'll have to good sense to keep tonight's carousing to a minimum. Or maybe they need that zen-like detachment that can only come from sleep deprivation. Here's hoping for hallucinations!
Sherman's March (l-r, Sonne, Stavola, Krempels) carried the U.S. torch into Day 2.
Reigning champs Von Dutch got a harsh lesson in the realities of Team Sealed, taking two losses from their final pool. Time for them to turn on the jets and outdraft their opponents. They join Japanese powerhouse Shonichide Pon facing an uphill battle. Japanese newcomers One Spin managed 5-1, and would love a chance to show up their mentors.
Jordan "LeBron James" Berkowitz returned to the spotlight this weekend with Mitchell Tamblyn's former teammates Gerry Thompson and Eugene Levin. Tamblyn, having lost his appetite for competitive Magic following some Grand Prix unpleasantness, forfeited his spot on his team to Berkowitz. Thompson and Levin didn't relish the thought of playing with Berkowitz, but all that hesitation flew out the window after their 5-1 performance. Hopefully they'll find their synergy at the draft table.
TOGIT managed to put two teams across into Day 2, further establishing New Jersey as the center of the North American Magic Universe. Both Sherman's March (Kate Stavola, Craig Krempels and Jon Sonne) and NFC (Osyp Lebedowicz, Gerard Fabiano, John Fiorillo) sit at 4-2.
A lot of players were in vocal opposition to the use of Sealed Deck for Day 1. The absence of such teams as The Gee-Bee's and www.cardshark.com in Day 2 competition has been cited a number of times as evidence against the format, and no more tellingly than in this summation of the final Day 1 Feature Match, overheard at end of day: "Albuquerque Isotopes defeat www.cardshark.com, 16 ridiculous cards to two."