2011 Grand Prix San Diego Day One Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on November 12, 2011

By Wizards of the Coast


  • by Marc Calderaro
    Saturday, 10:29 p.m.:
    Player of the Year Check-In
  • by Brian David-Marshall
    Round 8: Feature Match
    Matthias Hunt vs. Gene Brumby
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Sunday, 8:10 p.m.: Photo Essay
    Why Public Events are Awesome
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Round 7: "It Was Easy."
    Carlos Romão vs. Ricky Sidher
  • by Brian David-Marshall
    Saturday, 7:15 p.m.: Quick Questions
    Artist's Alley
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Saturday, 6:14 p.m.:
    Planeswalker Points? More like Planes-flyer Points! Amirite?
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Round 5: Battle of the Prixes
    Elie Pichon vs. David Sharfman
  • by Brian David-Marshall
    Round 4: Feature Match
    Jon Finkel vs. Alan Comer
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Round 3: C'mon, Lemme Break Some Cages
    David Shiels vs. Reid Duke
  • by Brian David-Marshall
    Saturday, 2:25 p.m.
    Controlling the Tempo with Ricky Sidher
  • by Marc Calderaro
    Saturday, 1:11 p.m.
    Aggro Sealed
  • by Event Coverage Staff
    Info: Fact Sheet

Saturday, 1:11 p.m. – Aggro Sealed

by Marc Calderaro

Ok, let's talk Creepy Doll. Decent card, right? I mean, it hasn't broken out in Constructed or anything, but as far as Sealed is concerned, it seems pretty good. It's Indestructible; it can be repeatable creature destruction; and it's colorless so it can go in any deck in any Sealed format. But Innistrad isn't any Sealed format. And after sitting down with Tracy Steele and his Grand-Prix Trial list from last night – complete with Creepy Doll sitting on the sidelines – I understood a little better just what separates Innistrad Sealed from the rest of the pack.

Tracy Steele

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Three Darkthicket Wolfs, Angelic Overseer, Champion of the Parish, Ulvenwald Mystics, two Avacyn's Pilgrims, and three (THREE!?) Travel Preparations!

"Tracy, this is a draft deck."

He laughed. "I couldn't dream of drafting this deck."

His other colors weren't too shabby either. Steele told me it was hard not to play Red – with an Instigator Gang, Blasphemous Act, Curse of the Pierced Heart and some decent removal – but, in the end, it just wasn't worth it.

"You can't afford to mess around with a control deck in this format. Especially in a single-elimination event like a Trial." There's certainly some data to back up that claim. Five of the eleven Trial winners from last night were Green/White, and *Spoiler Alert*: they weren't Green/White Control. Just get in and get out. That's just what Steele did. He mowed throw the competition with little concern, and earned himself three byes today.

Steele's a University of California—Irvine law student, who played for years in the Houston scene with current US Nationals Team member, Haibing Hu. I spoke with Steele about the format while he was battling over a much more difficult pool than his previous one. Bloodline Keeper and Morokut Banshee asked him to commit to Black, but you can't always do what vampires and ghouls tell you to. And he looked really close to some Blue aggro with a couple Silent Departure and a few Grasp of Phantoms, but no color was quite deep enough to allow for a solid two-color deck.

He wished multiple times for his previous pool. "It puts your build on auto-pilot," he said. "Just make sure you fill out your curve properly, and the rest falls into place." What he was saying sounded suspiciously like the deck-building tenets of a constructed Sligh deck, which is pretty remarkable for Sealed. How important is the creature-quality difference, really, between an Elder Cathar and an Instigator Gang? Steele answered with, "Not that much," and it was the correct answer.

I asked about any specifically cool blowout plays that happened. He thought for a minute before I suggested, "you know, like turn-four-Travel-Preparations-flashback-the-bash-for-seven type play?"

"Oh, those happened a bunch – like, every match." Bashing for seven on turn four. Every match. In Sealed. Yeah, maybe you'd better think long and hard before including a five-mana 1/1 without evasion.

Though Steele has a bumpier road ahead of him today than he did last night, those three free wins should be a nice cushion to smooth out the ride.

The icy stare of both Tracy Steele and Admiral Ackbar

Saturday, 2:25 p.m. – Controlling the Tempo with Ricky Sidher

by Brian David-Marshall

There were 11 Grand Prix Trial held the night before Grand Prix San Diego and 11 undefeated decks that emerged from those events. Five of those decks were green-white decks with efficient creatures cheap tricks and removal, and very little time for an opponent to gain their footing. Fellow coverage reporter Marc Calderaro caught up with Tracy Steele, who won the first Trial on Friday playing just such a deck, and I thought I would seek out a different approach to the format.

Midway through the day the MOCS-bound Ricky Sidher (aka _sipitholla on MTGO) won his three byes for Saturday morning with nary a sleeved Plains or Forest to be found in his starting line-up of 40 cards. Instead he played blue-black with while hiding behind a pair of Fortress Crabs, leaving his Delvers of Secrets on the bench, and a more old-school mana curve than we have seen coming out of Innistrad so far this Sealed Deck season.

I caught up with the 19-year old from Yuba City, California who was keeping on eye on his MOCS competition as Reid Duke had to play in a round three Feature Match. Sidher has always considered himself more of a Constructed specialist than anything else and he pointed to his only cash finish on the Pro Tour as evidence of that. His first PT was in Berlin -- prior the advent of split format Pro Tours -- and he navigated 14 rounds of Extended with Dark Zoo to emerge with a Top 64 finish.

I asked him how he approached his card pool and he explained that the cards lined up well with how he analyzes which colors he wants to play.

"The first thing I do is see what my bombs are -- what my rares are -- and try to build around those," said Sidher who had a bonus double-faced rare to work with. "The black in my pool was not very good but because it had Bloodline Keeper and Sever the Bloodline I decided to play black. I thought my other black cards were mediocre. I was playing Ghoulcaller's Chant...but they actually turned out to be really, really good. I was just maximizing my Bloodline Keeper's which is a good strategy. I even Evil Twinned my Bloodline Keeper numerous times."

For Ricky there is not a better card you can open in the format and it dictated all the other choices he made with his remaining cards.

Ricky Sidher

"I decided to play a second Fortress Crab over a second Makeshift Mauler," said Ricky who was playing Stitched Drake and Skaab Goliath in his deck along with the first Mauler. "I already had three of the zombie remove cards and I had the Ghoulcaller's Chants so I was trying to use my graveyard. I decided that Fortress Crab was not a super huge downgrade since my deck is just trying to make it to the late game."

Despite the advance hype for the vampire it was actually another card that earned MVP honors for Sidher.

"I thought Bloodline Keeper was going to carry me but it was really Evil Twin that carried me. I played it almost every game and I would get it back with Ghoulcaller's Chant," he said while describing a scenario where he had Evil Twinned a Stitched Drake. When he used it to kill the original his Splinter Twin was killed as well thanks to a morbid Brimstone Volley. No problem for Ricky, who got to Chant the Splinter Twin back and deal with the next big threat his opponent put out. "I never brought back two zombies with it," said Ricky of the surprising Ghoulcaller's Chant. "I would see two zombies and the Evil Twin and I always brought back the Splinter Twin."

"Typhoid Rats was -- and I am not sure if it still is -- one of the more underrated cards," said the MOCS competitor of the two speed bumps at the start of his mana curve. "It just shuts down aggro decks and werewolf decks. It is cheap enough that you can play two spells in one turn and it blocks and trades with everything."

Between the Rats and the Crabs the ground was pretty well locked up for Sidher and he looked to a pair of Geistcatcher Rigs to deal with flying creatures. He originally wanted just one in his deck but could not find a sideboard card that offered more upside.

"They were not extraordinary until the finals," said Sidher who was able to earn his byes against a deck heavy with flying in the final round. "When they are good they are insane and when it is not good it is still a 4/5 body for six mana, which isn't that bad."

Snapcaster Mage was another rare that Sidher had to work with but his pool did not offer a ton of synergy for the card other than the oft-mentioned Ghoulcaller's Chant.

"A lot of the spells in my deck have flashback already," said Sidher. "I did look at Legacy and if Unearth and Snapcaster Mage is good enough for Legacy we can rock the Snapcaster Mage/Ghoulcaller's Chant. I never got to do that though. Twice I just played it as a 2/1 surprise blocker and at least once it was really relevant."

Over the course of our discussion, Sidher had mentioned that one of the best ways to improve at Limited -- something he has been trying very hard to do heading toward the World Championships and MOCS -- is to play with other players in a live setting and talk about your plays, your card choices, and how you could have played better, even when you win. He pointed to an example from his Trial.

"I actually flashed back Lost in Mist with Snapcast Mage but I punted," laughed Sidher. "Tom Raney -- the value town master -- pointed out to me after the match that I should have returned Snapcaster Mage with the Lost in Mist. I didn't even think about that though."

Sidher was hopeful that he would be able to take those hard fought lessons and elevate his Limited game to where he needs it to be for cross-format Pro Tours. He has Worlds next weekend and was currently 30th in Planewalker Points in terms of an invite for Pro Tour Honolulu.

Blue Black Control - Ricky Sidher

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Round 3: C'mon, Lemme Break Some Cages - David Shiels vs. Reid Duke

by Marc Calderaro

Brian David-Marshall walked by as these two were shuffling up: "Pretty high profile match-up for only two byes." He's not kidding. David Shiels has already taken down a Grand Prix this year, and Reid Duke, a perennial writer in the community, and reiderrabbit online, is competing next week in his second Magic Online World Championship at Worlds, trying to beat his previous best finish of 5th.

Game 1

Typhoid Rats, Hamlet Captain and Daybreak Rangers came from Shiels, 1-2-3, and established a quick board presence. Duke was on the play and had mulliganed once, so he was functionally down two cards – though he wasn't functionally out. Voiceless Spirit, Champion of the Parish and Doomed Traveler, 1-2-3, matched Shiels's speed. But after some monster trading, some Ranger shooting, some werewolf transforming and some Skirsdag High Priest-ing, Duke was on the back foot. Though the scores were still high, 18-19, the board was getting scary on Shiels's side.

High Priest, Nightfall Predator, and two 5/5 flying Demons were against a lone Thraben Militia and some Islands and Plains. The 5/4 white trampler attacked, 13-19, and Duke passed the turn with six land up. Shiels might have smelled something fishy, but it didn't stop him from playing a pre-combat Travel Preparations. Duke jumped at the chance to cast Lost in the Mist, countering the +1/+1-granter and bouncing one of the demons. Shiels calmly flashed the Preparations back, then cast his last card, a Prey Upon, to take out the Militia before combat. It became 13-11.

Geistcatcher Rig from Duke was a boring old 4/5 not killing anything when it came into play, but it was a boring old 4/5 that attacks and blocks! And with some help from a Moment of Heroism, it can kill a Nightfall Predator and take Duke back up to 14. The Rig was then joined by an Abbey Griffin. Duke took Shiels down to 7, but was severely behind on board. Did he have an out in his tightly guarded grip?

Two attacks from Shiels showed that he didn't. Duke shuffled up for Game 2.

David Shiels 1 – 0 Reid Duke

"I know you never concede; it was really throwing me off," Shiels said as she riffled through his sideboard. "Have you done much testing for Worlds?"

David Shiels

Duke replied, "Yeah. I used to focus too heavily on Constructed, then I'd just fail in Limited. I might be over-compensating this year." Worlds is on just about everyone's mind this weekend, and understandably so.

They wished each other good luck, and drew for the next game.

Game 2

Shiels started off well. Within the first few turns he was holding a Prey Upon, two Ambush Vipers, a Smite the Monstrous, a Victim of Night and a Morkrut Banshee. Though that could appear to be a very controlling hand, Shiels played it aggressively. He dropped both Vipers at the end of Duke's turns, then used his Victim of Night to take out a Thraben Sentry clearing the way for the 2/1s going right past a tapped Selhoff Occultist. He attacked again the next turn. Duke's Moorland Haunt cannibalized his Sentry to make a flyer and block, but that enabled morbid – just what the GP—Dallas winner wanted. Shiels cast his Banshee and binned the Occultist, the last vestige of Duke's board. It was 15-14 in Shiels's favor.

"I really hate doing this," Duke said as he cast Silent Departure on the Banshee, who would relished another opportunity to come back into play. After more Moorland activations, it was a 1/1 Spirit facing off against the lonely Ambush Viper; the board was remarkably more stable than before.

For those not keeping track, we know Shiels still has his Prey Upon, Smite the Monstrous and the Morkrut Banshee, which was good. But Duke had some gas of his own. Because the Haunt allowed him to continually make flyers without costing him a card (the Occultist had put some creature food in the graveyard earlier), he had a veritable grip-full – including Slayer of the Wicked, Claustrophobia, and Midnight Haunting – and he still had the Silent Departure awaiting the flashback.

Duke unleashed the cards in a flurry after he baited the Banshee back down (using the old "Hey, we should really hurry up" routine – classic). He quickly made the scores 7-6. The Banshee got a case of the Claustrophobia and Duke's four 1/1 flying Spirits got a case of the wanting-to-attack-Shiels.

Shiels, who didn't have the luxury of making creatures out of dead ones, and just had to cast spells, was out of cards. Duke's creatures only had to turn sideways once more to convince Shiels it was over.

David Shiels 1 – 1 Reid Duke

Game 3

They were running out of time, and both significantly sped up their play in the rubber game. Duke led with a Champion of the Parish, Selhoff Occultist, Thraben Sentry and Abbey Griffin, while Shiels used a Avacyn's Pilgrim to power out a turn-three Galvanic Juggernaut, followed closely by a Markov Patrician and a Hamlet Captain. Play slowed back down after that hand vomiting.

When the big swing came in from Shiels a few turns later, the Patrician, the Captain and a Howlpack of Estwald all thrashed around and just the werewolf survived. Only Duke's Griffin hit his bin from play, though the Occultist also filled the graveyard with more creature-y goodies. It was 18-11 for Shiels when the Thraben Sentry turned into a Militia and the Juggernaut untapped. The turn passed.

Shiels's new Kessig Cagebreakers silently departed back to his hand, but was avenged by another Juggernaut attack. Shiels seemed a little surprised when Duke declined to block and lowered his total, making the score 18-6. Cagebreakers made a second appearance before going to the top of the library with a Grasp of Phantoms.

Reid Duke

Duke was having trouble winning, but not having trouble not losing. This would have been just fine, but then time was called. Duke went more overtly aggressive and tried to equalize the life totals. He did pretty well, making it 9-6.

In the final five turns, Cagebreakers tried to do something yet again. Duke was sitting on six land. If he could draw the last land, he could make it disappear once more by flashing back Grasp of Phantoms. If not, it would easily flip the board state, as Shiels had more than enough creatures in his graveyard to bury Duke for good. Duke looked at the top of his library and found what he was looking for. He played the fresh land and tapped them all. The Cagebreakers left play for a third time.

Duke had his Militia, the Occultist, a 3/3 Champion of the Parish and Doomed Traveler against an unflipped Villagers of Estwald and a tapped Galvanic Juggernaut. That last land really hurt Shiels.

"How many cards do you have left? One?"

"Yeah," Shiels replied. Everything but the Traveler attacked in Shiels's general direction. Shiels thought. "Did you just draw that land?"

Duke nodded his head. Shiels scooped up his cards.

Reid Duke 2 – 1 David Shiels

Round 4: Feature Match - Jon Finkel vs. Alan Comer

by Brian David-Marshall

With the start of Round Four everyone who was signed up for the tournament now had to earn their keep if they wanted to stick around. Players in the event earned between one and three byes a variety of different ways from ratings based bonuses to winning a grand Prix Trial or being among the bestplayerswhoeverplayedthegame -- such as Hall of Famers JonFinkeland AlanComer.

Both players were inducted into the Hall of Fame with the very first class and have 17 Pro Tour Top 8s between the two of them. Alan, who lives and works in the Bay Area would likely have been here no matter what for a GP in his own backyard but a Finkel sighting at a GP is something of a rarity these days. Both players were getting a little competitive tune-up before next week's World Championships in San Francisco. (Not that Jon needed much tuning after a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Philadelphia earlier this season.)

Game One

Doomed Traveler

Alan won the die roll and chose to be on the draw, drawing an arched eyebrow from Finkel who was ready to deploy a turn one Doomed Traveler -- something that would benefit from being on the play. While Jon was happy with his starting seven the same could not be said of Alan who shipped his hand back in search of something better.

Jon came out of the gate fast with the Traveler and turn two Cloistered Youth, which quickly transformed into Unholy Fiend. Alan played a pair of Islands while this was happening. Jon played Curiosity on the Fiend and attacked for four and drawing a card. Alan, was toying with his mana and he flashed out Snapcaster Mage eot. He untapped to play Spectral Flight on it, played Typhoid Rats, and said "go" with his creatures back and ready to slow down Jon's fast start.

"Mindshrieker," said Jon as he played the blue flier.

"Yes it is." agreed Alan but he did not sound happy about it. Jon used the Mindshrieker ability at the end of Alan's turn on himself looking to "draw" extra cards in the form of flashback spells. He did it again on his turn and flipped Angel of Flight Alabaster. Alan took 6 and Jon added Elder Cathar to his mounting army. .

Alan slowed the action down again, this time with Murder of Crows. Jon matched him with a Murder of his own and fell to 16 from the Unholy Fiend, passing the turn with no attack. Alan untapped and played a checklist card which was revealed to be Bloodline Keeper.

Jon played his sixth land and used the Mindshrieker, flipping Battleground Geist into his bin. .

"You are pretty good at that," sighed Alan as he braced for impact from the Shrieker. Jon was not quite ready to attack yet though. He played Smite the Monstrous on Alan's Murder, drew and discarded a card, and then attacked with everyone.Alan toyed with his blockers and finally put Keeper in front of Cathar, Rats in front of Fiend and Mage in front of Murder. Alan fell to two and Jon filtered through four cards from Murder triggers.

Alan drew his next card and then shook his head and reached for his sideboard.

Finkel - 1 Comer - 0

Jon Finkel

Game Two

"Good luck again," Alan said cheerfully as they were shuffling.

A mischievous grin tugged at the corners of Jon's mouth: "I wish us both exactly the same amount of luck as last game."

"I will keep," said Jon who was once again given the opportunity to play first by Alan.

"Same hand as last time," sighed Alan as he shuffled up for a new set of six.

Jon led things off with a turn two Mindshrieker followed by Cloistered Youth on turn three.

Galvanic Juggernaut

One-Eyed Scarecrow came down for Alan and while it kept the Mindshrieker at bay for the time being Alan took three from the Unholy Fiend before a Galvanic Juggernaut came down for Jon.

"Ah you beat him last time, don't worry," chuckled Alan as he played turn four Bloodline Keeper.

Jon attacked with everyone and Alan had no blocks. Alan fell to four when one of the two Mindshireker activations rolled Smite the Monstrous. Jon added Doomed Traveler.

Alan grimaced at the board and fretted over his next play. "At least this game I have choices," he muttered as his glance flicked between the board and his hand.

"You probably should make one of those choices..." gently urged the table judge.

Alan nodded and played Sensory Deprivation on the Unholy Fiend and crossed his fingers that he would not end up dead to the Mindshieker. Jon used his 'Shrieker twice and hit land and Silver-Inlaid Dagger. Jon attacked with Doomed Traveler and got to untap his Juggernaut when Alan blocked but Grasp of Phantoms put the Juggernaut on top of Jon's deck while Alan was still scuffling on only four land. Jon replayed the artifact creature and when he passed the turn fell to 16 from his Fiend. Alan played Forbidden Alchemy on his turn --presumably for land number five.

Jon played Curiosity on his Shieker and attacked with it and the Juggernaut. Alan put a Vampire token in front of each creature and Jon whiffed on his two Mindshrieker activations and he failed to even do any damage to the token. A sixth mana from Alan allowed him to Spapcaster back the Grasp of Phantoms on Jon's Juggernaut and start getting his tokens into the red zone.

Finkel - 1 Comer - 1

Alan Comer

Game Three

"Now I finally get to find out if you prefer to draw or play," laughed Alan, who had opted to be on the draw in each of the first two games.

"I will play first," said Jon who had a turn two Cloistered Youth to kick off the game. He swung for three and added Chapel Geist to the table -- Alan had played Diegraf Ghoul on his second turn. Sensory Deprivation took the Geist out of the equation and Typhoid Rats came down and traded with the Unholy Fiend.

Makeshift Mauler came down for Alan but when Jon played Angel of Flight Alabaster on the next turn it held the zombie at bay since the Deprived Chapel Geist was a spirit. Alan had to bide his time and player Manor Skeleton -- one of many time-biders he was playing in his deck to give him the best opportunity to get Bloodline Keeper out and active.

Smite the Monstrous

Jon flew in for four with his Angel and played Thrabin Senrty. Alan slowed down the Angel by making it carry some Dead Weight and also unleashed Ludovic's Test Subject. Jon, who was holding Smite the Monstrous, attacked for two and played Edler Cathar. While Jon wanted to sit on the Smite for the inevitable Test Subject but a Murder of Crows from Alan forced his hand. Jon played Smite and attacked in for two and played Mindshrieker.

Jon checked the timing of Angel of Flight Alabaster, confirming that since it required a target at the beginning of his upkeep he did not have a chance to use the Mindshrieker for a random shot at a bonus spirit. He drew for his turn, looked at Alan's untapped mana, and played Demonmail Hauberk.

"No!" said Alan as he countered it and reluctantly bounced the Angel with his last remaining card in hand. Jon attacked for one and whiffed on his Shrieker. Alan put three counters on the Test Subject EOT.

"Nineteen...." he said as he craned his neck to look at Jon's life total. He played Forbidden Alchemy. He ditched three lands. He passed the turn but needed Jon to mill four lands with Mindshrieker to not die on Jon's attack step. Jon hit on the second try.

"I kind of thought you had the Lost in Mist there," said Jon of the countered Hauberk and the unhatched Test Subject. "I just figured if you tapped your mana there I could not lose the game."

Final result: Pro Tour Hall of Famer Jon Finkel defeated Hall of Famer Alan Comer two games to one.

Round 5: Battle of the Prixes - Elie Pichon vs. David Sharfman

by Marc Calderaro

This, to me, seems the battle of the big 2011 Grand Prixes. Sharfman took down Grand Prix—Paris while Pichon slaughtered into the Top 8 of Grand Prix—Amsterdam. Those were the two largest Prixes this year. Such feats are by no means easy, and this is leaving out that Pichon is currently leading the Rookie of the Year race thanks to Top 8s, and Sharfman is right in the thick of it for Player of the Year, thanks to, you know, that little Pro Tour win earlier this year. So both these players are on a tear, positioned themselves well for Worlds, and are looking to get at least a Day-2 finish today, and hopefully more.

I had run into Sharfman while he was building his deck. It's a great-looking Blue-White concoction that splashes black for Sever the Bloodline and Evil Twin, but leaves a foil Liliana of the Veil in the sideboard. He was quite sad about not being able to play the tricked-out Planeswalker, but double-black is double-black, dudes.

The two shuffled up for game one and Sharfman started with a mulligan.

David Sharfman

Game One

Pichon curved out nicely. A Stitcher's Apprentice, Voiceless Spirit and Moon Heron all came down, followed up by Midnight Haunting and a Champion of the Parish. Sharfman had a turn-two Avacynian Priest. That was it.

He took a good look at the board, then at his hand, then decided that, indeed, that was it.

It was a quick game one, folks.

Elie Pichon 1 – 0 David Sharfman

Sharfman took out a Dissipate, Mask of Avacyn, Thraben Sentry and a Plains for an Armored Skaab, Corpse Lunge, Liliana of the Veil (FOIL) and a Swamp. He flashed me a small smirk when Pichon wasn't looking.

But he still started out the game with a mulligan.

Game Two

Pichon's deck was much, much slower this game. That was helpful for Sharfman, who cast a turn-three Geist of Saint Traft. Pichon tapped the top of his deck, then threw a Thraben Sentry in the way of the ghostly saint. But Sharfman had a Moment of Heroism ready, and Pichon could only cast a blank Slayer of the Wicked to hold off Sharfman's Legendary beater. And the Floridian wasn't done yet. He cast a Mindshrieker, Avacynian Priest and the sideboarded Armored Skaab, while Pichon just added a Priest of his own.

Mindshrieker attacked and milled a Selhoff Occultist and a Galvanic Juggernaut before Pichon Rebuked the 8/8 flyer. And here, the board stalled.

Elie Pichon

Sharfman was mad about two things: first, he had no Swamps. There were five black sources in his deck, but now the usually helpful Evil Twin was being rather un-helpful in his hand. And second, the milled Galvanic Juggernaut was, Sharfman reasoned, probably the only target in Pichon's deck for the Smite the Monstrous in his hand. So he had two worthless removal spells in his hand just hanging out, gunking up the works.

Nobody could safely attack, so more and more creatures were thrown onto the table. Moorland Haunt + Mentor of the Meek for Pichon acted as a makeshift card-advantage engine, while Sharfman's Makeshift Mauler acted as a, well, makeshift mauler. The zombie was tapped each turn by the opposing Priest, because such a grotesque display of hubristic audacity will never, ever, be a human. While flyer attacks back and forth put the total to 15-17 in Sharfman's favor.

The turns went by, and Pichon's Moorland Haunt tokens were slowly taking over. Pichon used Claustrophobia to take out an Abbey Griffin (tapped by the Priest), as Sharfman used a little mind-trickery to try and get back into this game.

He cast Gallows Warden and attacked with his Spectral Rider. Pichon quickly blocked with the first-striking Voiceless Spirit. Sharfman pointed at his Gallows Warden.

"It's a Spirit?! Oh..." Pichon binned his Voiceless, and now lifeless, spirit.

But Sharfman would need more than simple mind games to pull of out this one. More White and Blue evasive attacks from Pichon made the totals 11-7. Then, Pichon tapped a teamful on Sharfman's next attack with Feeling of Dread and the Avacynian Priest. When Pichon tapped the mana to flash the Dread back and tap the rest of the American's creatures, Sharfman extended his hand. That danged Feeling of Dread successfully pretended, yet again, that it was a Cryptic Command – except a common, and easier to cast, and not in Lorwyn.

Elie Pichon 2 – 0 David Sharfman

Saturday, 6:14 p.m. - Planeswalker Points? More like Planes-flyer Points! Amirite?

by Marc Calderaro

You see, if you fly in an air-plane, then you ... nevermind.

Big changes are on the horizon for the tournament scene. Oh, didn't you know? Well, in case you're a person who follows the coverage of Magic tournaments, but not the substance (not likely), the rating system for Magic is going through an overhaul. Shifting away from the Chess-like system of awarding points per win and subtracting per loss, the new system pares the idea down by simply rewarding winning and playing. Though the new "Planeswalker Points" system is not without its own idiosyncrasies (just as the previous one would many times actually discourage playing sanctioned Magic), the heart of the change encourages more Magic play – it's hard to argue with that. And believe it or not, there're plenty of people in the Magic community who like to play Magic. Those people can really use the Planeswalker Points to their advantage. Two such players, at the forefront of utilizing this new system, are James Searles and Melissa DeTora.

James Searles

When Searles saw the changes, he got an inspired idea. After some quick calculations, Searles realized that with a decent win percentage (read: good, not LSV-like), going to every Grand Prix is ludicrously to your benefit. He then pitched to Melissa DeTora his flighty concept (you see, in an airplane ... nevermind) of traveling to every Grand Prix possible.

"The new system really rewards people who have a win percentage of 60%, as opposed to, you know, 75%," Searles said, I wondered when they would develop a system for me, that rewards a win percentage of 20-25%. When I sat down with Searles and DeTora, Rhode Island-based Magicians who've known each other for twelve years, Searles was eager to discuss the intricacies of this master plan. He told me that during his last height of playing, from 2003-2005, there was no way he was seeing the return on all the time he was putting in like he is now.

"Just getting three byes at each Grand Prix is more than worth it," DeTora said. And it's so true. "It's so easy to go on tilt when you go into Round 3 at 2-1, knowing you're about to face all the pros who start at 3-0." The byes certainly give you a large amount of breathing room. This is especially true when you have a less-than-spectacular Sealed pool. Starting 3-0 might just be the edge you need to make a record good enough for Day 2. And DeTora has room to talk about winning in GPs. Though neither player finished outstandingly in the first couple tournaments, Milan and Brisbane, DeTora de-tore through Grand Prix—Santiago and finished in the Top 4 – with the help of some of those coveted byes. In the wake of that awesome finish, Melissa DeTora is currently ranked #2 in the world in Planeswalker Points, because of how the system multiplies points for larger events and more important wins.

Unlike grinding out all the drafts and FNMs you can, Searles said that focusing on the high reward Grand Prixes is the key. Sure, Friday Night Magic is a great way to get points, but to really maximize point possibilities and multipliers, you have to make that sacrifice and travel the globe. And what a "sacrifice" it is.

"I'd never been to Japan before! It was awesome." DeTora isn't the most talkative, but in the last couple months alone, she's seen more than her fair share of the world, and is pretty excited about it. When asked if there was any place in particular she was looking forward to, I should have anticipated the answer. "This is the first time I'll be qualified for a tournament in Hawaii. I really want to go there." Though she missed the last two big Pro Tours in Hawaii, this one is not going to pass her by. Sure sounds like a huge sacrifice to me.

Melissa DeTora

DeTora is gallivanting across the world and sitting pretty at number two in the world. It's looking more and more like DeTora is returning to her old form. A veteran of high-level play, before Searles's bright idea, she had been shifting away from intense competition.

Though DeTora is one of the winningest women in Magic's history, not many of those wins had come recently. Thinking her competition days were behind her, she began to focus more on judging. Last year, instead of competing in PTQs, she judged them.

"I was all set to take my test for level 2. It was lined up for the next PTQ," then Searles got that crazy plan. So now DeTora is back fully in the fray, seeing the world, slinging the cards, and pretty darn close to becoming the first woman with two Grand Prix Top 8s.

I'm not going to lie here guys, Searles's and DeTora's plan seems really solid. Though the long-term future is uncertain, being top-ranked, getting the maximum number of byes at every Grand Prix, and having a tremendous excuse to see the corners of the globe sounds like great rewards in and of themselves. And with the dramatically increased number of Grand Prixes slated for next year, there will be plenty of opportunities for more people to capitalize on a system that rewards just getting out there and doing it.

Best of luck to both James and Melissa for the rest of the weekend! If you want to follow their exploits around the world, follow them on Twitter: @AllWeDoIsWinPWP. Cute. You see PlanesWalker P– ... nevermind.

Saturday, 7:15 p.m. - Quick Questions: Artist's Alley

by Brian David-Marshall

Most of the San Diego trips I have made in my life have been to attend San Diego ComicCon. One of the highlights of that convention is always walking through Artist's Alley where you can meet a vast array of the industry's most famous cartoonists, purchase original art, and even get custom sketches from them. Grand Prix San Diego Tournament Organizer Tim Shields has put together a Magic Artist's Alley for this event that may not have the same quantity of artists as the one at Comic Con but the quality is second to none.

We walked through the tables here at Comic Con for a couple of Quick Questions with each artist to give you an idea who you were missing if you stayed home this weekend instead of being here.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Steve Argyle: Today it is Liliana of the Veil. It just came out and it is a big card in the environment right now. Besides that Bloodbraid Elf is a popular one, Everflowing Chalice and tons of Chandra Ablaze.

Steve Argyle

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Steve Argyle: I really couldn't say any particular one offhand....Chandra Ablaze was kind of a breakthrough piece for me. That's a really cool one. The alternate art piece I did for Ponder is the very first thing I did Magic so that one is a favorite. Naya Battlemage was another breakthrough piece for me. Slave of Bolas is another one I really like...

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Rob Alexander: The Ravinca cycle of dual lands. They pretty much come in sets of 40. That must be how they are sold.

Rob Alexander

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Rob Alexander: The DCI Exalted Angel if I had to pick just one because I don't see it too often as a card to sign and I love the illustration.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Franz Vohwinkel: I think that is Glacial Fortress. I assume it is because it is a popular card and everybody plays it. I also sign Oblivion Ring and Fire//Ice a lot.

Franz Vohwinkel

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Franz Vohwinkel: Time Sieve, I would say. I just like it. It was fun to do, it looks great.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Pete Venters: Considering I have 281 cards it is actually impossible to say. At this show I would say there has been an unusual amount of the Unglued goblin token.

Pete Venters

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Pete Venters: It comes down to three actually. It is Tanglewalker because it was part of an experiment in Darksteel to actually let the artists come up with something and then design the card around it. Since I don't normally get stuff that is pretty the fact that I got to design a metal dryad for the metal trees kind of rocked. Raksha Golden Cub because it was one of those cards that really, really worked. And Drawn Together from Unhinged because that was a vanity project to do a retrospective on my career. That was something that was never going to come around again so I spent like three weeks on that painting.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Mark Tedin: I would probably say Juzam Djinn or one of the more common cards from the early ones -- Sol Ring was common so I got sign and draw on that one quite a bit.

Mark Tedin

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Mark Tedin: For awhile it was Mindstab Thrull just because it came out exactly the way I envisioned it. More recently Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is a favorite because I think it is painted really well. The original art for that was very large.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Anson Maddocks: Probably Llanowar Elves or Maze of Ith. It just depends on what it popular at the time. They come and go based on the popularity of where the game is shifting.

Anson Maddocks

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Anson Maddocks: Cyclopean Tomb -- regardless of the mana cost.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

D. Alexander Gregory: These days Gifts Ungiven probably. That's the one I get requested the most for sketches and things of that nature as well.

Alexander Gregory

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

D. Alexander Gregory: Oh wow...I am very nostalgic for Final Fortune. It is from Mirage. It was beautiful in Mirage because you had fantasy that was taking place in an African setting, which we don't see a lot of in fantasy -- you just don't see it at all actually. That's what I really like about Mirage and even Visions. Ever once in awhile I get asked about Wicked Reward or cards like that so I think it must have struck a cord with people as well.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Jason Felix: Most frequently would be two -- Ob Nixilis, The Fallen and All Is Dust with equal compatibility as far as popularity.

Jason Felix

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Jason Felix: The thing that I loved about that card is the point of story. There is a huge element that it gives you a sense of the world and what it looks like. There is also this element of how destructive the creatures are -- the Eldrazi are coming and they completely decimate everything. To me that summarized the essence of the whole block. The Eldrazi are here to kick some ass. That seems to be happening more and more with the cards that they are embodying a sense of story.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

rk post: Since there are going to be six versions of it -- Avatar of Woe. It might be different for this event since someone brought me a binder with 300 copies of Jeska, Warrior Adept in it.

rk post

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

rk post: It goes back and forth between two cards either Unmask or Knight of Dusk -- I have that artwork on my business cards.

QQ: What is the card you are most frequently asked to sign?

Alex Horley-Orandelli: It depends on the show. The winner at this show was Keldon Marauders but every show is different.

QQ: What is your personal favorite illustration from your canon of Magic cards?

Alex Horley-Orandelli

Alex Horley-Orandelli: I did quite a few so it is hard to pick one but the one that is the most meaningful for me is Blaze because it was the first one I did. Maybe it is not the best one technically but it is the one I am most attached to for some reason.

Round 7: "It Was Easy." - Carlos Romão vs. Ricky Sidher

by Marc Calderaro

Carlos Romão has a Magic resume as long as a Runechanter's Pike (if there're a lot of Instants and/or Sorceries in the graveyard, of course). Along with seven Grand Prix Top 8s (three of which he won), he's a former physical World Champion and currently the reigning digital World Champion. It's because, kids, Romão is a baller. And don't forget it.

Ricky Sidher is a baller too, just one with a significantly smaller Magical resume. He won three byes last night at a Grand Prix Trial, and he's competing in this year's MOCS Championship next week, in hopes of dethroning aforementioned Romão baller. Let's see what kind of dethroning he can do right now.

Game One

The two MOCS-ers quickly shuffled, drew, and started swinging. Sidher opened up with an Unruly Mob and Voiceless Spirit, getting in there for a few points of damage. Romão used a Forbidden Alchemy to find food for a timely Makeshift Mauler. His mana was looking shaky, but such an early 4/5 could hopefully hold down the fort and buy some time to draw out of the rut.

Not so, Sidher replied; he quickly cast Claustrophobia on the abhorrent zombie and knocked the former World Champ down a few more. A Lantern Spirit tried to stem Romão's bleeding by pulling a bouncing act, but Geist-Honored Monk spurred on the tempo of the game even faster.

Ricky Sidher

Realizing his only defense required him to use four mana every turn to merely stop a couple points of damage, and not seeing any help from the top of his library, Romão quickly scooped them up and headed to game two.

Ricky Sidher 1 – 0 Carlos Romão

"So how'd it feel winning the MOCS?" Sidher inquired, anxious about his own competition coming up.

Baller played it cool. "It was good." He said something like that, equally coy and awesome.

Game Two

The two started quickly, just as they had in the previous game. Two Civilized Scholars faced off against one another with a Walking Corpse for Romão and an Invisible Stalker for Sidher.

Romão discarded a Ghoulraiser to uncivilize the Scholar into a Homicidal Brute. Sidher took five damage right in his facial area (after already taking two from the Corpse), but he had a Silent Departure for the Brute, and a Silver-Inlaid Dagger for his Invisible Stalker. Seemingly in an instant, the life totals were 15-9 in favor of Romão.

Manor Gargoyle and Stitcher's Apprentice added to Romão's team while Sidher added a Voiceless Spirit. Romão had no answer yet for the 4/1 unblockable, hexproof dude, and it was chip-chip-chipping away at his life. Romão used a Morkrut Banshee to shrink his opponent's board to just the Stalker and Scholar. But had still not found the opportunity to recast his own scholarly gent.

Carlos Romão

Romão's troubles continued went the Manor Gargoyle was given an acute case of Claustrophobia. The life totals were 2-5. Romão swung in with the Banshee, hoping to leave the Stalker all alone on the field. And it happened, just not in the way he had hoped. Sidher's Civilized Scholar transformed mid-combat to take out the Banshee.

Romão rebuilt with his Scholar and new Typhoid Rats, then sacrificed his Gargoyle to make a 2/2 Homunculus at the end Sidher's next turn. It was Romão's last chance to do something awesome before the stupid invisible guy wielding a knife would take him down for good.

Romão drew his card off Civilized Scholar – he had two land and a Makeshift Mauler. He thought long and hard. He discarded the Mauler and swung in with his team. If Sidher improperly blocked with his fresh Avacynian Priest, Romão could take the game.

Ricky Sidher did not, and advanced his standing to 6-0-1.

Ricky Sidher 2 – 0 Carlos Romão

"Oh, and good luck at the MOCS tournament," Romão added. "It was easy."

Once a baller, always a baller.

Sunday, 8:10 p.m.: Photo Essay – Why Public Events are Awesome

by Marc Calderaro

There's this Public-Events tournament that just kicked off. It's a Modern tournament. It's like other such Modern tournaments, except the first-place prize is something a little different than a box of cards or a giant check.

Remember all the artists that are hanging out here in Artists' Alley? What would you think if they all made custom playmats and the winner gets every single one of them? Well I'll answer my own question by saying, "I think it'd be ultra sweet, Marc! Where do I sign up?"

"Marc, even though you missed the sign-ups for the one tonight, the Tournament Organizer, Cascade Games, have commissioned a second set of playmats to give away at a second tournament tomorrow! Can you believe that?"

"No way, bro. No way."


So even jibber-jabber. How 'bout the playmats already?

Peter Venters
Mark Tedin
Jason Felix
Franz Vohwinkel
D Alexander Gregory
Anthony Francisco
Anson Maddocks
Alex Horley-Orandelli
rk post
Rob Alexander
Steve Argyle

Even if tomorrow's mats are only half as good as tonight's, which I highly doubt, they will still be super-awesome-radical-boss-tastic! And don't worry, I'll post another set of photos for ya'll.

Round 8: Feature Match - Matthias Hunt vs. Gene Brumby

by Brian David-Marshall

The penultimate round of Day One saw a clash between two eccentric Constructed deck builders from different parts of the world. New Zealand's Gene Brumby is probably best known for his Mesmeric Orb/Aphetto Alchemist deck/Dredge deck at Pro Tour Berlin. Hunt, who is from Minnesota first attracted attention at the very first GP this season when his Scapeshift/Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck won Atlanta in the hands of Jason Ford.

As the two players shuffled up for their games the mood was quite friendly. They were both 7-0 and had spent a handful of rounds playing around each other.

Game One

"Did you win the die roll by default?" asked Hunt, who had won the roll and chose to be on the play. Many players want to draw in Sealed deck formats but Hunt was playing a very aggressive deck with inexpensive threats and a minimum of lands -- he was only running 15.

"I am not sure it is quite that kind of format," shrugged Brumby who played a turn one Blazing Torch on the draw. Hunt's deck was not performing as advertised when he passed turn two with no play into an Unruly Mob for Brumby

Chapel Geist landed on the next turn for Hunt. Brumby merely outfitted his Mob with the Blazing Torch and passed the turn. Hunt attacked for two and laughed as he played the obviously just-drawn Walking Corpse: "This guy I should have played on turn two."

"Didn't want to?"

"I just missed it," laughed Hunt until he saw Sticher's Apprentice from Brumby. "You have the combo online?"

"Not much of a combo."

"It will get scary soon enough," said Hunt of the possibility for the Mob to get out of hand. He attacked with both his creatures and Brumby put both his guys in the path of the Walking Corpse. Something tricky was up but Hunt was not sure what it was until Brumby played Spare from Evil. Hunt nodded and sacrificed his Corpse to Altar's Reap. Brumby fell to 16 from the flier.

Brumby attacked for two and played Gallows Warden. Hunt cracked Traveler's Amulet and got a Mountain.

"Something sick is coming this way. I can feel it," said Brumby.

Hunt just played Brimstone Volley to take out the flier and attack for two -- he played another Amulet.

"Attempted Murder?" asked Brumby as he played the 4/4 blue flier. Hunt sighed and sacrificed the Amulet EOT for another Mountain. Brumby laughed and pointed at the Chapel Giest. "I am starting to think you are splashing white for this guy."

"Stitcher's Apprentice has so much value right now. Put a counter on your guy, loot..." said Hunt who was thinking about what needed killing.

"He has been getting in for some damage too..."

Hunt attacked with the Geist and Brumby chose not block it with Murder of Crows. Hunt nodded and played Dead Weight on the Unruly Mob. Then he talked himself into playing Slayer of the Wicked for no vlaue. "You're blue white..."

Brumby had Deranged Assistant and attacked for four. When Hunt declared his attack step Brumby flashed back the discarded Feeling of Dread. Hunt played Abattoir Ghoul and it promptly drew fire from the Blazing Torch.

Brumby untapped and played Angelic Overseer. Hunt looked over and saw there were a couple of humans and they moved onto the next game.

"I think I have a sideboard..." mused Hunt. "I haven't brought in any cards all tournament."

"I know the feeling," said Brumby. Such is the way of the 7-0 players.

Matthias Hunt

Game Two

"I will play again," said Hunt.

Brumby led off the action with Doomed Traveler on the draw. Hunt triumphantly played Walking Corpse and declared: "Take that 1/1"

"My 1/1 has been outclassed," agreed Brumby who added an Unruly Mob.

The two players cracked back and forth with their meager teams after a Vampire Interloper joined forces on Hunt's side of the table. Hunt was tight on mana but still had enough left over to play Geistflame in response to Brumby equipping Mob with a freshly cast Blazing Torch. He equipped the Traveler and attacked.

Hunt attacked for four and played Silverchase Fox -- he was working off of three lands -- and frowned at Brumby's Makeshift Mauler. "That is not very nice of you."

Hunt played Cobbled Wings and equipped his Walking Corpse -- Brumby used Torch in response to kill it. When Brumby cracked back with his team Hunt considered blocking the Doomed Traveler with his Fox but was reluctant to give Brumby a flier that could block his Interloper.

There was big laugh when Brumby declared "That is a cheeky little savage you have there," in response to Hunt playing Mausoleum Guard when he finally found his fourth land. Hunt tried to repeat it back "That is a cheeky little --" but he lost it in the translation of accents from New Zealand to Minnesota and just laughed instead and happily blocked the Makeshift Mauler in exchange for two flying spirit tokens.

Hunt suited up the Fox and attack for six in the air but Brumby played Rebuke on the Interloper and took four instead. Hunt played Doomed Traveler which promptly chumped the Mauler. "Hit you for a cheeky one," said Brumby as his Doomed Traveler got in for damage.

It was Hunt's game to end a game by playing a card -- Olivia Voldaren came down for him.

"I have a rare!"

"Round three...fight!" said Brumby.

Gene Brumby

Game Three

"The option is on you," said Hunt.

"Okay then I am going to win."

"There is another option on you as well," smiled Hunt.

"I am going to play."

"Are you sure about that?" frowned Hunt.

"It is the first time I have gotten the choice all day."

Hunt led off with an on the draw Doomed Traveler and followed up Brumby's turn two Silverchase Fox with Vampire Interloper. "I am going to play a creature every turn this game."

Brumby attacked with the Fox and played a double-faced card which turned out to be Delver of Secrets.

"You are so cool!" beamed Hunt who had remarked between games about how their decks were characterized by cheap creatures that are traditionally not played in Sealed Deck environments.

Hunt attacked for and played Walking Corpse and Traveler's Amulet. Brumby played Slayer of the Wicked to take out the Corpse and get in for three. Gallows Warden a turn later from Brumby was tied up with Bonds of Faith as was his Murder of Crows a turn later. Brumby, who flipped his Delver -- finally -- with a Smite the Monstrous was able to loot by using his Silverchase Fox to free his Murder of Crows. A Blazing Torch and a Moment of Heroism later and he had taken the third game.

Final result: Gene Brumby defeated Matthias Hunt two games to one to go 8-0 on Day One with only one round remaining.

Saturday, 10:29 p.m. - Player of the Year Check-In

by Marc Calderaro

We haven't heard much from all the Player of the Year hopefuls today. They've mostly been silently kicking the crap out of everyone around them, as per usual. But when the last round pairings went up, and Shuhei Nakamura and Owen Turtenwald were faced against one another, it was a strong reminder of, oh yeah, there's a lot riding on this Grand Prix going into Worlds next week. Both Nakamura and Turtenwald were undefeated and had already secured a Day-2 birth. I decided to take a walk around the room to survey where our other hopefuls stood and how that might readjust the horses in the race.

Shouta Yasooka and Luis Scott-Vargas were both 7-1 and were automatically into to play tomorrow. I stopped by Scott-Vargas' game for a few minutes and watched him with a heck of a loop going on. He had a Charmbreaker Devils in play and his only Instant or Sorcery in the graveyard was a Divine Reckoning. Yeah, I think Luis is going to be fine.

Martin Juza

Those who were not going to be fine were Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa, who lost earlier in the day; Vincent Lemoine, who could be seen watching the Nakamura-Turtenwald match-up from the audience area; and David Sharfman who flashed me a thumbs down and a head shake after the previous round. All three of those players were in the 7, 9 and 10 slots of the Top 10, and could have really used the extra boost if they wanted to take down the top dogs. Ben Stark was sitting at X-3 heading into the round, and though there were rumors of it being statistically possible for such a record to make it to Day 2, I think such claims are dubious at best. That still bodes OK for Stark though, as he's only four points off Turtenwald's lead. So even without a Sunday finish this weekend, a good run in the next can turn it all around.

Luis Scott-Vargas

The other Player of the Year hopefuls poised for Day Two were Yuuya Watanabe and Martin Juza, both at X-2. Watanabe was winning his first game last I saw him, and I became transfixed by Juza's game. Juza had a very, very powerful Red-Black deck but it had a higher curve than most. Watching him be stuck on three land, with a handful of great cards that cost four was very frustrating. Across the battlefield from him was a Mindshrieker endlessly plucking away his life total into the single digits. But a funny thing happened. The Mindshrieker just kept hitting lands, two a turn. Normally this would be bad, but Juza started drawing the lands he needed anyway. This happened two turns in a row, showing that there were six land on the top of Juza's deck. So though the bird was milling away the precious land, it was buying Juza the time he needed. This was especially important, because if at any time the Mindshrieker had milled Juza's Army of the Damned, that would have been that. Crazy little game.

So what does this mean? Well, Nakamura's start definitely puts him back in the pack. He's currently 13 points behind, but remember, he's Shuhei. The man has one Grand Prix Top 8 this season and still has 41 pro points. That's crazy. Remember, a bet against Shuhei is always a bad bet.

As for the other Japanese players, Yasooka and Watanabe can make up some ground and perhaps jump into the top three with solid days tomorrow. They're 10 and 7 points back, respectively, and with a Top 8 or even a win, that gap just melts away.

But both LSV and Turtenwald, expectedly, are sitting pretty. LSV was four points off of Turtenwald coming in, but even if one crashes and burns tomorrow while the other neither crashes nor burns, they'll still be in striking distance of one another heading into Northern California.

As some of the dark horses fall, the road narrows, winding toward the apex of the mountain that is San Francisco. Good lord, it's next week isn't it?!

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