by Mike RosenbergRound 9 Feature MatchMartin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, and Ben Stark vs.
Sam Pardee, Jacob Wilson, and Matthew Nass
by Nate PriceSaturday, 11:00 p.m.Building a Team Sealed Deck with
Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, and Reid Duke
by Nate PriceRound 8 Feature MatchDemars/Jacob/Clark vs. Cheon/Scott-Vargas/Froehlich
by Mike RosenbergRound 6 Feature MatchAdrian Saredo, Diego Ostrovich, and Pedro de Diego vs.
Guadenis Vidugiris, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Sam Black
by Nate PriceSaturday, 8:30 p.m.A History of Professional Magic through Teams
- Part 2
by Nate PriceSaturday, 7:45 p.m.A History of Professional Magic through Teams
– Part 1
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 7:20 p.m.All Good Things Come in Threes
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 5:10 p.m.Weathering the Storm with Ben Stark
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 12:30 p.m.The Maze's Teams
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 12:30 p.m. – The Maze's Teams
Many players have gotten a chance to play in a Return to Ravnica Sealed Pack event in the past year. Whether it was a guild pack-fueled prerelease, or simply a weekly local event, many of you have most likely had the opportunity to open up six booster packs in an effort to build the best 40-card deck that you can.
Team Sealed, on the other hand, is a little bit different.
Teams of three sign up for a Team Sealed event, and each team is given twelve booster packs. For this format, this means four packs of Return to Ravnica, four packs of Gatecrash, and four packs of Dragon's Maze.
The last time we featured the action of Team Sealed at a North American Grand Prix, it was at Prix San Jose, where players built the best decks they could with twelve packs of Return to Ravnica. Unlike in a standard Sealed Pack format, where you make the best possible deck you can with six booster packs, a Team Sealed format lets players combine the cards from a much larger card pool in order to create three decks that, when working with more cards, are more streamlined and more powerful than typical Sealed decks.
However, with four packs of each set from the Return to Ravnica Block, things are a tad bit more complicated.
The larger card pool contributes a number of options that teams will have to consider during a 75 minute build time that could be argued as one of the hardest deck builds that players will have to go through for any Sealed format. While Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash had streamlined strategies for players to focus on in Limited, with players being rewarded for dedicating themselves to a guild with a straight-forward strategy and a more consistent mana base, Dragon's Maze changes the rules.
There are now more decks available than simply choosing one of ten guilds.
As the Dragon's Maze/Gatecrash/Return to Ravnica Booster Draft format has made clear, the rules players followed when drafting just Return to Ravnica or just Gatecrash have been demolished. Players can focus on a single guild when drafting, which comes with the reward of an aggressive curve and consistent mana base. However, players can also focus on guildgates, favoring a slow but powerful mana base while being afforded the luxury of scooping up some of the powerful cards that can be splashed with the format's solid mana fixing.
Then there's the Gatekeepers, the creature cycle that rewards players who favor guildgates in a draft. The 2/4 creatures provide solid blockers against the more aggressive and consistent decks in the format, and when you have the required guildgates to turn on their effects, the Gatekeepers can bury opponents with their powerful abilities. Even seemingly innocuous bonuses are huge advantages in this format, oftentimes causing swings in tempo or card advantage only brought by the fuse cards or certain rares.
As teams of three this weekend are working with a larger card pool, the Sealed decks that you'll see this weekend are much more likely to feature much more streamlined and consistent strategies. However, the increased card pool also makes the decision-making process much more difficult. Do you give one teammate all of the Gatekeepers and guildgates, and then build two streamlined aggro decks based on single guilds?
Or perhaps it is best to create one aggressive guild deck, and split the mana fixing between two other guilds to allow for splashes of off-color bombs in the other two decks. These decisions are not easy, and what is given to one player is taken away from the other two. While decks are more powerful than in regular Sealed Pack formats, the decisions also become much harder to make, as players struggle to find the right combination of cards for each deck.
The other element of Team Sealed that adds to complexity is sideboards. Players must register a sideboard from the remaining cards not used in their decks, as the leftover cards are not available to all three players. This adds another layer of decision making in which players must not only find each deck's strength, but also its weaknesses and what kinds of leftover cards may help shore up said weaknesses after the first game.
With 586 teams here this weekend, there are a number of decisions that each team must come to if they want to make the best possible decks for today. And with the number of decisions that each team must go through, there are bound to be a variety of strategies that turn out to be successful, and others that could fall a little short simply due to a few minor oversights.
Saturday, 5:10 p.m. – Weathering the Storm with Ben Stark
Grand Prix Providence was an event many players here were looking forward to for months. For some here, it's the one event this year they were most looking forward to playing in.
However, an unfortunate and unpredicted wrench was thrown into the plans of some: Tropical Storm Andrea.
The tropical storm formed earlier in the week, and moved up the east coastline. For some, it was another brutal part of hurricane season. But for those trying to travel to Providence on Friday, it was a potential hurdle that they had to jump over in order to reach their destination on time.
One team that almost had to go without their original line-up was Ben Stark, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza. While Juza and Nakamura made it just fine, Stark's journey to Providence was...a little bit more difficult.
Martin Juza, Ben Stark, and Shuhei Nakamura
"It was delay, delay, delay, delay, canceled," said Stark, as he described his Friday attempts to get out of Florida. His usual airline was not successful in getting Stark out of Ft. Lauderdale, as his flight with Southwest Airlines kept meeting delays until it was inevitably canceled.
However, Stark wasn't ready to give up. "This was a mission," he said. "I love Magic, but if this was an individual GP, I'd of not gone after my flight was canceled. However, Martin flew here from Europe and Shuhei came from Japan, so I had no choice but to get here by any means necessary because it's a team event."
Not ready to let his teammates down, Stark drove to Miami in an attempt to get the last flight out to Providence. However, he was 10 minutes late, the flight having already taken off.
He continued on, booking a flight that left Miami at 6am. That was delayed by three hours, and as Stark was running out of options, he finally got rerouted from one airline to another to Newark, which had a flight that would get him to the event center in Providence by noon.
Despite a couple of other setbacks, Stark made it in time to his flight out of Newark. Barely. Running on virtually no sleep, Stark made it to the event site to report for his "sleep-in" special deck building with his two teammates, with not a moment to spare.
"I'm here, I didn't sleep. But hey, I've got 5 Hour Energys, our decks are good, and we're 4-0, so it may end with a good story," Stark said.
When it comes to team events, some players are dedicated to making sure their team is assembled. No matter what.
And for one such team, which consists of a few Team Limited Grand Prix champions, sometimes your plans need to be shifted at the last minute if you want to complete your team. We'll check in on two of the three players from Grand Prix San Jose last year and get back to you with the story of how they made it in to this event, and who is now picking up the third slot on their team after a little airline-related trouble.
Saturday, 7:20 p.m. – All Good Things Come in Threes
There's something about seeing three players sitting side-by-side with the same goals in mind. There's also something about seeing these players helping each other out in those moments of critical thinking that makes the team Grand Prix events feel very special.
We've compiled a collection of team photos, featuring a combination of players from Magic past and present, along with a few local and colorful favorites here and there.
The Canadian crew, featuring David Caplan, Alexander Hayne, and Jon Stern. These players are looking to bring the Grand Prix Providence trophy up north.
Grand Prix Boston-Worcester champion Brian Demars, Michael Jacob, and Dan Clark represent their home state of Michigan.
Lan Ho teams up with former Magic R&D members Zac Hill and Matt Place.
Gaudenis Vidugiris seeks advice from his teammate, Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz. The remaining teammate, Sam Black, is content with methodically finding the right plays in his game.
Classic characters from the Magic scene form one entity, as Antonino De Rosa, Gerard Fabiano, and Ben Lungquist team up for this team tournament.
2012-2013 player of the year Josh Utter-Leyton, Pro Tour Gatecrash champion Tom Martell, and Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Semifinalist David Ochoa represent more than 150 Pro Points from last season. And they're all on one team!
Team ChannelFireball representing! Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Eric Froehlich look to lock up a win this weekend.
Grand Prix Charlotte champion Frank Skarren, Grand Prix Pittsburgh finalist Alex Nezin, and Grand Prix Portland finalist Joe Demestrio settle in for their second Team Limited event in the last few months, having recently finished in second place at a Star City Games Open team event...
...with the previous team ultimately succumbing to this group of Magic superstars: Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, and Reid Duke. The three players won the Star City Games Open team event a few weeks ago, and they've teamed up again in hopes of taking down another team event.
Saturday, 7:45 p.m. – A History of Professional Magic through Teams – Part 1
Walking the halls of Providence, I keep being reminded of the special place that Team Limited events have in the feeling of players all over. Like bears returning from hibernation, players that haven't picked up a Magic card in years show up to hang out with their friends, many of whom they met thanks to Magic. Players who have never played in an event before show up, safe under the watchful eye of a more experienced friend. Fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters show up to compete as a team, Magic providing them an incredibly fun bonding opportunity.
Here on the East Coast, in particular, the scene is reminiscent of a trip down Magic's memory lane. Back in the early days of Magic, it was hard to argue against the dominance of the easternmost part of the US. From Neutral Ground and Your Move Games to Team CMU and TOGIT, players from the eastern US dominated the early years of the Pro Tour. Here, within driving distance of their roots as Magic players, many of these same players have shown up this weekend to sling spells with a crowd of people that they once played against, and many others who are too young to remember their contributions to the scene and the game in general. There's Tight Tommy Guevin, Eugenius Harvey, and the Meddling Mage. Team Antarctica is here. Two-thirds of Team YMG is here. It's a living history of East Coast Magic.
That got me thinking. I began to wonder if we could use the presence of all of these older players to use the team structure to illustrate a timeline of Magic. I did some digging and came to a very cool realization. In all, there have been eighteen seasons of the Pro Tour. We are very near to beginning the third decade of the Pro Tour. Just insane. Anyway, seeded within this field is at least one player who made his first Pro Tour Top 8 in each year of the Pro Tour's existence. This room really is a living history of the Pro Tour, more so than even Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagon, the avatars of the Pro Tour.
Let's go through the list of players and their teammates here at this event.
In the beginning, there was Darwin Kastle.
Steve Guillerm, Rob Dougherty, and Darwin Kastle
All the way back in 1996, the Pro Tour made its California debut. Pro Tour Los Angeles, the second Pro Tour ever, was where Darwin Kastle first made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. He would go on to make it to seven more over the next four years, including a win at Pro Tour Washington DC with his YMG teammate, both past and present, fellow hall-of-famer Rob Dougherty. Doing his best to replace the other member of the winning YMG team, current director of R&D Dave Humphreys, is Steve Guillerm, a fellow Massachusetts Magic player and strategy writer. Kastle is also famous for being the first player to earn his likeness on a Magic card, Avalanche Riders.
1997 saw Chris Pikula finish 7th at Pro Tour Atlanta before bettering his performance at the next consecutive Pro Tour, finishing 4th in Dallas.
Chris Pikula, Josh Ravitz, and Igor Frayman
In addition to finishing in consecutive Pro Tour Top 8s, Pikula went on to finish in the Top 8 of Worlds the next year. He also won the Invitational two years later, creating Meddling Mage. This tournament, he's running with another couple of New York Magic players, Josh Ravitz and Igor Frayman.
The following year heralded the coming of one of the game's greatest players, as Jon Finkel stormed the Pro Tour, finishing 3rd in Chicago and taking the title outright in New York, the first of three Pro Tour wins.
In addition to his famed individual success, Team Antarctica, consisting of Finkel, Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz, and Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz, was one of the most feared trios in the game.
Jon Finkel, Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz, and Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz
Interestingly, though Finkel won Pro Tour New York, in Mainz, two Pro Tours earlier, Steve OMS became the first of the team to make the finals of a Pro Tour. He even went on to beat Finkel the following year in the finals of Pro Tour Los Angeles. With skills like these, it's easy to see why Antarctica was so feared, and why they continue to team up to this day.
The 98-99 season gave us our first glimpse of one of another infamous team player: Matt Linde.
In addition to having an incredible run on his path to becoming the US National Champion ("He drew the Abeyance!"), Linde went on to finish 4th at that year's World Championships. Later, he, Brock Parker, and William "Huey" Jensen would go on to form The Brockafellars, who managed to dethrone Kai Budde and the ludicrously dominant Phoenix Foundation on their way to winning Pro Tour Boston in 2003. Here in Providence, Linde is teaming up with another pair of New Yorkers, Matt Boccio and Jamie Parke. Parke made his first Top 8 in that same World Championships and would go on to a finals appearance in a second, losing to Antti Malin in the Finals of Worlds in Memphis.
Speaking of Linde's Brockafellars compatriot Huey Jensen, he made his first Pro Tour Top 8 the following year.
A 6th place finish at Pro Tour London marked the first in a long string of finishes for Jensen. With two other individual Top 8s and his win in Boston, Jensen has long been recognized for being one of the finest Team Limited players to ever play the game. This time, he's surrounded himself with two players who have a good amount of clout in their own right.
Owen Turtenwald, Huey Jensen, and Reid Duke
Surrounded by Owen Turtenwald on his left and Reid Duke on his right, Huey acts as a bridge between two of the biggest names on two of the biggest teams on the planet. ChannelFireball's Turtenwald is a former player of the year who managed that feat without making a single Pro Tour Top 8 over the course of the whole season. This improbable feat was accomplished by virtue of a ridiculously high average finish, demonstrating greatness throughout the whole year. He managed to break through to his own first Top 8 finish just this past year at Pro Tour Gatecrash. Starcitygames's Reid Duke is another incredibly strong player to complement Jensen. A Magic Online Player of the Year, Grand Prix Champion, and invitee to the inaugural Player's Championship, Duke has proven his incredible skill, despite never making a Pro Tour Top 8 himself. A few weeks ago in San Diego, he came gut-wrenchingly close, finishing 9th place at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze .
Pro Tour Tokyo the following season saw the first Pro Tour Top 8 for a young David Williams.
David Williams, Paul Rietzl, and Tom Guevin
Though he's now a successful poker player living out in Las Vegas, Williams is still integrally connected with the multitude of friends he made during his time playing Magic. Though you will frequently see him popping up at the occasional Grand Prix or Pro Tour throughout the year, you can absolutely guarantee that you'll see him at every single team event. He, Paul Rietzl, and Matt Sperling teamed up to take down Grand Prix San Jose last year. Sperling ran into some inclement weather, thus wasn't able to make it into town in time to play. After scrambling to find a third, Williams and Rietzl managed to pull an old name, Tom Guevin, out of semi-retirement to help them attempt a repeat.
Though he recently notched his third Pro Tour Top 8 with a 4th place finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash, Eric Froehlich made his first Pro Tour Top 8 back in the 01-02 season, finishing 8th at Pro Tour San Diego.
Paul Cheon, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Eric Froehlich,
Froehlich has been on a tear recently, making two Grand Prix Top 8s to go with his Pro Tour Top 8. He also teamed with Conley Woods and Owen Turtenwald to finish 3rd at grand Prix San Jose, won by Williams and company. These strong finishes add to an already impressive resume, making a strong case for induction into the Hall of Fame. Helping him try and add one more Grand Prix win to his list are Paul Cheon and Luis Scott-Vargas. One interesting thing to note right now: hiding inside LSV's immense resume is the 2006 US National team, where he and Cheon were joined by Benny Beatdown Lundquist on one of the best national teams the US has ever put together.
I don't know about you, but I am a member of the Gerard Fabiano Fan Club (I've paid my $2, but I have yet to see any cheesecake on my birthday...). Flanked by Jon Sonne and Scott McCord, Fabiano made his first Pro Tour Top 8 in 2002's Pro Tour Boston as a member of Slay, Pillage, Gerard. You'll never guess which one he was.
Jon Sonne, Gerard Fabiano, and Scott McCord
For this event, Fabiano has teamed up with 2006 US National Champion, fellow proud Italian-American, and jolliest man to ever sleeve up a card Antonino De Rosa, who we'll see again soon. Their other teammate is a name we've seen already. Ben Lundquist, the third member of the Cheon/Scott-Vargas US National team, the Silver Fox himself, is lending aid to Fabiano in his quest to become King of the Nerds.
Of all of the teams in the field today, there may no team as individually as strong as the one spearheaded by our next entry. Recording his first two Pro Tour Top 8s in Kobe and San Diego, finishing 7th and 6th respectively, Ben Stark blasted his way onto the Top 8 stage. Over the course of the next decade, he would record two more, including a win at Pro Tour Paris in 2011.
Ben Stark, Shuhei Nakamura, and Martin Juza
Joining him are two other players considered among the best the world has to offer in a truly international collaboration. First is the Czech Republic's Martin Juza. With two Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, Juza's Limited chops really captured the eyes of the Magic world with two Grand Prix wins within six weeks across two different Limited formats. This Czech superstar is a perennial platinum pro, as is their other all-star...
That's right, the third pillar of Stark and Juza's incredible team is none other than arguably the best Japanese player in the history of the game. Much like Stark, Nakamura followed up his first Pro Tour Top 8 in Columbus, a finals appearance, with a 7th place showing at Worlds later that year. The true definition of "frequent flier," Nakamura was the first Japanese player to truly embrace the potential for global travel offered by the Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuits, amassing enough mileage in the process to circumnavigate the globe many times over.
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. – A History of Professional Magic through Teams - Part 2
Beginning in 2001 or so, the game of Magic began to undergo a globalization of professional play that was unheralded. While early tournaments were dominated by Americans and Canadians, the game began to make it out to Asia, Latin America, and Europe. As players got more practice in, non-Americans began to make up a higher and higher percentage of the Top 8s. In 2006, we got a perfect bridge between the European and American worlds of Magic when Antonino de Rosa made his first Top 8 with a 6th place finish at Pro Tour Prague.
Antonino de Rosa
Possessing dual Italian and American citizenship, De Rosa strongly identifies with both of his nationalities. Though he has often supported and collaborated with Italian players during his years of play, this year was the year immediately following the year he represented the United States at Worlds.
Ok, I may have lied a little bit. Technically, there is one year which doesn't have a first-time Top 8er in the event. That being said, there was this certain little tournament in San Diego. The format was Time Spiral Limited. Well, Two-Headed Giant Limited. And at this particular Two-Headed Giant tournament, two players broke the format by drafting Slivers, and I mean broke it wide open. One head of that giant went on to have a weekly column for dailymtg.com devoted to tracking the shifting tides of Magic Online, not an easy task. I have been told that he also contributes to the video stream for some of our Grand Prix, but I can't confirm this; they don't let us near their dressing rooms.
Perhaps you've heard of this Sliver Kid?
Jacob van Lunen
It's hard to believe that one of the best players in the game today, Luis Scott-Vargas, only got his first Pro Tour Top 8 back in 2008. Playing Elves! in Berlin, LSV broke the Top 8 barrier in style, winning the whole shebang.
What does a Top 8 at Pro Tour Honolulu in 2009 and an incredibly analytical approach to deckbuilding get you?
Zac Hill, Matt Place, and Lan D. Ho.
Apparently a job designing Magic. That tournament marked the first Top 8 of Zac Hill's Pro Tour career, and his ridiculous five-color control deck from that event showcased the talents that he would use to help make Magic the game it is today. For this event, he's teamed up with one of the most-storied talents in Magic, Pro Tour winner and Magic designer/developer Matt Place. His other teammate is none other than the man, the myth, the legend, He Who Came to Game, Lan D. Ho. The fact that Hill is rejoining the professional circuit after a long stint in R&D, this rebirth, is perfect to bridge his team of tenured, austere names with the superstars of today.
This is where we hit the big time, today's crop of superstars really begins to make their presence known at the top of the Tour. Just as previous generations of Magic stars grew up with each other as adversaries, this new bumper of players has become interconnected as well.
The 2010 first-timers include a pair of names that made a massive splash just a few short weeks ago. First is the most recent Pro Tour Champion to earn himself a cup, Craig Wescoe.
Doug Tice, Craig Wescoe, and Tillman Bragg
Wescoe's first win came in the exact same city as his first Pro Tour Top 8: San Diego. The state of California has been very kind to the Tennessee native, as it is the scene of all three of his Top 8s. Here on the opposite coast, he has chosen to go with comfort in uncomfortable climes, pairing up with Doug Tice and 2007 Grand Prix Daytona Beach Top 8er Tillman Bragg, fellow Volunteers.
Second is the newly minted Player of the Year, Josh Utter-Leyton.
Back in 2010 (so long ago), Utter-Leyton made his Sunday debut with a 5th place finish at Pro Tour San Juan. He would go on to make two more Top 8s next year, as well as captaining the US National team later that same year. The alternate for that team happened to be none other than one of his current teammates, David Ochoa. Their third teammate is none other than...
One year before becoming a Pro Tour champion, Martell cracked his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Magic Weekend Paris. Two consecutive years, two players making their first Pro Tour Top 8s that happen to be also teaming up for this event. Who better to team with than a star that rose at the same time you did, someone you know very well?
Another pair of players is taking this exact same sentiment to form another impressive super-team.
David Caplan, aka goobafish on Magic Online, made his first Pro Tour Top 8 with a 4th place finish at Worlds in San Francisco at the end of the season. Also in that Top 8: Luis Scott-Vargas, Josh Utter-Leyton, and Craig Wescoe. Are we noticing a pattern? Joining Caplan this weekend are another pair of great Canadian players, representing the bookends of Canadian Magic. First is Jon Stern. One of the older players on the Canadian Scene, Stern has had a resurgence of late, netting himself a 7th and 1st place finish at Grand Prix a few months apart. The third member of this illustrious team is a bit of a newcomer to the professional Magic scene, but he made an entrance in style.
On a boat.
Alexander Hayne burst into his first Top 8 with a win at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored after spending the week leading up to the Pro Tour testing on a cruise to Barcelona with, you guessed it, David Caplan.
David Caplan, Alexander Hayne, and Josh Stern
This breakout win gave him enough points to net himself the Rookie of the Year title for this year. He himself described his ascent aptly as a "miracle," though his persistence at the Pro Tour has proven that there is some serious skill behind his angelic feat. Now, he has chosen to align himself with Caplan and Stern, two of the other big powerhouses of Canadian Magic to make a run at their first Team title.
This is it, the last season of our trip through the Pro Tour. We've watched the early dominance of the East Coast US players. We've watched the slow transition to a more global game. We've seen old-school teams that have stuck together, and those that have broken apart. Just as we've seen the likes of the Kastle/Dougherty and Team Antarctica pairings, fabled teamups of Magic's past, we've seen the congregation of newer talent into modern supergroups. Think the Traveling Wilburys for Magic. If Tom Martell is Bob Dylan (very opinionated; looks good in a scarf), and Josh Utter-Leyton is Roy Orbison (Um..they both wear glasses), then Ochoa would certainly be the George Harrison of the group (soft-spoken voice of good; is very clearly a spike).
Josh Utter-Leyton, Tom Martell, and David Ochoa
The latest of the group to earn his Top 8, Ochoa was long considered in the discussion of "best player to never Top 8 a Pro Tour." In Seattle, at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Ochoa finally cracked the barrier, erasing him from that title (which subsequently passed to Gerry Thompson for a few months) after placing an impressive 3rd.
Round 6 Feature Match - Adrian Saredo, Diego Ostrovich, and Pedro de Diego vs. Guadenis Vidugiris, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Sam Black
In a match that went down to the wire, with only a few minutes remaining on the clock, the game quickly ended in back-to-back match wins. While Gaudenis Vidugiris dropped his match against Adrian Saredo in three games, both Zvi Mowshowitz and Sam Black wrapped up their final games with match victories over Diego Ostrovich and Pedro de Diego.
Saredo and Vidugiris's Match
While Black and Zvi were both still deep into their first games, Vidugiris was dropped a fairly fast first game against Saredo, where Saredo's Selesnya deck outlasted Vidugiris's Rakdos start.
The same could not be said in the second game, which started out with an attack for 3 on the second turn thanks to Vigudiris's Spike Jester. While Saredo had a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage to trade with the hasty two mana creature, Vidugiris didn't let up, following up with Splatter Thug. When his thug was Arrested, two more creatures joined the fray, including Rix Maadi Guildmage. From there, Saredo fought with his back against the wall, ultimately succumbing to the aggressive start Vidugiris unleashed.
Adrian Saredo, Diego Ostrovich, and Pedro de Diego
However, despite a stellar second game, Vidugiris fell just the same in the third game against Saredo, putting Vidugiris's team down a match and freeing up both players to assist their teammates in their second and third games.
Ostrovich and Zvi's Match
The first game pitted Zvi's Azorius deck against a mana-starved RUG deck from Ostrovich. Zvi pressured Ostrocivh down to a low life total, but ultimately had his force of creatures ground to dust. It was at that point that Ostrovich began to draw lands, and suddenly the spells that he couldn't cast were going to become trouble. However, Basilica Guards gave Zvi some time, and the Call side of Beck & Call with extort gave Zvi the final points of damage he needed to wrap things up.
There was one point of the game though that had Zvi wondering what could have been. At one point, Zvi had six lands, Deputy of Acquittals, and Urbis Protector in play with Ætherize in hand. He had a window of opportunity where he could attack with both creatures, and then Ætherize would let him reclaim his Urbis Protector's effect on the next turn, with his token having been previously disposed of with Homing Lightning from Ostrovich. Had Zvi done this the turn before he saw that line of play, he could have cast Concordia Pegasus after Ætherizing his two creatures. Urbis Protector could then make an angel, and Deputy of Acquittals would give Zvi another chance to make a second angel token, a play that could have also closed out the first game for the Hall of Famer.
Guadenis Vidugiris, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Sam Black
The second game went the opposite direction, where Zvi failed to draw many relevant spells, and the one creature he did get into play, an Azorius Justicar, became the unfortunate catalyst of his demise when Ostrovich cast Progenitor Mimic. The army of 2/2 creature copies and detain effects, along with Ral Zarek, left Zvi moving to the third game, despite Zvi's best efforts to battle back.
The third game had a fairly frustrating start for Zvi, who kept a three land hand but failed to find a fourth land in the next few turns. Ral Zarek made an appearance, and put Zvi on the backburner as Ostrovich battled the Hall of Famer into a corner.
It was when Zvi was hoping to draw a land, however, that Ostrovich mis-stepped with Chemister's Trick, when Zvi mounted some offense with a flier. "Had he cast Chemister's Trick on my upkeep, Ral would have lived when I attacked it, and that would have been bad for me," said Zvi. However, when Zvi drew, he suddenly had a way to stop Ostrovich's combat trick. "I drew Cancel, so I stopped the Trick and got to kill Ral." From there, things started going well for Zvi, who finally found a sixth land over a couple of turns, freeing up the Sphinx of the Chimes in his hand to come down and close things up.
De Diego and Black's Match
The final match between the two teams had an epic first game that consisted of both Black an De Diego presenting creature after creature, with De Diego's green-white-black deck playing a very similar plan as Black's four-color deck that was heavily based in De Diego's colors. However, Black's creatures presented some interesting options. Korozda Gorgon made any scavenge tricks he could muster very deadly for De Diego's board, but none came. Instead, Black found an Armada Wurm.
Despite the Wurm and its token being held back by Sluiceway Scorpion and a wall of creatures, Black eventually found some plays. Kraul Warrior with Giant Growth shut down De Diego's block of Rust Scarab and Stonefare Crocodile, as Black pulled the trigger on his trick when De Diego tapped out for his Crocodile's effect. On the next turn, Ubul Sur Gatekeepers took out Sluiceway Scorpion, and when Black had Trostani's Judgment for De Diego's only remaining threat, a Gateway Shade, De Diego conceded in the face of the populating wurms.
The second game looked like it was going to go just as well for Black too, when Profit & Loss deprived De Diego of three of his creatures. However, Blacks' only follow-up after the devastating instant was lands, while De Diego began to rebuild his board. When nothing of substance showed up off the top for Black, he found himself shuffling up for the third game.
The final game of the match could be best summarized by a post-match comment from Vidugiris to Black: "His deck shouldn't be able to beat Profit & Loss."
While the powerful fuse card wasn't able to save Black from flooding out in the second game, it was the death knell in the final game of the match. Black built up a board consisting of two Kingpin's Pets, and through extort triggers and timely attacks, brought De Diego down to 8. De Diego, on the other hand, was suffering from a dreaded three land keep that went horribly wrong, as he found no other lands over the course of nearly ten turns, forced to fend off Black with what he was able to cast.
In just a few short moments after Zvi won his match, Black also locked up the third game, the match, as well as the match win for his time.
Round 8 Feature Match Epic - Demars/Jacob/Clark v Cheon/Scott-Vargas/Froehlich
Round 8 was an epic tale of big rares and small commons as these two teams fought to keep their Day 2 hopes alive.
After dropping the last two rounds, the boys from ChannelFireball found themselves against the ropes.
"We lost the last two rounds, so we needed to win this one to stay alive," Paul Cheon said after gladly signing the match slip. This 3-0 victory brought Cheon and teammates Luis Scott-Vargas and Eric Froehlich to a 6-2 record, keeping them playing for at least one more round. Brian Demars, Michael Jacob, and Dan Clark, on the other hand, found themselves picking up a depressing third loss, eliminating them from tomorrow's play.
"That last game was epic," Cheon said with a shake of his head, as Froehlich's five-color green deck managed to squeak out a victory over Dan Clark's Borzhov deck by the narrowest of margins. Compared to the other two matches of the round, Froehlich's match was by far the most interesting. Cheon described his match as "not really playing Magic."
Brian Demars, Michael Jacob, and Dan Clark
"Game 1, Brian missed a couple of land drops and I just filled the board with creatures and overran him before he could get back into things. The second game was definitely more like Magic, but we were playing two different games. He just played a bunch of fliers and a Stab Wound on my Scab-Clan Charger and killed me when there wasn't much else I could do. The last game was just about me hitting six mana and casting Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. Needless to say, I did not bow."
Scott-Vargas's match was even less interactive, though it did have one interesting moment in Game 1. Scott-Vargas had just cast a Sphinx of the Chimes and passed the turn. Jacob tapped out for a Scab-Clan Giant.
"Time to spin the wheel," he said with a smile.
Scott-Vargas pulled out a six-sided die, assigned one to his Sphinx and two through four to his other three creatures.
"Reroll on five and six," he told Jacob with a glint in his eye.
The first roll was a six.
"Reroll," Scott-Vargas said, picking up the die. The second was a five.
"Reroll. Gotta keep the sweat going," he laughed with a humorous glance at Froehlich. When the die stopped the third time, it had landed on one.
"That's...well that was bad for you," Scott-Vargas said with a shrug. The Giant hit the graveyard. Jacob had spent his turn to tap six mana and discard a turn. That was all she wrote. The second game was even worse. After using a Voidwielder to bounce a Madcap Skills-enchanted creature, Ætherling came down, and the game ended incredibly soon thereafter.
After these, it was easy to get excited about how intense Froehlich's match was. He was seated in the C seat, putting him closest to the massive throng of people that was beginning to coalesce around the feature match area.
The first game was a series of bombs and removal, a real haymaker-fest. Jordan's Boros Reckoner met Warleader's Helix. Savageborn Hydra met Angelic Edict. When Froehlich stuck a Carnival Hellsteed and gave it flying via Maze Glider, it quickly ended Game 1. The second game was a twisted mirror vision of the first. This time around, it was Jordan's flying gold creature that did the honors, with his unleashed Hellhole Flailer picking up a Gift of Orzhova and going the distance.
Eric Froehlich, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Paul Cheon
The last game, as Cheon so eloquently put it, "was epic." The crux came down to a series of turns where Froehlich fused Beck & Call, tapping out and filling his hand and board. On the immediate next turn, Clark landed a Sire of Insanity, emptying both players' hands.
"He played the Sire when I was ahead on the board, but I didn't recover as well as he did," Froehlich admitted. "He just kept drawing multicolored spells and killing my Birds with Pyroconvergence, while I just drew lands. I had gained a bunch of life from Warleader's Helix, Centaur Healer, and Saruli Gatekeepers, so I wasn't too bad off at first, but then he started using Vizkopa Guildmage and Guardian of the Gateless to attack for 6 and gain 3."
"And then you drew Hydra," Cheon chimed in.
Savageborn Hydra hit play for three, keeping it safe from Pyroconvergence. Froehlich had enough mana to start pumping it for five every turn, and it wasn't long before we had a real race on our hands. Down to his last couple of creatures, Clark was a mere couple of attacks away from finishing Froehlich off, but he was also down to his last couple of creatures. With Froehlich at 4, he failed to draw a creature or a multicolored spell to finish Froehlich off, and had to leave his Guardian back to block.
"I had a few draws there where I could draw Maze Glider or another way to get around his blockers, but I drew lands instead," Froehlich explained. "On that last turn, I needed him to not draw a creature or spell to hit me with or I was dead. I may not have gotten there, but he didn't either."
Without a way to stop a Hydra large enough that Froehlich had stopped keeping track of the counters on it, Clark died. The game was incredibly close, down to the wire, and filled with distinct swings.
Cheon was right. It really was epic.
Saturday, 11:00 p.m. – Building a Team Sealed Deck with Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, and Reid Duke
As if Team Sealed Deck weren't already difficult enough, Return to Ravnica block adds a whole new level to things. Thanks to the forced alignment of the guild structure and the related density of gold cards relating to certain guilds, it can be difficult to determine which guilds can best support a deck, which should be combined, and which should be ignored. It makes mana considerations incredibly tough to determine, even though mana fixing is much easier in a set filled with Cluestones, Keyrunes, and Guildgates.
That, and have you seen what a table looks like as you are organizing ten guilds and five colors? Let me give you a glimpse:
Fortunately, I had three of the best to walk me through the arduous process of building a Team Sealed Deck in this format.
Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, and Reid Duke are all three incredibly accomplished players in their own right. All friends who originally met through their work on Team StarCityGames Black, the trio is, as Turtenwald puts it, "friends first, teammates second." This is a common theme around the room this weekend, though there aren't many teams of friends that have the Magic pedigree represented at this table. In addition to their individual finishes, they won a Team Sealed event at the StarCityGames open in Somerset, NJ at the beginning of last month in this exact format. They clearly know what they're doing.
As I've said, building in this format is hard, and the trio got down to business the second the first pack was opened.
"How many Guildgates do we have," were virtually the first words out of anyone's mouths as they set about breaking the pool up. Considering the extreme color-based nature of this format, mana is essential. As they set their impressive stack of nearly all green-based Guildgates in the middle of the table, Duke made a discovery that lightened the team's mood.
"We've got two Axebane Guardians," he said with a smile, meeting a "Nice" from Turtenwald.
"So what do we do first," Turtenwald asked.
"Let's start by consolidating the colors and seeing where our gold cards are," suggested Jensen. At the thought, cards exchanged sides of the table, making their ways into (I guess we'll call them) neat piles strewn about the table. With things arrayed in this manner, it was easy to see what their strengths and deficiencies were.
"How did we open no Simic or Dimir cards in all of Dragon's Maze ,"Jensen sighed aloud. "We also opened seven Guildgates, but only got one Gatekeeper."
That being said, there were some signs of life in the pool.
"We have a lot of great white cards," Turtenwald informed his team. "I mean a lot a lot."
After examining the broad view of the card pool, they were able to eliminate certain guilds from consideration, as well as determining which colors were deep enough to split into multiple decks. This allowed them to begin to tentatively split their cards up into appropriate decks.
Their pool had a trio of ridiculously powerful Boros rares: Assemble the Legion; Aurelia, the Warleader; and Tajic, Blade of the Legion. That, combined with the obvious depth of their aggressive white cards led them to a fairly easy to begin Boros deck. After examining the entirety of the white pool, it became obvious that there were a reasonable number of tools that they weren't going to be useful in Boros.
With three decks to build, the players split up deck construction duties, each taking a different slab of cards to consider.
"The card pool tends to tell you where you should put your focus," Duke explained as he grabbed his stack of responsibility. "If it's deep enough to support two two-color decks, you can split them up nicely and have a multicolor deck as the third. If you've only got enough cards for one two-color deck, you have to figure out how the rest of the card pool is going to overlap."
This was brought up as Jensen looked around the table. "I can't build the five-color deck until I know what you're playing," he said to his teammates. Before they could figure out the multicolor deck, his team had to determine their other two decks.
Boros was fairly obvious, as stated above. Beyond that, things were unclear.
"We have two Grisly Spectacles, and very little removal beyond that," Turtenwald observed. "If we're going to play them in a deck, it needs to be able to reliably cast them, so it's going to have to be heavy black."
Duke pointed out a small problem looking at their pool. With an underwhelming density of red, black, and blue cards, building the other decks was going to be tough.
"I don't think we can make a three-color deck that isn't green," he said, noting that it was the second-deepest color behind white.
Jensen agreed. "All of the best cards are in Owen's deck," he said. This caused Turtenwald to perk up, laughing "so I get to play this deck? Sweet!"
With thought going towards the weakness of the other potential two-color combinations, Duke again noted their weakness.
"I don't like any of the other two-color decks with the Boros we have," he said.
Turtenwald retorted, saying, "We can't not play this Boros deck, and you can't split these cards up," he said in reference to the trio of rares.
"No, but we can skew you more towards red and spread the white out more," Duke countered.
This got them thinking.
"I don't need these Sunspire Griffins," Turtenwald offered. The first concessions were made.
After jostling some cards around, they had the ability to put together two two-color decks, leaving the rest of the cards for a five-color green deck. This gave them the maximum use of the cards in their card pools, and ensured that no removal or bombs would be left sitting on the sidelines. In Team Limited, this is very important, as the decks tend to be more powerful than even the best Draft decks. This makes bombs and ways to deal with bombs even more relevant than in any other Limited format.
With two Axebane Guardians, they began to take a look at a defender subtheme in their five-color deck.
"These two Hired Torturers are good with the double Axebane Guardians. They're more defenders, a mana sink for when you have nothing else to do, and reasonable win conditions in a deck like this," Duke pointed out.
"I don't know if I'd call them good," Jensen laughed.
With the remaining cards, they glanced at the possibility of running a third color to go with their Azorius cards. Looking at Bant and Esper as possibilities, they had their concerns with both.
"This Bant deck is just underpowered," Turtenwald opined. Sporting a semi-splashed pair of Beetleform Mages, Krasis Incubation, and Shambleshark, the Bant list seemed to draw some of the best cards away from the potential five-color deck they were brewing.
"The mana on this Esper deck is just impossible," Duke said with a sigh. With just one Dimir Guildgate and Cluestone to fix mana, expecting to cast Sunspire Griffin, Grisly Spectacle, and Isperia, Supreme Judge, was a laughable proposition.
Eventually, their conversation came around to what their decks were going to try and do.
"You want to try and shore up your weaknesses with each deck if possible," Duke explained as he started shuffling cards around. "For example, if your aggressive fliers deck can't beat a three-toughness flier, you need to find a way to get around or through it."
This led them back to the original Azorius design, and a very poignant discussion about removal.
"You can run Azorius without a whole lot of removal," Turtenwald pointed out. "In fact, Pulpit is a great card for the deck because it helps you to race, which is all this deck can do."
"We should also try moving cards like this Swift Justice from the Boros deck to the Azorius deck," Duke recommended. "You have to be able to punch through a Towering Indrik or a Thrashing Mossdog. Plus this deck is all about just racing, and the lifegain could be crucial."
With that, it was settled on Azorius and Boros as the two two-color decks. This left just the five-color deck to finish, and part of it was already settled.
"This deck has to be black/green base to play these Spectacles," Jensen said.
The rest of the team agreed, though it left them with some other concerns.
Mana is always a concern for Sealed Decks like these, and this holds especially true for the more color-intensive decks in the format. After locking down their two-color decks, the team turned to their five-color deck and began to tune it. To do so properly, they had to take into account which of their spells they needed to be able to reliably cast and when. This would give them an idea of how they would have to build. It also put pressure on the mana base to be able to accommodate any plays they felt they needed to make, or they would have to cut things down.
The first big thought was the pair of Beetleform Mages in the pool.
"I don't like the mana situation with the Beetleforms are in the deck," Turtenwald pointed out. "You have to be able to cast those Grisly Spectacles. To play those Beetleforms reliably on turn three, you need to play like six basic Islands, which means you can't play enough Swamps..."
"Well, they don't have to come down on turn three to be an effective card," Duke countered back. After much deliberation, the Beetleform Mages stayed. With a more careful glance at the deck, especially once Duke laid out his prospective mana base, Jensen looked over the piles jealously.
"This deck looks gas," he said. "My deck, on the other hand, looks like it never wants to mulligan."
At this point, the final cards began to switch hands. It was during this phase that discussions about the impact on each of the decks became paramount. The advantage gained by adding a card to a particular deck needs to outweigh the detriment to the deck that loses it. This is the part of the build that ties together all of the other important aspects of building.
Displeased with his own Azorius deck, he solicited some help from his teammates.
"Actually, I've got an idea," Turtenwald offered. "Why don't you take these two Syndic of Tithes."
It was an interesting suggestion. He had more than enough small aggressive creatures to fill the slot, and the Azorius deck needed the reach more than the Boros deck, with its ridiculous game-enders, did. All of a sudden, it was like looking at a different deck.
"For some reason, this deck actually looks good now," Jensen said after adding the Syndics. They perfectly filled out the curve, gave him something to do with the mana he was forced to play to support his trio of six-drops, and gave his deck a much-needed touch of reach to finish close games. He still had a few reservations which the team quickly addressed.
"Do you think these add more to this deck than they take from yours," he asked Turtenwald.
"This deck is still a powerful deck," Turtenwald reassured him. "It loses a little, sure, but it's still ridiculously powerful."
After settling on the final conformations, they had the final task of divvying up the decks. Jensen volunteered to play the deck that no one else wanted. Turtenwald and Duke were quick to audible off the Azorius deck in front of Jensen, causing them both to laugh while Jensen just shrugged. Turtenwald settled on the Boros deck he'd been working on, and Duke got "the fun deck."
Here's what they ended up with after much deliberation:
Owen Turtenwald's Deck
William Jensen's Deck
Reid Duke's Deck
Round 9 Feature Match - Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, and Ben Stark vs. Sam Pardee, Jacob Wilson, and Matthew Nass
Despite some lopsided Blood Baron of Vizkopa action from Matthew Nass in his match against Ben Stark, it was ultimately Stark's team that prevailed, as Shuhei Nakamura and Martin Juza dispatched Jacob Wilson and Sam Pardee in the eighth round, each match going to three games.
Nass and Stark's Match
The first of the three matches to end was the Nass versus Stark showdown. Stark had proven throughout the day that his multi-color deck, comprised of every color but red but was base Orzhov with some green and blue, was definitely capable of some powerful starts, and even finishes if the games went long. Flexibility was an advantage to his deck, and his aggression rang true when he ran over Nass in the second game, even defeating Nass's Ætherling with the beatdown plan.
There was just one problem though: when most of Stark's cards were allied to Orzhov colors, a good chunk of them did close to nothing against the Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
Sam Pardee, Jacob Wilson, and Matthew Nass
"I can't deal with a Blood Baron," Stark said as he picked up his cards in the third game, when Nass sent in a lethal attack with the Orzhov vampire and a Duskmantle Seer. The first game didn't even take that much; with Stark not having any cards that could actually interact with something that had protection from black and white, he conceded a few turns before succumbing to attacks, not wanting to waste precious time that could be spent helping teammates should he finish his match first.
Which, thanks to the Blood Baron, was exactly what happened.
Wilson and Nakamura's Match
Wilson's first game against Nakamura could be described with one card: Gruul War Chant. I say this because when Wilson stuck the powerful enchantment, Nakamura conceded, not able to beat Wilson's two-turn clock with the enchantment out.
The second game looked like it would go to Wilson too, but Nakamura's Simic-y RUG deck kept its head above water, ultimately grinding Wilson down one creature at a time until Wilson's life went to 0.
The third game had Nakamura's Cloudfin Raptor brought down by Mugging, but the Drakewing Krasis that stuck on the third turn didn't go anywhere for a while. Beetleform Mage followed after that, putting Nakamura ahead at the time.
However, Wilson made quite a comeback, but the comeback left him just a point short of finishing the job before Nakamura took the match.
Pardee and Juza's Match
The final match of the three, and the determining one, was between Pardee and Juza. And despite Juza's victory in the end, it was anything but easy.
"All of the games were interesting," Juza said. "He [Pardee] had the Axebane Guardians, which were good at blocking my guys and it let him play anything."
Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, and Ben Stark
And anything was indeed what blind-sided Juza in the second game, when Pardee took Juza from "can't lose" to "can't win" in a single turn with a bloodrushed Skaarg Goliath for a little more than lethal. This sequence let Pardee take out Juza before Juza's Hellkite Tyrant could end the game.
"If I knew he had this [the Skarrg Goliath] in his deck, I'd of used Mugging to kill his Gatecreeper Vine. That gave him another mana from his Axebane Guardian, and that got him to his seventh mana for his Goliath."
Pardee's interesting multi-color deck, which sported every color but white, worked heavily on its Axebane Guardians and guildgates, had an assortment of powerful cards ranging from Beetleform Mages and Shamblesharks to Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Abrupt Decay. Oh, and that Skarrg Goliath, which made many of Juza's decisions are lot more difficult for the Czech pro.
However, in the third game, despite looking to be in the driver's seat with Pardee at 1, Juza's board of Skyknight Legionnaire and Hellkite Tyrant still had him sweating when Pardee sent in a Korozda Gorgon and Frilled Oculus. The reason? A Gatecreeper Vine and two active Axebane Guardians had Juza looking through every possibility.
"It's likely he could have Mizzium Mortars or Cyclonic Rift. I need to figure out what to play around," he said. He called on his teammates for advice, but despite the discussion, Juza opted not to chump-block the Gorgon with his one untapped creature, a lowly little Skinbrand Goblin.
Juza's decision proved to be correct, as Pardee only had a follow-up Slime Molding for a 7/7 token. When Juza sent in the two fliers, Pardee offered the concession.
"In the end, it came down to him not being able to beat fliers," Juza said.