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Shenhar Punishes his Enemies in Houston!

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The letter W!rapping the finals match in under ten minutes put an exclamation point on a speedy Grand Prix Houston. Platinum Pro Shahar Shenhar defeated a resurgent Tom Ross in two very quick games.

Shenhar used a powerful combination of creatures and removal throughout the weekend, an expected combination, but it was his skill at setting up devastating uses of Traitorous Instinct set him apart from the pack. By clearing away everything that could get in the way, and stealing a potent attacker to punch through even more, Shenhar delivered damage in ways opponents never saw coming. Earning a Grand Prix victory early into Pro season puts him well on his way to maintaining a hard-earned Platinum status.

The show wasn't just Shenhar's, however. Tom Ross hasn't been seen at the top of an event like this in some time. The former Pro seemed in top form through the Draft portions, using his favored Nivix Cyclops and tricky spells to overwhelm opponents with three mana 4/4s. Marc Lalague, winner of last year's event in Anaheim, went undefeated on Day One and remained so well into Day Two. By making it to the semifinals, Lalague added an additional Pro Tour qualification to his Silver level, as well as picked up a flight to Dublin. It was an emotional moment for him to realize he would continue delivering his desire to play among the game's best.

The potential for an event to shape a player's careers is always worthwhile. Grand Prix Houston showed just how many can be affected at once.




Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Marc Lalague   Marc Lalague, 2-1        
8 Darin Minard   Tom Ross, 2-1
       
4 Tom Ross   Tom Ross, 2-0   Shahar Shenhar, 2-0
5 David Bruno    
       
2 Shahar Shenhar   Shahar Shenhar, 2-0
7 Shuuhei Nakamura   Shahar Shenhar, 2-0
       
3 Mani Davoudi   Phu Dao, 2-0
6 Phu Dao    







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EVENT COVERAGE INFORMATION
 1.  Shahar Shenhar $3,500
 2.  Tom Ross $2,300
 3.  Phu Dao $1,500
 4.  Marc Lalague $1,500
 5.  Mani Davoudi $1,000
 6.  David Bruno $1,000
 7.  Shuuhei Nakamura $1,000
 8.  Darin Minard $1,000
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  • Top 8 – Player Profiles

    by Event Coverage Staff


  • Mani Davoudi

    Age: 21
    Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia
    Occupation: Promotional Printer/Zapgaze
    Guild Affiliation: Corgi

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Top 8 Nationals 2011

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Jund

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Spike Jester, not close! Have you ever cast this card on Turn 2?!

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    BR, 2-1
    WG, 2-0-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    Spike Jester, card is unbeatable! It has HASTE! My second deck had nothing memorable (except a Spike Jester in the sideboard...)

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Spike Jester, Spike Jester, and Spike Jester. Wrecking Ogre and Pack Rat are good, too.




    Shuhei Nakamura

    Age: 31
    Hometown: Probably Las Vegas this month.
    Occupation: Semi-retired traveler. Just started to play poker (level 0 or 1)
    Guild Affiliation: Orzhov

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Never played Community Cup or World Cup

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Grw, Voice of Resurgence and Boros Reckoner.

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Maybe Boros Guildgates.

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    BU 2-0-1
    WB 2-0-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    Grisly Spectacle, of course.

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Can I say Pack Rat or not?




    Phu Q. Dao

    Age: 33
    Hometown: Houston, TX
    Occupation: Chemical Engineer
    Guild Affiliation: Dimir

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Some Pro Tours

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    RGW

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Holy Mantle.

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    UW, 3-0
    RGW, 3-0

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    It's all a blur.

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Progenitor Mimic, Clan Defiance, Pack Rat.




    Darin Minard

    Age: 24
    Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK
    Occupation: IT Tech
    Guild Affiliation: Dimir

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Pro Tour Qualifier win, several StarCityGames Open Series Top 8s

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    White-Black, splashing red

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Stab Wound: Removal and threat. What more do you need?

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    First Draft: Green-Red-Black, 2-1
    Second: White-Blue-Green, 2-0-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    Domri Rade and Gruul War Chant were both sweet.

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Gatecrash: Obzedat, Ghost Council




    David Bruno

    Age: 26
    Hometown: Beaumont, TX
    Occupation: Self-employed
    Guild Affiliation: Azorius

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Having fun with friends at FNM

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Red-White-Green

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Firemane Avenger. She was just an aggressive flier with an upside.

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    First Draft: black-white-green, with Pontiff of Blight and small extort guys, 3-0
    Second: white-blure-red, spashing green for Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and Nimbus Swimmer, 3-0

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    First Draft: Pontiff of Blight... extort galore
    Second: Boros Reckoner and Stolen Identity

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Dragon's Maze: Ral Zarek
    Gatecrash: Stolen Identity
    Return to Ravnica: Supreme Verdict




    Marc Lalague

    Age: 25
    Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
    Occupation: MTGDeals.com full-time at Magic: The Gathering
    Guild Affiliation: Azorius

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Pro Players Club Silver
    Winner, Grand Prix Anaheim

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Black-Red-Blue went 9-0

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Spike Jester

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    Orzhov, 3-0
    White-Blue-Red, 0-2-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    From my first Draft deck: two Tithe Drinkers, Stab Wound, and One Thousand Lashes. (Attacking is overrated.)
    From my second: Crosstown Couriers was really bad.

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Dragon's Maze: Pontiff of Blight
    Gatecrash: Master Biomancer
    Return to Ravnica: Mizzium Mortars




    Shahar Shenhar

    Age: 19
    Hometown: Jerusalem/NorCal
    Occupation: Powerful Wizard
    Guild Affiliation:

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Two Grand Prix wins, two Grand Prix Top losses

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Boros splashing blue; sideboarded into five-color

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Lavinia of the Tenth, it's a delight

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    First Draft: Azorius, 2-1
    Second: Boros, 2-0-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    The early drops. They kill before the opponent is in the game.

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Dragon's Maze: Lavinia of the Tenth
    Gatecrash: Angelic Skirmisher
    Return to Ravnica: Sphinx's Revelation




    Tom Ross

    Age: 29
    Hometown: Baton Rouge, LA
    Occupation: Casino Dealer
    Guild Affiliation: Izzet

    Previous Magic Accomplishments:
    Top 8 Pro Tour Honolulu 2009
    Top 8 Grand Prix Tampa 2009
    Top 8 Grand Prix Minneapolis 2009

    What colors did you play in your Sealed Deck pool?
    Blue-Black-Red

    What was the best card in your Sealed Deck pool and why?
    Nivix Cyclops. It's a 4/4 for three.

    What colors did you draft and what were your records with each deck?
    Izzet both times, 2-0-1 and 2-1

    Were there any cards that stood out in particular from your draft decks? What made them so good?
    Nivix Cyclops makes the Izzet deck. I got to play with Hidden Strings and Uncovered Clues

    If you could pick one card to open in each Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash, and Return to Ravnica, which cards would you want to open?
    Dragon's Maze: Ral Zarek and Nivix Cyclops – taking Ral and tabling the Cyclops
    Gatecrash: Mugging
    Return to Ravnica: Guttersnipe






     

  • Top 8 – Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff











  •  

  • Quarterfinals – Mani Davoudi vs. Phu Dao

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter P!hu Dao sacrificed his way through Mani Davoudi's creatures to win their quarterfinal match two games to one.

    "I traded my bloodrush guys, while adding more and extorting, to outrace Davoudi's damage." Dao said about their decisive third game. "The last cards in his hand were Gruul War Chant and Boros Charm, but he was too far behind."


    Phu Dao

    Being behind was the theme of the match. "In the first game I just let him trade his creatures away." Dao explained. "I had Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord so as I attacked I could just fling whatever he blocked. He was behind stuck on red mana for awhile."


    The first game was a battle of bodies and Dao used Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord to take chunk after chunk of Davoudi's life total away. Matching Davoudi's Ruination Wurm with Trostani's Summoner ensured that the game drew longer and Davoudi's best creatures fell away. Even starting ahead on life, Davoudi didn't have enough to Jarad's pounding.

    The second game was a blink-and-you-miss-Gruul War Chant moment after Davoudi started with Rakdos Cackler and Disciple of Old Ways. Dao's defense simply never materialized.


    Mani Davoudi

    Dao took his turn to run roughshod, applying early pressure against Davoudi with Slaughterhorn and Knight of Obligation. Protecting his Knight with Selesnya Charm, and removing the biggest blockers Davoudi could muster, allowed Dao to deal enough damage and close out the match.




     

  • Quarterfinals – Marc Lalague vs. Darin Minard

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter M!arc Lalague pulled a tricky come-from-behind victory from underneath Darin Mindard's Deadbridge Chant in three games.

    "I'm so excited." Lalague said after winning the match. "I was already qualified as SIlver, but now I'm qualified for another Pro Tour and get a flight." The benefits of winning a quarterfinal match at a Grand Prix are sweet for those who long to travel the world playing the game.

    The match didn't start stellar for Lalague. After Lalague started with too many lands, Minard played Deadbridge Chant to pull ahead. "By the time I started drawing good spells I just couldn't get back into the game against Deadbridge." Lalague said. Minard has Purge the Profane and Putrefy return to his hand twice, making it all but impossible for Lalague to catch up.


    Darin Minard

    But the follow up games showed how strong Lalague could fight. After a series of exchanges, and Minard digging deep through his deck with Grisly Salvage, Lalague found the board flat. "He cast Grisly Salvage and several Cluestones, but he didn't have enough cards for Deadbridge Chant." Lalague and Minard quickly cluttered the battlefield with creatures.


    Minard telegraphed drawing his mythic when he counted his library. From fifteen card to zero, Lalague hung on against a Smog Elemental to find the win by using Far & Away to force Minard into one turn too many for his library.

    The aggressive start Lalague had in the third game sealed things up. When Minard cast his second creature after a second turn Gyre Sage, Lalague has a timely Devour Flesh to keep Minard's mana in check. Lalague quickly used Sunspire Griffin and Thrill-Kill Assassin to attack with impunity.

    "I boarded in Avenging Arrow just for the Smog Elemental. It's the only thing that could kill me, and it's the only thing I could target in his deck." Lalague shared. Minard's defensive deck did little attacking through the onslaught, but it was Smog Elemental that put in the work against Lalague in the previous two games. Lalague's sideboard plan was validated when he used the awkward removal spell on the flying Elemental.

    Even with Minard casting Deadbridge Chant afterwards, Lalague had a head start too far for the Golgari enchantment to catch Minard up. A timely One Thousand Lashes let Lalague crash through for lethal damage.




     

  • Quarterfinals – David Bruno vs. Tom Ross

    by Nate Price

  • The letter T!om Ross has spent all day today touting the virtues of his undervalued, downtrodden Izzet brethren. In the end, he and his little blue and red men have proven their worth, gaining him his first invitation to the Pro Tour since Paris, a few years ago. One win away from his first Pro Tour, David Bruno couldn't quite put together the draw needed to unseat Ross.

    Soul Tithe was the card of the quarterfinals, as it prevented Bruno from developing his board for a few crucial turns in both games of this Quarterfinals match.


    David Bruno

    Ross's draw for the first game was aggressive and defensive at the same time in a way that only Izzet can be. Between Wind Drakes and Frilled Occulus, he had a wonderful way to get at Bruno's life total, while stymying any attempt on his own life. Bruno made an effort to play defense himself, using Agoraphobia and Runner's Bane to slow things down, but Dramatic Rescue gave him new life.

    Bruno was finally able to get some offense onto the board on turn six, flashing in a Skyline Predator, but it was immediately hit with Soul Tithe. Over the next few turns, Bruno paid for the massive flier, slowly adding more two-drops to his team. It didn't appear he had anything else to do with his mana, so paying for his only source of damage didn't seem to be that big a deal.

    While he was doing so, however, Ross was able to churn creatures out, filling up his board. Eventually it became too much, and Bruno succumbed to the pressure.

    "The turn you returned our Occulus to your hand, I knew it was going downhill," Bruno said after the game. He had kept his hand based on the defensive cards held within, but his draw became much worse once Ross found ways around his removal.


    Tom Ross

    The second game saw a much better start for Bruno. He was able to drop a Crosstown Courier into play before detaining Ross's lone creature with a Soulsworn Spirit. Once again, however, Ross had a Soul Tithe for Bruno's most expensive creature, also his best attacker in this case. The Soulsworn Spirit got to stick around for a turn, attacking for two, but Bruno soon realized that this was a path down a hole from which he could never recover. After letting go of the spirit, he tried to get back ahead in the race, but Ross's deck was filled with an army of small creatures. Between Goblin Electromancer, Nivix Cyclops, and Hussar Patrol, Ross was always able to stay one turn ahead in the damage race. The single turn spent paying for the Spirit was what ultimately forced him behind, as he slowly fell to the horde of creatures. In the end, an Explosive Impact cleared a path for the final attack, sending Tom Ross to the Semifinals.




     

  • Quarterfinals – Shahar Shenhar vs. Shuhei Nakamura

    by Nate Price

  • The letter S!hahar Shenhar held the perfect card at the perfect time to blunt Shuhei Nakamura's assaults over their quick two-game match.

    Nakamura was out of his comfort zone after opening a Tajic, Blade of the Legion, in his Dragon's Maze pack. While the Boros maze runner is an obviously powerful card, Nakamura is known for almost exclusively drafting some combination of Dimir and Orzhov cards in this format. Add to that an encroaching illness, and he looked very out of sorts as he sat down to the table for his Quarterfinal match.


    Shuhei Nakamura

    Despite a mulligan to six, Nakamura was out of the gates blisteringly fast, leading with Boros Mastiff, Splatter Thug, and Haazda Snare Squad. Shenhar's deck was much slower, opting to use a Gruul Cluestone to ramp into a larger threat. Normally, the Snare Squad would be the perfect trump to a ramp strategy, but Shenhar's five-drop of choice happened to be Rubblebelt Rhino. The Rhino was big enough to block even the largest of Nakamura's creatures, and the hexproof protected it from the Snare Squad. It's what we in the biz like to call "stopped cold."

    "Hexproof," Nakamura asked with a bit of a smile? "Oh no."

    Now sitting behind an immovable object and completely blanking Nakamura's team, Shenhar had the ability to leisurely pick the board apart. Punish the Enemy cleared the Splatter Thug away. A bloodrushed Scab-Clan Centaur cleaned up the Snare Squad. Eventually, Nakamura was left with only a single creature. With nothing else in his path, Shenhar aimed a Traitorous Instinct at the lone Boros Mastiff, taking the first game.


    Shahar Shenhar

    The second game started in a similar fashion. Nakamura blazed out with a Syndic of Tithes, Skyknight Legionnaire, and Splatter Thug, taking the early initiative. Shenhar, meanwhile managed to fight through a mulligan, building up to a turn-four Zhur-Taa Ancient. While this definitely aided Nakamura, enabling a Skull Rend to punish Shenhar's mulligan further, it helped Shenhar even more. Punish the Enemy took care of the flier, while Explosive Impact killed another creature. Eventually, Towering Thunderfist and Zhur-Taa Ancient began grinding Nakamura's team away. In the end, it was another Traitorous Instinct that finished things for Shenhar, sending him to a very quick 2-0 victory over the Japanese Hall of Famer.




     

  • Semifinals – Marc Lalague vs. Tom Ross

    by Nate Price

  • The letter G!ame 1 saw Tom Ross's fairly aggressive deck out aggressed, as Marc Lalague pulled ahead to open the match. An early Shadow Alley Denizen was the lynchpin behind the assault, a card that piqued Ross's interest.

    "Oh, alright," he said as the Denizen hit play, "So that's the way it's going to be..."


    Marc Lalague

    Over the next few turns, Daggerdrome Imp, a pair of Rakdos Drakes, and an unleashed Grim Roustabout became a black tide of attackers, slipping past the occasional blocker Ross was able to put into play. Admittedly, Ross's draw was not the most archetypical his deck was able to offer. Between Nivix Cyclops, a plethora of two-drops, and a slew of three-mana fliers, Ross's deck is usually fairly adept at dealing with, if not flat-out racing, aggressive draws. This time, however, his deck put the brakes on. He managed an early Lyev Skyknight, but his deck wasn't forthcoming with much else.

    He had a few removal spells to help himself stay afloat, but he wasn't able to do anything about the Denizen, as he always had to remove an attacker to keep from falling too far behind. As maligned as Rakdos Drake generally is, it still does wonders when you are in an aggressive position, and Lalague's flew circles around the Wind Drake that Ross marched out to play defense. Eventually, with his life total drifting near zero, Ross found himself unable to deal with Lalague's attackers. A pair of black creatures was all he needed to force his creatures past and finish things off.

    The second game began in a similar manner, with Ross facing down the same Shadow Alley Denizen as he did in the first game. He even had a chance to deal with it, too, as Lalague attacked it into four untapped mana that turned into a Hussar Patrol. Rather than block the Denizen, Ross took out the Gutter Skulk attacking alongside it.

    "Should've blocked the Denizen," Lalague playfully taunted.

    The reason Ross chose not to was his sideboard plan for the match: bringing in additional black creatures to deal with the intimidate. Maze Abomination hit the table and severely slowed Lalague down. In addition to that, it gave Ross a massive attacker when he decided to go offensive. To lock things away, Ross played Release, the first time I've ever seen that half of Catch & Release played on its own. Lalague was stuck on three lands and a Cluestone, so Release put him to two lands and two creatures to Ross's dominating board. It only took a few more swings to send the match to a deciding Game 3.

    The final game saw a much more defensive early start from Ross. Lalague bounced back from a mulligan to find another great aggressive draw, but a Lyev Skyknight kept his team home for a turn. This allowed Ross to get up to four mana for a surprise Hussar Patrol, forcing Lalague to spend his mana regenerating his Grim Roustabout instead of advancing his board.

    Lalague was in an unfortunate spot. He was sitting on two great four-drops in his hand: a Fatal Fumes and a Syndicate Enforcer. Unable to find a fourth land, Lalague was forced to watch his early lead fade as Ross built up a stronger defense and began to attack. Eventually, Ross managed to tap out for a Boros Reckoner and a Frilled Occulus, drawing a laugh from Lalague.

    "What's so funny," Ross laughed back? "It's how I drew it up."

    Apparently it was a good plan, as the Reckoner began to finish things off, as he tends to do.

    "I probably should have started flipping coins last turn," Lalague said under his breath as the Reckoner dropped him to 5. He had the Tavern Swindler, but losing a flip at this point was lethal. He was holding onto a Trostani's Judgment for the Reckoner, but he needed to buy one more turn to get to cast it. Unfortunately, no matter what happened, the Reckoner was going to do him in. He figured it was worth the chance.


    Ton Ross

    "Time to flip a coin for the Grand Prix," he said, reaching for his Tavern Swindler. "Evens I gain three life, odds you get the handshake."

    One pip later, and Shahar Shenhar was headed to the finals of Grand Prix Houston.




     

  • Semifinals – Shahar Shenhar vs. Phu Dao

    by Nate Price

  • The letter S!ize does matter, and Shahar Shenhar proved how much with his win over Phu Dao in this Semifinal match.

    Just as in the Quarterfinals, Shenhar's massive Beasts didn't even seem to notice the speed bumps Dao's creatures provided on his way to a 2-0 victory.


    Phu Dao

    Game 1 was all about Traitorous Instinct. Shenhar had used it to finish off Shuhei Nakamura in his Quarterfinals match, and it dealt the final blow in the first game of his Semifinals, as well. Many turns passed with both players jockeying for position on the board. Combat tricks traded places, and creatures hit the board only to die soon after. After whittling the board down to a Skaarg Guildmage, Rubbleback Rhino, and Towering Thunderfist for Shenhar and a Trostani's Summoner and her entourage for Dao, Shenhar began to use his Skaarg Guildmage to take over the game. Each turn, the Guildmage made a land or two into creatures, each time either taking out or trading with one of Dao's creatures.

    Eventually, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, came down for Dao, preventing that strategy from being effective. Now, Shenhar switched gears, putting a Zhur-Taa Ancient into play. While this made Jarad much more menacing, Dao lacked the power in play to finish Shenhar off thanks to the previous turns of attrition. When Shenhar used Traitorous Instinct to steal Jarad, Dao jokingly checked to make sure he couldn't sacrifice Jarad to himself and then passed it over.

    "I'm pretty sure I'm dead," he said, "But I'm going to block this attack anyway."

    Shenhar sent his whole team. Dao lined his blockers up, but it wasn't enough to stop Shenhar from tapping his Rakdos Guildgate to fling Zhur-Taa Ancient to drop the last seven points of life.


    Shahar Shenhar

    The next game saw an even faster set of speed bum... I mean creatures from Dao. An early rush consisting of a Knight token from Selesnya Charm, Dryad Militant, Disciple of the Old Ways, and Gutter Skulk ran headlong into Shenhar's life total, decreasing it very quickly. Yet once Towering Thunderfist and Rubbleback Rhino hit play, all aggression stopped. Shenhar's creatures were just too big. The Thunderfist was able to both play defense and begin the act of finishing the match. Dao was losing ground rapidly. The final nail in the coffin was Gruul Ragebeast, the fightmaster himself. Dao just chuckled as he put his creature into the graveyard. He shook his head and conceded.

    "I thought about just playing the Zhur-Taa Ancient in my hand and powering these guys out, but I was worried that you might have the Trostani's Summoner," Shenhar admitted. "You have two of those, right?"

    Dao did, but he didn't have one in hand. Either way, Shenhar's massive monsters proved far more than Dao's aggressive draw could handle, and Shenhar found himself staring at a chance for a third Grand Prix title.




     

  • Finals – Tom Ross vs. Shahar Shenhar

    by Adam Styborski

  • The letter S!hahar Shenhar punished his enemy, Tom Ross, in two quick games to become champion of Grand Prix Houston.


    Shahar Shenhar

    Platinum Pro Shahar Shenhar has been in this position before. While he had just two Grand Prix titles to his name coming into the day, he's been just as close in two more. Maintaining Platinum status takes high-level consistency, and finding an early Grand Prix win this season would put him well on his way to achieving it again.

    It's been some since Tom Ross has been in the same position. After bursting onto the scene in 2009, Ross has been quiet. Still a potent player, this would have been his first chance to return to the Magic spotlight. Though losing to Shenhar, Ross will make his way to Dublin in the fall for Pro Tour Theros and test his meddle again.


    Ton Ross

    "Was that fast enough for you?" Ross joked as he extended the hand after losing the second game. Shenhar, like many of the players who fly in and out Grand Prix, was pressed to time: His flight to Vegas, and next weekend's Grand Prix there, was booked tight to end of the event. With a quick handshake and even quicker trophy shot, Shenhar was sprinting out the convention hall.

    He played just as efficiently to make it all work.

    After catching and resolving an issue with Ross finding a sideboard card in his opening hand, Shenhar led with a powerful start of Warmind Infantry into Scorchwalker and Armored Transport. Ross, after missing his fourth land drop twice, fell without playing a single creature.

    A lightning fast sideboard change on each side later, Ross began the second game with the defense Frilled Oculus. Shenhar's Skaarg Guildmage into Armored Transport was played conservatively as well, Shenhar choosing to keep back the Guildmage when Ross had the four mana ready to cast Hussar Patrol.

    Ross indeed had it.

    With Battering Krasis joining the fray, Ross refused to risk his Patrol and instead put his Oculus in front of Shenhar's Transport, but Electrickery took away that option post combat. Lyev Skyknight from Ross met Aerial Predation from Shenhar, and Ross's Maze Glider met a similar fate from Shenhar's Sudden Impact.

    With Rubbleback Rhino on his side, Shenhar started to attack profitably again. When Frostburn Weird joined the Rhino, Ross protested. "You cut me!" he said, as his Izzet Draft plan had been derailed this time.


    Shahar Shenhar

    From here, the game moved neatly in Shenhar's favor. With only Nivix Guildmage left to block after Shenhar used Traitorous Instinct to take Hussar Patrol for a turn, Ross passed on blocking and dropped to just 5 life. Inching Ross down to 2 life on the next attack, Shenhar revealed his coup de grace in Punish the Enemy.

    It was a poetic, if anticlimatic, ending what wrapped the finals of Grand Prix Houston in under ten minutes.




     

  • Top Five Cards of Grand Prix Houson

    by Nate Price



  • 5. Saruli Gatekeepers

    Saruli Gatekeepers is honestly one of the most deceptive cards in Return to Ravnica Limited. The sheer amount of time gained by this defensive powerhouse is immense. Seven life is a lot of life to gain, and gaining a stout defensive body in the process is an incredibly good deal. The card gets even better with other cards in the block. It gets a little disgusting watching players use Deputy of Acquittals to reuse their Gatekeepers and put games completely out of reach. I cringed when I saw a Stolen Identity make two additional copies of Saruli Gatekeepers in one turn against Martin Juza this weekend.

    Perhaps the best use of all came from Tom Martell.

    "I got to combo my opponent out last round. I had Treasury Thrull, Corpse Barricade, and Saruli Gatekeepers in play. I got to get it back and recast it every turn. Though I guess my opponent only let me do it a couple of times before he conceded."

    The Gatekeepers are capable of completely turning around the complexion of a race, and they did work this weekend.





    4. Spike Jester

    Spike Jester doesn't get the respect it deserves. In a world where plenty of creatures have higher toughness or can simply trade as a smaller guy, Spike Jester gets overlooked. But Mana Davoudi didn't miss out. Through both Sealed Deck and first draft, Davoudi used the Jester's speed and efficiency to deal plenty of damage to opponents unable to react as quickly. Calling it among the best cards in his Sealed Deck, match after match Davoudi landed enormous damage as opponents played Guildgates and Cluestones. By the time they could react the damage had already been done, as they say.





    3. Punish the Enemy

    If you ask players what the premier removal spell in Dragon's Maze is you might hear Putrefy. But quietly along the way, the splashable and safe to pick early Punish the Enemy has risen in the ranks as well. By requiring two targets, players with ways to sacrifice creatures for value are still left reeling from 3 damage regardless of what happens. Getting two cards of quality from an easy to cast spell made Punish the Enemy highly desirable all weekend long.








    2. Nivix Cyclops

    Having a plan can be a dangerous thing in Draft. But when your plan works why worry? Tom Ross drafted two Izzet decks built on the back of Nivix Cyclops to secure a Top 8 appearance in Houston. Turning Hidden Strings and Weapon Surge into unbelievably potent spells let Ross draft his plan uninhibited until the Top 8, and his modified approach still put him in the finals match.









    1. Traitorous Instinct

    How do you deal more damage than your opponent could expect, with a creature you can't even cast yourself? Shahar Shenhar used Traitorous Instinct to tear through his Top 8 matches, demolishing multiple opponents from positions of fragile defenses. In his semifinal match against Phu Dao, Shenhar "borrowed" Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and landed a huge attack, then sacrificed his own Zhur-Taa Ancient to deliver exactly the damage needed to win.

    Who would have expected that?






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