by Steve SadinRound 9 Feature MatchPatrick Chapin (4 Color Control) vs. Alex Majlaton (Blue White)
by Jacob van LunenRound 7 Feature MatchOwen Turtenwald (Bant Control) vs. Alexander Hayne (Blue/White Flash)
by Jacob van LunenSaturday, 7:15 p.m.: Quick HitsWhat's the best control deck in Standard
by Steve SadinRound 6 Feature MatchJosh Utter-Leyton (Craterhoof Combo) vs. Reid Duke (Bant Control)
by Jacob van LunenRound 5 Feature MatchGerard Fabiano vs Brad Nelson
by Steve SadinRound 4 Feature MatchDavid Ochoa (Blue White) vs Korey McDuffie (Blue White Red)
by Jacob van LunenSaturday, 4:10 p.m.Freighthopping with Calcano
by Jacob Van LunenSaturday, 2:15 p.m.:
Quick HitsBest aggro deck in Standard?
by Jacob Van LunenSaturday, 10:47 a.m.The Evolution of Standard
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 10:47 a.m. – The Evolution of Standard
Hello and welcome to Grand Prix Charleston. Today, we're going to watch 661 players test their mental agility and endurance in an effort to make it to the second day of competition in this Standard Grand Prix. Return to Ravnica Standard has been in a constant state of evolution. Let's take a look at how this format developed over the last month and a half.
Return to Ravnica Standard was blazingly fast in the beginning. Red decks and aggressive Gravecrawler decks were the top dogs. Neither of these decks were particularly good at blocking, so the decks quickly became geared toward reducing the opponent's life total from twenty to zero in the shortest time frame possible, throwing caution to the wind.
Most players recognized the excessively aggressive nature of the format and decided to take a step back and slow things down. Players began ramping into Thragtusk and filling their Graveyards with Grisly Salvage/Mulch in an effort to Unburial Rites targeting Angel of Serenity or Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. The presence of Centaur Healer and Thragtusk in tandem was enough to push the most aggressive decks out of the spotlight. By late October the format was all about Unburial Rites.
It didn't take long before Rest in Peace and Purify the Grave began to show up in everyone's sideboards. The Unburial Rites strategies were still strong, albeit slow, and players needed to go one step slower to give themselves a better matchup against the tier one deck of the time. Green/White/Blue Control strategies, often splashing a fourth color, became the flavor of the week. The deck aimed to beat the Unburial Rites decks by controlling the board with Planeswalkers like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage while burying the opponent in card advantage with Sphinx's Revelation.
Planeswalker control decks remained dominant for the better part of two weeks, but players in the know quickly recognized the strength of countermagic and Blue/White Control decks began their rise to power. The Blue/White Control deck can play a stifling control game, passing the turn and countering all the important spells played by the opponent. When given an opening, the deck begins to apply pressure with cards like Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel. Runechanter's Pike lets the deck close games very quickly, often in two attacks. Against more controlling decks the inevitability of Moorland Haunt in conjunction with Runechanter's Pike is usually enough to grind out the game.
Blue/White control decks seem to be the format favorite coming into this event, but the rising popularity of Cavern of Souls threatens to dethrone Blue/White and crown a new tier one. Stay tuned to Grand Prix Charleston and Bochum coverage to watch the continuing evolution of Return to Ravnica Standard.
Saturday, 2:15 p.m. - Quick Hits: What's the best aggro deck in Standard?
Kenny Mayer: "Black-Green Zombies because of Rancor."
Brian Kibler: "Green/White, Silverblade Paladin is sick."
Joshua Cho: "Red/Black Zombies, it plays the most high power one-drops."
Saturday, 4:10 p.m. - Freighthopping with Christian Calcano
Christian Calcano has been hanging onto the train Indiana Jones style since 2010. In grave danger of falling onto the tracks after a disappointing performance at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, Calcano has managed to reestablish himself as the real deal with a win at Grand Prix Minneapolis and top 25 finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. I had the opportunity to sit down with the most recent North American Standard Grand Prix Champion and pick his brain.
- You had a pretty good run at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Did that finish encourage you to continue chasing the train or were you going to be traveling to all the events this year regardless?
"I don't know about all of them. That finish definitely encouraged me to go to more events. I was definitely going to come here, but I probably wouldn't have gone to Chicage or San Antonio. Now I'm going to everything."
- You won the most recent Standard Grand Prix in America. How do you make a deck choice for a tournament this large?
"Well, I looked to see what decks were doing well. I wanted to play a deck that could do well against the field and a deck that I would enjoy."
- What do you think is the most underrated card in Standard right now?
"Definitely Slaughter Games. A lot of decks, at least those that have been doing well, they have one card that swings the game in their favor. Being able to get rid of their best card gives you a better chance of winning."
- You've had a reasonable amount of success on the Pro level. You worked for a long time to get where you are today. Do you have advice for up and coming PTQ grinders that are trying to get on the train?
"My best advice is to play in as many high level tournaments as you can."
Christian Calcano is on the rise and hunting for a spot in the 2013 Players' Championship. Only David Ochoa, Joshua Utter Leyton, and Brian Kibler currently stand in his path to the top of the North American leaderboard. Will Christian be able to repeat his Minneapolis performance here in Charleston? Stay tuned to Grand Prix Charleston coverage to follow Christian Calcano through all the trials and tribulations of Return to Ravnica
Round 4 Feature Match - David Ochoa (Blue White) vs. Korey McDuffie (Blue White Red)
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica semifinalist David Ochoa came into Grand Prix Charleston sporting what many top pros consider to be the deck to beat at this event – Blue White Control.
His opponent for this round, Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth Top 8 alum Korey McDuffie is also playing a base Blue White deck. But, rather than stick to straight Azorius, McDuffie chose to splash red for additional removal spells and Thundermaw Hellkites that he thought would improve his matchup against aggressive decks.
Ochoa won the roll and opened with a Runechanter's Pike on turn two, but neglected to follow it up with any plays for the following few turns. McDuffie meanwhile, got stuck on three lands, and when he went to discard Ochoa took the opportunity to cycle a Thought Scour, and an Azorius Charm. At this point, rather than discard, McDuffie decided to cast a Snapcaster Mage.
Ochoa let the Snapcaster Mage resolve, and continued making his land drops while the mana starved McDuffie could only attack for 2 a turn. By the time McDuffie finally found his 4th land, Ochoa was in a very good spot with 6 lands of his own and a hand full of spells.
Ochoa, now flush with lands and consequently unconcerned with the thought of tapping a little bit of mana cast an end of turn Snapcaster Mage, flashing back Thought Scour. Still on his own end step, McDuffie used a Searing Spear to kill the Snapcaster Mage while Ochoa cast two more Thought Scours to help him fill up his graveyard with instants and sorceries for his Runechanter's Pike.
At this point, Ochoa could have equipped his Runechanter's Pike to his Augur of Bolas and attempted to kill McDuffie as quickly as possible. But he didn't
The ever patient Ochoa, wanting to ensure that he had the mana to play around any answer that McDuffie could have, waited until he had 8 lands to equip Runechanter's Pike to his Augur of Bolas. McDuffie, not wanting to take a huge hit, tried for a Snapcaster Mage that would have allowed him to flash back his Searing Spear. But Ochoa had a Dissipate – allowing him to set up an attack for 8 that knocked McDuffie down to 9.
At a mere 9 life, and staring down a Restoration Angel and a Runechanter's Pike, the best that McDuffie could hope to do was to try to buy himself a little bit of time by playing a Thundermaw Hellkite that he would have to immediately chump block with. But an Essence Scatter prevented him from doing even that, giving Ochoa a one game lead.
David Ochoa 1 – Korey McDuffie 0
Knowing how deadly the Runechanter's Pike can be in this matchup, McDuffie tried to exile it with a Detention Sphere. And while Ochoa had a Faith's Shield to attempt to protect it, McDuffie had the Dissipate that he needed to win the counter fight.
McDuffie wiped the board with a Supreme Verdict, and then deployed his first threat of the game -- a Restoration Angel. After taking a couple of hits from the Restoration Angel, Ochoa drew a Moorland Haunt that he had more than ample fuel for in his graveyard.
Once Ochoa was up to 3 tokens (and down to 5 life), McDuffie cast an overloaded Mizzium Mortars that Ochoa countered with Rewind (a play which allowed Ochoa to generate yet another token with his Moorland Haunt). Ochoa untapped, attacked with his fliers, and promptly passed the turn back.
McDuffie then tried for another Mizzium Mortars on the following turn – and Ochoa responded with a Snapcaster Mage. McDuffie attempted to counter the wizard with an Essence Scatter – but Ochoa was able to force it through with a Dispel. Ochoa then flashed back a Rewind, giving himself the mana that he needed to Dissipate McDuffie's follow up play of Detention Sphere.
....giving Ochoa just the opening that he needed for his Runechanter's Pike to take the match.
David Ochoa 2 – Korey McDuffie 0
Round 5 Feature Match - Gerard Fabiano vs. Brad Nelson
Gerard Fabiano and Brad Nelson have been under the bright lights many times before. Brad Nelson has multiple Pro Tour and Grand Prix top eights with a Player of the Year title to top it all off. Gerard Fabiano has been a mainstay of the Pro Tour for the last decade, a staggering 244 lifetime pro points speak for themselves.
Nelson won the roll and chose to go first, but was forced to send back his opening seven cards. His six card hand looked better and both players were ready to get into the thick of things.
Nelson spent his first few turns setting up a devious plan for later in the game. Avacyn's Pilgrim into Mulch and a pair of Tracker's Instincts revealed that Nelson was planning on ending the game quickly with a Craterhoof Behemoth.
Brad Nelson (2)
The sinister plan that had been revealed so early finally came to fruition as Nelson cast Unburial Rites targeting Craterhoof Behemoth. Gerard was still at 28, but the massively powerful Avacyn Restored Mythic was able to punch through more than enough damage.
This time it was Fabiano's turn to mulligan. Six cards were good enough and the second game was underway.
Fabiano led things off with Deathrite Shaman, a card that performs very well against a deck with lots of Flashback and a reanimator plan.
Nelson put the game into hyper speed mode and started unloading his hand of mana creatures while Fabiano suffered from mana issues despite a Mulch. Avacyn's Pilgrim, Arbor Elf, and a pair of Somberwald Sages were staring down a single Deathrite Shaman on the other side of the table.
Fabiano was safe from a reanimated Craterhoof Behemoth thanks to Deathrite Shaman, but the pair of Somberwald Sages on the other side of the table were enough for Nelson to cast another Arbor Elf and plop his gigantic fatty onto the table. Craterhoof Behemoth and friends came crashing into the red zone for well over 20 damage and Fabiano was left trampled.
Brad Nelson 2 - Gerard Fabiano 0
Round 6 Feature Match - Josh Utter-Leyton (Craterhoof Combo) vs. Reid Duke (Bant Control)
While many of his ChannelFireball teammates decided to play Blue White Control this weekend, Josh Utter-Leyton instead opted to go with Brad Nelson's Craterhoof Combo deck (which Brad has affectionately titled 'hoof there it is'). His opponent for this round, fellow 2012 Players Championship competitor Reid Duke, didn't go for anything nearly as crazy -- instead shuffling up a heavily tuned Bant Control deck.
Josh Utter-Leyton kicked things off in the first game with Tracker's Instinct, followed by Somberwald Sage, Lingering Souls, and an Avacyn's Pilgrim. Meanwhile Duke spent his first couple of turns drawing extra cards, before attempting to lock Utter-Leyton's Reanimator deck out with a Ground Seal, and a Pithing Needle naming Gavony Township.
Josh Utter Leyton
However, those cards, which are normally devastating against Reanimator decks, weren't so much as a nuisance to Utter-Leyton who calmly untapped and cast a Craterhoof Behemoth -- setting up a lethal attack on his 5th turn by giving all of his creatures +5/+5 and trample.
"Alright. Quick and painless at least," said Duke with a smile as he reached for his sideboard.
Josh Utter-Leyton 1 – Reid Duke 0
Utter-Leyton got off to another aggressive start in the second game by playing Arbor Elf and Loxodon Smiter – while Duke once again hoped to eliminate any chance for graveyard-related shenanigans by casting Rest in Peace.
This time around, Utter-Leyton didn't have the pieces that he needed to power out a quick Craterhoof Behemoth kill – so he had to "settle" for a turn 4 Thragtusk. Duke had a Thragtusk of his own, and the two beasts quickly traded – only to be replaced a turn later.
This near-parity wouldn't last for long – as a Restoration Angel (which gave Utter Leyton an additional Beast token thanks to Thragtusk), and a Gavony Township gave Utter-Leyton a huge lead on board, and allowed him to knock Duke down to 4. However, a Terminus later, and Utter-Leyton was left hoping that his Avacyn's Pilgrim would be able to do some heavy lifting.
Josh Utter-Leyton 2 – Reid Duke 0
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. - Quick Hits: What's the best control deck in Standard
Shaheen Soorani: "Esper Walkers, Planeswalkers are overpowered"
Christian Calcano: "My deck! It plays Slaughter Games!"
Brian Kibler: "If you consider Blue/White Flash a Control deck…"
Ben Friedman: "Blue/White Flash; it reminds me of Cawblade and Delver, two of my favoritest decks ever!"
Sunday, 4:35 p.m. - Drafting with Shouta Yasooka
Beating Cavern of Souls with Control
by Steve Sadin
Blue control decks have been making their presence felt in Return to Ravnica Standard. But as decks with Essence Scatters, Dissipates, Syncopates, and even Rewinds have risen to prominence, players have inevitably begun to look for answers. Enter: Cavern of Souls.
But despite the fact that Cavern of Souls has been steadily growing in popularity, many of the top pros in attendance still opted to play Blue control decks chock full of counterspells this weekend.
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Semifinalist, David Ochoa, was one of those players – choosing to shuffle up a Blue White control deck that (at least on the surface) looks like it would be particularly vulnerable to uncounterable threats. However, at 6-0-1 going into the 8th round, it's clear that Cavern of Souls hasn't gotten him down yet.
"Cavern of Souls is definitely an issue, but this deck is cool. Didn't you see all the cool stuff that I got to do (during my Round 4 Feature match)? I drew so many extra cards!"
"If they have Cavern of Souls, you obviously can't counter the creatures – so you need to rely on other answers. Against the Angel of Serenity control decks, I hope to have a Runechanter's Pike, and a Restoration Angel to invalidate their plan. Against a card like Olivia Voldaren, you generally need a removal spell. And against the aggressive decks you can board in a bunch of removal, and use your counterspells on their non-creature spells."
"Supreme Verdict is probably the most important card for me against the aggressive decks – but Talrand, Sky Summoner is also very good. Talrand, Sky Summoner is the key card that the Blue White deck was not playing before this week, that I think makes it a lot better."
Not even the dominating power of Cavern of Souls was enough to sway Ochoa away from his beloved counterspells this weekend. However he did bias his sideboard considerably out of respect for the card – giving himself the option to board out most of his counterspells when he needed to.
"It depends on how many non-creatures spells they're playing. The fewer spell-spells they have, the more counters I'm going to board out in favor of proactive threats and Supreme Verdicts."
Not playing Blue White? Don't despair! According to Ochoa every color combination has ways to mitigate the impact of Cavern of Souls.
"If you don't have access to white mana for Supreme Verdict, you can also play a sweeper like Mizzium Mortars. Or Planeswalkers like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Jace Architect of Thought. Or you can play your own creatures that match up with theirs, Thragtusks tend to be pretty good at that. Or you can hope that they don't draw their Cavern of Souls..."
So even though Cavern of Souls makes life relatively difficult for Blue control players, that doesn't mean that you can't find ways to beat decks with it. You just need to keep an open mind, stock up on sweepers (and other removals spells) and bring enough proactive threats to make sure that you can kill your opponent before they inevitably take over with their uncounterable threats.
Round 7 Feature Match - Owen Turtenwald (Bant Control) vs. Alexander Hayne (Blue/White Flash)
Owen Turtenwald, the 2011 Player of the Year, has been one of the most consistently strong competitors on the professional level for years. His opponent is relative newcomer Alexander Hayne. Hayne exploded onto the professional scene with his victory at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored where he was able to pilot a miracle deck to the pinnacle of success.
Both players sat down and immediately started talking about Legacy. The friendly banter ensued while they shuffled, but their demeanors became serious and competitive once the decks were presented.
Hayne won the roll and both players kept their opening hands.
Augur got in for a point of damage, but its second attack enticed Turtenwald to cast an uncountable Restoration Angel. Hayne was ready with Azorius Charm and continued developing his board with another Augur of Bolas.
Runechanter's Pike threatened to end the game quickly and Turtenwald was forced to use Dissipate to counter the powerful equipment. Moorland Haunt was added to Hayne's side of the table and he passed the turn with mana to make a Spirit token with the Restoration Angel he previously milled with Thought Scour.
Hayne continued applying pressure. A seemingly endless stream of Azorius Charms and a Snapcaster Mage prevented Turtenwald, now obviously playing a Bant Control variant, from establishing any kind of board control with Restoration Angel.
Hayne had committed a reasonable amount of resources to the board at this point and Turtenwald cast Supreme Verdict to even up the board. Hayne, not to be outdone, used this opportunity to resolve a Sphinx's Revelation for 4.
Turtenwald tried to start applying pressure with his Restoration Angel, but Hayne's Moorland Haunt was winning the long term race. Thragtusk looked to be a big game for Turtenwald, but Alex was able to trade some tokens and Unsummon for the Magic 2013 Mythic.
The game grinded down to a crawl and Hayne was able to resolve another Sphinx's Revelation. Neither player had anything on the table, but Turtenwald was out of cards and Hayne had a full grip. Turtenwald surveyed the board and decided to concede in an effort to conserve precious time in this control mirror.
Both players kept their opening hands again. Hayne made the first play of the game with Augur of Bolas. The Augur got in for one damage, but stayed at home to play around Restoration Angel once Turtenwald had four lands in play.
Turtenwald cast his Restoration Angel and started swinging right away.
The game grinded to a halt again, but this time Turtenwald had Rest in Peace, preventing Hayne from sneaking small value over the long term.
Turtenwald's inconspicuous Nephalia Drownyard began getting activated and Hayne was forced to race. Owen's lifetotal remained stagnant, though, constantly increasing as Owen cast Thragtusk, another Sphinx's Revelation, and a Jace, Architect of Thought, used essentially as a fog.
Angel of Serenity threatened to break the game wide open, but Turtenwald was able to bury Hayne in card advantage with another copy of Sphinx's Revelation. Hayne realized his eventual fate as Nephalia Drownyard continued grinding away at his library. There were no more cards to draw and Hayne was forced to a game 3.
Less than 15 minutes were left on the clock and the match was being moved under the camera, the clock continued ticking down as both players shuffled as quickly as they could. The pressure was mounting.
Turtenwald cast Jace, Memory Adept and it immediately went to work, drawing Owen extra cards and milling Hayne out of the game.
Eventually, Hayne was able to deal with the Planeswalker, but the damage had already been done. Turtenwald was significantly ahead with more lands in play and more cards in hand. The players traded blows as the time on the clock whittled down.
For the first time ever, in all of history, Angel of Serenity looked to be inconsequential. Time for the round was called and Turtenwald found a Detention Sphere via Sphinx's Revelation to secure the match on turn two of extra turns. Owen's willingness to concede game one to save time proved to be a brilliant maneuver as it gave him enough time to win the match and remain undefeated here at Grand Prix Charleston.
Round 9 Feature Match - Patrick Chapin (4 Color Control) vs. Alex Majlaton (Blue White)
Class of 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Patrick Chapin is well known for his love of control decks, and his propensity to build new decks in every format. This time around, he's playing a 4 Color Control deck that's powered by Farseek, and a lot of dual lands.
Chapin's opponent for this round, Alex Majlaton, fresh off a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Chicago last weekend, is also playing a control deck. But while Chapin's deck contains a number of unique ripples to it – Majlaton's deck is "just" a streamlined version of Blue White control, the deck that many of the top pros in attendance this weekend have labeled as "the best deck in the format".
A Cavern of Souls naming Beast, and a Farseek allowed Chapin to cast an uncounterable Thragtusk on turn 4. But Alex Majlaton was able to keep himself in the game with a Restoration Angel, and a Syncopate that countered Chapin's early Sphinx's Revelation.
Chapin, still hoping to make the most of his early Thragtusk, cast a Detention Sphere targeting his opponent's Restoration Angel – but Majlaton had an Unsummon which he used to bounce his own creature in response. Unfazed, Chapin attacked with his Thragusk and allowed Majlaton to trade his freshly re-cast Restoration Angel with it.
At this point Chapin, who had gotten off to a great start, was out of relevant threats and answers – a fact that Majlaton quickly capitalized on by resolving a Sphinx's Revelation for 6.
A Runechanter's Pike and a couple of attacks later and Majlaton was up a game.
Alex Majlaton 1 - Patrick Chapin 0
Starved for mana, and staring down a 5/3 Beast Majlaton was forced to spend multiple turns simply casting cards like Think Twice and Thought Scour in hopes of finding more lands, while he watched as his life total rapidly deteriorated.
Majlaton eventually began drawing the lands that he needed, and an Unsummon helped buy him a bit of time – but Chapin was busy pulling ahead on other axes.
A Sphinx's Revelation for 2, and a Restoration Angel blinking out Augur of Bolas gave the Hall of Famer quite a few extra cards. By the time Majlaton was able to resolve a Restoration Angel of his own, Chapin simply replayed his Thragtusk – and pretty soon Majlaton was down to a mere 1 life.
But while Majlaton was down, he wasn't quite out yet. Majlaton's first Runechanter's Pike got eaten by a Detention Sphere, but he had a replacement at the ready – allowing him to equip up his Augur of Bolas, and pass the turn back to Chapin, able to just barely fend off would be lethal attack with his Moorland Haunt.
Without a way to break through his opponent's defenses, Chapin played another Thragtusk and passed his turn without an attack. A turn later he cast a Supreme Verdicte – leaving himself with two 3/3 beast tokens, and wiping his opponent's board clear.
Majlaton resolved a Sphinx's Revelation for 2 – putting himself up to a still meager 3 life – and forced a Snapcaster Mage (which ultimately flashed back a Unsummon) past Chapin's Dissipate with a Dissipate of his own.
Majlaton used an Azorius Charm to take out the remaining beast token, and suddenly he had a moment to breathe... but that moment would prove to be fleeting as Chapin used this opportunity to resolve a Sphinx's Revelation for 7, completely restocking his hand.
But now it was time for Majlaton to go on the offensive – and despite the fact that Chapin was on 44, Runechanter's Pike gave Alex a pretty fast clock – with Snapcaster Mage attacking for 13 and knocking Chapin down to 31.
A Pithing Needle naming Moorland Haunt neutralized Majlaton's best ongoing source of offense (and defense) and an Azorius Charm allowed Chapin to (temporarily) deal with his opponent's humungous first striking wizard.
Majlaton had a Restoration Angel of his own to stave off death, and as soon as it was his turn he used it to attack in for 14, knocking Chapin down to 17.
When Chapin attacked, Majlaton used an Azorius Charm to put Restoration Angel on top of his deck – prompting Chapin to cast a Supreme Verdict to kill off his opponent's flier. Majlaton played an end of turn Snapcaster Mage flashing back Thought Scour which he used to mill away the Restoration Angel that he had put on top of Chapin's library earlier in the turn.
The Snapcaster Mage, and the Runechanter's Pike ultimately proved to be too much for Chapin to handle, and he had no choice but to extend his hand.
Alex Majlaton 2 – Patrick Chapin 0