Grand Prix San Francisco is as close as a public tournament gets to a Pro Tour. The who's who of pro Magic attended this event, with players coming from as far as Germany to play. Held at Neutral Ground: San Francisco (formerly known as MatchPlay), the Grand Prixattracted so many competitors, the organizers were forced to rent an empty store next door in order to accomodate everyone.
A total of 324 players competed in the Grand Prix playing Urza's Saga sealed deck, with top 64 advancing to day two and competing in booster drafts. A 5-1-1 record was needed to make day two. Surprisingly many of the top pro players in attendance were unable to make it. Randy Buehler, Dave Price, Brian Hacker, Steve O'Mahoney Schwartz, Scott Jones and several others of the Magic elite were eliminated surprisingly early.
After day one, three players remained undefeated. John Yoo of The Hitmen, Tony Tsai of the Deadguys and, in the first place, an underdog Mike Craig.
Day two featured two booster drafts and six rounds of intense competition. Finally, top 8 were announced. As it included two already-qualified players, the invitations were awarded to 9th and 10th place finishers - Tony Tsai (Deadguys) and Brian Weissman (The Legion).
Top 8 Draft and Playoff
Alan Comer quickly became Public Enemy #1, once other top 8 competitors learned that he passed Mark Schick a Morphling - one of the most powerful cards available in this set.
Comer denied ever passing the card, but Dan Gray confirmed that Comer, drafting red-green, took a Blanchwood Treefolk over it. "I did not pass a Morphling," said Comer, "but I probably would have. It was not in my colors."
In the first round, Comer faced Mike Craig, who after doing extremely well in the swiss rounds drafted a very weak deck in the top 8. Comer was able to destroy all of Craig's permanents by pulling off a Smokestack-two Fiery Mantle combo.
Meanwhile Mark Schick and Hashim Bello faced off in a blue-black vs. blue-black matchup. It was the most interesting match of the draft, as both players packed swampwalk creatures and Veiled Serpents, making their decks very powerful against each other. Bello won the first game, but lost the consecutive two because of the abovementioned Morphling.
Van Cleave's Skittering Skirge went all the way against Shawn Keller in a close race, and John Yoo's green-white deck defeated Shawn Roush's mono-white.
In the semi-finals, Richard Van Cleave managed to defeat Alan Comer in a very interesting match, despite losing a game to Shivan Hellkite. Schick got his Morphling on the table both games, and defeated Yoo, whose deck was unable to stop the versatile creature.
Inevitably, Schick drew Morphling in his opening hand. He played a few creatures early in the game which got removed by Van Cleave's pair of Pit Traps. Eventually, Schick played his Morphling, leaving a blue mana untapped. However, he severely underestimated the amount of creature removal Van Cleave's deck was packing. During Schick's discard phase, Van Cleave attempted to cast an Expunge on the Morphling, forcing Schick to tap out. Then, on his own turn, Van Cleave cast Befoul to kill Morphling.
For a dozen turns afterward, Schick kept drawing land while Van Cleave stockpiled removal. Van Cleave had a Vile Requiem and two Torch Songs in play, all accumulating counters. Eventually, Van Cleave was able to win the game dealing 13 points of damage via Torch Songs.
Van Cleave ritualed out a first turn Looming Shade followed by a Skittering Skirge a few turns later. Schick simply didn't draw any way to deal with the Skirge and had his own creatures removed quickly. He lost the game in about a dozen turns, making Van Cleave the winner.
Van Cleave, 23, of Louisville, KY has been playing Magic since The Dark expansion set, but only began playing competitively about six months before PT Paris. He qualified for that and two other Pro Tours but did not place highly in any of them.
Cleave has an excellent Grand Prix record lately, having finished 4th in GP Austin and 16th in GP Zurich
"I do not care which colors I play, as long as I draft enough removal,"
Van Cleave explains his strategy. "This format is much slower than Rath
cycle, so you can afford to play few creatures." This strategy obviously
worked for him, as Van Cleave won playing a total of 8 creatures in
his final draft.
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