by Justin VizaroSunday, 4:25 p.m.Leveling Up: Newest L3 Judges Bust the Myths about Playing and Judging
by Justin VizaroSunday, 2:20 p.m.What's the Verdict? – Supreme Verdict vs. Terminus
by Justin VizaroRound 12 Feature MatchFrank Skarren (Esper Control) vs.
William Cao (American Midrange)
by Jacob Van LunenSunday, 2:10 p.m.On the Fringe: Day Two Miami
by Nate PriceSunday, 1:05 p.m.Meet
BARD NARSONBrad Nelson
by Jacob Van LunenSunday, 12:35 p.m.Bant Rising
by Jacob Van LunenSunday, 11:15 a.m.Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
by Event Coverage StaffDay 1 Blog
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Sunday, 11:15 a.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown
|Junk Rites: 22|
|Bant Auras: 20|
|Bant Control: 15|
|Gruul Aggro: 12|
|Naya Aggro: 12|
|Junk Aristocrats: 10|
|UWR Flash: 8|
|Naya Blitz: 7|
|Act 2: 6|
|Jund Aggro: 5|
|Naya Midrange: 4|
|Four Color Rites: 4|
|UWR Guys: 3|
|UW Flash: 3|
|WBR Zombies: 2|
|GB Mutilate: 2|
|RB Zombies: 2|
|GW Timmy: 2|
|Bant Tokens: 1|
|Human Reanimator: 1|
|Grixis Control: 1|
|UW Drownyard: 1|
|Cyclops Combo: 1|
|Esper Control: 1|
|Boros Blitz: 1|
|UWR Geist: 1|
Sunday, 12:35 p.m. – Bant Rising
Nephalia Drownyard was a huge issue for Bant Control. The deck has a lot of difficulty applying pressure on its opponent. A control mirror where the opponent has a Nephalia Drownyard or two in play is always going to be extremely difficult. The Blue/White/Red decks can sideboard in Thundermaw Hellkites and take an aggressive route to victory, but Bant has no such option. Luckily for Bant players, Nephalia Drownyard is nearly non-existent in the second day of competition here. Only three players out of the 161 to make day 2 have even a single copy of Nephalia Drownyard in their 75. The best control strategies now are Blue, White, and Red denying themselves access to the trump card, Nephalia Drownyard, in the control matchups.
Lingering Souls strategies have also historically been a problem for the Bant Control decks. Aristocrat variants can essentially block forever against the Bant decks, eventually grinding the opponent out with Blood Artist, Cartel Aristocrat, and, in some cases, Blasphemous Act. Some Bant Control decks have a small Red splash for Kessig Wolf Run so they can go over the top of the tokens. While Junk Aristocrats and Act 2 are still being seen in reasonable numbers here in Miami, they're certainly not as prevalent as they might have been two weeks ago. Act 2 poses a huge problem for the Bant Control decks, but most players have been trading their Red cards in for Voice of Resurgence, Varolz, the Scar Striped, and Young Wolf. The newest Aristocrats variant, Junk Aristocrats, can still be a problem for the Bant deck, but it doesn't have the same inevitability that the Blasphemous Act versions did.
Junk Rites, once another Lingering Souls strategy that transitioned into a top end, has become much different since the release of Dragon's Maze. Most players have cut Lingering Souls from their Junk Rites list in favor of Acidic Slime. Sure, Acidic Slime is good against Bant too, but the lack of Craterhoof Behemoth/Lingering Souls makes the Rites deck a much more reasonable matchup for Bant Control. Bant can easily beat Angel of Serenity with Sphinx's Revelation into Selesnya Charm. The Unburial Rites deck can't chain Angel of Serenity because the dealt with copies are being exiled.
Bant Auras is the second most common deck here in Miami day 2. Bant Control decks welcome the challenge. Ray of Revelation is one of the best cards against Bant Auras, the Bant deck doesn't need to use many sideboard slots for its aggressive matchups so it can afford to devote a few slots exclusively to beating Invisible Stalkers. Unflinching Courage is another option here. Slapping the powerful enchantment on a Loxodon Smiter is very difficult for the Bant Auras deck to race when they've just sideboarded out a lot of their enchantments in favor of more creatures and interaction because they were afraid of Supreme Verdict.
Voice of Resurgence helps the Bant deck significantly in the once difficult control mirrors. Those decks don't have Nephalia Drownyard and the Bant deck now has Voice of Resurgence. It seems the tables have turned in this once difficult matchup!
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. – Meet Brad Nelson
"At Worlds 2010, when Guillaume tied me, I was devastated," Nelson sighed.
After his own exceptional runs at back to back Pro Tours in San Juan and Amsterdam, Nelson was riding high. He had secured himself a spot atop the Player of the Year standings and locked up the highest level on the Pro Tour for the upcoming season. As he watched Guillaume Matignon, who had actually defeated him in the quarterfinals of Pro Tour San Juan, cruise past Guillaume Wafo-Tapa in the finals of the World Championship, he did the math and knew what it meant. Matignon's win gave him just enough points to tie Nelson atop the standings, resulting in the first and only tie in the Player of the Year race.
"I was devastated," he said. "I had just had a bad Magic Online Championship Series. Well, not a bad one. I did get fourth place, but my expectations were really high. Now I didn't win Player of the Year. I was so sad. But he called me and told me, 'It's not over. It isn't over.' He has this one quote that he always tells me, he told me last night after my 9-0 even, 'Just remember: lands before creatures.' He just always tells me that."
And he was right: it wasn't over. It was announced that there would be a playoff a few months later at the Pro Tour in Paris. It was an unprecedented event, and there was a ridiculous buzz surrounding the event. Artwork depicting the "unfinished business" that the two had to clean up began to circulate. Players began choosing sides for the upcoming struggle. It was a spectacle beyond all spectacles, a single series of matches between two players that threatened to overshadow everything else in a weekend including a Pro Tour and Grand Prix going on in the same building. It was chaos. It was the center of the Magic world for the moment, and all of the stars, from Brian Kibler to Makihito Mihara, had turned out to watch it unfold. In the end, Nelson stood alone for all to see, surrounded by friends, peers, and the man who had made this all possible: his father.
"The biggest thing about Magic for me, since the beginning, has been the support I got from my father," Nelson told me. "He helped me financially with Magic Online right away, since I was just a kid in high school. When I was grinding, just struggling in 2009, there were a couple of times...and it was kind of irresponsible of me to just go all in on Magic...but he helped me out with rent a couple of times and things like that...
My favorite moment in Magic history, no matter what, was the playoff against Matignon. Seeing it through my dad's eyes for that weekend, with this huge projector showing my face over and over again... When I finally won, I looked over and could tell that this was one of my dad's favorite moments ever. I took this thing that he had supported my doing, through all the bad times, and he watched me even though he had no idea what was going on at every single tournament I Top 8d, and he was just there to watch me win Player of the Year. It was this unbelievable moment, and by far my favorite Magic moment ever."
A North Dakota native, Nelson's Magic origin story reads very similar to many that I've encountered.
"I began playing when I was a teenager in school," Nelson recalled. "I was a very shy kid, I didn't have a lot of friends, I didn't have any idea how to talk to a girl...I didn't have any self-confidence at all. A friend that actually became one of my best friends and is still to this day one of my best friends, I think he just saw me and took pity on me as just a fellow student, and he told me that he was going to go play Magic and that I should go hang out with him. He was a very outgoing guy, a thespian, and Magic was a hobby of his, and he invited me down.
Before that, I just played video games and I worked and just stayed to myself, so I got engrossed in Magic. I had this huge bank account because I'd worked for two years and didn't spend any money because I'd just buy video games and then grind them for two months. So all of a sudden, I spent like a third of my net worth on just Magic cards. I've got so much Onslaught block at home. I started to play cafeteria Magic, played for like three months until a store opened up, and thenI realized that Magic was on the Internet. Aaaand it was game."
Joining the burgeoning Magic Online community, Nelson made a name for himself as FFFreak, the wunderkind who started tearing up the rankings board and impressing some very talented people on his way.
"I got Magic Online, got one of the cheapest Standard decks, grinded that until I could afford Affinity, and then played that until I had everything. Within a year of starting Magic Online, I had become an incredibly competitive player.
FFFreak was actually my Starcraft screen name from when I was like fourteen. I was a big Final Fantast fan until I played Magic. I've actually never played a Final Fantasy game sinceMagic. I was just a fan of the game. I did not realize that people would just think I'm a freak."
This became especially funny as Nelson began to make it to the big stage. Since he was primarily known as a ridiculously good player from Magic Online, very few people knew much about him. Jacob Van Lunen, my coverage compatriot this weekend and the author of the weekly Perilous Research column on dailymtg.com, was a member of the same guild on Magic Online, and he urged Pro Tour historian Brian David-Marshall to keep an eye on the burgeoning star at the upcoming Pro Tour Honolulu.
"That was one of my favorite things. In 2009, I went to my first Pro Tour because Jacob Van Lunen told BDM to watch and highlight me, and Wizards wanted to feature Magic Online at that tournament, so they were just like 'that guy! That's our guy for the tournament.' It was great because I was in all the coverage since they wanted to promote Magic Online, and Randy Buehler is in the booth saying stuff like 'and this guy, f-f-f-freak...' It was hilarious."
Things went well, you could say. Nelson burst onto the scene with a 9th place finish at his first ever Pro Tour. The next wasn't so kind, but he bounced back and rattled off a 33rd place finish at Worlds that year, and then two consecutive Pro Tour Top 8s to follow that. It was a great run for a player so new to the professional scene, and it all stemmed from the work put in on Magic Online.
"I would play in FNMs and stuff like that, but I didn't do much traveling for Magic," he told me. "One year, I decided to just drive to Regionals in Minneapolis, which was like an eight-hour drive, and I just destroyed the tournament. It was my first competitive Magic tournament, and I just annihilated it. I really felt like the reps I put in on Magic Online without playing as much in real life gave me this weird disparity about how good I was at the time. I went and qualified and came one win away from qualifying for Worlds on my first US Nationals, too."
Every so often, the talent level of a player comes through and it gets noticed, even if you've never seen that player play before. For me, the first of those players I really saw that amazed me was Matt Costa. For Jacob Van Lunen, it was Brad Nelson.
"Jake Van Lunen is one of the reasons why I am famous in Magic," Nelson said with a serious look in his eyes. "He got me hooked up with people to test with for my first two Pro Tours, I met him at that Nationals, and, by Round 6, he was telling BDM to come watch me. He was behind the strings of all of my fame."
After continuing to press on and ultimately providing the Magic world with one of the biggest spectacles it has ever seen with his grudge match against Matignon for the Player of the Year title, Nelson cooled off a little. Sustaining that level of play for an extended period of time is just a ludicrous proposition. Even having that level of success is a ludicrous proposition. Still, you can never count Nelson out. He finished Top 32 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and even came a couple of games away from winning Grand Prix Atlantic City earlier this year.
Nowadays, Nelson is more famous for his video series on starcitygames.com, bashing decks against Todd Anderson, than he is for his online persona. Always providing insightful commentary alongside a healthy dose of hilarity, Nelson makes the game fun to watch and is always good for entertainment value. After winning Grand Prix Washington DC in 2010, he gave what is, in my opinion, the single best trophy shot ever taken.
"So the story behind the trophy pic is that two weeks before that, I won the Magic Online Championship Series, which was my very first big tournament. My roommate wanted to watch, but I just told him no. No one is in my room with me. So he's out sitting in his room, just basically waiting. I go out into the living room, he asked me how it went, and I just went 'graaaaawrrrrrr' and flexed," reenacting the scene for me. "So then after winning the Grand Prix, I just figured I'd just mess around and do this joke shot first and then do the real one, but after I did it, I asked Bill Stark if he wanted to do another one and he just laughed. 'No, no. We got it.'"
To this day, it's the benchmark by which I judge how animated a person is after having won a Grand Prix. No matter how many times I tell people, "YOU JUST WON A GRAND PRIX. JUST GIMME A @#%!@!#% SMILE," people still want to just stand there like corpses. But when I tell them to hit me with a Brad, they always give me something good.
Spectacular. Just like Brad Nelson.
Sunday, 2:10 p.m. – On the Fringe: Day Two Miami
Patrick Chapin is always good for a wacky control brew. This sixty-one card monstrosity has been punishing aggressive and midrange strategies throughout the weekend. Bant Control decks aren't happy to see a new Nephalia Drownyard deck on the other side of the table either. Blue/White/Red Flash and Blue/White Flash can out attrition this deck apply the right kinds of pressure with things like Thundermaw Hellkite, Restoration Angel, Sphinx's Revelation, and Moorland Haunt. This could be a very strong deck if this tournament makes Bant Control the new Sphinx's Revelation deck of choice.
Leigh Weston brought a straight-forward Green/White beats deck to the table this weekend. The deck plays similarly to Bant Auras, but it's less susceptible to the hate that's going around. This version of the deck plays four Voice of Resurgence and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the maindeck unlike the list played by Joel Larsson. This deck has incredible potential to become the next big aggro deck in Standard.
Bryan Holthouser decided this weekend would be a good time to unleash the Cyclops. The deck concept was originally popularized by Travis Woo and it often does well in Magic Online events. It may seem like a wacky concoction that has trouble with a lot of different strategies, but it only takes one green light for a Nivix Cyclops to kill somebody in conjunction with the Double Strike mode of Boros Charm. This deck is surprisingly powerful and extremely fun to watch.
Round 12 Feature Match – Frank Skarren (Esper Control) vs. William Cao (American Midrange)
Game 1 showed the true effects of losing the land battle in the control matchup, as Cao likely would have been able to stabilize with more than three lands available before turn seven, but with Skarren milling three of his potential land draws on turn four, it became nearly impossible for Cao to get back into the game. He managed to resolve and go to town with Thundermaw Hellkite, but ultimately lost him to back-to-back Warped Physiques. Skarren milled six cards per turn and coasted to victory soon thereafter.
Unstable footing- Cao stumbles early on mana, and never gets back into the game.
Following Game 1, Cao admitted to being surprised by the number of Esper Control matches he had played over the previous 11 rounds. "I expected to play this match, but not as often as I have."
Cao started Game 2 stuck on three lands again, leaving Skarren with a great opportunity to construct a hand with Think Twice and Azorius Charm and to land an early Jace, Architect of Thought, which effectively detained Cao's second-turn Augur of Bolas and allowed him to tick up safely into the ultimate range. After managing two Restoration Angels from Cao, Skarren activated Jace's ultimate ability and promptly called for a judge as both players looked at each other and said, "So, how does Jace's ultimate work?"
For those of you who have not seen or activated Jace's ultimate (sometimes it only happens in Day 2 of a Grand Prix), the order of the library search does not matter, and the player controlling the ability can in fact look at both libraries before making any final decisions.
Turning Points: Cao's Azorius Charm allows him to continue attacking for 5 to complete the Game 2 comeback victory.
Skarren decided to steal Thundermaw Hellkite from Cao, and to free-drop his own Jace, Memory Adept. Seeing only one Hellkite in Cao's deck, he drew a card from his Jace with the assumption that Cao had Hellkite in hand. Hellkite took Cao to 9, and Skarren passed the turn.
Cao did in fact have the Hellkite in hand, and dispersed Jace the following turn, leaving Dispel to deal with Skarren's Far // Away. Skarren continued to work on Cao's life total, and with two Nephalia Drownyards in play and online, began to work on his 37-card library as well. Ultimately, Cao found Snapcaster Mage for Azorius Charm on Skarren's Dragon, which allowed him to safely continue the beats with his own. Skarren revealed a hand full of lands after a final attempt to remove Cao's last Hellkite attack, and moved to Game 3.
Both players opened rather confidently in Game 3, with an appropriate mix of lands and spells. Skarren used Syncopate on Cao's second turn Think Twice, and proceeded to flash it back with Snapcaster Mage two turns later to keep Cao off of creatures (Snapcaster Mage cast as an Ambush Viper). Skarren continued to draw cards and accumulate advantage via a chain of Jace, Architect of Thought and Sphinx's Revelations, reaching a hand of fourteen cards at one point in the game.
Card advantage is king as Cao goes into the tank about how to best split Snapcaster Mage, Dissipate, and Jace, Architect of Thought.
Skarren's ability to stay ahead of Cao in cards and maintain a steady flow of lands kept him in the driver's seat through the third game, riding Tamiyo and Jace protected by a hand of seven en route to a Nephalia Drownyard-induced scoop from Cao.
With Cao stuck on three lands in Game 1, Skarren losing Game 2 with three lands in hand, and Nephalia Drownyards going to work for three cards at a time in Game 3, Skarren rolled through the third round of Day 2 with a 2-1 victory over William Cao.
Sunday, 2:20 p.m. – What’s the Verdict? – Supreme Verdict vs Terminus
Ultimately, aggressive archetypes tend to be kept in check by sweepers that reset the game and allow midrange and control decks to creep back into contention. Finding the balance between "devastatingly powerful" and "just too late to be useful" is an extremely awkward proposition from a design perspective, which explains why it's difficult to maintain relative parity in power levels between aggressive and control archetypes. In the current standard format, there are two primary sweepers (Terminus and Supreme Verdict) getting most of the attention, with cards like Bonfire of the Damned and (sometimes) Blasphemous Act filling a similar role. The debate among standard players right now is whether to skew a deck toward Supreme Verdict or Terminus, and the justification for either of those options.
Terminus has been an extremely popular means of resetting the game state for slower decks, particularly because of its ability to be an absolute blowout at one mana, and also because it does not leave players soft to "die" effects and cards like Rootborn Defenses or Boros Charm. The obvious downside to Terminus is its increased cost when being played fairly; two additional mana is a substantial amount when the objective is to sweep the table and stay alive against aggressive decks. Terminus is more favorable against decks that play Voice of Resurgence and Unburial Rites, but less so against decks that force you to miracle the card at the expense of losing the game. Additionally, for non-blue midrange and control decks, Terminus remains an option, and they will typically be casting spells like Farseek to help cast the spell from the hand at a timelier juncture than turn six.
Supreme Verdict fills the classic four-mana absolute sweeper role, and provides control players with a much more certain plan of attack against any form of aggro. Building plays and board state toward casting Supreme Verdict is much more of a concrete game plan than setting oneself up to *hopefully* snag the one-mana Terminus at the right time. Turn two Think Twice to have some action and begin powering through the library is more of a live play when the deck pushes toward Supreme Verdict, whereas Think Twice typically wants to wait until there is an extra White available to hit the accidental Terminus on the opponent's turn if possible. Subtleties like these interactions with other cards in the deck are typically the kinds of things that keep players firmly in the Supreme Verdict encampment.
Observations from the Day 2 decks show that a majority of players in the control camp have chosen to forego the split of Verdict/Terminus, eschewing Terminus altogether in favor of the former. Terminus appears in a few of the alternative control lists like Bant, but it seems that the consensus from the decks in this event lean toward Supreme Verdict as the sweeper of choice for successful players in Day 2. It will be interesting to track the existence or non-existence of Terminus in future Standard events until it rotates out of the format in October, but for now, it seems that Supreme Verdict is the card, adding incentive for aggressive decks to pack cards like Rootborn Defenses and Boros Charm until the paradigm shifts toward Terminus.
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. – Leveling Up: Newest L3 Judges Bust the Myths about Playing and Judging
In the past two weeks, the Judge program has welcomed three new Level 3 judges to the ranks, solidifying the growth of the program itself that is both necessary for and perpetuated by the increasing sizes of Grand Prix and other premier-level events. Last weekend's Grand Prix in Las Vegas, NV was the largest tournament (4500 players) in the history of Trading Card Games, reaffirming the growing popularity of the game we all love.
To the victors of these premier-level events go the glory, confetti, cake, and ice cream, but how often do we think of everything that goes into crowning Neal Oliver and celebrating with the rest of the top 8 after 15 rounds of Swiss? With 4500 people playing in 2250 matches, it's safe to assume that there will be more than a few situations in which players simply won't know the interactions between cards, and arbiters will be necessary. An event as large as the Grand Prix in Vegas commanded a judge count that notched 160, including more than a few player-to-judge converts to fill the excess demand. The strength of the judge program is essential to the growth of the game, and with three new Level 3 judges born (two last week and one today); it seems we will be able to accommodate the continued growth of the game.
The three newest L3 Judges: Josh Stansfield, Bryan Prillaman, Casey Brefka
We were fortunate enough this weekend to have the opportunity to interview five of the most recently born Level 3 Judges to find out exactly what motivates them, how they feel about the judge program, and how their experience can help you as a player or as an aspiring judge.
Congratulations to the newest Level 3 Judges:
- Casey Brefka (Tested for Level 3 in Miami)
- Josh Stansfield (Tested for Level 3 in Las Vegas)
- Bryan Prillaman (Tested for Level 3 in Las Vegas)
- Jason Wong (Tested for Level 3 in Providence)
- Jason “Flatts” Flatford (Tested for Level 3 in Guadalajara)
When asked, "What got you interested in judging, and why did you decide to take the L1 test?"
Wong: "I saw my friends judging PTQ events and getting boxes for doing so, and I decided that I wanted to do that."
Prillaman: "I don't like to lose. My friend and I made a bet about who could reach Level 1 first."
Flatford: "I wanted to become more familiar with the rules so that I could become a better player."
We also wanted to know why they chose to go to Level 2:
Brefka: "Natural progression. I wasn't enjoying playing at the competitive level, and I have been judging quite a bit at PTQs, so it just made sense."
Wong: "I was surprised by my Regional Coordinator, Kyle Ryc, with the Level 2 test."
Prillaman: "Ben McDole pulled me away from my pre-release event to ask me if I had any questions before I took the test that Sheldon Menery was printing for me. It was a surprise."
Why did you then choose to make the commitment to becoming a Level 3 Judge?
Wong and Brefka: "I saw a need for the L3 presence in my area- there were no active L3 judges within hundreds of miles."
While the Judge program is very strong, there is still a world of opportunity for new judges to really have a profound effect on their local Magic scene, and furthermore on a regional and national level. The judges that travel to each event become part of a judge family- growing both personally and within the greater Magic community.
Flatford, Stansfield, Prillaman, Brefka, Wong
The final Question: "Many people have the idea that being a judge means sacrificing competitive play. To what extent have you noticed that to be true, and what level, if any, do you think is the highest that can be achieved by a player with competitive ambitions?"
As a whole, our new L3 judges want everyone to know that it is not necessary to sacrifice your competitive dreams in order to become a judge. Level 1 and Level 2 judges regularly play in PTQs, Grand Prix, and other events, and there are more than a few examples of successful competitive players that are also Level 2 Judges (Melissa DeTora and Rob Castellon for example).
Becoming a Level 3 Judge, however, is a tremendous commitment that will likely force a majority of players to re-evaluate their time allocation when it comes to Magic. We thank all of the judges that are currently involved with the Judge Program that make these events a tremendous success for the game we love, and congratulate the newest Level 3 Judges on their achievements.