Saturday, October 13: 11:34 a.m. - Extended Metagame Report
by Dave Sutcliffe
The first blows of Pro Tour Valencia were struck long before the first player touched down in Spain this week. The metagame was moving so quickly, with decks switching from surefire success to suicidal punt and back again as players explored the enormous card pool of this Extended format. The metagame wheel turned relentlessly through the buildup—the Dredge decks appeared to be the most obvious victim of this, being touted so loudly as "the best deck" that it looked as though they may face main deck hate cards... and then they looked so hated out of the field that nobody would play them at all. But as round one finally gets underway it's time to find out the truth.
On Your Marks... Get Set... GO!
Having been made to wait a day before being allowed to get underway here in Valencia, it seems as though our Pro Tour competitors are in quite a hurry to make up for any lost time and as the first round began there was a frantic rush of cardboard hitting table, and any player who stumbled found themselves looking at sideboard options within the first ten minutes... make no doubts about it, this format is FAST!
A quick browse round the tables shows that the majority of the field have chosen to win the game during their attack phase. There are a huge number of Zoo decks of various types utilising the Onslaught and Ravnica lands to throw out a staggering offense of the best spells from all five colours, if anything it feels as though Zoo has been the default choice for many players who had been struggling to get a handle on the metagame, as it's fast, rugged, and with the versatile mana base, you can hope to call on virtually any sideboard spells that you want to use. Watching a couple of Kird Apes and a hefty Tarmogoyf turning sideways was one of the most common experiences of walking over the tournament floor.
Almost as common was watching two players hunched over a bulging graveyard to see exactly how many Zombies were going to spill out into the game, because the Dredge decks are here after all, predominantly the superfast "Cephalid Breakfast" variant that marks probably the quickest deck in the format. Following up behind them are a mass of ultra-aggressive Affinity variants, and the old stalwart—the explosively quick and reliable Goblin decks. Between those four broad deck archetypes—Zoo, Cephalid Breakfast, Affinity, and Goblins—this Pro Tour environment is a dangerous place to be for any deck hoping to see turn five.
The decks hoping to control this tide of aggression are relatively diverse, the most popular being the blue-black-green decks that are making great use of either Engineered Explosives or Pernicious Deed to sweep the board clean and then establish their own beatdown with Tarmogoyfs and walking tutors like Trinket Mage. Behind those decks, however, the true control decks are scattered widely through the room—a few Counterbalance decks here, a couple of blue-white Tron builds, a couple of red-white-blue decks hoping to win with Lightning Angels, and even a mono-blue deck or two, riding on cards like Vedalken Shackles and Threads of Disloyalty in a format dominated by cheap but powerful creatures. The resurgence of Affinity as an expected archetype had seemed to spell the end for the "No-Stick" deck, but that is here as well... there's only a handful of them, but when they're being piloted by guys like Kenji Tsumura, Wessel Oomans, and Bernardo Da Costa Cabral, perhaps they know something that everybody else doesn't?
For the combo players, it seems as though TEPS (The Extended Perfect Storm, based around Mind's Desire) has been discarded in favor of the Enduring Ideal deck. When you first see the deck do its thing you can't really believe that you're watching something that might win a Pro Tour, as it pulls obscure enchantments from its library and eases them into play... Solitary Confinement, Dovescape, Form of the Dragon... but it's an effective combination that quickly shuts out the opponent's chance of winning the game. Needing roughly the same amount of mana to start off as the TEPS decks, but without needing to attain a critical mass of spells to build a storm count, it seems like the Enduring Ideal deck is here to perform the dual roles of control AND combo, and is the deck of choice for many top players.
A View from the Side
Watching the round progress, it feels like you're watching two different matches as they shift into Game 2, and perhaps that may come to be pivotal in deciding the outcome of this Pro Tour. As the first game begins the decks are almost entirely focussed on themselves, how good they can be, how consistent can they be, how fast they can be? You can see how this is a sensible approach to a format where you're not comfortable predicting what the opponents would play... simply ignore them and do your thing as best you can. Like drag racers, the decks accelerate away from the starting line on turn one and glue their foot to the gas until one or the other blows a gasket and bows out. It's quick, it's brutal, and there's not a whole lot of interaction between the decks. But after sideboarding it's a totally different story as the players throw spanners and wrenches into each other's workings, and sideboard cards seemed to be causing a lot of players real concern.
The Dredge decks appear to have it worst—they always knew that they would have to deal with being hated but the number of Leyline of the Voids, Yixlid Jailers, Extirpates, and in particular Tormod's Crypts must be making them look around this field quite nervously. The sideboard of choice against the huge array of aggressive decks appears to be Collective Restraint, which slows their offense down to a crawl. The Enduring Ideal deck hasn't escaped entirely either, and the look on the face of the opponent of Belgian wonderkid Marijin Libaert when he unveiled his Aven Mindcensor was a story all of its own. Sideboard cards all across the tournament floor seemed to be transforming the drag races of Game 1 into stock car races of decks crashing into each other at high speed.
This seems to be shaping up to be quite a fascinating Pro Tour metagame—the average power level of decks and cards is fantastically high, so making a single mistake may be all it will take to cost you a game. But what looks to be particularly key from first impressions is that with a lot of matches where Game 1 is a gunfight won by the fastest hand, this tournament will reward the players who have come prepared with the best sideboard for the decks they will meet. Those are the players who will be most able to close out the match that they lead 1-0, and more importantly those able to turn around the 0-1 starts that they will almost inevitably have to deal with on their way to Pro Tour glory.
Saturday, October 13: 12: 17 p.m. – Good(?) Morning, Valencia
by Nate Price
This has been an interesting weekend for all of us here in Valencia thus far, and, after all of the hullabaloo yesterday, we're finally ready to get the Pro Tour underway.
At 9:00 a.m.
If there is an antithesis of a morning person, I am definitely it. If the hour is in the single digits, and it's not p.m., I refuse to acknowledge its existence. After stumbling down to the delicious breakfast buffet in the hotel and eating to contentment, I headed over to the event site.
It's really amazing how much difference 24 hours can make. This time yesterday, it was still pouring down rain as people frantically tried to keep things in the venue dry. Today, the sun is shining and everything is as beautiful as I expected Valencia to be. If I wasn't working, I'd be at the beach. But I came here to use my fantastical grasp of the English language to paint a verbal picture for all of you lovely readers at home. I'm sorry in advance.
This format is fast. Or at least it has the potential to be. I actually left the coverage room to start wandering the tables about five minutes into the round and ran into my buddy Gerry Thompson, who managed to score a win before the round clock changed its tens digit. "I got him on turn four both games. I mean, we played for a few more turns, but he figured it out." For a coverage writer, this is both a blessing and a curse. We get plenty of time to edit our writing and make sure that the stuff we turn in is something we think someone would really want to read. However, since the matches finish so fast, there's an overwhelming amount of information to be crammed onto paper in a short amount of time. Often, we have to use shorthand just to keep up.
Fast formats also mean mixed blessings for the players. Short matches mean longer breaks between rounds. However, it's also generally a symptom of a lack of player interaction. With all the combo decks and aggressive decks running around the format, decks tend to just do their thing and then figure out a winner when the dust settles. The underwhelming presence of control decks here means that there isn't much disruption to prevent the decks from doing their things. Ultimately, though, seeing as how we're running quicker rounds and we're a few rounds shy of a usual PT, this could end up being just what the tournament coordinator ordered.
Most PT players this weekend won't stay in their seats for long.
Despite the fact that control decks seem a bit underrepresented, the balance of decks seems quite good actually. I wandered around a block of thirty tables, and within those tables, I found ten distinct deck types. That's gotta make designers and developers happy to see a format free of stagnation. I know it made me happy. There's nothing I hate more than watching nine consecutive matchups of Tooth and Nail vs. Affinity, or worse, the Affinity mirror. Watching people do Arcbound Ravager math makes me want to kill the person who invented math. Yeah, I said it.
One of the best parts about wandering around in a room like this is realizing how much I enjoy watching Magic. Despite the fact that I have to watch Magic for 20+ hours this weekend, I'm surprisingly upbeat about it. There are just so many cool things you can do, and so many different things to see. And I'm not just talking about decks. I've seen tons of cards so far in my short time of wandering that I just wasn't expecting to make an appearance. I'm really interested to see how they work out for the people playing them.
Speaking of which, it's time for an installment of my Cards I Didn't Expect to See Here This Weekend™!
This segment is dedicated to, well, those cards I didn't expect to see here this weekend. I come into every event with a fairly good idea of what to expect, and I occasionally find a few cards while trolling through the tables that pique my interest. So here goes the list so far:
Haunting Echoes – So how big is your graveyard, Mr. Dredge player?
Harmonic Sliver – The ability is pretty solid in this format. The creature type, on the other hand. . .
Nihilith – Don't be shy, go ahead and click on the Gatherer link. I had to.
Staff of Domination – With a name like that, you'd expect it to be more, well, dominant.
Martyr of Sands – This little guy hates the round clock.
Aven Mindcensor – Enduring what?
Vedalken Shackles – I'm as big a fan of islands as the next guy, just not so much in this format.
Trinisphere – I'm pretty sure I saw Stephen Menendian around here somewhere . . .
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea – This is my favorite Magic card printed in the last couple of years. But that doesn't mean I was expecting it to show up here.
I'm going to continue in my wanderings and check back in with you guys from time to time to let you know what else I've found that makes me perk up. Believe me, after forgoing sleep for Lorwyn drafting, I could use a little perking.
Saturday, October 13: 1:20 p.m. – The Seething Masses
by Hanno Terbuyken
It's not just the Pro Tour. People are moving through the hall in densely packed bunches, and it's merely noon. The 424 players who are competing for money, fame, and pro points are outnumbered by those who want to be in their places—eventually. The first PTQ of the weekend (the second one has been re-scheduled for Sunday) kicked off with 370 players, mostly Spanish locals. That's about the size of an Australian Grand Prix, and there's nearly as many people just milling around, trading, waiting in line for the artists' booths or simply standing at the entrance, ogling the gigantic statue of Serra Angel.
The big, iconic, sword-wielding winged avenger has become a fixture of the Pro Tour by now, and it never fails to attract people. As we are in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias de Valencia, in the City of Arts and Sciences, it's not only Magic players who come to pay The Lady a visit. The Science Museum "Principe Felipe" is a major destination for visitors. As they queue up for tickets to the exhibition, they can see The Lady in all her glory. When they are lured into the tournament hall in this way, the friendly ladies of the demo station stand by to show them what Magic is.
"We're running demos from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.," explain Alexa Koen and Cesar Carracedo from Spanish distributor Devir. Each person to give the game a whirl gets a free Tenth Edition sample, and can leave their address to get more information. It is an effective way of explaining what the human throng in the tournament hall is all about. "There's people coming in who normally know nothing about Magic," says Alexa, "even adults." The red-shirted demo girls are certainly busy explaining Magic to young and old alike!
The Devir demo staff teaches the basics of Magic to folks of all ages.
And with the sun throwing her light on the entire venue, people will keep flowing in. It's not just the exhibition (made with kids in mind, too) that draws visitors to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, it's also the beautiful architecture, the opera house, "L'Hemisfèric" with its planetarium and IMAX cinema, and "L'Oceanogràfic," Europe's biggest aquarium, with sharks, penguins, and even a whale. If you ever come to Valencia, go see this place—even though Serra Angel will be gone by then!
Saturday, October 13: 2:45 p.m. – Side Events Roundup
by Dave Sutcliffe
It's not often that the Pro Tour is made to take second place, but that's in danger of happening here at the Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias as the side events area rapidly fills up with the sights and sounds of players excitedly tearing open Lorwyn starters and boosters. Pro Tour–Valencia happens to coincide with the Release weekend for Lorwyn, so we are also playing host to the very first Pro Tour Qualifier for the rather special destination of Kuala Lumpur in 2008,and players have flocked in from all over Spain and Europe to create a monster 328-player PTQ that is threatening to dwarf the main event!
Quickly looking through the top tables it seemed that each of Lorwyn's eight tribes (and the unofficial ninth tribe, changelings) was represented and that promises good things for the forthcoming PTQ season, and the top table was seeing the burning fury of Elementals attempting to overcome some stoic Elven and Kithkin resistance (which reminds me, what is the correct way of saying you belong to the Kithkin? Are you a Kithkinite? A Kithkinian? Are you Kithkinese?).
Terese Nielsen and Secluded Glen
With so many good players here in this PTQ, including players who had travelled over on Thursday for the Last Chance Qualifier, this could prove to be one of the toughest ways of qualifying for Kuala Lumpur, so the players must surely be glad that they will get an unexpected second chance tomorrow, when the PTQ that had to be cancelled due to Friday's floods will belatedly happen. At the beginning of a PTQ season that looks likely to be fascinating. As players come to grips with the tribes and how they interact, you can expect that many people around the world will be watching for the results of the Lorwyn PTQ almost as much as they will the results from the main Pro Tour.
Jim Nelson and Demonic Collusion
Away from the competition of the Pro Tour Qualifier, the story continues to be about the popularity of Lorwyn over just about any of the other side events on offer, with 8-man drafts starting up as quickly as players can sign up and get their packs. The trials of the little folk from Lorwyn, and their not-so-little neighbors, are proving to be extremely popular.
Rebecca Guay and Scryb Ranger
And a further success story here in Valencia is that of players taking the opportunity to speak to the artists of many of their favorite cards and have them signed or customised. Here in Valencia the queues to meet Jim Nelson, Terese Nielsen, and Rebecca Guay are packed with players clutching handfuls of their favorite cards. All three of our artists here this weekend have been involved in illustrating Magic cards for longer than I can remember, and they've built up quite a portfolio of cards that are favorites with players. Apparently Terese Nielsen was the artist behind such cards as Force of Will, Eternal Witness, and Fact or Fiction, and it turns out that players sometimes use those cards in tournaments, so they are extra keen to see her sign those cards. Force of Will is good enough to see Constructed play... who knew?
Saturday, October 13: 4:08 p.m. – Cotillear
by Nate Price
I am an avid surveyor of social dynamics.
I guess that's a fancy way of saying I'm a big people watcher. I'm also a pretty big people listener. I guess I'm just observing man in his natural habitat. It's kind of like going to the zoo, but people do and say many more amusing things than, say, a rhinoceros. At least I understand humans a bit better.
Well, while that may have been true in the United States, it's a bit more difficult here in Spain. Sure, I can still watch people going from place to place, and it still provides me with a bunch of amusement. As a member of the coverage team, I spend most of my time observing what's going on around me, and I picked up a bunch of funny moments and stories that will be traveling with me back across the Atlantic.
Picture it frozen. Picture ice-skating on it. So awesome!
Like "the boots." And my eating someone else's foot. (I swear to God, Devin, I didn't know.) And let's not forget ice-skating on the reflecting pools here at the venue. (Try to find some pictures of them in the coverage and picture it. It sounds like the most fun thing ever.)
However, it wouldn't be a Pro Tour without some quality soundbytes from the players around the room. Some players, like Antonino "My second home is the Feature Match Area" DeRosa, Mark "brain damage, that is!" Herberholz, and Craig "too loud to be measured in decibels" Krempels make finding fun one-liners easy. They're a writer's dream—smart, funny, and incredibly mentally unstable. They're like microwaved Play-doh.
As a general rule, if a Pro Tour, or any major event for that matter, is held in an area, there is always a surplus of local players that come out to play in the LCQs, PTQs, and side events. This mass influx of people usually means for a greater chance to get some choice words just by wandering around with my ears open.
Unless English isn't their native language.
Let me just tell you that trying to eavesdrop on someone speaking a foreign language is one of the most frustrating feelings imaginable. First off, you have to hear what they're saying over the roar of the 500+ people in the venue. Once you can hear them, you start to wonder if your ears are playing tricks on you. Is that another language? Maybe it's just loud in here. Nah, I recognize that word. Wait, never mind. After about ten minutes of internal dialogue (and a few admittedly deserved stares), I decide that not only can I not understand what's being said, I'm actually starting to question my comprehension of my own language.
Eventually, though, I decided that the more heads the better, so I set the rest of the coverage crew on a scavenger hunt to keep their ears to the ground and help me collect some good snippets of conversation to share with you guys at home. Convincing some of the crew to help was easier than others. (BDM is a filthy quotemonger, which I absolutely love. I guess I kind of am too, and he can quote me on that.) This is a sampling of what we overheard on Friday and Saturday. Names have been omitted to protect the stupid.
"I'm shamed by my alcoholism."
–Buy me a drink and I'll tell you the story.
"If no one else is going to use his brain, I will."
–You can thank a judge during the emergency cleanup on Friday for this little gem.
"Every girl I see here is just so hot!"
"They're just all skinny."
"That's exactly what I mean!"
–This has spawned more conversation this weekend than I would like to admit.
"Everything in Europe is broken."
–Obviously spoken by a European.
"You know, next door in the mall, there's a McD's."
"Oh, I know. I have radar."
–Surprisingly, not spoken by an American.
"What do you mean they stopped running cabs? I drive in worse rain than this with windshield wipers that don't work and a missing window!"
–Yeah. Valencian cab drivers are wusses.
"If you buy a [plane] ticket for Sunday, you don't deserve to win."
–I love this quote.
"I'm living PT to PT and I Top 8 all the time."
–Spoken by a rather famous pro. See if you can guess who.
"What the heck is this deck? Man, did I not do my homework."
–Spoken by a player who had no idea what was going on watching a Cephalid Breakfast feature match.
"I think we should start calling Bram [Snepvangers] Buster."
–Buster from Arrested Development, that is. I almost cried when I heard this.
"I'd say he's in the top half of the players at any given PT. Wait, I mean American players."
"That's a pretty big difference."
"Yeah. Go America."
–I refuse to admit who said this and who it was about.
"So that's our target market, eh? Guys with chin beards?"
–This was met by a chorus of "yeah"s.
Saturday, October 13: 7:33 p.m. – What I Did On My Holidays
by Hanno Terbuyken
While the tournament is heating up and players are jockeying for position. (Basically, that means trying to win every game, because Magic players are certainly not race-horse jockeys. For one thing, they are mostly the wrong shape, except for maybe Quentin Martin and Marijn Lybaert. But I digress…) So, as the players are trying to bridle their cardboard horses and spur them on to the Day 2 finish line, we take the chance to look back on what they did with their extra day on Floody Friday. Here are some tales, in horse doctor's doses.
|Oyvind Andersen, from Norway: "I brought my mathematics books, but I didn't really use them." Instead, Oyvind and his teammates tried for some Magic Online from their hotel room, but the virtual cards they had borrowed weren't currently available because the lender needed them for himself. "Then we just went to play free Sealed Deck in the staff hotel." Oyvind in particular had another problem and found a pragmatic solution: "I caught a cold, and my throat was really sore. I couldn't find anywhere near the hotel that sold medicine, so I just raided my minibar for whiskey to calm my throat."
||Stuart Wright, the classy Englishman he is, lounged the day away, just like so many others. "We didn't use the day productively," he said. "I played two games in total with my Extended deck. We did a draft, though." Rumor has it that the Irish contingent raided a bar in the evening and imbibed certain malt-based, frothy beverages in large quantities. "We just had a few beers," said Stuart, comparing the English evening with the Irish riot.
||Steve Sadin, GP–Columbus winner, made good use of the extra free day. Instead of playing Magic, he looked for a place to stay: "I spent like six hours to find a new hotel. We went to fifteen different hotels, and they were all fully booked. The only reason we could get a room in the end was because Andre Coimbra sweet-talked the woman behind the desk. It's good to be with a Spanish speaker." For Steve, the extra day was pretty helpful: "I could never have done that with the actual Pro Tour going on."
|Evan Erwin, storyteller extraordinaire and all-around nice guy, actually got some Magic work done. "We mainly tested and tweaked our decks," he announced, before being reminded by his friends what else they did. "We found the best little Spanish restaurant. We were with Gadiel Szleifer, who actually, like, speaks Spanish. It's really good to have Gadiel with you!" Evan's grin of happiness spread even wider when he remembered the place where the group had dinner. "A Chinese place—in Spain!"
||Robert van Medevoort, current World Team Champion with the Dutch team, did pretty much the same. "We went to the hotel to do some testing, and went to draft later. It was all Magic-related, except for the eating."
||Frank Karsten, godfather in spirit of one of the most obnoxiously named decks in years, and current Fanatic courtesy of the Invitational, had his own experience with the flood that gave them all free time. "We went sightseeing. We didn't get very far, because the subway was also flooded. We then walked to the city center, and found out that everything was closed because it was a holiday."
Well, why not try the local stuff, even if it's just a local take on a worldwide offer of dishes? Paella with glass noodles sounds like a very approachable dish. Almost as approachable as Lorwyn, that the pros seem to dig—except for one. On Floody Friday, the tribal tapas of Lorwyn left a bad taste on Tiago Chan's tongue: "We drafted. I hate Lorwyn, because I don't like creatures, but it's a tribal set. My draft decks usually have only single digits of creatures, maybe 10. Now I have to play like 15." The delay itself didn't bother Tiago. "Usually, you play the PT on the first days, and then draft. This time, it's just switched around, and we drafted before the actual Pro Tour."
The day certainly demonstrated how social the Pro Tour is in its structure. Every pro had his group of friends, often from totally different countries, and they just chose to stick together and have fun. Be it sightseeing, checking on flights at the airport or just drafting. Magic pros are social animals, and they have the best fun together.
Saturday, October 13: 8:56 p.m. – Photo Slideshow
by Craig Gibson
Catch up on all the sights from the first two days of Pro Tour-Valencia.
Saturday, October 13: 9:29 p.m. – Top Tables Metagame Report
by Dave Sutcliffe
As the players get on with the hard work of dueling through the final rounds I took a chance to catch up on my impressions of the metagame here in Valencia. The first thing to say, before I even got out as far as the play area, is that the No-Stick ploy that had been taken by such luminaries as Kenji Tsumura and Wessel Oomens hadn't paid off, as they were languishing down on 12 points, and it had been even worse for Belgian pro Bernardo Da Costa Cabral, who hadn't even managed to get onto the scoreboard. You have to assume that they were hoping to navigate through the early rounds of aggro decks carrying their Ancient Grudges and make it into relatively friendlier waters later in the rounds. Remember kids, just say "No" to Stick.
But browsing over the top twenty or thirty tables revealed a completely different metagame from the one I had seen at 9 o'clock this morning. Back then I would have said that maybe 50-60% of the field was running a deck that was some variant on Dredge, Affinity, Goblins, or Zoo... it was aggro beatdown everywhere you looked. And now? Wow, what a variety of decks and cards that you'd simply never have expected to see make it to the top. And here's what I've seen...
Enduring Ideal, Affinity, Blue-White Tron, Blue-Green Tron, Tooth & Nail, Cephalid Breakfast, Blue-Green-Black Rock / Good Stuff, Goblins, Stalkergoyf (Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker), Zoo, Blue-White-Red Control, Counterbalance, Countertog, Heartbeat of Spring, and Balancing Tings.
And I think I missed a couple.
Look over here, it's a suspended Search for Tomorrow in a deck that's about to play a Platinum Angel. Over there the board just got swept clean with Balancing Act, up in the feature match area is a Triskelion, and over here a second turn Destructive Flow was played. Just a second, was that an actual old-school Wrath of God? And is that guy really just straight up playing counterspells and Psychatog? All the decks that at 9 a.m. seemed like the odd ones out in a field of near-identical aggressive decks have now clustered together at the top. It's kind of like The Dirty Dozen—all the oddballs and wierdos stuck together in one place who turn out to be exactly what you need to win the whole war in a little under two hours (or in our case, days).
Further down the field it looks like a lot of the aggro decks are busily chewing each other up in a bunch of matchups that are probably quite close to 50/50, and it's the decks that did something different which seem to be having more notable success. I grabbed Craig 'Prof' Jones, fresh from going 0-3 with his aggressive build (due to work & study commitments meaning he had no preparation for this Pro Tour, I will add in his defense) and asked what he thought was contributing to that:
"I think it's because this is kind of a stale format," Craig suggests. "I mean, most of these off-the-shelf aggressive decks have been available to play online for months so everybody knows what they do and how to beat them. A lot of players who haven't done a great deal of testing, like myself, could pick one up and play it... but they're just so expected."
So does this mean that part of the success of the more unusual decks is that they're avoiding a lot of the cards that people have in their sideboards? If you've come with Leylines, Pyroclasms, and Ancient Grudges for against Dredge, Goblins, and Affinity, then what exactly do you sideboard in against Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Heartbeat of Spring deck, or a Balancing Tings deck... 4x Hope, 3x Pray?
Right now the failure of the aggressive decks isn't guaranteed; there's still a bunch of Zoo, Goblins, and Dredge in and around the top decks, but their numbers are noticeably dwindling with each round. It could well be that the card quality of this Extended format is so deep that players who have been able to prepare and innovate can play just about anything that they come up with and it will work... and that the real secret of success for Valencia will prove to be playing something that the other guy wasn't expecting you to play.
Saturday, October 13: 10:51 p.m. – Day 1 Wrap-Up - The Old In and Out
by Nate Price
We did it. Ten rounds of Swiss in a single day. We started bright and early, right about 9:00 am, and we just finished right about 10:00 pm. Thirteen hours of pairing, playing, writing, and judging. Everyone still breathing is utterly exhausted, and it isn't even over yet. The AV crew is working overtime to make sure that you at home get to enjoy the streaming coverage as it happens here at PT Valencia.
And to think that most of this almost never happened.
As a result of the change in format, three rounds of Swiss were added to Sunday, to take place immediately before the cut to Top 8. In order to earn a spot tomorrow morning, a player had to go 7-3 over a grueling 13-hour day. As mentally consuming as this game is, I'm surprised many of these players even know their own names well enough to recognize that they've got to be here for the first round at 9:00 am Sunday.
Some familiar names appear in the top 69 players vying for a Top 8 spot tomorrow morning. A large contingent of European players are well represented in tomorrow's rounds. Geoffrey Siron and Jan Doise from Belgium are sitting pretty, as well as two of my favorite Dutchies, Ruud Warmenhoven and Frank Karsten. Antoine Ruel and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa from France managed to make it to the magic number as well. England's Quentin "Q" Martin and Oyvind Andersen from Norway are a couple of other big European names that have to wake up early Sunday.
Japan came out in force for this tournament as well. Makihito Mihara, Shuhei Nakamura, Masashiro Kuroda, Shu Komuro, and Masahiko Morita all made Day Two and are among the best players in Japan, not to mention the world. The United States has put a few of its usual suspects, as well as some fresh faces, into the mix. What would talk of a PT Top 8 from the last year or two be without Paul Cheon and Mark Herberholz.
While many of the usual suspects made it to Sunday's Swiss rounds, just as many of faces you would expect are going to be getting a little extra rest Sunday morning. Eugene Harvey missed the cut by virtue of a top-decked Enduring Ideal. Osamu Fujita and Kenji Tsumura join him on the disabled list. Antoine's brother, Olivier Ruel, will have to cheer him on from the sidelines. Seeing as how only 69 of the 424 original players are going to be providing us with action Sunday, you can picture the casualty list I've got in front of me.
Four hundred and twenty-four players. The largest individual PT in history, and we've managed to whittle it down to a slim 69. Keep checking back Sunday to see who sinks, and who floats to the top of the standings.
Sunday, October 14: 10:10 a.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
by Bill Stark
If Pro Tour–Valencia has been anything, it has been creative. From figuring out what to do with the event during a weather disaster to handling an LCQ not able to reach its climax, everyone here has been forced to use their thinking caps in one way or another. The players, of course, are no different and the archetypes represented during the three rounds of Swiss on Sunday are numerous. Nearly thirty different deck types are represented amongst the competitors, with Gifts Rock, Goblins, and Enduring Ideal the overall favorites. With no further ado, the Day 2 breakdown for Pro Tour–Valencia:
Gifts Rock: 9
Enduring Ideal: 8
Red-Green-Black Goyf: 4
Cephalid Breakfast: 3
Counterbalance Goyf: 3
Blue-Green Tron: 3
Domain Zoo: 3
Scepter Chant: 2
Tooth Rock: 2
Blue-White Tron: 2
Aggro Flow: 1
Balancing Tings: 1
Blue-Green Goyf Tog: 1
Blue-Black-Green Counter-Goyf: 1
White-Blue-Green Aggro: 1
Black-Blue-Green Aggro: 1
Three-Color Rock: 1
Blue-Green Heartbeat: 1
Aggro Loam: 1
White-Blue-Green Counter Goyf: 1
Four-Color Goyf: 1
Sunday, October 14: 11:20 a.m. – Interview with Eugene Harvey
by Dave Sutcliffe
The first round of Sunday at Pro Tour–Valencia is an unusual situation for Pro Tour competitors—by now they should know a Top 8 and be sitting down to either play in it or watch the big screen but instead they're still vying for a place in the spotlights. But players who are approaching this more like the usual cut to a Pro Tour second day are in for a rude surprise. Instead of having eight rounds of play to makeup for any bad results from the yesterday, this is short three-round sprint into the Top 8. If players aren't already up near the top end of the tables then they are really going to have to put their game face on to make it in there.
A quick look around at the players still in this Pro Tour revealed that the trend of the aggro decks falling away seemed to be continuing, and there were as many Sensei's Divining Tops and Sakura-Tribe Elders in play as there were Goblin Piledrivers or Kird Apes, although it seemed as though Tarmogoyf was pretty much ubiquitious—whether you had Divining Top or Kird Ape, Pernicious Deed or Destructive Flow, you probably had Tarmogoyf.
To name just a few of the players still in with a shot of the Top 8, Andre Mueller of Germany leads a contingent of Europe's finest playing the Enduring Ideal deck, including Frank Karsten, Geoffrey Siron, Ruud Warmenhoeven, and Wesimo Al-Bacha. With his compatriot Kenji Tsumura falling by the wayside Koutarou Ootsuka is the last person flying the No-Stick flag, while fellow Japanese legend Shuuhei Nakamura is making waves with his Blue-White-Green Urzatron deck. Zack Hall of the USA is also running the Urzatron, while Mark Herberholz is chasing a second Gruul Pro Tour with his aggressive metagamed "Dark Gruul" red-green-black deck.
The array of decks and playing talent still in with a fighting chance of the Top-8 is somewhat bewildering, so I cornered Eugene Harvey, who had teamed up John Fiorillo to make it to the Top 8 earlier this year in San Diego, and got some answers.
You've not quite made the cut, Eugene, but did you play, and how did you do?
A guy nicknamed 'Eugenius' has to have some sharp analysis, right?
I played Affinity with Fatal Frenzy, and only just missed out on the cut—lost the 10th round of Saturday to Enduring Ideal. That's probably actually my toughest matchup; three of my four losses yesterday were to Enduring Ideal. I prepared for this Pro Tour with Frank Karsten, who's playing the Ideal deck, but I chose not to play it—I knew the Affinity deck wouldn't be a bad choice, and I've played Affinity for years so I know it very well. But really I was just so tired at the end of Saturday, I threw it away.
Do you think the ten rounds in a day made a difference then?
It made a huge difference to me, yeah. I think that the Americans who flew over probably really benefited from the extra day of rest to get over jetlag, that was really good. But then playing the ten rounds on Day Two just caught up with me and I really felt it.
So was this field what you expected to see?
Yeah it's pretty much exactly what I expected, a whole load of Zoo and Dredge, some Goblins, some Enduring Ideal. It really seems like the key is to interact with your opponent as little as possible—if you're interacting with your opponent you were on the wrong playtest team. The real winners here are Ideal and Zoo, some Dredge... there seems like there's a few decks trying to interact, but when the field is so wide and the possible threats are so varied it seems really foolish to try and combat them all.
It seems that the decks floating to the top are the more unusual ones, Do you think they're benefiting from being unexpected?
There's so little sideboard space now. You have to pack four cards for Dredge, three for Goblins, three for Affinity. Once you've put in all the sideboard cards for the decks that you know are going to make up most of the field you've really not got much space at all for anything else. Game 1 and Game 2 are completely different here after sideboarding, and I guess that decks like Guillaime Wafo-Tapa's Heartbeat of Spring deck are taking advantage of nobody really having anything for them.
I think maybe in the Top 8, when people get to see your decklist before the games, some of the advantage of being an unusual deck will go away. But that may also be to the advantage of the Enduring Ideal decks—seeing exactly what your opponent is playing with means they will know what to search for with their Ideal to make sure they win.
So, let's put you on the spot. What deck's going to win, and who will be playing it?
Ooh, I think I'd have to say Enduring Ideal, that's the best deck. And there's a bunch of good players playing it.
That always helps, a good deck and good players is exactly what you want to see.
And a name?
Is Frank Karsten on two losses or three? And Geoffrey Siron, he's only on two losses, right? You know what, I worked with Frank leading up to this so I'm going to go with him—Frank Karsten to win.
Sunday, October 14: 12:28 a.m. – Limited Experts
by Hanno Terbuyken
Extended is exciting for some, but players who have made their prowess with cards that come freshly from the wrapper have a hard time to wrap their heads around the Constructed maze. The Limited experts play in this Pro Tour, be it for attendance fees or pro points for the race, but they don't necessary like it. If you typically care a lot about your mana curve, agonize about the 23rd card and have a mana base that's made up of basic lands only, getting killed by a Zombie horde on turn two feels more than a little awkward. It's like being born in Anchorage and then going to Amsterdam. It's like playing Block forever and getting run over by Vintage Storm Combo.
(Although it has to be said that apparently, it works the other way around, too. Stephen Menendian, Vintage notable and Invitationalist, has recently discovered the joys of Limited. He said that in testing Winston draft for the Invitational, he was fascinated by the multitude of interactions possible. "You have these guys in play, and you attack with 2/2s, and then they make a 2/3 flier in the middle of combat! With flash! It's totally insane!" Steve was overheard saying on Floody Friday, as he drafted in the hotel lobby. Apparently, preparing for the Invitational broadens your mind. Welcome to Limited, Mr. Menendian!)
One of the players who is counted as a Limited specialist is German Level 4 David Brucker. Asked on how a Limited specialist prepares for a Constructed Pro Tour, he prefaces his answer with: "I wouldn't play a Constructed Pro Tour ever if it weren't for the Players Club." He has invested two weekends of preparation for the tour, meeting with Helmut Summersberger, Sebastian Thaler, Florian Pils and Armin Birner at Summersberger's place. They decided on an Affinity build that was mildly tuned to beat an expected metagame of "about ten decks." Brucker finished Day 1 in 283rd place, earning just 9 points with the deck they created (although Forian Pils garnered 8 wins with the same deck, taking it to Sunday).
David Brucker has Lorwyn Limited bombs in mind.
"I wanted to play a beatdown deck in any case. Control decks have in the past blown up in my face in formats like these," Brucker says. "I didn't look too hard for the best deck, actually." He just wanted some deck to play, and take a Day 2 finish as an added bonus. With the $1000 US attendance fee that Brucker gets for his Players Club Level 4, he still made a monetary profit on the Pro Tour. "Worlds is Constructed as well, but the travel is not going to pay off, so I don't plan on going," Brucker announced.
Magicthegathering.com's own Quentin Martin, author of Limited Information, wasn't always specialized in 40-card formats. "My writer's blurb on StarCity actually used to say Constructed Expert," Quentin remembered. "Secondly, Constructed and Limited are two entirely different mentalities. In Constructed, you think in different aspects of the game." Limited is a format where the entire framework of reference for a game is set out for you in your opening hand, Quentin went on explaining. And all of that is contained within the Limited environment that a booster draft, for example, creates. A Constructed deck, on the other hand, is a "conglomerate of cogs," says Quentin. In his view, it is something that players have to approach more holistically. They have to take the wider environment and the opponent's entire deck into account, not just his individual cards and what he might have at that very moment.
Quentin Martin, author of Limited Information
Quentin had brought a Blue-Green Tron deck to the tournament, and the deck posted a combined 15-4-2 record in the first nine rounds, piloted by Quentin himself, Rich Hoaen and Johan Sadeghpour. He built the deck himself while living at his parent's house waiting for his new day job to kick off. "It's actually the most work I've put into a Constructed event recently, but I just don't make Top 8 anymore."
Another Limited expert who had to claw his way through the Constructed riddle is Jonathan Rispal, French player and Limited specialist. He echoes Quentin Martin in the view that for Constructed, "when we start to test Constructed, we have to be pretty sure about the metagame." You can't just build decks on inherent criteria, you need to take into account what everybody else might be doing. Although that makes Constructed less of a pick-up-and-play format, "it's harder to test Limited, because you need more people," says Rispal. "I'm testing a lot on MTGO, but I don't really have time to do it. Some players can test a lot, and give information to the others." For this Pro Tour, Rispal just got a deck from French player Remi Fortier, who made Top 8 with the same deck. But other than just thinking about the PT every day in the month leading up to the event, Rispal's preparation was minimal. "I've done nothing, really. I'm not really a test player." Some would argue that his 368th place finish reflects poorly on that strategy.
Jonathan Rispal is not really a test player.
The American Limited specialist Mike Hron ended up at that end of the standings, too (302nd). The Pro Tour–Geneva winner is not a fan of practicing. "The amount of time the preparation for Constructed takes doesn't pay off," he notes. For Valencia, he put in "three to four hours" in total, and most of that time was filled with "talking and looking at decklists" rather than actual playtesting. "The other people in my area test a lot. In Constructed, someone has already done all the work for you." Limited is where Magic works for Mike Hron. "I gain a lot more out of Limited play than out of Constructed. In Limited, there is not a right or wrong answer." And: "Drafting is harder than building a deck." He claims that with different matchups, he might have piloted his deck to a better finish… "or I could have played a different deck." But he didn't seem to care, really.
Mike Hron won Pro Tour–Geneva, the first American to win a Limited PT since 2001
Mike Hron's level of indifference could only be topped by Rich Hoaen. The Canadian is widely regarded as the best Limited player to grace the Pro Tour, and he lives, eats, sleeps and breathes Draft. He hates formats where he has to bring a deck: "Playing Constructed is absolutely miserable." That said, Rich Hoaen still put in a good deal of preparation for Valencia. "It's the same approach as for Limited: play a lot," he described his procedure. The necessary decklists and metagame information he needed came from a mailing list. Like Mike Hron said: There's always someone who does the work for you. In Rich's case, the list includes Mark Herberholz, Gabriel Nassif, Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, Antonino deRosa and Ben Rubin. "We were testing a lot on MTGO," says Hoaen, but in the end, "I didn't like any of our decks, so I switched to Quentin's deck at the last minute."
Rumor has it that Rich Hoaen knows a thing or two about drafting.
Rich Hoaen came to Valencia because "Pro Tours are fun." Side drafts with his friends, the environments and venues that the Pro Tour visits... all that is fun for Rich Hoaen. In fact, for this interview, he took a short break from a Lorwyn draft, having just beaten Jelger Wiegersma 2-0. Asked about the fundamental difference between Limited and Constructed, Rich's answer came fast as a gunshot: "It's enjoyable to play Limited."